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Fetishism in Literature and Cultural Studies

History Of The Fetish

According to William Pietz, who provides a historical study of the concept of the fetish that situates its use in Marx and Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), both the term and the idea of the fetish achieve new meaning and define a new problem in the cross-cultural spaces of the West African coast in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He argues that the fetish comes into being at the moment of the cultural encounter between emergent capitalist modes of production and multiple noncapitalist ideologies and societies (1985, 1987); the pidgin word Fetisso, from the Portuguese feitiço (meaning, in the Middle Ages, "magical practice" or "witchcraft"), came to describe a material object that could embody a set of disparate values: religious, commercial, aesthetic, and sexual. Thus the fetish as a term comes to designate precisely the problem of value—on the contradictory cusp between materiality and abstraction—as relative and differential in circuits of exchange.

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