Dramatis Tabula

This text is part of "Quantum Words" research project developed by the "Abteilung Architekturtheorie und Technikphilosophie" (AATP) of the TU in Vienna and directed by Vera Bühlmann.

This contribution is about the "table". I immodestly toyed with the idea of impersonating a table's point of view talking about itself, in the attempt of dealing with some ontological questions and - last but not least - tributing Robert Nozick.


I am a table.

Don’t smirk. After all, we have already felt how it is like to be a bat, a “thing” or an algorithm[1]; why not a table?


As I was saying…I am a table; a simple table. I am nothing more than any other table you have ever seen or used in your life. I am not an avant-garde “thing” consciously designed to estrange your common perception of what a table is, such as Le Corbusier’s or Theo van Doesburg’s, nor one of those pieces designed according to secular traditions. You are familiar with such objects and you know how to judge them: you can formulate a judgment depending on your taste and ideals by the application of categories such as “traditional” or “avant-garde”.


I might actually be any kind of table. In fact, I could be the flat surface you are using now as a support to read, or I could be your legs, when you use them to hold a book or your laptop.


As you probably see, I am more vague than how people are used to think. Of course, I am not as vague as a cloud; my boundaries are clearly defined (at least macroscopically), while the clouds’ boundaries are literally blurred. Yet, I would declare my vagueness in another sense: I feel like having a fuzzy identity.[2] First, as a material object: I can assume infinite forms. Trust me, I know what I am talking about: I have been a flat surface on four wooden blocks, a three-dimensional functional medium for the representation of rococo fantasies, an abstract sculptural shape, a “discreet composition” and even a shining touch-screen.  Yet, I feel like being fuzzy in social terms as well. As any object in the world, I am affected by social reality. Think about the relations between you and me: aren’t these pervaded and disciplined by codes, habits, laws and institutions?­


For Instance, some believed that, in 19th century, people in England covered my legs as these might have resembled women’s body parts. Of course, I don’t have female legs; I don’t have “legs” at all. Yet, I seemingly have them in relation to you, at least some of you. Some say that I incarnate social life as well. Tragedies and blessings have involved my use: on a table, Demeter has erroneously eaten Pelops's shoulder, while on a similar one, maybe the same one, Harmonia and Cadmus have had the celebrations of their wedding. My shape, in relation to you, epitomizes social statuses as well. In 1494 Leonardo Da Vinci represents the “Last Supper” with Jesus sitting at the centre of a long rectangular table (whether or not that was my real shape in that day, does not matter). In 1618, Diego Velazquez completes its painting, entitled “Peasants’ dinner”, which depicts three equal people sitting at a small table. More than two centuries later (1843), Thomas Allom publishes "Dinner Party at a Mandarin's House". In this scene engraved on paper we see a man – presumably the most powerful and rich, or the host – sitting on pedestal head of the table.  In 1881, Pierre-Auguste Renoir renders a table full of bottles and glasses during a bourgeois breakfast at the Fournaise restaurant on the Chatou Island: a scene of spare time. All of these depictions are expression of different cultural, political and historical conditions and I, in these paintings, symbolize them. Finally, you even “use” me in “slangs”: “she/he is such a table”; this one is a kind of idiotic person.


As you see, I have a fuzzy nature. Despite my use, I change my nature depending on the context in which I find myself. It is in fact needless to remind you that more than one philosopher has described our social world as less objective than how it seems to be: it (partly) is subjective and ideologically constructed. Then, as Borges did not recognize himself in the one who wrote his books, arriving to identify two different Borges(es) between whom he could not identify the real author of his work (“I do not know which of us two is writing this page” [3]), I could probably state that my objecthood as a table is possible exactly because it is vague: there are many tables as there are ideas and uses of the “Table”.



[1] I refer to Thomas Nagels’s “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”, in The Philosophical Review, Vol. 83, No. 4 (Oct., 1974), pp. 435-450 and to Ian Bogost's Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012)

[2] with the term fuzzy I refer to the “fuzzy realism” and “ontological vagueness” as theorized by philosophers such as Michael Tye, Stewart Shapiro, Achille Varzi and, partly, Hilary Putnam.

[3] Jorge Luis Borges, "Borges and I", in J.L.Borges, Dreamtigers (1960), (Austin: University of Texas Press, ed.2004), p.51


Giacomo Pala, “Dramatis Tabula",