Selling Our Death Masks

Selling Our Death Masks

Cash-For-Gold in the Age of Austerity

Are we pawning our golden immortality for a fistful of cash?


A radical historical ethnography on the meaning of a fundamentally new physical landscape of our age of austerity: cash-for-gold shops that numerically exploded in the wake of the worst economic crisis of our times.


It is not easy to deal with a curse as old as mankind, to keep it at arms’ length and, if possible, transform its ominous power into healing. Yet this is what Yesenia Barragan achieves—to the extent possible—in her fast-paced brilliant, and exceedingly original history of gold and its roller coastering life under contemporary capitalism…This is the sparkling achievement of Yesenia Barragan. ~ Michael Taussig (Columbia University), author of My Cocaine Museum and The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America

Yesenia Barragan’s world-tour, deeply political but no less personal, brings back to mind the old aphorism that money, or rather the gold backing for money, is the root of all evil—or at least both symbolizes and worsens the social evils all around us. Beautifully written, the book finds in the “cash-for-gold” enterprises the very essence of the global crisis, not only for those who are pressed to sell anything precious but for every inch of the planet penetrated in search of new gold supplies. Read, cry, and learn. ~ Paul Buhle (Brown University), author of Marxism in the United States and A People's History of American Empire

From Colombia to China and from Greece to Spain, gold, which once evoked the warmth and power of the sun, became the legal tender of super-exploitation and suffering. Yesenia Barragan, with the language, sensibility, and power of an epic poet, reaches from the gold bars and gold exchanges that have marked the most recent period of capitalist crisis back to the history of the conquests of Latin America, Asia, and Africa to show how gold underwrote a Boschian world of capitalist exploitation. Yet, despite the horror to which Barragan bears witness, she still holds out the hope that consciousness, struggle, and poetry can bring. Everyone committed to social transformation must read this book. ~ Temma Kaplan (Rutgers University), author of Crazy for Democracy and Taking Back the Streets

Yesenia Barragan
Yesenia Barragan Yesenia Barragan is a PhD Candidate in Latin American History at Columbia University, where she studies slavery, abolition, and emancipation...
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