to: Baudrillard, J. (1983) Simulations, New
This is a
very free-flowing long French essay. It is full of appealing quotations
and aphorisms, rather than following an academic argument as such . Why
am I attempting to summarise it in this way? Hélas, je ne sais pas--
The Precession of Simulacra
examples of simulations and their dire effects begins the discussion]
'... museumification is only one more turn in the spiral of
artificiality' (21), and any attempt to rebuild and re-install a museum
on its original site is 'even more artificial:
it is a social simulacrum that links up with "reality"
by a complete circumlocution' (22). There is a link here with
ethnology, which also domesticate the past by fitting the civilisations
of the ancient world into our past. The preservation of the past
generally is a 'simulated sacrifice of [the] object in order to save its reality
principle' (14). It is a means of anchoring the floating signifiers of
science through such 'referential
parks are described as a classic mixture of simulations. They are
obvious fantasy worlds and 'real America',
a 'deep frozen infantile world', for where
the values of the USA are 'embalmed and
pacified' (24). The parks can be read as ideological, as Marin does,
but the ideological elements cover a 'third
order simulation': theme parks conceal facts about real societies, just
as prisons conceal the fact that society itself is carceral. Los
Angeles and its environs are hyperreal, and what Disney does is not
just falsely represent reality but rather '[conceal]...
the fact that the real is no longer real... thus saving the reality
principle' (25). The deliberately infantile nature of the parks
conceals the real childishness of adults to visit it. Lots of other
theme park sites in Los Angeles had the same function, to conceal the
fact that the city is 'nothing more than
an immense script and a perpetual motion picture' (26).
concealed an effacement of difference between facts and their
denunciation (27). The
Washington Post journalists who exposed the scandal only
regenerated capitalism's moral superstructure. There are links here
with Bourdieu, and the ways in which relations of force get disguised
as symbols. however, Bourdieu is also inclined to denounce such
practices, and thus preserves some mythical 'order
of truth' beyond all relations of force. He is thus complicit in the
view that capitalism is rational, capable of rational control or moral
restraint, but capitalism is 'a monstrous
unprincipled undertaking, nothing more' (29). The system should be
challenged as a threat to Symbolic Law [as
a threat to social life itself? -- sounds like Habermas here].
It is an
illusion to claim that there is some sacred sphere of rationality. In
reality, there is an endless 'vertigo of
interpretation' [such as an infinite regress of causality if we inquire
about origins] (32). We are in the realm of
simulation rather than logic. All our models [of society] claimed to be
based on facts, but these facts themselves are derived from or common
to models. [All the examples here are rather impenetrable political
edicts and proposals -- Baudrillard seems to show that they are partly 'real', partly phoney and partly tactical]. It
is now radically impossible to determine what is true, real or
rational. As Deleuze argued, desire is universal -- we desire our own
repression, and desire lies behind paranoid and fascist regimes as well (35).
'... it is
now impossible to isolate the processes of the real or to prove the
real' (41). For example 'all hold ups,
hijacks and the like are now as it were simulated hold-ups... inscribed
in advance in the decoding and orchestration rituals of the media'.
They are 'hyperreal events... [with]... no
particular contents or aims but... [are]... indefinitely refracted by
each other' (42). [This is the basis of the extraordinary claim, made
later, that the Gulf War never really took place. There is also the
famous example of the Russian plots at the Paris Air Show who crashed
and were able to watch their own deaths on TV, and thus took on the
meanings iimparted by the media representations even as they
experienced the event itself.]
the first to destroy referentials, to smash the differences between
good and bad by abstracting and disconnecting. Then it liquidated the
reality principle because it destroyed use value. There is now endless
simulation. Power itself is in danger of disappearing: the last
obsession with it was demonstrated best by fascism. [A prequel to the
discussion of the redundancy of Foucault and the subsequent demand we
forget him -- Baudrillard and Lottringer (1987)]. The social
itself is threatened which produces a [mistaken?] demand for socialism.
Work and leisure also threatens to become a mere 'scenodrama (not to say melodrama) of production' (48).
'exhumation of the real' has led to a search for 'radical
authenticity' such as in TV verité in the USA (49). A case study
follows (50f): such programmes provide the 'thrill
of the real' for viewers, a delight in 'phoney exactitude' and
'excessive transparency at the same time'. Television generally
inextricably constructs the real for us: 'No longer is there any
imperative to submit to the model or to the gaze."You are the model!", "You are the majority!"' (53). [A note on
pages 77 - 8 amplifies this point. We are complicit in awarding power
to others, and it is very easy to 'trap
the subject in his own questioning', as psychotherapists do. We have
developed a pathological version of democratic theory].
The real is
confused with the model as in statistics or as in verité TV. This makes
the effect of the medium itself impossible to locate. There are links
with McLuhan on the merger between the medium and the message, and the
familiar argument in favour of an end of ideology, and an end of
spectacle (54). The media interpenetrate life, the gaps vanish (eg
between cause and effect, reality and meaning/interpretation). This is
the general 'implosion of meaning' (57).
Analogies can be drawn with living organisms and their genetic codes to
explain how media conventions programme events. War is best seen as an
attempt to 'remould and domesticate social
relations', as another example of the interpenetration of motives.
Media coverage again maintains the official reality.
Baudrillard is explaining here how simulation is released as a major
force. Genuine democratic discourse turns into a simulation of itself.
Capitalism is a major dynamic behind these changes, and
Baudrillard sounds like Durkheim (or Habermas) in warning against
the effects of social change in destroying the social itself].
The Orders of Simulacra
three orders of appearance -- the counterfeit, production and
simulation. These are 'parallel to the law
of value' (the natural law of value, the commercial law of value and
the structural law of value) (83).
However, overall, the system is not
influential. It is negated by public inertia and resistance, but
meanwhile it does take over social life. The analogy here is with the
development of leukaemia -- 'the
substitution for blood of the white lymph' (129). The system of Yes/No,
question/answer appears even in ethnology, unless we are prepared to
see the natives as wholly natural, and thus incapable of simulating
their answers [ see Bourdieu on this]. In psychoanalysis too the
vicious circle appears, in the form of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The
answers simply mirror the questions in all these areas. Psychoanalysis
is thus dead -- the patients short-circuit analysis by offering
responses ready-analysed. The unconscious is no longer
'natural' but is constructed by discourse, showing how
deep hyperrealism penetrates -- to 'libidinal
hyperrealism' (157). But this is also the result of a definite strategy
pursued by the powerless, a matter of vengeance, 'letting
power bury power' (131).
Politics becomes a matter of
alternations between two identical parties, demonstrating the law of
equivalents. Any minute differences between these parties is put to the
test of public consensus. Votes are obligatory, either legally or in
the form of 'statistical constraint': but
voting is irrelevant anyway. Voters find elections more fascinating
than the issues, a further indication of the end of representational
politics. There is the mere simulation of representation and opposition
-- in reality parties are fully absorbable and reversible. It is a pure
form of representation, in the sense that simulation is a pure form of
the political economy of the sign -- 'beyond
the signifier and signified... beyond use and exchange value' (133).
[There is also in here a remark about how currency becomes a pure form
of value like this, irrespective of its actual relation to productive
Any remaining unitary system must 'acquire a binary regulation', enabling a
regulated ['loyal'] opposition and permitting even more complex
ramifications. Binaries appear from the smallest unit, the question and
answer, to the largest, world systems. Binary logic even affects the
architecture of New York, where there is no longer extensive
competition between thrusting styles, but a monopoly -- the example of
a regulated opposition here is the twin towers of the World Trade
Centre: duplication shows the end of representation. [There is more on
New York pages 136-7].
There are still
'repressive spaces': the hard sell, political propaganda,
raw industrial violence -- but these no longer have any meaning. There
are far more general forms of regulation now, which include active
responses, a 'ludic participation' (139),
an imaginary contact-world. Hence the spread of 'tropisms,
mimetics, empathy... operationalisations of the notion of need,
perception, desire' (140). Social life becomes 'total
theatre'. Reality collapses into hyperrealism, the
'minute duplication of the real preferably on the basis of
another reproductive medium -- advertising, photography etc' (141).
Hyperrealism began in realism; surrealism 'augments
the intensity' of realism; the hyperreal removes the contradictions
between the real and imaginary via the 'hallucinatory
resemblance of the real with itself' (142).
This is already a tendency, for
example in the 'new novel', to empty out
the real, to render it as pure objectivity [that
is stripped of subjectivity], as a form of 'circular
seduction where you can easily detect the unconscious desire of no
longer being visible at all' (143). We get the development of a 'pure look', an '"objective" minuteness'. We find
representation for the sake of representation, the end of perspective
and depth, via a four-part process:
(I) the 'deconstruction
of the real into details...flattening linearity and seriality...
(II) [an] endlessly reflected
vision, another type of seriality rather than the Dialectic... the real
no longer is reflected, instead it feeds off itself...
(III) The properly serial form
(Andy Warhol). [This abolishes] not only the syntagmatic dimension [as
in (I)], but the paradigmatic as well
(IV)... binarity... digitality...
minimal separation... The very definition of the real becomes: that
of which it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction... the
real [will become, at the limit of
reproducibility] not only what can be reproduced, but that which is
always already reproduced. The hyperreal.' [original emphasis] (144 - 6).
Reality and art still exist, and
hyperrealism is only a limit case. But there is an
'implosive madness' under way. For the Surrealists,
reality could become surreal, but 'only in
certain privileged moments that nevertheless are still connected with
art and the imaginary' (147). Everyday reality now incorporates
hyperrealism, leading to a radical disenchantment concealed in the
euphoria of simulation [everyone knows
that the media simulate, but no one cares -- so much for all those
conscientious media educators!]. The emotions are assimilated, critique
is simulated. The differences between reality and the circus, theatre,
or movies is still used in 'naturalistic
denunciation' [a classical tactic of the educated petit bourgeoisie who
disapprove of the media -- and also found in those media educators] but
these differences are now obsolete. The media now offer a 'non-intentional parody... to which is
attached an aesthetic pleasure, that very one of reading and [awareness
] of the rules of the game' (150). There is now a universal loss of art
and of the aesthetic. Even industry becomes a matter of production for
its own sake -- in other words art. Art is everywhere and art is now
dead -- 'The cool world of digitality has
absorbed the world of metaphor and metonymy. The principle of
simulation wins out over the reality principle just as over the
principle of pleasure' (158).
[NB a note on education on
page 155 follows a section on youth's abstract desire for emancipation
without substance. Baudrillard cites a certain F. Richard on how
students ask to be seduced and how ironically they play the game,
demanding that teachers speak and give them the word. This provides an
element of contestation, but demonstrates the need for authority.
Students simulate desire, they play out Oedipal scenes. There is no real 'mourning for the absence of
[knowledge and power] (as
could have happened after '68 in the universities)' (156)].