The Rhetorics of Modernity and the Logics of the Fetish

  • Alexander Des Forges


It is striking that the fetish, which appears as a significant concept in the works of theorists as varied as Kant, Voltaire, Marx, and Freud, first took shape as a discursive element at a time when European merchants were attempting to join a vibrant broader network of Atlantic trade relations in the sixteenth century. In this sense, the story of the fetish and its origin has interesting parallels with the conventional narrative of Chinese intellectuals identifying “modernity” as a concept through which they could begin to participate in a broader world order in the twentieth century. While these parallels are thought-provoking and deserve a detailed treatment, this chapter aims at a more circumscribed goal: an inquiry into the functions of modernity as a fetish in the field of modern Chinese literature as it has been constituted in the American academy. Starting from an analysis of three distinct strategies that inform attempts to oudine the parameters of the field, this chapter will put “literary modernity” itself into question, trace the ways in which interest in modernity relates to the recent accelerated development of the field in its institutional context, and end with a reflexive consideration of how and why we may want to rethink such a fetishization.


Sixteenth Century Chinese Literature Literary Text Literary Modernity Chinese Intellectual 
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© Charles A. Laughlin 2005

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  • Alexander Des Forges

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