In these notes on (commodity) fetishism the starting point has been where Marx speaks of social relationships which are taken to be things, objects, the fetishism of commodities. But here we are speaking not of simple commodities but of human relations as commodities. Relations as things. Accepting that “…this fetishism of commodities has its origins… in the peculiar social character of the labor that produces them…” In the society we have lived in this has been reproduced in all aspects of our society, from the products traveling in the slow network of container ships to the concepts zooming around on the fast networks. In the attempt to avoid this understanding - which assumes that the modernity is liquid, that within capital everything that is solid will melt… It seems to me that the clearest example of this tendency of fetishized concepts to zoom around is nihilism….
Nihilism, the devaluation of all values, is for many thinkers the most important consequence of modernity and thus post-modernity. What is fetished here is the very notion of values for what is avoided by those most invested in nihilism is the central issue of responses to political economy… all that is solid melts into air….Perhaps then we can name one or two fetishised responses to the present and recent past - the first one is nihilism, the varieties of this particular fetishism in its contemporary postmodern form, touched on here are those delineated by Deleuze and Lyotard. Both at their most Nietzschean and at their most liberal.. Initially nihilism was proposed not simply as a matter of belief, and nor could it be reduced to a mere doctrine. Nietzsche understood Western culture to be inherently nihilistic, and understood nihilism as the historical process shaping the fate of the West, a process In which the highest values devalued themselves. Values which he understood as having historically (its the 19th Century) provided Europe with its aim and purpose but which had lost their binding power and force… leaving human lives lacking direction or truth, life as nothing beyond its empty self perpetuation. Deleuze reads this as follows "…thus we can see that the relation between nihilism and transmutation is deeper than was initially suggested. Nihilism expresses the quality of the negative as a ratio cognoscendi of the will to power; but it cannot be brought to completion without transmuting itself into the opposite quality, into affirmation as ratio essendi of this same will… destruction becomes active at the moment when, with the alliance between reactive forces and the will to nothingness broken, the will to nothingness is converted and crosses over to the side of affirmation…” (from Deleuze- Nietzsche 1983).
In the specific context being drawn out here the concept of affirmation is fetishised within the nihilistic turn, within which it is accepted that to say ‘nihilist’ in the affirmative sense of the above is imagined as being meaningful. To resolve the nihilistic crisis at the heart of western culture is to complete the turn and reproduce the positive role of nihilism in a philosophy of affirmation, an affirmative life. In the process avoiding the alternative which is the nihilistic descent into passivity, the will to nothingness. To be specific, both affirmation and passivity are aspects of nihilism. It is not surprising that Deleuze presents creativity/the creator as the destroyer of nihilism through the use of the fetishised taxonomy of Nietzsche’s characters (aristocrat, artist etc), These conceptual personae are assumed to be the way out of the radical passivity, the will to nothingness of nihilism. Nihilism is negated, values are destroyed… ‘Destruction as the active destruction of the man who wants to perish and to be overcome announces the creator’… destruction of all known values is the trail of the creator…’ (Deleuze Nietzsche) Here then affirmation is defined in otherwords not as nihilism but as its resolution… Creativity is the other fetishised term which interests me in this ideology and discourse - ‘creativity’, both elitist and foolish, it is the initial moment when, through its very fetishisation, the discourse enables the rightwing to appropriate the text. The third fetishised term here is values…. In our times nihilists tend to follow Lyotard’s related approach, seeing nihilism as creating new persona…. semioticians, scientists … and placing them in new institutions, theories and situations. The simplest way to understand Lyotard’s focus on nihilism is in the difference between the signifier and what it represents/signifies, between the philosophical representation and the thing represented. The division holds the material sign away from its meaning, hence the drift from the material, to sensation and affect and finally to meaning and understanding. This trajectory is a phantasm, never a complete process. For science is always a work in process, and meaning has no origin. For Lyotard it is a small step to suggest that science maintains a devaluation of matter (and affect) in favour of understanding and that it is a nihilism because in denying matter in favour of understanding they are following a line which can never end. Lyotard defines the task of understanding as nihilistic. This misunderstanding of science as nihilism has haunted us throughout recent decades, haunted by the death, extinction and where probability ends.
Do I need to speak of the elitism of nihilism, which begins with the original Nietzschean critique of egalitarianism, from the recognition that value presumes inequality and that equality must undermine value. Even whilst equality is according to this a form of nihilism, not all nihilisms are egalitarian. It is this latter which is referenced in the resolution of nihilism proposed above. Nihilism as such then is a way of avoiding the necessity of socialism as a pure critique of the capitalist mode of production… And yet the absence of those who do not exist in this affirmative moment, those who are nothing, makes this look like a pathetic gesture, trapped in the sign system, between the theoretical and religious representation and what is represented. Everyday life is excluded, implicitly defined as nothing… nihilism as fetish.