Volume 1, Number 2 (July 2004)
Matrix Decoded: Le
Nouvel Observateur Interview With Jean Baudrillard1
Dr. Gary Genosko
(Canada Research Chair in Technoculture Studies,
Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada).
(Graduate Student in English, Lakehead University).
The simulacrum hypothesis deserved
better than to become a reality.2
Le Nouvel Observateur:
Your reflections on reality and the virtual are some of the key
references used by the makers of The Matrix. The first
episode explicitly referred to you as the viewer clearly saw the
cover of Simulacra and Simulation.3
Were you surprised by this?
Certainly there have been misinterpretations, which is why I have
been hesitant until now to speak about The Matrix. The staff
of the Wachowski brothers contacted me at various times following
the release of the first episode in order to get me involved with
the following ones, but this wasn’t really conceivable (laughter).
Basically, a similar misunderstanding occurred in the 1980s when New
artists contacted me. They took the hypothesis of the virtual for an
irrefutable fact and transformed it into a visible phantasm. But it
is precisely that we can no longer employ categories of the real in
order to discuss the characteristics of the virtual.
The connection between the film and the vision you develop, for
example, in The Perfect Crime, is, however, quite striking.
In evoking a desert of the real, these totally virtualized
spectral humans, who are no more than the energetic reserve of
thinking objects… .
Yes, but already there have been other films that treat the growing
indistinction between the real and the virtual: The Truman Show,
Minority Report, or even Mulholland Drive, the
masterpiece of David Lynch. The Matrix’s value is chiefly as
a synthesis of all that. But there the set-up is cruder and does not
truly evoke the problem. The actors are in the matrix, that is, in
the digitized system of things; or, they are radically outside it,
such as in Zion, the city of resistors. But what would be
interesting is to show what happens when these two worlds collide.
The most embarrassing part of the film is that the new problem posed
by simulation is confused with its classical, Platonic treatment.
This is a serious flaw. The radical illusion of the world
is a problem faced by all great cultures, which they have solved
through art and symbolization. What we have invented, in order to
support this suffering, is a simulated real, which henceforth
supplants the real and is its final solution, a virtual universe
from which everything dangerous and negative has been expelled. And
The Matrix is undeniably part of that. Everything belonging
to the order of dream, utopia and phantasm is given expression,
“realized.” We are in the uncut transparency. The Matrix is
surely the kind of film about the matrix that the matrix would have
been able to produce.
It is also a film that purports to denounce technicist alienation
and, at the same time, plays entirely on the fascination exercised
by the digital universe and computer-generated images.
What is notable about Matrix Reloaded is the absence of a
glimmer of irony that would allow viewers to turn this gigantic
special effect on its head. There is no sequence which would be the
punctum about which Roland Barthes wrote, this striking mark
that brings you face-to-face with a true image. Moreover, this is
what makes the film an instructive symptom, and the actual fetish of
this universe of technologies of the screen in which there is no
longer a distinction between the real and the imaginary. The
Matrix is considered to be an extravagant object, at once candid
and perverse, where there is neither a here nor a there. The
pseudo-Freud who speaks at the film’s conclusion puts it well: at a
certain moment, we reprogrammed the matrix in order to integrate
anomalies into the equation. And you, the resistors, comprise a part
of it. Thus we are, it seems, within a total virtual circuit without
an exterior. Here again I am in theoretical disagreement (laughter).
The Matrix paints the picture of a monopolistic superpower,
like we see today, and then collaborates in its
refraction. Basically, its dissemination on a world scale is
complicit with the film itself. On this point it is worth recalling
Marshall McLuhan: the medium is the message. The message of The
Matrix is its own diffusion by an uncontrollable and
It is rather shocking to see that, henceforth, all American
marketing successes, from The Matrix to Madonna’s new album,
are presented as critiques of the system which massively promotes
That is exactly what makes our times so oppressive. The system
produces a negativity in trompe-l’oeil, which is integrated
into products of the spectacle just as obsolescence is built into
industrial products. It is the most efficient way of incorporating
all genuine alternatives. There are no longer external Omega points
or any antagonistic means available in order to analyze the world;
there is nothing more than a fascinated adhesion. One must
understand, however, that the more a system nears perfection, the
more it approaches the total accident. It is a form of objective
irony stipulating that nothing ever happened. September 11th
participated in this. Terrorism is not an alternative power, it is
nothing except the metaphor of this almost suicidal return of
Western power on itself. That is what I said at the time, and it was
not widely accepted. But it is not about being nihilistic or
pessimistic in the face of all that. The system, the virtual, the
matrix – all of these will perhaps return to the dustbin of history.
For reversibility, challenge and seduction are indestructible.5
Jean Baudrillard was interviewed for Le Nouvel Observateur
(19-25 June 2003) by Aude Lancelin. The Editors of IJBS
are grateful to Ruth Valentini and Le Nouvel Observateur
for permission to translate and publish this interview in
Aude Lancelin conducted the original interview for Le
Jean Baudrillard. Cool Memories IV. New York: Verso,
Upon opening the book during the “Follow Instructions” scene in
Neo’s apartment, the hollowed out text reveals the first page of
the short essay “On Nihilism.”
It was perhaps Peter Halley more than any other American
Simulationist painter who triumphed Baudrillard’s
conceptualization of hyperreality in relation to day-glo colours.
And, as he wryly notes, Baudrillard dashed the hopes of Halley
by distancing himself from claims on him. But it wasn’t only
Simulationist painters who received a cold critical shoulder. As
Paul Hegarty heard in a recent interview with Baudrillard (April
2003; in his book Jean Baudrillard:
Live Theory, London: Continuum, 2004), “the last ones were
those ‘symbiotic’ artists. They kept pestering me, saying, ‘but
you must love what we’re doing. I said, ‘hang on, this is not