Horrific Commodities


Halloween is great, filled with spooky and creepy things. A week or so ago, reading Marx’s Capital, I was struck by this passage on what appears to be a haunted table – describing it first as ordinary, sensuous and made of wood, Marx continues:

But as soon as it emerges as a commodity, it changes into a thing which transcends sensuousness. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than if it were to begin dancing on its own free will.

I immediately thought of Oculus, a film in which a large gothic-looking mirror is responsible for killing those who possess it, and then of all the other haunted objects / cursed things that populate the horrific imagination. What is fascinating is that all these stories present as horrifying precisely Marx’s point about commodity-fetishism: that the THINGS are manipulating US, rather than US manipulating the THINGS.

Granted, Marx is making use of horrific imagery to de-naturalize and make strange an ordinary and domestic object, just as horror stories tend to do with dolls, puppets, monkey’s claws, mirrors, houses… The reason these “work” as horror stories might be because they describe in an exaggerated way the relations that commodity-forms imply. David McNally, in Monsters of the Market, makes a similar case, arguing that

the very insidiousness of the capitalist grotesque has to do with its invisibility with, in other words, the way in which monstrosity becomes normalised and naturalised via its colonisation of the essential fabric of everyday-life, beginning with the very texture of corporeal experience in the modern world. What is most striking about capitalist monstrosity, in other words, is its elusive everydayness, its apparently seamless integration into the banal and mundane rhythms of quotidian existence.

I’m definitely going to think about this tonight as I snack on delicious little individually wrapped candy bars that have been made by child slaves.


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