David Hawkes. Idols of the Marketplace: Idolatry and Commodity Fetishism in English Literature, 1580-1680.
In Idols of the Marketplace David Hawkes posits that the century in question bore witness to the overlapping of two conflicting modes of thought: Aristotelian/ Thomistic teleology and Baconian empericism; the authors purpose is to explore the "death throes of 'natural teleology' as they are reflected in a variety of sixteenth--and seventeenth-century texts" (28). The first two chapters lay the text's theoretical and methodological groundwork. In the first chapter, the author explains that the natural telos of money is the facilitation of trade. As a result, usury, because it not only makes money breed as though it were a living thing but also turns money into an end in itself, violates teleology. This sort of inversion of means and end also reflects the confusion of sign and referent. The author asserts that "idolatry" embodies a similar confusion between sign and referent and posits that the relationship between commodity fetishism and idolatry is homologous, "virtually axiomatic" (23). Chapter 2 seeks to explain this relationship further by analyzing the shared foundation of money fetishism and religious fetishism: both are forms of idolatry, which is "fetishism of the sign" (53) and a subversion of natural teleology. Carnal concupiscence, as a broad category, is denounced as a usurpation of teleology because of its objectification of the subject and its emphasis on the phenomenal world. It is within this framework that the author sees the Reformation and Luther's objection to the "commodification of salvation" vis-a-vis papal indulgences to be embedded.
In each of the subsequent seven chapters, the author takes up other manifestations of the subversion of teleology and explores them through the framework he has established. Thus, in chapter 3, he explores the manner in which the tensions between teleology and empiricism play out in the anti-theatrical controversy. The author posits that the theater's chief offense against Puritan propriety was the commercialization of the theater in Elizabethan London. By replacing aesthetic integrity (art's natural telos) with turning a profit, this "commodification" and popularization were not only a debasement of drama but also a usurpation of teleology. Moreover, such commercialized, public theater bore witness to the rise of a commercial culture, and, with that, the potential of subverting both the existing social order and personal subjectivity.
In each of the remaining chapters, Hawkes explores the oeuvre of a key Renaissance English author. In the fourth chapter, the author examines the manner in which Shakespeare's sonnets use the language and ideology of usury, the abuse of money's natural telos as a means of facilitating the exchange of goods, in his sophisticated analysis of homosexuality, an abuse of sexuality's natural telos as the means of reproduction. Chapter 5 takes up the way in which George Herbert, in The Temple, makes similar use of the language and concepts of usury to interpellate the confusion of subject and object as well as the alienation of self caused by commercialization and its "fetishization of the signifier" (141).
Chapter 6 looks at John Donne's poetry and the centrality of alchemy to many of his conceits. The author posits that "alchemical theory, logic, and imagery ... provided excellent vehicles for consideration of the shifts and developments in the relation of subject and object that took place" (145) during the period under discussion. Alchemy, as the author explains, works from the supposition that gold is the natural telos of all metals; the natural telos of human beings is the perfected soul. During the period under discussion, alchemy had become corrupted, for the royal patrons of alchemists were not interested in gold because it was the telos of metal but because it was a commodity. In the chapter that follows, Hawkes posits that Miltons divorce tracts work from an Aristotelian framework to deconstruct the position that the telos of marriage is reproduction, arguing instead that its natural telos is "spiritual 'conversation'" (180). As a result, Milton is able to deconstruct canon law, which allowed for divorce for adultery but not incompatibility, by demonstrating that such a position violated teleology in its privileging the carnal over the spiritual.
The last two chapters explore the ways in which the homologous connection between idolatry and commodity fetishism, as violations of teleology, continued to have currency long after explicit discourse on the issue waned. The subject of chapter 8, Thomas Traherne's economic theory, begins with the Aristotelian supposition that there are two approaches to the world: a benign one in which natural teleology is inviolate and a malign one in which teleology is violated when use value is usurped by exchange value. Traherne contends that exchange value is idolatrous, contra Locke, Barbon, and Petty, who posit that exchange value is as authentic as use value. The last chapter presents Bunyan's The Life and Death of Mr. Badman as the "abandonment of his previous, allegorical mode in favor of a semirealist, protonovelistic form ... intimately involved with his denunciation of the economic practices of market society" (214). Mr. Badman, the author asserts, represents an objectified, abstracted, disjunctive sense of self conditioned by commodity fetishism.
In Idols of the Marketplace Hawkes offers his readers a subtle, focused, and thoughtful approach to the texts he examines and offers effective and compelling support for his thesis. This book is valuable for the critical and methodological tools it gives to those who engage Renaissance texts in their research and teaching while inhabiting a postmodern world.
University of Leeds
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2003|
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