A tale of goddesses, money, and other terribly wonderful things: spirit possession, commodity fetishism, and the narrative of capitalism in Rajasthan, India



In this article, I examine the spiritual possession of a young Indian woman'a member of a community of performers known as Bhats'by her husband's lineage goddess. The events unfold in the Rajasthani town of Udaipur where Bhats now market traditional culture to tourists. Showing how this possession responds to my informants' new exchange relations, I argue for the utility of the Marxist notion of "commodity fetishism." I contend, however, that Marxist accounts, because of their typically insistent condemnation of capitalist transformation, are not able to account fully for the Bhat experience of new money relations. I maintain, instead, that an analysis emphasizing multiple moral narratives more completely illuminates the Bhats' complex encounter with the economic forms of modernity. I further suggest that discourse-based descriptions of spiritual possession also cannot do full justice to this woman's case, which is as much a failure to communicate as a successfully articulated, if disguised, mode of communication. I thus argue for an appreciation of the way religious forms, and particularly spiritual possessions, represent a form of language and the failure of language, as well as a kind of story and the inability to narrate experience. Overall, I develop an analytical framework that draws out the representational implications of the notion of fetishism' which, according to Marx, describes a situation in which images (such as money), if compelling enough, eclipse their referents (labor)'and that might do more justice to the Bhats', themselves praise singers, own sophisticated engagement with fictions. [India, spirit possession, religion, money, commodity fetishism, capitalism, narrative, discourse, Marxism, poststructuralism]