Sunday, February 2, 2014

Commodity as a Fetish

It's interesting how Negri claimed, as Marco mentioned, that Marx's "antagonism" has disappeared in Capital.  When Marx refers to the commodity as a "fetish" or "mystical" or "necromancy," it sounds to me like a backhanded compliment,  i.e, the engine of capitalism is not built to last, after all. Maybe I'm misreading it. In any case, that idea that individualized human labor, working with one's hands to produce, is what gives he commodity this mystical quality provoked me to think about certain products made today. For ex, if we're talking about a wooden sailboat or piece of antique furniture, or any "handmade" item not mass produced, then yes, the skill and craft of the builder and the appeal of the design and shape are very important to the product's value. But most products, whether it's a compact car or a stapler, depend more on function and consistency for its value. So the "hands" that build these products are less valuable, perhaps because these individuals are not crafting the product but only regulating the machines that make the product. On the other hand, I would argue that Steve Jobs and Apple -- with their emphasis on aesthetics of a computer or cell phone -- have turned the tide and made the labor, at least in terms of product design,that goes into tech devices more important.

One more thing:  Marx's feeling that the beauty of a commodity lies in its impurity reminds me of a key feature in the best novels: the most compelling heroes and villains are "impure" and have traits of each. Therefore, a complex hero is a "commodity" because of their pliability. They can conform and appeal to the desires of different readers and viewers. (And thus, their use-value to their authors is the ability to sell more books!)

Those are my Deep Thoughts for the week.

1 comment:

  1. You’ve zeroed in on one of the concepts from this week’s readings that really caused me to stop and think—that of use value vs. an “affective value” of sorts. A sailboat, antique desk, or hand loomed and embroidered shirt have the same use value than any of these products produced mechanically. Perhaps, they have even less—the boat may have irregularities not present in some sort of mass mold, an antique desk may be less stable, a shirt,somewhat rougher. Yet, in almost every case, the artisan or handcrafted commodity somehow garners more exchange value.

    From our simple equations, it seems that it shouldn’t matter how much more labor or skill went in to the handcrafted items; we pay more for them There is something affective in the nature of these items that call us in a different way than a new speedboat, IKEA desk, or Hanes T-shirt. Here we encounter a area that has attracted more than one critic of Marx’s accounts. He becomes so bound up in a modern, rational world that there is little or no space for people to behave as humans—occasionally irrational and led by emotion over reason.



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