Esther Leslie

Esther Leslie

Esther Leslie is Professor of Political Aesthetics at Birkbeck, University of London.

Wednesday, 15 March 2023 11:13

Culture and barbarism: the work of Walter Benjamin

Published in Cultural Commentary

Culture Matters is pleased to present this short film by Professor Esther Leslie, Carl Joyce and Mike Quille. Professor Leslie's text is below.

Walter Benjamin was interested in the ways in which art, culture and politics flow together. He made a connection  in a line he used a couple of times:

‘There is no document of culture which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.’

This signals an insistence that all of our forms of culture are simultaneously politically, or socially, enmeshed, in the broadest sense. All cultural documents – artworks, films, novels, poems, statues – are produced within the prevailing barbaric circumstances of class-divided society. That something beautiful or awe-inspiring might be made by an artist relies on a social division of labour that denies most people any permission to be creative. The existence and persistence of culture confirms the validity of the production process that brought it into in being. Cultural documents of all kinds thus work to embellish the rule of those in power, justifying their elevation above the immiserated and disempowered.

The Colosseum is an example of real barbarism taking place in cultural form – for example, in gladiatorial battles, staged to underline the power of privileged families, or in the real executions of condemned people as the climax of stagings of myths. But there are more subtle ways in which culture hinges on barbarism. Cathedrals, full of artworks, carvings, opulence, do not glorify those who built them, but rather give consolation for ongoing suffering and the promise of something better to come.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - November 18: Official Portraits for the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall November 18, 2019  AUCKLAND, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/

There is no such solace apparent in the oil paintings of the wealthy, those who are ‘long to reign over us’, – the canvas simply covers over a world of immiseration experienced by those who are not expected to leave any traces of themselves to posterity.

The cities are littered with relics of individuals who are immortalised in granite or bronze and who gained from a barbaric system. Sometimes the wrong is righted, the barbarism inherent in the artefact exposed, the statue brought down, as when the late Victorian statue of Bristol-born merchant and transatlantic slave trader Edward Colston was toppled in 2020.

Art and Politics

Walter Benjamin lived through varying types of barbarism – coming of age in the years around the First World War, when experimental and avant garde art movements thrived, often alongside left wing and communist movements. He also lived through the years when the Nazis took power in Germany, fascism  dominated various parts of Europe and a Second World War broke out. One of his interests was in how art and politics worked together across time. There is a line in his programmatic essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility’ from the mid-1930s:

'Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art.'

Here Benjamin observes that populations are encouraged to rush headlong into war and mass destruction. Fascism speaks of the glory of war – and some Futurists wrote poems to that effect. War is presented as a dramatic sensation, an intensified experience, like an artwork or a spectacle. Political rallies and parades, uniformed ranks of people arranged in ornamental fashion, blonde housewives with children, were enacted and broadcast using the latest medium of film and radio. They became cultural events. To counter this, Benjamin insists on regarding art as political, as intrinsically political and as a place where a progressive politics of liberation might be carried out. Art and culture might be used not to service the glorification of war or the deification of leaders, but rather as weapons wielded in social and political struggle.

But what kind of art.....? 

What art then? Benjamin argues that aesthetic choices, such as the choice to paint a picture or take a photograph, to make a collage or a poster, to write a poem in obscure and high-flown language or in the vernacular discourse of the street, the decision to work as an individual artist or as a collective of makers and producers, and so on: These are all political aspects of art.

Is an artist someone who sells work as a commodity – and what sort of a commodity is art? Benjamin’s interlocutors, Adorno and Horkheimer, wrote about something they called the culture industry. This described all cultural production first and foremost for money. Financial models, questions of access, the high price of art, the return on the value of investments, all this is part of the politics of art – and for Benjamin, the work of Brecht, John Heartfield or Eisenstein would be three methods of engaging with this field, in his time, under the conditions of his time, questioning in their various ways value, circulation, ideology, the purpose of art, distraction, propaganda, the relationship of image and world, beauty, horror, lies, violence, war, social relations.

And, furthermore, who is an artist? This too is a question with political aspects – who is allowed to be an artist when the roles the artist should perform have become highly politicised, as in the Great German Art Exhibition of 1937.

The 'brutal grasp' and 'destructive character' of art

'To the process of rescue belongs the firm, seemingly brutal grasp

Benjamin wrote this line in the Arcades Project in 1931. Walter Benjamin’s aphorism advocates a sudden movement, getting the hands dirty in grasping or grabbing in order to rescue something – what? A better life? Humanity itself? Nature? Art? Benjamin is interested in salvage, in extracting from the jaws of doom, a better life, through a decisive and hard gesture – or at least a ‘seemingly brutal’ one. Sometimes, he argues, it is necessary to take decisive action – and not even to reflect on that too explicitly.

This idea of acting sharply and brusquely comes together with a figure that Benjamin invented: the ‘destructive character’. The ‘destructive character’ is a type without memory, opposed to repression in its political and psychic senses, who – causing havoc by cutting ways through, by liquidating situations – removes the traces which sentimentally bind us to the status quo. They do this in order to make possible modes of behaving or misbehaving, which are appropriate to the brutal conditions of the world and to their dramatic overthrow. The destructive character rejects past traces, has abolished ‘aura’ and with it sentimentality about things, including his own self.

The destructive character is the enemy of the comfort-seeking ‘etui-person’, who cossets everything in velveteen cases and plush, trying to individually make the hard edges of the world temporarily comfortable and for him or herself alone. In ‘The Destructive Character’, Benjamin writes about those who try to preserve the world – and art – as it is:

'Some people hand things down to posterity by making them untouchable and thus conserving them; others pass on situations, by making them practicable and thus liquidating them. The latter are called destructive.;

Benjamin is sometimes portrayed as a melancholic and fated individual who was unable to make his way in the world and prone to abstract theorizing. In actuality his writing about art was carried out in close conjunction with practice – including his own: for example he made many radio shows in the late 1920s and early 1930s – and he wrote fables and stories and poems.

He also worked with others who were questioning the ways in which art might contribute to social and political struggle, in the most revolutionary way, with implications for culture and social forms. For one, he was close to Bertolt Brecht, Marxist poet and playwright. Brecht praised a certain kind of vulgar thinking – forwarding the idea that truth is simple, graspable.

The new barbarism: shock and awe, work and war

Sometime between the spring and the autumn of 1933 Benjamin wrote a short reflection titled ‘Experience and Poverty’, which considered the new reality of world war in the twentieth century. Twentieth century warfare had unleashed a ‘new barbarism’ in which, observes Benjamin, a generation that went to school in horse-drawn trams stood exposed in a transformed landscape, caught in the crossfire of explosions and destructive torrents.

Benjamin’s was no lament for the old days, for those were unliveable for the property-less and the habits engendered by the cluttered and smothered interiors were unhealthy and uninspiring for the propertied. ‘Erase the traces!’ Benjamin proclaimed – a line he took from a poem by Brecht. Benjamin enthused about a ‘new, positive concept of barbarism’ and he championed the honest recorders of this newly devalued, technologised, impoverished experience: Paul Klee, Adolf Loos, and the utopians Paul Scheerbart and Mickey Mouse. In all of these the brutality and dynamism of contemporary existence, including its technologies, was used, abused, mocked and harnessed.

Property relations in Mickey Mouse cartoons: here we see it is possible for the first time to have one’s own arm, even one’s own body, stolen. Benjamin wrote about Mickey Mouse first in 1930. What fascinates him is the fact that Mickey Mouse can alienate from himself an arm or a leg, he can give up his body in order to serve the power structure operative within the cartoon. That fascinates Benjamin as an image of what we are required to do in order to survive or to live our bare lives. Experience, a sense of consistent development over time, wisdom and continuity, no longer is relevant in the modern world of shock and awe, factory work and war. These films disavow experience more radically than ever before. In such a world, it is not worthwhile to have experiences.

Charlie Chapin

Benjamin has a very sober sense of what capitalism requires of the body, the whole thing about film and its shock aesthetic subjecting the human sensorium to a type of training – this is painful. Benjamin thinks that there is a potential there to understand how we inhabit the world with technologies that might, indeed, alienate parts of our body in order to become this partly human, partly technological, endlessly refungible and brutalised subject. Audiences flock to these films not primarily because they are artworks of the mechanical age of reproduction – that is just a condition of their existence. They flock to them because they recognise something in them that gels with their own existence:

So the explanation for the huge popularity of these films is not mechanization, their form; nor is it a misunderstanding. It is simply the fact that the public recognizes its own life in them.

History and change

The final piece of writing by Walter Benjamin, from 1940, was not published. It is a few sheets of paper thinking about history and change. Benjamin advocates a mode of thinking that could overpower the political situation. It is written at times in an elusive language and it is not a manual. It is an effort at the production of an attitude, one that is open to imagining the breaking open the continuum of history or arresting it, one that sets out from the positive aspects of shock, breaking through the picture of history – a warlike, explosive assault on the state of things, snatching an evanescent memory that flashes up at a moment of danger.

Benjamin’s strategy addressed the idea of the image or picture of history. These metaphors cannot be simply translated into practical action. Or rather they might import themselves only at specific, charmed revolutionary moments. As he put it in one of the theses in Selected Writings:

'The consciousness of exploding the continuum of history is peculiar to the revolutionary classes in the moment of their action. … in the July Revolution an incident took place which did justice to this consciousness. During the evening of the first skirmishes, it turned out that the clock-towers were shot at independently and simultaneously in several places in Paris.'

History is exploded as an act of ‘genuine’ progress, which does not move simply forwards. Revolutionary time is not clock time, but rather the time of the present, filled with the moment of acting, an acting which is then re-invoked as a conscious reflection on what brutal, disruptive act brought the new time into being. A new calendar, such as that inaugurated in the French Revolution, should mark the discontinuity that has been brought it into being in its naming, its re-divisions, its spaces of commemoration – unlike the Weimar republic, born of a compromised revolution in 1918 and 1919, and which is unable to acknowledge its own constitution as a break in time, a break in tradition – and so returns to old times, business-as-usual.

What Benjamin asserts in the essay ‘Experience and Poverty’ is the necessity to adopt brutal modes of thought and action not as a freely chosen strategy as such, but as a mimetic adaptation to the brutality that is the world and as a glimpse into what is needed to carry through a break, a revolution, a change in the state of things. Through a kind of doubling, the negation is negated.

Marchel Duchamp fountain sculpture SFMOMA 3700182764 resized     brecht play     situationist comic     Sex Pistols in Paradiso Johnny Rotten Steve Jones resized

We can find this radical brutality in various and varied documents of culture: in artworks like Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’; in Eisenstein’s montage and editing techniques; in Brecht’s plays and poems; in the Situationist ‘detournement’ of comics; in the music of John Cage or in punk.

There is also brutality in thought: a breaking with thinking as it has been thought to date, an assault on common sense, in order to annul the thinking that justifies, by not drawing attention to, everyday brutality. Brutality in action: a brutal, critical one, in which time itself might be interrupted. The world itself might stop spinning – such is revolutionary political action. The world is brutal and critique might become action on and in the world and its symbols:

‘There is no document of culture which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.’

Sometimes the statues that glorify brutal systems and their agents are kicked over, revealing a connection between culture and the barbaric that exists usually obscured. Such radical acts direct art and politics – and life – towards other possibilities.

You can also hear Professor Leslie talk about Benjamin on Radio 4's In Our Time, here.

Are we really all in this together?
Thursday, 04 June 2020 10:35

Are we really all in this together?

Esther Leslie questions the media messages and slogans around the Covid-19 pandemic, as part of the joint Morning Star and Culture Matters series on Covid-19 and culture

 A picture flashed through social media channels. A woman, in a Stars and Stripes dress, protesting at Huntington Beach, California, holds up a banner: Social Distancing = Communism. State-enforced regulations, the result of the Covid-19 pandemic, insist on keeping a perimeter of 6 feet around each person to prevent the spread of a virus. These rules were interpreted by her, and many others, as the unwarranted intervention of authority into the sovereign life of the individual.

Is not the opposite more true: that social distancing suggests neo-liberalism in spatial form? You should remain alienated from the social whole, from others, because to band together is to develop class consciousness and reasoning. ‘There is no such thing as society’, said Thatcher, and hoped we would retreat, at least ideologically, to our strong individual selves, bolstered by our families and the compulsion of tradition, cossetted in our homes, that we have bought, preferably off Labour councils, turning ourselves into property owners.

In contrast to Thatcherite and Trump-ish definitions of the social, its defence as a realm of collectivity led to this banner on some people’s social media profiles: Physical Distancing and Social Solidarity. Physical distance to protect bodies but social solidarity as an expression of support for NHS workers and the commitment to volunteer to aid the vulnerable. It affirmed the desire to support each other through our loneliness, at the start, when there was still some hope and a spirit of experimentation abroad.

We could still experience things communally, in Zoom pub quizzes and free theatre online. But the name of the social was held onto resolutely by those with the power to decree what should take place in it – and their ears were apparently deaf enough to historical and political resonance to make a public information message for radio that made me wince each time I heard it: ‘Observe national social distancing guidelines with each other, currently set at 2 metres.’

‘We are all in it together’, they say, in order to produce a sense of unity. We are all in it together and to say otherwise is to unjustly politicise the situation, because politics are divisive and division should work only for the purposes of rule, not for the purposes of critique.

We are all in this together – and we applaud those on the frontline. The frontline, that metaphor from war, referring to a space most proximate to active combat, the killing zone. And all this is war because our Prime Minister would like to be seen as Winston Churchill, although in any case the Second World War is the off-the-peg reference point for every event that slashes through the nation and rattles stability. Even the opposition cannot leave war references behind, when pay to plaster a billboard in Kentish Town with the accusation that the Prime Minister is less like Churchill and more like Chamberlain.

Because to fight a virus we need a war – but not the class war, anything but that. We are all in this together, but not socially proximate, not conceived of social beings. Indeed a phoney, unused, NHS army of volunteers has to be mobilised to counteract the Kropotkin-inflected principles of the mutual aid groups that sprung up uncontrolled and just got down to helping.

But who hasn’t used the phrase in recent politics? ‘We are all in this together’, said David Cameron and George Osborne, when they used it to justify austerity measures, and Ed Miliband tussled over how to fill it with something approaching meaning. We are all in this together. But we are not so much in it together as outside it together, all of us looking in on a spectacle of government, a circus of staged briefings, in which nudges and deliberate miscommunications are meant to spread fluidly across the social media that slides under our fingers, more viral than the virus.

Silly fonts, illogically photoshopped adverts, inept slogans – all appearing as failures of communication, fudges of policy by the indecisive, but actually modes of management through confusion and pranking. Nothing will stick and we can get no handle on what is meant and what is not meant. We are all in it together, as we stand side by side clapping health workers next to those who will turn on them in a breath, if they point out the inequities of the situation, or worse, do something about it, by withdrawing labour. We are all outside this together, socially distanced, clapping our hands before wringing them, when we see the assaults to come on those who make up or exist within the welfare state – which is most of us indeed.

Our media claim for themselves the name of the social now and the trinity of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook bridge distance virtually. Social media are one of Platform Capitalism’s greatest hopes for profits. Across social media, the slogans proliferate, doctored, adjusted, in a war of words that are composed to nudge or to nudge nudge wink wink or to cock a snook or make a cheap joke.

In response to the corruptions of government, the debacle of a senior government advisor providing a test case of ‘one law for them, another for the rest of us’, a phrase replicated itself on social media, in more or less this form: ‘Now the English know what it's like to be ruled by the English.’ And, with this, the contradictions within the social whole that is the United Kingdom are prised open as a joke-not-joke.

'The murderous, meaningless caprices of fashion': Marx on capital, clothing and fashion
Friday, 04 May 2018 19:27

'The murderous, meaningless caprices of fashion': Marx on capital, clothing and fashion

Published in Clothing & Fashion

Esther Leslie traces Marx's analysis of clothing and fashion under capitalism.

There are rhythms in capitalism, which those critics more or less proximate to the Marxist tradition - say, Walter Benjamin, Georg Simmel, Roland Barthes, Elizabeth Wilson - have seen repeated in the rhythms of fashion. Fashion and capitalism alike are reliant on change and the production of newness. Fashion stimulates consumption, which is why Werner Sombart declared it ‘capitalism’s favourite child’. Yet, some time before, in 1690, Nicholas Barbon proposed a mutual relation between fashion and economy:

In some places, it is fixt and certain; as all over Asia, and in Spain; but in France, England, and other places, the Dress alters; Fashion or the alteration of Dress, is a great Promoter of Trade, because it occasions the Expence of Cloaths, before the Old ones are worn out: It is the Spirit and Life of Trade; It makes a Circulation, and gives a Value by Turns, to all sorts of Commodities; keeps the great Body of Trade in Motion; it is an Invention to Dress a Man, as if he lived in a perpetual Spring; he never sees the Autum of his Cloaths.

Marx was a reader of the financial speculator Barbon, or Bare Bones as he was sometimes known. He quoted him in the opening pages of Capital in discussing the ‘wants of the mind’. For Marx, the capitalist mode of production and consumption demands perpetual innovation, variation, suspension. This is how Marx and Engels characterised it from the beginning of their writing partnership. The Communist Manifesto (1848) contains one of their most cited phrases: ‘All that is solid melts into air’. Capitalism requires continual newness, if only to keep sales buoyant, for its cellular unit is the commodity. Fashion is the mechanism whereby novelty is delivered. As mode, it epitomises this constant churn, this endless stimulus to production and consumption.


Marx’s opinion of fashion as an industry appears to be completely negative. Fashion’s configuration of seasonal and quixotic variation is an emblem of the breakneck pace and sudden readjustments of industrial capitalist production, which Capital indicts with the following words: ‘The murderous, meaningless caprices of fashion’. These bring about the hiring and firing of workers at whim, and are associated with a general ‘anarchy’ of capitalist production. Marx mentions ‘the season’ with its ‘sudden placing of large orders that have to be executed in the shortest possible time.’

The advent of railways and telegraphs exacerbates this. Marx quotes a manufacturer on purchasers who travel fortnightly from Glasgow, Manchester, and Edinburgh to the wholesale warehouses supplied by his factory. Instead of buying from stock as before, they give small orders requiring immediate execution: ‘Years ago we were always able to work in the slack times, so as to meet demand of the next season, but now no-one can say beforehand what will be the demand then.’ Work and income are reliant on on fashion’s fancies. The irony is that those labouring for the season are manufacturing luxury materials, working with silk, for example, while the workers are outfitted in rags, scraps of cloth that have been clothes for so long they scarcely hold together.


The textile industry installs the factory system of exploitation (as an aside, note that twists of etymology track from the German word for factory – Fabrik – to the English word for woven or otherwise processed cloth - fabric). The significance, alongside steam power and iron founding, of textile manufacture and processing in the first Industrial Revolution - automated cotton, worsted and yarn spinning in factories - is testament to the central role within industrial capitalism of cloth manufacture. Engels knew the textile industry well, as his father was a cotton manufacturer. He provided Marx with the awful details. Underneath fashion lies exploitation. In the cotton mills of mid-nineteenth century Britain, men, women, and children laboured cheaply, six days a week, spinning materials harvested by slaves in the US. In the silk mills, child labour was abusive: ten-hour shifts and the exemption from otherwise compulsory education. The necessary light touch when working with delicately textured silk was apparently only acquired by early introduction to this work.

Marx details how, in 1850, the Factory Acts attempted to restrict some of the worst practices, but certain trades were excluded from the legislation. Dye and bleach works came under the provision of the Act only in 1860, lace and stocking manufacturers in 1861. The 1860 Act pronounced that, for dye and bleach works, the working-day be twelve hours long from August 1861, and from August 1862, ten hours, which worked out at ten and a half hours on weekdays, and seven and a half on Saturdays. Manufacturers campaigned to get calenderers and finishers exempted from this contraction of the working day. During that day, whatever its length, working conditions were punitive. Girls in the bleaching drying-rooms were exposed to sweltering temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. They were crammed together, fifteen figures, in a small room by a burning stove, drying linen and cambric and working late into the night, day after day. Phthisis, bronchitis, irregularity of uterine functions, hysteria in its most aggravated forms and rheumatism were common complaints, according to a report in 1862. Although Marx notes of the female workers that ‘capital, in its representations to parliament, had painted them as rubicund and healthy, in the manner of Rubens’.

Wealthy people wore fashion. Poor people, in those days, wore merely clothes, and ones that were as cheap and shoddy as those that sell as ‘fast fashion’ now buyable on high streets, much of which too is still made by underpaid childish hands. The various guiles of the textile industry afford good material for Marx to accentuate the malign practices of capitalist industry. In Capital, volume 3, Marx observes how the use of waste, for example, in the wool industry, makes substandard materials that generate more profits over time, because of their inferior quality. He notes the observations of factory inspectors:

It was once the common practice to decry the preparation of waste and woollen rags for re-manufacture, but the prejudice has entirely subsided as regards the shoddy trade, which has become an important branch of the woollen trade of Yorkshire, and doubtless the cotton waste trade will be recognised in the same manner as supplying an admitted want. Thirty years since, woollen rags, i.e., pieces of cloth, old clothes, etc., of nothing but wool, would average about £4 4s. per ton in price: within the last few years they have become worth £44 per ton, and the demand for them has so increased that means have been found for utilising the rags of fabrics of cotton and wool mixed by destroying the cotton and leaving the wool intact, and now thousands of operatives are engaged in the manufacture of shoddy, from which the consumer has greatly benefited in being able to purchase cloth of a fair and average quality at a very moderate price. (Reports of Insp. of Fact., Oct. 1863, p. 107.) By the end of 1862 the rejuvenated shoddy made up as much as one-third of the entire consumption of wool in English industry. (Reports of Insp. of Fact., October 1862, p. 81.)

Marx comments wryly on this, bringing out the ways in which this works to the advantage of the sellers of commodities:

The ‘big benefit’ for the ‘consumer’ is that his shoddy clothes wear out in just one-third of the previous time and turn threadbare in one-sixth of this time. The English silk industry moved along the same downward path. The consumption of genuine raw silk decreased somewhat between 1839 and 1862, while that of silk waste doubled. Improved machinery helped to manufacture a silk useful for many purposes from this otherwise rather worthless stuff.

Technology, cheapening of production, markets directed towards utility rather than luxury all come to bear on the production of cloth, and eventually allow something called fashion to percolate through to lower echelons of society.


All clothes, even the most fashionable items, turn into rags eventually. As such, they come to play another role in Marx’s account. In The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), Marx called the most pitiable class the lumpenproletariat; lumpen meaning ragged cloths. The lumpenproletariat have slipped out of the ranks of the working class and, in their disarray, have become organisable, potentially, for the forces of reaction, or anyone who might buy them off with a few sausages.

Clothing is not only fashionable. It is also a socially produced universal need and, as such, it participates in the dialectic of production and consumption. Production has meaning only once the object is consumed, by subjects. In Grundrisse, Marx lays out the dialectic of production and consumption with specific reference to clothing. A product, a garment, he notes, becomes a real product, a real garment only in being worn, becoming worn out, being consumed. Through use, it disintegrates and negates itself. This stimulates more production. Consumption creates the need for new production: ‘Consumption creates the motive for production; it also creates the object which is active in production as its determinant aim.’ A garment is yet again close at hand when Marx outlines the fundamental elements of capitalist system in the opening pages of Capital. Here a coat and linen are used to work through the value form of the commodity, with its qualifications as equivalent, relative, use and exchange.

Clothing is a historical necessity, or a social convention through which capitalism realises itself across all strata of society. Fashion, for Marx, though, is associated specifically with the class stratifications of the capitalist mode of production. Illustrative of class, it is set out by Marx metaphorically. Discussing the first French Republic, he notes how it ‘was only a new evening dress for the old bourgeois society.’ Fashion is concealment, a masquerade that changes the surface, but not the core situation. The next generation of power-mongers, French politicians establishing modern bourgeois society from 1789 until 1814, did likewise, according to Marx, copying the copiers, shrouding themselves in ‘the austere classical traditions of the Roman Republic’, in ‘Roman costume’ and ‘Roman slogans’. These are ‘self-deceptions’ required to screen from themselves the partial, purely bourgeois content of their tussles and to maintain their enthusiasm at the high level appropriate to great historical tragedy. Any original materiality is obscured, as it becomes a cipher, not something produced in the great factories of the world and consumed in all its corners. What is tragic production becomes farcical simulation.


The criticism of fashion’s deceptiveness through surface is replicated in the thesis of capitalist manipulation of needs and desires, an insight of the coming Marxism, the critique of the commodity fetish by Lukacs, Benjamin, Adorno, Debord, Haug and many others, as they critically perceive how a populace, conceived as consumers, is appealed to through the sensuous aesthetics of commodities. The stage is set for all fashion to come, and to come in its mass and elevated forms and to keep the wheels of capitalism turning.