Volume 4, Number 2 (July, 2007).
Book Review: “Theory is never so fine as when it takes the form of a fiction or a fable”.
Jean Baudrillard. Cool Memories V: 2000-2004. London, Polity Press, 2006. Translated by Chris Turner.
Reviewed by Dr. Gerry Coulter
(Bishop’s University, Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada)
A mirror in which, when you look at yourself, you would see your face emerge only gradually, in ghostly fashion, as from the light-sensitive film of a Polaroid.1
The silence of dust; the noise of the paint cracking, at night, along the walls; the cry of the mirror when the impact of the image strikes. To respect power too much to take it; to respect reality too much to believe in it; TV as our panic hole; the monotony of current events viewed from a distant star; computers that love us enough to suicide the network; the difficulty in assembling evidence by one who seeks a stupidity support allowance from the government: here is the writing of a man who says that writing is a strange, inhuman function – a reflection of the inhumanity of language itself – this is Baudrillard’s Cool Memories V – another adventure in the joy of poetic existence – the poetry of reading and writing the world and making it appear as simulation. While the five Cool Memories are not his most important works, they are perhaps, taken as a group, Baudrillard’s most enjoyable books – both for him and for us.
In Cool Memories V language only has a fine ring to it when it has no meaning; sexuality takes its revenge; philosophy leads to death, sociology to suicide; femininity is what makes a woman; architecture is inspired by the void; artificial intelligence grows ashamed of us and prepares to deal with us as we are embarrassed by our forerunners whom we also keep in zoos; the power of the event is retained for the event; ideologies, like big companies, are found relocating to the third world; Kristeva is found dreaming of a politically correct Unconscious; reality appears as a wildcat; innocence as an aphrodisiac; and writing lives out its dream of being the living alternative to the worst of what it says. This book will make marvelous reading on future appearances of the Paris-Plage which Baudrillard says will be perfect only when polluted by an oil slick (too many politicians “sunbathing stupid” at the same time perhaps)?
New topics and old favourites make their brief appearances as aphorisms in this fifth of Baudrillard’s theory diaries: Warhol, Stalin’s double, terrorism, pedophilia, striptease, the Nothing, the soul, mobile-phone man, reality, Darwin, cancer, intelligence, imagination, Philip K. Dick, morality, desire, magic, dreams, writing, the satrap, cloning, September 11, the World Trade Centre, war, Blanchot, transexuality, God, evil, the inhuman, Arthur C. Clarke, photography, mad cows, the Last Judgment, Freud, Nanterre, Satan, art, universality, Galileo, conformism, the media, transparency, Samarkand, Hitler, the reality principle, hubris, Nietzsche, screens, televisual conditioning, fate, torture, science, the end of history, the Stockholm Syndrome, the stucco angel, the Theatre of Cruelty, seduction, SARS, Le Pen, voluntary servitude, and Mandeville each take their turn, along with frequent appearances by the thought of Lichtenberg (who also appears often in Baudrillard’s The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact).2
It is better to live eternally with a question than with an answer: Does God exist only in the desperate attempt to prove his existence? Are all words with the suffix “ism” the caricature of their root – including terrorism as the caricature of terror? Does indifference to politics signal the disenchantment of the social bond, or rather, absenteeism from oneself and from others? Is solitude disappearing? Does imperial civilization suffer from unreality, collaborating blindly with the forces that will destroy it? Can astrophysicists and microphysicists stop harassing matter and making it confess to anything in the name of gratuitous hypotheses as anthropologists have done with indigenous tribes in the jungle? Are we today suffering from a cultural greenhouse effect, a toxic cloud caused by emissions from millions of museums, galleries, festivals, conferences and symposia? For whom is it that we, through the genome, dematerialize and turn ourselves into a message? Was it Saddam’s statue they knocked down, or that of his double? How immense is the hypocrisy of those who denounce the veil, but are quite at ease with universal pornography? If the world is what it is, where does the illusion of appearances come from?
This is the first of Baudrillard’s books that Polity Press has handled and they have produced the worst cover for one of his English translations in over two decades. Fortunately, readers have been protected from the many typos we have come to associate with some recent Polity editions by the excellence of Baudrillard’s long-time translator, Chris Turner (whom Polity mentions in the fine print of the back cover choosing to excise his name from the front – which sadly attempts a virtualization of the virtual in its design). As is often the case in recent years we are left to feel that it is a great shame that book jacket designers do not read.
Cool Memories V, like its four antecedent volumes, is an uneven and unbalanced object with no vertical to the ground, or centre of gravity, thwarting all forms of stability. As such, it exists only as a theoretical object – and a slimmed down one at that. Baudrillard has given us yet another peek inside the working of his thought processes and one finds, as one does in all of his books, the joy of thinking and writing and reading.
1 Jean Baudrillard. Cool Memories V: 2000-2004. London: Polity, 2006. Translated by Chris Turner.
2 Jean Baudrillard. The Intelligence of Evil or Lucidity Pact. London: Berg, 2005. Translated by Chris Turner. Lichtenberg also makes frequent appearances in Baudrillard’s Fragments: Conversations with François L’Yvonnet. New York: Routledge, 2004:8, 22, 29, 38, 42-43, 60, 80, and 99.
©International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2007)