by Vincent Dachy
Here is a thesis: the contempt that many people show for the concept of “object” is symptomatic of a difficulty to elaborate the concept in its complexity and shows a lack of consideration to the discourse in which the contempt takes place.
Most people who bark about objects take their reference from Marx1, the central ideas stemming from the exploitation of the workers and their labour, and the reduction of objects to commodity. The entire operation aiming at direct or indirect quantifiable profit. This analysis is very powerful as it underlines a crucial operation of the capitalist system – or capitalist discourse as I prefer to say. We will call this the objectification of the object. In the Marxist vein this objectification is also called reification. But in other traditions reification is a different operation: that of giving an idea a substantial existence (God, for instance), rather synonymous with hypostasis and hypostatization. We may notice that the Marxist critique remains internal to the capitalist discourse as its political undertakings have clearly shown.
The Marxist reification has been used by some people to talk about the objectification of class, race, minority or gender, of basically anyone or any group that has been exploited – often identifying the capitalist discourse with patriarchy. Let us remark that these critical theories, as sharp as they may be, have by and large occupied the same position as the Marxist critique i.e. they remained internal to the discourse of capitalism – to use a shortcut, they fight for rights and equality – and that is not without merit or results, but, in the end, it amounts to getting a bigger or fairer part of the pie. Meanwhile, the pie and its recipe remain the same. Perhaps we could consider the field of objects more broadly.
What is an object? There are things. But when is it that a thing becomes an object? When a subject operates on a thing, and there are different operations that can be made on things. Here are three important ones: the operation of objectalisation, the operation of objectivation, and the operation of objectification.
As a Lacanian psychoanalyst, I encounter the first operation all the time. It is the operation by which someone or something becomes important for a subject insofar as satisfaction is at stake. So, the mother is an object for a baby, and inversely just as well. I hope this classic example is obvious enough. Notice here that not being an object is generally more problematic than being one. At this juncture a crucial difference should be introduced. Subject means the subject of the unconscious, the way satisfaction is organized for an individual regardless of his/her conscious choices. The ego, on the other hand, is precisely an object that an individual “makes” of oneself and with which (s)he is more or less satisfied; the unified representation we have of ourselves, the ideas that give a value to our image, what we sell in an interview, the image to which name dropping is supposed to give some consistency. This is a crucial differentiation if you do not want to constantly fall back on a discourse of self-promotion and self-consistency. Many people arguing for a form of a-subjectivity or another could consider using this distinction between ego or self and subject.
So, the operation of objectalisation is linked to making a thing an object of satisfaction, of care, of desire, sexual or not, of enjoyment (“jouissance” in French as conceptualized by Lacan). The topology of these objects raises an interesting problem. Are they external, internal to the subject, or even occupying a space that is neither and both at the same time? Lacan called them “extimate”. Electively, the breast, the excrement, the look, the voice are such objects, and we find them playing crucial roles in drives and fantasies. We can also observe “instantiations” of them in so-called “transitional objects”, but also in toys, and, perhaps indeed, in “art objects”.
The second operation is that of reaching a judgment that could be called objective. Objectivity is a very important operation in many fields, in Law, in Science and techniques for instance, but in daily life just as well: the acceptation to distinguish what is wish from what is real. There are fields where this operation seems either hardly relevant or even excluded: economy or religion, for instance. What about politics, and what about poetry or literary? If objectality is attached to what suits or could suit my satisfaction – even through tortuous complications, objectivity is linked to what I have to accept “whether I like it or not”.
It is noticeable that just about anything can become an object of satisfaction or an object of study (as another path towards satisfaction), it depends on how a subject relates to it.
Let’s now go back to objectification. Above this operation was linked to the exploitation that is at the centre of the capitalist discourse. We need to be more specific as not all exploitations are equivalent. I put to you that the capitalist operation is organized around the exploitation of exploitation; it focuses on the satisfaction produced by an exploitation and exploits that operation for itself. An inkling of this can be found in phrase such as “I’m into anything that makes a buck” (the only object of interest is profit, the surplus-value, the means to produce it is indifferent to the logic of capitalism – if not indifferent to the capitalist). We could differentiate non-exploitative and exploitative exploitations. Capitalism is organized as an exploitative exploitation.
Here, I’d like to pose a number of questions which, if left unanswered, only end up giving consistency to the discourse that has been criticized, because one has to realize the conditions which make a criticism subversive and those, however vocal and critical, which only give more consistency to the decried discourse. In short, if you do not drop the capitalist ideal of becoming rich and famous, all your criticisms risk to amount to a demand for a piece of the pie, which, obviously, makes the capitalist pie more consistent.
Here are a few of these questions: why do exploited people bear their situation so well or at least so much and often so silently? Why is it that people so easily believe that capitalism is natural? If it is obvious that maleship is highly compatible with capitalism do we believe that feminism or femininity are incompatible with it, and what about motherhood? Can’t we see that capitalism is based on the following axiom: “taking advantage or being taken advantage of”? Do we not see the difficulty to derive any communal basis from such an axiom apart from the self-righteous individualistic and segregationist conventionalism?
To conclude these remarks which actually amount to the rudiments of a preamble: there are different kinds of objects, and they are all part of processes of subjectivation that take place in a variety of non-equivalent discourses which are operations on satisfaction. Only a subversion of the subject’s relation to his/her satisfaction can open the possibility of a real transformation. If art and literature could question their relation of satisfaction to the so-called art-world, which is nothing else than an institution like the financial world is an institution, or the academic world, then perhaps art and literature could operate some transformation in the taste of our time, and not simply add new flavors to the old same capitalist recipe.
Here is a general and simple definition of an object, a definition that can be used, I think, in all situations involving a thing that becomes an object. An object is primarily a localization of investments, potentially or actually, i.e. the localization of satisfaction investments, aesthetic investments, educational, political, utilitarian, mercantile, ethical, etc. i.e. a localization of a surplus-satisfaction that could occupy the gap that the subject is.
And here is a link to the video-poem “Objects object”
Vincent Dachy for VDcollective
1: See The fetish character of the commodity, 4th part of 1st chapter of 1st section of Capital Book 1. Others, who like to believe in the being of Being will take their inspiration from Heidegger. We will not pursue this avenue.
Located in London having drifted from Belgium Vincent Dachy has written quite a few things in English and in French, most often on Mondays. In 2006 Les Figues Press published Tribulations of a Westerner in the Western World, and in 2013 Artwords Press in London published Scraps from the bottom of my pocket. He has also published texts, poems and photographs in various journals and read on several occasions in London, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tijuana, Brussels and Paris. Vincent Dachy acts as the spokesperson of VDcollective (www.vdcollective.com), and also practices and teaches lacanian psychoanalysis in London.