International Journal of Baudrillard Studies

ISSN: 1705-6411

Jean Baudrillard’s Philosophy of Magic1

Dr. Jonathan Smith

(School of Applied Communication, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia).

I. Introduction     

            Jean Baudrillard can be called “the Sphinx of contemporary Philosophy” because he has blended the form of an old metaphysics with the face of a new analysis and asked us testing questions from those hybrid lips. For example, in Fatal Strategies, the Baudrillard Sphinx asks: “What if even physical laws, the surest guarantee of the effect of irreversible causality in the universe, are slipping so gently into the reversible?”2 His answers to that question speak of magic, destiny and irony, thereby provoking a further question (Is he serious?) and highlighting one of his most intriguing interview statements: “I do not claim to be tremendously serious”, Baudrillard once told Anne Laurent (1991), “but there are nevertheless some philosophically serious things in my work”.3

            Gleaning a magical logic from the critique of Causal Law may be one of those “philosophically serious things”, but most scholars ignore it – despite Baudrillard’s engagement with causal critique in Fatal Strategies (1983) and his exposition of its magical corollary in The Evil Demon of Images (1984, 1987). Magic has haunted Baudrillard’s work ever since he drew attention to it in The Consumer Society (1970).4 Scholars like Morris, Wernick, Genosko and Rajan have noted how his magic relates to simulation, seduction and reversibility.5 However, we have neglected to study how he uses the critique of Causal Law, codified by David Hume, to underwrite a Gnostic philosophy of magic.

            This paper will correct that neglect by arguing that Baudrillard’s “metaphysical turn” – dated by Kellner (1989) to Fatal Strategies – was shaped by a critique of causation that allowed him to formulate a metaphysics of magic marked by Manichean Gnosticism.6

II. Hume and Baudrillard: Causal Law Bedeviled

            Baudrillard does not mention Hume by name in Fatal Strategies. However, surely his reference to “the first revolution” in Science as the “calling into question the determinist principle of causality” must refer to Hume's critique of Causal Law in A Treatise of Human Nature (1739)?7 After all, Hume’s critique was indeed a revolutionary “first”; provoking Immanuel Kant into writing his Critique of Pure Reason (1781) – a book that helped move Science beyond Isaac Newton’s dogmatic rules on Causal Law.8 And furthermore: Baudrillard uses Hume’s most salient distinction (i.e. between Beginning and Cause) for his own critique of causation in Fatal Strategies.9 

            In Baudrillard's critique, Good and Evil precede a destined “magical seduction of the world” – a fated world of reality-as-illusion wherein “everything was subverted from the very beginning” because it began via an antagonistic intermingling of the original Duality: “Imagine a good resplendent with all the power of Evil: this is God, a perverse god creating the world on a dare and calling on it to destroy itself”.10 In this Manichean genesis, Gnostics reckon that sparks of Good were trapped in us by Evil. However, those sparks can be freed by a meta-rational gnosis or by magic - to reverse evil creation and restore God to full purity.11 Here, we note from Marcel Mauss’s A General Theory of Magic (1902) that France’s medieval Manicheans (Cathari) were said to be sorcerers who used magic in response to their 12th century world.12 “Oh yes, I love the world of the Cathars because I am Manichean”, Baudrillard told Der Spiegel in 2002, referring to the legacy of Persian prophet Mani (216-276 C.E). Does this mean that Jean Baudrillard is some sort of contemporary Cathari?  ‘J.B. at 77’, a simulacrum commissioned to illustrate this paper, is offered here as a way to test that question.13

J.B. at 77 (Richard McLean)

            For Baudrillard, our subverted world contains “a possible reversibility of physical laws” and, as such, anticipates a “de-escalation of rational causes and an inverse escalation of magical linkage”.14  Is such a world logically possible? And if it is, how can it be gleaned from Hume: an Empiricist who was skeptical of metaphysics?

            In Book 1, Part 3, Section 3 of the Treatise, Hume examined that most metaphysical idea of all: Causation. He argued that Cause and Effect can be thought about separately (without contradiction) and, furthermore, that a rational distinction can be drawn between Cause and Beginning. He then used the logical law of Non-Contradiction to show that Causal Law (i.e. every thing that is, must begin from a cause) cannot be necessarily true. Why not? Well, because its contrary (i.e. some thing could begin without a cause) can be conceived without falling into contradiction.15

            And yet, this logical point tends to privilege our Rationality over our Experience of the world. In our experience, we observe apparent linkages of cause-and-effect (e.g. bombs cause the effect of damage). Via inductive logic, we assume that such linkages will happen again in the future. However, as Hume pointed out, this assumption arises from contingent experience and is based on probability, not necessity. Thus: even apparent causal linkages, observed often, cannot prove a universal Causal Law.16 

            Even so, Kant attacked Hume’s critique for being a kind of parasite that can only live logically by presupposing the very principle (i.e. causation) whose necessity is denied.17  Kant, however, failed to decisively ‘kill’ Hume’s critique, leaving Isaiah Berlin in The Age of Enlightenment  to conclude that: “the failure to provide an answer to Hume's problem (attempts to do so have filled many volumes) has been called a scandal to philosophy”.18 And so we may now ask: does this skeptical scandal allow the possibility of magic to emerge?  Yes, suggests Baudrillard, but before detailing his argument, we need to discern what he means by “magic”. Here, it is appropriate that we use a source that he used: Sigmund Freud.

III. Contagious Magic

            In The Consumer Society and later in Fatal Strategies, Baudrillard apparently drew on the essay, “Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thought” from Freud’s Totem and Taboo (1913). For example, in Fatal Strategies, he echoes Freud’s account of magic by noting that the Manichean worldview of the persecuted Cathars was marked by: “the hypothesis of the derisiveness and the fundamental unreality of the world… and its corollary, the omnipotence of thought”. And furthermore: “All that denies and defies the real is certainly the closer for it to making a world out of thought alone”.19

            In his essay, Freud drew upon James Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890), to argue that the category of contagious magic is really an extreme form of Rationalism, wherein: “Objects as such are overshadowed by the ideas representing them; what takes place in the latter must also happen to the former, and the relations which exist between ideas are also postulated as to things”.20 Freud’s account of magic as a form of Rationalism resonates with Santamaria’s telling analysis (1979) of Baudrillard’s method in his texts leading up to Fatal Strategies and The Evil Demon of Images:

One wonders, whether Baudrillard’s analysis really breaks with

Western rationalism or if, on the contrary, it is not one of its most remarkable blossoms…What we have here is an intemperate and perhaps even perverse rationalism: the whole work is developed within the presupposition of dualism…one can situate Baudrillard’s

work within the long tradition of Gnostic Manichaeism.21

 

However, to fully appreciate how Baudrillard puts this method (and its Manichean logic) into magical action, we must examine the two texts in more detail. In Fatal Strategies, he dares to challenge the presupposed “irreversibility of the chain of cause and effect” wherein “cause and effect cannot be considered as equivalent and interchangeable terms”:

Until now, reversibility has in effect remained metaphysical...But it may now be in the process of disturbing the physical order and shaking it to its very foundations. With it disappears the rational principle that prevents the effect from turning back on the cause to cancel it out; it prevents the effect from being the cancellation of the cause – or prevents there never having been causes, but a pure and simple chain of effects. Reversibility kills any determinist (or indeterminist) principle of causality in ovum, in the egg. And when I say 'in the egg', I mean it in the sense of the riddle of the chicken and the egg – which comes first? - the famous aporia of causal linkage; even the causal order does not escape parodic circularity which is somehow the revenge of the reversible order.22

 

One logical consequence of his analysis is this: an Original Effect could possibly be the very beginning of everything, with other effects (and apparent “causes”) coming thereafter. In other words, ‘Original Effect’ can be posited as an alternative to ‘Original Causation’, with both forms being equally possible, in a strictly logical sense, as metaphysical postulates.

IV. Thought as Original Effect

            By assuming Hume is right, Baudrillard suggests that if: (a) “cause” and “effect” can be thought of separately (i.e. as not necessarily related) and if (b) “cause” and “beginning” can be conceived of as separate concepts without contradiction, then: (c) a causeless effect can also be coherently conceived. For instance, it is possible that thought itself, even intermingled good and evil as “the omnipotence of thought”, began as a causeless effect and then replicated itself into a chain of effects which became our reality.

            In Fatal Strategies, Baudrillard calls this possibility: “the fascinating imagination of a universe entirely ruled by a divine or diabolical chain of willed coincidences, that is, a universe where we seduce events, where we induce them and make them happen by the omnipotence of thought.” He then links this metaphysics of magic to a formula for Fate which exploits his causal critique: “This is the definition of fate: the precession of the effects over their very causes. So all things happen before having happened”.23 Here, the logical possibility of Thought as fated – yet causeless – Original Effect carries the corollary of predestined contagious magic, with the effects of thought beckoning other effects; even reality as a plague of effects.

            On the other hand, if Original Causation is postulated, then we get the conventional order of cause-and-effect: an order that precludes contagious magic as “a pure and simple chain of effects”. In other words, Baudrillard’s Causal Critique produces an antinomy of pure reason, wherein ‘Original Effect’ and ‘Original Causation’ can each generate valid deductions, but with contradictory conclusions. However, for him, this antinomy of genesis simply underlines the Manichean ontology of the world:

This reversibility of causal order – the reversion of cause on effect, the precession and triumph of effect over cause – is fundamental. You might call it primordial, fatal and original. It is the reversibility of destiny. It somehow represents a mortal danger, precisely because it leaves no place for chance (chance can only be deduced, a contrario, on an order of causality). This is why our system, essentially Western, has replaced it with another precession, that of the cause to the effect, and more recently with the precession of models, the precession of simulacra to things themselves, whose apparition they conjure up in a different mode. Precession against precession – we need to see the challenge that opposes the two orders. There is no place for chance here, that is, for a neutral and indeterminate substance. The world is Manichean; in it two orders are absolutely opposed. Nothing is determined, but everything is antagonistic. This is why we have to go much further than a simple crisis of causality.24

 

Furthermore, according to Baudrillard, the two orders of metaphysical precession generate two forms of magic: (1) a mechanical form based on simulation, wherein before-the-fact models “conjure up” referents; and (2) a more ancient form arising from original seduction and thus based on the assumption that: “the world, its reality, is made up only of signs” and that those signs “do not refer to any sort of ‘reality’ or ‘referent’ or ‘signified’ whatsoever…on the contrary, reality is the effect of the sign”, as he notes in The Evil Demon of Images.25

            Those last few quotes suggest that Baudrillard’s prelude to magic in Fatal Strategies became a philosophy of magic in The Evil Demon of Images. In retrospect, this development is unsurprising. After all, in its initial form as a university lecture and interview (1984), The Evil Demon of Images was Baudrillard’s first work after the publication of Fatal Strategies in 1983.26

            Now out-of-print, The Evil Demon of Images (1987) has two accounts of magic woven into its twin texts. A useful way to understand Baudrillard’s ‘philosophy of two magics’ is to quote passages from those texts; thereby helping us to read the man “in his own terms”, as Butler recommends.27

V. The Anticipation of Reality by Images

            In his lecture at the University of Sydney (25 July 1984), Baudrillard ran the risk of sounding like a sorcerer by making this audacious claim in light of  Walter Benjamin’s (1892-1940) famous essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936): 

Above all, it is the reference principle of images which must be doubted, this strategy by means of which they always appear to refer to a real world, to real objects, and to reproduce something which is logically and chronologically anterior to themselves. None of this is true. As simulacra, images precede the real to the extent that they invert the causal and logical order of the real and its reproduction.28

 

This bold claim can be read as an extension of his point in Fatal Strategies about “the precession of models, the precession of simulacra to things themselves, whose apparition they conjure up in a different mode”. And he didn’t stop there. Trading once more on the implications of Hume’s critique of Causal Law, he asked his audience:

As for the anticipation of reality by images, the precession of images and media in relation to events, such that the connection between cause and effect becomes scrambled and it becomes impossible to tell which is the effect of the other – what better example than the nuclear accident at Harrisburg, a ‘real’ incident which happened just after the release of The China Syndrome?29

 

Shortly thereafter, Baudrillard answered his own question by coyly contending that the coincidence between film and reality can be readily interpreted by referring to contagious magic:

Without examining any magical links between simulacrum and reality, it is clear that The China Syndrome is not unrelated to the ‘real’ accident at Harrisburg, not by a causal logic but by those relations of contagion and unspoken analogy which link the real, models and simulacra: the induction of the nuclear incident at Harrisburg by the film corresponds, with disquieting obviousness, to the induction of the incident by TV in the film. A strange precession of a film before the real, the most astonishing we have seen: reality corresponding point by point to the simulacra…the real so arranged itself, in the image of the film, as to produce a simulation of catastrophe.30

 

This daring application of Freud’s theory of magic to contemporary media and events is consistent with Baudrillard’s antinomy of genesis in Fatal Strategies. He gives “relations of contagion” their metaphysical due, together with the also acknowledged “causal logic”.

VI. Reality Is The Effect of the Sign

            It is not until “An Interview with Jean Baudrillard” that we see his first exposition of contagious magic in a Gnostic mode. When interviewed by Cholodenko, Colless and Kelly at the Bondi Hotel in Sydney on 12 August 1984, he interpreted the Manichean tradition as a magical matrix premised on a metaphysics of Original Seduction or “the logic of illusion”:

 What the heretics posited was that the very creation of the world, hence the reality of the world, was the result of the existence of the evil demon. The function of God, then, was really to try to repudiate this evil phantom – that was the real reason why God had to exist at all….(so) according to Manichaeism, the reality of the world is a total illusion; it is something which has been tainted from the very beginning; it is something which has been seduced by a sort of irreal principle since time immemorial. In this case what one has to evoke is precisely this absolute power of illusion – and this is indeed exactly what the heretics did. They based their theologies on the very negation of the real. Their principal and primary convention was that of the non-reality, hence the non-rationality, of the world. They believed that the world, its reality, is made up only of signs – and that it was governed solely through the power of the mind. This idea of the world as being constituted only by signs is, if you like, some sort of magic thinking – and indeed it was condemned as such.31

 

Here, it is all: “according to”; “the heretics”; “them” etc. However, later in the interview, Baudrillard apparently identifies with this worldview and gives us a personal exposition of its magical form:

In the world which I evoke, the one where illusion or magic thought plays a key role, the signs evolve, they concatenate and produce themselves, always one upon the other - so that there is absolutely no basic reference which can sustain them. Thus they do not refer to any sort of ‘reality’ or ‘referent’ or ‘signified’ whatsoever. So in this situation what we have is the sign alone; and it is the power which is proper to the sign itself, it is the pure strategy of the sign itself that governs the appearance of things…In other words, for me the sign is, if you like, without recourse. There is no basic reserve, no ‘gold standard’ to the sign – no basic reserve of reference from which the sign can be recovered or accommodated. On the contrary, reality is the effect of the sign. The system of reference is only the result of the power of the sign itself.32

 

Then, towards the end of the interview, Baudrillard clarifies the difference between the “two magics” by locating them in a metaphysical history that distinguishes Manichean magic from “post-illusion” or simulated magic: 

There is an historical evolution, which begins and also culminates with the phase where signs, as I said, lead from one another according to the logic of illusion. So this was indeed a first stage – not necessarily a chronological ‘first’ stage but certainly a logical one. And then the phase of rationality followed, with the production of the reality-effect by the sign…Is this evolution an historical one? I do not think it is. It is, rather, a metaphysical one: the universe of the media which we are currently immersed in is not the magical universe or the cruel universe which we had at an anterior stage, where the sign was operational purely on the basis of its own functioning as sign. With the advent of the media, it seems to me that we have lost that prior state of total illusion, of the sign as magic. We are, in other words, in that state of ‘hyperreality’ as I have called it…It is as if we are now in a shameful and sinful state, a post-illusion state.33

 

 

VII. The Magic of Nonexistence

            Now, that is a remarkably singular history of signs as magical forms, but it also suggests a contradiction within Baudrillard’s philosophy of magic. We know from Burkitt’s The Religion of the Manichees (1925) that Manicheans work towards the gradual reversal of reality: a reversal back to when Good (Light) and Bad (Darkness) were co-infinitely pure forms instead of being intermingled as the Evil world.34 However, if reality-as-illusion must be overcome, why is Baudrillard’s “post-illusion state” also “a shameful and sinful state”?

            An answer lies in the Manichean paradox that concerns him: illusion now (magic) must manipulate illusion then (original seduction) to fulfill Fate. Or: “the logic of illusion” (magic) must play with “total illusion” (the effects of original seduction) in order to complete the reversibility of Destiny.35 This out-seducing of the Evil Principle would be very difficult in a “post-illusion state”. Thus, for an active Manichean, it would indeed be “a shameful and sinful state” – i.e. the state of being entangled within reality-as-illusion without recourse to magic for liberation. Yet, we must ask: contagious magic may be possible, but how can it possibly ‘reverse reality’? Baudrillard suggests an answer in his review of Calvino’s novel, The Nonexistent Knight.

            In this early work, Baudrillard suggests that reality-reversal may involve a final, terrible magic: “the magic of nonexistence” or our disappearance into “a schema of radical alienation”.36 It is a theme that echoes in The Evil Demon of Images, where disaster movies are said to mask a metaphysical desire: 

Our desire is rather for something which no longer takes place on a human scale, for some anterior or ulterior mystery: what will the earth be like when we are no longer on it? In a word, we dream of our disappearance and of seeing the world in its inhuman purity (which is precisely not the state of nature).37

 

In short, Baudrillard’s penchant for “the omnipotence of thought” (and the reversal of causal order) may be a way to evoke pure God and beckon back into being a pre-human epoch when Good wasn’t entangled with Bad.38

Thus, in an echo from The Evil Demon of Images in The Perfect Crime (1996), he evokes a magic of reversal and disappearance in a Gnostic mode:  

What is the most radical metaphysical desire, the deepest spiritual joy? Not to be there, but to see. Like God. For God, precisely, does not exist, and this enables him to watch the world in his absence. We too would love, above all, to expunge man from the world in order to see it in its original purity. We glimpse, in this, an inhuman possibility, which would restore the pluperfect form of the world, without the illusion of the mind or even that of the senses. An exact and inhuman hyperreality, where we could at last delight in our absence and the dizzying joys of disincarnation. If I can see the world after the point of my disappearance, that means I am immortal.39

 

Even so, there are missing links in the logic. In all of this, he fails to show: (a) how the magic of disappearance can be deduced from Original Effect and (b) how Destiny can be deduced from his presupposition of Dualism.

            Baudrillard’s texts about reality-reversal thus fail to form a fully coherent philosophy of magic. Even so, a Sphinx in his work still whispers this testing question: Are these texts code for the magic of nonexistence and, if so, are they one of his most “philosophically serious things” – a contemporary Cathari cryptogram for endura or sacred suicide?40

            An answer may be sought by studying Baudrillard’s idea of Disappearance as challenge and analyzing its role in the duel between existence and being that marks his Dualist logic as a Manichean philosopher seeking God.41

Jonathan Smith lectures in Philosophy at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. He is currently seeking a postdoctoral position (teaching and research) that will allow him to continue his interest in Baudrillard Studies. He has recently joined the Editorial Board of IJBS.

 

Endnotes:


1 A draft of this paper was read on 6 September 2006 at Engaging Baudrillard: An International Conference, University of Wales (Swansea), 4 – 6 September 2006. I thank those who heard the paper and probed it with questions, especially Mike Gane, who noted links between the paper and elements of Baudrillard’s own conference paper, “On Disappearance”: read later that same day, in Baudrillard’s absence, by Professor Gane.

2 Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies. Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski and edited by Jim Fleming. New York: Semiotext(e), 1999:164. An answer calibrated to magic, irony and destiny as “absolute necessity” (page 150) is suggested by Baudrillard via his critique of chance, probability and causality as models marked by contingency and calculation. See: Fatal Strategies, pages 144-166, especially pages 150-154 and 164-166.


3 Jean Baudrillard. “This Beer Isn’t a Beer: Interview with Anne Laurent”. Translated by Mike Gane and G. Salemohamed. Mike Gane (Ed.). Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews. London: Routledge, 1993:189.

4 Jean Baudrillard. “The Miraculous Status of Consumption” in The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. Translated by Chris Turner. London: Sage, 1998:31-36.  

5 For insights into magic, seduction and simulation in Baudrillard’s thought, see: Meagan Morris. “Room 101 or A Few Worst Things in the World” in A. Frankovits (Editor). Seduced and Abandoned: the Baudrillard Scene. Glebe: Stonemoss Services, 1984:93-96; 103-104. Also see: Andrew Wernick. “Post-Marx: theological themes in Baudrillard’s America”. Philippa Berry and Andrew Wernick (Editors). Shadow of Spirit: Postmodernism and Religion. London: Routledge, 1992:68-69. For a discussion of magic and seduction in Baudrillard and Pierre Klossowski, see: Gary Genosko. Baudrillard and Signs: Signification Ablaze. London: Routledge, 1994:31. And for salient comment on how magic relates to reversibility, pure appearance and Manichaeism, see: Tilottama Rajan. “Baudrillard and Deconstruction”. International Journal of Baudrillard Studies. Volume 1, Number 1, January 2004. http://www.ubishops.ca/BaudrillardStudies/rajan.htm

6 Douglas Kellner. Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989:154. Thirteen years before magic “went metaphysical” for Baudrillard in Fatal Strategies (1983), he had compared it with the logic of consumption. He was, however, careful to keep magic grounded in empirical reality and couched in Marxian terms:

Consumption is governed by a form of magical thinking; daily life is governed by a mentality based on miraculous thinking, a primitive mentality, in so far as that has been defined as being based on a belief in the omnipotence of thoughts (though what we have in this case is a belief in the omnipotence of signs)…This does not mean that our society is not firstly, objectively and decisively a society of production, an order of production, and therefore the site of an economic and political strategy. But it means that there is entangled with that order an order of consumption, which is an order of the manipulation of signs. To that extent, we may draw a (no doubt venturesome) parallel with magical thought, for both of these live off signs and under the protection of signs (See: Jean Baudrillard. The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures (c 1970). Translated by Chris Turner. London: Sage, 1998:31-33).

Baudrillard’s guarded sympathy for magic is thus quite evident in The Consumer Society. Three years later he defended magic (as symbolic exchange) against Godelier’s “vulgar re-writing of magic” in Marxian ink. See: Jean Baudrillard. The Mirror of Production. Translated by Mark Poster. St. Louis: Telos Press, 1975:81-84. Later (in Seduction, 1979), Baudrillard noted: … “the power of the insignificant signifier” and its magical implications – an insight that helped him set up his philosophy of magic in Fatal Strategies and The Evil Demon of Images. In particular, within Seduction, Baudrillard anticipated his account of Manichean magic in The Evil Demon of Images by noting that magic trades on seductive “signs without referents” (See: Jean Baudrillard. Seduction (c 1979). Translated by Brian Singer. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1990:74; 75-76).


Furthermore, Baudrillard anticipated his ‘causal critique, thus magic’ argument in Fatal Strategies and The Evil Demon of Images by arguing that: “Magic…has nothing to do with linear relations of cause and effect”. See: Jean Baudrillard. Seduction. Translated by Brian Singer. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1990:139.

7 Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies.  Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski and edited by Jim Fleming. New York: Semiotext(e), 1999:163. For another intimation of Hume’s critique and its influence, see page 145.

8 E.g. Rule 2: “To the same natural effects we must, as far as possible, assign the same causes”. See: Isaac Newton. Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (c 1687). Translated by Andrew Motte and revised by Florian Cajori. Volume 34 of Great Books of the Western World. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica / The University of Chicago, 1952:270-271.

9 Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies. Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski and edited by Jim Fleming. New York: Semiotext(e), 1999:162. Here, Baudrillard implies that a beginning can even precede a cause. 

10 Ibid.: 151, 183, 10. See also: Jean Baudrillard. “Forget Baudrillard” in Forget Foucault/Forget Baudrillard. Translated by Phil Beitchman, Lee Hildreth and Mark Polizzotti. New York: Semiotext(e), 1987:98. Faced with this provocative hypothesis, we can argue about whether Baudrillard is writing as a “metaphysician” or a “pataphysician”, after Alfred Jarry  famously defined pataphysics as: “the science of imaginary solutions”. Baudrillard reckons both terms apply to his work, so a solution may rest in Kellner’s suggestion (1989:162) that pataphysics is “a specific type of metaphysics”. For a discussion by Baudrillard of these two related terms, see: Nicholas Zurbrugg (Ed.). Jean Baudrillard, Art and Artifact. Brisbane: Institute of Modern Art, 1997:41-42 and “Forget Baudrillard”: 81-91.

Faced with new scholarly interest in his Manichean penchant, Baudrillard has apparently tried to step back from it, insisting that: “The idea of evil as a malign force, a maleficent agency, a deliberate perversion of the order of the world, is a deep-seated superstition”. See: Jean Baudrillard. The Intelligence of Evil Or the Lucidity Pact. Translated by Chris Turner. Oxford: Berg, 2005:160.

Here, it is useful to compare such atypical disclaimers with Baudrillard’s otherwise consistent expositions of Manichean metaphysics. For further textual examples of such work, see: Jean Baudrillard. The Evil Demon of Images. Translated by Paul Patton, Paul Foss and Philippe Tanguy. Sydney: Power Publications, 1987:44-46; Jean Baudrillard. The Ecstasy of Communication. Translated by Bernard and Caroline Schutze and edited by Sylvere Lotringer. New York: Semiotext(e), 1988:71-75; Jean Baudrillard. Impossible Exchange. Translated by Chris Turner. London: Verso, 2001:90-102; and: Jean Baudrillard. Fragments: Conversations with François L’Yvonnnet. Translated by Chris Turner with a Foreward by Mike Gane. London: Routledge, 2004:59-60.

11 Hans Jonas. The Gnostic Religion: the Message of the Alien God and the Beginnings of Christianity. Boston: Beacon Press, 1963: 226-236; 44-45. Baudrillard also notes this magical tradition of reality-reversal; hearing its echo in contemporary consumer society:

We know that, in its myths, magical thought seeks to conjure away change and history. In a way, the generalized consumption of images, of facts, of information aims also to conjure away the real with the signs of the real, to conjure away history with the signs of change (See: Jean Baudrillard. The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. Translated by Chris Turner. London: Sage, 1998:33).

12 Marcel Mauss. A General Theory of Magic. Translated by Robert Brain. London: Routledge, 1972:38. Runciman, however, reckons: “Though the Dualist Tradition had its gnosis, it was not an occultist religion…Catharism had nothing to do with Magic”. See: Steven Runciman. The Medieval Manichee. London: Cambridge University Press, 1947:179; 187. Jonas, however, notes the role of Gnostic magic in liberating God from Evil. See: Hans Jonas. The Gnostic Religion: the Message of the Alien God and the Beginnings of Christianity, Boston: Beacon Press, 1963: 44-45. Baudrillard (1987:44) apparently intervenes in this dispute by insisting that Manichaeism involves “some sort of magic thinking”.

13 Jean Baudrillard. “This is the Fourth World War: The Der Spiegel Interview with Jean Baudrillard”. Translated by Samir Gandesha and with Introduction by Gary Genosko. International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Volume 1, Number 1, January 2004. http://www.ubishops.ca/BaudrillardStudies/spiegel.htm

“J.B. at 77”, was commissioned by Jonathan Smith and first displayed at the Engaging Baudrillard conference to illustrate a reading of this paper. Drawn by Richard McLean [richie@richiemclean.com], “J.B. at 77” was conceived as an interpretation of: (a) Baudrillard’s admission that: “Oh yes, I love the world of the Cathars because I am Manichean”; (b) his related idea that: “Duality is primary. It is the original form – as difficult to conceive as the hypothesis of Evil” and (c) his contention that: suicide is “the form of subversion itself” when facing “death-control” by Church and State. See: (a) endnote 13; (b) Jean Baudrillard. Impossible Exchange. Translated by Chris Turner. London: Verso, 2001:90 and (c) Jean Baudrillard. Symbolic Exchange and Death. Translated by Iain Hamilton Grant and with Introduction by Mike Gane. London: Sage, 1993:174-175.

14 Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies. Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski and edited by Jim Fleming. New York: Semiotext(e), 1999:163;152; 148-151. For a cogent overview and analysis of Reversibility in Baudrillard’s oeuvre, see: Gerry Coulter. “Reversibility: Baudrillard’s ‘One Great Thought’”. International Journal of Baudrillard Studies. Volume 1, Number 2, July 2004. http://www.ubishops.ca/BaudrillardStudies/vol1_2/coulter.htm

15 David Hume. A Treatise of Human Nature: being an attempt to introduce the experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects. Edited with an Introduction by D. G. C. Macnabb. London: Collins, 1962:124-126. To illuminate Baudrillard’s apparent use of Hume’s salient distinction between beginning and cause, I note the following passage:

It is a general maxim in philosophy, that whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of existence....But here is an argument, which proves at once, that the forgoing proposition is neither intuitively or demonstrably certain. We can never demonstrate the necessity of a cause to every new existence, or new modification of existence, without showing at the same time the impossibility there is, that anything can ever begin to exist without some productive principle; and where the latter proposition cannot be proved, we must despair of ever being able to prove the former. Now that the latter proposition is utterly incapable of a demonstrative proof, we may satisfy ourselves by considering, that as all distinct ideas are separable from each other, and as the ideas of cause and effect are evidently distinct, it will be easy for us to conceive any object to be non-existent this moment, and existent the next, without conjoining to it the distinct idea of a cause or productive principle. The separation therefore of the idea of a cause from that of a beginning of existence, is plainly possible for the imagination; and consequently the actual separation of these objects is so far possible, that it implies no contradiction nor absurdity; and is therefore incapable of being refuted by any reasoning from mere ideas, without which it is impossible to demonstrate the necessity of a cause (Hume, Treatise, Book One, Part Three, Section Three).

16 Ibid.: 133-140 (Treatise, Book One, Part Three, Section Six). Hume made similar points in Parts One and Two of his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748). Of facts founded on apparent cause-and-effect, Hume noted: “The contrary of every matter of fact is still possible because it can never imply a contradiction” (Enquiry, Part One). See: A.K. Bierman & James A. Gould (Editors). Philosophy for a New Generation. New York: Macmillan, 1977:292-293.  

17 (a) Hume’s analysis persuaded Kant to re-think Causation; understanding it anew as our pragmatic assumption (or transcendental presupposition) about the world, rather than insisting upon it dogmatically as a necessary force within the world. (b) Kant also argued that causal critique cannot be validly used for metaphysical speculation “outside all possible experience” because such thinking generates contradictions (antinomies).

For (a) see: Immanuel Kant. “Transcendental Doctrine of Method”, Chapter One, Section Two of Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by Norman Kemp Smith. London: Macmillan, 1950: 606-612. For (b) see: Ibid.:409-415 (“The Third Antinomy of Pure Reason”) and page 483. For a summary critique of Hume’s arguments, see: Ibid.:44-45 (Part Two of “Introduction’”):

The very concept of a cause so manifestly contains the concept of a necessity of connection with an effect and of the strict universality of the rule, that the concept would be altogether lost if we attempted to derive it, as Hume has done, from a repeated association of that which happens with that which precedes, and from a custom of connecting representations, a custom originating in this repeated association, and constituting therefore a merely subjective necessity. Even without appealing to such examples, it is possible to show that pure a priori principles are indispensable for the possibility of experience, and so to prove their existence a priori. For whence could experience derive its certainty, if all the rules, according to which it proceeds, were always themselves empirical, and therefore contingent? Such rules could hardly be regarded as first principles (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, “Introduction”).

18 Isaiah Berlin. The Age of Enlightenment. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979:185.

19 Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies. Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski and edited by Jim Fleming. New York: Semiotext(e), 1999:80-81. See also: pages 74, 148 and 160-161. And for his early use of Freud’s concept, see:  Jean Baudrillard. The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. Translated by Chris Turner. London: Sage, 1998:31.

20 Sigmund Freud. Totem and Taboo. New York: Vintage, 1946:111. See also: 98-110.

21 Ulysses Santamaria. “Jean Baudrillard: Critique of a Critique”. Translated by Jeremy Macdonald. Critique of Anthropology. Volume 4, Numbers 13-14, 1979:192-193. Here, we note that Santamaria’s salient “presupposition of dualism” charge is confirmed by Baudrillard's own reference to “my trancendental Manicheism” – see: Jean Baudrillard. Fragments: Conversations With François L’Yvonnet. Translated by Chris Turner and “Foreward” by Mike Gane. London: Routledge, 2004:81. For an analysis of Baudrillard’s long engagement with Manichean Gnosticism, see: Jonathan Smith. “The Gnostic Baudrillard: A Philosophy of Terrorism Seeking Pure Appearance”. International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Volume 1, Number 2, July 2004.
http://www.ubishops.ca/BaudrillardStudies/vol1_2/smith.htm

22 Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies. Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski and edited by Jim Fleming. New York: Semiotext(e), 1999:84.

23 Ibid,:160-161. Here, Baudrillard’s apparent argument can be expressed in a syllogistic form: If (a) Thought is Original Effect and (b) Fate is effect-preceding-cause, then (c) Fate is Thought or: Fated Thought as thoughts preceding events as their ‘cause’. In other words: some sort of ‘magic’. See also: Jean Baudrillard. The Evil Demon of Images. Translated by Paul Patton, Paul Foss and Philippe Tanguy. Sydney: Power Publications, 1987:43-52.

Here, Baudrillard’s suggestion that Thought (as Original Effect) implies predestined contagious magic can be illuminated by Hickey’s useful distinction between Fate and Destiny:

Fate is a force or power that consciously or blindly imposes a rigid necessity upon all occurrences in advance of their happening… Destiny is not different from Fate but rather is Fate operative in individual instances; however unlike Fate; destiny does not preclude a rational motive for that which is destined, although its rationale may not be perceived (See: J.T. Hickey. “Fatalism” in Paul Kevin Meagher (Ed.). Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion (Volume F-N). Washington: Corpus Publications, 1979:1323.

For those who reckon that thought must necessarily have a thinker, see: Friedrich Nietzsche. Beyond Good and Evil. Translated by R.J. Hollingdale. London: Penguin, 2003:46-47:

When I analyze the event expressed in the sentence ‘I think’, I acquire a series of rash assertions which are difficult, perhaps impossible, to prove – for example, that it is I who think, that it has to be something at all which thinks, that thinking is an activity and operation on the part of an entity thought of as a cause, that an ‘I’ exists, finally that what is designated by ‘thinking’ has already being determined –  that I know what thinking is…A thought comes when ‘it’ wants, not when ‘I’ want; so that it is a falsification of the facts to say: the subject ‘I’ is the condition of the predicate ‘think.’ It thinks: but that this ‘it’ is precisely that famous old ‘I’ is, to put it mildly, only an assumption, an assertion, above all not an ‘immediate certainty’ (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 16 and 17).

24 Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies. Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski and edited by Jim Fleming. New York: Semiotext(e), 1999:162.

25 Jean Baudrillard. The Evil Demon of Images. Translated by Paul Patton, Paul Foss and Philippe Tanguy. Sydney: Power Publications, 1987:44; 47.

26 Fatal Strategies has been re-released by Semiotext(e) and MIT Press in 2006.

27 Rex Butler. Jean Baudrillard: The Defense of the Real. London: Sage, 1999:162.

28 Jean Baudrillard. The Evil Demon of Images. Translated by Paul Patton, Paul Foss and Philippe Tanguy. Sydney: Power Publications, 1987:13.

29 Ibid.:19. Earlier Baudrillard had explored this very point:

Reality we consume in either anticipatory or retrospective mode. At any rate, we do so at a distance, a distance which is that of the sign. For example, when Paris-Match showed us the secret forces assigned to protect the General [de Gaulle] training with machine-guns in the basement of the Prefecture, that image was not read as ‘information’, i.e. as referring to the political context and its elucidation. For every one of us, it bore within it the temptation of a superb assassination attempt, a prodigious violent event: the attempt will take place, it is going to take place; the image is the forerunner to it, and embodies the anticipated pleasure (See: Jean Baudrillard. The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. Translated by Chris Turner. London: Sage, 1998:33).

30 Jean Baudrillard. The Evil Demon of Images. Translated by Paul Patton, Paul Foss and Philippe Tanguy. Sydney: Power Publications, 1987:20-21.

31 Ibid.: 49; 43-44.

32 Ibid.: 47.

33 Ibid.: 49-51. Here, there are two sides to the sign: a duality of Seduction (pure sign)/Simulation (sign + referent).

34 F.C. Burkitt. The Religion of the Manichees. London: Cambridge University Press, 1925:4-5; 17-18; 39-40; 63-64.

35 Jean Baudrillard. The Evil Demon of Images. Translated by Paul Patton, Paul Foss and Philippe Tanguy. Sydney: Power Publications, 1987:49; 44; 45-48. See also: Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies. Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski and edited by Jim Fleming. New York: Semiotext(e), 1999:152-154; 165-166.

36 In his exegesis of this Calvino novel, Baudrillard notes “the magic of nonexistence” as a “metaphysical” and “serious” matter; a “sign of purity” involving “the duality of consciousness”. See: Jean Baudrillard. “The Novels of Italo Calvino” (c 1962). Translated by Sophie Thomas in Gary Genosko (Editor). The Uncollected Baudrillard. London: Sage 2001:13-15.

37 Jean Baudrillard. The Evil Demon of Images. Translated by Paul Patton, Paul Foss and Philippe Tanguy. Sydney: Power Publications, 1987:26.

38 For a suggestion of this possibility see: Jean Baudrillard. The Evil Demon of Images. Translated by Paul Patton, Paul Foss and Philippe Tanguy. Sydney: Power Publications, 1987:38-39. The theme of seducing or challenging God back into being is also explored in Baudrillard’s “Forget Baudrillard” in Forget Foucault/Forget Baudrillard, translated by Phil Beitchman, Lee Hildreth and Mark Polizzotti. New York; Semiotext(e), New York, 1987:124-125. Also see: Jean Baudrillard. The Ecstasy of Communication. Translated by Bernard and Caroline Schutze and edited by Sylvere Lotringer. New York: Semiotext(e), 1988:69.

For a nuanced analysis of this aspect of Baudrillard’s thought, see: Andrew Wernick. “Jean Baudrillard: Seducing God” in Phillip Blond (Editor). Post-Secular Philosophy: between philosophy and theology. London: Routledge, 1998:346-364. Among other things, Wernick addresses the ‘Baudrillard: metaphysician or pataphysician?’ debate by noting this about the man’s penchant for Manichean dualism: “His flirtation with Manichean symbology is (to use a term he borrows from Jarry) ‘pataphysical’: a hypothesis of an evil demiurge running the world which is faithful to a certain (darkly ironic) experience of it, and which is essayed to see what features of our current condition this might illuminate. Yet it is a flirtation that is seriously intended, and Baudrillard does not mask the perversity of the strategy which it emboldens him to espouse” (pages 357-358).

39 Jean Baudrillard. The Perfect Crime. Translated by Chris Turner. London: Verso, 1996:38.

40 In French History, starting with Charlemagne (742-814 C.E.), there is a long tradition of expertise in cryptography or “the science of secret communication”, with cryptograms or “texts in code or cipher” being invented, published or deconstructed in France during the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Modern periods. Throughout those centuries, cryptography was frequently used by (and against) those regarded as heretics, with Blaise de Vigenere, François Viete and M. Antoine Rossignol being famous exponents of the science. See: John Laffin. Codes and Ciphers: secret writing through the ages. London: Abelard-Schuman, 1964:2; 19-30; 42-45; 120-121.

In French Philosophy, the notion that suicide is “philosophically serious” can be traced to Camus’ opening contention in The Myth of Sisyphus (1942): “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy”. Camus, of course, repudiated suicide in favour of living passionately with meaninglessness or The Absurd, but he also noted “the record of Gnostic effronteries and the persistence of Manichean currents” in a positive fashion while commenting on The Absurd in light of Church control over heresy, life and meaning. See: Albert Camus. The Myth of Sisyphus. Translated by Justin O’Brien and with Introduction by James Wood. London: Penguin, 2000:11; 59-63; 102-103.

Turning to Baudrillard: his stated desire in The Perfect Crime to: “not to be there, but to see. Like God” and to “watch the world in his absence” etc., is entirely consistent with his dualistic critique, in Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976), of the dialectical power-over-life-and-death assumed by Church and State. In the latter, Baudrillard argues that life and death need not be understood as a binary opposition (i.e. Life/death) because death is not necessarily dialectically subordinate to life. And if that is the case, then death isn’t necessarily exchangeable for some greater good or value, such as “millions of war dead” (for example) being converted into the “gold” of National pride or the reward of Heaven. Baudrillard’s critique includes a defense of suicide as “the form of subversion itself”, even “a prefiguration of the abolition of power”. See: Jean Baudrillard, “Political Economy and Death” in Symbolic Exchange and Death. Translated by Iain Hamilton Grant and with Introduction by Mike Gane. London: Sage, 1993: 175; 125-194; 144-154.

Furthermore, Baudrillard’s analysis of suicide as a liberating anti-power form is consistent with the dualistic logic of the endura, as practiced by the Cathari. According to Baudrillard, those Manicheans interpreted the world as “an antagonistic duality, a here and a there, of good and evil” and thus sought an “achieved perfection in the inseparability of body and soul…which made a joke of the Church’s power of death”. See: Jean Baudrillard. Symbolic Exchange and Death. Translated by Iain Hamilton Grant and with Introduction by Mike Gane. London: Sage, 1993:145.

Thus, in endura, the Cathari apparently sought to be ‘happy ghosts’: pure spirits detached from the body, yet retaining carnal consciousness. With this dualist paradigm (and French cryptography) in mind, we can now ask: Does our supposed desire to: “expunge man from the world”; to “delight in our absence and the dizzying joys of disincarnation”; or even to: “Not to be there, but to see” etc., amount to a cryptographic anticipation of endura by someone who has said: “Oh yes, I love the world of the Cathars because I am Manichean”? See: Jean Baudrillard. The Perfect Crime. Translated by Chris Turner. London: Verso, 1996:38 and Jean Baudrillard. “This is the Fourth World War: The Der Spiegel Interview with Jean Baudrillard”. Translated by Samir Gandesha and with Introduction by Gary Genosko. International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Volume 1, Number 1, January 2004. http://www.ubishops.ca/BaudrillardStudies/spiegel.htm

Without clear evidence of systematic encrypting, our question here works chiefly as a speculative (or pataphysical) device.  Even so, these Baudrillard texts may indeed be cryptographic of endura, but in a poetic/metaphorical sense derived from their dual form. After all, a noted historian of the Dualist tradition has argued that the presupposition of dualism leads to a valorization of suicide. Runciman (1947) argues that endura is the enacted corollary of Gnosticism’s dual form: “The doctrine of Dualism leads inevitably to the doctrine that race-suicide is desirable…Mankind should die out, that the imprisoned fragments of Godhead should return to their home”. See: Steven Runciman. The Medieval Manichee. London: Cambridge University Press, 1947: 158-159; 175; 179. Andrew Wernick appears to discern something of this syndrome in Baudrillard’s work: “Baudrillard’s thought has a Manichean, even gnostic, strain. The subject must die in order to triumph over the powers of the world.” See: Andrew Wernick. ‘Post-Marx: theological themes in Baudrillard’s America’. Philippa Berry and Andrew Wernick (Editors). Shadow of Spirit: Postmodernism and Religion. London: Routledge, 1992:63.

For an analysis of sacred suicide, including the Cathari ritual, see: David Chidester. Salvation and Suicide. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991:133-134:

“When the entire world is perceived as fundamentally impure, suicide may present itself as a ritual means of achieving purity through a final, absolute detachment from the world. This seems to have been the intent behind the practice of ritual suicide, the endura, among the Cathari who flourished against official church persecution during the twelfth century in southern France. Holding a strict Manichean dualism that regarded the world as a region of defilement, the Cathari elect, or perfect, would resort to ritual suicide, usually through self-starvation but sometimes through the more rapid means of poison or opening the veins, in order to remove themselves from the world.”

41 See: Jean Baudrillard. Seduction. Translated by Brian Singer. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1990: 142-144; Jean Baudrillard. The Evil Demon of Images. Translated by Paul Patton, Paul Foss and Philippe Tanguy. Sydney: Power Publications, 1987: 38-39; and Jean Baudrillard. “Forget Baudrillard” in Forget Foucault/Forget Baudrillard. Translated by Phil Beitchman, Lee Hildreth and Mark Polizzotti. New York: Semiotext(e), 1987:122.

See also: Jean Baudrillard’s “On Disappearance” – his as yet unpublished paper – (translated by Chris Turner) for Engaging Baudrillard: An International Conference, University of Wales, Swansea, 4-6 September 2006. When Baudrillard fell ill and could not attend the Conference, his paper was read by Mike Gane in the final Plenary Session (6 September 2006). Professor Gane’s reading was followed by five interpretations of it (Mark Poster, Douglas Kellner, Rex Butler, Andrew Wernick and Gary Genosko). During this period of interpretation, Professor Wernick noted (among other things) that “On Disappearance” is marked by a Manichean ethos.

 

©  Jonathan Smith and International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2007)

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From:  http://www.ubishops.ca/BaudrillardStudies/vol4_2/v4-2-jsmith.html

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©International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2007)