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Neoliberal Nonfictions

The Documentary Aesthetic from Joan Didion to Jay-Z
Daniel Worden

BUY Cloth · 194 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813944159 · $59.50 · Mar 2020
BUY Paper · 194 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813944166 · $29.50 · Mar 2020
BUY Ebook · 194 pp. · ISBN 9780813944173 · $29.50 · Mar 2020

With the ascendancy of neoliberalism in American culture beginning in the 1960s, the political structures governing private lives became more opaque and obscure. Neoliberal Nonfictions argues that a new style of documentary art emerged to articulate the fissures between individual experience and reality in the era of finance capitalism.

In this wide-ranging study, Daniel Worden touches on issues ranging from urban poverty and criminal justice to environmental collapse and international politics. He examines the impact of local struggles and global markets on music, from D. A. Pennebaker’s infamous Dylan documentary Dont Look Back to Kendrick Lamar’s breakthrough album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. He details the emergence of the hustler as an icon of neoliberal individualism in Jay-Z’s autobiography Decoded, Alex Haley’s Autobiography of Malcom X, and Hunter S. Thompson’s "gonzo" journalism. He looks at how contemporary works such as Maggie Nelson’s memoir The Red Parts and Taryn Simon’s photography series The Innocents challenge the moral simplifications of traditional true crime writing. In his conclusion, he explores the dominance of memoir as a literary mode in the neoliberal era, particularly focusing on works by Joan Didion and Dave Eggers.

Documentary has become the aesthetic of our age, harnessing the irreconcilable distance between individual and society as a site for aesthetic experimentation across media, from journalism and photography to memoir, music, and film. Both a symptom of and a response to the emergence of economic neoliberalism, the documentary aesthetic is central to how we understand ourselves and our world today.


Beautifully written and exceptionally smart, Neoliberal Nonfictions is essential to understanding the origins and effects of the nonfiction form that dominates today’s literature and art.

Rachel Greenwald Smith, Saint Louis University, author of Affect and American Literature in the Age of Neoliberalism

This essential book--impressive in scope and style--will have a lasting impact on the study of contemporary art across disciplines.

Andrew Hoberek, University of Missouri, author of Considering Watchmen: Poetics, Property, Politics

Worden’s Neoliberal Nonfictions shows how a variety of cultural forms work to inculcate individualism, and how this individualism threatens society at large. His work explores various forms of cultural production, from comics to autobiography. He shows that the prevalence of the representation of the individual relates to the way that neoliberal policies such as financialization destroyed the social-safety net.

Public Books

Neoliberal Nonfictions provides a good starting point for thinking about how exactly we come to recognise and understand the present day in the media we consume, and how those representations both critique and produce the world - our world - in which the individual is sovereign.

The Quietus

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