ISSN: 1705-6411

Volume 11, Number 2 (May, 2014)

SPECIAL ISSUE: BAUDRILLARD AND WAR

What is the “place” of War?

Dr. Michał Kłosiński
(Department of Philology, University of Silesia, Poland)

Translated into English by the author.

This project was funded by the National Science Centre allocated on the basis of the decision number DEC-2011/01/N/HS2/02038. Projekt został sfinansowany ze środków Narodowego Centrum Nauki przyznanych na podstawie decyzji numer DEC-2011/01/N/HS2/02038

 

I. Introduction

One of the primary questions I would like to pose in my article is the question about the “place” of war. What does it mean that a certain war “did not take place”? What does it mean that the war “takes place” (a lieu)? Does it have “a proper place”? Or maybe – if it “does not take place” – it is subject to some kind of “displacement”? Moreover, the French and English verbs suggest that taking place (avoir lieu) does also signify the action of arriving, producing, happening, coming etc.

If that was not enough, there is a clear and visible contradiction in the oxymoronic title Baudrillard have chosen for his book: The Gulf War did not take place (La Guerre du Golfe n’a pas eu lieu). Look carefully: the place of war – that is “the Gulf” - is already properly defined, but at the same time it is being negated, because the war “did not take place”. And if the place of war is here subjected to negation, it means that this place is only simulated, produced, because it is displaced by and through the information network, media and language itself.

In the first part of my article I am trying to depict and underline the significance of the antithesis inscribed in the title of Baudrillards book The gulf war did not take place. My main focus here is the idiomatic expression and the variety of possible meanings it produces in both English and French. I believe this analysis brings us closer to understanding how Baudrillard plays with the notion of war  in the title of his book.

The second part focuses on the idiomatic meanings of German “stattfinden”, the counterpart of the English “take place” to show that Baudrillard’s title could be read as “The Gulf war did not find its place” using the original Clausewitz language. Here I am also trying to show that, despite the fact that Baudrillard omits this problematic in his book, it philosophically answers the question of why the war degenerates (compare to Baudrillard 1995: 24).

In the third part I am analyzing the etymology of the word “war” to show that Baudrillards position is closely related to the displacement of meaning attributed to this notion. I am trying to establish a link between the ancient meanings of war and Baudrillards negation of the Gulf war by showing that his and also Clausewitz’ thinking is closer to the “barbarian” understanding of war as a duel, reciprocal relation and something that can be exchanged, offered etc. I believe that this is the key to understanding why Baudrillard rejects the simulation model of “clean” war. 

I conclude my article by pointing to the fact that Baudrillards reflection about the displacement of war leads us to the auto-immunological discourse and that his logic of thinking war and about war challenges our visions of the Global or World Order. I am not developing this reflection further as I have written on the problem of auto-immune in Baudrillard in other places (Klosinski 2012).

II. The proper place of war

Neither Sun Zi in his brief Art of War nor Clausewitz in his long treaty On War, write on the problem of the place of war. They do however engage in some insightful analysis of different types of terrain and the specificity of engagement itself. On the one hand Sun Zi focuses on terrain and the methods the general should choose according to its types:

We may distinguish six kinds of terrain…(1) Accessible ground; (2) entangling ground; (3) temporizing ground; (4) narrow passes; (5) precipitous heights; (6) positions at a great distance from the enemy…/…The art of war recognizes nine varieties of ground: (1) Dispersive ground; (2) facile ground; (3) contentious ground; (4) open ground; (5) ground of intersecting highways; (6) serious ground; (7) difficult ground; (8) hemmed-in ground; (9) desperate ground (Sun Zi, 1910: 24, 26).

On the other hand, Clausewitz who writes extensively about the strategic advantages of terrain (swamp, mountains, forests, country etc.), also points to the fact that the engagements themselves can be divided into those that “take place” and those that are “offered”:

One may admit that even where the decision has been bloodless, it was determined in the last analysis by engagements that did not take place but had merely been offered. In that case, it will be argued, the strategic planning of these engagements, rather than the tactical decision, should be considered the operative principle (Clausewitz 2007: 179).

Clausewitz sees the difference between the actual battle, or the engagement/war “taking place” and the one that constitutes an “offering”, a situation where the sheer presence of power is enough to end the conflict without bloodshed. To be precise here and to avoid further misunderstandings, the war in the Persian Gulf that Baudrillard tackles with in his book The Gulf War did not take place, is without question a war that took place if seen through the previous discussion in Sun Zi and Clausewitz. It was an engagement and it was prepared and executed according to the specific methodology of terrain, economy etc.

So, how is it possible that Baudrillard – definitely not a theorist of war – constructs his argumentation about the Gulf War on the oxymoronic and such antithetic sentences as: The Gulf War did not take place, The Gulf War will not take place and a question: The Gulf War: is it really taking place? One might try to interpret these titles according to the division between reality and virtuality, to show that the Gulf War was a kind of spectacle, a simulation, that its scene, its theatre of engagement has been displaced – from the actual battlefield to the screen. Gary Genosko wrote that:

the passage from the virtual to the real was stalled in the excess of preprogramming, scenario-heaviness, over processing of plans, and the war itself was deferred and its place taken from it (it wasn’t that the war did not take place but that it did not have a place) (Genosko 2004).

Genosko already plays on the idiomatic expression: “to take place” to show that the virtualization of war “defers” it, delays its coming, postpones it, “takes its place from it”. Alan Shapiro pointed me to the title of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s essay ‘The war has taken place’ written in June 1945, which seems to be the main intertext to Baudrillard’s title. In Merleau-Ponty’s text the war “taking place” is the starting point, an opening phrase which enables him to stress the importance of ideological and historical turmoil, changes in thinking about the world and reality of war and its inevitable escalation (Merleau-Ponty 2007: 41). War takes place as it shakes the fabric of the world, makes us re-think the relation between self and other, re-think various philosophies and philosophers with the positions they take (Merleau-Ponty mentions Plato and Heidegger). The war has taken place is also an essay on the role of Marxism in thinking about war, Nazism and fascism with its notions of class-struggle, history etc. But nowhere in his text does Merleau-Ponty mention why he chose this and not the other title. It is obvious that the catchphrase “the war has taken place” said at the end of the second World War is both a call to re-think something that cannot be undone and a way to mark the specific time and place after the war – a time of re-thinking: philosophy, humanism, ethics, history, economy, anti-Semitism etc. It is also a call, a sentence said by someone who tells us about his own war experiences, about the time he was a soldier, a time of killing, distinguishing friend from foe and a time of occupation. And this war that “has taken place” here, in Merleau-Ponty’s text is the sum of something that cannot be forgotten, is a sum of conflicts produced in the world and by the world he lived in and survived through.

Baudrillard’s The Gulf War did not take place is a very definite negation of this “taking place” understood as actualizing in experience an impulse to re-think war. While Merleau-Ponty is building his narration about the changes in his world, in his friends thinking, Baudrillard clearly engages in the only thing he can engage – in the media spectacle, in the images, fillers, propaganda, illusions and simulations of war which is a new type of mediatized experience. Merleau-Ponty writes from the heart of war, a war that has literally taken his place, his world, which has decided that one person lives and another dies, while Baudrillard is writing from our position, the position of the spectators watching “intelligent” missiles on TV. That is why the title of his book cannot be any more accurate in this matter, as it is both a different type of experience and it does not make us re-think anything. Moreover, what Baudrillard shows us is that the new type of non-war is made precisely not to make us re-think anything with its pre-planning, intelligent missiles, perfect strategies etc., it does not “take place” as a challenge to our humanism, to our philosophy.To further this analysis I propose to “unpack” Baudrillards oxymoronic, aporetic sentence about the Gulf War, not only to look at the dialectic of the virtual and the real that it projects, but also to present a hermeneutic reading of the Baudrillardean antithesis.

But first we have to write this sentence down, present it as an antithesis: The Gulf War did not take place. But the Gulf itself is the place, a specific, geographically certain , “real” place. Let’s transform the sentence according to this knowledge: The War in a specific and real place did not take place. The antithesis is contradictory because of the detail Baudrillard plays with, namely that war, and especially Gulf War, has the place appointed already inside its name, in its definition. So, the place of war has already been marked in the act of naming that particular and singular war. We must not forget that the specific place oriented nomenclature constitutes almost every XX century (and earlier) conflict including two World Wars, where the place extends from the partial and geographic region to the “World”. The “World” here means “without boundaries”, not limited to a specific region, everywhere. But the most important aspect of this mechanism of “emplacement” is that it is the defining attribute of every conflict.

Through the antithesis: “The Gulf War did not take place” Baudrillard not only deconstructs the idea of singular war, the slogan that “the war takes place”, the doubling of information, the repetition at the core of naming a certain conflict. We must also understand that the phrase “to take place” [avoir lieu] means not only “to happen”, but also: to arrive, literally: to produce (itself), to come: “Avoir lieu, se produire, arriver en un endroit et à un moment donnés (…)” (Larousse Dictionaire Francaise). These meanings are important to our interpretation of war taking place, because they point to the fact, that war is waged to actually take a certain place, so often to occupy that place, to arrive at a certain destination, to produce certain results, or to produce itself. The French definition of this idiom is a bit broader as the English dictionary does not point to these meanings: “When something takes place, it happens, especially in a controlled or organized way or as a result of something. EG The next attack took place four hours later” (Collins English Language Dictionary). The English thesaurus is a bit more generous: “Take place = happen, occur, go on, go down (US & Canadian), arise, come about, crop up, transpire (informal), befall, materialize, come to pass (archaic), betide” (Collins English Thesaurus).

What is really interesting about this idiomatic expression in both French and English, is that it utilizes the action of “taking place” to speak about the time of an event, the time of occurrence, happening, and by doing so, it assures us, by locating the event “in place”, that it was real.

III. Searching for the place

In spite of these definitions it might be interesting to look at the passage about the engagement in Clausewitz once more, as he uses the word “stattfanden” (translated as ‘take place’) which has the verb ‘finden’ (to find) and the noun ‘die statt’ (place) at its root. What English and French call “taking place”, the German language describes literally as “finding place”, and – as trivial as it may sound – to find does not mean the same thing as to take. The action of finding place presupposes that the war or engagement has no proper place but is in constant search for it, that the place is not a given of war. Furthermore, finding does not imply possessing while taking does, so in Clausewitz the engagement does not possess a certain place, it merely finds it suitable for combat, whilst in French and English the place is to be overwhelmed and possessed, it is to be taken. But the difference between find place and take place also applies to the way that these idioms produce meaning: war finds a suitable place for itself or war possesses a place for its own needs; war searches and finds, war takes and holds, war does not have a place, war has a specific place.

This idiomatic research leads us to the sentence by Genosko quoted earlier: “(it wasn’t that the war did not take place but that it did not have a place)”(Genosko 2004). Genosko gives us a hint that a Baudrillardean reflection about the Gulf War might be exactly the problem of thinking about the engagement as both: finding place, and taking place. What if we rewrite the title of Baudrillard’s book according to the German stattfinden: “The Gulf War did not find place”? The question now is a philosophical one: what happens when and if the war does not find its place? And Baudrillard answers clearly: "Non-war is characterized by that degenerate form of war which includes hostage manipulation and negotiation" (Baudrillard 1995: 24).

The war degenerates, it searches for the ones who could fulfill the roles of the warriors but it finds only hostages, it searches for agonistic conflict and challenge but it finds only negotiators and blackmail. If Baudrillard quoted some of the passages on the engagement from Clausewitz, he would have probably written extensively about the engagement that did not take place but “was merely offered”, instead, he depicts the effects of a degenerate war on the spectators: “Along with the spectacle of these prisoners or these hostages, the screens offer us the spectacle of our powerlessness” (Ibid.: 39).

In Clausewitz, the power play offered during the engagement that does not end in battle is positive – one side has acknowledged the power of the adversary and withdrawn from battle: the duel of prestige and power ended without bloodshed. But this is not the case in the Gulf War as Baudrillard perfectly knows that there can be no display of power from this side of the TV screen, that our powerlessness comes from the position we, the terrorists and the hostages have been given by the degenerate state of war. The war did not find its place and it haunts us precisely because of this displacement.

Baudrillard relates to Clausewitz twice in The Gulf War did not take place:  “Promotional, speculative, virtual: this war no longer corresponds to Clausewitz's formula of politics pursued by other means, it rather amounts to the absence of politics pursued by other means” (Ibid.: 30): “A variant on Clausewitz: non-war is the absence of politics pursued by other means…  It no longer proceeds from a political will to dominate or from a vital impulsion or an antagonistic violence, but from the will to impose a general consensus by deterrence” (Ibid.: 83).

Clearly Baudrillard wants to overturn the famous Clausewitz statement that the war is politics pursued by other means, which gives us a hint about one of the possible places the war should have taken, namely: the place of politics. If the Gulf War did not take the place of politics, then the logical conclusion is that neither politics nor war actually took place. But Baudrillard totally omits two most important features of engagement in Clausewitz: the “offering” and the “stattfinden”.  However, my aim is to illustrate how they relate to his theory. By his antithesis Baudrillard states that the Gulf War did not take “its” place, did not arrive at “its” destination – namely, the Gulf. Moreover, we now know that its destination – altogether with the whole aura of war – was displaced, that it arrived, was produced, and brought to our TV screens. Ironically, the “theatre of war” quite literally turned into a theatre, a “live show” that was constantly being broadcast. The displacement and aporia of the Gulf War has been poetically deconstructed by Baudrillard, as he – providing his book with the oxymoronic title – reversed meanings and articulated the inner conflict of the idea of war and it’s execution. In his introduction to the book Paul Patton states that:

Rather, it means that state-of-the-art military power is now virtual in the sense that it is deployed in an abstract, electronic and informational space, and in the sense that its primary mechanism is no longer the use of force. Virtual war is therefore not simply the image or imaginary representation of real war, but a qualitatively different kind of war, the effects of which include the suppression of war in the old sense. (Patton in Baudrillard 1995: 9)

The proper place of war is indeed inscribed in the war itself, but it has to be suppressed because the contemporary media and the contemporary generals know that there is much more profit in displacing war, in producing it on the screen, in making the screen its “proper” place. But Patton also tells us that it is the “military power” which turns to the informational warfare rather than the use of sheer force. Following this line of thinking one could say, that the current strategy is to re-place war with its simulacrum, and that simulacrum of war is introduced and produced in place of the war. This is of course the obvious interpretation which Baudrillard already provided us with .

IV. War as a displacement

That is why we have to ask about the war itself, the war in its proper sense. And simultaneously to ask about the war as a consequence of displacement of meaning and sense. And to do so we have to look at the displacement of the word itself. Both English ‘war’ and French ‘guerre’are already displaced names, alternatives created by the Francs and Germanic tribes who developed them to replace the Latin ‘bellum’, which sounded too much like the neuter form of  the adjective ‘bellus’ (beautiful, pretty): “[…] late Old English (c.1050), wyrre, werre, from Old North French werre «war» (Modern French guerre), from Frankish *werra, from Proto-Germanic *werso (cf. Old Saxon werran, Old High German werran, German verwirren “to confuse, perplex”). Cognates suggest the original sense was “to bring into confusion”.

Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian guerra are from the same source; Romanic peoples turned to Germanic for a word to avoid Latin bellum because its form tended to merge with bello- «beautiful.» There was no common Germanic word for «war» at the dawn of historical times. Old English had many poetic words for «war» (wig, guð, heaðo, hild, all common in personal names), but the usual one to translate Latin bellum was gewin «struggle, strife» (related to win).

This etymology is, surprisingly, pointing towards the strong need to distinguish (both in meaning and sound) between something beautiful and something harsh. Both French ‘guerre’ and Germanic ‘warrum’ seem to replace the lateral alveolar phoneme ‘l’ with alveolar approximant ‘r’ which – along other significant changes in pronunciation – displace war from the domain of clean and soft sounding Latin into rattling and harsh “barbarian” register. Listen carefully, as this double ‘r’ happens to strike the same tune in warrum as in the barbaros – the latter word was used by Greeks and Romans to distinguish someone who did not speak their language. Moreover, to wage war is – according to the root of the word, to “bring into confusion”. Here we have the second contradiction pointed out by the etymology and described by Baudrillard in The Gulf War did not take place: the war produces confusion, chaos, disorder and we should be sensitive to every attempt at presenting it as a perfectly planned and precisely executed endeavor. But there is even more in the etymology of war then meets the eye and something that brings us closer to Baudrillard. The Latin bellum was in fact a replacement for an even more ancient word, duellum:

1590s (from late 13c. in Latin form), from Medieval Latin duellum “combat between two persons”, by association with Latin duo “two”, but originally from Latin duellum “war”, an Old Latin form of bellum (see bellicose). Retained in poetic and archaic language and apparently given a special meaning in Medieval or Late Latin of «one-on-one combat» on fancied connection with duo “two”.

At this point we can start our re-reading of Baudrillard and Clausewitz, as the ancient duellum and the “engagement that has merely been offered” seem to be exactly what Baudrillard is searching for in his reflection about war. Firstly, because the duel seems to be as close as it can get to the ritualistic and symbolic realization of agonistic, reversible and reciprocal relationship built upon challenge (and Baudrillard stresses the strength of these in many places (Coulter, 2012: 51-78). Secondly, because the “mere offering” of an engagement relates to the mechanism of seduction, potlatch and power play which also assumes the reversibility of positions (Baudrillard, 2007:52).

What I am trying to show here is that war, described and interpreted by Baudrillard, somehow contradicts this ancient displacements, because – as he shows us – the Gulf War had to be beautiful, colorful, taken from a good angle and clean, clear, visible - bellum. The Gulf War should be renamed to Gulf Bellum. And Baudrillard opposes the bellum, just as the barbarians did, because he opposes the idea of clean war, an idea that war is no longer a confrontation, an agonistic encounter. The place of war is precisely in that roaring warrum/guerre, in the reciprocal duellum,not on the screen in High definition. That’s why he writes that: “At the desired place (the Gulf), nothing took place, non-war. At the desired place (TV, information), nothing took place, no images, nothing but filler” (Baudrillard 1995: 82).

The displacement of war happened along with the displacement of information (fillers instead of facts), so that neither war, nor information took place, arrived at its destination. This is the paradoxical effect of the virtual war, informational warfare – that neither war nor information “takes its place”, nothing is what it seems to be. This interpretation is based on the principle of reversibility and Baudrillard quotes Brecht to legitimize the argument, that the war not taking place is in fact a sign of a New World Order (Ibid.: 83), a global one. This is the point where he actually defines the displacement of war and shows that the problem of the place of war is not only the problem of its emplacement, but rather of its dissemination, dispersion and fractalisation. In The Spirit of Terrorism Baudrillard describes this process along with the idea of a single world order – a product of the three World Wars (the First-, the Second-, and the Cold War):

With each succeeding war, we have moved further towards a single world order. Today that order, which has virtually reached its culmination, finds itself grappling with the antagonistic forces scattered throughout the very heartlands of the global, in all the current convulsions. A fractal war of all cells, all singularities, revolting in the form of antibodies. A confrontation so impossible to pin down that the idea of war has to be rescued from time to time by spectacular set-pieces, such as the Gulf War or the war in Afghanistan. But the Fourth World War is elsewhere. It is what haunts every world order, all hegemonic domination – if Islam dominated the world, terrorism would rise against Islam, for it is the world, the globe itself, which resists globalization (Baudrillard 2002: 11-12).

Let’s ask again – after reading this long quote – what is the place of war? Baudrillard deconstructs it: war disperses into the cellular war, fractal war at the lowest structural level and, at the same time, its place is designated as the World, as the Globe – the highest structural level. This is another antithesis: the war takes place in a place impossible to “pin down”, at the level where it can no longer be defined, described as a war and, at the same time, it happens everywhere. And lets remind ourselves, that Baudrillard himself says that if something is everywhere, than it is nowhere at all, that is the main principle of transesthetics, transpolitics and transsexuality. Now we can officially add trans-warfare to this list.

When the war becomes a fractal war, then its proper place is the replicating code, the formula which metonymically actualizes itself as the law governing the world. Where is the war? What place has it taken? Baudrillard seems to say that it is everywhere. Or, if it is everywhere therefore nowhere it is possible to find it “at its own place”. As a result, if there is a Fourth World War, it must be the world itself being the proper place of war, being at war against the idea of The World Order. The Fourth World War is elsewhere because it takes the exact position the nomenclature gives it, it is no longer a World War “in” the World, on the Globe, but a World War against the World, against the Globe. In this sense it is no longer a war, it is the only possible war in spite of all the scandalous distractions offered to divert our attention from the conflict of Order (the virtual, the homogenic) and the World (the real, the singular).

This logic presented by Baudrillard allows us to look at the problem of the place of war from an auto-immunological perspective. The trans-warfare and the struggle to introduce the New World Order is the proper name of the war against difference, against the other/Other, the war that searches for those who are not yet the part of the global and to either subdue them or crush them and incorporate their remains in the homogenous. Baudrillard’s description of this phenomenon of war is no different than his analysis of the famous “Boy in the Bubble” (Baudrillard 1993: 61), as the war with the world is the exact state the child is in with the environment – thus the protective cosmonaut-like suit (or the bubble). Absolute isolation through the unification of the world is just the paradoxical reversal of the “bubble child” situation: the world itself is trying to construct a giant bubble protecting it from terrorists, rogues, outlaws, Islam etc. That is why the war is metaphorically displaced and presented asa: “A fractal war of all cells, all singularities, revolting in the form of antibodies.” We are at war with ourselves; our bodies are at the state of conflict induced by their own homogeneity. Baudrillard’s idea, his theory of the war against the New World Order is a literary one, a fantastic poetic and hyperbolic science fiction narration about the biological interiorization of the place of war.

VI. Conclusion

I have shown that Baudrillard's title is a universe of meanings in its own right, that by engaging it from an etymological and hermeneutic perspective we can see how he deconstructs the problem of war as a philosophical phenomenon. The author of Simulacra and simulation plays with the idiomatic expression “to take place” in order to present the Gulf war as an antithetic and aporetic non-event, a simulacrum produced by the media and politics. I also wanted to sketch various possible readings of Baudrillards title: as a displacement of meaning and sense (warrum/guerre developed from bellum/duellum), as a challenge to the way we think about war (it searches and finds place), as an intertextual, poetic and hyperbolic critique of its degeneration (from challenge, duel and reciprocal relation into a simulacrum of clean and beautiful surgical operation). Finally, I wanted to signal (in a hyperbolic way) that Baudrillards thinking about war is going into the domain of auto-immunology when he presents the world as the true place of war.

Michał Kłosiński is an assistant professor at the Department of Philology at the University of Silesia, Katowice, Poland. There he finished his Ph. D. with a thesis on the relationship between J. Baudrillards philosophy and literature (2013) and has published in Polish and English. His current research is strictly linked with the grant project titled: the Economy of Literature. His main interest in this project is with various models of symbolic exchanges which function both as an anthropological topic (gift, reciprocity, debt, money economies) and as a theoretical model for literary texts. He is also working on the relationship between these symbolic economies and the notion of utopia.

Acknowledgments:

I would like to thank Alan Shapiro and Dan Öberg for their critical remarks and insightful comments which helped me further develop this article.


References:

Jean Baudrillard (1993). The Transparency of Evil. trans. by James Benedict. London: Verso.

Jean Baudrillard (1995). The Gulf War did not take place. trans. by Paul Patton. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Jean Baudrillard (2002). The Spirit of Terrorism, Requiem for Twin Towers. trans. by Chris Turner. London: Verso.

Jean Baudrillard (2007). Forget Foucault. trans. by Nicole Dufresne. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

Carl von Clausewitz (2007). On War. trans. by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gerry Coulter (2012). Jean Baudrillard: From the Ocean to the Desert or the Poetics of Radicality. Intertheory.

Gary Genosko (2004). Introduction to: This is the Fourth World War: The “Der Spiegel” Interview With Jean Baudrillard. International Journal of Baudrillard Studies 2004. vol 1. nr. 1. on-line: http://www.ubishops.ca/baudrillardstudies/spiegel.htm [20.12.2013].

Ted Toadvine and Leonard Lawlor ( Editors, 2007). The Merleau-Ponty Reader. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Sun Zi (1910). Sun Zi on the art of war trans. by Lionel Giles. London: Luzac and Co.