Jean Baudrillard: The System of Objects

[Readings] (08.17.08, 4:11 pm)


Baudrillard analyzes the role of the object in modern consumer culture. He weaves Freudian and Saussurian (semiotic and psychological) analysis into a Marxist explanation of the commodity in society. Baudrillard looks at advertising, functionality, collection: the various social constructs that have evolved around objects which have come to represent much more than mere utility. Some of the original ideas were relating object dependence to works like The Sims.


The system of objects is a system of meanings. Modern objects are rooted in their technology, the technological qualities of objects are essential, whereas in the psychological and sociological sphere, the things that happen to the object are inessential. The technology is bound and inextricable from the object, making it a concrete unit. Production yields equivalence of objects. Software takes this to a natural extreme. Consider the psychological or sociological relation to objects, namely referencing George Mead, wherein objects are things that have been enacted. (p. 5-6)

On form and function in objects: In some cases, form is totally functionless, but rather, it operates as a sign. But… the sign is the function: it evokes an imaginary ideal function, beyond the limited real one. This is allegorical form, which does no more than to signify the idea of the function. Specifically, Baudrillard is talking about tail fins in cars, which serve no practical purpose whatsoever, but their form evokes idealized fastness. (p. 59) An interesting tangent: Considering functionalism and software or games. Software aspires to functionalism like physical objects do (Consider Norman, DoET and Emotional Design). What about games? Play has [ostensibly] no function, save pure indulgence. They probably are equated with entertainment like TV and film? Consider games as Objects of Products? (p. 64)

On collecting: The purpose of objects is to be put to use or to be possessed. A practical object like a utensil or a refrigerator is put to use in some fashion. The object’s materiality is less important than its function, as such it is equivalent to all other objects of its kind. A collected object is abstracted from its use, and becomes a thing that is possessed. Possession is thus a source of anxiety over the ambiguity of the uniqueness of an object. Compare with Geertz on the metaphysical ambiguity of life and the role of religion therein! The collection is a means to overcome the ambiguity of uniqueness. (p. 86) Collection transforms “having” into “being”: The object becomes an extension of the self. To have sequestered a prized object is to be castrated. (p. 98)

Automation and personalization: An automated objec is anthropomorphized by its supposed self-direction. But with object identification, this leads to self-functionalization, seeing oneself as an automated object, reducing the self to mere function. Compare here w Weizenbaum. Again, this is independent of AI or science as an ideology, but a property and effect of production. It also requires several steps to come around. (p. 112)

Choice causes us to participate in the culture value system. This is not freedom, but an imposed structure. Choice relates to AI and class dynamics. The idea of “personalization” is an ideological concept in order to integrate people effectively. (p. 141) The model of an object is just the idea of the model. It is the “generic image manufactured through the imaginary assumption of all relevant differences” Differences and choice: Self individuation is based on serial distinctions. “Personalization and integration go strictly hand in hand. That is the miracle of the system.” (p. 144)

Advertising and the pleasure principle: Gratification and frustration. Compare with sociological roles/acts and their models as objects. (In role-performance theory, roles are chosen according to gratifications). What are the advertisements of roles? Surely roles are advertised somehow, are portrayed as good or idealized to us in different ways (portrayals and depictions). “We must not forget that the image serves in this way to avoid reality and create frustration, for not only thus can we grasp how it is that the reality principle omitted from the image nevertheless effectively re-emerges therein as the continual repression of desire (as the spectacularization, blocking and dashing of that desire, and, ultimately, its regressive and visible transference onto an object).” (p. 177)

Consumption is an active process; objects are not the objects of consumption, rather, consumption is of meaning and signs by means of the objects. Traditional, functional objects were not arbitrary, but modern objects [as signs] are. Signs are necessarily arbitrary, and by objects operating as signs, they must be arbitrary as well. The nature of signs depends on difference. Compare with analogy, allegory? (p. 200)

Reading Info:
Author/EditorBaudrillard, Jean
TitleThe System of Objects
ContextRelates objects to the psychology of desire.
Tagsmedia theory, semiotics
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.