Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Baudrillard

Baudrillard Post

In Moment of Complexity, Mark C. Taylor critiques Baudrillard’s theory of simulation. Or rather, to be more accurate, he criticizes Baudrillard’s lack of a solution: “With no prospect of productive activity, all we can do is to mourn interminably the death of the real” (Taylor 71). Taylor argues that reproduction and production creates something new outside of the binary oppositions rather than one consuming the other. For Taylor, Baudrillard’s theories deny the creative possibilities of the new media culture.

True, Baudrillard’s attention to the gift economy (Bataille’s general economy) rather than the restricted economy suggests that he longs for a past where the gift economy still operates. But this is not quite accurate either, as the introduction to Symbolic Exchange and Death points out: “It is a mistake, then, to think that Symbolic Exchange and Death is simply about the 'ideological process' of the reduction of the symbolic by the semiotic. It is also about the irruption of the symbolic within the semiotic” (xii).  As Greg Ulmer has pointed out to me (and others), the general economy (the gift economy) is still present in today’s world. For Ulmer, this manifests itself in the accident. For Ulmer (and I suspect in Baudrillard as well) the general economy takes into account the necessity of sacrifice and death, what is not taken up in the universal exchange of signs and simulacra. This may not be Baudrillard’s position, but it seems that it might buffer Taylor’s critique.

Furthermore, even though Taylor mentions Baudrillard’s Fatal Strategies, he does not pick up on Baudrillard’s suggestion for a positive program for resistance. Essentially, he suggests that we need to take things to their limit—their ecstasy—in order to overcome the ennui of banal binary oppositions and reign of the simulacra. The problem with binary oppositions is that they eliminate any real adversity and conflict between them, they merely become exchangeable and reversible signs. Thus, usual modes of opposition are anticipated and merely reproduce the binary. In Simulations, it seems as though Baudrillard is lamenting the coming of parody and pastiche, but I think that Baudrillard is more hopeful than Jameson about the use of comedy, or at the very least, using the discourse/object itself and pushing it to its limit. Jameson argues that pastiche has rendered parody impossible, but Baudrillard’s interest in pataphysics makes it seem as though he believes that certain parodies, particularly parodies of science, may have a positive effect.

In Fatal Strategies, Baudrillard recommends that rather than oppose one sign to another in a binary, we take a concept to its ecstasy in the form of “more truth than truth” more “false than false,” etc. The implosion, like Nietzsche’s slave morality (although not related in content), contains a potential power in order to transform itself into an ecstasy at the same time that it erases “the real.” Only through a creative transformation of slave morality can we get to an affirmative and creative philosophy. Similarly, Baudrillard seems to be advocate moving through (transversing the fantasy?) of simulacra in order to solicit the real. For Ulmer, as already pointed out, the real resides in the accident—we can look at the accident as an indication of the general economy.

But I’d like to suggest that, though Baudrillard declares at the end of Simulations, “and so art is everywhere, since artifice is at the very heart of reality. And so art is dead,” (Baudrillard 151) certain public artwork demonstrations escapes the deadlock of binary oppositions, zero or 1. Public art, I want to argue, in effect re-creates a “scene” of the political, localizing it an allowing a point of resistance. I elaborate more on this argument with particular texts in my paper on Noise, posted a few days ago. In the movie Noise the protagonist throws all he has at car alarms—smashing them to bits, vandalizing the cars, to no avail. Only when he uses the car alarms’ power is he able to affect change. In this sense, the protagonist follows and takes the side of the object. Baudrillard writes, “the object mocks the laws we attach to it,” and in the concluding parts of Fatal Strategies elaborates (Baudrillard 227):  

The object, subtler than man, hardly answers. But it’s certain nevertheless that in disobeying laws, in unraveling desire, it answers secretly to some enigma. What remains but to side with this enigma? (Baudrillard 230).

Thus, we take the side of the object—subject ourselves to the object in order to affect the status quo. More on this later. 

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