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Jack Davis
Jack Davis

Reification, Or The Anxiety Of Late Capitalism


Of all the concepts which have emerged to describe the effects of capitalism on the human world, none is more graphic or easily grasped than "reification"--the process by which men and women are turned into objects, things. Arising out of Marx's account of commodity fetishism, the concept of reification offers an unrivalled tool with which to explain the real consequences of the power of capital on consciousness itself. Symptoms of reification are proliferating around us--from the branding of goods and services to racial and sexual stereotypes, all forms of religious faith, the growth of nationalism, and recent concepts like "spin" and "globalization." At such a time, the term ought to enjoy greater critical currency than ever. Recent thinkers, however, have expressed deep reservations about the concept, and the term has become marginalized in the humanities and social societies. Eschewing this trend, Timothy Bewes opens up a new formulation of the concept, claiming that, in the highly reflective age of "late capitalism," reification is best understood as a form of social and cultural anxiety further, that such an understanding returns the concept to its origins in the work of Georg Luk cs. Drawing upon writers including Kierkegaard, Herman Melville, Proust and Flannery O'Connor, he outlines a theory of reification which promises to unite politics with truth, art with experience, and philosophy with real life.




Reification, or the Anxiety of Late Capitalism


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As capitalism assimilates into itself all aspects of life and society, so too does it transform popular culture, and by extension the production, reception and function of art. An accurate account of the degree to which this has occurred in contemporary popular culture, particularly with regards to its commodification, hinges upon an analysis that takes this into account.


More important than intellectual debates is a generational shift underway. Global capitalism or neoliberalism under US hegemony or just the way things are going: call it whatever you like, it has inflicted economic insecurity and ecological anxiety on the young in particular. They emerge today from their schooling onto job markets reluctant to accommodate them at all, let alone on stable or generous terms, and they will bear the consequences of planetary ecological disorder in proportion to the years lying ahead of them. In any genuine renaissance of Marxist thought and culture, it will probably be decisive that capitalism has forfeited the allegiance of many people who are today under thirty.


These preliminary remarks ought, hopefully, to reinforce the common observation that the debates which open up between the proponents of the various utopias, realism, science fiction and cyberpunk are not so much about our visions of the future--indeed, as Jameson has reminded us on many occasions, utopias underline our very inability to imagine this future--as they are quarrels about strategy for the present. How do we get reliable information about contemporary capitalism and the various collective fantasies of it or, in more properly utopian terminology, what forms are adequate for mapping the current world system? This latter question is as much one of identification (just what stage in global capitalism are we in, or, how late is late capitalism going to be?) as it is one of immediate tactical oppositions.


This is an epistemic framework that is evident in much anti-racist,third world, postcolonial, and transnational feminist thought. It relieson a notion of socially marked groups as the objects of mutuallyimbricated processes of exploitation and hierarchical oppression. Theworker as crisis-symptom of capitalism becomes rearticulated as a socialposition produced not just in contradictory relation to capital but alsothrough simultaneous intersecting forces or axes of hierarchical socialdifference. For example, Rose Brewer writes: 041b061a72


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  • Stephan Hochstrasser
    Stephan Hochstrasser
  • Jaxon Gonzalez
    Jaxon Gonzalez
  • Jack Davis
    Jack Davis
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