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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Commodity fetishism as magick

Commodity fetishism as magick

These are just some notes I made in an attempt to follow through the chain of associations and thoughts explored in ‘Thunder, Perfect Mind’ - blogged below.

Is commodity fetishism a form of magick? I now think it is… maybe.

Illustration is a zombie pic since one of
the sources I found links
zombies with the advent of

Wim van Binsbergen remarks, regarding the new zombie cults, that "the reference to earlier forms of globalisation (slave trade) is now used in order to express and contest, in a witchcraft idiom, newer forms of globalisation, such as the differential access to consumer goods and post-colonial state power." Van Binsbergen makes a suggestive distinction between slavery and wage labor. In slavery, the entire being of a person is alienated, so that one person becomes the property of another. The slave ceases to exist as a legally autonomous subject. In wage labor, however, only the part of a person's life which is sold as "labor" is alienated. The person remains a legally autonomous subject, but he gives up a portion of his life -- that is, of his self -- in exchange for a symbol of that portion. This symbol, which is money, then attains a subjective power, so that it determines the lives of the people whose activity it represents. A money economy is one in which people are ruled by a fetishized representation of their own selves. Market economies are ruled by this ghostly, dead -- but supernaturally active -- power called money.


…the practices of Chaos magick - in reifying the ‘current social landscape’ - encourage participation in the consumption of neatly-packaged experiences of exotic otherness, drawn from the profusion of signs, images and ‘lifestyle options’ characteristic of consumer capitalism….the proliferation of occultural movements is as much a consequence of economic booms as of social and economic deprivation. In the former case… these movements represent a means of managing the anxieties emergent from the indeterminacies that proliferate within consumer capitalism rather than challenging the conditions which produce those anxieties.
Justin Woodman http://ghooriczone.blogspot.com/2007/04/weird-realism-paper.html

Carlyle argued against the ‘mechanical age’ and the ‘cash nexus’ in his 1843 book Past and Present. This was reviewed by Frederick Engels in 1844

In his context, Carlyle was looking backwards to the Middle Ages , which he compared favourably to early Victorian Britain. To simplify Carlyle, he reckoned a medieval worker building a cathedral had a better life than a worker of his time (1840s) building/ working in a factory.

The big difference he saw was that in the ‘modern’ world, cash/ money was becoming the only relationship between people - nexus having the meaning of both connection/ link and focus/ centre [from Latin nectere, to bind]. In the old ‘medieval’ world there were other relationships, especially that provided by religion (but also feudalism, kinship, locality).

Marx was not interested in a return to the Middle Ages, so took this idea of the ’cash nexus’ and developed it as part of his theory of ’commodity fetishism’, as set out in ‘Capital’:

The mysterious character of the commodity form is due to the fact that a commodity, the product of labour, reflects human social relations embodied in its production and exchange. For example: The magnitude of the value of commodities is a measure of the expenditure of human-labour power. Also, the social relationships between various producers translates into a social relation between the commodities they produce. Thus, the commodity-form and value-relation between commodities have nothing to do with physical properties of the materials from which they are made but rather with the social relations involved in their production and exchange. The fetishism with commodities arises from the social character of the labour which produced them. Material objects become commodities only because they are the product of labourers working individually from each other. It is only by being exchanged that the products of labour acquire uniformity of values distinct from their utility-producing or physical properties. Thus, man-made material goods are artificially given a 'life' of their own , i.e. value seemingly inherent in them.

By using the word ‘fetishism’ here, Marx seems to have been deliberately using a magical/ religious term to reveal the ‘irrationality’ which lies at the heart of capitalism. Before Marx, fetishism was associated with the ‘primitive religious/ magical beliefs of savages’ . It was first used to describe African religious beliefs by the Portuguese -who began exploring the west coast of Africa between 1416 and 1460. These explorations began the process which led to Europe’s discovery of the New World and its subsequent exploitation/ colonisation, which created the Atlantic slave trade. The belief that African religious thought was based on ‘fetishism’ I.e. was ‘primitive and irrational’ helped justify the slave trade.

Complicating aside - as Robin Blackburn : The Making of New World Slavery : Verso : 1997 and others have argued, the British development (from the 17th century onwards) of the ‘triangular trade’ between west Africa - slaves, the West Indies/ North America - sugar, tobacco, cotton and the UK - manufactured goods stimulated the UK’s industrial revolution. Which Carlyle then reacted against to, thus influencing Marx.

I then found - by googling on ‘commodity fetishism occult’ a whole set of pretty heavy duty texts which are not easy to summarise. One was Michael Taussig : The Magic of the State: Routledge: 1997 which I have already mentioned . Previously Michael had written ‘The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America ‘. I will paste part of the first chapter at the end of this. Here are some others…

http://www.sicetnon.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=PagEd&file=index&topic_id=2&page_id=77 The reality behind commodity fetishism :Mario Wenning

Thesis on Feuerbach : Karl Marx

Debord and the Postmodern Turn: New Stages of the Spectacle : Steven Best and Douglas Kellner

Palimsest: Hakim Bey

Dialectical vs. Di-Polar Theology : Thomas J.J. Altizer


Faust Among the Witches: Towards an Ethics of Representation :David Hawkes

The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America : Michael Tausig - text found at

CHAPTER I Fetishism and Dialectical Deconstruction This book attempts to interpret what are to us in the industrialized world the exotic ideas of some rural people in Colombia and Bolivia concerning the meaning of the capitalist relations of production and exchange into which they are daily being drawn. These peasants represent as vividly unnatural, even as evil, practices that most of us in commodity-based societies have come to accept as natural in the everyday workings of our economy, and therefore of the world in general.

This representation occurs only when they are proletarianized and refers only to the way of life that is organized by capitalist relations of production. It neither occurs in nor refers to peasant ways of life.
So, although this work focuses on the cultural reactions of peasants to industrial capitalism and attempts to interpret those reactions, it is, inevitably, also an esoteric attempt to critically illuminate the ways by which those of us who are long accustomed to capitalist culture have arrived at the point at which this familiarity persuades us that our cultural form is not historical, not social, not human, but natural -- "thing-like " and physical. In other words, it is an attempt forced upon us by confrontation with precapitalist cultures to account for the phantom objectivity with which capitalist culture enshrouds its social creations.

Time, space, matter, cause, relation, human nature, and society itself are social products created by man just as are the different types of tools, farming systems, clothes, houses, monuments, languages, myths, and so on, that mankind has produced since the dawn of human life. But to their participants, all cultures tend to present these categories as if they were not social products but elemental and immutable things. As soon as such categories are defined as natural, rather than as social, products, epistemology itself acts to conceal understanding of the social order. Our experience, our understanding, our explanations -- all serve merely to ratify the conventions that sustain our sense of reality unless we appreciate the extent to which the basic "building blocks" of our experience and our sensed reality are not natural but social constructions.

In capitalist culture this blindness to the social basis of essential categories makes a social reading of supposedly natural things deeply perplexing. This is due to the peculiar character of the abstractions associated with the market organization of human affairs: essential qualities of human beings and their products are converted into commodities, into things for buying and selling on the market.

Take the example of labor and labor-time. For our system of industrial production to operate, people's productive capacities and nature's resources have to be organized into markets and rationalized in accord with cost accounting: the unity of production and human life is broken into smaller and smaller quantifiable subcomponents. Labor, an activity of life itself, thus becomes something set apart from life and abstracted into the commodity of labor-time, which can be bought and sold on the labor market. This commodity appears to be substantial and real. No longer an abstraction, it appears to be something natural and immutable, even though it is nothing more than a convention or a social construction emerging from a specific way of organizing persons relative to one another and to nature.

I take this process as a paradigm of the object-making processin an industrial capitalist society: specifically, concepts such as labor-time are abstracted from the social context and appear to be real things.
Of necessity, a commodity-based society produces such phantom objectivity, and in so doing it obscures its roots -- the relations between people. This amounts to a socially instituted paradox with bewildering manifestations, the chief of which is the denial by the society's members of the social construction of reality.

Another manifestation is the schizoid attitude with which the members of such a society necessarily confront the phantom objects that have been thus abstracted from social life, an attitude that shows itself to
be deeply mystical. On the one hand, these abstractions are cherished as real objects akin to inert things, whereas on the other, they are thought of as animate entities with a life-force of their own akin to spirits or gods. Since these "things" have lost their original connection with social life, they appear, paradoxically, both as inert and as animate entities. If the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas at the same time and still retain the ability to function, then the modern mind can truly be said to have proved itself. But this is testimony to culture, not to mind.


Blogger Babalon said...

I will agree that the slaves or the cogs of the machine are well maintained zombies.

where have you been my friend? I have been worried about you.

Hope everything is alright!
~synkronos23 (Kyleigh)

6:49 pm  

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