The System of Objects

Collected Items 20.02.12

Consider a nondescript, light, foldable table or a bed without legs, frame or canopy – an absolute cipher of a bed, one might say: all such objects, with their ‘pure’ outlines, no longer resemble even what they are; they have been stripped down to their most primitive essence as mere apparatus and, as it were, definitively secularized.  What has been liberated in them – and what, in being liberated, has liberated something in man (or rather, perhaps, what man, in liberating himself, has liberated in them) – is their function.  The function is no longer obscured by the moral theatricality of the old furniture; it is emancipated now from ritual, from ceremonial, from the entire ideology which used to make our surroundings into an opaque mirror of a reified human structure.  Today, at last, these objects emerge absolutely clear about the purposes they serve.  They are thus indeed free as functional objects – that is, they have the freedom to function, and (certainly so far as serial objects are concerned) that is practically the only freedom they have.  Now, just so long as the object is liberated only in its function, man equally is liberated only as user of that object.  This too is progress, though not a decisive turning-point.  A bed is a bed, a chair is a chair, and there is no relationship between them so long as each serves only the function it is supposed to serve.  And without such a relationship there can be no space, for space exists only when it is opened up, animated, invested with rhythm and expanded by a correlation between objects and a transcendence of their functions in this new structure.  In a way space is the object’s true freedom, whereas its function is merely its formal freedom.  The bourgeois dining-room was structured, but its structure was closed.  The functional environment is more open, freer, but it is destructured, fragmented into its various functions.  Somewhere between the two, in the gap between integrated psychological space and fragmented functional space, serial objects have their being, witnesses to both the one and the other – sometimes within a single interior.

Baudrillard, Jean The System of Objects trans. by James Benedict (Verso:London, 2005) pp. 16-17