Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__In2PQS60
LECTURE TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al7O2puvdDA

ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Sunday, March 10, 2013

THE LIMITS OF COMMODITY FETISHISM

When Susie and I got married twenty-five years ago, one of the lesser items she brought to our new combined household was a big clunky ceramic ashtray.  Since neither of us smoked, she took to using it as a depository, by the side of her bed, for earrings, glasses, her watch, and such like things.  One day, as I was making the bed, I thought to look at the underside of the ashtray, and found inscribed there "Editions Picasso."  "Huh," I thought, "Do you suppose this ugly thing is worth something?"  So I took it along to an art shop in the mall and asked, in a studiedly neutral voice, "Can you tell me the market value of this ashtray?"  The owner of the shop turned it over, looked at it, went into the back room to consult some books, and came back.  "Well," he said, "at auction it should bring about five thousand dollars."

I am forced to admit that in this case the mystifications of capitalism failed me.  Try as I might, I could not feel the slightest tingle of divinity emanating from the ashtray.  To this day, it sits on Susie's bed table, holding earrings, glasses, her watch, and such like things.  There are limits.

3 comments:

Jerry Fresia said...

This may help:

"The 'refined', the 'rich', the 'professional do nothing', the 'distiller of quintessence' desire only the peculiar, and sensational, the eccentric, the scandalous in today's art. And I myself, since the advent of cubism, have fed these fellows what they wanted and satisfied these critics with all the ridiculous ideas that have passed through my head. The less they understood, the more they have admired me! ...Today, as you know, I am celebrated, I am rich. But when I am alone, I do not have the effrontery to consider myself an artist at all, not in the grand meaning of the word. ...I am only a public clown, a mountebank. I have understood my time and exploited the imbecility, the vanity, the greed of my contemporaries. It is a bitter confession, this confession of mine, more painful than it may seem. But, at least, and at last, it does have the merit of being honest. - PICASSO"

Charles Pigden said...

Now Professor Wolff, I know you are not short of a bob or two, but if the thing really is ugly, then why not sell it to somebody who likes that sort of thing and have fun with the $5000? Not selling it means that there is an idiot art collector somewhere not getting his kicks and $5000 worth of fun that you, your wife/your heirs or your favorite charities are not getting. Surely there are ATTRACTIVE ceramic ear-ring receptacles to be had for a mere fraction of the price! I say that if this is a commodity that you don't fetishize, why not exploit the commodity fetishism of somebody else? There are some people with more money than aesthetic sense. Why not do your bit towards righting the cosmic balance?
Charles Pigden

Robert Paul Wolff said...

First of all, Jerry, if that really is an honest to goodness Picasso quote, it has got to be the best quote by an artist in the history of art!

Professor Pigden [if I may], I considered that when we first learned of its "value," but Susie is fond of it, sort of the way one grows fond of a plastic pink flamingo on one's front lawn, and I would have to schlepp it to a center of fine art like New York, since no one down here in North Carolina is crazy enough to pay big bucks for an ugly ashtray, even one with "editions Picasso" written on the bottom. But I must say the idea of cashing it in and donating the money to charity intrigues me. Then there is always EBay. Decisions, decisions. I feel, once again, like the hero of THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY. Why did He have to drop this in my lap? Of course, I could destroy the blasted thing, thereby, presumably, raising the price of all the other exemplars a tiny bit, assuming perfect markets.