Baudrillard’s Four Logics of the Object

(Here I work with the wiki on Jean Baudrillard . . .)

In his early books, such as The System of Objects (1968), The Consumer Society (1970), and, especially, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (trans. Charles Levin [1972; Telos, 1981]), Baudrillard focusses on consumerism—and how different kinds of objects are consumed in different ways. As against Marx, he argues that consumption, rather than production, is the main drive in capitalist society. He also rejects Marx’s naive concept of “use value”: that uses answer needs in a straightforward way. He argues that needs are constructed rather than innate—and that all consumption is fetishistic because of the social significance of commodities (“commodity fetishism”). Objects always “say something” about their users.

Thus, the “ideological genesis of needs” precedes the production of goods to meet those needs (For a Critique . . . 63). (The implication is that whoever owns the means of consumption [Konsummittel] controls the factory. This is all commonsensical for us, but his taxonomy is more useful . . .)

According to For a Critique, there are four ways an object can acquire “value,” i.e., four logics of signification (66):

A Logic of Signification

(We could replace that grammatocentric device, the pen, with a metagrammatic one, the cellphone, which is much more often to hand presently.)

  1. the functional value of an object: its utility as an instrument (= the logic of practical operations). A pen writes.
  2. the exchange value of an object: its market value as a commodity (= the logic of equivalence). One pen may be worth three pencils.
  3. the symbolic value of an object: its value a subject assigns to an object in relation to another subject, i.e., as a gift (= the logic of ambivalence). A pen might symbolize a student’s graduation.
  4. the sign value of an object: its value within a system of objects as a sign of status (= the logic of difference). A particular pen may, whilst having no functional benefit, signify prestige relative to another pen.

He argues that the first two values are disrupted by the third and, particularly, the fourth.

(I’d correlate these logics with phenomenology, political economy, structuralism and poststructuralism. Commensensical again—but what of the hand at the end of the pen/phone? The hermeneut, avatar of Thoth/Theuth?)

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2 thoughts on “Baudrillard’s Four Logics of the Object

  1. Regarding ” but what of the hand .. ? ”

    The hand can hold the multitude of pens – holding one at a time can be sublime – to hold many pens could indicate very different things, e.g. being a subject or have instrumental reason. So the hand is the place of inscription seemingly not only of the One, but also of the Big Other.

    In regard to capitalism, there is this ‘invisible hand of the market’. According to its symbolic function it is the (empty) place of inscription where things ‘order themselves’, where goods and producers meet. The hand is open and expects to be given what is incompatible so it can per-form this magic act of matching-up buyers and sellers. What formerly were the ‘market-makers’ are automatic computer programs today.

    But I think the central message here is that this hand is INVISIBLE because it is the place of possible/changing inscriptions (the market goes up, goes down, whatever it does).

    To come to Baudrillard, the prerequisite of having signs exchanged in a (value-)system are possible spaces of their inscriptions. So a sign-producing system MUST displace the S1 in order to keep places open where produced signs can be inscribed. It must constanly invent new ‘unknowns’ in order to fill them up in the very next step.

    But what if all spaces are exhausted ? Wouldn’t it be simple to fall back to a typcial S1 (of ‘old’ vs ‘new’ ) and have all old products replaced with new products ? As in: you need a new mobile phone, maybe an iPhone, smartphone, etc ? I think that is we currently are. However this apparent resort to S1 isn’t directed by S1 itself, but again from this ‘invisible hand’, this ever moving bodiless object ..

  2. Pingback: Spectacle – Research | Media Production Year 3

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