ISSN: 1705-6411

Volume 1, Number 1 (January 2004)

Baudrillard and the Meaning of Meaning

Dr. Victoria M. Grace
(Canterbury University)

I. Introduction

            Signification, semiology, signs – these are all concepts that Baudrillard variously takes up in the full scope of his work over the last 40 years. But the specific question of language and meaning has, apart from Genosko,1 not received much attention. Baudrillard has something important to say about both language and meaning, and I think it is worthwhile to reflect on what standpoint he adopts as his point of departure on this often shifting ground, what the basis might be for a blistering attack, a deflection of presupposition, or an ironic counter-attack. In this essay I explore some of the ground Baudrillard travels in relation to language and meaning, and through doing so identify what seem to me to be important points of connection with a few others whose tracks he appears to have crossed or be crossing, knowingly or otherwise. The main purpose of this exercise is to attempt a reading of the question of Baudrillard on language and meaning that distils what seem to be key points and clarifies some conundrums. I identify the overwhelming significance of the dual non-dual (which is not even a paradox, let alone a contradiction). Linkages with other theorists and writers on language and the meaning of meaning might serve to broaden the base from which Baudrillard takes his bearings. Maybe he is not such a lone ranger after all.

II. Baudrillard’s confrontation with meaning

                               …language never says (only) what it means.2

            How can it be the case that ‘meaninglessness’, according to Baudrillard, in one context is the sorry state of our current world increasingly bereft of meaning, with money as its pre-eminent sign (precisely of that meaninglessness), and in another context meaninglessness is the seductive power of the symbolic, and the signature of the dual (which is non-dual)? On the one hand meaning is something ‘lost’ or disappearing, leaving humanity stranded and only able to fetishise the dollar (yen or euro) as pure, empty sign of its own ambivalent despair (at this loss), and yet meaning carries the oppressive weight of those archetypal dualistic objectifications Baudrillard criticises in his work: economic value, identity, the positivity of the sign. How to make sense of these issues and assertions? To trace a path through these and other often bewildering counterpoints, I will begin with a brief outline of how Baudrillard arrives at the conclusion that meaning is better dead.

            Received societal and historical understandings of language – of its place, its role, its function – do not take their mythical contours from prevailing theories of language per se. Rather these understandings are infused and diffused throughout a tightly woven structural matrix that is, at heart, ontological and epistemological – but ultimately contingent and even aleatory. Baudrillard’s early works develop a theoretical focus on the western European historical context specifically, and the nature of the structural matrix in which the predominant referential construct of meaning and the representational explanation of language is embedded. And as prevailing theories of language tend to reflect these structural antecedents, semiology is the object of fierce critique in Baudrillard’s hands. His concerns begin with the fundamentals; he confronts the assumed nature of the object that is exchanged, the assumed nature of a subject that exchanges, the assumption of a motivation for exchange, the assumed basis for the construct and assignation of value in the exchange, and the assumption of the role of language as it, assumedly, articulates these components.

            Through Baudrillard’s early analyses we learn how a structural logic of economic exchange is interpenetrated by the structural presuppositions of language and meaning. To elaborate very briefly: a structural logic of the early capitalist era wherein the object of economic exchange was a ‘good’ or commodity, the subject exchanging the object was one enlisted into an irreducible and ‘natural’ assumption of ‘need’ (and degrees thereof which became the basis for weighing relative value through a logic of equivalence), is the same structural logic that ensured the bar of language in the depiction of sign/referent, signifier/signified in resolute terms. In the same way that economics rested its case for the objective assessment of value on a logic of equivalence based on a universal assumption of utility, so semiology rested its case for the objective assessment of meaning on a logic of equivalence based on a universal assumption of reference and representation. As the exchange of objects succumbed to a calculus of the economic (based on the alibi of a naturalised ‘need’) so the exchange of signs succumbed to a metric of the semiological (based on the alibi of a universalised relation of reference).

            This logic of sign and value is dualistic, in the sense of dichotomous. It is grounded in an opposition of incommensurable terms. The structure of the prototypical Aristotelian dichotomy is ‘A/not-A’. ‘A’ is identified by virtue of its properties and in distinction from that which it is not. Such a structure is not innocent; ‘A’ as the marked term is dominant in a logic that privileges identity, and ‘not-A’ is subordinate, taking its positioning by virtue of its difference from ‘A’. What is vital to Baudrillard’s analysis is the parallel nature of this dualistic structure as it inhabits both value and signification, economics and semiology. The value of a ‘good’ or commodity is determined by its equivalence to another through the abstraction of a universal scale (for example, the gold standard prior to the emergence of consumerism). The meaning of (some) words in sentences is determined by their equivalence to referents in the world through the abstraction of a universal code of language. The imposture of the sign is clear:

Through this mirage of the referent, which is nothing but the phantasm of what the sign itself represses during its operation, the sign attempts to mislead: it permits itself to appear as totality, to efface the traces of its abstract transcendence, and parades about as the reality principle of meaning.3


            Baudrillard’s rendition of the ‘hyperreal’ nature of late/post capitalism is primarily about transformations in these parallel domains of the economic and the semiological. Where the dualistic structuring had its mooring secure in the notion of reference through a logic of equivalence, he argues that it has well and truly been cast adrift. Value is no longer anchored in the gold standard; meanings of signs are no longer determined by their attachments to referents. The flotation of value and the loss of the linguistic referent (Baudrillard here uses Saussure’s structuralist theorisation of language as an analogy), release value and signification into a realm of utter speculation. The logic of equivalence gives way to a logic of difference.

            ‘Difference’ without reference is irredeemable in its positivity. ‘Difference’ in Saussure’s theorisation is one whereby the identity, or meaning, of signs has nothing to do with referents in the world. Identity rather ends up by being the complex result – not of ‘A’ being different from ‘not-A’ – but of ‘A’ (by virtue of its ‘not-A’) being different to other ‘A’s’. It is as if the other side of the bar, that which is excluded from identity, has been finally completely forgotten as all terms jostle for their identification in a system that only knows identity through difference; through a positive differential that structurally rules out the negative. The positivity of identity renders the universality of reference in a system of language obsolete, and instantiates meaning as the fully positivised identity of the sign as this takes its place in the speculation of signs (of meaning and value) in all their glorious differences.

            But of course the appearance that the bar of exclusion has been occluded in the liberation of identities through their positive signification is a masterstroke. The bar rather constitutes the definitional status of the system of signs, the system of value. The dualistic structure taken to its exponential extreme takes on the character of a unified reality where only positivity exists. In my reading of Baudrillard’s work, his attack on meaning, or his despair in the face of meaning, is precisely on meaning construed within this history of semiology and the more recent incarnation of the positivity of signs.

            Further, the extreme positivity of meaning as it accelerates beyond its own vanishing point is on the cusp of its implosion into utter meaninglessness; the same fate for value. As Baudrillard suggests in Impossible Exchange, the demand for meaning is crashing, but what to do when “we live in terror of both excess of meaning and total meaninglessness.4

            So what of meaninglessness? If Baudrillard’s attack on meaning is on meaning so constituted, from what critical point of departure does he mount this critique? And is there anything we can say about what Baudrillard thinks language and meaning might be about if they were not so constituted? Meaninglessness in Baudrillard’s terms is primarily about the absence of the semiological construct of meaning in its structuralist and poststructuralist renditions; meaninglessness is quite simply what we have without meaning in this sense. Is the world therefore meaningless? Of course it is. But we can say more than this.

            Baudrillard has used the term ‘symbolic’ and has referred to the process of ‘seduction’ to evoke what might be referred to as a critical ontology, from his earliest works. The ‘symbolic’ in his work is an ontology that is not reliant on the bar of dualism, the bar of exclusion, the bar that enables reference and representation, equivalence and difference, identity and difference, identity as difference; the bar that establishes what (it) is and what (it) is not. ‘Seduction’ is what happens without this bar.

            Baudrillard’s use of these terms and concepts does not mean that he takes recourse to a universal, positive theorisation of language and meaning. Drawing in particular on the work of Mauss and Bataille5 directly, and possibly Nietzsche indirectly, Baudrillard’s critical point of departure relies on an interpretation of processes of social exchange in societies and cultures prior to the instantiation of the economic object and the linguistic subject. Within societies of symbolic exchange, the object takes its status as an object through the sets of social relations in which it circulates. It has no social meaning or social existence outside of these relations. This has nothing to do with ‘need’ or ‘utility’ as these concepts have been understood in capitalist and Marxist discourses. The ontology of objects is marked by a logic of ambivalence; their ‘being’ is never absolute, is always ambivalent, continually transformed, as are the social relations within which they are constituted and within which they circulate. The same can be said for individuals. Any notion of ‘identity’ is entirely foreign and unintelligible within this frame, as is any universal point of reference for meaning, value, or being.

            The ‘symbolic’ nature of processes of exchange might be more clearly delineated in societies based on gift exchange and agonistic forms of ritual, and therefore reference to these societal processes in such contexts is a useful means in Baudrillard’s work to gain critical leverage in relation to the countervailing form of economic exchange and semiological reduction. But the important point is that symbolic exchange is not an historically superseded modality of social interaction. The ‘symbolic’ is not a nostalgic notion, but rather inevitably permeates sociality in one form or another. Although structurally excluded, or barred, by the establishing of the economic under the sign of the universal, the symbolic simply does not go away. The ‘symbolic’ is a critical formulation, not a positive one. Another way of considering this is to suggest that the ‘symbolic’ can only be defined through the ambivalence of presence in the absence of the bar, the absence of identity formed through the bar, in other words, the non-dual. Thus any engagement with Baudrillard’s notion of the symbolic cannot presume a universal, positive theorisation of what language-in-general is. Where Baudrillard states that language is symbolic,6 he cannot be understood to be presenting an explanatory framework that, in positive terms, states this is what language, in universally applicable theoretical terms, is really about. Nor is he best understood as casting a critical light on the present through the lens of an anthropological past invested in romantic notions of some ‘other’; definitely not, and notwithstanding Lyotard’s ‘hippy anthropology’ remark.

            Another concept Baudrillard uses in conjunction with ‘symbolic’ and ‘seduction’ is ‘reversion’. The symbolic is relational, and as such the terms of the relation cannot be autonomised but are rather continually reversed; ambivalence (neither ‘this’ nor ‘that’) and transformation through circulation evoke a continual cycle of reversion (‘this’ is reversed through the ambivalent presence of ‘that’). In this sense, no-thing accumulates.

            In an epoch marked by the positivity of the sign, where identity is signified as a positive construct in absolute terms, where symbolic reversion is structurally excluded, accumulation is paradigmatic. It is through this analysis that Baudrillard can refer to the contemporary era as one in which we are effectively drowning in an ‘excess of meaning’; ‘meaning’ piled up in an additive explosion of positivised bits of signification that are not exchanged, are not reciprocated, are not reversed but that continue to accumulate at an ever increasing rate like some form of toxic waste. Baudrillard writes: “Everywhere one seeks to produce meaning, to make the world signify, to render it visible. We are not, however, in danger of lacking meaning; quite to the contrary, we are gorged with meaning and it is killing us”.7 Although atomistic bits of informational data might whiz around the planet at dizzying speed with some being vaporised in the process, the logic is still one of cumulative positivity; they are not ‘circulating’ in a process of reciprocal exchange. Stockpiles of words that do not circulate and are not exchanged are, Baudrillard claims, in fact more deadly than the accumulation of waste from industrial production.8

            Such is the destiny of ‘information’: the ‘communication’ of ‘information’. Baudrillard has written on the ‘ecstacy of communication’ as its orbital trajectory seems to have an extraordinary anti-stasis of infinity,9 on the model of communication as one of input/output, encoder/decoder, structured as such by this code of positivity of the sign. He has suggested that similarities in the discursive modalities of advertising and propaganda are indicative of their terroristic propensities – terroristic because of their forbidding of reciprocity and response.10

            But the consumption of signs, of information, of ‘meaning’ has its limits. Saturation of demand for meaning may be precipitating a crisis – a Black Sunday of meaning in the making?11 This excess of meaning, Baudrillard has argued more recently,12 is imploding. His scenario sounds as though the rather weary ‘subject’, having digested about as much meaning as s/he can stomach, possibly no longer wishes to decipher meaning. As if, relieved from the burden of consumption, partly through the insurrection of things which no longer want to signify anything, s/he confronts the terrifying prospect of meaninglessness. Yet ironically as the world becomes increasingly meaningless through the meaningless proliferation of meaning, so the demand for meaning increases (less of it, more demand). Both excess of meaning (absolute definitional correlation) and meaninglessness (no correlation at all), as flip sides, have their own terror, and both appear to be equally present.

            In Impossible Exchange, Baudrillard suggests that money is the key sign that is a fetishised substitute in its role as the “universal transcription of a world bereft of meaning”. In a fetishistic sense money stands in for the inability to choose between meaning or meaninglessness. Baudrillard writes, “if there were not this demand for the world to have meaning, there would be no reason to find a general equivalent for it in money.”13 Equivalent to nothing, money is the “sign-by-default of that impossible exchange;”14 it stands in as a fake, disembodied impersonation of (an impossible) universalised scale of exchange. The fetish of money expresses the breakdown of meaning: “the impossibility of exchanging the world for its meaning.”15 Here the notion of impossible exchange brings the impossibility of equivalence, the impossibility of identity into the foreground through the idea that such identity and equivalence require an exchange of thought and world. And neither thought nor world are of this order of things.

            Baudrillard refers, rather, to an ‘interplay’ between thinking and the world, which is precisely not of the order of exchange that could be the basis for any concept of truth: neither the truth of thought nor the truth of the world to be verified through this exchange. Thought and world cannot be exchanged in this way. This is impossible. The notion of an ‘interplay’ between thinking and the world takes on other qualities, specifically based in a notion of an inevitable duality which is the rule (not the law). This duality is not the duality of dichotomous constructs; it is not the duality of dualisms that are onto-epistemologically grounded in a postulate of unity, where identity has an essence of being (that can be represented). The world as dual is non-dual. Duality in these terms is the sole ground for the quality of otherness as radical alterity. Baudrillard insists “alterity cannot be grounded in a vague dialectic of One and the Other.”16 Baudrillard also plays on the similarity of the words dual and duel to characterise how relations in accordance with the principle of duality are agonistic and hence of the order of the ‘duel’; in other words, relations are continually transformative; their exchange is symbolic. The world is as much a player in the game as the player-of-the-game is the world.17

            What of meaning in this dual (non-dual) world? Where Baudrillard points to duality in this sense, it is clear that the exposure of the impossibility of the dualist construct of identity, of equivalence, does not lead to monism. Non-dual in this sense is dual and not mono. The terms within a non-dual duality are importantly asymmetrical. Symmetry of terms cannot be transformed through the agon of encounter. “Whenever a symmetry and a mirror-relation is re-created (between the world and its double, between subject and object), it is done at the cost of liquidating this fundamental duality.”18 And this is the price to be paid for what Baudrillard calls “the final solution”, which is the phantasm of a unified reality, a universal synthesis.

            The disappearance of languages is accelerating globally, and rivals the disappearance of species in its catastrophic trajectory. Baudrillard insists that the very notion of a single language, One language that would be the sole arbiter of meaning is impossible to imagine. And he proposes that there is a necessary relation between the fact that languages are multiple and singular, and the fact that language “never says (only) what it means.”19 If there were only one language, words would become univocal “with their meanings set on automatic pilot.”20 The necessity of an interplay of languages attests to the symbolic nature of meaning in a way that, if lost, would leave the sole survivor hostage to an impossible universality of ‘meaning’. “Language would be simply an appendage to a unified reality.”21 One language, one species. We are also seeing the parallel disappearance of currencies, as if economic value could, by virtue of a sovereign unification of currency, become more meaningless than it is now.

            I think Baudrillard is saying that meaning is somehow engaged within the interplay of thought and world, in the symbolic sociality of a ‘game’ of truth, or theory, but which, through its shadowing the world, reveals the non-meaning of the world. “Radical thought is at the violent intersection of meaning and non-meaning, of truth and non-truth… […] it aspires to the status and power of illusion, restoring the non-veracity of facts.”22  This interplay is precisely not of the order of the law.23 Lacan insists that this law is the inevitable (phallic) law that fixes the bar of signifier/signified, as the bar of repression. As Baudrillard wrote in 1972, however,

All the arbitrariness and positivity of the sign is amassed on this line separating the two levels of the sign. This structural-inclusive copula establishes the process of signification as positive and occults its prior function – the process of reducing or abolishing meaning (or non-meaning: ambivalence). […] this line is in fact the barrier whose raising would signify the deconstruction of the sign, its resolution, and the dissolution of its constituent elements, Sr and Sd, as such.24

            To postulate the deconstruction of the sign in this sense, to suggest the resolution of the sign through the dissolution of the bar of signifier/signified (and sign/referent) seems to incite some degree of scepticism and uneasiness among some readers. Genosko, for example25, observes that Baudrillard himself avidly avoids any suggestion of a “mystical nothingness” after the sign: “The resolution of the sign entails the abolition of the Sr and Sd as such, but not the abolition, toward some mystical nothingness.”26 The point being, and one which Genosko also acknowledges, that the contemplation of such a resolution of the sign is reliant on a theory of symbolic exchange. As Baudrillard continues in the same footnote: “the symbolic operation of meaning is also exercised upon phonic, visual, gestural (and social) material, but according to an entirely different logic”, and here I think he is referring to ambivalence and interplay of the sort discussed above. But even so, despite this acknowledgement later in his book, in his introduction Genosko refers to the “kind of mysticism” that a “post-signifying nature of the symbolic” might entail: one that might be called a “proto-new-age, oceanic feeling about communication after signs.”27 Genosko’s view is that, in his avoidance of such a scenario, Baudrillard’s reliance on the notion of agonistic reciprocity means he oscillates between “making a variety of strong and mystical claims,”28 that is, strong on the one hand and mystical on the other. The idea or concern that there may be something “mystical”, or “romantic”, about this construct of meaning in its reliance on agonistic reciprocity, or reversion, seems to imply that such a construct is hard to imagine in any ‘real’ and ‘strong’ sense. What is mystical about this? And what does ‘mystical’ imply? ‘Weakness’? Fantasy? That it is somehow mysteriously unthinkable?

III. Genealogies of the non-dual: some tentative connections

            In the course of inquiry into theorisations of language and meaning that depart from the structuralist/poststructuralist postulate of meaning being solely constructed within language (a postulate predicated on the abandonment of any concept of the referent or extra-linguistic reality,29 and hence one that appears to reflect uncritically the very conditions of signification and positivity of meaning that Baudrillard’s critique points to), the work of some other dissenting voices make their way to the foreground. It seems to me that, in relation to understandings of language and the meaning of meaning in speech and discourse, Baudrillard is not on some romantic and idiosyncratic, hippy, mystical jaunt but is one of a considerable number of authors and philosophers who have been thinking about similar concepts and issues for a very long time. Baudrillard is well-known for ignoring any attempts to locate his work within a lineage of references, and is adamant that such a practice is averse to theorising. Maybe. I’m not wanting to take up this point here, but rather to suggest that these points of connection help the process of understanding the significance of what Baudrillard has to offer on the subject of language and meaning. It is not a matter of suggesting that the authors I am thinking of, such as Merleau-Ponty, Wittgenstein, Bakhtin, Nāgārjuna of over 2000 years ago, and Lakoff and Johnson more recently, have anything like a point by point convergence with Baudrillard’s critical point of departure in symbolic exchange. Absolutely not, and the differences are important. But the points of commonality are worth exploring, even if I can do no more than present a few fragments here.

            The French phenomenologist, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, is explicit in his view that any phenomenological analysis of speech, and the specific act of meaning, is one whereby we have the opportunity “to leave behind us, once and for all, the traditional subject/object dichotomy.”30 Through this move, he counters the alternative acceptations of the production of meaning within what he calls the empiricist and intellectualist psychologies (or variously ‘philosophies’). Although they are very different, both, he claims, hold that the word itself (as sign) has no significance. In the first case, the word is not the bearer of its own meaning; it is merely a physical phenomenon set alongside others. In the second case, the word is still bereft of any effectiveness on its own, being the external sign of an internal process of thought. By contrast, words for Merleau-Ponty are fully imbued with meaning, and the way this has to be understood is through speech. Speech embodies meaning in the same way that gestures embody meaning. In his terms “the phonetic gesture brings about, both for the subject and his [sic] hearers, a certain structural coordination of existence, exactly as a pattern of my bodily behaviour endows the objects around me with a certain significance both for me and for others.”31 

            For Merleau-Ponty, in the Phenomenology of Perception, a phenomenologically-inspired approach to language rejects the notion that language is representational; it neither represents ‘the world’ nor represents internal thought. Language as a gestural, intentional form of expression, or communicating, embodies meaning in the specificity of that context or moment, precisely because of the embodied nature of perception and consciousness. In this way, language also cannot be understood as a system of signification whereby meaning obtains through sets of relationships within language, in which the meaning of the sign is barred from any relationship with ‘the world’, a referent. “I do not understand the gestures of others by some intellectual interpretation: communication between consciousnesses is not based on the common meaning of their respective experiences, for it is equally the basis of that meaning.”32 Language and experience of being-in-the-world simply cannot be separated in any absolute terms, and then tautologically ‘related’ through a one-to-one correspondence.

            Linguist and philosopher duo George Lakoff and Mark Johnson33 more recently base their theorisation of the metaphoric nature of language on what they call an ‘embodied realism’. Their engagement with second generation cognitive science is first and foremost a critical one: our systems of conceptualisation, language and meaning are neither reflecting anything ‘true’ about the nature of the world, nor are they not reflecting anything ‘true’ about the world. In other words, a non-dual approach does not ask this question. They reject any notion that reality comes divided up into categories that exist independently from the specific embodied particularity of human beings, but rather suggest that through this specific embodiment, through our being-in-the-world, basic level concepts (related to spatio-visual and auditory etc. perceptual experience) are metaphorically extrapolated into complex meaning systems through our intensely social interactions.

            Lakoff and Johnson’s fiercely non-Aristotelian philosophy of language has some clear debts to Merleau-Ponty and phenomenology, but also to Wittgenstein. Lugwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations34 have exercised western analysts of language and meaning considerably over the last half century. What is particularly interesting in the light of Baudrillard’s confrontation with meaning is Wittgenstein’s emphasis that meaning (of words and sentences) is only achieved, only becomes meaningful, only attains the qualities of meaning, through use, and not through interpretation. Meaning is only ‘fixed’ (thus never absolutely, always remaining ambivalent) through the social practice of following a rule. The rule, for Wittgenstein, cannot be transgressed as if it were a law, nor is it followed by virtue of a reason (which implies doubt and choice). It is only “in the practice of a language that a word can have meaning”35 and then, in the repetition of that practice, rules of language (language games) are established. In this sense, meaning is established through use and not through a process of reference. This use is understood as the very process of interacting with others from the assumption of a non-dual ontology; non-separation of language and world can only be understood within an epistemology of reversible processes of sociality. In this sense there is nothing very complicated about language or about meaning: without the detours of signifier and signified, sign and referent, the bar of the “structural-inclusive copula” does not feature in an understanding of language that is not predicated on these dualistic separations and the law they assumedly institute.

            The establishing and reiteration of meaning through the sociality of use and the practice of rule-following in Wittgenstein’s work is not incompatible with dialogism in Bakhtin’s philosophy. Bakhtin’s concept of dialogue is based in the centrality of processes of exchange and reciprocity; dialogue is about ‘response’ in a way that parallels symbolic reversion. By way of counterpoint, Gasparov observes, in his discussion of Bakhtin against the solipsistic tendencies of poststructuralism:

Even when living people converse, we often hear not a dialogue but two chopped-up monologues. As the dialogue proceeds, each side constructs an image of the other that is convenient for it. One would talk with a stone with equal success and imagine the stone’s answers to one’s questions.36  

            Philosophers of language such as Merleau-Ponty, Wittgenstein, Bakhtin, and more recently Lakoff and Johnson, and, differently again, Patrizia Violi37 represent only a minute fraction of the literature on language and the meaning of meaning that begins (with varying degrees of rigour) from a non-dual onto-epistemology. They each have their location and points of connection relative to multiple and overlapping genealogies within the history of ideas. Arguably the most comprehensive and rigorous philosophy of a non-dual onto-epistemology is to be found in the works of Indian Buddhist philosopher Nāgārjuna, 2000 years ago.38 The ontology of the Mādhyamikas make it very clear how the absence of the bar of dualism does not mean that distinctions collapse into one another in a monist blur (or mystical nothingness); the principle of duality in the non-dual sense grounds meaning and language in praxis, in the situated nature of action.

            The emphasis on language in use, speech as gestural, meaning and conceptualisation as embodied, the inevitably interactive and provisional nature of meaning, and the reciprocity of dialogue as possible (symbolic) exchange, have resonances with aspects of Baudrillard’s critique of the positivity of significatory practices at the turn of the 21st century. As Baudrillard wrote in Impossible Exchange: “imposture (and language itself is one) is not the opposite of truth: it is a more subtle truth which enwraps the former in the sign of its parody and its erasure.”39 Meaning is established, ambivalently, and abolished through reversion in exchange. The illusion of the world is continually seduced into a form through the reiteration of meaning, but this reiteration signifies nothing.

Victoria Grace is a Senior Research Fellow in Social Sciences at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. With Heather Worth and Laurence Simmons she has co-edited: Baudrillard West of the Dateline (Palmerston New Zealand: Dunmore Press, 2003).  She is also the author of Baudrillard’s Challenge: A Feminist Reading. London: Routledge, 2000. Victoria is an editor of IJBS.


1 Gary Genosko.  Baudrillard and Signs:  Signification Ablaze. London: Routledge, 1994.

2 Jean Baudrillard. Impossible Exchange. London: Verso, 2001: 148.

3 Jean Baudrillard. For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. Translated and introduced by Charles Levin, St. Louis, Mo.: Telos Press, 1981:162.

4 Jean Baudrillard.  Impossible Exchange. London: Verso, 2001: 134.

5 See Marcel Mauss. The Gift. London: Cohen and West, 1966 and Georges Bataille. The Accursed Share (1967). New York: Zone, 1988.

6 Jean Baudrillard. The Mirror of Production. Translated and introduced by Mark Poster, St. Louis, Mo.: Telos Press, 1975.

7 Jean Baudrillard. The Ecstasy of Communication. Translated by Bernard and Caroline Schutze, New York: Semiotext(e), 1988:63.

8  Jean Baudrillard. Symbolic Exchange and Death. Translated by Iain Hamilton Grant and introduced by Mike Gane, London: Sage, 1993: 203.

9 Jean Baudrillard. The Ecstasy of Communication. Translated by Bernard and Caroline Schutze, New York: Semiotext(e), 1988.

10 Jean Baudrillard. “Mass (Sociology of)” In Gary Genosko. The Uncollected Baudrillard, London: Sage Publications, 2001.

11 I am making a direct reference to Baudrillard here where, in another context, he refers to a “Black Sunday of culture in the making” (see “The global and the universal”. In Victoria Grace, Heather Worth and Laurence Simmons (Eds) Baudrillard West of the Dateline, Palmerston North, NZ: Dunmore Press. 2003: 31). In this other context he is alluding to exactly the same phenomenon but in relation to culture: where the consumption of commodified, positivised signs of cultural ‘difference’ reaches saturation point and consumers have consumed all they can.

12 Jean Baudrillard. Impossible Exchange. Trans C. Turner, London: Verso, 2001.

13 Jean Baudrillard. Impossible Exchange. London: Verso, 2001: 127.

14 Ibid., 128.

15 Ibid., 127.

16 Ibid., 100.

17 Baudrillard uses the analogy of gambling as one way of making this point. Gambling’s seduction comes from the sublime sense of “a total collusion between the random play of the world and your own gaming, of a reversibility between the world and yourself, of a supernatural consonance between your choice and the choice of an order about which you can do nothing, but which seems somehow to be speaking to you and effortlessly obeying you” (2001: 87).

18 Jean Baudrillard.  Impossible Exchange. London: Verso, 2001: 101.

19 Ibid., 148.

20 Ibid., 148.

21 Ibid., 148.

22 Ibid., 150.

23 For a discussion of Baudrillard on the rule and the law, see Grace, Victoria. Baudrillard’s Challenge: A Feminist Reading. London: Routledge, 2000: 147-151.

24 Jean Baudrillard (1972). For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. Translated and introduced by Charles Levin, St. Louis, Mo.: Telos Press, 1981: 161, fn. 19, emphasis in original.

25 Gary Genosko.  Baudrillard and Signs:  Signification Ablaze. London: Routledge, 1994: 81.

26 Jean Baudrillard. (1972). For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. Translated and introduced by Charles Levin, St. Louis, Mo.: Telos Press, 1981: 150, fn. 6.

27 Genosko.  Baudrillard and Signs:  Signification Ablaze. London: Routledge, 1994: xxi).

28 Ibid.,  xxi.

29 See Ibid. 51 for a discussion of this point in relation to Saussure.

30 Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Phenomenology of Perception, London: Routledge, 1962:174.

31 Ibid., 193.

32 Ibid., 185.

33 George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.  Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

34 Ludwig Wittgenstein. Philosophical Investigations, translated by G.E.M. Anscombe, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953.

35 Cited in Colin McGinn. Wittgenstein on Meaning. Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1984: 36.

36 Cited in Caryl Emerson. The First Hundred Years of Mikail Bakhtin. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997: 160).

37 Patrizia Violi. Meaning and Experience. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

38 See Chris Gudmunsen. Wittgenstein and Buddhism, London: Macmillan Press, 1977.

39 Jean Baudrillard. Impossible Exchange. London: Verso, 2001: 151.


©International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2003)

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