A Nation's Fetish: Carlyle and the Work of Literature

Yoon Sun Lee

in Nationalism and Irony

Published in print June 2004 | ISBN: 9780195162356
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199787852 | DOI:
 A Nation's Fetish: Carlyle and the Work of Literature

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Carlyle initially saw fetishism as a pathology of the French Revolution, but went on to develop this trope in envisioning a type of political attitude increasingly necessary for the British empire in the absence of stronger legitimation. By fetishism, Carlyle referred to the phenomenon of voluntary submission to one's own creation. Through this trope, Carlyle was able to acknowledge the growing political strength, restlessness, and productivity of British industrial labor, and the importance of maintaining political authority within the growing empire. In many essays but most notably in Past and Present, Carlyle turns to reading as an exemplary instance of self-forgetful labor — a labor that even confers a fetish-like autonomy on the text as object. Even in early works such as Sartor Resartus, self-disavowing labor and self-forgetful creation can be seen as Carlyle's chosen sequel to Romantic irony.

Keywords: fetishism; reading; labor; French Revolution; Past and Present; irony; Sartor Resartus; legitimation

Chapter.  19884 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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