Naming the Crisis

Nicholas Paumgarten essay, The Death of Kings in The New Yorker deals with the recent financial crisis by looking at the ways in which different people within the financial industry came to understand its seriousness and how they are making sense of it now, more than six months after the government’s intervention. The author uses stories, keywords, repeated motifs and images in order to convey the multiple reactions that people have to something that is, ultimately, invisible. As Paumgarten states, It’s everywhere, but you can’t see or smell it (43). This essay asks you to participate in this article by attempting to name the crisis in your own way. Using evidence from the essay, argue for how we might choose to name it; i.e. is it a tsunami, a war, a plague, a meltdown, a credit crisis, a confidence crisis, a global disaster? What other terms might be appropriate? The essay should be in three parts: a summary of Paumgarten’s essay; a description of some of the terms and stories that have been used to name the crisis; a suggestion of your own about what the crisis should be called. In making your case, you need to recognize the power of words to narrate reality: the word (or words) you choose is/are making an interpretation of events that is at the same time a narrative judgement that involves characterization (who are the villains? the good guys?) and plot (what was the turning point? Have we reached a climax?). Your essay may also consider whether your name comes from your own experience of the changing financial conditions: have you had a harder time getting a loan? Have you or someone you know lost a job or a house? How do these experiences change how you see, know or narrate the crisis?

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