which the act of production incorporates into the product. . nor with respect to the extortion suffered by the creator of value (the valuable and value-making man. where the producer (the worker) finds himself surreptitiously stripped of the part of the value that the mercantile calculation does not exchange for the maintenance of its labor force.2: 3–8 3 . masks or represses the origin of its pure or absolute value—this last value being nothing other than the living human labor of the producer. the secret consists in that the commodity value (or exchange value) of the object (or product).” from which a new image. which is extrinsic and completely relative to its utilization in a given sociotechnical context) only covers.) As is also known. the critique of the economy as politics—reveals the inanity of this belief. (As we know. or at least without some loss in the substance of the thing. * * * Here we are not concerned with addressing the problems associated with the evaluation or the appreciation of living work as it is related to the intensification or the very creation of value (“the surplus-value”). so that the fetish character would remain once the approach was shifted or the “secret” of its “mystical character” was revealed. . as is the case with certain coined terms (cogito. but rather sets to the account of capital. which seems to be its intrinsic or immanent property (parallel in this way to its use value. as giver of prices in an absolute fashion) to the benefit of the one who accumulates value in the form of general equivalence. Such a virtue is that which not only consists in characterizing. but even in characterizing in such a way that the character (the stamp.” giving rise to a schema “commodity. ensues. Not just the commodity as the fetish—as if this were one of its traits or one approach among others—but rather the essence of the commodity revealed as fetish. This privilege could only be due to a very particular virtue. In Kantian terms: the intuition presented under the word “fetishism” is printed or traced indelibly onto the concept of “commodity.). in the strict sense of the word (to typify a property or an essence). and if this critique cannot measure the hidden and mysticized or mystified value in monetary terms.THE TWO SECRETS OF THE FETISH JEAN–LUC NANCY “Commodity fetishism”: Marx’s formula has been imprinted on the largest and most resistant of cultural memories. these are all Marx’s own terms. the seal) is somehow inscribed on the thing itself and can no longer be detached from it. the principle of this critique re- diacritics / summer 2001 diacritics 31. The critique of political economy—that is. Currency is the fetish. the living man as maker. where fetishism is fixed: belief in the value of the market price itself. and thus a new idea. categorical imperative . or rather synonymous with Marx’s very name. But the commodity value deflects this incorporated creative life toward equivalence within an exchange. creating mercantile prices through a common currency. It has become almost anonymous.

In other terms.” For the conquerors. for Marx the task of philosophy will be to “burst the orderly hieroglyphic husk” [CW 1: 196] with which religions envelop the truth of the world. From this period on. the gold of the conquerors had become a fetish among the indigenous population. slipped into the first. that is. perhaps the word “fetish. according to the etymology of the word. This fetishizing was therefore at the same time parallel and symmetrical to that of the commodity itself: the Europeans’ money becomes a fetish while the indigenous people perceive its virtue among the conquerors.” he calls for the destruction of religion’s illusion by denouncing its artificial character. in the Caribbean. we have no scientific aims. in the monotheistic sense of the term. This hypothesis has certainly more than one point of origin and developments in several works on Marx. Here.1 * * * The origin of the image chosen by Marx is clear: he was familiar with a story that related how. Marx’s early reading of this story goes back to his student years and his then marked interest in the analysis of religious forms. Charles Des Brosses’s Du culte des dieux fétiches. fetishism first represented.” with the metaphor that it activates (or the supposed metaphor: this is precisely what is at stake). The fetish is in fact the artifice par excellence or par essence. 4 .mains no less. In contrast. the incommensurability of the value creator and the marketed product. Alienation is not measurable. suffers such a strong and lasting impact from Marx’s formula because as we pronounce this formula we don’t just remain with the literal transposition of the fetish metaphor. That is to say that when we first consider it as an image it could very well play another role. and indeed that we should. written in the eighteenth century. It is at the same time the principle of the critique and its impasse from the moment that we would like to. Yet the image of the fetish would remain as a fetish-image that would schematize the commodity. from the Portuguese feitiço. adding itself to the revelation of the secret. that is. that would present the commodity to us in such a way as to give it a meaning or even a semantic value that could no longer be merely reduced to an illusory appearance and a revealed reality. For Marx. and another enigma. but even more so. even exceeding this revelation and perhaps in this fashion displacing just a bit the secret itself (precisely because it is not measurable)? This other power would derive from “fetishism” itself. the natives’ “fetishes” are false gods. Marx wants to re1. what we would like to sketch out here would have the following hypothesis as a point of departure: does not the strength of Marx’s formula derive from a power other than that of the only critique thus broached? Is there not another energy. idols. the most “puerile” form of the “religion of sensuous desire” in which “fantasy arising from desire deceives the fetish-worshipper into believing that an ‘inanimate object’ will give up its natural character in order to comply with his desires” [CW 1: 189]. speaking of “fetishism. and in particular (from the point of view of our immediate interest). oppose one measure to another: the critical measure of the fetish against the mercantile measure through the fetish. going almost so far as to invert the distribution proposed above regarding the Kantian indexes of intuition and of concept. in consonance with those readings. “artificial. Nor do we stop at the conceptual grasp of what the image would add to the intuition. As Moses did with the golden calf. Later. a power whose nature appears to them as something mysterious or supernatural.

* * * But does this revealing of the secret really disclose the nature of production? Is the creation of value really presented as such? That is. the truth of his singular and communal existence. Oeuvres 2: 97]. * * * Still. CW 1: 226.2 Gold and money are “crystallizations” of the monetary abstraction. the living (natural.) Marx writes. since political economy is based on the belief that the commodity form is the apparition or the very incarnation of the product. artful presentation of this very natural yet social life and production of society itself. does not itself appear. whose future portrait Marx at times sketches out.” one announces a demystification. By saying “commodity fetishism. it is precisely here where the word “fetish” might very well retain a fetish character.verse the mercantile idols. and for this reason they are “fetishes. Thus. a reproachful or a respectful one. At times Marx uses the word “idol” [for example. Still. slipped under its critical function (or critical-onto-theological function). . and he would be presented to us. be it a hostile or attentive distance. not artificial: the nonfabricated fabricator) producer would offer his face. Around an artificial.”3 Hence. . his true presence. . it is also in this respect that something in theology and philosophy keeps art at a distance. at the same time that it confirms the transcendence and authority of the true god. from this point on Marx will speak of the “fetishism of political economy” [Oeuvres 2: 412]. It is always a negative theology that which unmasks idolatries: and the divine superessence. the magic of money. . Here everything revolves discreetly around art. 3. . since there is not (yet) any presence that can substitute for that of the fetish (and can there be any?). But let us recognize that if he came upon us in person. He would present himself. diacritics / summer 2001 5 . “this brings to completion the fetishism peculiar to bourgeois political economy. Around art and production. does the living humanity inscribed in a work become visible as something other than the idea of an incommensurable measure? By definition. the fetishism which metamorphoses the social. . The revealed secret is called “revealed secret” and “demystified fetish”—but this expression does not yet show the truth of production. valuable woods. (We should note that today in commercial speech “product” is used to designate a reality—an object or a service— synthesizing the Marxian concepts of product and merchandise. Today the emphasis has shifted from metallic money to electronic money. Thus. and ivory. or rather the truth of the producer in person or in subject. . around its artifices and its false gods. We should also remember that in the Bible the falsity of idols is often tied to the presence of precious metals. what theology or philosophy finds reprehensible in the idol is presence as the presentation of truth. 2. . he who topples idols promises the truth of a god that is neither ensured nor saturated by any presentation. “the riddle presented by money is but the riddle presented by commodities. only it now strikes us in its most glaring form” [CW 35: 103]. economic character impressed on things in the process of social production into a natural character stemming from the material nature of those things” [CW 36: 227]. Nevertheless. . But in this way. and it is ultimately the production that is directly fetishized. around production as art or around art as the presentation of a living producer. gems.

execrations. luster for luster. for it to become ever more enigmatic. the lustrous. present because they are precious. . at least from the moment that “presence” does not designate the inert being of what has been put there (what has been placed there) and which is not even there. brought forward in the strange element of presence in and for itself. but also how is a presence produced. and the other that which remains in the intensity of a presence. As a result. which might never be exempt of fetishism. of being-present? What power produces it and what force is in turn exercised by it? How to treat this untreatable enigma?—That is the desire.one must prevent the disillusionment of the demystification. and exorcisms. . or the jubilant and almost incantatory use of the word in Marx. subjugated by the yellow metal so visibly/invisibly powerful among those powerful invaders. and of course the simulacrum of art—whether it be the most austere and the most secretive.) Behind the unveiled secret. precious because they are present—and the conquered peoples. God for god. The fetish is the being-there of a desire. whether it be the artfulness of the secret of art. the fetish possesses a double secret: the one that critical analysis shows to be the paltry monetary secret. a power and its presentiment. no matter where it is placed. nor there. of psychoanalysis. of presenting. it is enough to suspend one’s gaze. the great art that has neither measure nor market. the intensity of the gaze is enough (and this is not its intentionality: on the contrary. nor beyond. mystique for mystique. a force interred in the form and exhumed by it. the phony. . paid for in cash or by credit card. the pro-duced thing: the thing driven to the foreground.) (So the word “fetish” fetishizes itself. worshipped or utilized. Whether one considers it in the context of magic. One uncovers the secret. but the word “fetish” still shelters an undisclosed secret: the very presence of the thing. What is the power of the present. its intension instead of its intention suffices for the enigma of the second secret to reveal itself in turn. * * * Not “why is there something and not nothing?” but “how is there something?” or rather. an imminence. the thing itself. The transaction is attempted [tentée] by the god or by the currency. even upon a product or currency. one through the false and the other through the true. a vertigo of precious presences and their devotions. an expectation. whether it is named commodity or product. it is what differs from the phenomenological intentionality and what defers it). and savor it. the artful. not just how is a product made present. that is. another more convoluted secret cloaks itself—one that perhaps will never be revealed absolutely: it is that of presence in general. its tension. 6 . The word “fetish” says all of that from the moment of its double entry. which precisely as presence retains its secret. the fascination and the luster of the fetish continue to adhere to its own denunciation. in the same manner as do other words that speak of the false. so puerile yet so present and so precious. the tawdry. consecrations. Still. neither artifice nor religion. and its presence is in this keeping of the secret. of the force of the desire by which I reach toward this presence in order to see it. touch it. that is. * * * (Let us imagine the rather obscure bond between the conquerors—fascinated by these gods.

The idol’s distant luster shines in the double bottom of all evaluation. equally unique touch of effacement in absence. “the buffoon and the saint are the 4. but shaken as a joyous and disturbing fetish. thanks to the vigilance and ingenuity of fetish-makers). indeed. a doll with shell eyes. Translator’s note: For an English translation of this passage. and desire. the desire for value or else value as desire. not of presence but rather desire as presence. the desire to give something a price without turning it into a commodity or worshipping it. which certainly does not prevent it from functioning. the secret today long known (everyone is familiar with it. not revealed like a ridiculous secret. brought back to it. of all value. certain feeble sorts of magic in search of effects that are like the inverse of this desire. impossible to convert into a commodity. one remains before the untreatable. see Being and Time 112–13. the familiar uncanny of the power of nothingness. presence collected into a sign. Mixed up between the two. a street preacher is ignored by the crowds because everyone is trying to see the marionettes at a nearby puppet show. in Hamacher 353]. which posits the inverted. . the presentation of the Being of beings. this is called at times art or thought. How does one deal with that? The god or the currency attempt the transaction. truth itself. signifying itself. whose sonority we hear in precious. qtd. but showing itself truthfully as the farce which the will to truth really is (or the will to value.” Les fins de l’homme [Sein und Zeit.4 Therefore. a fact. a piece of colored gelatin—a pure sign. or the mercantile value derives from hermeneutics. We know that there are beings: it is just a matter of knowing. diacritics / summer 2001 7 . the desire of presence. nondeified. A presence that produces the sign and a sign that produces presence. priceless. a rosary of sequins. an odorous rag. sweet and lacerating. it also makes the sign valuable as presence. The preacher then waves his crucifix as he shouts. to a first and a last sense—and that itself being truth: unexpected. without expecting anything in exchange for it. One would think one was seeing the well-known scenario: in Renaissance Italy. nonfetishized truth. a lock of hair. a sign reaching toward nothing. The fetish is presence accumulated in its sign. We reach toward them as toward the other side of death.* * * The fetish is better named than it appears. But that these beings present themselves and present themselves to the point of touching us. the infinite price of unbelievable presence. a packet of detergent. a mothball. which is nothing other than the transmission and the declaration of what precedes all meaning and all value. a pure present. without equivalence and without divine prevalence. that only one of these beings or each one of them—myself being one of them—touch us for a single instant through their singularity. and on the other hand. is associated by linguists with the Latin interpres—a correlation that can work in two directions: either “interpretation” derives from the mercantile value. namely. As Nietzsche said. The double structure of the commodity: on the one hand. meaning. But it’s better not to fetishize any name. a double artifice in whose lacework the imminently strange is incrusted—a pebble tied up in a reed. in the sense that this marionette would be . We follow Heidegger’s indication concerning the fetish. commented on by Werner Hamacher in “Peut-être la question. But when one does not trade. there are some overtly religious commodities or some overtly commoditylike religious practices. “Ecco il vero Pulcinella!” Could he be saying more of the truth than it appears? If desire were always seeking the true Pulcinella. The Latin word pretium. It is the production of desire according to the double genitive: produced by desire and producing desire. It is an artifice. something made: it is produced. It is not religion that brings forth the idol: it is value. through their unique value—that’s what we desire. present without signifying anything else. .

Platt WORKS CITED Hamacher. “Peut-être la question. Oeuvres. Richard Dixon et al. 1975. [CW] ________ .” Les fins de l’homme. Karl. Heidegger. Dir. Collected Works. 1982. I would rather be a satyr than a saint.” Satyrs. 8 . 345–65. Marx. Trans. Paris: Galilée. Being and Time.. Martin. 1962. pulcinellas (little Neapolitan chickens). fetishes: so many manifestations of this that there is nothing to reveal. Philippe LacoueLabarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy. Werner. 1981. New York: Harper and Row. New York: International Publ. This is the very art of art or the very art of life.most interesting human types. Paris: Gallimard. and also of the fact that the secret consists in not revealing anything.” but he ends up making a choice: “As a disciple of Dionysus. Translated by Thomas C. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. Trans.

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