Objects are like Rasputin:
you often have to kill them for them to die (1)
– Christian Dotremont
Sometimes, objects around us appear in such a way that one has the impression that, for a moment, they have come to life. In Jan Švankmajer’s short film, The flat (1968), a man finds himself locked up in an apartment in which the objects therein behave autonomously, to his astonishment and perpetual confusion. In this situation, the inanimate rebels frustrate the main character’s attempts to put any of them to use: the legs of a chair become shortened, several holes appear in a spoon, the bed disintegrates when the man tries to sleep... What this constitutes is a revolt of material objects that results in the discovery of the unknown dimensions of the mundane.
Shopping cart threw itself downstairs
(found by Noé Ortega in Santander, Spain, July 2007)
However, now that objects are confined almost permanently within a prison cell of utility, generally unconnected to any type of liberating act, then their desperation proliferates. In the city it is not unusual to find the corpses of functionality: all those objects which, having obtained only the slightest breath of life, have been driven to suicide (2).
Object about to take its last step
(met by Noé Ortega in Santander, Spain, May 2010)
The mass-multiplication of objects has led to the loss of their concreteness, of their potential, and ultimately of their poetic richness as unique objects. In the commodity, the qualitative yields to the quantitative (3). Once again, the generalized impoverishment enforced by enforced by capitalist rule finds a strong foothold for its purposes in the principle of identity: when the prevailing criterion is functionality, this principle immediately adds an object to a multitude of equal objects – and all these objects are in turn equal to the vacuum that connects them. It is absolute anonymity. It is the fulmination that the particular object suffers in being taken to a maximum degree of abstraction that eventually plunges it into nonexistence: paralysis, consummated immobilization (4).
Traffic sign suicided by a shot in the temple
(seen by Emilio Santiago in Móstoles, Spain, December 2008)
The death wish emerges within objects removed from desire. As a result of the continuous frustration exerted by the utilitarian imprisonment of the “will to be”, the desire to die arises within these objects. And it is in suicide that despair becomes gesture, and that paralysis explodes. From that desperate leap, immobilization and anonymity are overcome. Suicide is nothing but an insolent claim of specificity. The suicidal object annihilates the absolute abstraction in which it was immersed. Its death realizes its concretization, for death can only be one's own; it can only occur in the particular object, exalting it in its uniqueness. Suicide sublimates the living death of the object, or put another way, it objectifies, once and for all, the living death to which the object had been dragged. The death of the object is the testimony of its life.
Hung iron over a cemetery wall
(sighted by Bill Howe in Leeds, UK, March 2009)
Something becomes useless when it stops being somebody’s servant. Its uselessness is what liberates it. When an object is invalidated as a commodity, it immediately loses any value within the system and thus becomes considered as “junk” (5), a residue despised and shunned by the system. Through becoming useless, the object falls into disuse. Moreover, it becomes invisible to capital. And it is through this method of exit that the object achieves its uniqueness, stripped of all false masks of identity, of any nullification of its own nature. And so it is emancipated: by ridding itself of functionality, the object achieves a new life in the light of poetry.
Recently hung object in a roof
(found by Eugenio Castro and Noé Ortega in Comillas, Spain, May 2010)
The suicidal object breaks into our daily life in a brusque and unexpected way (6), almost obscenely. It provokes a gasp from the elderly lady, a look of disgust from the punctual worker, or a quick gesture of annoyance from the young altar boy. The so-called “good people” – those docile pets – are horrified by suicidal objects. This is understandable. One of the effects of exacerbated instrumentalism, under which capitalism subjugates everything under its shadow, is the concealment of objects under the mask of functionality. It has come to impose its rule to such an extent in our ways of relating to things around us that the objects themselves are no longer seen, but rather their value when considered as a commodity – and nothing more than that – that value which makes them visible in the eyes of capital (7). That is why suicidal objects generate such a tense reaction of rejection from the well domesticated since they are no longer considered means nor tool. When the functional use of the object suffers a setback, the object appears as it really is. “Freed from utilitarian bondage, the object readily throws off the mask to reveal its true face”, (8) and the appearance of that unknown face causes fear and bewilderment.
Lain basket after deliberately consumming a great dose of barbiturates
(found by Eugenio Castro in Mar de Lira, Spain, July 2009)
The most varied suicidal objects have been encountered, from household items such as an iron or a can of pepper, varied street furniture such as signs, billboards or telephone booths, through all sorts of objects such as guitars, cars or shoes, just to name a few. These are usually isolated suicide cases, although the first cases of collective suicides have been already reported. With respect to methodology, the suicides that have already occurred exhibit a wide range of possibilities: death by defenestration, hanging, getting shot in the temple, drug overdose, drowning, and even by vein cutting. Some cases reveal signs of self-injury before the suicide event, a chilling proof of the object’s state of desperation. As to the place of suicide, no predilection for marginal areas or busy areas of the city has been detected. What has been noted, on the other hand, is that the geographical dispersion of observed suicides is expanding, which may be a sign of the increased tendency of objects towards their destruction.
Hung telephone with clear automutilation signs
(seen by Eric Bragg and Noé Ortega in San Francisco's Financial District, USA, January 2010)
However, common features exist: first, the suicidal object makes its appearance. There is a short period of time when people pass by hastily but nobody wants to get very close to it. Beyond this first stage of horror, there is a morbid excitement regarding the corpse, and the suicidal object attracts varied numbers of curious people. Soon the interest dissipates and the object is finally at rest, completely abandoned. Then it disappears.
Suicidal umbrella in the bottom of a pond
(discovered by Bruno Jacobs in Stockholm, Sweden, April 2010)
Disemboweled object after having commited hara-kiri
(photographed by Vicente Gutiérrez Escudero in Santander, Spain, January 2011)
Lightbulb about to fall into the dark
(encountered by Noé Ortega in Santander, Spain, February 2014)
(Published in Salamandra #19-20, Madrid, 2011.)
1. Christian Dotremont, Vie de l'objet (1944), in L'objet surréaliste, Jean Michel Place, Paris, 2005, p. 176. This text was meant to appear in La main à plume, in a special issue on the object that was ultimately never published.
2. The first part of these notes on the suicidal objects was published in the second issue of El Rapto (Madrid surrealist Group, December 2007), and then an English translation of it appeared in the second issue of the journal Phosphor (Leeds surrealist Group, Fall 2009). The translation published in the latter is the one included in the present text.
3. The situationist critique has treated this aspect thoroughly. In addition to The society of the spectacle, this concept was also treated by Raoul Vaneigem, especially in Chapter X of the The revolution of everyday life.
4. “There is nothing inanimate. At most we can say that there are still objects, or more accurately, immobilized objects”, Jean-Louis Bedouin, op. cit., p. 298.
5. “Where a first meeting between these utensils and the surrealist object occurs is in their use value. Such value lies in a shared surrender to economic uselessness”, Eugenio Castro, Los trastos arrumbados, Salamandra 17/18, Madrid, 2008.
6. A singular fact occurs with the suicidal object: it is this, with his suicide, which “comes to us”. There is no voluntary human action prior to the advent of the object, there is no intentionality, no kind of intervention comes into play. “The potential activity of the object, its movement towards the subject determine the reaction of the latter”. Martin Stejskal, La relation cérémonielle, in La civilisation surréaliste, Payot, Paris, 1976, p. 307.
7. “The relationship with the goods is not only visible, it is the only thing visible”, Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle.
8. Jean-Louis Bedouin, Cycle de l'objet, in La civilisation surréaliste, Payot, Paris, 1976, p. 299.