May 04, 2007

Simulations by Jean Baudrillard

BAUDRILLARD, JEAN, SIMULATIONS, TRANSLATED BY PAUL FOSS ET AL, (NEW YORK: SEMIOTEXT INC., 1983).

The Precession of Simulacra

The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth – it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true. -Ecclesiastes

Baudrillard begins by mentioning the Borges tale of cartographers who map out a territory only to have it ruined as the Empire falls. He states: ‘Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of the territory, a referential being or substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal’ (2). The territory no longer precedes the map nor survives it, but the map precedes the territory. The precession of simulcra dictates that the map engenders the territory. It is no longer abstraction: ‘For it is the difference which forms the poetry of the map and the charm of the territory, the magic of the concept and the charm of the real’ (3). This representational imagery, which culminates in the cartographer’s project for an ideal co-extensivity between the map and the territory, disappears with simulation. Its operation is nuclear and genetic i.e. has its origin is reality but it develops independently of reality. The real is now produced from miniaturised units, from matrices, memory banks and command models – with these it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times. It no longer has to be rational since it is no longer enveloped by an imaginary (i.e. the imagined real). Baudrillard states: “It is hyperreal, the product of combinatory models in hyperspace without atmosphere” (3).

The Divine Irreference to Images

To dissimulate is to feign not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one hasn’t.(5)

To simulate is not the same thing as to feign. E.g. the person who feigns illness can go to bed and pretend, but the person who simulates illness produces some of the symptoms. Feigning or dissimulation leaves the reality principle in tact, because it is only masking reality. Simulation threatens the difference between true and false, between the real and the imagination. Medicine loses its meaning if any illness can be simulated, since it only knows how to treat ‘true’ illnesses.

Religious simulation reveals fears about what becomes of divinity when it reveals itself in icons in relation to whether the supreme authority is simply incarnated in images as a visible theology or whether it is volatilised into simulacra which alone deploy their pomp and power of fascination, the visible machinery of icons instead of the pure, intelligible notion of God. This is the particular fear of the iconoclasts. (iconoclast = a destroyer of images; a person opposed to image-worship esp. those in the Eastern church from the 8c; a person who attacks traditional or established beliefs). Their metaphysical despair came from the idea that the images concealed nothing at all. The iconolators did not realise the true meaning of the icons. (iconolator = an image-worshipper).

Thus perhaps at stake has always been the murderous capacity of images, murderers of the real, murderers of their own model as the Byzantine icons could murder the divine identity. (10)

All of Western faith was engaged in a wager on representation: that a sign could refer to the depth of meaning, that a sign could exchange for meaning and that something could guarantee this exchange – God. But if God can be simulated then the whole system becomes weightless. The latter starts from the principle that the sign and the real are equivalent. Conversely, simulation starts from the utopia of this principle of equivalence, from the radical negation of the sign as value, from the sign as reversion and death sentence of every reference. (negation = the act of saying no; denial; a negative proposition; something that is opposite (of a positive state); a thing characterised by the absence of characteristics).

Whereas representation tries to absorb simulation by interpreting it as false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation as itself a simulacrum. (11)

At this point Buadrillard outlines the successive phases of the image:
1. it is a reflection of a basic reality – a good appearance of the order of sacrament.
2. it masks and perverts a basic reality –an evil appearance of the order of malefice.
3. it masks the absence of a basic reality – it is playing at being an appearance of the order of sorcery.
4. it bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum – it is no longer in the order of appearance at all, but of simulation.

The transition from signs that dissimulate something, to signs that dissimulate that there is nothing, marks a turning point. The first implies a theology of truth and secrecy, while the second inaugurates an age of simulacra in which there is no God to recognise his own, no judgement to sort right from wrong etc.

When the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. (12)

There is a proliferation of myths about the origin and signs of reality, of second hand truth, objectivity and authenticity. There is an escalation of the true and lived experience, a resurrection of the figurative where object and substance have disappeared. Baudrillard states: ‘This is how simulation appears in the phase that concerns us – a strategy of the real, neo-real and hyperreal whose universal double is a strategy of deterrence’ (13).

Rameses or Rose Coloured Resurrection

In 1971, the Phillipino government decided to return the few dozen Tasaday discovered deep in the jungle. The natives decomposed on contact with the modern world like mummies in the open air. For ethnology (ethnology = cultural anthropology; the science concerned with varieties of the human race)to live, its object must die. The object revenges itself by dying for having been discovered and defies by its death the science that wants to take hold of it. All sciences are doomed by the evanescence of its object in the very process of its apprehension, and by the pitiless reversal this dead object exerts on it. Baudrillard states: ‘In any case, the logical evolution of science is to distance itself even further from its object until it dispenses with it entirely: its autonomy evermore fantastical in reaching its pure form’(14-15).

The Indian is driven back into the ghetto, becoming a simulation model for the Indians before ethnology. They are posthumous savages – frozen, cryogenised, protected to death i.e. a referential simulacra. Another example is that of the open museum exhibition. In this, we all become specimens ‘under the sign of dead differences, and of the resurrection of differences’ (16).

Nothing changes when society breaks the mirror of madness – abolishes asylums, gives speech back to the mad – nor when science seems to break the mirror of its objectivity – effacing itself before its object – and to bow down before differences. As ethnology breaks down, an anti-ethnology tries to inject fictional difference and Savagery everywhere. The ‘real’ world is in fact savage itself, that is to say devastated by difference and death.

Baudrillard points to the example of Rameses II’s mummy and he suggests that human beings need a visible past, a visible continuum, a visible myth of origin to reassure us as to our ends, since ultimately we have never believed in them. He writes: ‘We too live in a universe everywhere strangely similar to the original – here things are duplicated by their own scenario. But this double does not mean, as in folklore, the imminence of death – they are already purged of death, and even better than in life; more smiling, more authentic, in light of their model, like the faces in funeral parlours’ (23).

Hyperreal and the Imaginary

Disneyland is a perfect model of all the entangled order of simulation. It is supposed to be an imaginary world but in fact it is a simulation of real America. Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the ‘real’ America, just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, which is carceral. Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real. Baudrillard writes: ‘It is no longer a question of false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle’ (25).

It is meant to be an infantile world in order to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere in the real world and to conceal the fact that childishness is everywhere, particularly amongst those adults who go there to act as a child in order to foster illusions as to their real childishness.

Political Incantation

The Watergate scandal is similar to Disney Land but here it is protecting the reality of Capitalism. The scandal reinjects Capitalism with new meaning/’reality’, because whether the subject defends the morality of the government or whether like the Washington Post journalists, the subject criticises its morality, both discourses suggest that there is a true ‘morality’. Watergate is not a scandal – it is the cruelty of Capital that is scandalous. Baudrillard writes: ‘Capital doesn’t give a damn about the contract which is imputed to it – it is a monstrous, unprincipled undertaking’ (29).

Moebius Spiralling Negativity

Watergate was a trap set by the system to catch its adversaries. All the hypotheses of manipulation are reversible in an endless whirligig, since as Baudrillard confirms, ‘manipulation is a floating causality where positivity and negativity engender and overlap with one another, where there is no longer any active or passive. It is by putting an arbitrary stop to this revolving causality that a principle of political reality can be saved. It is by the simulation of a conventional, restricted perspective field, where the premises and consequences of any act or event are calculable, that a political credibility can be maintained’ (31).

At this point, Baudrillard turns to Berlinguer’s declaration: “We mustn’t be frightened of seeing the communists seize power in Italy”, which according to Bauddrillard, means a number of things simultaneously:
1. that there is nothing to fear since the communists won’t change the capitalist mechanism,
2. that there is no risk of their ever coming to power (since they don’t want to) and even if they did have power, it would only be by proxy,
3. that in fact genuine power no longer exists,
4. that personally Berlinguer is not afraid of the communists coming to power,
5. that Berlinguer is afraid of the communists coming to power (psychoanalysis).
All of the above are simultaneously true. This proves the impossibility of a determinate position of power.

There is a whole range of operational negativity, which tries to regenerate a moribund principle by simulated scandal, phantasm, murder – a sort of hormonal treatment by negativity and crisis.

It is always a question of proving the real by the imaginary, proving truth by scandal, proving the law by transgression, proving work by the strike, proving the system by crisis and capital by revolution, as for that matter proving ethnology by the dispossession of its object – without counting:
- proving theatre by anti-theatre
- proving art by anti-art
- proving pedagogy by anti-pedagogy
- proving psychiatry by anti-psychiatry
etc.etc. (36)

Buadrillard concludes: ‘Everything is metamorphosed into its inverse in order to be perpetuated in its purged form. Every form of power, every situation speaks of itself by denial, in order to attempt escape, by simulation of death, its real agony’ (37).


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