Over at An und fur sich Voyou has a nice post up on OOO and commodity fetishism. As Voyou writes,
One of the criticisms of object-oriented ontology which has some currency is the suggestion that it is a form of, or a philosophized alibi for, commodity fetishism. I don’t want to violate the rigid Leninist discipline of AUFS by coming to OOO’s defense here, but I think this criticism is likely to mislead us about commodity fetishism. In fact, object-oriented philosophy might provide a way of analyzing commodity fetishism which we could use to provide a Marxist corrective to the banality of much leftist critique of reification (such as that of Axel Honneth).
Voyou continues, showing what relevance OOO has to the critique of capitalism. While I disagree a bit with his understanding of OOO– OOO doesn’t claim that objects don’t relate, but that objects are external to their relations such that they can move out of a particular set of relations and into another set of relations, i.e., objects aren’t constituted by their relations, though they are certainly affected by their relations –I think he’s right on mark here. In Capital Marx remarks that commodity fetishism consists in confusing relationships with people as relationships among things. For example, when I go to the grocery store and purchase some kale and parsnips, I think, under capitalism, that I’m just relating to these things, when, in fact, this kale and these parsnips are what Marx calls “congealed labor”. It seems as if I’m not involved in any social relations– or that my social relations consist only of my relationship between me, the buyer, and the owner –when in fact the commodity that I purchase is an expression of the labor that went into producing it, embodying countless persons ranging from the farmers that grew it, those that picked it, those that produced the fertilizer and tools went into producing it, those that transported it, those that produced the gas and vehicles that transported it, those that processed it, etc., etc., etc. All of this becomes invisible in the commodity such that we experience ourselves as relating only to the commodity and the person selling the commodity.
The first point to note is that things are no less alienated in commodities than labor. Contrary to what Voyou says in his otherwise excellent post, a commodity and a thing are never identical to one another. Indeed, commodification is a way of alienating a thing by reducing it to an equivalent unit in a system of exchange under what Marx calls the “money-form”. A commodity is the way in which another (hyper)object (cf. my article in Speculations II) translates another object and erases its withdrawal or singularity. A commodity is an object for another object.
As a consequence, a commodity is what Graham Harman calls a “sensual object” or an object that erases the withdrawal of an object. That object doing the erasing, of course, is the hyperobject of capitalism. As Harman argues in The Quadruple Object a sensual object is an object that only exists on the interior of another real object. Harman gives the example of the imaginary Monster X that he imagines. This object only exists on the interior of his imagination. Unlike real objects, sensual objects have no independent existence of their own, no depth, nor any withdrawal. As I argue in chapter four of The Democracy of Objects, such objects are the manner in which one real object domesticates or consumes another object, erasing its withdrawal or differential being.
In this regard, things are no less alienated under capitalism than persons. Not only is labor as the source of value erased under capitalism, but under the money-form that renders all things equivalent under the unit of money, all things become exchangeable insofar as all things are subordinated to the abstract measure of the monetary unity. What disappears, in other words, is what Deleuze called “repetition”. As Deleuze writes on the very first page of Difference and Repetition, “…repetition is a necessary and justified ocnduct only in relation to that which cannot be replaced. Repetition as a conduct and as a point of view concerns non-exchangeable and non-substitutable singularities” (DR, 1). It is precisely this non-exchangeability that disappears under the money-form and in the commodity. A piece of land containing precious metals, for example, becomes a mere price, exchangeable for other commodities (money), thereby losing all of its singularity and particularity. It’s withdrawal or excess in the face of all local manifestations is erased under the numerical form that simply makes it a “mark” (a notation on a piece of paper) to be exchanged for something else.
In the framework of Adorno’s negative dialectics, this is an example of “identity thinking”. Identity thinking is the essence of all correlationism. In correlationism things are reduced to the thought of things and concepts are treated as identical to the things they “represent”. We encounter a prime example of such thinking in Brandom, where the lingua-form of his thought suggests that he believes that thing, object, can be replaced by language. Just as the rightwing “patriot” believes that the country is somehow literally being destroyed when a flag is burnt because he believes that the symbol is the country itself, Brandom seems to believe that reasoning can be reduced to the lingua-form without having reference to the “pre-discursive”. In this context, at least, given that he sees only language users as having an honorable place within the world of those that deserve normative dignity, we wonder why he doesn’t come out and suggest that people in comas or Helen Keller prior to entering the world of language shouldn’t be used for scientific experiments or food. Such is the place this linguicentric representationalism that refuses to mark the difference between concept or representation and thing leads us. Indeed, for such representationalists the commodity necessarily is the thing given that they’ve reduced the thing to communicability (the logic of equivalence and therefore the exchangeable) and thereby the logic of identity. If it can’t be articulated in language, such thinkers say (and in saying so they’re saying if it can’t be reduced to what representation already posited in the thing, i.e., thereby erasing its withdrawal) then it isn’t real or rational. This goes no less for persons than things. Given that Brandom argues that norms regulate reason, that these norms arise from community (though he refuses to give us an account of how, they just do), and that the reigning community standard in our particular historical moment is capitalism, Brandom is necessarily committed to the thesis that it’s entirely just to reduce persons to the abstract quantificational logic of capital or the money-form, refusing to grant them any dignity or being beyond their representation within that system. Yes, that’s “rigor”, phallocracy, ontotheology, or the logic of presence for you folks. If it can’t be articulated in a set of linguistic norms it’s inadmissable. Enjoy your roast Keller for dinner! After all, Keller, being outside the order of language, is no different than a cow!
Adorno argues that to think is to identify, to reduce the alterity or difference of the object to the concept. In Difference and Givenness, I argue against this model of thought, instead arguing that thought is only ever produced by a difference or encounter, an alterity. Yet nonetheless Adorno manages to capture the bureaucratic model of thought, where the aim is always the erasure of the gap between concept and thing. Like the outraged critic of flag burning that believes the nation itself is being burnt when the flag is being burnt, the administrative thinker believes that things are exhausted in concepts. Such is the teaching of the correspondence theory of truth or representation. Yet concepts are not without the differences they produce, and for this reason are things as well. As Adorno writes,
The barter principle, the reduction of human labor to the abstract universal concept of average working hours, is fundamentally akin to the principle of identification. Barter is the social model of the principle, and without the principle there would be no barter; it is through barter that non-identical individuals and performances become commensurable and identical. The spread of the principle imposes on the whole world an obligation to become identical, to become total. (146)
The concept here, of course, is Value under the money-form. Under this form all heterogeneity of labor and persons is erased, as are all qualitative differences among things. Rather, they can now all be substituted for one another as commodities. Such is the reality of concepts or fictions, wherein the withdrawal of entities can be reduced and they can be transformed into what Harman calls “sensual objects”. Here we have one object hegemonizing others. Representationalism would lead us to that conclusion that the representation (the commodity) can be substituted for the thing because they’re identical.