This essay uses the figure of Lily Bart in terms of the trope of self-management in order to consider relations among forms of gendered and embodied consciousness, formations of knowledge, and the contradictory flows of capital at the turn of the twentieth century. The author argues that the seeming weaknesses of Lily's character—her gendered embodiment and embedded position within the forces of the capitalist market—are actually, from the point of view of the novel as a whole, key strengths that allow Wharton to imagine possibilities for critical thinking from within the forces of capitalism. The essay places the novel into a broader philosophical conversation with the works of William James, Henry Adams, and Karl Marx and suggests new understandings of the body-subject (James), American imperial management (Adams), and commodity fetishism (Marx). So contextualized, we see Lily's self-managerial aesthetic as a form of social labor whose capitalized temporality is brought into focus and arrested by the form of the novel itself. By offering the self-managerial aesthetic as an object of thought, the novel opens it to the dynamics of intellectual reproduction and continued critical thinking.
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Patrick Mullen; The Aesthetics of Self-Management: Intelligence, Capital, and The House of Mirth. Novel 1 May 2009; 42 (1): 40–61. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2008-003
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