Since the early-modern encounter between African and European merchants on the Guinea Coast, the term “fetish” has invoked African gods as a metaphor for what European social critics believe to be disorders in European thought. Yet African gods have a social logic of their own that is no less reasonable than the different, but equally socially positioned, theories of Marx and Freud. J. Lorand Matory will offer a novel perspective on the social roots of these tandem African and European understandings of collective action, illuminating the relationship of European social theory to the racism suffered by Africans and assimilated Jews alike.
Race, Representation, and Museums Lecture Series
J. Lorand Matory, Lawrence Richardson Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Director, Sacred Arts of the Black Atlantic Project, Duke University
Presented 3/7/17 by Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology in collaboration with the Departments of Anthropology and Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
Marx, Freud, and the Gods Black People Make: European Social Theory and the Real-Life “Fetish”
[00:00:05.07] It's a real pleasure to welcome back Professor James Lorand Matory, or Randy as we know him, to Harvard. He is a 1982 BA of Harvard College. And after getting his MA and PhD in anthropology from the University of Chicago, came back to Harvard in 1991 as an assistant professor, and was promoted to full professor with tenure in the anthropology department in 1998, before deciding to move on to Duke University in 2009. Currently still at Duke, he is, as you just heard but I will repeat, the Lawrence Richardson Professor of Cultural Anthropology and African-Amercan Studies.
[00:00:45.21] Randy Matory is one of the most accomplished and distinguished scholars of both African and African-American studies in the world today. Among the many awards he's received in recognition of his achievements are the Alexander von Humboldt Research award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Bonn, Germany. The Distinguished Africana Award given by the American Anthropological Association for outstanding contribution to African studies and anthropology. The Melville J. Herskovits Prize, awarded by the African Studies Association for the best book of 2005. Which was for his first book-- for his second book, Black Atlantic Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomble. A Choice Outstanding Scholarly book of the year award of 1994, which was for his first book, Sex and the Empire That Is No More, Gender and the Politics of Metaphor in Oyo-Yoruba Religion. And the 2016 honorable mention, the Elliott P. Skinner prize for the best book of the year, for his third book, Stigma and Culture, Last Place Anxiety in Black America.
[00:02:01.63] You can tell from the accolades that his work has garnered, Randy is a brilliant ethnography and a trenchant original thinker. His first two books kind of in a sense form a box set. With the first one, Sex and the Empire That Is No
[00:02:17.43] More based on two years of field work in Nigeria studying Yoruba rituals of worship and healing. This book takes the theoretically innovative turn of analyzing rituals not as structuralist functionalist creations of social order, nor as Turnerian ritual processes per se, but as metaphors that in the social context of their performance may alter the social order or offer alternative conceptions of it.
[00:02:47.40] From a gender perspective, what is distinctive of these rituals is that female priestesses and transgendered persons take the lead ritual roles, though this may not be surprising in a society where heterosexual male-female pairings are not privileged in the first place and both male wives and female husbands are relatively common. Ritual metaphors authorize women to take on male roles as husbands and Yoruba kings and chiefs are like wives and children to the ritual priestesses. In my view, not since Gregory Bateson's classic 1930s analysis of the ritual Naven has there been such an original and surprising study of ritual.
[00:03:31.35] Black Atlantic Religion was conceived as a sequel to Sex and the Empire by looking at the presence of African culture, especially the Candomble religion of spirit possession, dance, healing, and blood sacrifice as a transatlantic religion spanning Nigeria, Benin, Haiti, Cuba, Trinidad, and the United States. And astonishingly, Randy did fieldwork in all these places, though the focus was on Brazil. Far from being a folk tradition, its practitioners were and are cosmopolitan writers and merchants of diverse classes and backgrounds, whose investment in maintaining the religion were at once spiritual as well as commercial, and whose influence were as deep in Africa as they were in Brazil. This transnational component, he argues, was not recent but an enduring feature of the religion's identity, which Randy's historical analysis deftly shows.
[00:04:28.35] His third book, Stigma and Culture, is in a sense, or at least in my view, his most American of African-American research. Focus on what he described in a talk he gave yesterday in the anthropology department as the sad story of stigmatization that disadvantaged ethnic and racial groups engage in when describing other such groups they compete with for merit and advancement in, more sadly still, US college universities. The fieldwork was done at all black Howard University, Harvard University, and Duke University, and the ethnography is a provocative yet nuanced and sensitive handling of a highly controversial topic.
[00:05:14.34] But as long as I knew him as a colleague and friend during the entire time he was teaching at Harvard, Randy never shied away from difficult positions or being outspoken about the things he cared about passionately. Indeed, he didn't pull his punches even when squaring off against some of the most powerful figures in the university. And what I also remember was that he never lost his dignity or graciousness under fire, nor his wonderful sense of humor, which I'm sure will come through in his talk today.
[00:05:47.19] I miss him as a colleague, and so it is a real treat to have him back again in our midst if only for a couple of days. You've been away too long, Randy. So you can see the title of the talk for yourselves. I would like you to warmly welcome our speaker for today, Randy Matory.
[00:06:06.14] [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]
[00:06:11.49] I cannot fail to do that first because the last time I lectured here 18 years ago was the occasion of my inaugural lecture as a tenured professor at Harvard. And the spirit of unpredictability [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] screwed up my slide show terribly.
[00:06:30.30] 18 years ago, my late father William Earl Matory Senior M.D. Sat in one of those chairs, as did my late sister, Dr. Yvedt Love Matory. Now they sit in memory. This is a place of deep memory for me and deep emotion, particularly because of them and because you all, my dear old friends, and my dear colleagues, as well as new friends have gathered here.
[00:06:55.77] I moved to Duke. My heart's still here. But I don't miss the weather, except today, because I had my mojo working. In Yoruba, that means hold the rain. Mojo. The rain stopped so you all could come out. So I thank the gods of Cambridge.
[00:07:11.26] I would also like to thank Steve for that very, very kind introduction. He just sets the model for introductions of speakers that I have always felt totally intimidated by. How could I ever do that? He really reviews everything you've read and gives such a thoughtful accounting of it. So that's so much appreciated.
[00:07:29.66] And adding a second barrel to that introduction, Gary, I'm very grateful for your speaking, for this introduction here. I'm very proud of this museum. You've done wonderful things with it since the days of Agassiz, whose horrid plaque stands in the hallway.
[00:07:50.25] So I thank the Department of Anthropology, of Human Evolutionary Biology, the Museum of Science and Culture. I thank Diana Xochitl Munn, Jean and John Comaroff, Gary Urton and Steve Urton. Steve Caton, of course, for this wonderful welcome and your generosity since I've arrived.
[00:08:11.05] And by way of thanking you all for coming, I have a little joke to tell you. One dear friend of mine said that it's not funny, so I'll let you decide. What did the dog fish say when he swam into a wall? Dam. You can tell I'm happy to be at home. Now that joke is not entirely relevant to today's topic. It's about subjectivity and its encounter with the fetish.
[00:08:51.96] Since the Enlightenment and through the vocabulary of fetishism, European social theorists have defined African religion as the antithesis of the social order to which Europe should aspire. Yet present day scholars who employ the theories of Marx and Freud tend to forget that this negative trope of European social identity arose from specific material conditions and social positions. Those scholars who do know something about the biographies and histories that produce Marx's historical materialism and Freud's psychoanalysis seldom know anything about the cultures, the biographies, or the political histories that produced the Afro-Atlantic gods so snidely commented upon by the term fetishism.
[00:09:42.57] I argue that both the concept of fetishism and the animated things that inspired this term reveal a certain set of social relationships between Africans and Europeans. And that both Afro-Atlantic gods and European theories are shaped by the complimentary social positions of their exponents.
[00:10:03.37] So I've just finished a book called The Fetish Revisited Volume One, Marx, Freud, and the Gods That Black People Make. I won't be able to say much about volume two, which is not finished, for lack of time, but I'd like to share with you an outline of volume one so that if there's anything ridiculous in it, you catch it before it's set in stone.
[00:10:25.17] Now in this book, I place Marx and Freud, the leading theorists of fetishism, in dialogue with six friends of mine, who are also priests of various Afro-Atlantic religions-- West African Yoruba religion, Brazilian Candomble, Haitian Voodoo, and Cuban and Cuban-American Santeria or Ocha. They are experts on ritually animated things of the sort that Wilhelm Bussman, [? Charles ?] [? Degras, ?] Hegel, Marx, and Freud mistook for prototypes of disordered thought, rather than embodiments of different thought about the proper value of things and the proper shape of the social relationships surrounding their production and exchange.
[00:11:07.36] Today we're fortunate to have two of these priest friends with us. Let's see. These are our issues. Baba Steve's issue is among those. I just saluted him. This is a ritual call made for me by Baba Steve. Baba Steve, would you mind standing up a bit? This is Baba Steve Quintana of Lynn, Massachusetts. He is a very high ranking and elder priest of Santeria or Ocha. The Orisha Oko, or Lord of the Farm, that he made for me is meant to keep work in the house. In other words, that there may always be remunerative opportunities for the members of my family.
[00:11:54.68] Marie Maude is also here. Madame Marie Maude Evans, also known as Marie Maude, who is a Mambo Asogwe of Haitian Voodoo. And she is a priestess of the highest rank, who has this lovely temple in Jacmel, as well as one in Mattapan, Massachusetts. And this is a ceremony voodoo for my various paquet congo, embodiments of the gods, she has made for me that empower me in various ways, but above all, well, among other things, protect me from the envy of my colleagues.
[00:12:35.91] Now above all, in my view, these animated beings, animated objects embody the indelible, long term, and unbreakable social relationships between Baba Steve and me and between Marie Maude and me, and my relationships with the communities of people who surround them in Haiti and the United States.
[00:12:57.68] Now what, you might ask, does all of this have to do with race? The West post-Enlightenment efforts to excoriate Africanness from its collective body have gone hand-in-hand with the effort to exclude Jewish people. For example, had Marx, Freud, Baba Steve, and Marie Maude been here during the 1920s, they would have felt decidedly unwelcome amid the efforts of A. Lawrence Lowell, our president at the time, to limit the number of Jewish students admitted to the university, and to prohibit the dwelling of African-American students in the dormitories, where all other students were required to live.
[00:13:35.85] Now these points might be rather obvious, but today, inspired by my last book, Stigma and Culture, I will be advancing a less obvious observation about human responses to racial stigma. That is, to say that one response of the stigmatized is to band together with their stigmatized fellows and to unite against stigma and oppression. Another, and I think the more common quotidian response to stigma and oppression, is to say to the oppressor whether visibly present or implicitly present, no, we're not the ones who deserve to be stigmatized and oppressed, it's them. We're like you. We're an ideal version of you, as a matter of fact. I call this phenomenon ethnological schadenfreude.
[00:14:27.23] So my forthcoming book examines many of the physical objects that Marx and Freud appear to have animated with their ideas, which objects also animated them with ideas, such as Marx's pawned coats. He pawned his overcoats multiple times in order to supply his family with a livelihood. His piano-- even in the depths of poverty, he kept a piano and provided his daughters with piano lessons. Of course, in addition to two housekeepers, one of whom he impregnated. But I get ahead of myself.
[00:15:02.00] Freud made a great deal of intaglio rings. These rings that bore Roman and Greek jewels essentially that he gave to his followers as emotionally deeply invested embodiments of their brotherhood in psychoanalysis and of their filial relationships to them. Cigars were also obviously very important to him because they appear in almost all of his portraits. However, for lack of time today, I will limit myself to Marx's fetishization of the Negro slave in Capital and Freud's fetishization of the naked savage in Totem and Taboo.
[00:15:43.16] The race of these non-European antitheses of Marx's and Freud's aspirational self identities was clear, as clear as Marx's and Freud's real time racial identities were unclear. I will argue that the most influential convictions of Marx and Freud were shaped by these men's racial ambiguity amid Europe's integration into a Circum-Atlantic politics, increasingly organized around the disadvantages of being black or being insufficiently different from black people.
[00:16:18.36] [SIDE CONVERSATION]
[00:16:24.22] All right in between these two segments on Marx and Freud, I'll be talking about a few of the objects that are deeply embedded with ideas in the Afro-Atlantic and particularly Yoruba-Atlantic traditions. Traditions that, like Freud's fetish, embody the deep social ambiguity of their exponents and embody the deep ambivalence of their worshippers.
[00:16:48.43] So the first of the three sections of today's talk concern the history of the fetish concept and how it becomes a vehicle of Marx's own ethnological schadenfreude. William Pietz wrote a series of three articles in the mid-80s for Race, which is one of the museum's publications, that have been very influential since then. He argues that the term fetish or fetisu originated as a description of certain types of magic in Portugal that were criminalized by the Inquisition.
[00:17:15.58] He adds that when Portuguese mariners reached the Guinea coast or the West African coast on the Bight of Benin, they encountered West African animated beings, which they described as fetishes, with the idea that arbitrary objects were being worshipped and being credited with agency or the power to do things-- that this arbitrary attribution of agency went along with Africans overvaluing things that the Portuguese didn't value very highly and undervaluing things that the Portuguese valued highly. And selling alloys instead of pure gold, as well as counterfeiting. So all of this to the Portuguese was fetishism.
[00:17:55.96] When the Dutch later reached the West African coast and took over many of the Portuguese forts, they describe not only the animated objects of the West Africans as fetishes, but those animated objects of Roman Catholicism, the rituals and practices of Roman Catholicism equally as fetishism. They also had their problems with European royalty generally, with state authorities that imposed tariffs on them. And all of these phenomena, they described as fetishism, analogizing it to African religion to prove clearly how silly it was.
[00:18:30.60] The use of this term emerged in the Enlightenment as well, as a central trope of exploitation, despotism, and overconsumption to be opposed as Europe formed its ideal self. Heirs to this legacy of Afro-European disagreement about the value and agency of people and things, Hegel, Marx, and Freud too invoked materially embodied African gods as the universal counter-example of proper reasoning, proper commerce, proper governance, and proper sexuality.
[00:19:02.24] I argue that Yoruba indigenous religion, Cuban Santeria and Ocha, Brazilian Candomble, and Haitian Voodoo are also heirs to the 16th and 17th century encounter of Africans and Europeans on the Guinea coast. The push of the inland Oyo kingdom to the Atlantic coastal ports involved the extensive use of political delegation by wives and white flight possession priests, as well as cavalry. Hence, the Guinea coast encounter of European merchants with African monarchs, merchants, and priests catalyzed two social revolutions-- one Euro-Atlantic and one Afro-Atlantic.
[00:19:41.89] That Euro-Atlantic revolution advocated the inherent equality of all white men and their individual rights bearing autonomy from one another. This new social idea also gave rise to a model of the nationalist band of brothers who overcame the royal father. The prime actor imagined in this vision of history and society is a white man. On the other hand, the simultaneous Yoruba-Atlantic revolution idealized the hand in glove hierarchical connection between actors from different families, different ethnic groups, and indeed different continents. A hierarchical connection modeled on royal marriage and horsemanship. The prime actor imagined in this mode of society and history is not a son or a brother but a royal wife.
[00:20:36.86] Marx's newspaper articles were sympathetic to the abolitionist cause. On the other hand, Marx's magnum opus, Capital, represents the enslaved African or, in quotes, "the Negro slave" not as the most abused of workers, or in the case of the Haitian revolution of 1791 to 1804 as the vanguard of revolutionary resistance, but instead as a mute exemplar of how a European worker like Marx should not be treated. Marx made his point by juxtaposing a most progressive view of the source of the value of the commodity with the most reactionary view of US American slaveholders holders about the agency of the Negro slave.
[00:21:20.54] In Capital, the main agent of history and object of empathy is the European wage worker, a beleaguered European man who deserved enfranchisement in the new nation state along with the bourgeoisie and the aristocrats. Marx's appeal on behalf of the worker rests on his labor theory of value. Now what did he mean by that? He said the value of a commodity is not determined by its use value. That is, how we use it and how useful it is. If it were, water would be infinitely costly and infinitely valuable since we use it all day long. But in fact, it's relatively cheap.
[00:21:59.16] According to Marx, those befuddled by capitalism tend to believe that because one can exchange say, two coats for one chair, there must be some inherent, invisible, and fungible value residing inside those commodities that actually determines the value of those objects. Now he described that imagination as a fiction, comparing it to how, in his view, Africans nonsensically project intrinsic value and agency into fetishes. Hence, he described the attribution of some shared, intrinsic, invisible, and fungible value to commodities as the fetishism of commodities.
[00:22:45.20] Are you with me so far? If you're not, nod. You sure? Don't be shy. All right, OK. Huh? I'm OK. All right. OK.
[00:23:00.10] So Marx described the attribution of an intrinsic value to a commodity as the fetishism of commodities. Now with this demeaning metaphor, Marx accuses the dupes of capitalism of being as unaware as Africans that it is human labor that creates value. This fetishism allegedly hides the real social relationships among the producers of the goods that are being produced and exchanged. We cease to be aware that the values derive from who made it and his or her relationship to the people to whom it's given, and the similarly produced goods that are given by that other person to him or her.
[00:23:42.85] And of course, society is a much more complex network of giving and taking among multiple parties, the social relationships among whom are the real source of value as far as Marx is concerned. The value of commodities is not intrinsic in them, but in the social relations among the producers and exchangers. Yet as I will argue in the next section, African and African inspired priests are highly aware of the human role in the making of the value attributed to sacred objects and even in the making of gods themselves.
[00:24:18.22] So how does Marx think that the value of a commodity is correctly measured? In so far as it takes twice as long to make a coat as it takes to make a chair, he regards a coat as being worth half as much as a chair, and a chair half as much as a coat. You're with me, right? So it is timed labor value that determines the value of commodities as far as Marx is concerned.
[00:24:45.54] Now that's a man of my heart. You were wearing your helmet, weren't you? That's how I tended to come to class. Always sweaty with my bicycle helmet in hand.
[00:24:57.65] Now the question is-- so again, not to lose the point-- that if it takes twice as long to make a chair as to make a coat, then a chair is worth twice as much as a coat. So the question is was Marx any more correct than the people he accuses of being as stupid as Africans? Now for example, judging by Marx's labor theory of value, I have to tell you this lecture is priceless. But I have to admit to myself that if it weren't free, most of you all would be at home right now.
[00:25:37.21] Hence Marx's labor theory of value is less a demonstrably empirical observation about the value of commodities than a moral foundation for the principled argument that European wage workers deserve more credit, more material benefits, and more political rights than they were getting at the time of Marx's writings and efforts of labor organization. Who can blame him for that?
[00:26:01.84] Marx argued that the difference between the actual price of a commodity and the actual wage paid to the wage worker is a product of theft by the capitalist who sold that commodity. Indeed, he added, European wage workers accepted this expropriation of their labor power because they had been deprived of access to the land and other productive resources that they would have needed to support themselves autonomously. He also blames the fetishism of commodities. They, like the capitalist, had been duped into believing that the commodity has an intrinsic value that belongs to the capitalist, rather than a value entirely dependent on the labor time of the worker. You still with me? Awesome.
[00:26:45.59] Therefore, Marx calls for a revolution to stop the theft of the European worker's labor power and make the white worker the equal of the white capitalist, just as the French Revolution has made the white capitalist the equal of the aristocrats. Now as an appeal for the rights of the European proletariat, the LTV, the Labor Theory of Value, is to me a moving argument. I especially like to recount it to rich white people. It makes them really mad. I have a good time.
[00:27:13.67] But how does it look when it's considered from an Afro-Atlantic point of view? Now by calling the coercive conditions of European industrial labor wage slavery, Marx turns the real enslavement of Africans into a mere metaphor, or what he calls a pedestal for the display of what really matters, as Arthur Kleinman might have said. Where is Arthur? That is to say, what really matters is the undeserved suffering and disfranchisement of European workers.
[00:27:45.68] Now my ancestors being turned into a pedestal for the display of someone else's rights is made more annoying by Marx's suggestion that the literal enslavement of Africans in the Americas was, under normal circumstances, and I kid you not, this is his word, paternalistic. Capital describes real slavery as essentially beneficent and a thing of the past, non-essential to capitalism.
[00:28:14.09] Marx argued that it is inherent in the logic of owning people that the owner will treat the slave better than he treats the wage worker. It does puzzle me, however, that Marx, in this comparison, was concerned about capitalism's coercion of the wage slave, but seemingly untroubled by the even more fundamentally coercive nature of Negro slavery, however paternalistic it might have seemed to the slaveholders Marx was ventriloquizing.
[00:28:41.55] I could easily understand the slaveholders' motives for telling this untruth, but Marx? I had to ask myself why. Marx's father had battled anti-Semitism to become a somewhat prosperous lawyer, but he had also had to convert to Christianity in order to remain in the profession. Karl Marx was also a trained lawyer. However, having fallen afoul of the Prussian state, he kept his family afloat only by selling his own labor power in the form of freelance newspaper articles, by demanding early portions of his inheritance, and by pawning his personal property, like those coats I told you about.
[00:29:21.08] When these sources fell short, he depended on charity from his industrialist friend Friedrich Engels. Engels ran a cotton cloth mill, so the charity that went to Marx was subsidized by slave labor from the southern US. So it seems to me that Marx hid from himself an important social relation that had produced his own livelihood, namely slavery.
[00:29:50.49] Calling himself a member of the economic plebs, Marx clearly identified with the dependent European proletariat at a cost to the Negro slave. Hence, another untruth that Marx told was that the labor value of the enslaved African was fundamentally inefficient. And that is propaganda that was told by the defenders of slavery after abolition, especially as they tried to re-enslave African-American through debt peonage and convict lease labor. The fact is that slave labor was extremely efficient and it was extremely productive. There was no more valuable capital in the United States at the time of abolition than those human beings. They produced enormous wealth.
[00:30:36.92] Moreover, Marx painted the life of white workers in the settler colonies as idyllic, saying that with land of their own, they could no longer be coerced into laboring on behalf of the capitalists. In this context, Marx seems not to have cared about the people from whom the liberated white proletarian had stolen this land. With thinking like this, the last thing I would want to live under is a dictatorship of the proletariat.
[00:31:04.29] In short, Marx's model of the true value of the commodity and his falsely favorable comparison of wage workers productivity with that of the Negro slave dramatize the justice of white workers claim to the same rights as their fellow white Bourgeois and aristocratic compatriots. However, in doing so, Marx's labor theory of value zombified the Negro slave, as Marie Maude might put it, shifting the sympathy for their suffering and the credit for their productive agency to the European wage worker. That to me, is Marx's own form of [INAUDIBLE].
[00:31:45.74] Now in the European press, the Negro slave was not a faceless victim. There were many opportunities for empathy in true proportion to the relative suffering of the wage laborer and the Negro slave. During the mid 19th century, Uncle Tom's Cabin was a global best seller. Marx and Frederick Douglass-- I hope this thought was going through your head at the same time-- actually looked kind of alike. Marx's mother called him the Moore on account of his dark complexion.
[00:32:23.51] On the other hand, during the 19th century, Gentiles often compared European Jews in general to black people as a way of justifying their oppression. Even under the conditions of official Jewish emancipation in the 19th century, Christian mobs, undoubtedly including some of the wage workers championed by Marx, often visited violence upon Jews and their property.
[00:32:47.19] The research for my last book concerning ethnological schadenfreude helps me to understand the equal attractiveness of Marx's sympathizing with the Negro slave on the one hand, and on the other zombifying that Negro slave in order to prove Marx's own and his fellow European workers' worthiness of inclusion in the European fraternal project. Now there's much evidence of Marx's liberalism regarding race, but in a pinch, like many of today's politicians-- I think you know who I'm talking about-- he did at times promote himself to whiteness on the backs of Africans and even of his fellow Jews.
[00:33:25.59] For example, in a letter to his benefactor Friedrich Engels, Marx excoriated his most effective rival for leadership in the labor movement, Ferdinand Lassalle, who was also Jewish, with words equally anti-African and anti-Jewish. And I quote, "by the shape of his head and the growth of his hair."-- it sounds like some craniometry that Agassiz would have done.
[00:33:48.78] "By the shape of his head and the growth of his hair, Lassalle stems from the Negroes who joined the march of Moses out of Egypt, if his mother or grandmother on his father's side did not actually mate with a nigger. Now this combination of Jewry and Germanism with the basic Negroid substance must bring forth a peculiar product-- the pushiness of that lad is nigger-like." Now it should be noticed that Marx himself was reputed to be quite pushy.
[00:34:20.28] [SIDE CONVERSATION]
[00:34:27.54] All right. Now in the next section, this current section, I argue that the Yoruba-Atlantic altars embody a response to the 16th and 17th century encounter between Europeans and Africans on the Guinea coast. Now this response is quite different from that of the Enlightenment and quite different from Marx's historical materialist amplification of that European response. Now whereas the Enlightenment and its schemes constructed Europe's aspirational self as the opposite of the fetishism that supposedly typified Africa, the merchant monarchs--
[00:35:08.68] Does that concern us? OK.
[00:35:13.33] So again, whereas the Enlightenment and its schemes constructed at Europe's aspirational self as the opposite of the fetishism that the exponents of the Enlightenment attributed to Africa, the merchant monarchs of the Guinea coast and their schemes introjected the European foreigner as they created gods of their own communities. Introject-- that's Freudian speak for bringing it into themselves, internalizing it in themselves.
[00:35:43.68] However, like Marx's treatment of the commodity and the Negro slave, Yoruba-Atlantic gods embody an intermediary social status of the West African merchant monarchs. If Marx was motivated by the drive toward equality among his fellow Europeans in shared contrast to blacks, the greatest advantage for the 16th and 17th century African merchant monarchs and priests lay in establishing the efficacy of their own conduits to foreign resources and powers, redistributing them in the creation of hierarchical African communities.
[00:36:23.85] I argue that these class specific priorities remain alive in priestly testimony and implicit in the contents of West African Yoruba, Santeria Ocha, and Candomble altars. So let's look at some of the key objects that Yoruba-Atlantic priests animate with value and agency. So this is a pot from a West African shrine, a Yoruba shrine consecrated to Yemoja. Note that it looks sort of like a head. Pots and similar vessels are regularly understood to embody the god and to be analogous to the heads of possession priests and to the wombs of the most important agents of Yoruba society and history. That is, mothers.
[00:37:05.28] These are two altars found in a shrine in Igboho, where I did the lion's share of my field research in Nigeria on Yoruba religion. These two pots contain Yemoja. And the clay pot-- excuse me, these are two calabashes. They contain Yemoja, who is a goddess of the river Ogun. And the pot on the right contains Shango, the god of thunder and lightning.
[00:37:28.36] What do you think that is? I guess I told you already. That's a soup tureen. But the typical vessel used in Candomble and in Santeria to house the gods and to mime what's being done to the heads of potential possession priests and those who will embody the gods are soup tureens. I think the biggest market for soup tureens in the world now is the Afro-Atlantic priests. And this is a soup tureen for Yemoja whose emblematic color is blue.
[00:37:54.75] Now one of the implications of such pots is that multiple beings occupy the head and by extension the body of the ideal social actor. So some are born within the person, namely the head, the spirit of the head-- the immaterial embodiment of one's fate, one's destiny, one's awareness, one's self-defense, and one's love of other people. One's One's mother's head can protect one, but normally it dwells within the skull of her own physical head.
[00:38:26.25] This object is used to worship the head. So that object inside called Ibori is an embodiment of the inner head, housed within an elaborated facsimile of the outer head. And an offering food to it in the morning, chanting to it enhances its power in the vessel as in one's own head.
[00:38:51.28] Other spirits dwell within the body, such as ese. That is literally the leg. It's not even a good translation. Yoruba people don't have legs. Yoruba people have a unit from the knee to the toe. That's called ese. And they have a unit from the knee to the hip, which is called itan. They don't have arms and legs. [INAUDIBLE] I think it's funny but it's true. People look at the same realities and see them in very different ways.
[00:39:20.53] Anyhow, ese, the spirit of this unit, embodies one's progress in life. Whatever your destiny is, there's no way for you to fulfill it unless you have the spirit of the leg to move you forward. Likewise, the spirit of ancestors are present. Spirits of ancestors are present in the body. Certain children who are born soon after the death of a grandmother or a grandfather are called Yetunde, which means mother returns, or Babatunde, father returns.
[00:39:46.27] Other spirits like gods from long ago and far away have to be installed by priestly action, by ritual action, such as Yemoja. Each of these beings affects the consciousness of and conduct of the human vessel. And at times, those spirits take full control of the human vessel. Mrs. Jones is no longer Mrs. Jones. She's Yemoja. What comes out of her mouth, her gestures, her powers are attributed to Yemoja. She is Yemoja. The most dramatic moments are spirit possession.
[00:40:22.79] Now with respect to their understanding of the multiplicity of beings or spirits who occupy the human body, and in fact the rivalry among them, the tension among them, the struggle among them at times, the Afro-Atlantic priests are highly similar to Freud. Or in fact, Freud's very similar to them. You'll recall that Freud understands all of us to be born with an id, an inner drive toward libido, sexual gratification, oral and physical gratification, that's sometimes predatory upon other people.
[00:40:57.79] But then there's also the super-ego present in our head. That is the personification of our parents, our conscience, that also inhibits our behavior in certain ways or propels us to behave in certain ways. And there's the ego. That is, the being in there that's trying to control it all and keep it under control. However, for practitioners of the Afro-Atlantic religions, the spirits in the body vastly outnumber those three and they embody a network of relationships much broader and much historically deeper.
[00:41:32.95] So consequently many of the objects and substances used in the making and empowerment of gods in the Yoruba-Atlantic religions come from the wilderness, such as herbs, feathers, and stones. Or are imported from distant places, such as Bohemian, Venetian and Indian beads, Dutch schnapps, French perfumes, cowrie shells, mirrors, satin, Velvet, sequins, and soup tureens, of course, from China and Europe.
[00:42:01.67] Now the most common of these contents are cowrie shells and beads. Now most people don't know it, but the type of cowrie shells that are used in West African adornments and jewelry and sacred altars are typically not indigenous to West Africa. They were the money of the slave trade. They came back from the Maldive islands in the holds of ships of Portuguese, Dutch, and English mariners, usually as ballast so that when they were empty of cargo, they wouldn't rise up too high and list in the water. So because they were of limited supply in West Africa and they were distinctive and could be arrayed and strung in countable units, they were highly useful as currency. But they embody value, partly because of their use and exchange and their embodiment of exchange with long distance places.
[00:42:54.17] As do beads. Beads are long lasting, color coded, and very powerful emblems of relationship with distant places and people far back in time because of their long lasting nature. Their multiple colors are used to reveal the identity of the god that they emblemize. So for example, this is a staff-- this is a doll representing the authority of a high ranking female priestess of the herbal god called Osayin. And the red stands for the soil, according to [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. And the green stands for the leaves.
[00:43:30.77] But this variety of colors of beads and the numerous count of these beads suggest the wealth of this priestess and the number of her long distance connections. There are stone beads at the top, which are an indigenous African type of bead, but all of the rest are imported. There are even certain plastic beads. I've forgotten the name of that plastic that was very popular in the 1950s. Is it bakelite? Yeah, there are bakelite beads at the bottom as well.
[00:44:01.75] Now what also enhances the value of these beads is their identification with inheritance and with gifting. So for example, the beads that I'm wearing now were strung by the members of Baba Steve's sacred community. All of them gather together to string the beads, placing their ase or their power into these objects to protect me and identify him with that community. And Baba Steve is always telling me about his latest initiates and who they are and where they came from and their professions. So the long distance connections and multiple social links come to be part of the person's adornment and personal identity.
[00:44:42.29] And these objects and ritual processes bear a further corrective to Marx. Contrary to Marx's demeaning metaphor, Afro-Atlantic priests typically do recognize that it is people who make gods. In Yoruba, in Spanish, in Portuguese, very similar terms are used. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] to make the [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] to make the holy being. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] to make the Saint, to make the holy being.
[00:45:09.72] This is how initiation is described, an initiation that plants a new being in the head, but also creates a vessel that embodies the power of that god and regularly is described as that god. In the making of these Afro-Atlantic gods, the priests are recreating the social relationships of the person at the same time that they are remaking the person. Hence, a person being initiated in the service of the gods is called in Yoruba, [YORUBA] which means wife, whether you're male or female. And likewise, [CUBAN SPANISH] in Cuban Spanish or [BRAZILIAN PORTUGUESE] in Brazilian Portuguese.
[00:45:51.77] Now both the sacred wife and his or her pots are now vessels of a being made by a team of people who cooperate in the making of that spirit. Possession is described as the gods mounting the person in the same sense that a rider mounts a horse, that a male being mounts a female being sexually. And in the same sense, a god occupies the body of a priest or gets on top of a priest.
[00:46:24.28] Now much of this recalls the history of the Oyo empire that I alluded to earlier. The importance of cavalry-- horses imported from the north enabling conquest toward the south and trade with the Europeans on the coast. Likewise, wives were used. Regularly, the literal wives of the monarch, the wives of his or her predecessors, and people ritually prepared as possession priests of either the royal god Shango or of the will of the king or queen, him or herself, were embedded in the head of the possession priest using this technology.
[00:47:02.90] Now you might justifiably call this phenomenon fetishism too in the sense that the agency of the horse or the possession priest has been displaced by that of the royal palace so that relatives of the King--
[00:47:18.41] [SIDE CONVERSATION]
[00:47:20.51] So that the relatives of the King could not assume powers that would enable them to usurp the throne. The monarch could usurp the bodies of others, displacing their consciousness and will with his own in political delegation.
[00:47:38.29] I wanted to add further that much like the fetishes of Freud and his patients, the animated objects of Yoruba-Atlantic religions embody a deep ambivalence. Not only an ambivalence related directly to the merchant monarchs' trade with Europeans and Africans, which I will discuss more in detail, but manifest in multiple forms. So for example, this is an [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. That is, a staff of fate that embodies the uprightness and progress of a person in life. When it lies down in a gesture akin to death, it causes a lot of trouble. So its uprightness is very important.
[00:48:24.49] Notice that it features many birds, representations of birds. Birds allude to people I have to speak about very cautiously. One must always speak very nicely of these lovely ladies who have a power in them that is birdlike. And when they like you, your life goes very well. The ladies in Igboho really like me, but if you are disrespectful to them or speak unkindly of them, they can be very harmful to you. Those of you who are Africanness know what I'm talking about. The rest of you, figure it out among yourselves.
[00:48:58.15] Now these beings embody the type of spirit inside the body as a container that is typical of the conception of the self in these religions. And the center bird here suggests that one bird will corral them all, will be the leader of them all so that their activities are not anti-social but contributory to your own well-being.
[00:49:23.44] You yourself will be the center of them coming around and gathering to be kind to you, rather than disorder prevailing. So the threat of the bird is there, but also the protection of the bird is there. This is a frequent understanding of authority in Sub-Saharan African society, that those who rule us are a danger to us, in so far as they are powerful, but it's that very power that can harm us that enables them to protect us.
[00:49:51.17] Likewise, this is an Hacha de Chango. The preeminent symbol of the god I've referred to-- Shango in West Africa Chango in Cuba, Xango in Brazil. His typical symbol is the double axe. That doubleness already hints at the ambivalence. The doubleness of colors-- his colors tend to be red and black. Red for fire, white for the coolness and peace of his companion god, Obatala in Nigeria, Obatala in Cuba.
[00:50:19.21] The story of his origin that Baba Steve tells me is that Ogun, who is a god of war and iron, a god closely associated in West Africa with empire building, but likewise associated with the importation of fire arms, raped the mother goddess Yemoja, Yemaya in the Cuban tradition, whose pots you saw earlier. She's a goddess of the river or a mother goddess.
[00:50:46.66] The issue of that violent mating was Chango, the god of thunder and lightning, the god embodied in this symbol. He's a mulatto. He's an in-between creature. Not only was he the emperor of Oyo that traded in slaves, secured guns, used horses to conquer, but also to defend its community.
[00:51:07.90] But across the Atlantic, still he is understood, in the places where the subjects of Oyo went in Cuba and Brazil, he is understood as a god of thunder and lightning. A macho man, a mulatto. More in Cuba than in Brazil, but in Brazil as well. Seemingly a product of the convergence between Europe and Africa. And he is mad as hell at his father, very angry at his father Ogun. So he embodies seemingly the allegory of the Afro-European encounter that produced powerful empires, but also produces a powerful threat. Just as electricity illuminates this room, it can strike us like lightning and kill us.
[00:52:00.69] [SIDE CONVERSATION]
[00:52:05.20] This third section concerns Sigismund Schlomo Freud, who was born on May 6, 1856 in a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire called Moravia in a town called Freiberg. Now Freiberg was then a provincial and economically dying town. Freiberg was then a provincial and economically dying town, where Czech nationalists scapegoated Jews. In 1860, perhaps for this reason, Freud's family moved to Vienna, where his wool merchant father faltered economically.
[00:52:44.25] Freud's biographers report the influence of his father's suffering upon the son. And here comes another physical object embodied with great significance by Freud-- his father's fur hat. His father reportedly told him the story of walking down the wood plank sidewalk in Freiberg, and a Gentile pushed him off the sidewalk, saying, get off the sidewalk, Jew, and knocked his hat off into the mud. And Freud asked his father, what did you do then? And his father said, nothing. And it made a profound impression on Freud.
[00:53:20.19] From an early age, Freud is said to have felt driven to make a mark on the West, whose civilization he admired, but whose anti-Semitism he feared. He faced discrimination in the medical profession, but made his mark on the field through the invention of psychoanalysis. Yet he feared that his science of the unconscious would be dismissed as a merely Jewish science. For that reason, Freud worked hard to enlist his Gentile acolyte Carl Jung to succeed him as the leader of the movement, much to the chagrin of Freud's mostly Jewish followers.
[00:53:56.47] On account of his very dark eyes and hair, Freud's mother also called him her little blackamoor. Now recall that Marx's mother had called him too the Moore, suggesting a pattern of identification with Africans by this class of assimilated Central European Jews. However, with a very different intent, Central Europeans also frequently called Jews and other European minorities blacks, Africans, primitives, kaffirs, an insulting term that Freud chose to adopt in reference to Zulus in South Africa.
[00:54:33.80] In Europe, Jews were called black and ugly, according to Sander Gilman, as well as prognathis. That's another aspect of that craniometry that Harvard used to do so well at, that if your skull-- if your facial angle slants forward, it was associated with not only Africanness, but allegedly simian unintelligence. And Jews were described in such terms as well, such craniologic, craniometric terms.
[00:55:01.52] Now like African religion, Jewish religion was characterized by such Central European Gentiles as superstitious, illogical, and sophistry no less than African religions. Hence, for European Jews and similarly marked European populations, disambiguation-- that is, the demonstration of their difference from and superiority to Africans has been one long running reaction to intra-european racism. It's very common in Eastern Europe now. The sorts of violence that are heaped upon African and dark visitors and South Asian visitors in Eastern Europe these days are just horrific.
[00:55:41.71] Freud's narrative voice in Totem and Taboo exemplifies an effort at disambiguation. From the opening paragraphs of the book, Freud establishes a dichotomy between two classes of humanity, which may be the subliminal and therefore the most powerful message of the book, to his intended audience.
[00:56:00.64] While they may laugh at the cleverness or be distracted by the flimsiness of any particular evidence-based argument in the book, readers are rhetorically seduced into embracing the unarguable postulate that brown and black people are like the ancestors, the children, and the mentally ill neighbors of contemporary white Europeans, as well as the premise that the assimilated Jewish male narrator belongs to an us. The pronoun repeated is we, we, we, and us that is defined by whiteness, civilization, and likeness to the intended German speaking Gentile audience.
[00:56:33.92] Indeed, Freud's comparison of black and brown savages to children and mentally ill Westerners had been an old rationale for slavery. I had a snippet to read from you about a debate between a pro-slaver and anti-slaver in the class of, I believe it was 1763 at Harvard, but don't have time to read it.
[00:56:55.68] A further instance of an apparent effort at disambiguation emerges in a joke that apparently Freud told his followers multiple times over the years. And the joke alludes to an 1886 cartoon depicting a yawning lion sitting on an African escarpment and Freud laughingly mimed the predator's impatient words-- 12 o'clock already and no Negro yet? Against the backdrop of Europe's predatory colonial relationship with the Negro, Freud clearly delighted in being able to identify with the predator and the colonialist.
[00:57:33.40] In sum, I argue that the anti-African fetishes of Marx's Negro slave and Freud's savage were products of efforts by two assimilated Jewish men to disambiguate themselves. In this way, they appealed for the citizenship of assimilated Jewish men, displacing the stigma suffered by Jewish men, not only onto black people but also onto unassimilated Jews, and in Freud's case, on to women as well. Freud assimilated women famously to the colonized by likening their psychology to the dark continent.
[00:58:15.52] Freud's 1927 article on fetishism argues that the most enduring and powerful fetishes embody the perspectives of both the castrator and the castrated. I argue that Freud's own construction of the brown or black savage was supercharged by this very ambivalence. On the one hand, adopting the voice of the Gentile European colonizer, Freud accused the black and brown savage of being driven by stronger sexual impulses toward misdeeds than we civilized people are. And surely he knew that at this time such reasoning was getting thousands of African-Americans lynched from trees. On the other hand, adopting the voice and perspective of the fellow oppressed, Freud's psychoanalysis reminds the Gentile oppressor that underneath the veneer of civilization, even civilized white people unconsciously have the savage fetishist within.
[00:59:13.40] Now I focus on Marx and Freud not simply because their racially stigmatizing use of the term fetishism was more influential than anyone else's, but also because their own social ambiguity as assimilated Jewish men in an anti-Semitic Europe and as men in threatened class positions, illustrates the social conditions that I suspect generate the most highly charged accusations of fetishism, as well as the deepest insights about the semiotic ambiguity of things.
[00:59:42.72] Please note that there's nothing historically inevitable about Marx's and Freud's stigmatizing Africans in their day. For example, many of Marx's and Freud's fellow German speaking contemporaries, like Felix von Luschan, Leo Frobenius, and Franz Boas, who was also Jewish, showed a great respect for Africa and the sacred objects of Africa. So did Freud's contemporaries, the Fauvists and the Cubists.
[01:00:07.76] On the other hand, the late Hegel's contempt for Africa on the grounds of its alleged fetishism calls attention to the similarities between his social position and that of Marx and Freud. Hegel was a German speaking Burgher. That is, a middle class non-aristocratic person living among a set of principalities where the people who ruled were French speakers. They were people of the land, but who felt that civilization was defined by its Frenchness and had contempt for German language and German culture. So part of Hegel's project of democratization and inclusion was the Bourgeois revolution. That is, to lift the non-aristocrats into a democratic project of statecraft from which they had been excluded and from which German speakers like himself had been excluded.
[01:01:03.00] So I conclude with just a few observations. What is the point? Allow me three. So first, theory is not a disembodied universal truth, but a creature dialectically related to the social environment, material surroundings, and political interests of the theorists.
[01:01:25.54] Second, in the making of theories and of gods, the assignment of agency and value to one social position regularly entails the disfranchisement and devaluation of another social position. And there's no reason to think that Marx's and Freud's choices of where to shift agency and value are any more right or wrong than those of the Afro-Atlantic priests.
[01:01:50.10] Third, like the most spectacular and attractive of African gods, the most powerful and spectacular of European social theories are ambivalent, at least because they embody the social ambiguity of their creators. And I believe Hegel, Marx, Freud, and the gods black people make richly illustrate that point. And that's it. What do you think?