Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Penelope Kelsey

Second Advisor

Karen Jacobs

Third Advisor

Karim Mattar


Despite the attention paid by economists and journalists to the abundance of material garbage in recent years, few conceptual understandings of the term "waste" as a socio-economic function are offered in economic discourse. Essentially, waste is treated as the unwanted-but-inevitable byproduct of otherwise beneficial productive processes. But as a few scholars, authors and general critics of the capitalist world economy have implied, the increasing production of waste and garbage (in both material and social senses) over the past century is not simply an inevitable and unfortunate side effect of a capitalist mode of production but in fact its primary operating logic. As a thorough examination of the development of capitalism into what Immanuel Wallerstein has termed a "world-system" demonstrates, the primacy of capital accumulation, one of the essential principles of contemporary capitalist production, is accompanied by a complementary logic of disposability. Any solutions to or methods of ameliorating the ceaseless production of waste provided by contemporary economists are thus formed upon these very principles. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the economic systems inscribed in the novels of William Gaddis, Thomas Pynchon and Eric Gansworth, and to examine the convergences and divergences between these systems and those articulated within the discourse of contemporary economics. In J R, Gravity’s Rainbow and Smoke Dancing, Gaddis, Pynchon and Gansworth each construct, critique and satirize capitalist economic models, particularly insofar as each author’s model is driven by such a logic of disposability. In so doing, the authors in turn confront the global system of the production and dissemination of literature, constituting a “world-system” in and of itself. The inherence of disposability within the logic of capitalism, made so clear by each of these authors, demonstrates the significance (and, indeed, the urgency) of establishing alternative frameworks of economic discourse. I argue, then, that works of literature can (and do) play fundamental roles in discussions on contemporary and historical economics.