28 Apr 2016
Gift, Fetish, Magic
James T. Siegel is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Asian Studies at Cornell University. He has published several books including Shadow and Sound: The Historical Thought of a Sumatran People (1978), Solo in the New Order: Language and Hierarchy in an Indonesian City (1993), Fetish, Recognition, Revolution (1997), A New Criminal Type in Jakarta: Counter-Revolution Today (1998), The Rope of God (2000), Naming the Witch (Cultural Memory in the Present) (2005), and most recently, Objects and Objections of Ethnography (2010).
Part of the Symposium
Concepts such as fetish, magic, and the gift have often been attributed to ‘kinship communities’, and taken to be ‘out of place’ if not ‘overcome’ in modernity. But is Hegel’s notion of the magic fetish in Africa so different from Marx’s and Freud’s descriptions of the crucial role of fetishes in modern societies? Freeing ourselves from evolutionist and structuralist conceptions allows us to take the fetish not merely as the object of an irrational and arbitrary choice of people in primitive cultures but a potentially universal mechanism of deception, fantasy or desire. Art and art history likewise attest to the continuing legacy of terms originally devised for the description of other, non-Western cultures and has most recently focused not only on fetishism and magic but the materiality and mediality of their objects. We are all fetishists; and if we tend to see the fetish through the optics of fixation, it is precisely because of its unsettling nature and composite fabrication; its capacity to produce and/or reproduce originary acts and events and to destabilize the boundaries between faith and law, icons and idols, object and referent, the natural and the artificial.
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Rosalind C. Morris
Bruno Sotto Mayor
James T. Siegel
Organized byMaria José de Abreu
Preciosa de Joya