Part I: The Senses under Industrial and Consumer Capitalism

Part II: The Melanesian Mode of Domestication

Part III: The Material Body of the Commodity

Part IV: A Sensory Biography of Karl Marx


The production of reading guides to the work of Karl Marx has become an industry unto itself over the years, with some of the finer titles including For Marx (Althusser 1969) and Reading Marx Writing (Kempel 1995). This chapter proposes not another reading but a sensing of Marx's life and works, keyed to the play of the senses in Marx's writings and personal circumstances. It traces the origin of some of his most critical insights into the life of the senses under capitalism to the works of the materialist philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach and the utopianist Charles Fourier. It then goes on to document the "transcendence of sensuality" in Marx's mature works on the capitalist mode of production and exchange, where the senses, like the material bodies of the commodities Marx ponders, appear to transform into ghosts of themselves.

The chapter proceeds by tacking "diathetically" between Marx's analysis of "the social circulation of matter" (money and commodities) in mid-nineteenth century industrial capitalism and the reception of transnational commodities and consumer capitalism in modern day Papua New Guinea. This procedure, by virtue of its historical and cross-cultural focus, throws into sharp relief the lacuna and hidden assumptions in Marx's analysis.1

Three conclusions emerge. First, Marx never challenged the sensory staus quo, whereas without sensory transformation there can be no social transformation, as Fourier and Feuerbach illustrated so well. Second, Marx sacrificed the senses on the altar of science, and to that extent committed no less an abstraction of sensory value (or infraction of human sensibility) than the system he critiqued. Third, by analyzing commodities exclusively in terms of their use- and exchange-value, Marx elided what could be called their sign-value -- namely, the sensuous contrasts which set one commodity off from another and give expression to cultural categories as well as express differences in social location. Recognizing sign-value, conversely, opens the way for a full-bodied, multisensory theory of the commodity and of consumption.


Sensory Deprivation and Industrial Capitalism

There are few more dramatic ruptures in the history of Western thought than Marx's apparent break with the idealist tradition of German philosophy (Synnott 1991). "[M]an is affirmed in the objective world not only in the act of thinking, but with all his senses" proclaimed the young Marx in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Marx). Whereas Hegel had interpreted world history in terms of the progressive unfolding of Spirit, Marx held that "the forming of the five senses is a labor of the entire history of the world down to the present." He was inspired to accord such primacy to the senses by the writings of the materialist philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach. In his doctrine of sense perception, Feuerbach argued that it is not only nature or external objects that are experienced by the senses but "Man, too, is given to himself only through the senses; he is an object for himself only as an object of the senses" (Feuerbach).2

Marx's portrayal of the state of the senses in nineteenth century bourgeois society was in turn influenced by the writings of the utopianist Charles Fourier. Fourier (1851) believed that societies could be judged according to how well they gratified and developed the senses of their members. He argued that the senses were debased by the civilization of his day, in which most people were unable to afford any sensory refinements and in which all people, no matter their rank, were continually confronted with disagreeable sensory impressions, such as the stench and din of the streets. Furthermore, even if sensory pleasures were to be made more available, most people would be unable to appreciate them as their senses remained brutish and undeveloped. These sensory ills, according to Fourier, were the result of a society obsessed with the accumulation of personal wealth to the detriment of the general well-being.

There are numerous echoes of Fourier in Marx's discussion of the condition of the proletariat in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. For example, Marx describes how the senses of the worker, living amidst "the sewage of civilization," are deformed until he loses all notion of sensory refinement and "no longer knows any need ... but the need to eat" . Marx returned to this theme of the stripping of the senses in Capital, where he described the conditions of factory work:

Every organ of sense is injured in an equal degree by artificial elevation of temperature, by the dust-laden atmosphere, by the deafening noise, not to mention danger to life and limb among the thickly crowded machinery, which, with the regularity of the seasons, issues its list of the killed and the wounded in the industrial battle ... Is Fourier wrong when he calls factories `tempered bagnos'? (Marx)

The sensory deprivation of the proletariat was to be expected, given the grueling conditions of factory work, but Marx insisted that not even among the bourgeoisie are the senses fulfilled. All of the capitalist's senses are ultimately fixed on one object -- money; and while the enjoyment of wealth is one of the supreme goods of capitalism, even better is sacrificng pleasure in order to accumulate more wealth. "The less you eat, drink and read books; the less you go to the theater, the dance hall, the public-house; the less you ... sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save -- the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor dust will devour -- your capital"..

Developing Fourier's diagnosis, Marx laid the blame for the alienation of the senses in capitalist society on the dehumanizing demands of private property, and envisioned a world in which "the transcendence of private property [would entail] the complete emancipation of all human senses and qualities". Only through the negation of the demeaning and oppressive tyranny of capital could humankind's "species being" come into its own.

Only through the objectively unfolded richness of man's essential being is the richness of subjective human sensibility (a musical ear, an eye for beauty of form -- in short senses capable of human gratifications, senses confirming themselves as essential powers of man) either cultivated or brought into being (Marx).

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels heralded the collapse of the capitalist economic order. The portents of this dissolution included, among other things: the concentration of the proletariat in ever greater masses, the increasingly agitated character of all social relations due to the constant revolutionizing of the instruments of production, and the reduction of personal worth to commodity status. In short, all of the contradictions of bourgeois society had become manifest on its surface, and the illusion of society could no longer hold.

Reading the Communist Manifesto now, from the standpoint of the present world economic order (when the capitalist system seems more firmly entrenched than ever), what most stands out about this text is how accurately (if unwittingly) Marx and Engels foretold the future of capitalism, rather than its demise. For example, Marx and Engels wrote:

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. ... In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. ... The bourgeoise, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization (Marx and Engels)

This passage encapsulates a remarkably prescient description of the phenomenon which has in recent years come to be known as "globalization" (Featherstone). The fine food halls of Europe and America filled with produce "from distant lands and climes" (see e.g. Bell and Valentine; James), the global flow of capital (and people) which has resulted in the "universal interdependence of nations" (see e.g. Robbins), the Hollywood movies and other elements of American popular culture that have become the "common property" (or transcultural patrimony) of everybody from Chile to Katmandhu (see e.g. Dorfman; Iyer; Appadurai) all speak to the truth of this passage. Summing up their vision of globalization as cultural homogenization, Marx and Engels wrote: "In one word, [the bourgeoisie] creates a world after its own image."

Nevertheless, the apparent flash of insight that this passage contains must not be allowed to distract attention from the limitations of Marx's analysis of capitalism's laws of motion. Marx's gaze always remained centered on the factory and the stock market, and while he may have succeeded at exposing the secrets of the capitalist mode of production through his penetrating analysis of the labor process (on which more later), he neglected an equally salient development -- namely, the presentation of commodities in the department stores and world exhibitions that sprang up in the mid-nineteenth century (Bowlby; Cummings and Lewandowska). The birth of these "palaces of consumption" heralded a transformation in the nature of capitalism with far-reaching implications -- the transformation from industrial capitalism (as Marx knew it) to the consumer capitalism of today. For capitalism does not work by the extraction of the labor power and value of the worker alone, it also works by generating consumer desires of all sorts in all people, including the worker (Galbraith).

Sensory Stimulation and Consumer Capitalism

It has fallen to others working within a materialist framework to theorize the on-going history of sensory and social relations under capitalism -- that is, to theorize capitalism as a mode of presentation as well as production, and as a mode of consumption as well as exchange. Walter Benjamin, Rmy Saisselin and Stuart Ewen have each contributed to this theoretical project, and their respective views on the organization of the sensorium in consumer culture will be considered below.

The growing social importance of consumption in the nineteenth century was evident in the new venue for shopping, the department store. With its theatrical lighting, enticing window displays and its floor after floor of entrancing merchandise -- "each separate counter ... a show place of dazzling interest and attraction" (Dreiser cited in Saisselin) -- the department store presented a fabulous spectacle of consumer plenty and accessibility. Previously, goods had been kept behind counters and it was presumed that a customer would enter a shop with the purpose to buy. In the department store, by contrast, goods were largely out in the open and anyone could enter simply with the purpose of having a look. The expectation was that the display of goods in such abundance would prove so seductive that even those who were "just looking" would be lured into buying, particularly given the atmosphere of pleasurable self-indulgence that prevailed. In his novel Sister Carrie Theodore Dreiser described the bewitching effect of the department store displays on a potential customer:

Fine clothes ... spoke tenderly and Jesuitically for themselves. When she came within earshot of their pleading, desire in her bent a willing ear. ... "My dear," said the lace collar ... "I fit you beautifully; don't give me up" (cited in Saisselin).

The department store thus appeared on the scene as an enormous candy store with a cornucopia of goodies to satisfy the taste of the bourgeoisie for fashionable but affordable style. It was able to do so thanks to advances in mass production -- specifically, the mechanical reproduction of styled or imitation goods. Mass production brought previously exclusive luxury items within the reach of the bourgeoisie, and even the working class. As Walter Benjamin noted with regard to art, what such imitation goods lose in authenticity they gain in mobility: "fine" art, "fine" furniture, "fine" clothes can now go anywhere and everywhere as mass production finds its perfect match in mass consumption.

The counterpart to the (often female) shopper in the new consumer palaces was the flneur, the voyeuristic idler who treated the whole city as though it were a department store, a variegated spectacle of goods to be viewed and occasionally sampled (Benjamin; Tester).3 "The prime requisite of an expert flneur," according to the American novelist Henry James, was "the simple, sensuous, confident relish of pleasure" (cited in Saisselin). Yet, as a suitable admirer of the new society of spectacle, the flneur found his primary sensory pleasure simply in watching, the watching which in a visualist age would increasingly seem to offer a total sensory experience in itself. In his study of the aesthetics of nineteenth-century consumption, Rmy Saisselin writes: "The flneur [was] a conscious observer for whom the word boredom had become meaningless: he animated all he saw; admired all he perceived. He strolled, observed, watched, espied ...."

As Saisselin goes on to point out in The Bourgeois and the Bibelot, the phenonemon of the flneur went hand in hand with that of the photographer, both aesthetic observers, insiders and outsiders at once, both constantly skimming the surfaces of urban life for their rich bounty of visual impressions. The photographer, however, was equipped with the technological means to fix visual impressions on paper, turning the images themselves into objects of display and desire. The mass production of images which occurred in the 1800s thus complemented the mass production of styled goods or imitations. With this proliferation of images and imitations appearance increasingly came to overshadow -- and even obliterate -- substance (Ewen; Boorstin).

In an essay on photography published in 1859, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:

Every conceivable object of Nature and Art will soon scale off its surface for us. Men will hunt all curious, beautiful, grand objects, as they hunt cattle in South America, for their skins and leave the carcasses as of little worth (cited in Ewen)

The analogy to hunting here is significant as it indicates that the photographic reproduction of the world is not a passive multiplication of images but an active appropriation of all "curious, beautiful, grand objects." The notion of the "carcasses" of objects being left behind "as of little worth" once their photograph was taken points to a state of affairs in which photographic (and shortly, cinematic) imagery would become more powerful and influential than objects themselves. In All Consuming Images Stuart Ewen states that Holmes correctly "laid out the contours by which the phenomenon of style operates in the world today." Style deals exclusively in surface impressions, hence the "right look" becomes all important.

If the primary sensory mode of consumer culture was (and remains) that of visual display, however, the non-visual senses were not left to one side. As Ewen notes, the sense of touch was also appropriated by marketers as a crucial medium of sensory persuasion. Thus, in a 1930s book entitled Consumer Engineering, the business professors Sheldon and Arens write:

Manufacturing an object that delights this [tactile] sense is something that you do but don't talk about. Almost everything which is bought is handled. After the eye, the hand is the first censor to pass on acceptance, and if the hand's judgement is unfavorable, the most attractive object will not gain the popularity it deserves. On the other hand, merchandise designed to be pleasing to the hand wins an approval that may never register in the mind, but which will determine additional purchases. ... Make it snuggle in the palm (Sheldon and Arens).

Consumer capitalism, in fact, would make it its business to engage as many senses as possible in its seduction of the consumer. The "right look" must, depending on the kind of product being sold, be reinforced by the right feel, the right scent, the right sound and the right taste. This multisensory marketing, or "technocracy of sensuality" as Wolfgang Haug dubbed it, would reach its height in the late twentieth century with artifical scents added to a range of products from cars to crayons, and with muzak and fragrances wafting though the plushly-carpeted aisles of department stores and boutiques, creating a state of hyperaesthesia in the consumer (Classen, Howes and Synnott).

The hypersensuality of the contemporary marketplace has been theorized by a new generation of business professors. In an article entitled "Welcome to the Experience Economy" published in the Harvard Business Review, Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore assert that forward-thinking companies no longer produce goods or supply services, but instead use services as the stage and goods as props for creating "experiences" that are as stimulating for the consumer as they are memorable. The authors identify a series of "experience-design principles" which include: Theme the experience (e.g. "eatertainment" restaurants such as Planet Hollywood or the Rainforest Cafe); Mix in memorabilia (e.g. an official T-shirt for a rock concert); and, above all, Engage all five senses:

The more senses an experience engages, the more effective and memorable it can be. Smart shoeshine operators augment the smell of polish with crisp snaps of the cloth, scents and sounds that don't make the shoes any shinier but do make the experience more engaging. ... Similarly, grocery stores pipe bakery smells into the aisles, and some use light and sound to simulate thunderstorms when misting their produce.

The mist at the Rainforest Cafe appeals serially to all five senses. It is first apparent as a sound: Sss-sss-zzz. Then you see the mist arising from the rocks and feel it soft and cool against your skin. Finally, you smell its tropical essence, and you taste (or imagine that you do) its freshness. What you can't be is unaffected by the mist (Pine and Gilmore).

Capitalism has evidently come a long way since the days when production was the key value and the reproduction of capital seemingly depended on stripping the senses of the laborer and curbing those of the bourgeoisie. Now the focus appears to be on seducing the senses of the consumer in the interests of valorizing capital. This seachange is perhaps best symbolized by the way in which abandoned factories in the city core are increasingly being refitted to house amusement palaces and luxury condominiums.


Entering the Capitalist World of Goods

The introduction of consumer products and lifestyles has provoked significant transformations in the indigenous social and sensory orders of Papua New Guinea. For one thing, gift exchange forms the basis of most "traditional" economic orders in Melanesia. The new consumer products, however, can only be acquired through commodity exchange (at least in the first instance). Describing the difference between gift exchange and commodity exchange, Chris Gregory writes:4

Commodity exchange is an exchange of alienable objects between people who are in a state of reciprocal independence that establishes a quantitative relationship between the objects transacted, whereas gift exchange is an exchange of inalienable objects between people who are in a state of reciprocal dependence that establishes a qualitative relationship between the subjects transacting.

A good example of a product which is strategically employed to create "a state of reciprocal dependence" is the bilum or string bag, which is used extensively throughout Papua New Guinea. Maureen MacKenzie has studied the role of the bilum among the Telefol, a Mountain Ok people of central New Guinea, where girls symbolically grow into womanhood by learning to make bilums. MacKenzie reports that the bilum represents the nurturing life-giving capacities of the woman who made it. When a Telefol woman gives a string bag she has made as a gift, it is with the purpose of establishing or confirming a reciprocal relationship with some other person by giving something of herself. Thus, an adolescent girl will give a small bilum to a male youth as a sign of her interest in him. If the youth accepts the gift he agrees to enter into a relationship with the girl and must respond by giving her a gift in return, such as an armband. Presented as gifts to friends and relatives, the bilum is at once extremely useful in a practical sense -- "It is like our car and our workshop," MacKenzie was told -- and the means of uniting the members of a community in a web of relationships. By making and giving away string bags women symbolically weave the community together in a social bilum, which is at once nourishing and protective.

Many Papua New Guineans' first experience with Western commodities and commodity exchange came in the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. It was during this period that contact with Westerners (administrators, missionaries, prospectors for oil and gold, coffee and copra exporters) intensified, albeit unevenly due to the rugged geography of the country. Westerners were perceived as having unlimited access to "cargo" or manufactured goods. According to reports, their interest in such commodities led some Papua New Guineans and other Melanesians to develop elaborate "cargo cults" (Worsley). These cults centered on ritual practices -- such as building mock jetties or airstrips, constructing mock storehouse or temples (modelled after mission churches), erecting flagpoles, and writing "letters" -- intended to attract a cargo of Western goods to the cult participants.

The avid desire for Western products which these cults expressed might seem to indicate that Papua New Guineans were primed for entry into a capitalist economy, but the reality was more complex.5 The private property regime of the whites puzzled many Papua New Guineans. As Kenelm Burridge relates, in Tangu the presence of whites was explained by reference to a myth of two brothers. The clever brother, who was the ancestor of the whites, was "well endowed with brains, ability and inventiveness, whilst the other was dull and could only copy" as a result of some "sin" he committed in the mythic past (Burridge). Nevertheless, one interpretation of the myth held that, "since the two men were in fact brothers, and brothers normally shared their assets, white men would come round to sharing their goods, privileges and capacities with black men"; and, if they did not, they should be made to withdraw from Papua New Guinea (Burridge).

In Tangu, a series of prophets arose who prescribed various ritual procedures (such as donning European clothes, undergoing baptism and destroying crops) which, the cult members were assured, would bring about either the desired pooling of assets in accordance with the moral norms of brotherhood, or the expulsion of the whites. In a further twist, it was held that the ultimate source of these attractive new goods was not the whites at all, but the Papua New Guineans' own ancestors, who wanted to bestow them on their descendants.

Creating the Generic Consumer

Fast forward to the twilight of the twentieth century and it appears that Papua New Guinea has gone the way of most societies in the world today, and is developing into a Western style consumer society. Port Moresby, the national capital, is a sprawling metropolis with numerous distractions from beer halls to beaches. Clothes and other merchandise from around the world are on display in the windows of the stores in the Waigani shopping district of Port Moresby. A good number of these products are imitation Western goods from China, so their prices are relatively low. There are department stores in most of the provincial capitals as well, such as Wewak in East Sepik Province or Alotau in Milne Bay, and these emporia serve as more local entres to the capitalist world of goods.

Men and women from the "grass roots" or "bush," as the hinterlands are called, flock to Port Moresby, or the provincial capitals and other towns, as well as to the mines and plantations, where they work for wages. Due to a pattern of circular migration, these same men and women normally return to their native hamlets after a spell, bringing new consumer values and goods with them. Some return migrants will use their savings to try to break into the import business by opening a tradestore. Such stores typically consist of a one-room shack with sparsely stocked shelves of packaged goods, and a Trukai rice, Benson and Hedges or other brand-name sign outside. Tradestores now have an ubiquitous presence in Papua New Guinea. Michael O'Hanlon describes them as "raw intrusions of commercial morality into a pastoral landscape." Many such ventures fail, however, due to the overwhelming demands of kin (wantoks) for material assistance. Mission-run tradestores tend to do better because they are purposely staffed by outsiders.

In addition to the tradestores, travelling vendors visit remote villages with a range of exotic wares: peanut butter, mosquito repellent, laundry detergent, rice (already a staple for many). These vendors will put on shows to convince prospective consumers of the value of their goods.6 In one skit, an actor mimes disgust at the smell of his own shirt, followed by delight at its scent after it has been washed with detergent to remove any trace of body odor. In another such skit, a schoolboy wails in protest at being subjected to a meal of taro for the fifth straight day. His howls are silenced when his mother produces a bag of Trukai rice; the advantages of the product are extolled (it is the boy's real favourite -- not taro -- has lots of vitamins and will make him grow big); and, the youth goes on to boast that he can carry his mother and his father on his biceps, thanks to Trukai turning him into a muscleman. The general aim of these shows seems to be to induce or accentuate a dissatisfaction with the status quo which can only be relieved by the consumption of the goods for sale. The appeal in most cases is made directly to the audience's senses -- peanut butter tastes good, rice makes you strong, laundry detergent gives your clothes a pleasing smell.

The techniques of the travelling vendors can also be found in the burgeoning domain of mass media advertising. Thus, a newspaper ad for Pepsi-Cola shows a row of young, female Papua New Guinean dancers in traditional attire blissfully downing cans and bottles of Pepsi, as though this synchronized act were one more, and perhaps the best, part of their performance (Foster). Companies marketing products in Papua New Guinea, in fact, are urged to consider "the natives" as potential consumers. One ad directed at generating more advertising revenue for the newspaper Wantok, displays a man in stereotypical native dress -- grass skirt, feather headdress, bone through the nose -- carrying a brief case bulging with money. The text asserts that: "he SHOPS at major department stores, buys different FOODS, likes SOFT DRINKS, enjoys SMOKING CIGARETTES, has a family to feed and CLOTHE," and so on (Foster). The idea is clearly that members of traditional Papua New Guinean societies should not be presumed to be outside the market economy, they have money to spend and lots of consumer desires to be satisfied.

These mass marketing techniques seem to be aimed at reducing local differences and creating a generic consumer with common tastes. Thus Pepsi is advertised as "The Choice of All Papua New Guineans." While encouraged to participate in a new national identity through sharing common consumer products, Papua New Guineans are also invited to define themselves not as members of communities bound by webs of social relations and cultural traditions, but as autonomous individuals making personal "lifestyle" choices. Therefore, even though Pepsi may be the drink of "All Papua New Guineans", this situation is presented as the result of personal "Choice" (Foster; Gewertz and Errington)

In a similar way, the indigenous musical traditions of Papua New Guinea, such as that of the Kaluli (Feld), with their polyrhythmic complexity and decided preference for interlock, overlap and alternation of vocal parts (to the exclusion of unison), are gradually being drowned out by commercial audio cassete tapes and compact discs produced in recording studios in towns along the coast. A group such as Kales out of Madang sings in monotonous unison to a mechanical beat and the twang of acoustic guitars -- but their imitation Australian stringband music sells.

Melanesian Mode of Domestication

At first glance, it appears that traditional Melanesian practices and products are disappearing under a blanket of consumer goods and values, and that the sensory models described in earlier chapters will soon be replaced by a taste for Pepsi and an ear for stringband music. Yet when one examines the ways in which mainstream consumer goods are actually employed by Papua New Guineans a somewhat different picture emerges, one in which consumers are at times able to incorporate new products into traditional lifestyles. A telling example here is that of Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder as analyzed by John Liep in his fascinating study of the recontextualization of this particular consumer item in different parts of Papua New Guinea. While aware of the conventional uses of baby powder, Papua New Guineans have accorded it particular local uses, ranging from purifying corpses and mourners, to asperging the heads of dancers and singers, to serving as body decor. In one instance from the Trobriand Islands, female mourners, dressed in black and forbidden to bathe, mark the end of their mourning period by being ritually dressed in colourful clothes, rubbed with coconut oil and sprinkled with Johnson's Baby Powder.

In some of these cases baby powder is being used in place of a traditional substance. In the Western Highlands, for example, baby powder provides an alternative to traditional clays for body decoration. Among the Mekeo of Central Province Johnson's Baby Powder is sprinkled over dancers in place of crushed sea shell powder, and is itself now being replaced by Mum 21 deodorant, presumably also in powder form (Liep). Thus, new commodities do not necessarily have to support new consumer values, they may also be incorporated into traditional lifestyles.

In his analysis of the unconventional uses of baby powder in the Massim region, Liep finds an association with the Massim version of a widespread trickster myth. In this myth, Kasabwaibwaileta (the trickster) fools people by wearing the malodorous, wrinkled, diseased skin of an old man. He later casts off this ugly covering to reveal himself as a youth with smooth, bright, light skin. The smooth, white, bright, fragrant baby bowder seems to possess a similar transformative significance. Applied to corpses it purifies and counters the harshness of death and decay. Applied to mourners it transforms darkness and uncleanliness into brightness and fragrance. The sensory symbolism of baby powder in the Massism is hence in keeping with the traditional sensory model of the region with its emphasis on the "expansion outward" of the individual, as discussed in chapter 3. Furthermore, the fact that baby powder is a product created primarily for babies creates an association between baby powder and youthfulness. The ritual use of baby powder implies a symbolic rebirth, as when in the myth Kasabwaibwaileta magically transforms from an old man into a young one, or as when mourners leave the sphere of the dead and return to the world of the living.

These examples of local Melanesian appropriations and transformations -- or "domestications" -- of the meanings and uses of transnational commodities could be multiplied. For example, Rena Lederman records of her experience among the Mendi of the Southern Highlands:

The Mendi we know do not see [consumer] objects in the same way as we see them: their purposes supplied for us ... In our objects, they perceive multiple possibilities for satisfying needs the manufacturers never imagined. ... They use safety pins as earrings in place of blades of grass and combs made out of umbrella spokes instead of bamboo ... women we know reuse the plastic fibres of rice bags, rolling them into twine with which to make traditional netbags (Lederman)

In another telling example, Michael O'Hanlon records how beer has come to symbolize modernity for many, yet is consumed in ways identical to the ritual consumption of pork fat, and carries many of the same symbolic connotations as fat (such as promoting growth and fertility) in the context of the Wahgi Pig Festival (O'Hanlon). These examples challenge the idea that the bourgeoisie is recreating "a world after its own image," as Marx and Engels would have it, by calling into question the assumed link between globalization and cultural homogenization (Howes; Classen and Howes).

Interestingly, money itself has been appropriated by some Papua New Guineans, not just as a neutral medium of exchange, or means of acquiring commodities, but as one more curious new object to be incorporated into local cultural practices and discourses (Akin and Robbins 1999). The national government has taken pains to impress upon its citizens that the national currency has replaced traditional forms of "money," such as shells. "In this country, metal coins and paper notes are replacing things such as shells, clay pots, feathers and pigs, which earlier were used to buy things which men and women needed" (quoted in Foster). As a visual reminder of this transition the bills of Papua New Guinea are illustrated with such traditional wealth objects as shells, pots and pigs -- and the basic unit of currency is called "kina," which means shell money in the Melpa language. Government publications, however, stress that money is not really a material object, like a shell, but is rather a symbol of "the value of the work or goods which people bring into existence by their efforts" (quoted in Foster).

Notwithstanding, money in the form of coins and bills is inescapably material and it is evaluated and employed in terms of its materiality by many Papua New Guinean peoples. Michael Nihill reports that the Anganen of the Southern Highlands liken twenty kina notes to pearlshells. The red notes are deemed to ressemble pearlshells which are "invigorated" by being polished with red ochre by Anganen men. By extension they also resemble vigorous, decorated male bodies. Thus Nihil writes: "brilliant body decoration, bright red pearlshells, and crisp, pristine 20-kina notes are all of inherent merit and beauty." In effect, therefore, the new bills have taken on the role of objects of aesthetic and cultural value, similar to the shells they were meant to replace.

If new products, and even the money with which they are purchased, can be accomodated within traditional sensory and symbolic orders, these new products also seem to be showing a tendency to occupy the more postively-valued positions of those orders. Thus consumer goods are often presented and seen as being neater and cleaner than traditional goods. One of the desirable qualities of Johnson's baby powder is that it comes in a smooth, neat plastic container, seemingly free of any of the mess and fuss of production. Similarly, PK chewing gum is promoted as a clean, fresh alternative to the widespread practice of chewing and spitting "messy, unhealthy" betel nut. In one government-sponsored ad, a picture of smiling boys chewing PK is juxtaposed with an image of the cancerous mouth which allegedly results from chewing betel nut (see Foster).. From this perspective, where traditional goods disgust by being disorderly, crude and subject to decay, modern commodities please by being self-contained, smooth and clean: forever fresh and new. One sees here again the image of the trickster throwing off his old, diseased skin to reveal a shining, clean new self underneath; and now the old skin represents old, messy, decaying traditional goods and the new self all the attractive, pristine products that shine on the shelves of the tradestores.

Paper and coin currencies are themselves promoted as neater and cleaner than the old forms of wealth. Unlike a pig, money is said to be easy to exchange at a store "for a radio set or a guitar"; and, as a booklet produced by the Reserve Bank of Australia further explains: "Money does not decay or go bad like such things as taro, sugar and tobacco. ... Even when notes become soiled and worn, they can always be exchanged at a bank for clean fresh ones" (quoted in Foster). By this very comparison, of course, money seems to become one more, if eminently superior, material good in lieu of an abstract medium of exchange.

The processes by which consumer products are incorporated into New Guinean societies draws attention to the fact that the introduction of such products does not necessarily mean that a Western-style consumer culture will supplant local traditions, and that a visualist emphasis on display will supplant local sensory orders. Rather, the new products may appeal to the extent to which they can fit into or complement existing sensory and social beliefs and practices. Instead of consumer culture replacing traditional ways of life, traditional ways of life may subsume consumer culture. Thus baby powder may not imply a whole new regime of baby care so much as it suggests an alternative means of ritual purification, and money need not be conceptualized as an abstract symbol of wealth but rather as a cleaner, more portable pig.

However, if consumer products do indeed come to seem more generally pleasing and desirable than local products, then a dependence on a market economy is produced which will inevitably alter the traditional links between sensory relations and social relations in New Guinea. A bag purchased in a store may apparently have all of the desired sensory attributes of a bilum and more. For example, one bilum-maker interviewed by MacKenzie was proud at having woven a bag so neatly that people thought it had been made by a machine.7 Still it will not bring with it crucial traces of and ties to the person who produced it.


On the "Transcendence of Sensuousness" in Capitalist Exchange

According to Marx's analysis in Capital, every commodity "may be looked at from the points of view of quality and quantity" (Marx). In its qualitative aspect, a commodity is "an assemblage of many properties," both natural and human-added, that satisfies a particular need or want, as in the way a coat satisfies the need for warmth (or a bilum the need for a carrying device). The material properties of the commodity, and the labor expended in its creation, constitute its use-value. The quantitative aspect of a commodity emerges only when it is exchanged for some other commodity of an equal magnitude of value. This exchange relation constitutes its exchange-value, but the latter has nothing to do with its physical form. "The value of commodities is the very opposite of the coarse materiality of their substance, not an atom of matter enters into its composition" (Marx). Commodities "as values" thus possess a "phantom-like objectivity." This "ghostly" or "supersensible" character of commodities "as values" is due to the process of abstraction by which they become substitutable one for another in the "interminable series of value equations" which make up the capitalist value system. Marx gives the following hypothetical by way of illustration:

20 yards of linen = 1 coat or = 10 lbs. tea or = 40 lbs. coffee or = 1 quarter corn or = 2 ounces gold or = ton iron or = &c. (1954: 68)

How could the actual material properties, or actual individual labor that went into the production of any of these commodities have any influence on their substitutability for each other in this value chain? Their materiality makes them incommensurable, whereas the fact of their exchangeability homogenizes them all through introducing "something common," a "third term" capable of expressing their value. The "third term" is not, as one might think, money, According to Marx, what underwrites all of these substitutions is the fact that commodities are ultimately "congelation[s] of undifferentiated human labour" in different magnitudes.

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that it is not the quality or individual character of the labor-time that goes into a commodity that matters to its exchange-value, but only the duration of that labor-time, and not the actual duration, but only the "socially necessary" or general average labor-time required for the production of the type of commodity in question (Marx). The abstraction that characterizes a commodity's exchange-value is thus, in the final analysis, grounded in social convention, in "averages" -- not that this makes its value any less an abstraction. The same goes for the currencies and weights in terms of which magnitudes of value (i.e. prices) are expressed, and for the manner in which commodities appear to move relative to each other on the stock exchange. In the latter case, according to Marx, the social relations between individual producers come to appear as relations between the commodities themselves.

The phantasmagoric or spectral character of Marx's account of capitalist exchange value is well brought out in the following quotation from Thomas Keenan:

What remains after the radical reduction of difference, after the vanishing of all "atoms" of use value or [individual] productive labor? Its name is ghost, gespenstige Gegenstandlichkeit, spectral, haunting, surviving objectivity. ... In the rigor of the abstraction [by which commodities become "values"], only ghosts survive. The point is to exchange them ... Because they resemble one another, as all ghosts do, having no phenomenal or sensible features by which to distinguish "themselves," the operation of which they are the remnant can finally occur. Thanks to their resemblance, the conditions of exchange are met -- the very exchange that leaves them, atomless, behind .

There is some question as to the truth-value of Marx's analysis of commodities from only two perspectives (i.e. use-value and exchange-value), and his exclusive reliance on a labour theory of value to account for the magnitudes in which things are exchanged. For example, Maureen MacKenzie argues that the Telefol "do not share the same principles of value determination as Marx." A bilum, for example, is valued

not simply because it crystallizes productive energy in a measurable amount. Rather it embodies the endeavour of a particular woman, and objectifies her relationship with whomever she has made that bilum for. ... Where labour is considered, it is not its duration but quality that is important (MacKenzie).

Marx would probably have had little difficulty dispensing with this objection. Telefol society, he would have noted, belongs with those other

ancient social organisms of production [which] are, as compared to bourgeois society, extremely simple and transparent ... [in that they are] founded either on the immature development of man individually, who has not yet severed the umbilical cord that unites him with his fellowmen in a primitive tribal community, or [as in the Asiatic mode of production] upon direct relations of subjection (Marx).

In other words, the bonds between persons and between persons and things in pre-capitalist societies are not subject to the same abstraction that one finds in capitalist society, where the presumed equality (i.e. interchangeability) of commodities as of persons rules exchange. Furthermore, it is not the gift relation but the wage relation (which is actually the guise behind which "surplus value" is extracted from the labor process) that is the defining relation of capitalist society.

Commodities as Bundles of Sensory and Social Relations

In order to advance our analysis, we must therefore set aside particularist objections like those of MacKenzie, at least for the time being, and examine Marx's account of value determination in relation to capitalist society itself. Questions of truth-value persist nonetheless. To begin with, for Marx "objectification" (viz. the end product of the labour process) could mean only one thing -- alienation (Dan). However, as recent research in the anthropology of consumption has revealed, goods also "objectify" the symbolic order of society. According to Grant McCracken,

One of the most important ways in which cultural categories are substantiated is through the material objects of a culture .... [Objects are] created according to the blueprint of culture and to this extent they make the categories of the blueprint material ... .

Thus, commodities do not only conceal the social relations of their production, as Marx would have it. The system of objects also constitutes a framework in terms of which class and other social distinctions can be and are expressed through consumption -- that is, through the "assemblages" different consumers construct by selecting some goods and not others as expressive of their identity and sense of social location.8

What is more, it is by virtue of their material, sensuous characteristics that goods are able to express social relations. Marshall Sahlins gives the example of how gender differences are articulated in the North American clothing system:

The masculine fabric is relatively coarse and stiff, usually heavier, the feminine soft and fine; apart from the neutral white, masculine colors are darker, feminine light or pastel. The line in men's clothing is square, with angles and corners; women's dress emphasizes the curved, the rounded, the flowing and the fluffy. Such elements of line, texture, and the like are the minimal constituents, the objective contrasts which convey social meaning (Sahlins).

Sahlins' objection to Marx's account of value determination consists in this: "Conceiving the creation and movement of goods solely from their pecuniary quantities (exchange-value), one ignores the cultural code of concrete properties governing ... what is in fact produced" (Sahlins). Conversely, by assuming "that use-values transparently serve human needs, that is, by virtue of their evident properties, [Marx] gave away the meaningful relations between men and objects essential to the comprehension of production in any historical form" (Sahlins).

The sensory and social relations embodied in commodities are constitutive of what could be called their sign-value. The sensuous contrasts and relations which a given object bodies forth serve to set it off from other objects belonging to the same cultural category, and so empower it to signify the social characteristics or "lifestyle" of its consumer. It will be appreciated how Marx's value chains (e.g. 20 yards of linen = 1 coat or = 10 lbs. tea, etc.), which were intended to dazzle the reader by accentuating the heterogeneity of use-values and the homogeneity of exchange-values, occlude the sign-value of commodities. Marx's value chains focus on equivalencies across different categories of goods and ignore the play of difference within any given category. Marx never compares the cut or texture of two coats, for example. Only 1 coat = 10 lbs. tea or = ton iron, etc. To the extent that it ignores the differences in the similarities (or use-value) to concentrate on the similarities in the differences (or exchange-value), Marx's theory of value determination is therefore incomplete. Significantly, these two dimensions are actually fused in the constitution of the sign-value of the commodity, as we have just seen.

Two preliminary conclusions/critiques can be drawn. First, had Marx not been so preoccupied with exposing the social relations he took to be concealed in and by the commodity-form, he might have been more appreciative of the numerous ways in which commodities are everywhere appropriated to express relations of solidarity or individuation between persons. Second, had Marx not taken such a reductionistic view of the usefulness of objects, he might have been more appreciative of the complex ways in which their sensuous characteristics may be coded culturally.

A third line of critique has to do with the dim view Marx took of consumption. Thus, in "Money, or the Circulation of Commodities" (chapter 3 of Capital), Marx invites us to accompany the owner of some commodity to "the scene of action, the market." There we watch as "the social circulation of matter" unfolds (i.e. the conversion of commodity x into money and the re-conversion of the money into commodity y). "When once a commodity has found a resting place, where it can serve as a use-value," Marx writes, "it falls out of the sphere of exchange into that of consumption. But the former sphere alone interests us at present" -- as indeed it does throughout Capital. Why? Because "So far as [a commodity] is a value in use, there is nothing mysterious about it" (Marx). By its properties it is capable of satisfying human wants, that is all.

Marx was wrong to treat the sphere of consumption as a "resting-place." It is no less a "scene of action" than the market or the factory floor. Indeed, it has become a commonplace of contemporary approaches to the study of consumer action that:9

consumption needs to be seen as a production in that as consumers appropriate goods ... there is a "making" through their particular ways of using or making sense of them. ... [Attention is drawn to] the "ways of using" objects, ... which adapt them from the intentions which might have been behind previous productions (Dant)

We have already seen abundant evidence of this in our discussion of the Melanesian mode of domestication.

Marx's obliviousness with respect to the social significance of the sphere of consumption was directly linked to his elevation, in classic nineteenth century fashion, of the sphere of production. "Marx focussed on work as a primary source of meaning, dignity and self-development for modern man" (Berman). This presumption remains prevalent today, with the result that all the creativity evidenced by Papua New Guineans in their domestication of transnational commodities would count for nothing in the eyes of latter day Marxists. As for Marx himself, he would have regarded the importance of sensory signifiers and history of cargo cults in Melanesia as explicable in terms of Melanesian religion being a "primitive," "fetishistic" religion -- that is, "a religion of sensuous desire" (see Pietz; Pels).

Primitve fetishism had its counterpart in bourgeois society, according to Marx, but in the latter it is no longer idols which are revered but commodities. Bourgeois society being several social steps up from primitive society, however, the bourgeoisie is supposed to revere commodities as abstractions rather than as sensuous objects, as exchange-values rather than as use-values. (The famous section in Capital on "The Fetishism of Commodities" is best read as Marx calling upon his contemporaries to come to their reason, and not, as it were, their senses.) In fact, at the moment in which a commodity becomes an object of exchange, for Marx, "all sensuous characteristics are extinguished", and it becomes a "supersensible" item in an accounting ledger or on a stock market exchange (see Keenan).

Ironically, therefore, given his understanding of fetishism as a "religion of sensuous desire," Marx did not perceive how in captitalist society it might also take the form of a cult of sensuous desire in which commodities are not just utilitarian articles or suprasensible items of exchange, nor "mistakenly" perceived as self-moving, but rather potent bundles of sensory symbolism and social relations. As noted previously, the industrial capitalism that reigned during Marx's time foregrounded production and free market exchange, just as it privileged a utilitarian attitude toward the value of commodities. These processes and attitudes tend to marginalize the more sensuous or aesthetic characteristics of the commodity. Now, however, the processes of consumption appear to drive the forces of production (Bradley and Nolan; Parr) and "sense appeal" has become an essential attribute of commodities. It could indeed be argued that our current interest in sensory values is an offshoot of twentieth-century consumer capitalism in which self-indulgence and sensory satisfaction have replaced self-discipline and sensory deprivation as guiding social principles. In the consumer society the most semingly utilarian of objects, from paper clips to lemon squeezers, come in a variety of colors and patterns to entice consumers and offer an illusion at least of personal choice.

While consumer capitalism is undoubtedly bent on seducing the senses of the consumer through its marketing techniques, packaging and products, the consumer need not be passive in her or his response. It is not just "primitive" Papua New Guineans who in their "ignorance" invent new uses for consumer products, using baby powder to purify the dead or lipstick to paint facial designs. As intimated previously, Western consumers may also make creative uses of products in ways never imagined by their manufacturers. The drink Kool-Aid, an icon of the mid-twentieth century middle-class family, is used as a flamboyant hair dye by youths intent on challenging the staid norms of that era. Barbie and Ken dolls, intended to socialize girls into conventional gender roles, are collected and displayed as cult icons by the American gay community. In these cases certain "appealing" sensory and social attributes of commodities are creatively appropriated by consumers to elicit a new set of symbolic meanings. For example, the bright colors of Kool-Aid drinks, which are meant to signify tastiness and an endearing childish delight in gaudy hues, instead signify social rebellion, aesthetic freedom and faddish trendiness when they appear on the heads of yound men and women. As in Papua New Guinea, Western consumers may appropriate commodities for their own ends and even use them to challenge the system that produced them (though ultimately perhaps supporting it).

When Marx described the bourgeoisie as being alienated from their senses under capitalism he could not have forseen all the new forms in which the senses would return to the bourgeoisie in future phases of capitalism. Nor could Marx, as a result of his progressive renunciation of the Feuerbachian doctrine of "sense-certainty" (on which more in the next section), have appreciated the ways in which the sensory signs of commodities can encode crucial social values. True to the conventional Western division of body and mind, Marx imagined the impending communist utopia to be a place where one could engage in the simple physical labors of fishing or cattle-rearing during the day and in complex critical analysis at night (see Marx and Engels). Marx did not realize, as his one-time mentor Fourier did, as the peoples of Papua New Guinea do, and as twenty-first century consumers increasingly do, that the life of the senses is not separate from the life of the mind and that procuring and consuming food and other commodities can themselves be a form of critical analysis.


The Spectre of the Senses in Marx

Louis Althusser has argued that an "epistemological break" occurs in the development of Marx's thought in 1845, which separates the "ideological problematic" of Marx's early work, such as the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, from the "scientific problematic" of Marx's mature works, most notably Capital, which was published in 1867. In what follows, we shall come to discern how, as part of this epistemological break, Marx distanced himself from sensory concerns and considerations.

Marx's early work shows considerable insight into the social and historical construction of the senses. In The German Ideology, for example, Marx writes that "the sensuous world ... is, not a thing given direct from all eternity, remaining ever the same, but the product of industry and of the state of society ... in the sense that it is a historical product" (Marx and Engels). Marx arrives at this insight by way of critiquing Feuerbach for identifying reality with sensation and ignoring the social factors involved in the creation of any particular sensory world. Thus, when Feuerbach tells us that we may find certainty by looking at a cherry tree, Marx retorts that:

The cherry-tree, like almost all fruit-trees was, as is well known, transplanted by commerce into our zone, and therefore only by this action of a definite society in a definite age [it has become "sensuous certainty" for Feuerbach] (Marx and Engels).

Marx would have been guided to this conclusion by his reading of Fourier, who was highly sensitive to the effects of commerce on the "sensescape".

By integrating Feuerbach's philosophical notion of the senses as ways of knowing with Fourier's political and economic analysis of the social role of the senses (as discussed in a previous section), Marx's early work seemed to promise that the senses would occupy the same prominence in Marxist theory as they had in the work of Fourier and Feuerbach. In Marx's later work, however, the senses seem to wither away and to retain only a phantasmal presence. What alienated Marx from his senses?

One answer is that Marx did not feel comfortable with the intense sensuality of Fourier and Feuerbach's philosophy. As has often been pointed out, Marx was a bourgeois moralist (for all his attacks on bourgeois society) and had elevated notions of human fulfillment (see Wheen ), whence his inability to stomach either the apparent sensory libertinism of Fourier, with its utopian amatory revels, or the apparent sensory reductionism of Feuerbach, with its championing of food as the essence of life. Marx himself was "properly vague and philosophical when he depicted man's relationship to the sensate world of objects, human and natural" (Manuel).

Similarly to most nineteenth century thinkers (including the anthropologists discussed in chapter one of this book), Marx ranked taste, touch and smell as "primitive" senses in comparison to the more "civilized" senses of sight and hearing. His work, indeed, suggests that the hoped-for revolution (i.e. the coming-to-be of socialist society) will involve an elevation from the "lower" senses -- the physical realm of the worker who "only feels himself freely active in his animal functions -- eating, drinking, procreating" (Marx) -- to the "higher" senses of sight and hearing -- "a musical ear, an eye for beauty of form" (Marx) -- and then beyond, to "criticiz[ing]" (Marx and Engels) and the abstract world of thought.

While dreaming of a social revolution, Marx was evidently not ready for a sensory revolution. Not so Fourier, who turned the conventional Western hierarchy of the senses on its head by rating taste and touch as the highest senses. For Fourier the interest of the working classes in "eating, drinking, procreating" was not so much evidence of their degradation as it was of the physical and social primacy of taste and touch. Fourier's utopia, Harmony, is consequently rich in satisfactions for these two favoured senses. These satisfactions, however, are not all of an immediate physical nature. Fourier held that taste and touch could provide the basis for valuable intellectual stimulation and development. Thus in Harmony, for example, the "gastrosopher," or gustatory savant, replaces the European philosopher, to, in Fourier's opinion, the benefit of all (Classen).

While more staid than Fourier in his sensory imaginary, Feuerbach also had a high regard for the "lower" senses, and particularly for taste. His best-known phrase, in fact, is "Man is what he eats", and he meant this not only in a physiological sense but in a social sense: "Human fare is the foundation of human culture and disposition" (cited in Hook). In Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, Feuerbach further held that "even the lowest senses, smell and taste, [can] elevate themselves in man to intellectual and scientific acts". Indeed, Feuerbach, in words reminiscent of Fourier, calls philosophers fools "who fail to see that your teeth have long ago cracked the nut upon which you are still breaking your heads" (cited in Hook). For Feuerbach, "food is the beginning of wisdom." However, from a conventional standpoint, and one which Marx apparently held too, Feuerbach's, like Fourier's, enthusiasm for the "lower" senses constituted "`degenerate' sensationalism" and the least enlightening aspect of his philosophy (see Hook).10

Marx's marginalization of the senses in his theory of capitalist exchange might well have been reinforced by his own personal circumstances. For example, Marx continually strove to rise above the often pressing need to feed, clothe and house himself and his family and concentrate on the intellectual pursuits he valued so highly (Stallybrass 1998). Even more distressing, in later life Marx constantly suffered from malodorous, disfiguring boils or carbuncles which errupted all over his body causing him great mental and physical anguish.

He was confronted three or four times a day with the dreadful evidence of physical corruption. The appalling odors, the red sores, the swelling and the pus were all revealed when the bandages were removed, and there seemed to be no way of keeping them under control (Payne).

Marx's letters repeatedly convey his disgust at being at the mercy of a diseased, repulsive body which prevents him from pursuing his researches and writings (see Padover; Payne).11 One of the treatments prescribed for his boils, indeed, was to abstain from intellectual labor (Manuel).

Significantly, Marx's epidermal ailments occur in the "scientific" phase of his work in which the body and the senses are largely left behind as subjects for theoretical elaboration. "He wrote the last few pages of Volume One [of Capital] standing at his desk when an eruption of boils around the rump made sitting too painful" (Wheen). It would not be surprising, under these circumstances, for Marx to harbor a distaste, and even an enmity, for his body, and for corporeality in general.

Ultimately, however, the primary reason for Marx's refusal to engage with the senses in his later work is his growing desire to appear scientific (and therefore suitably "disembodied"). Sensory qualities tended to be dismissed by the science of his day -- in which Marx was widely read -- as unimportant and subjective compared to such quantifiable characteristics as measure and weight. The result was a world which Alfred North Whitehead has described as "a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colourless; merely the hurrying of material" (cited in Classen). The notion governing this scientific transcendence of sensoriality was that underlying principles must needs be abstracted from sensory appearances. When Marx begins to think of his economic theories as constituting a science (in Capital he presents himself as the founder of a new science) he takes on some of the incorporeal language and attitudes of the scientist. Indeed, Marx, has been described as "possessed by analogies to the physical sciences" (Manuel).

One lacuna which results from Marx's transcendence of sensuality is that, unlike Fourier, he is never able or willing to present a concrete vision of the utopia which will result from his economic reforms. (As noted previously, in The German Ideology he briefly posits "a pastoral realm of freedom in which socialist man may be able to hunt, fish, and criticize as he pleases" (Kempel; Marx and Engels), but this sketch is nowhere developed further.) Another is that, as we have seen, Marx passes over the fact that the sensuous properties of commodities are the medium through which cultural codes are expressed. This omission is all the more glaring in light of Marx's insistence on the importance of practice as a means of changing social reality and his earlier criticism of Feuerbach as concerned with "sensory thinking" to the neglect of "sensibility as a practical... activity" and sensory objects as socially mediated (see Hook). In fact, Marx's characterization of the use-value of commodities as "transparent," means that one can pass right through all of the sensory signs which may be encoded in them.12 The mystery, for Marx, does not reside in the ways an object is used or experienced -- "so far as it is a value in use there is nothing mysterious about it" (Marx) -- only in what happens when it is exchanged. And at that point, according to Marx, the commodity strips off its sensuous form to become only an atomless ghost (Keenan): "As use-values, commodities are, above all, of different qualities, but as exchange-values they are merely different quantities, and consequently do not contain an atom of use-value" (Marx). Marx is never quite able to present commodities as completely disembodied, however. Even in their ghostly form Marx describes them as offering phantasmal seductions -- they cast "wooing glances" (at money) -- and spectral warnings -- they admonish consumers not to mistake them as use-values (Marx 1954).

Significantly, the one sensory field which Marx assiduously mines for examples and metaphors in his scientific -- or quantity over quality -- phase is that of sight. Marx's visual references are due in part to the close association of sight with reason and science. While he uses visual metaphors to refer to intellectual clarity, however, the characteristic of sight which most attracts Marx is its capacity to distort and deceive, to turn things upside down and create mirror images. This illusory quality of sight enables him to make analogies to social and economic processes which he believes also deceive our understanding through false appearances. Thus, for example, in The German Ideology he writes:

If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process (Marx and Engels).

In Capital references to visual delusions are multiplied and we enter a world of "false semblances" and "mirrors," with only Marx to guide us to the truth which shines behind the mask of appearances (Wheen). "Scientific truth is always paradox," Marx states, "if judged by everyday experience, which catches only the delusive nature of things" (cited in Wheen ).

In his later work, therefore, Marx rejects the sensory certainty of Feuerbach and replaces it with scientific certainty. Whereas Feuerbach tells us we may find certainty by looking at a cherry tree (and, later in his philosophical development, by eating the cherries), Marx tells us that sensory experience is illusory, but that the scientific laws which underlie it, the laws of dialectical materialism, are not. In Capital, therefore, the senses become ghosts which remind us of the spectral world of appearances but do not obstruct our penetration of the underlying economic realities, according to Marx.

Finally, the rapidity with which Marx strips commodities of their sensuous form in order to discuss them as pure exchange values may reflect a personal desire to shed his own "false" carbuncled skin in order to reveal the powerful force of his intellect. However, even Marx's skin takes on a spectral role in relation to his work. He describes his physical ailments as having influenced his writing and Engels points to certain passages in Capital where Marx's "carbuncles have left their mark" (cited in Wheen). Thus ghostly traces of Marx's own problematic physical form are left on his "scientific" exposition of the forces of the market (contrary to Derrida 1994). "At all events," Marx commented to Engels, "I hope the bourgeoisie will remember my carbuncles to their dying day" (cited in Wheen).

* The final version of this essay appears as Chapter 8 of Sensual Relations: Engaging the Senses in Culture and Social Theory (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2003). Please see that chapter for figures, references and bibliography, and please only cite the published version of this essay.