chapter  1
21 Pages

Baudrillard: history, hysteria and consumption

WithRoy Porter

Capitalism, according to standard treatises, was a system of commodity production; value was produced by the labour essential to manufacture; through the play of market forces, output responded to consumer demand, and demand was a function of need. There were iron laws of political economy, grounded in nature, and known by science. The modern consumer society is another beast. It is, Jean Baudrillard claimed, a system in which analysis of the laws of production has become obsolete. Consumption is all-important, and consumption has to be understood in a novel manner. Baudrillard likens such dizzying, ever-repeated, and Omni-purpose emblems to the symptoms of hysteria: The world of objects and of needs would thus be a world of general hysteria. Just as the organs and the functions of the body in hysterical conversion become a gigantic paradigm which the symptom replaces and refers to, in consumption objects become a vast paradigm designating another language through which something else speaks.