use value blues: finding products of human labor after the deluge

I am going to take off from where I left off writing about the market in antiques and objets d’art in Cousin Pons. Let me suspend, for a moment, the notion of the image of the limited good, and return here to the symbolic regime of treasure.

As I have pointed out, this is a rather specialized secondary market – an after the deluge type of market, a combination of archaeology and panning for gold. In Balzac’s Cousin Pons, archaeology is one of the master metaphors, with now the authorial tone taking on the archaeologist’s role and disinterring Pons as a fossil, and now – descending a level to the characters in the plot itself - one of Balzac’s bourgeois heavies, President Camusot de Marville, giving a lecture on archaeology to his husband-hunting daughter, who has not recognized that Cousin Pons’ gift of a Watteau fan is not a ‘petite betise’, but evidence, on the contrary, that Pons is to be reckoned with.

“The reunion of knowledges that demands these ‘petites bêtises’, Cécile, he said, taking up his thread again, is a science which is called archeology. Archeology comprehends architecture, sculpture painting, gold work, ceramics, wood work, a completely modern art, lacework, etc. tapestry, in the end, all the creations of human labor.” [my translation]

It comes down to a question of human labor and its products. Yet the archeologist is not the capitalist, or not quite. His view of objects is aesthetic and historical, and his discoveries and finds transform the first, or primary time of the circulation of commodities into that of a second time, in which the trace of labor is valued for itself – the signature, the mark of the making, the mark of the time of the making, the archaeological ‘almost-nothing’ that gives the product of human labor its invaluable value – its collectable value.