Baudrillard, J. (1987) Forget Foucault, New York: Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents.

My preliminary

In what senses has the real disappeared? There seem to be two ideas:

(A) Hyperreality. In Eco, this is a state where representations of the real fuse with the real itself, adding to it, making it more real in some way. As an example in Tourism – the Egyptian pyramids are real, but when you see them you are also aware of all the TV documentaries about them, the explanations of their possible origins and significance, the diagrams and animated walk- throughs and so on. By comparison, the actual objects can look disappointing. You might even get a better sense of their reality by staying at home and watching more documentaries. In Baudrillard’s Simulations, this arises in the case where the two pilots about to crash at the Paris Air Show saw themselves crashing on TV, or in the notorious case of the Gulf War (I), where training footage of smart bombs was interwoven with actual footage the better to show how they really worked, so that training mock-ups became more real than the War itself.

(B) Simulation. In Baudrillard this is a process that replaces or displaces the real altogether. What happens is that:

1.       Signs (buildings, clothes, paintings, texts) become separated out from their original associations as symbols of particular people or activities (only the rich wore sumptuous clothes, only religious paintings used purple, only the nobility spoke French and so on).

2.     Capitalism and the Enlightenment took these signs away from such restricted use and let them be used more widely, as counterfeits and as commodities (false appendages like stiff shirt fronts or fake castles, classical fronts on modern buildings). Then industrial capitalism in particular strips signs of particular meanings and abstracts them – labour, with very definite meanings according to what sort of area  of the country you lived in, becomes abstract work. Goods are reproduced because there are models or templates of them – models replace the real as the main referent.  Relations between signs themselves become more important than relations between signs and the real [Baudrillard’s examples, in Symbolic Exchange and Death, are the relations between signs themselves in Saussure, and the emergence of exchange value to replace use value in Marx: eventually, sign value replaces use value altogether].

3.    Capitalism then starts producing signs fully in the abstract. In the arts, cultural goods are mass produced (not even reproduced). Finally, signs join up with each other as it were in new professionalised types of communication – such as advertisements, or TV programmes, popular novels etc. These are localised forms of strategic communication not whole ideologies though. In the sciences, underlying, often digital binary codes, are discovered/formulated explaining how things are joined together in biology or computing and leading to phenomena like the digital copy of information or the (ideal) clone, that is indistinguishable from the real. The whole point of capitalism – and the arts and science – is to develop and explore abstract connections in codes like this, without even bothering any more about the real. Hence ‘abstract’ non-realist painting, and the investigation of codes for their own sake rather than real phenomena in biology (the exploration of the genome would be a good example, especially if the original ‘real’ purpose to discover the genetic origins of illness now seems to have abandoned) or in physics (the Hadron Collider searches for particles to test mathematical theorems as much as to discover new bits of ‘reality’).

Simulation is thus a final stage of hyperreality, where the real and the representation of it have completely combined  – ‘collapsed’ or ‘fallen into each other’ (think of a vertically collapsing building where all the floors merge into one), ‘fused’ (think of  alloys where different metals fuse in the right conditions of heat and pressure), or ‘imploded’, as internal differences disappear (think of the two sections of enriched uranium forced together by conventional charges to form a critical mass when a nuclear weapon detonates) to use Baudrillard’s terms. Some aspects of reality might resist and remain detached from representations of them, but vanishingly few. All the major aspects have become simulated including politics, mass communication, class struggle.

In Forget Foucault, Baudrillard argues that real power, which was once intended to manage these real conflicts and divisions, has also disappeared (or possibly just mostly disappeared) as in Foucault, and so has real desire as in Deleuze and Guattari. No one does it any more. Capitalism seduces instead [roughly, makes people want what is provided, although Baudrillard also uses the term to suggest an alternative sexualised relationship, opposed to modern forms of sexuality, focused on the quick orgasm] . Even politicians just simulate it, in a sad attempt to pretend what they are doing is real and thus can justify themselves and their activities. Power and desire have, like most other things, ‘fallen into hyperreality’. So we can forget all the elaborate analyses of power (Foucault) and desire (Deleuze) – they are mirrors of each other anyway (it is the old banality of spontaneous creativity on the one hand being managed and repressed on the other) and so we can forget them both.

Cases where real power has indeed disappeared are easy enough to experience. Any teacher walking out in front of a class realizes that the game is up and there is no longer any way to exercise effective power. It is all smoke and mirrors and the trick is to pretend (simulate) a powerful performance, so that your bluff is never called. If you are lucky you might be able to seduce a few kids – get them to realize there is some other kind of meaning available in what they take to be obvious -- but you can’t compel them any more in the name of Authority, Society, their parents, the job market or whatever.

If all fails you might need to fall back on physical force – but is that power? It is a contradictory policy to use force since that risks busting authority altogether because you have shown it relies ultimately on force and not reasonable calculation (work hard and you will get a good job) or symbolic authority (you have let down the whole school). Anyway, regulating kids by the use of force requires constant policing and exhausting constant battle with them. The last whole society to try that sort of regulation was Nazi Germany says Baudrillard.

However, I would say that Baudrillard and the others have overemphasized the entanglement of power with authority and almost neglected force entirely – a typical omission for philosophers who are not sociologists (although plenty of sociologists have made the same mistake). This may be because authority-based power is far more central and important for most of us, and especially for famous professors, but there is also Hebdige’s strange remark to bear in mind (Hiding in the Light) that he lost interest in the politics of youth culture when youth began rioting – no subtlety and nothing to analyze if it is all a matter of chucking a brick through a window. Nevertheless, you can rescue Foucault a bit by saying not all power has fallen into hyperreality (unless you define it exclusively as the same as authority). Mind you, Foucault ignored force too.

Where the analysis hits home especially though is with Deleuze and desire. What is the equivalent of real support for remaining real aspects of power in the use of force when we discuss desire? Deleuze argues it is a real force on the basis of his virtual/realist ontology but we get into difficulties with that, according to Zizek, Badiou and others. If the virtual endlessly actualises things, the role of desire remains a bit ambiguous – is it just something that explains human actualizations, or itself an actualization? Maybe Baudrillard is also arguing that ontology, as the study of the real, is also forgettable anyway? Actual social life has escaped from the real, if not merged with it? Philosophical ontology is at the second stage of simulation if not the third one, still producing what it takes to be some sort of copy of the real, yet already engaged in producing it through professional philosophy itself? DeLanda’s commentary on Deleuze’s work on the ‘abstract machine’ already shows a dangerous flirtation with mathematical projects aimed at some abstract unity of the code? Much might depend on what Baudrillard actually means by saying Foucault and the others are engaged in some project to maintain the real anyway –deliberately so as to preserve their philosophies and careers ,to stop them being forgotten? (bits of Foucault suggest this – he wanted to branch out to avoid being absorbed into the 'warm freemasonry' of scholasticism --  in Power/Knowledge). Or at a deeper level, unable to grasp somehow that the game is up? What would follow Baudrillard anyway –we would have to forget all philosophy and politics. Far more likely, as he or Lotringer predict anyway, is that he will be forgotten instead?

Sample from the Interview With Lotringer

It is true that logic only leads to disenchantment.  We can’t avoid going a long way with negativity, with nihilism and all.  But then don’t you think a more exciting world opens up?  Not a more reassuring world, but certainly more thrilling, a world where the name of the game remains secret.  A world ruled by reversibility and indetermination (74).

Earlier on you mentioned disenchantment.  The other, enchanting aspect, for me, is no longer desire, that is clear.  It is seduction.  Things make events all by themselves, without any mediation, by a sort of instant commutation.  There is no longer any metaphor, rather metamorphosis.  Metamorphosis abolishes metaphor, which is the mode of language, the possibility of communicating meaning.  Metamorphosis is that the radical point of the system, the point where there is no longer any law or symbolic order.  It is a process without any subject, without death, beyond any desire, in which only the rules of the game of forms are involved.  Among other things, what psychoanalysis has to say about mythology is an abuse of metaphorical language.

And what would correspond to that mythology in the order of metamorphosis? (Lotringer)

The possibility of transmutation: becoming–animal, becoming–woman.  What Gilles Deleuze said about it seemed to me to fit perfectly.  Love is no longer considered as a dependence of desire upon a lack, but in the unconscious form of the transformation into the other.  In that metamorphic unconscious nothing is repressed.  The metaphor is bypassed.  (77 – 78). [Nice one! If I have nderstood this correctly, the argument is that Deleuze's own much-lauded process of becoming has been recuperated. It is no longer based on desire but just reflects possibilities like digital transformations.Nothing matters! Become what the fuck you like!]

A Severe Précis

Baudrillard, J.  (2007) Forget Foucault, London: Semiotext(e)


 1.  Deleuze and Foucault need each other, because without Foucault’s analysis of the micro physics of power, there would be no need to posit universal desire as an opposing force.  Without ever-present and dangerous desire as a threat, presumably there would be no need for a surveillance society saturated in power either.

2.     Opposition and resistance are always attractive to thinkers, but the masses have long given up caring, and are content to devolve issues of power to politicians and intellectuals.  It is in this sense that the social dimension to political philosophy has disappeared, and politics makes sense only in its own terms [so Cameron vetoed the European Treaty to please his own backbenchers rather than from any interests in the reality of the policy or the crisis. Obama asked people to vote for him to induce change -- and then announced that change had happened because he had been elected]

       By extension, power no longer exists as a reality.  It has already undergone transformation from symbolic to political power [so disbelief in the symbolic was the first damaging step], and now political power is practically unusable, and everywhere subject to challenge.  Even a powerless lecturer can challenge the system to sack him, and calling the bluff of power shows its inherent status as simulacrum. {my bosses couldn't even sack me -- so what does that make of all their silly meetings to develop policies etc?]

4.     Sometimes, political power attempts to escalate back to the symbolic level, but can’t sustain it.  Sometimes there is nostalgia.  Oddly enough, academic analyses like Foucault’s can help to talk up the reality of political power. [There might also be occasional forays back to the real -- I think probably inevitably, as when economic confidence collapses when people look at the 'real' economy --all bubbles have burst so far anyway. Baudrillard says this helps talk up the reality of the rest of the activity, which may be true -- but does this EXPLAIN it?]

5.     Calling the bluff of power is rendered rather romantically as gambling on death, going all out, refusing to compromise [more on this in Symbolic Exchange...] .  This is what Lotringer says Baudrillard claims he has done in this book challenging Foucault to a duel to the death—one of them has got to be wrong!  There is none of the usual attempt to weave together the discourses, do symbolic exchange, compromise, evaluate, rank order or negotiate and all that academic stuff. More generally, any theoretical or political opposition will be recuperated -- Symbolic Exchange argues that even Marxism helped legitimate capitalism by insisting it was about production not reproduction]

6.     When Foucault announced that power was no longer top down ‘juridical’, but dispersed through social life, it became inexplicable and untraceable for Baudrillard, another sense in which it disappeared. The problem is like the one which afflicts ‘conflict sociology’, where conflict is too common, so to speak, explaining disputes over garden fences as well as major systems of exploitation. Like that tradition (and gramscianism when it took the same path), ‘politics’ became similarly trivial and indistinguishable from everyday life– the politics of the personal, racism as a matter of using the proper words etc. This keep academics in business,  and revitalises their favourite concepts, of course.

7.     What is really at stake is talking up the real, desperately trying to insist that power is a real everyday and ubiquitous reality, Foucault shows how this is done with his analysis of how (modern) sexuality needs to be talked up, created though discourses like Freudian ones. This is exactly how power itself is talked up.

8.       Challenging accounts like Foucault’s involves demanding to know the relation of his theory to the real [and maybe exposing the dubious strategies whereby the real is smuggled in – but this is done better by De Certeau?] [Later on, in the discussions with Lotringer, Baudrillard is sympathetic to theorists who somehow have to keep going, denying that it is all just a game, trying to make it real etc. Even he doesn’t want theory to disappear altogether, although he doesn’t know how to stop it happening!]

to Deleuze page