Fetishism in the Nineteenth-Century Illustrated Magazine
The mass production of works of art through improved printing technologies
resulted in the commodification of images in late nineteenth-century Spanish
urban culture. At the same time images of the female body and its accouterments
became overvalued and thus fetishized objects primarily directed towards
a bourgeois male spectator enthralled with sensuous representations of
exotic women. The scopic practices of nineteenth-century Spanish magazines
operated on two different levels corresponding to the two conceptions
of fetishism with which we are most familiar: commodity fetishism, as
the concept was first outlined in Marx's Capital and later refined
by William Pietz, Jack Amariglio, Antonio Callari and others, and psychological
or "phallic" fetishism, that evolved beginning in the 1880s
from Freudian psychoanalysis and which has recently been elaborated as
imperial fetishism in the work of Anne McClintock. These two forms of
fetishism merge in the ubiquitous magazine images of Turkish, Gypsy, Circassian,
North-African and other exotics draped in gold coins that exemplify what,
separately and with somewhat different conclusions, Anne McClintock, Homi
Bhabha, and Kobena Mercer have called racial fetishism. These 'metallurgical
wonders,' as we could call them, have a triple role: as evidence of the
relation between the commodification of the magazine image and the objectification
of women, as psychological fetishes related to the male gaze, and, finally,
as traces of a cross-cultural problematic expressing anxieties of loss,
nostalgia, and envy played out on the exotic female body, a symbolic good
beyond the readers' reach in a material sense. In the heady reproduction
of thousands of exotic portraits that decorated the pages of late nineteenth
century illustrated magazines, it is impossible to extract a parodic or
political critique of the alienated, colonized, exotic female subject
as Emily Apter believes may be the case with the twentieth century fetishism
aesthetic. In the pre-modernist period from 1875 to 1900 this subversive
reading is not available to us; to understand the fetishism of these repetitive
images, we have to look for their meaning first in the desire for expanding
markets, and second, as an expression of sexual malaise and especially
national loss and national longing.
Marx deployed the image of the fetish as an analytical tool in his later
writing to critique the bourgeois commodification of objects that appear
as "hieroglyphs in the riddle of our own social labor" (Foster
252). His use of the term reflected his interest in so-called primitive
religions (via Charles de Brosses's 1760 Du culte des dieux fétiches),
not in the shoes, feet, fur and other objects that came to be regarded
as modern sexual symbols. He was not thinking of images per se when he
conceived of the metaphor, rather he was using the religious fetish that
anthropologists like de Brosses claimed were revered in primitive religions
to move the discussion of idolatry in capitalist society to the realm
of the material. The image of the fetish helped him to describe capitalism
as an object of disgust (Mitchell 187) because its modes of production
inflected value-consciousness (Pietz 1987, 11). According to W.J.T. Mitchell,
Marx would look askance at the practice of crudely applying his theory
of fetishism to the discussion of poems, novels and works of art, that
is, of reducing art to a mere commodity that reflects bourgeois self-deception,
which is why it is not sufficient to study merely the content of literary
or graphic images. Works of art, even of bourgeois art, may be transcendental,
contradictory, and enigmatic, to use Marx's own terms, even if they embody
bourgeois ideals, as in the case of Balzac's fiction, for example, that
Marx preferred to that of Zola.
Works of art, according to Marx, may also be "mystical" and
it is important to understand what is meant by the term "mystical"
in this context. Commodity fetishism is a kind of double forgetting, first
the capitalist forgets that he has projected life and value into a commodity
in the ritual of exchange, and then the commodity veils itself in familiarity
and triviality and becomes understood as a natural or self-evident form
of social life. The deepest magic of the commodity fetish is its denial
that there is anything magical about it. The intermediate steps of the
process of establishing value vanish in the result leaving no trace behind
for most consumers. This is why it is important to study the mode of production
of magazine images and the way that the mechanical reproduction of art
leads to a "naturalization" of certain kinds of images. Their
mode of mass production and circulation qualifies them as a commodity
that achieved the status of fetish in the Marxist sense. That is, there
is something mysterious in their production and value that was not self-evident
to consumers. On the other hand, if it is the nature of commodity fetishes
that men treat them "as if they were people" (Mitchell 190),
this is doubly so when the object, the commodity, is in fact a close-up
image of a person, a mesmerizing portrait beckoning to the viewer, so
the second part of this article addresses the fetishistic properties and
effects of magazine portraiture and argues that the fetishized portrait
gathers to it disparate meanings that accrue to it through repetition.
Finally, when the image provides an obvious homology between sex and money,
between the rescue and possession of racialized women and the need for
Western "rescues" of an imperialist nature, between coins and
flesh, then we are in the realm of racial/sexual fetishism that has not
been adequately addressed in Spanish fin-de-siècle culture.
I For an object to
become a commodity it has to be widely circulated and its processes of
production mystified. When illustrated magazines were ushered in by the
age of mechanical reproduction of images, the mode of graphic reproduction
and the circulation of images took on the characteristics of every other
luxury good that had to be produced on a mass scale in order for a market
to expand and produce a profit. Larger and more durable presses had to
be built and a cheap labor to run them identified. Chemical processes
for etching copper plates (intaglio methods) had to be perfected to allow
for larger runs of reproductions that were more faithful to the original.
Cheaper sources of wood pulp had to be located, and paper mills constructed.
Small artisan shops producing limited runs of hand-etched engravings and
woodblocks of the highest quality were eventually replaced by factory-sized
shops with large-scale machines, many imported from Germany, capable of
mechanical reproduction on ever cheaper paper made possible by new chemical
techniques (for example, half-tone screening techniques that made photoengraving
more suited to mass production).
The result were larger and more lavish magazine formats in which new and
old production techniques battled it out (Prensa ilustrada 75).
By 1888, the heyday of the illustrated magazines, there were 46 weeklies
published in Madrid alone (Prensa y sociedad 35), the more established
of which vied with each other for the most spectacular and largest quantity
of engravings. One of the most expensive Barcelona magazines, Ilustración
Artística, published between twelve and fifteen images per
issue, many of them full page or double page images. From the prices of
the larger format illustrateds it is evident that in general the industry
catered to higher-end urbanites who could afford not only to purchase
the weeklies, but to have them bound for permanent storage in the bourgeois
trophy room. The libraries of the wealthy, in addition to the peep-show
cabinets filled with bric-a-brac, family memorabilia, rare objects, and
stuffed animals --the result of the mania for collecting which has now
entered into discussions of nineteenth-century fetishism--included shelves
of magazines lovingly collected and bound in leather at the end of each
year such as those in Figure 1. Less
well-to-do consumers could consult these same volumes in their local ateneos
where bound volumes of illustrated magazines stretched from floor to ceiling
such as in Figure 2, a sketch of
the Ateneo of Barcelona. Eventually middle-class consumers, lured by the
availability of the more modest illustrated magazines like Blanco y
Negro, could also indulge in the collecting fantasy: by 1900 the illustrated
magazine had become a part of every-day city life in Spanish cities.
Everywhere in Europe during this period there was a rush to produce the
best and cheapest magazines, but in places like Spain where technology
lagged behind demand, some of the raw materials and technologies had to
be imported from abroad, an exercise in acquisition that mystified even
more the processes of production. Publishers soon discovered that to increase
the market for illustrated magazines, more, and more sensational, images
had to be sought, and Spanish artisans simply could not produce quality
engraving plates in sufficient numbers to satisfy the demand. Several
publishing houses in Barcelona, like the one that produced the above-mentioned
Ilustración Artística, and its rival Ilustración
Ibérica, resorted to importing additional block engravings,
many executed in Germany, France, England and Austria after paintings
by foreign artists. Over the century Spanish publishing houses bought
thousands of these engravings, reselling some of them for publication
in rival magazines where they were given different titles and instructions
from magazine editors (in the "Nuestros grabados" [Our engravings]
section of the magazine) on how best to "read" the images.
Occupying an entire page, often featured on the cover (see Figure
3) or on right-hand side pages, or even in centerfolds, these voluptuous
engravings became the favored market lures for selling the magazine as
an art object worth collecting. They also invited the rapacious looks
of consumers both through their content and their technical refinement,
helping to transform the magazine into a permanent fixture of a consumer
society eager to Europeanizse its tastes. Not all of the images produced
remained hidden in the pages of the bound magazine. Some publishers made
it more inviting to extract the most sensational images from the pages
of the magazine by omitting page numbers from their centerfold spreads,
calling the insert a "regalo para nuestros lectores," [a gift
for our readers]. This resulted in an even wider circulation since the
object could have found its way into many hands, and even onto the walls
of middle-class homes such as that of Don Lope in Galdós's Tristana
whose museum of beautiful women was so dear to him.
II To understand the ardent collecting of these women images as a fetishized
practice it is useful to review psychoanalytical, not just commodity fetishism.
Even during Marx's lifetime, the sexual significance of the fetish was
being debated by anthropologists who saw in the objects they acquired
from Africa and other exotic locales emblems of male and female sexual
organs, in other words, displaced phalluses, however crude. This eventually
gave rise to the discourse of fetishism that entered the realm of emerging
psychology. Potency and impotency were the dual sexual projections of
the worshiper's sexuality which results, according to nineteenth-century
anthropologists, in the symbolic castration or feminization of the fetishist.
David Simpson in his work on fetishism in nineteenth-century culture notes
similarly that the admonitions against trinkets, ornaments, figurative
language and other practices of excess were an effort to align the fetishes
of primitive and modern societies with gender problems: the idolater was
infantile, feminine, and narcissistic, in a word, 'unmanly' (194 Mitchell).
Sigmund Freud, of course, is attributed with the classification of fetishism
as the simultaneous disavowal and avowal of male castration. Freud, Alfred
Binet, Krafft-Ebing and other early theorists of the castration complex,
traced the aetiology of fetishism to fixations of early childhood, even
to events prior to the age of five when the young boy becomes fixated
with, and fearful about, what is lacking in female genitalia. In a word,
for Freud the fetishist "is the male unresigned to the imagined amputation
of the mother's phallus" (Mehlman 85). In normal development this
fear is overcome, the mother's lack accepted, and identification with
the father realized, while on the contrary the adult fetishist clings
to the object, using it as a kind of crutch to ward off homosexuality.
Marx's denunciation of monetary and commodity fetishism as reflecting
the "impotence" of the bourgeoisie links commodity fetishism
with the Freudian model. The difference between Marx and Freud is that
for Freud it is not commodity fetishism that renders sexuality perverse,
rather perverse sexuality that expresses itself in commodity fetishism
A classical Freudian route would be to interpret some of these images
as what Angela Moorjani calls "phallic goddesses," sexually
complete figures that function as a disavowal of castration and mourning
for an imaginary completeness, at the same time as they denote a dread
and recognition of castration (See Figure
4). However, this discourse, familiar to us all, has recently been
challenged by Marcia Ian and Ann McClintock. Ian sees the Freudian insistence
on Oedipal constructions as itself fetishistic and patriarchal (61). In
Imperial Leather McClintock wonders why Freud read the fetish object
as a "substitute for the mother's (absent) penis, and not, say, as
a substitute for the father's (absent) breasts" (190). In other words,
she suggests, Freud fell prey to a logic that is itself fetishistic since
it centers around sameness, or primal unity, "fixating on a single,
privileged fetish object, the penis." In such a reading "women's
difference is disavowed and misconstrued as lack" (190).
In fact, shortly after Freud's famous paper on fetishism, psychologists
were already suggesting the possibility that the fetish might represent
female organs. Michael Balint in his "Contribution on Fetishism"
claimed that the fetish could symbolize the vagina as well (Ian 88), and
one could certainly pursue an argument for this in the abundant graphic
portraits of hairy or furry models of Western women in the late 19th century
press, such as those of Figures 5
Whether female lack is the prevailing anxiety, or we read male anxiety
over a lack of female organs into them, these images are clearly comforting
in their plenitude. They are, to quote Ian's Remembering the Phallic
Mother, "a kind of materialistic idealism" (54), that is,
material signifiers for an idealized or primal version that subjects can
enjoy "in private" so as not to have to be bothered with actual
women (54), and as such they partake in the "entrenched cultural
conflicts about the meanings of motherhood and female sexuality"
(59). They may even be, as Ian suggests, a sort of denial of sexual difference:
concealing the fear of difference and the desire for sameness: "That
there is no distinction between the sexes may or may not be a 'primal
fantasy'; who knows? It does appear, however, to be a fantasy inseparable
from the hegemonic authority of patriarchy, which depends not only on
compensating fantasmatically for what woman does not have, but also, and
more important, on denying what woman does have" (91). McClintock
argues that focusing on sexual aetiologies like this hampers our discussions
of fetishism (192), obstructing our understanding of historical fetishes
such as the Coca-Cola bottle, the swastika, or other group fetishes. Nevertheless,
It is important to consider that in the case of magazine images: painted
by men, etched, photographed and engraved by men, published by male magazine
editors for an overwhelmingly male readership, we would be amiss if we
didn't address their production as belonging to a male cultural system.
These women-images are not examples of feminine fetishists, but products
of a male imagination working overtime in a patriarchal order.
From a Freudian point of view the object of the fetish is to preserve
something (the mother's phallus) from being lost that was never there
to begin with, denoting a lack that the fetish both covers up and reveals,
just by being there the object signals the boy's fear of castration. Similarly,
the collector of magazine images owns the paper image whose referent does
not exist, he can never really possess anything remotely resembling the
exotic females that became prized collector's items. But through their
seductive poses, these images offer a fleeting, surrogate possession of
the image's referent, simultaneously parading the illusory mastery of
the object (for example in their return of the desiring gaze), and envisioning
it as an impossible phantasm. Thus the question of availability is very
often posed in these images. Like the commodity, the exotic woman's sexual
desirability is fetishized, made to appear a quality of the object itself,
"spontaneous and inherent, independent of the social relation which
creates it, uncontrolled by the force that requires it" (MacKinnon
26), and, as Catherine Mackinnon pointed out, "it helps if the object
cooperates" (26), which many "exotics" like the one in
figure 4 clearly did. Credulity and disbelief are both contained in the
exaggerated portraits of "Orientalized" women. Magazine images,
together with the ubiquitous collections of female oil portraits that
decorated the private homes of the wealthy bourgeois and to a lesser degree
middle class consumers, came to be fetishized as erotic commodities or
collector's items within the fin-de-siècle Imaginary.
III Phallic substitutes are easily observable in some of the images and
we could write them off as "an allegedly universal human tendency
toward privileging phallic symbolism" (Pietz 1985, 6), but that alone
would be insufficient to understanding their popularity. In order to enrich
our understanding of exotic magazine images as fetishized objects in a
psychological sense, two basic questions need to be addressed. First,
since the notion of psychological fetishism evolved to understand idiosyncratic,
individual traumas, is it legitimate or helpful to interpret them as a
psycho-sociological process occurring at the level of a national identity?
In other words, can we argue that cultural practices are the effects of
a collective psychic disorder, or "communal fetishism" (Krips
57), and we should open up the study of fetishes to "more theoretically
subtle and historically fruitful accounts" (McClintock 202)? Second,
what is being avowed and disavowed in the circulation of thousands of
images, often in very similar poses, of "Oriental" or North-African
women, Gypsies, Circassians? Answering the first question affirmatively
yields more useful answers to the second. In agreement with McClintock,
I argue that the fetishized magazine image is a social, and necessarily
interpersonal and intercultural object. As she points out, some fetishes
"defy reduction to a single originary trauma or the psychopathology
of the individual subject" (202) and recognizing this implies opening
up the study of fetishism to incorporate "the vexed relations between
imperialism and domesticity, desire and commodity fetishism, psychoanalysis
and social history" (203).
According to William Pietz, beyond its status as a collective object,
the fetish "evokes an intensely personal response" ("The
Problem" 1985, 12). Turning this around, we could say that beyond
the intensely personal response that we associate with fetish objects,
the magazine image is perverse as a collective object, and therefore it
is worthwhile to link its psychic and cultural dimension through a discussion
of the collective gaze. As Krips argues, notions of collective psychic
profiles as developed by Adorno and Durkheim have been discredited by
some postmodernists (5), making it risky to make any sweeping statements
about a mass perversion whose symptomology is the magazine image. But
it is not simply its status as the evocation of a personalized experience
that explains the magazine image's popularity, but its status as an object
that both avows a connection between Western and non-Western women and
at the same time disavows that connection as phantasmatic. If these images
touched many bourgeois men in an intensely personal way it was not only
for what they offered in terms of comforting psycho-sexual plenitude or
disquieting lack at the primal level, but for what they represented in
terms of a national loss and lack. They can be understood, in other words,
as a site of collective anxiety.
This is not to deny that the gaze is a private psychic enterprise, only
to suggest that we expand its possibility to encompass questions about
the mode of production of images and their social relevance. Orientalist
feminine portraits produced a complex, and possibly uncomfortable viewing
position for the Spanish bourgeois consumer (Figure
7). Because the majority of these engravings or at least the originals
from which they were made, were produced by foreigners, readers had constantly
to confront a number of questions, such as, Is this an authentic representation,
or the product of pure imagination? This is why editors of magazines usually
offered readers information about the artist's skills and training and
especially the truth value of a work's content, with comments such as
"he captures the true essence of the Orient," "he has been
faithful to the images of the real Oriental subjects" or, conversely,
"he gives free flight to his imagination in a most delightful way."
The response to the images is thus overly mediated by an otherness several
times removed from daily experience, producing an anxious pleasure in
the viewer. The first mediation occurs at the hand of the artist who chose
the subject: Did he use models? Did he in fact travel to the Orient to
sketch his figures? Are the poses and costumes fictions of his imagination?
At the same time these images were mediated by the society in which the
artists worked: Do Germans have a more reliable handle on authentic life
in Bulgaria, Turkey, Egypt, etc? Are their cultural productions inflected
by a romantic nostalgia, colonialist aspirations? The next mediation was
on the part of the magazine editors, for example editors Montaner and
Simón of Ilustración Artística who imported
many of the plates they reproduced from Northern Europe: Are their choices
the product of individual interests and tastes or simply market forces?
Are they responding to the interests of their readers and, if so, how
did they gauge that interest? What part does the availability of plates
in certain countries and not others play in the selection of images? Have
the engravers been faithful to the original? What has been lost in the
translation from color to black and white engraving? All of these mediations
complicate the question of viewing distance, making the task of settling
on a viewing position more contingent. Of course, not all of these questions
surfaced at the conscious level of the viewer. As I argued above, magazine
images became part of the warp of the everyday and their mediations were
most often obscured. Many readers probably imagined them as natural, even
photographic depictions of everyday life somewhere else. But it is clear
from the editorial comments that a viewing anxiety about "authenticity"
and mediated effects in general played an important role in reception.
Even the editors' comments would be a source of mystery to some. Signing
with a B. or a P., their credentials for judging such mediations were
undecipherable: Are B and P French? (the magazine had close ties with
a French publishing house) Catalán? (it was produced in Barcelona).
Henry Krips points out that in the 20th century the fetishistic scopic
regime is not always conservative, that it can undermine the ideological
forms of dominant society, revealing the material processes of modernization.
Similarly, Emily Apter argues that fetishized portraits potentially reverse
the objectifying gaze and thus challenge the erotic conditions of mastery
(Feminizing the Fetish 44) since it can be argued that the fetishist-collector
becomes possessed by his morbid passion for collecting. Apter is also
developing a way to read the masquerade of femininity apparent in these
images of over-adorned women that focuses on feminine desire rather than
lack. Although it is possible to argue that a scopic regime can challenge
dominant ideological forms, or that it might be useful to "wean gender
theory from its fixation on feminine lack" ( Apter, Feminizing
the Fetish 98), I find it impossible to read these images in a celebratory
fashion either as subverting or as legitimating some kind of sexual mode
of feminine being. My resistance is particularly strong with regard to
nineteenth-century exotic magazine images. The visual fixation on beautiful
portraits of women of different nationalities revels in the display of
inaccessible women, inviting eccentric desires that point to an impossibility
that has both psychological and geopolitical meanings. In other words,
we need to locate their meaning both "inside" "outside"
the subject-consumers. These specimens of rare beauty and plenitude may
ward off castration anxiety through their phallicity, but at the same
time as they entice, they deny their accessibility to the viewer. They
reveal themselves "as more an inability to tolerate the necessary
incompleteness of experience than a reduction of experience to a mere
part" (Ian 84).
The very ubiquitousness of exotic portraits means that the Spanish collector
at some level acknowledged that he was fixated on bits of paper and canvas,
part of the club of nineteenth-century European collectors of objets d'art.
But this fixation on exotic portraits additionally suggests an envy for
an "Oriental" collector of women who could possess the "real
thing." This is obvious, for example, in figure
8, signed by artist Barbazán, which La Ilustración
Artística published in 1895 (14.695, 22 April), and Lily Litvak
reproduced in her 1985 study of Spanish exoticism El jardín
de Alah. Barbazán's cartoon reminds readers not just of the
difference between "Oriente" and "Occidente" as the
title suggests, but the prizes that make the dream of the Orient so enticing.
Throughout this period, envy of Northern European colonial expansionism
is rampant in the Spanish press at a time when Spain could no longer finance
extramural excursions except on a limited basis, prompting calls for national
regeneration and rebirth long before the 1898 disaster. For example, we
can cite O'Donnell's "misión africana" [African mission]
in 1860, carried out at a great price as we know from the 70,000 lives
lost, but which many patriots felt was worth the sacrifice. After conquering
Tetuán General O'Donnell claimed that he had managed to "levantar
a España de su postración" (Carr 257-8) [to raise Spain
from its prostration]. Two years before the publication of Barbazán's
"Occidente and Oriente" Spain intervened again in Morocco, in
the Guerra de Melilla that ended in 1894 with the treaty of Marakesh.
The late nineteenth century marks a series of mostly failed attempts on
the part of Spain to hold onto its vestiges of its colonial holdings in
Northern Africa, and of a growing presence in the press of Oriental themes.
Compared to the fetishized feminine portraits of over-dressed, over-laced,
over-corseted European women, that seem to demonstrate the excess, frivolity,
and performativity of the feminine masquerade, Orientalist genre portraits
offered a slightly different kind of fantastic plenitude, and thus reveal
a different kind of lack inherent in other bodies with which she is in
dialog. Through its more revealing clothes, transparent veils, draped
clothing, shoulder baring, and loosely fitting tunics, the exotic female
body comes closer to revealing its terrible (feminine) secrets, but also
the lack that Spain, a former world empire, was still mourning (Figure
9). It may also stand as a reference to a past racial diversity that
needed to be repressed in order for Spain to continue to constitute itself
as a homogeneous nation-state, but that surfaces repeatedly in various
cultural forms as a reminder of its own repressed origins. If it is the
case that the feminine masquerade functions naturally to veil female lack,
then when the veils are drawn or partially drawn, that lack becomes all
the more threatening because more explicit. At the same time, there is
an irrationality about the obsession with exotic images, a clinging to
them that delays a pursuit of the real object of desire. They are the
safe distance from which a satisfaction and wholeness is entertained.
They produce pleasure, but stall any real satisfaction (Krip 32); they
are like a compensation for Spain's political stagnation and military
IV This leads to
the discussion of what some cultural critics have called racial fetishism.
In the years when the circulation of the illustrated magazines peaked,
images of women draped in coins, those mystical icons of capital, were
particularly fashionable (See Figure
10). Marx regarded money not as an imaginary symbol of exchange value
but as the embodiment of value. It had become a fetish, the object itself
that was adored, a means that had become an end, "the instrumentalized
power of command over concrete humans in the form of control over their
labor activity through investment decisions" (Pietz, 1993, 147).
What makes money mysterious, like the commodity, is that men have forgotten
that it is only a symbol, a projection, entering into the definite social
relations between men. It thus became a commodity that circulated among
men not unlike the images of beautiful, exotic women. What happens when
women and coins and other precious objects are projected together is that
the sexual commodification of the exotic woman is inextricably linked
to the circulating object that had become the supreme embodiment of value:
women displaying coins, in turn displayed as part of the ethnographic
museum with which nineteenth-century cultural anthropologists and genre
artists bought their way into the public consciousness.
From the 1870s to the 90s, Spanish magazines published thousands of images
of women adorned with coins, sometimes literally weighted down with them
as in figure 11. They glow with
the image of roundness, of that desirable there and not-thereness; together
with the breast and hair that they adorn, they fall into the zone of the
fetish where race, class and gender overlap. Yet they are not in any simple
way a psychological or phallic fetish, since race and ethnicity play such
a formative role in their popularity (Figure
12). They enact not just psychological ambiguity but historical and
material ambiguity as well. For example, it was during this period that
Spain abandoned the gold standard, and considerable anxiety followed the
establishment of a fiduciary monetary system with paper money, silver,
notes, and bank deposits replacing gold coinage that was abandoned altogether
in 1873. In 1883, around the time these images proliferated, when the
rest of Europe was converting to the gold standard, the gold convertibility
of Spanish notes was suspended. Where had all the gold gone that disappeared
from the market during the last decades of the century? To judge by magazine
images, it fell into the hands of market speculators, crass moneylenders,
dark thieves of various ethnicities, but mostly it assumed the guise of
an ornament worn by exotics from countries whose emerging economies had
no fixed monetary system, such as Albania and Bulgaria (Figures 13,
14). It is not just anyone who wears
coins draped about their bodies, it is women whose wealth has to be worn
to be in evidence: women of a lower socio-economic group, or kept women
of various kinds like those in figures 13-14, and women who are ethnically
or racially "different": Egyptian, Moroccan, Turkish, Bulgarian,
Circassian women (Figures 15-16).
Like all fetishes the coins are contradictory, ambiguous: they are a form
of wealth, but theirs is not a wealth that counts as such inWestern societies
that were beginning to display their wealth in other ways. They serve
to highlight beautiful, soft flesh, but they are a hard metal substance,
they purport to give value to the owner, but they are really only "owned"
by the possessors of the image, they are a sign of possession, at the
same time that they also "possess" consumers, revealing their
hidden desires and anxieties.
Gypsies and Bedouins especially were depicted in magazine images as quintessential
outsiders who carry their possessions on their bodies (Figures 17,
18). They steal them, tell fortunes
and dance in exchange for them, hide them in skirts, flash them on belts,
hair, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, vests, carry them as charms and
amulets: they seem to be in love with coins. By extension, luck comes
to the Payo who crosses the palm of a Gypsy with a coin. Thus coins help
to distinguish between primitive and bourgeois value systems: for the
Gypsy receiving the coin was evidence of an obsession with coinage; for
the giver parting with coins not only produced good fortune, it was symbolic
of a relinquishing of coinage to an economic subculture, marking the be-coined
women as belonging to some "prior moment in the history of progress"
(McClintock 188). Coins figure these women as having a conspicuously primitive
relation to wealth that differentiates theirs from the forms of wealth
that are acquired in advanced capitalist societies.
On the other hand, besides pointing to the primitiveness of the exotic
subject's exchange system we can also read the coined body as a symbol
of plenitude. The woman draped in coins has it all: coins validate her
wealth and enhance her beauty. The presence of coins invariably accompanying
physically beautiful bodies suggests a link between wealth and beauty,
or the value of beauty, not just to the woman who possesses both, but
to the male gazer who measures the value of the woman's body in terms
of its display. As someone who has it all, she is also a lesson for those
who do not. For example, the editor of El Mundo Ilustrado in 1879
offered a contrastive interpretation of figure
19 , a woman from the Líbano mountain region of northern Syria.
He begins by emphasizing the Syrian's primitiveness: she participates
in the traditional life of the humble agricultural group to which she
belongs: a people who raise cotton, indigo, sugar cane, tobacco, wine,
olives dates etc, but are lacking in industry. The woman is agile and
robust, "lo cual hace pensar en la gracia sencilla y encantadora
de la gacela y en la fuerza y destreza del tigre." (Mundo Ilustrado
21 1879, p. 670) [reminding us of the simple and enchanting grace of the
gazelle combined with the strength and dexterity of the tiger]; like her
nomad kin she possesses the primitive charms of Old Testament women: "maravillosas,
grandes, capaces de afecciones generosas y apasionadas" (670) [marvelous,
grand women capable of generous and impassioned affections]. The commentator
continues by insinuating Spain's dashed colonialist aspirations (noting
that Italian and French are the linguae francae of the district where
the woman lives) and concludes by pointing out the Syrian's advantage
over bourgeois women: "El traje que usan crontribuye a realzar su
belleza y su gracia natural, pues no está desfigurado su cuerpo
con una falda demasiada larga y holgada, ni llevan encarcelado el pecho
con cintajos y presillas" (670) [the dress these women wear helps
to emphasize their beauty and natural grace, without disfiguring their
bodies with a skirt that is too long and bulky, nor do they imprison their
breasts in knots of ribbons and bands].
From this it is clear that the symbolic exchange implicit in graphic images
occurs not just between colonizers or would-be colonizers and the "exotic"
women depicted in paintings, engravings, cartoons, photos and written
descriptions. Included in the equation, if only indirectly, is the Spanish
woman who haunts the enthusiastic portrayal of the exotic other woman,
as a either a negative or positive complementarity. Her role is to take
a lesson from or give one to the other woman. Although Edward Said
perceptively describes the Orient as the female to a male Europe, he is
only secondarily concerned with the implications of this fact for gender
relations within Western cultures because his goal is to study the import
of geopolitical expansionism on other cultures more than the sexual colonization
that can occur within a given culture as a result of its obsession with
the exotic. His insight that Europe managed to collapse so many cultures
into its Orientalist discourse in order to envision its world hegemony
should lead to a parallel discussion of the way that Europe (including
Spain) collapsed the female half of the world's population -both Western
and non-Western- into unequal but equally reductionist texts. When we
apply his statement that Orientalism responds more to the culture that
produced it than to its apparent object, we could also conclude that sexual
Orientalism in popular culture is part of a larger discourse that joined
Spanish bourgeois women and exotic other women in a complex relation of
similarity and difference. The excessive valuation of exotic women adorned
in coins finds resonance in the condemnation of Spanish women's excessive
interest in wealth. Spanish women, that is, the wrong kind of women,
were often depicted in the Spanish press as obsessed with coins and material
objects even if they didn't wear them, like the woman of Figure
20, flying off on the wings of the entire national economy. The helpful
caption reads: "Nobleza, milicia, foro, diplomacia, todo se convierte
en polvo de oro para ella, y lo disipa con su lujo escandaloso."
[nobility, the military, government, diplomacy, she converts everything
into gold dust which she dissipates with her scandalous luxury].
The connection between coins and women reinforces the primitive,"natural"
relation between femininity and the material both in the case of the hearty
Syrian woman and the bourgeois vixen absconding with the nation's wealth.
While coins and jewels reinforce the notion that beauty is a woman's greatest
wealth, they also suggest that beauty can be purchased with money, beauty
and money are co-eval objects in the display of femininity. As stereotyped
images they also enter into the realm of colonialist discourse in relation
to fetishism. As Homi Bhabha has argued, all stereotypes are fetishes
in the sense that they reveal a double play between the archaic affirmation
of wholeness and similarity. The stereotype, the scene of fetishism, denotes
the subject's desire for a "pure origin that is always threatened
by its division" (75). The beautiful woman draped in coins functions
as a sign of otherness, the coins and her dress make her racial difference
more perceptible. At the same time, they facilitate an embrace of that
difference, in their insistence on the manifest value of the woman's body,
they enter into what Bhabha calls the "bind of knowledge and fantasy,
power and pleasure, that informs the particular regime of visibility deployed
in colonial discourse" (81) (Figure
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The author would like to thank the following for their technical and editorial
assistance in preparing this article: Eduardo Barros-Grela, María
Bobadilla, Malcolm Read, and David Weiner.