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The Returns of Fetishism

Charles de Brosses and the Afterlives of an Idea

With a New Translation of On the Worship of Fetish Gods

The Returns of Fetishism

Charles de Brosses and the Afterlives of an Idea

With a New Translation of On the Worship of Fetish Gods
For more than 250 years, Charles de Brosses’s term “fetishism” has exerted great influence over our most ambitious thinkers. Used as an alternative to “magic,” but nonetheless expressing the material force of magical thought, de Brosses’s term has proved indispensable to thinkers as diverse as Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud, Lacan, Baudrillard, and Derrida. With this book, Daniel H. Leonard offers the first fully annotated English translation of the text that started it all, On the Worship of Fetish Gods, and Rosalind C. Morris offers incisive commentary that helps modern readers better understand it and its legacy. 
The product of de Brosses’s autodidactic curiosity and idiosyncratic theories of language, On the Worship of Fetish Gods is an enigmatic text that is often difficult for contemporary audiences to assess. In a thorough introduction to the text, Leonard situates de Brosses’s work within the cultural and intellectual milieu of its time. Then, Morris traces the concept of fetishism through its extraordinary permutations as it was picked up and transformed by the fields of philosophy, comparative religion, political economy, psychoanalysis, and anthropology. Ultimately, she breaks new ground, moving into and beyond recent studies by thinkers such as William Pietz, Hartmut Böhme, and Alfonso Iacono through illuminating new discussions on topics ranging from translation issues to Africanity and the new materialisms. 

480 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

History: History of Ideas

Religion: Comparative Studies and History of Religion




“With this impeccably translated and carefully annotated edition of Charles de Brosses’s On the Worship of the Fetish Gods, Morris and Leonard reconsider the relations that objects hold with the world at large. Dazzling at every turn, the editors’ essays that frame the translation argue for the vitality and beauty of things that live with us. This book informs and exhilarates.”

Tom Conley, Harvard University

“This work celebrates the long and ‘happy productivity’ of the concept of fetishism. According to Morris, ‘de Brosses bequeathed to us what may be one of the most powerful conceptual operators of comparatavist critique of the modern era.’ And it is this that makes de Brosses worth rediscovering today—fetishism stands for the persistence of the irrational in modern rationalism, at once a sign of reason’s failure and a symptom of reason’s self-delusion.”

Christopher Bracken, author of Magical Criticism: The Recourse of Savage Philosophy

“Through Morris’s and Leonard’s lucid, highly readable translation, Charles de Brosses’s On the Worship of Fetish Gods has been made available to an English readership for the first time in this richly annotated edition. Situated at the intersection of philology and ethnoanthropology, The Returns of Fetishism provides a provocative counter model to David Hume’s Natural History of Religion. Morris’s essay shows how de Brosses’s materialist concept of the fetish inspired Marx and Freud, their followers, and their critics. With the publication of this book we have an important resource for the critique of ideology and the history of theory.”

Dorothea E. von Mücke, Columbia University

"The Returns of Fetishism sheds some much needed light on the history of this 'concept for that which fails to conceptualize,' giving us not only a new translation of de Brosse’s 1760 text but a 43-page introduction by Daniel Leonard. . . and a 186-page afterword by Rosalind Morris following the subsequent deployments of fetishism in the work [of] thinkers like Kant, Hegel, Freud, Marx, Lacan, Bataille, and Derrida. Scholars of the history of comparative religion, anthropology of religion, and continental philosophy of religion will find this book to be a valuable resource in elucidating a highly significant and long-debated concept."

Brian Collins | Religious Studies Review

Table of Contents

“Fetishism (Supposing That It Existed)”: A Preface to the Translation of Charles de Brosses’s Transgression
            Rosalind C. Morris
Introduction: Fetishism, Figurism, and Myths of Enlightenment
            Daniel H. Leonard
A Note on the Translation
            Daniel H. Leonard
On the Worship of Fetish Gods; Or, A Parallel of the Ancient Religion of Egypt with the Present Religion of Nigritia
            Charles de Brosses
            Translated by Daniel H. Leonard
After de Brosses: Fetishism, Translation, Comparativism, Critique
            Rosalind C. Morris
A Fetiche Is a Fetiche: No Knowledge without Difference
Of the Word: Rereading de Brosses
Excursus: Recontextualizing de Brosses, with Pietz in and out of Africa
Re Kant and the Good Fetishists among Us
Hegel: Back to the Heart of Darkness
Fetishism against Itself; or, Marx’s Two Fetishisms
The Great Fetish; or, The Fetishism of the One
Freud and the Return to the Dark Continent: The Other Fetish
Conjuncture: Freud and Marx, via Lacan
Anthropology’s Fetishism: The Custodianship of Reality
Fetishism Reanimated: Surrealism, Ethnography, and the War against Decay
Deconstruction’s Fetish: Undecidable, or the Mark of Hegel
Rehistoricizing Generalized Fetishism: The Era of Objects
Anthropological Redux: The Reality of Fetishism
The Fetish Is Dead, Long Live Fetishism

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