ISSN: 1705-6411
Volume 8, Number 1 (January 2011)

Playing the Endgame: Fatal Strategies in Erasmus and More

Mark S. Roberts
(Department of Religion and Philosophy, Dowling College, Oakdale, New York, USA).

I. Introduction

Fatal Strategies ([1983] 1990) is one of Jean Baudrillard’s most important books, but also one of his most challenging. The book signals something of a surrender to the very concept that Baudrillard had resisted in his earlier works. The early project consisted in the generation of what might be termed "anti-theory". Like Roland Barthes, Baudrillard situated meaning in the various signs that were generated as a result of everyday consumption.  This approach centered on a certain historical shift from market capitalism to monopoly capitalism, which, in turn, led to an analysis of the production of desire through advertising, fashion, packaging, photographic display, and so on.  This shift, perhaps most importantly, was also an attempt to reveal Marxian theory’s outdated dependence on use and exchange value. In Baudrillard’s view, this type of theory was too narrowly concentrated on substantive modes of production, which, in the thinking of Marx and his early followers, was the primary form of human exchange. If one could realize the modes and exigencies of production, the questions of power, exploitation, and social existence in general could be more readily understood.

Baudrillard’s introduction of a notion of sign-value thus represented a considerable break with generalized theories of production. Indeed, what Baudrillard had developed was a concept that challenged the standard ways in which production had been viewed and critically evaluated. In essence, an anti-theory. What became central to Baudrillard’s thinking at this point in time was the largely random and aleatory distribution of meaning through signs – signs that were generated, not on the level of the subject, but, rather, as a result of the combinatory logic of signifiers and signifieds. In a certain sense, this notion of the aleatory nature of signs, and therefore of production, led directly to the somewhat later ideas of simulation and, ultimately, the hyperreal.  If reality and the signs of reality had indeed collapsed into one another, if implosion was the generalized mode of all forms of production, then every theory would be subject to the disappearance of meaning itself.  For meaning was the result of equivalence, rather than specific reference. Without some univocal reality to ground meaning, no theory could possibly explain what was merely a vast, largely undifferentiated network of interactive signs. This idea of equivalence eventually became the fundamental building block for the early development of the concept of simulation and what Baudrillard was calling a new “phase of the image:

So it is with simulation, insofar as it is opposed to representation. The latter starts from the principle that the sign and real are equivalent (even if this equivalence is utopian, it is a fundamental axiom). Conversely, simulation starts from the utopia of this principle of equivalence, from the radical negation of the sign as value, from the sign as reversion and death sentence of any referent. Whereas representation tries to absorb simulation by interpreting it as false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation as itself a simulacrum (Baudrillard, 1983:11).

By the publication of Simulacra et simulations (1981), Baudrillard had already established that a radical theoretic, one that goes beyond any theory grounded in an errant “reality,” was the only satisfactory approach: “the radicalization of hypotheses is the only possible method” (deBoer, 1999, 2005). The radicalization of hypotheses, pushing a theory beyond what seemed to be its logical limits, then, became an essential approach for the future study of social interaction, and particularly of human communication. But this resolve changed drastically. With the introduction of the concept of fatal strategies, Baudrillard opened a new dimension of his thought, one that entailed the total collapse of fact into fiction – a “fatal theory fiction.” Difficult to explain, since it depended more on aesthetics, poetics and metaphor than on theoretical discourse, fatal fiction tended to introduce the absurd, fantastic and imaginative into socio-political and philosophical interpretation. The “radicalization of theory” had shifted to an aesthetics of the fantastic, of a kind of Wonderland, where objects have no meaning and subjects are entirely effaced. What, one might ask, is left? For Baudrillard, this aesthetic dimension represents neither a lacuna nor a conundrum, but merely a way of sensing and engaging life in a world that has collapsed. “This post-critical and catastrophic state of affairs renders our previous conceptual world irrelevant, Baudrillard suggests, urging criticism to turn ironic and transform the demise of the real into an art form”  (Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2002:491). If one cannot draw discursive meaning from events, it would seem that the only course would be to simulate simulation, that is, to employ the complexity and plasticity of painting, fiction and poetry (“subjective effects“) to restore the event and therefore the world to some semblance of meaning:

Every event is today virtually inconsequential, open to all possible interpretations, none of which could determine its meaning; the equiprobability of all causes and of all consequences – multiple and aleatory imputation. . . .If the waves of meaning, if the waves of memory and historical time are receding, if the waves of causality around the effect are fading (and the event today comes at us like a wave, it doesn’t travel only “over the waves“) – it is a wave indecipherable in terms of language and meaning, decipherable only and instantly in terms of color, tactility, in terms of sensory effects) (Baudrillard [1983] 1990:17-18).

Since, as is the case with Nietzsche’s “age of the European man,” there is no way of fully recovering meaning in Baudrillard’s “age of simulation,” the only solution is to replace linguistic meaning with sensations that are non-verbal, which titillate and arouse the senses. In short, fatal strategies are ways in which one can mitigate calamity and inertia. Such a problem – though one with much different causes and historical contexts – arose in the transitional period between the decline of Church authority and the relatively early stages of European humanism. With the Reformation at hand, humanistic thinkers were faced with a significant alteration in how one conceived of religion, the Church and thus of life in general. The two figures perhaps most affected by this radical shift were Disiderius Erasmus and St. Thomas More. Both were caught up in these sweeping changes that held powerful consequences for just about every aspect of daily life. The Church was in a state of considerable decline, due largely to moral decay, and the Ninety-Five Theses of Luther had become a singular condemning document against corruption in the Church. Moreover, in England at least, the Catholic Church was vigorously attacked by the reformist movements, and Henry VIII, defying the papacy in Rome, eventually declared himself head of the Church of England, In a certain sense, the European world of the Holy Roman Empire was in a state of impending collapse.

Both Erasmus and More conceived strategies to deal with this crisis in European life, and their respective approaches appeared to be largely conservative. Conservative in the sense that they proposed what Baudrillard would term a “nostalgic return to the real.” For them, the real consisted in a more fundamental reading of the Christian faith and tradition, but one that, oddly enough, was presented in a remarkably aestheticized and thus “fatal” form. In the case of Erasmus, he turned to broad literary satire – satire that was roundly criticized by some as being far too aesthetic and thus insufficiently scholarly and moral.

There were certain defects of character, and certain qualities of disposition, which explain the failure of Erasmus to understand and advocate the Reformation. His opposition to the state of the Church had proceeded from esthetic feeling, rather than from moral indignation; he lacked the enthusiasm of a moral cause. He says he would rather sacrifice a part of the truth than destroy peace (Stahelin, 1894:754).

More also resorted to a kind of “fatal-theory fiction” to remedy the present day drift away from what he believed to be a better and more sustainable reality. This strategy culminated in his Utopia, where he both parodied the social conditions of contemporary England and created a fantastic literary narrative involving real-life and invented characters discussing an entirely imaginary island-state. The book was itself remarkable in that its subject-matter ranged from the lost rigor of biblical morality to putting an end to intrinsic and exchange values.  Utopia was indeed a journey into an a-historical fantasy, one that attempted to reach beyond the crisis in the Church, in politics, and in European social life in general. But, much like Erasmus, More’s stretching of the limits of Renaissance prose and his exaggerations were largely misunderstood. And thus some of his commentators attacked his work as myopic, in that it overlooked the social and economic progress that was made in the early English renaissance (See Campbell, 1947:vii-xli). This oversight on More’s part, however, taken from the perspective of fatal fiction, can be viewed as part of a strategy aimed atcreating an alternative reality, a “no-place,” of invented images and ideal fabrications, rather than as a condemnation and correction of  the “real.” 

II. Erasmus and the “Truth” of Folly
As mentioned above, Erasmus was hardly a critical success. Much of the traditional and contemporary negative criticism directed at his work has been centered on his vindictiveness, his failure to perceive the great changes of the time, and, most emphatic, his “esthetic style.” The British historian, Phillip Hughes, sums up what seem to be his major shortcomings: “He preferred not to know the great technique that had been built up, and when, for example, in the controversy with Luther, he comes to defend the freedom of the will, his ignorance of the very nature of the problem led him into the most extraordinary of blunders” (Dolan, 1964:9).

Blunders or strategies? One could argue for the latter, since the mindful groundwork for “ignorance” and “blunders” is more than sufficiently laid out in Erasmus’s most famous work, The Praise of Folly. He opens the book by stating that ignorance and folly, unlike reasoned discourse, are purely joyous and affective states of mind:

Just as it usually happens, when the sun first shows its brilliant and golden face to the earth; or when, after a particularly hard winter, the young spring breathes soft West winds, and a new appearance, color and youthfulness come over everything; so at the sight of me your faces took on a different hue. And thus the banishment of cares that great orators are unable to effect with their long and carefully worked out speeches, I can bring about immediately just by my appearance (Erasmus, 1964:101).

Seen from the perspective of a fatal fiction, Erasmus here makes a crucial distinction between the joy of folly, its purely sensuous and aesthetic qualities, and the reasoned discourses of the “great orators.” Moreover, he stresses the point that the bliss associated with folly and ignorance is immediate, whereas what Baudrillard would term “rational discourse” is elusive, time consuming, and ineffective. This difference is further stressed when he points out that it is imperative that the assembly listen to Folly “as you do the salesmen in the market, to clowns and jesters, and as our friend Midas listened to Pan” (Ibid.).

This might seem to be supreme sarcasm for an ultra-devout Christian and avid reader of the classical tradition, particularly Plato and Aristotle, neither of whom were shopkeepers, jesters or clowns. But the point here, I argue, is based on an ironic twist rather than a symbolic message. Erasmus is concerned here to question not the veracity or importance of the philosophical and theological tradition, but rather, what has happened to it in the age of reform. By stating the opposite of what he believed to be the truth, he has placed his readers in a quandary, one that can be understood only by indulging the simple, sensual pleasures of life. In effect, to retain the folly of youth:

And I am a liar if it is not true that as youth matures through experience and education the sparkle of its beauty begins to fade; its zest diminishes; its charm cools; and its vigor falls off. The farthest one goes from me, the less and less he lives until he reaches that troublesome old age, which is not only hateful to others but even more so to itself (Ibid.:106). 

And elsewhere in speaking of the old and dying reverting to the pleasures of blissful childhood:

No one would be able to tolerate old age at all if I, out of pity for its greatest troubles, would not stand at its right hand, and in the same manner as the gods of the poets are wont to save by some metamorphosis those who are dying, so to recall those people near to death to childhood. Whence folks are accustomed to say they are in a second childhood. If anyone would like to know how this transformation is accomplished, I will not hide it. I lead them to the spring of Lethe (for it arises in the Isles of Fortune and only a small stream flows through the Underworld) so that there they might drink deep draughts of forgetfulness and gradually, with the cares of the mind washed away, become young again (Ibid.:106-7).

The above quoted passages serve as excellent examples of the kind of fatal fiction employed by Erasmus. On the one hand, he underscores the deep division between sense and reason, that is, by using the symbolism of youth and old age. On the other, he reduces what has been considered traditionally the course of the real to the passion and sensibility of youth, even in the case of seniority. In a manner of speaking, Erasmus reverses the trajectory of what was then considered an unquestionable progression from the foolishness and profligacy of youth to the wisdom of old age.

The above mentioned wisdom of old age might be considered, in Baudrillard’s terminology, “operational.” Operational in the sense that it has lost the passion, spontaneity and the imaginativeness of youthful folly. Baudrillard himself expresses a similar concern in dealing with the postmodern trend toward digitalization and miniaturization.

The time has come of a miniaturization of time, bodies, pleasures. There is no longer any ideal principle for these things on the scale of the human. There are no longer any but nucleated effects. This change from the human scale to the nuclear one is obvious everywhere: this body, our body, appears basically superfluous, useless in the extension, multiplicity and complexity of its organs, tissues and functions, since everything today is concentrated on the brain and genetic formula that resume themselves an operational definition of being (Baudrillard ([1983] 1990:66).

Effectively, Baudrillard is arguing for contingency and against the contemporary technological trend toward regularity and modeling. The flesh and blood human has now been reduced to a series of expectable and operational patterns. In a certain parallel sense, Erasmus is making precisely this sort of argument. The false god Folly foretells of the end of spontaneity, due largely to the loss of human qualities in the tiresome patterns of reasoned discourse, that is, the wisdom of old age. Youth, on the other hand, retains much of the human simply because reason succumbs to the pleasures of sense and foolishness. The reverse of conventional time and progress is clearly situated in the immanence of body, sensation and affect; in what Baudrillard calls “sensory effects.”

Another roundabout consideration of the problem of stasis and inertia in the Church and thus in the later Renaissance world occurs with Erasmus’s condemnation of monkish piety.  Here the emphasis is on the regularity and lack of spontaneity of the monastic lifestyle. Monks, as far as Erasmus is concerned, are much like machines, thinking, acting, feeling strictly within a ritualized set of behaviors. These “nucleated” behaviors are reflected in the monks’ fastidiousness of dress and demeanor:

Moreover, it is amusing to find that they insist that everything be done in fastidious detail, as if employing the orderliness of mathematics, a small mistake in which would be a great crime. Just so many knots must be on each shoe and the shoelace may be of only one specified color; just so much lace is allowed on each habit; the girdle must be of just the right material and width; the hood of a certain shape and capacity; the hair of just so many fingers’ length; and finally they can sleep only the specified number of hours per day. Can they not understand that, because of a variety of bodies and temperaments, all this equality of restrictions is in fact very unequal? (Erasmus, 1964:148).

The rigidity of human life in general is also at issue when Erasmus, through the voice of Folly, extols the virtues of peace and love. In this regard, he views humanity failing to respond to the natural instincts of “love and friendship.” to the camaraderie and unity displayed by the simplest of plants and animals. On this, he remarks: “The various species of the animal kingdom live everywhere in peaceful communities. Take, for example, the behavior of elephant herds, of swine and sheep pasturing together. Cranes and jays flock together” (Ibid.:178). The point here is that plants and animals that have barely reached the state of “sense perception” are able to resolve conflicts by virtue of the simplicity of their natures, while humans are doomed to constant fighting, largely because of their total subjugation to reason and “progress.” Reason breeds specificity and regularity, which, in turn creates belligerence and animosity. And Erasmus proposes that these attitudes are most clear in the modern fondness for war and destruction. Warfare is, partly, the result of man’s lack of natural “armor” – an attribute of most animals – which provides animals with security. Lacking security, humans search for it in the most elaborate forms of militarism. Creating new weapons of mass destruction has, in the end, become the signpost of Renaissance modernity.

The solution to human belligerence falls, once again, along the lines of a kind of fatal fiction. With all their intelligence and religious fervor, humans fail to even achieve the peace and reciprocal support characteristic of the “dumb beasts.” Moreover, and most important, their mutual hatred and violence is directly opposed to the message of Christ, which, like animal and plant simplicity, centers on peace, concord, and love. On this, Erasmus writes:

How is it then that they make continual war among themselves? With what audacity do you call upon the common Father  while thrusting your sword into your brother’s vitals? This is the one thing He would have uppermost in the minds of His followers. In so many signs, parables and precepts He emphasized the zeal for concord. He called Himself a shepherd and his servants sheep. Who has ever seen sheep fighting with sheep? (Ibid:185).

Clearly, Erasmus is urging humanity to return to a much more basic state, one that is predicated on simplicity of action, that is, on an intuitive grasp of Christ’s most fundamental message. In this respect he is devaluing the commonality and consistency of certain types of human experience, in that they involve virtually everything that Christ preached against: “competition for position, riches, glory, and the desire for vengeance” (Ibid.). Indeed, to value these potentially violent attitudes is to effectively destroy peace in the European world of the time. “Can we call them Christians who for every light injury plunge the greater part of the world into war?” (Ibid.). The solution to the problem of social and cultural implosion, of warfare, hatred and violence – much like that proposed by Baudrillard [“Love remains the only serious or sublime finality, the only possible absolution for an impossible universe” ([1983] 1990:101] – then, is a decided movement away from the course of so-called progress. In doing so, Erasmus settles on the eternal value of love. Not, perhaps, romantic love or seduction, but nevertheless a state of bliss and union, which, in turn, serves as a hedge against the rampant violence brought on by rapid social, cultural, religious, and economic change. The solution to violence and destruction therefore lies in the most essential human states, and, as such, stands as a mirror to Baudrillard’s strategies of irony, tactility, sensation and his call to become intensely aware of  “the formal operational abstractions of elements and functions, toward a homogenization in a single virtual process, toward the displacement of gestures, bodies, affects. . .” (Ibid.). To, in a parallel sense, turn folly “into and art form.”

The art and fiction of fatal strategies in Erasmus’s work are perhaps no more evident than in his final defense of folly. At the book’s conclusion, he subtly maintains his ambiguous discourse regarding the virtues of folly by situating it within the classical and ecclesiastical traditions – situating it in such a way as to make it appear as though folly superseded reason in the minds of thinkers like Epicurus, St. Paul, Homer, and Cicero. Moreover, he asserts that folly leads to the most useful acts of deceit, which he seems to associate with customary forms of wisdom: “In the first place I think that everyone is in agreement with the familiar adage, ‘If you don’t have a thing, then simulate it.’ Also, along this same line is the maxim that children are usually taught, ‘to pretend to be a fool is sometimes to be of the highest wisdom’” (Erasmus, 1964:161). Erasmus’s vacillation between reasoned discourse (“wisdom”) and irrational folly – an indecision maintained throughout the text – is thus in many ways an early example of a tactic entailed in a fatal strategy. In proposing that the source of knowledge may revert to some of the most sensory and corporeal forms of human experience – that is, sensation, pleasure, imagination, tactility, aesthetic experience, exuberance, and so on – Erasmus has opened the possibility of what Baudrillard calls “an aleatory world” (Baudrillard [1983] 1990:145). In doing so, chance serves as a constant obstruction to the “nucleation” of knowledge, which, in the period of reform, appears inevitable. Conservative in intent, the fatal fictions of Erasmus are really very modern, in that they tend to imply a reversal of the so-called “progress” associated with reform, that is, a movement away from the human and toward the regulation and modeling of knowledge, faith, and experience.

III. More and the Strategy of the Imaginary
Such a movement away from the rigidity of thought and social structure in the early period of reform can also be seen in the work of Erasmus’s friend and colleague St. Thomas More, particularly in his most famous book Utopia. The book is a remarkable amalgamation of intersecting genres and ideas and, most notably, it employs the imaginary as a means of establishing an alternative reality. But not an alternative reality that involves some abstract and ideal notion of the real. Rather, I would suggest,  More is concerned largely with establishing a counter world that transforms the “real” into the imaginary and the irreal. This approach, in turn, is consistent with the concept of fatal fiction strategy, in that it gives priority to chance and illusion. That is to say, the Utopia, as “no-place,” becomes a state of multiple aleatory possibilities and directions, as opposed to the largely inflexible hierarchical structures of Tudor society in the early part of the sixteenth century. 

This rigid and inherently unequal hierarchy in England takes up a large part of the discussion in Book One of Utopia. Unlike Plato’s Republic – one of the parodic models for Utopia – the initial dialogue of the text is carried out between a completely invented figure and real ones. The invented figure, Raphael Hythloday (meaning “speaker of nonsense”), bears some resemblance to that of Folly in Erasmus’s work. He is not real in the flesh and blood sense, but his reality is established by a set of historically documented “facts” offered by More. For example, Hythloday, according to More the narrator/speaker/author, had traveled with Amerigo Vespucci on all four of his “real” voyages, and had, in the end, decided to explore the “far countries” on his own. This “fact” lends the illusion of the real to Hythloday, in that it places him within an actual and quite momentous set of historically recorded events. His discovery of Utopia is therefore “verified” and made plausible by virtue of his presence within the commonly known real.

As representing the illusion of the real, Hythloday assumes a certain aspect of the irreal within the dialogue, one that tends to create a sense of the fantastic and illusory.  This illusion of the real allows More to create a world that runs contrary to the reality in which he is immersed.  So contrary, in fact, that many of the social, political and economic inventions in Utopia are  in direct contradistinction to More’s own core beliefs.  As a devout  Catholic and eventual martyr-saint, More surely did not advocate for female priests, married priests, or religious tolerance for heretics (read: Protestants). Nor, being a lawyer himself, was he critical of British law and lawyers in general. However, with the freedom to play with fantastic ideas he was able to create a world that was totally contrary to his own most valued beliefs. This inventiveness, of course, mirrors precisely what Baudrillard proposes as a strategy against catastrophe. The slow crumbling of the Catholic church, its realm of influence, and social and political life in general, could be forestalled by introducing a world in which pure fantasy might resurrect a better time–a “no-time” in which one could create a world based on imagination rather than reason and custom.

By Book Two – written, oddly enough, before Book One – More has already begun to lay out a map of the imaginary. Interestingly, the island of Utopia is made impenetrable to the outer world due to its being sealed in by unnavigable reefs. “Other rocks there are that lie hidden under the water, and therefore are dangerous. The channels are known only to themselves” (More, 1947:71). As an inner world sealed off from the outside, whatever emerges in Utopia does not necessarily run counter to the real world, but, rather, takes on an element of isolated, pure, original fantasy and invention. Much like Disneyland’s total self containment in Baudrillard’s Simulacra et simulations, Utopia becomes the ground for an alternative world in which the “real” is fully transformed into the imaginary. But an imaginary that departs entirely from the real. For example, the political structure of Utopia is so complex and unique that it bears virtually no resemblance to that of Henry the VIII’s England. The inflexible system of power in England at that time left little or no representation for the greater portion of the population. In More’s fantastic world, popular representation is over compensated, in that it issues from a variety of sources and proceeds in terms of a bottom to top set of seemingly endless elections. The voting process begins with 30 families from each municipality, all of which choose a representative called a syphogrant. All the syphogrants, numbering 200, elect a prince of each city from a list of four candidates chosen by the people. Such a process, of course, bears little or no resemblance to the English system of political power, which features a simple, largely uncontested succession from one monarch to his heir.

The distribution of goods and services in Utopia also consists in a total reversal of the real. One of the primary social issues in England at the time was who gets what and how do they manage to get it. The poorer farming and working classes received very little, while the aristocratic class monopolized land, goods and services. This inequity disappeared in Utopia. The imaginary isle, isolated, fantasized and aestheticized, provided everyone with what they needed free of charge:

 And every kind of thing is laid up in the several barns and store houses. From hence the father of every family, or every householder, takes whatsoever he and his have need of, and carries it away with him without money, without exchange, without any security. For why should anything be denied him? Seeing there is an abundance of all things, and that it is not to be feared that any man will ask for more than he needs (Ibid.:93).
In face of the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, More simply creates an economy in which the impossible becomes the norm. That is to say, he imagines a world without the strictures and rules that prevail within the economy of Tudor England at the time. In fact, the sumptuousness of aristocratic life in Henry’s world, its excesses, are transformed into the very things that are sorely missing in the real. For instance, hospitals and services for the sick are not just provided minimally but writ strikingly large, efficient, and imposing:

But first and chiefly of all, respect is paid to the sick, that are in hospitals. For in the circuit of the city, a little beyond the walls, they have four hospitals, so big, so wide, so ample, and so large that they may seem four little towns, which were planned of that size. . . . These hospitals are so well appointed, and so furnished with all things necessary to health, and moreover such diligent attention is given through the continual presence of skilled physicians , that no man is sent thither against his will, yet there is no sick person in all the city who had not rather lie there than at home in his own house (Ibid.:93-4).

In rearranging the world, More also tends to alter causality. The events in the world in which he lives happen due to the fixed and seemingly unchangeable nature of the real. Utopia, being irreal, opens entirely different directions in cause and effect, directions that unfold against the conventions of real time and space. In a certain way, Utopia achieves what Baudrillard calls a world of pure chance, which, in his view, one can only dream for, and hence a world that must necessarily be willed into existence: “we prefer chance and pure coincidence to pervade the world. ...for the real is only the coincidence in time of an event and a causal sequence (Baudrillard [1983] 1990:161). Alter the causal sequence through the forces of the illusory and imaginary, and one can create an entirely different “real.” Against the forces and events that shape the collapse of a powerful tradition, More erects an entirely different set of spaces and times, contingencies, eventualities and irrealities, invoking a fatal but sustaining strategy. And this strategy, in Baudrillard’s thinking, is actually not so different from one that might be applied to real:

Two eventualities, equally possible: nothing has yet happened, our happiness comes from nothing having really begun (liberation, revolution, progress) – finalist utopia. The other eventuality is that everything has already happened. We are already beyond the end. All that was metaphor has already materialized, collapsed into reality. This is our destiny: the end of the end. We are in a transfinite universe (Ibid.:70).

For Baudrillard, then, we are perpetually at the “end of the end.” This standstill is not simply a rupture in the flow of western culture and history. Rather, it is the final catastrophe that we will never experience since it is moving inexorably away from us. And the only way to fully live this moment is to transform it into an art form, an ironic and absurd gesture that always entails fatality. This fatality, moreover, consists in embracing the real, which is already dead and gone. “”Today, illusion no longer counts; in order to survive, we need to approach ever closer to the nullity of the real” (Ibid.:181).

This approach, of course, is not exactly an explicit concern of either Erasmus or More. They simply saw the end of an era, and wished to mitigate and forestall its closure. But in many ways they realized that “in order to survive” it was necessary to provide some alternative reality that at the least would soften the inevitable transition to what for them was an unacceptable real. Through their strategies of aesthetics, illusion, folly, and imagination, both figures were able to keep on playing the endgame.

Mark S. Roberts has written extensively in the fields of media studies, psychoanalysis, continental philosophy, and social theory. He has translated numerous works, including those of J-F. Lyotard and Julia Kristeva. He is presently completing a book project entitled Achilles Gift: A theory of Human Destructiveness.


Jean Baudrillard (1983). Simulations. New York: Semiotext(e).

Jean Baudrillard ([1983] 1990. Fatal Strategies. New York: Semiotext(e).

Mildred Campbell (1947). “Introduction” to Utopia. New York: D. Van Nostrand.

Jason deBoer (1999, 2005). “Fierce Language: The Fatal’Theory-Fiction’ of Jean Baudrillard”.  Absinthe Literary Review, Number 1 (summer, 1999):; also posted in International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Volume 2, Number 1 (January, 2005):

John P. Dolan (1964) “Introduction” to The Essential Erasmus. New York: New American Library, 1964.

Desiderius Erasmus (1964). The Praise of Folly. New York: New American Library, 1964

Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2002). “Jean Baudrillard. New York: Routledge.

Thomas More (1947). Utopia. New York: D. van Nostrand.

Rud Stahelin (1894). “Erasmus,” [Phillip Schaff, editor] in A Religious Encyclopedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology Volume 2. New York: Funk and Wagnalls.

© International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2011)

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