Today, we are everywhere surrounded by the remarkable conspicuousness of consumption and affluence, established by the multiplication of objects, services, and material goods. This now constitutes a fundamental mutation in the ecology of the human species. Strictly speaking, men of wealth are no longer surrounded by other human beings, as they have been in the past, but by objects. Their daily exchange is no longer with their fellows, but rather, statistically as a function of some ascending curve, with the acquisition and manipulation of goods and messages: from the rather complex domestic organization with its dozens of technical slaves to the “urban estate” with all the material machinery of communication and professional activity, and the permanent festive celebration of objects in advertising with the hundreds of daily mass media messages; from the proliferation of somewhat obsessional objects to the symbolic psychodrama which fuels the nocturnal objects that come to haunt us even in our dreams. The concepts of “environment” and “ambiance” have undoubtedly become fashionable only since we have come to live in less proximity to other human beings, in their presence and discourse, and more under the silent gaze of deceptive and obedient objects which continuously repeat the same discourse, that of our stupefied (medusée) power, of our potential affluence and of our absence from one another.
As the wolf-child becomes wolf by living among them, so are we becoming functional. We are living the period of the objects: that is, we live by their rhythm, according to their incessant cycles. Today, it is we who are observing their birth, fulfillment, and death; whereas in all previous civilizations, it was the object, instrument, and perennial monument that survived the generations of men.
While objects are neither flora nor fauna, they give the impression of being a proliferating vegetation; a jungle where the new savage of modern times has trouble finding the reflexes of civilization. These fauna and flora, which people have produced, have come to encircle and invest them, like a bad science fiction novel. We must quickly describe them as we see and experience them, while not forgetting, even in periods of scarcity or profusion, that they are in actuality the products of human activity, and are controlled, not by natural ecological laws, but by the law of exchange value.
The busiest streets of London are crowded with shops whose show cases display all the riches of the world: Indian shawls, American revolvers, Chinese porcelain, Parisian corsets, furs from Russia and spices from the tropics; but all of these worldly things bear odious white paper labels with Arabic numerals and then laconic symbols £SD. This is how commodities are presented in circulation. (Karl Marx, Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy (NY: International Publishers, 1970) p. 87 [Trans.])
Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988) pp. 30-31. [Blockquote and Marx citation in original. Protip: drop Baudrillard if you want to seem profound/intelligent/knowledgeable. This will probably be my only Baudrillard post. I can never seem to understand him, but this is the most recognizable excerpt I could muster, if only so due to my previous knowledge on Critical Theory (which is why I have tagged it as such, though, strangely enough, Baudrillard is supposedly opposed to it, and Marxism as well, lol!). Best wishes to anyone who tries to read this or his more famous Simulacra & Simulation, though I have seen people use him to understand craft beer culture.]
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