Object Lessons

How to Do Things with Fetishism

By E. L. McCallum

Subjects: Gender Studies
Series: SUNY series in Psychoanalysis and Culture
Paperback : 9780791439807, 195 pages, October 1998
Hardcover : 9780791439791, 195 pages, October 1998

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Table of contents



1. How to Do Things with Fetishism

Symptoms of an Analogy in the Construction of a "Penis"

Penis, Phallus, Fetish

A Very Special Penis: The Clitoris from Three Essays to the Later Works

2. The Travesty of Clothes Fetishism

A Puzzling Thing

Dressing Up Fetishism in Feminist Clothes

No Two Ways about It: What Lesbian Fetishism Can Do for You

3. The Language of Loss

Two Kinds of Object Relations: Melancholia and Fetishism

The Persistence of Parody

Coda: The Epistemology of the Object


Works Cited


An important contribution to our understanding and interpretation of fetishism and of what fetishism can teach us about sexuality, gender, belief, and knowledge.


Object Lessons begins with the question, What can fetishism teach us? One answer, as this book makes clear, is that fetishism is a form of subject-object relation that informs us about basic strategies of defining, desiring, and knowing subjects and objects in Western culture. More importantly, in the way that it brings together peculiarly modern anxieties—especially those about sexuality, gender, belief, and knowledge—fetishism reveals how our basic categories for interpreting the world have been reduced to binary and mutually exclusive terms. By foregrounding concerns about sexual differences in examining fetishism's unique intersection of desire and knowledge, Object Lessons seizes on the promises fetishism offers to those who want to call into question the resurgence of conservative and even reactionary drives to lock down absolute definitions of sexual differences through either biological or cultural essentialism.

E. L. McCallum teaches in the Department of English at Indiana University.


"The topic of fetishism has been taken up by both feminist and lesbian criticism, and this book represents an important contribution to thinking about this issue, particularly because McCallum charts out a whole new direction for work in this area. Moreover, because her analysis addresses the nature of identity and the status of the subject, Object Lessons has important implications for feminist theory in general.

"The clarity of style reflects, in turn, the fact that the argument is very well thought out. McCallum's logic is impeccable. Not only does she seem to cover all possible interpretations of the passages she is discussing, but, when she is at her very best, the book is dazzling, with a new twist being introduced in the argument every two pages or so. It was a great pleasure to read a book in which the workings of a very fine intellect were so continually evident. " — Dennis W. Allen, West Virginia University