Viken Berberian


"Das Kapital: a novel of love and money markets"

(Reviewed by Guy Savage JAN 23, 2008)

"They were not encumbered by the dead weight of ideology. They simply did not have the time to be wistful or contemplative. They were not saddled by a nebulous desire to defend anything. Where was the value-added in that? They were there simply to make money."

In Viken Berberian’s second novel, Das Kapital, the author explores the twin worlds of capitalism and terrorism through two characters—Wall Street trader, Wayne, and an unemployed man known as the Corsican. While Wayne has made millions on Wall Street, the Corsican has lost his job thanks to the insatiable appetite of capitalism. On a surface examination, these two men would seem to have little in common, but their obsessions cause them to form a strange alliance.

Read an excerpt from the CyclistWayne lives in New York and works for Empiricus Kapital in the MetLife Building. Intense and obsessive, he’s made millions by trading on disasters. Nicknamed The Bleaker, he’s too busy to enjoy his wealth, and instead he becomes increasingly chained to the capitalist machine, addicted to reaping profit from disaster:

He despised most of the investment community: the side sell, the buy-side, the day traders, the slick stock promoters who spoke with the illusion of knowledge. Their thought process was immutable, immutably flawed. They believed that stock prices would move ever higher. They were spuriously irrational, driven by imitation and moronic behavior. Wayne could not share their buoyant optimism. One thing that world history teaches us is that disaster will befall one who hangs around long enough. In this inevitability Marx was right. If he could only go back in a time machine to trade on the October Revolution, the assassination of JFK, the Yom Kippur War. He had the cunning of a great political thinker. He preferred to make money from disaster.

The Corsican, however, comes from an entirely different background. His father was a Situationist, and the Corsican is raised true to the tradition of Situationist Theory and Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle.  But working for the Bustaci Lumber Company, the Corsican learned to “bend” his beliefs “every day he wielded his axe into nature.” After losing his job, the Corsican seeks out Wayne in New York, and together the trader who banks on disaster, and the saboteur who can engineer those disasters form an unholy alliance.

The novel’s third character is a Marseille woman named Alix. She proves to be the link between both men. A fair portion of the novel is spent of the emails exchanged between Alix and Wayne. One of my favorite parts of the novel is Wayne’s dream of meeting Alix and the subsequent, much less glamorous reality.

While the novel is clever and referential, its treatment of its subject matter is flippant and superficial. The three main characters are caricatures or types with Wayne the most defined character of the three. While Wayne and the Corsican would appear to have diametrically opposed values, their goals fuse at a dangerously explosive point. Since the characters are types rather than "real" people, there’s no exploration of exactly what would make a Situationist vehemently opposed to capitalism -- become the tool of capitalism. So we either have to accept this absurdity or not, but the novel has several absurdities. At one point, Wayne recalls a French Philosophy student who applied for a job with Empiricus Kapital. I found myself wondering why a philosophy student, who incidentally is a Situationist, would apply for a job at the financial center of the capitalist system.

Some of the Corsican’s speeches are quotes from the Unabomber Manifesto by Ted Kaczynski (noted by the author), and while these quotes are cleverly woven into the text, to use the Unabomber Manifesto seems to this reader at least, a little odd. Das Kapital is based on a clever idea—the idealist and the perversion of his ideals by capitalism in an ends-justifies-the-means sort of way. Exactly who is the villain here? And exactly who is using whom? Is the Corsican recuperated by capitalist society even as he destroys it? Berberian’s subject matter is likely to narrow his audience. The author selected some rather deep subjects—Marxism, Situationist Theory, the Society of the Spectacle, and radical environmentalism, yet by treating these subjects superficially and in some instances dismissively, they are made oddly superfluous and ultimately seem to be packaging to make the novel much deeper than it really is. 

Amazon readers rating: from 10 reviews

Read an excerpt from Das Kapital at MostlyFiction.com



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About the Author:

Viken BerberianViken Berberian formerly worked at an investment firm researching New York Stock Exchange-traded companies. In 2000 he received a grant from the Arpa Foundation for Film Music and Art (AFFMA). He is now a novelist and has also written for The New York Times, the Financial Times and the Los Angeles Times. For the past five years he has lived and worked in Manhattan, Paris and Marseille.
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