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ISSN: 1705-6411

REMEMBERING BAUDRILLARD

March 17, 2007

Wither Baudrillard’s World?

Victoria Z. Alexander
(Strasbourg, France).

...to love someone is to isolate him in the world.1

 

   

I. Introduction

From the standpoint of reason, the world is a great disappointment. In its details, however, and caught by surprise, the world always has a stunning clarity.2



Jean Baudrillard – Paris (1986)


Jean Baudrillard – Rivesaltes (1998)



           “World” is a term that, by my estimation, appears more often than any other in Baudrillard’s writing. Like many of you I loved the writing and photography of Jean Baudrillard and I shall no doubt miss them very deeply as the years pass and they cease to arrive. I will allow others to eulogize Jean and write his obituaries. In place of an obituary this paper begins to fathom the world, Baudrillard’s “world”, after Baudrillard. I want to go on living in Baudrillard’s “world” – but I am uncertain as to the possibility of anything like the world as we knew it with him. Does the passing of Baudrillard also mark the end of the “world”?3



Jean Baudrillard – Alentejo (1993)


Jean Baudrillard – Rio (1997)



II. Baudrillard’s “World”

            JB (as we all liked to call him) loved the beauty of his world – seeing it as a “wonderful visual reportage” …it was only the “commentary” which he found to be “unbearable”.4 Baudrillard’s world was a paradoxical one,5 where in all of its strangeness,6 an accident is more meaningful and more charming than all the intelligible connections.7 In Baudrillard’s transpolitical world, soccer (the World Cup), “takes over for politics in the mystification of the masses”.8 Baudrillard’s world is radical, dual and reversible.9 His world is “a radical illusion”, an “unbearable hypothesis”,10 a “strange attractor”.11 Baudrillard’s world “is a game”,12 the “work of evil, the site of scandal – the very revelation of the lack of



Jean Baudrillard – Frontiera (1993)


Jean Baudrillard – Paolo (1988)



the existence of God”.13 For JB, the world “is what it is – illusions and appearances14 – and that’s all there is to it”.15 If not for appearances Baudrillard’s world would be a perfect crime.16 His was a world with “a terrifying objectivity” but not as terrifying as “the thought of making an escape from it into the virtual”.17 Baudrillard’s world was bigger than the Western world – bereft as it is of values,18 and a world where objects demand to be photographed.19



Jean Baudrillard – New York (1992)


Jean Baudrillard – New York (1997)



            Baudrillard’s “world” is “seduced even before it is produced”20 and as such has been “led astray from the beginning” and this is part of the “original reversibility” of the world, and therefore, his world can never be verified or reconciled with itself”. 21 There is no place for both Baudrillard’s world and its double.22 If his world could have no double, it was because it was “dual in Itself, only in the doubled version could it become unitary”.23



Jean Baudrillard – Buenos Aires (1998)


Jean Baudrillard – Brisbane (1994)



Since there is “no general equivalent” for Baudrillard’s world there is “no intelligibility to it” – it is of “the order of impossible exchange” – “inexchangeable with no equivalent anywhere”.24 Hence the “fundamental uncertainty principle” that rule’s Baudrillard’s world25 – a world that “eternally eludes the investigation of meaning”.26

…no interpretation is possible any longer, for the object to be grasped, the subject has to lose his grasp on himself. But this provides the subject with his last adventure, his last chance, but in the reverberation of a world in which he occupies what is, from now on, the blind place of representation.27

 

In Baudrillard’s world the “absence of meaning is no doubt intolerable” – but it would be as bad or worse if our world ever were to assume “a definitive meaning”.28

            Baudrillard’s world is not sacred – he wondered if our world might merely be advertising copy for another world.29 His is a deceptive world which does not exist in order for us to know it – it is not “predestined for knowledge”.30 As an illusion his world can only “appear” to him.31



Jean Baudrillard – Las Vegas (1996)


Jean Baudrillard – Salins (1998)



His is a world which is “merely an illusion of the senses and the sensory trace of that disappearance,” a world in which objects deceive us, and in the end: “we become the object of the objects which deceive us”.32 The illusion of Baudrillard’s world is lost and its “irony has passed into things”.



Jean Baudrillard – New York (1997)


Jean Baudrillard – Punto final (1997)



This is because “technology has taken into itself all the illusion it has caused us to lose, what we have in return for the loss of illusion is the emergence of an objective irony of the world, irony as universal form of disillusionment in a world which hides behind the radical illusion of technology”.33 Why then, he asks: “might there not be as many real worlds as imaginary ones?” “Truth to tell”, he continues, “the real world, among all the other possible ones, is unthinkable, except as a dangerous superstition”.34

            JB “phantasized”, as do we, [“we dream of our disappearance, and of seeing the world in its inhuman purity”]35 of a “world functioning without us”,36 and he wondered what the world will be like “when we are not there”.37 Baudrillard’s world was increasingly indifferent to him38, and toward human affairs generally.39 He sought to respond to an indifferent world with an even greater indifference. Pity is the first thing sacrificed on the alter of Baudrillard’s world. His world resembled nothing.40



Jean Baudrillard – Rome 1998


Jean Baudrillard – Normandy (1996)



            In Baudrillard’s world the “homogenization of circuits”, and any notion of an “ideal universe of synthesis and prosthesis, positive, consensual and synchronous”, is unacceptable.41 Global power was no longer itself here as it increasingly came to face a softer world order42 – where powerlessness was now marked by terms such as New World Order.43 He found his world to be paradoxical and on a delusional course. In it one can only “adopt a delusional standpoint”.44 Baudrillard did not want his world to fall into the totalization that is Integral Reality.45 He demanded of his world that it be restored to “its pitiless illusoriness, its irrevocable indeterminacy by disinformation, deprogramming, the thwarting of perfection”.46 In his world a virtual double is one world too many – a world that is no longer his world – a parallel world – a substitute world – merely a world we would haunt and in which we simply keep the technical machinery running47 (proceed with caution ever ironic IJBS!) He wondered where the compulsion to be rid of the world by “realizing it, by forcing material objectivity upon it” came from.48He wonders where the compulsion to be rid of the world by realizing it and forcing material objectivity upon it comes from



Jean Baudrillard – Rio (1996)


Jean Baudrillard – Quai de Seine (1998)



            Some good cinema could, for Baudrillard, (Altman, Goddard, Antonioni, Warhol) could: “retrace, through the image, some of the insignificance of the world” – and it could capture some of the world’s “innocence and contribute to that insignificance through the use of images”.49  Baudrillard’s camera often participated in this isolation of singular images – as he too fell under the spell of the object. For Baudrillard, the world “thinks us”50 and even us “moderns” for all of our technology, or because of all of our technology, we think the opposite and are poorer for it.51

III. Conclusion

            We are at risk now – a kind of risk we have never faced before. The one who worked hardest against his world’s transformation into its virtual double by technology is gone. Our task is to keep Baudrillard’s world alive against the possibility of its virtual double – even while that double spreads like a virus. If we do not – and if we do participate in the building of a world from which everything negative and dangerous has been expelled52 – then we are truly done for. This would be a world united “under a single principle – that of the genetic code” – a cloned world fit only for technocrats53. From such a place one could no longer partake of the only real joy in Baudrillard’s world – “watching things turn into catastrophe”.54 In such a world, the catastrophe will have already taken place. Baudrillard’s world may be a catastrophe in slow motion but it is, I believe through these sad days, a world worth fighting for. This is a world where photography records the state of the world in our absence – as JB’s photographs do now more than ever.55


Jean Baudrillard – Treilles (1996)

Victoria Z. Alexander is a Strasbourg based flâneur, writer, poet and photographer.

Endnotes


1 Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies: Crystal Revenge. New York: Semiotext(e), 1990:105.

2 Jean Baudrillard. The Transparency of Evil. New York: Verso, 1993:155.

3  Baudrillard often refers to the “world”. It is a world I feel he wanted us to believe we shared with him. This paper, in lieu of an obituary, poses the question: Now that JB is gone, has he taken his world with him? Retaining Baudrillard’s world, after the end of Baudrillard, is the most significant challenge faced today by those who study his thought and its writing in the  “world”. If we can continue to live in Baudrillard’s world, after Baudrillard, we will have done him a most fitting final honour – and we may also have taken a direction that may well be our last chance as a species.

4 Jean Baudrillard. Fragments Cool Memories III. New York: Verso, 1997:37.

5 Jean Baudrillard. Passwords. New York: Verso, 2003:86.

6 Jean Baudrillard. The Lucidity Pact or The Intelligence of Evil. New York: Berg, 2006:36.

7 Jean Baudrillard. The Evil Demon of Images. Sydney, Australia: Power Institute, 1987:26.

8 Jean Baudrillard. Cool Memories IV. New York: Verso, 2003:71.

9 Jean Baudrillard. The Lucidity Pact or The Intelligence of Evil. New York: Berg, 2006:162.

10 Jean Baudrillard. The Perfect Crime. New York: Verso, 1996:16.

11 Jean Baudrillard. The Lucidity Pact or The Intelligence of Evil. New York: Berg, 2006:36.

12 Jean Baudrillard in Mike Gane (Editor) Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews. London: Routledge, 1993:46.

13 Jean Baudrillard. Cool Memories IV. New York: Verso, 2003:117.

14 Jean Baudrillard. Cool Memories V. London, Polity, 2006:94.

15 Jean Baudrillard. Cool Memories II. Raleigh, N.C: Duke University Press, 1996:48; and Jean Baudrillard. The Lucidity Pact or The Intelligence of Evil. New York: Berg, 2006:26.

16 Jean Baudrillard. The Perfect Crime. New York: Verso, 1996:1.

17 Jean Baudrillard. Paroxysm: Interviews With Philippe Petit. New York: Verso, 1997:37.

18 Jean Baudrillard in Mike Gane (Editor) Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews. London: Routledge, 1993:194.

19 Jean Baudrillard in Nicholas Zurbrugg (Editor) Art and Artefact. London, SAGE, 1997:14; and Jean Baudrillard. In Gary Genosko (Editor). The Uncollected Baudrillard. Thousand Oaks, CA.: SAGE, 2001:135.

20 Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies: Crystal Revenge. New York: Semiotext(e), 1990:183.

21 Jean Baudrillard. The Ecstasy of Communication. New York: Semiotext(e), 1998:71-72.

22 Jean Baudrillard in Nicholas Zurbrugg (Editor) Art and Artefact. London, SAGE, 1997:27.

23 Jean Baudrillard. Impossible Exchange. London: SAGE, 2001:101.

24 Jean Baudrillard. Passwords. New York: Verso, 2003:74.

25 Jean Baudrillard. Paroxysm: Interviews With Philippe Petit. New York: Verso, 1997:35.

26 Jean Baudrillard. The Perfect Crime. New York: Verso, 1996:18.

27 Jean Baudrillard. Paroxysm: Interviews With Philippe Petit. New York: Verso, 1997:92.

28 Jean Baudrillard. Impossible Exchange. London: SAGE, 2001:128.

29 Jean Baudrillard. America. New York: Verso, 1988:32.

30 Jean Baudrillard. The Lucidity Pact or The Intelligence of Evil. New York: Berg, 2006:40.

31 Jean Baudrillard. Cool Memories V. London, Polity, 2006:62.

32 Jean Baudrillard. Fragments Cool Memories III. New York: Verso, 1997:116.

33 Jean Baudrillard. The Perfect Crime. New York: Verso, 1996:72.

34 Jean Baudrillard. The Perfect Crime. New York: Verso, 1996:97.

35 Jean Baudrillard. The Evil Demon of Images. Sydney, Australia: Power Institute, 1987:26.

36 Jean Baudrillard. The Lucidity Pact or The Intelligence of Evil. New York: Berg, 2006:101.

37 Jean Baudrillard. Cool Memories IV. New York: Verso, 2003:11.

38 Jean Baudrillard. The Ecstasy of Communication. New York: Semiotext(e), 1998:94; and Jean Baudrillard. The Ecstasy of Communication. New York: Semiotext(e), 1998:101.

39 Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies: Crystal Revenge. New York: Semiotext(e), 1990:190.

40 Jean Baudrillard. Photographies: 1985-1998. Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany: Hatje-Cantz, 1999:141.

41 Jean Baudrillard. The Transparency of Evil. New York: Verso, 1993:71.

42 Jean Baudrillard. America. New York: Verso, 1988:107.

43 Jean Baudrillard. The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. Bloomington, Indiana: University of Indiana Press, 1995:83.


Victoria Alexander – Ansouis (2006)

Singularity

Moss begins to proliferate
Over steps that knew your walk;

The wind that brushed your hair
Searches the world for you;

The light that broke upon you
Travels on to other objects;

Spaces which knew you
Are tormented by emptiness;

Your death pierced so many hearts;
Your life was founded on the pure joy of living.

© Victoria Alexander (2007)

44 Jean Baudrillard. The Transparency of Evil. New York: Verso, 1993:1.

45 Jean Baudrillard. The Lucidity Pact or The Intelligence of Evil. New York: Berg, 2006:197.

46 Jean Baudrillard. The Perfect Crime. New York: Verso, 1996:90.

47 Jean Baudrillard. Passwords. New York: Verso, 2003:25, 32, and 100.

48 Jean Baudrillard. The Perfect Crime. New York: Verso, 1996:42.

49 Jean Baudrillard. Paroxysm: Interviews With Philippe Petit. New York: Verso, 1997:110.

50 Jean Baudrillard. Paroxysm: Interviews With Philippe Petit. New York: Verso, 1997:115; Jean Baudrillard. Photographies: 1985-1998. Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany: Hatje-Cantz, 1999:142; Jean Baudrillard. Passwords. New York: Verso, 2003:85; and Jean Baudrillard. Fragments: Conversations With Francois L’Yvonnet. New York: Routledge, 2004100-101.

51 Jean Baudrillard. Impossible Exchange. London: SAGE, 2001:84.

52 Jean Baudrillard. The Conspiracy of Art (Edited by Sylvere Lotringer). New York: Semiotext(e)/ MIT Press, 2005:202.

53 Jean Baudrillard. Simulations. New York: Semiotexte, 1983:110; and Jean Baudrillard. “Disney World Company,” Liberation (March 4, 1996), in Screened Out. New York: Verso, 2002:153.

54 Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies: Crystal Revenge. New York: Semiotext(e), 1990:156.

55 Jean Baudrillard. The Transparency of Evil. New York: Verso, 1993:152.




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