April 1, 2019
The colonialist concept of the fetish — first introduced by the Portuguese, who were referring to the objects used in religious cults by the indigenous peoples of Africa’s Guinea coast, then popularized throughout Europe during the mid-18th century — was an opprobrious one, suggesting as it did that so-called primitive peoples were attached to material objects in irrational ways, imbuing these objects with imaginary powers. The Portuguese term was derived from the Latin facticius, “artificial.”
However, in 1867 Karl Marx would make the devastating point, in the first chapter of Das Kapital, that we modern, Western, supposedly sophisticated peoples are also attached to material objects in irrational ways, imbuing them with imaginary powers:
[T]he commodity-form, and the value-relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things.
Cultural theorists and semioticians have used Marx’s insights about “commodity fetishism” to demonstrate how human needs and desires are manipulated and reshaped for commercial gain; commercial semioticians have deployed these theorists’ insights to assist businesses in manipulating human needs and desires. But for our purposes here, the crucial point is that — to use Bruno Latour’s memorable phrase — we have never been modern. Humankind has always had, and always will have a tendency to fall under the spell of objects. PROJECT:OBJECT neither condemns nor embraces this inclination; as journalists, we simply find it fascinating.
The FETISHES series, which begins tomorrow, will explore a variety of fetishes including, but by no means restricted to commodities. These are objects — vintage or contemporary, owned or coveted, tangible or conceptual — with which our contributors are obsessed, to which they are devoted, and from the influence of which they cannot escape. It’s a terrific collection of stories. Enjoy!
Here’s the FETISHES lineup:
- Josh Foer on DEATH MASK
- Beth Lisick on MURDERED-OUT KFC BUCKET
- Ramona Lyons on RABBIT BOX
- Friederike Paetzold on OLD HANDS
- Katya Apekina on MISSISSIPPI WATER
- Matthew Daniel on PIPE CLEANER FIGURE
- Christina Couch on LEECH ACTION FIGURE
- Kenneth Goldsmith on THEWLIS SOCK
- Matthew Sharpe on GLASSES
- Katrina Brown Hunt on DAY OF THE DEAD FIGURINE
- Niela Orr on IVERSON SNEAKERS
- Toni Schlesinger on CLOUD ERASE BOARD
- Carlo Rotella on TONE BAR
- Hilary Greenbaum on FAMILY PHOTO
- Mimi Lipson on CLAWFOOT TUB
- Wayne Chambliss on MATRYOSHKA CHEST
- Chelsea Barabas on SWITCHBLADE
- Marc Weidenbaum on DUMMY JACK
- Kelli Anderson on MIURA-ORI FOLD
- Shawn Wolfe on BOX OF AYDS
- Alyssa Giacobbe on LOVE NOTE
- Abby Rapoport on MAGNATILES
- Ciara O’Rourke on MOLLY McINTIRE DOLL
- Bryn Smith on DUCK UMBRELLA
- Kerry Lauerman on WALL ORGANIZER
PROJECT:OBJECT co-editors Rob Walker and Josh Glenn are grateful to this volume’s contributors, many of whom have contributed their fees to the ACLU.
Many thanks to HILOBROW friend Chris Piascik for the uncanny FETISHES series logo.
SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS at HILOBROW: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | PROJECT:OBJECT newsletter | PROJECT:OBJECT objects (Threadless shop — all profits donated to the ACLU) | POLITICAL OBJECTS series (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS series (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS series (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 series (4Q2017) | FLAIR series (2Q2018) | FOSSIL series (4Q2018) | FETISHES series (2Q2019) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 2 series (4Q2019) | MOVIE OBJECTS series (2Q2020). ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY excerpts.