International Journal of Baudrillard Studies

ISSN: 1705-6411

Volume 4, Number 2 (July, 2007).


Hetero-da-fé1

Jean Baudrillard

(Paris, France)

Translated by Rex Butler
(University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia).

and

Michael Wallace
(Librarian, Bond University, Queensland, Australia).

 

            This is (or is not) a spiritual exercise. I will call it Hetero-da-fé. Every act is an act of faith – an auto-da-fé – just as every work is a work of mourning [travail de deuil]. Aside from the symbolism of fire, there is in the auto-da-fé the idea of a sacrificial form of the work of thought. Must thought be burned? Is it necessary to offer it a sacrifice? It burns itself and offers itself to be sacrificed – diverted, manipulated, liquidated in the name of truth. Thus an auto-da-fé in the literal sense. Hetero-da-fé means simply that it is oneself as an other that is in play. After “The Other by Itself”, “Oneself by the Other”.2 It is an act of faith in an otherness that is vanished, lost, unfindable, and yet still at stake [au centre du jeu].

*          *          *

            This is neither an exposition of concepts, nor of method, but the inventory of that which concerns the will to thought, as well as of that which crosses thought and writing without one perceiving it, or passes through them in filigree like a perpetual after-thought – one is inevitably reminded of a figure hidden in a carpet – like a silent counter-point without which there would be no cause for thought, and from which figures intrude from time to time, otherwise thinking and writing would immediately come to a halt.

*          *          *

            “Let him who speaks of it never tell all of the truth, so that he keeps it secret and offers it up only in fragments”. Such is the principle of “scrupulous delicacy”, according to Kierkegaard. Here then are some of these scruples of thought.

            There is first of all the idea that one can always stop thinking and writing. There is the temptation to do it, and there is the idea that one must be able to do so. It is at once a question of capacity and a question of honour. Capacity: my superego is one neither of work nor of discipline, but of laziness. It is a superego that defers things and that secretly enjoins me, even in full “flight”, to suspend operations, to save a place for emptiness, and to preserve the possibility of being silent – not out of any lack, because there is nothing more to say, but out of excess, as though not to put truth at risk, not to fall into a definitive truth… In any case (and this is the point of honour), there is something indecent about exhausting a subject and reaching the end of a task, whatever it happens to be.

            As it happens, I have never ceased while writing from thinking that there was something better to do… Better than writing, and perhaps even better than thinking. But what? We should never lose sight of the fact that writing is a strange, inhuman operation, a reflection of the inhumanity of language itself.

*          *          *

            This is the first point. It is connected to another unspoken thought, which is that, in any case, no matter how far one may go in pursuit of a radical thought, one has passed by [passé à côté] the essential. Something has escaped us. It is the obsessive belief that a fundamental hypothesis has got away, that an idea, perhaps insignificant, but which illuminates everything else, has succeeded in passing by unperceived – perhaps hidden in a former life, perhaps waiting in a later life. It is perhaps Nothing, whose secret continuation lies at the heart of things.

            What is certain is that it has escaped us, and that we will never have the key to it. But this is nothing to despair about. It is the sign of a providential incompleteness, and that which hides itself there, out of reach, is not so much truth as the absence of truth. This is the cunning of the sign: it reveals or de-signs [désign] its object. It hides the object that it de-signs. It hides the fact that there is nothing there. It reveals the truth, it hides the truth, it hides the absence of truth. But if the truth of that which one thinks is that which one writes, then one may as well immediately stop thinking. If the truth of that which one says is that which one does, then one may as well immediately stop speaking. If the truth of that which one speaks is that which one thinks…

*          *          *

            The third point – itself connected to the second, because everything follows on from what comes before – is that if the decisive insight escapes us, that which alone is able to put an end to the weighing up and overturning of hypotheses, if in the absence of a final solution everything is only a hypothesis, then, throughout the elaboration of a thought, one has the uncanny impression that one would be able to say exactly the opposite [of what one actually says]. But again this is not a matter to despair over. It is even profoundly seductive that two apparently contradictory things are true at the same time. Which appears continually at the limits of a theory. It is even the secret of a deliberate absence of method – which is, as is well known, the best means of finding what one is looking for. But then, in this paradoxical affinity of opposing but reversible propositions (we think the world, but it is the world that thinks us), there is the possibility, against all method, of finding exactly the opposite of what one is looking for. It is this that is somehow the absolute success of thought.

            The ways of intellection [les voies de la recherche] are in effect mysterious. A first hypothesis: one looks only for what one has already found (Marx: man is able to pose questions only that he has already answered). A second hypothesis: one looks only for that which one will most likely never find (Nietzsche). A third hypothesis, that of serendipity: one finds that for which one has not looked, and even, in the most extreme case, exactly the opposite [of what one is looking for] (thus the video artist who comes to downtown Manhattan to film its quotidian monotony in the month of September 2001).

            These first three points touch on the necessity there is (or is not) to think and write, and that which is served by thinking, I want to say “existentially” – and is there a final surplus-value of intelligence, a bonus of pleasure or displeasure, in this “lucidity pact”? The other constellation [of points] revolves around the relationship between thought and the world: where is their affinity, their complicity? Where is their antagonism?

            If the world is all that is, from where does the illusion of appearances come, from where does the obsession with truth come? From where does transcendence come? If consciousness, like God for that matter, is still part of the illusion of the world, this would in its turn be an illusion only for consciousness, that is to say relative to a hypothetical and indecipherable being… the turn-around [tourniquet] is infinite. There is no use therefore in taking oneself for God and the subject for the opposite pole of consciousness. Without doubt, between thought and the world there is a dual and reversible relationship. Between it and the world, it is “The Other by Itself”.

*          *          *

            According to the three fundamental hypotheses:

 

The world has been given to us as enigmatic and unintelligible, and the task of thought is to render it, if possible, even more enigmatic and unintelligible.

 

Since the world moves towards a delirious state of things, we must take a delirious point of view on to it.

 

The player must never be greater than the game itself. Nor the theoretician greater than the theory, nor the theory greater than the world itself.

(“And each god, similar to the god of gods even, is always greater than the sphere of his action”.)

 

*          *          *

            Such are the premises and the rules of the game. And what of their consequences? An end to the critical, moral, political, economic, ideological or philosophical point of view: thought moves towards the inhuman. Incertitude becomes the rule of the game. But what does it mean for a thought to become inhuman, non-subjective, eccentric, a thought-event, a thought-catastrophe?

Having given back the game to the game and illusion to illusion without going through truth, and appearances to appearances without going through sense, doesn’t thought itself change the course of the world (all the while admitting that it is the world that thinks us)? The irruption of this form arriving from elsewhere, doesn’t it interrupt the course of the world? Or does it accelerate it? Is it this, the thought of Nothing, that creates an uncertain world, or is it only its reflection? Doesn’t this thought of Nothing affect the continuity of Nothing? And also: what is this subject who thinks that it is the world that thinks us? Is it still a subject?

“Human consciousness has given a bad conscience to the universe” (Edmond Rostand).

*          *          *

            What must be understood is the reciprocal modification [altération] of the universe and of thought. The metaphysical modification of the world by consciousness, the physical modification of consciousness by the world. Consciousness would have itself be the mirror of the world, its critical mirror, but in fact it shares its material destiny and thus its incertitude and fundamental illusion. If the universe were to know the mirror stage, thought would be this mirror stage. But the universe does not know anything of this imaginary stage of a subject confronted with its object and itself, this reflexive stage of knowledge. If knowledge is reflexive, then thought is reversible. It is only a particular case of the inter-linking of the world (perhaps its weakest link?). It is merely a factual, observable part of the world, and no longer has the privilege of the universal with respect to the singularity of the incomparable event of the world. It is a mental energy, irreducible to the consciousness of the subject, which passes through us in the same way as any other physical energy.

*          *          *

            Saint Augustine: “Is there anything in me, O Lord my God, that can contain You? Or, as nothing could exist without You, does whatever exist contain You? Why, then, do I ask you to come into me, since I indeed exist and could not exist if You were not in me? Why?”3

            We must understand that there is nowhere a subject or an object properly speaking, and yet we must also conceive of an otherness, a rupture, an internal duality, a seduction (of which thought is perhaps a return effect, a surplus-pleasure). Thought does not bring anything about, and even if it takes the form of an unexpected contingency [aventure transversale], an external intuition, it is in the end a thing amongst things, and it dreams of becoming again a thing amongst other things.

            At best it is an attenuating circumstance in an unfolding either catastrophic (it produces there a semblance of order and of artificial regulation), or aggravating (it pushes things towards their end) – and above all, as Saul Bellow says, it adds to crime the pleasure of remorse. Thus thought and the world cancel each other out in a total singularity, in the form of a pure event. The world sacrifices thought, and thought sacrifices the world. Auto-da-fé/ hetero-da-fé. This game of thought that can work only in the absence of the world and that is cancelled out in the object which thinks it at the same time as it annihilates it is absolutely the most seductive of all. It has no equivalent anywhere else.

            It is thus as a specific destiny, as the original destiny of the human species, that thought remains an accursed share, and as such is pledged to sacrifice. But in the course of our current undertaking [enterprise actuelle], which seeks to liquidate all that of which exchange is impossible in favour of a universal exchange, the accursed share shrinks like the skin of a donkey.4  Each desire fulfilled by technology also makes desire inexorably retreat. Up to the uncanny reversal in which it is the universe of radical banality itself that becomes our accursed share, and our lack of destiny that becomes our final fate.

            We are immersed in an accursed share which is not at all the sacrificial one of Bataille, and at the heart of which thought, like an ancient relic [vestige héroïque], has with much difficulty to forge a path.

*          *          *

            It is thus that one asks oneself: what has become of the will to thought? What is it that makes one impose such constraints on oneself – where is the conatus, where is the impetus? And what would become of an existence emptied of it, from which the theoretical superego of which Barthes speaks had been removed, freed even from the idea of the Book? The latter, The Intelligence of Evil or The Lucidity Pact, was the result of six months of confusion, of convulsion, of abandonment, of upheavals, and of some moments of… lucidity. It was an eventful journey. Again, what else was there to do? But, in the absence of any other idea, what does lucidity mean, and is it not itself a trap? Where does theoretical inspiration come from?

*          *           *

            From where come the notions of radicality, of denegation, of simulation, of distance, if not from a disaffection with the physical world? All the major themes, the “pass words” – illusion, seduction, duality, singularity, impossible exchange – are they not purely and simply the metaphysical expression of certain character traits, even character flaws, of which the principal ones would be an unsuitability for the real, with only the single aptitude for illusion and disillusion? An incapacity for opening oneself up to a life which leads to a denunciation of reality – a resentment and duplicity which lead to simulation and to the intelligence of Evil – the  “nihilist” refusal of the will, of liberty, of responsibility – would not all this at bottom be tricked up [truqué], and the detractors would they not be right all along? I would be merely a false strange attractor… But to be a “false” strange attractor is in some way to be a complete success, since it would be yet another moment in the infinite spiral of simulation.

*          *          *

            Such is the imposture that is to be observed from within the confines of any theory, that of obsession and personal neurosis, of a flawed transposition of reality, the revenge in some way of a human-too-human subject on a thought that would want itself to be inhuman. But the imposture is awaiting you too, from the exterior this time, in a more serious and subtle form. It is that of the unforeseeable success of a thought in its elucidation of the world, of the verification, deadly for it, of a theory.

            Absolute success results in the bringing about of thought’s disappearance, its vanishing in the unfolding of the world, in a becoming-invisible that is the sign of a complete incorporation [transfusion idéale]. What this means is not the validation of its hypotheses (these are incapable of validation) nor a dialectical process of overcoming [dépassement]. Rather, it speaks of the moment when thought has no reason to bring itself forth as such, since the interweaving [la trame] of events both brings it to the surface and makes it recede again. This is the final stage of thought, in which it is disseminated amongst the world itself, which in some sense is its anticipated destination, spreading itself through the real like the name of God in the anagram.5

            If there is still a relationship between thought and the world, it is one no longer of representation but of equivalence and complicity, such that theory has but to withdraw in order to come out once more in the reverberations of everyday and collective life. Everything happens as though the world were becoming hypersensible to final conditions, and to thought as a final condition. Theory thus becomes conductive, superconductive of the event, which absorbs it in realising it. This is the way that radicality has ceased to be that of the subject and has entered into things. But if theory enters into things with a radicality that it has never had as a discourse or as a concept, then there is no longer any reason to set it up as an analytical mirror. The elaboration of simulation, the critical exploration of the virtual, is no longer of interest in a world become itself simulacrum, become integral reality, that is, where the simulacrum has ceased to exist as such.

*          *          *

            Thought is prophetic [augurale], unfinished. It is in its lack of completion, in its withdrawal from all finality, that it inhabits the world as its final condition, that it moves in synch [entre en phase] with the unfinished world. The destiny of thought, its objective pact, it is the very incompletion of the world. When on the contrary it lays claims to truth and to its own verification, it falls short of itself. This is what happens to everything, including biological existence, when it reaches the end of its potential. Reality itself, when it becomes integral, falls into the state of animality. It is this that Kojève implies when he spoke of the regression of modern civilisation (American) towards a stage of animal instinct, that of the automatic extraversion of all behaviours.

            One can even recall the hypothesis according to which the human is nothing but a delayed [différé] monkey, a premature monkey. If he were to evolve towards a finished stage, he would become a monkey. Similarly for thought: if it evolves towards a completed stage, it becomes ape-like [simiesque] – it would be no more than a parody, a hyberbolic variant of reality, instead of its paradoxical mirror. This is the twilight of thought, the moment at which it does nothing more than reflect the dying embers of what has already taken place. It is the moment of those thoughts of which we must fear, with Nietzsche, that “they are on the point of becoming truths”.6

*          *          *

            We must always remain alert to the same danger: that thought itself becomes farce. That the integral farce (which is a consequence of integral reality) absorbs even evil and the intelligence of evil through the terrifying verification of what I speak about. This is the whole story of September 11, which was at once the illustration and illumination of all kinds of analyses and at the same time a form of the playing out [passage à l’acte] of the disquieting limit where every idea in its very realisation is prostituted. Including the realisation of Evil. The playing out of Evil is just as terrifying as any other reification.

            And so it is with terrorism. One can make a defence and exemplification of the idea of terrorism. All the concepts of defiance, of reversibility, of seduction, of evil, of reversion and of death come together there, and in this sense 11 September was a fundamental event, the moment where the idea is precipitated in something other than the real – an extraordinary moment of suspense in which a constellation of thought is struck by something else arriving from elsewhere. But this unforeseeable moment of the idea-force and the event-force also immediately becomes, when it is prolonged in a mediatised reality, an idea-farce and an event-farce. Even terrorism can turn into a farce, and to the pornography of war there must be added that of terrorism. As ever, the first event is the only one, and whatever understanding one is able to have of it is only fleeting. This understanding vanishes as soon as it chases after the event and its repetition. After melody, parody? Another form of imposture.

*         *           *

            It is here that lucidity is at stake. Lucidity is precisely that which sets itself against this fixing of reality, this materialisation of truth, no matter what form it takes. In itself, it is nothing, and the only way of speaking of it would be that of negative theology, in the sense that it is not. It is neither a contract with reality nor with knowledge. It is a pact and, if it has anything to do with light, literally speaking, it is not with Enlightenment reason and objective knowledge. It would lie, to evoke a very beautiful image, at the intersection of the light issuing from the object and the light coming from the gaze. Or rather it would consist, as Musil says, in looking at the world with the eyes of the world – and not, as he says, in having the world at the distant end of the gaze [au fond du regard], because it would then crumble into absurd details, as sadly separated from each other as the stars at night…

*          *          *

            The lucidity pact is light-years away from being realised, yet it appears that everything verifies it spontaneously. “To verify” is not the right word, since we are dealing with a non-identifiable metaphysical object. However, as such it responds to a reality itself definitively non-identifiable. Such would be the connection between a theory without reference and an actuality without repentance.

            The transcription of reality struggles with its own realization – the transcription of thought with its incompletion – the transcription of the world with its globalisation. Perhaps thought, in this extraordinary situation, is confronted with integral reality, which is the equivalent of a fable – of the fable that has become the world itself since, in the words of Nietzsche, “with the real world we have also abolished the apparent world”.7

            Here again we are dealing with the insoluble coincidence of a world become at once integral reality, integrally real, and fabulous, mythic, that is to say neither true nor real, and which no longer even needs to be real: the world as it is, beyond all interpretation – a world of becoming perhaps, in its simultaneous continuity and discontinuity. For, beneath the illusion of depth, this world is nothing but a fragment or a detail (which is why discourse has such difficulty giving an account of it). And if there is such disillusionment with the events of the world, in which everything justifies a radical pessimism, which corresponds to an intelligence not only of evil but of the worst, there remains nevertheless a vital perception of another world, a subliminal one, that of happy coincidence, of the magical detail, in which everything is connected according to pre-programmed [installés] elective affinities (I say this perhaps under the force of a happy accident). There is thus a balance between everything that goes wrong by wishing it to go right and that which turns out involuntarily for the best – a balance, and not a justice, because, in the scales of justice, what counts is the balance and not the justice.

*          *          *

            Whether one takes the side of evil and the irreconcilable or that of the good and the final solution, whether one chooses the apocalypse of Good or of Evil, the rhetoric of hope or the rhetoric of despair – in the end, the world goes on. And if it goes on, that means there is no end. Is this good fortune or a curse?

            It is probable that the human race has survived only because it has no end [n’a pas de finalité]. Those who have wished to give it one have merely brought about its loss. We have survived not only by being useless, but because we have never sought at any cost what was useful for us, because we have resisted all meaning [destination] (this is precisely our destiny). But perhaps this happy disfunctionality is in the process of coming to an end, in our desperate efforts to give a meaning to the human race at any cost, up to its genetic manipulation, in order to make it live up to its own destiny. By which I mean, to give it a definitive meaning. To make of a transcendent idea an immanent reality – even the end does not escape the principle of integral realisation.

*          *          *

            We are in the position of having anticipated our own ends, of having anticipated the ends of mankind, of having already realised them, indeed of having already overcome them in a sort of hypertelic process, where we would have moved faster than our shadow, and passed alive into a transpolitical, transaesthetic, transsexual state, which is not at all the eclectic state of “post-modernity”, which is only a trompe l’oeil end, but a tragic state of going beyond our own end in which it is no longer even possible to face up to it. There will be such an exponential extrapolation of every effect, such an immediate realisation of the real, that the future will no longer occur. Literally and metaphorically, the year 2000 will not take place. It is thus not the millennial outcome that we must fear, it is that this deadline would be rendered useless, or impossible, like all the other symbolic deadlines – of which death was the finest of all. It really would then be the end of the end.

            There is a beautiful expression that refers, during a solar eclipse, to the path of the shadow cast on the earth: the “path of totality”.8 By the same analogy, there would also be a “path of lucidity”, which opens up a path to an enhanced vision. It is necessary to keep this lucidity, even if it too is revealed to be a trap. We must retain this lucidity and this intelligence of evil –for, in the end, if evil is the origin of such intelligence, then it is also a sign that the worst is never certain.

It is a melancholic prospect – but it is neither depressing nor a case for regret. The global upset [contretemps] of something accomplished, of a “theoretical desire realised”, becomes the mental test of truth.

            My ambition was to occupy the only unoccupied position: beyond the end – with a view of the world that will never be built out [vue impregnable sur le monde]. But the end catches us up. To pass beyond the end alive, to leave the end behind one, which is the only radical vantage point – but the end is itself that which catches up with you again in the beyond. All that which is related, without too much thought or too much faith (for the sake of giving the appearance of the greatest radicality but with the least involvement), ends up by admitting the force of a clandestine, obsessive reality, up to the point at which it gives rise to a premonition of the end and a foreboding of death. All of those things that we have thrown overboard [s’est délesté], that one has done in order to free oneself from them (isn’t this deliverance the motivation in the last analysis – the desire to be quit of things at whatever cost?), all of these things rise up again like a dead weight, like a ghost.

*          *          *

It is the climacteric and the heavenly hell.

Am I the model of which the original has dreamt?

Am I the original that dreams the model?

Does the model still dream of the original?

 

*           *           *

 

 

Translators’ Notes


1 Hétérodafé” was originally written as the lead essay for the special issue on Baudrillard published by Éditions de L’Herne in 2004 (L’Herne Baudrillard). As much as anything, it is a reflection on the themes – and the writing – of the then recently-completed Le pacte de lucidité ou l’intelligence du Mal (Éditions Galilée, 2004). The notes which follow are the translators’ own.


2 The Other by Itself [L’autre par lui-même] was the title of Baudrillard’s habilitation thesis, which was translated into English as The Ecstasy of Communication. New York: Semiotext(e), 1988.


3 Augustine, The Confessions, Book 2.


4 La peau de chagrin [The Magic Skin]  (1831) by Honoré de Balzac is a novella about a man who discovers a magical object in an antique shop. This object takes the form of a donkey or wild ass’s skin, and it grants any wish, but with the proviso that it shrinks each time slightly with use and that when it entirely disappears its owner will die.


5 Baudrillard is referring here to Ferdinand de Saussure’s famous Cahiers d’anagrammes, discovered after his death. Baudrillard discusses these notebooks extensively in the chapter “The Extermination of the Name of God” in Symbolic Exchange and Death (c1976). New York: Verso, 1993.


6 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 296.


7 Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘How the “Real World” at Last Became a Myth’, in The Twilight of Idols.


8 The path of totality is the track that the moon’s shadow makes across the earth’s surface during a solar eclipse (typically 10,000 miles long, but only 100 or so miles wide). In order to see the sun entirely eclipsed by the moon, one must be in the “path of totality”.

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From:  http://www.ubishops.ca/BaudrillardStudies/vol4_2/v4-2-baudrillard-hetero-da-fe.html

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©International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2007)