Challenging Baudrillard: The
Sacred Aim of Baudrillard’s Philosophy Or, Both Simulation and Reality1
Professor of Philosophy and Systematic Theology, Belgrade Theological
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he said, not deconstruct. Deconstruction is a weak form of thought, the inverse
gloss to constructive structuralism. Nothing is more constructive than
deconstructionism, which exhausts itself in passing the world through the sieve
of the text, going over and over the text and the exegesis with so many
inverted commas, italics, parenthesis and so much etymology that there is
literally no text left. There are remnants of a forced organization of meaning,
a forced literalism of language. Deconstructing is as interminable as
psychoanalysis, in which it finds a fitting partner. Deconstruction has
something of the homoeopathy of difference about it; it is an analytics of
seems to me to do with being resigned, or even largely to do with regression.
This possibility of tinkering about with these forms, through a kind of
juxtaposition in complete promiscuity of everything in sight. I don’t
recognize myself in all this. So there you are. I won’t change anything but I
shall have said it.3
position is based on reversibility, which seems to me to be the true symbolic
form. It is more an indetermination or a total instability of principles, and
it is evil because it contradicts all possibility of rebuilding the world.4
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critical criticism, I imply the deconstruction of Baudrillard's
procedure includes a critique of Baudrillard's critique of every traditional
system of thought, i.e., a critique of his criticism and/or a systemic
fragmentarism. In which way is it possible to accomplish this complex task?
Before I present the proposed solution of the deconstructive critique of
Baudrillard, I wish to briefly demonstrate the nature and necessity of the
deconstruction of Baudrillard is possible if one "plays according to
Baudrillard's rules." Namely, Baudrillard himself advocates the
deconstructive method. He claims that "every discourse is in danger of
that unexpected reversibility or the likelihood of becoming sucked into one's
own signs that are completely deprived of meaning.5
If every discourse, through "unexpected reversibility," experiences
its own deconstruction, then that is probably also the case with Baudrillard's
"discourse," which he implicitly stated on several occasions.6
In that game, Baudrillard claims that "everything is metamorphosed into
its opposite to perpetuate itself in its expurgated form".7
The question arises: what would the purified form of the asystemic
fragmentarism of Baudrillard's "system" be? Which "inverted
term" of Baudrillard's philosophy could satisfy the criteria for an
adequate deconstructive criticism of Baudrillard? The answers to these
questions must be based on the methodology of the deconstructive game.
game inevitably includes risk. The risk is based on the assumption of the
deconstructive method. This assumption is that deconstruction resolutely denies
the possibility of any definitive, meaning of any text.8
From this understanding of the deconstructive method, it emerges that objective
truth is not possible, while each interpretation of the text boils down to
arriving only at a hermeneutic truth. The deconstructional standpoint is
hermeneutic, accessible liberation from all the rules and constraints of
normative critical understanding.9 The
deconstruction of Baudrillard, therefore, involves the risk of arriving only at
hermeneutic truth. That is why it seeks liberation from rules and constraints
with one sole understanding of Baudrillard' s texts. If we truly wish to be
faithful to Baudrillard's "rules of the game" then this is, probably,
the inevitable method of interpretation: the method that involves the
hermeneutic deconstruction of deconstruction. Naturally, the risk of this sort
of procedure is an "infinity of new contexts”.10
deconstruction of Baudrillard is possible, in my opinion, through the
phenomenon of the paradox of compatibility. This paradox is otherwise closely
linked to every postmodernist theory and practice. The contradiction of the
postmodernist discourse lies in that it can be at the same time deeply empathic
and radically critical, truly compromising and fundamentally oppositional.11
Consequently, one and the same discourse can be critical of itself and the
opposite of itself. Such is the nature of postmodernist philosophy. Baudrillard
himself was aware of the contradictions within his philosophy and he endeavored
in his works to retain the paradox of traditional postmodernism – the implosion
of the discourse (of the system) within itself. If we accept the paradox to its
extreme limits we shall be aware that the system is reversible of itself, i.e.,
that through paradox it collapses, Baudrillard claims.12
This collapse and reversibility is what I call the paradoxical compatibility
between the opposite claims of Baudrillard and Baudrillard's discourse. Because
this thesis is crucial for understanding critical criticism, I shall explain
binary poles of reality are concerned, undoubtedly Baudrillard was extremely
exclusive. Simulation in contrast to reality, the object towards the subject,
seduction as opposed to cognition, the spirality of time towards temporality, radical
nihilism as opposed to traditional nihilism, the concept itself of Evil as
opposed to the ethical duality of Good and Evil, pataphysics as opposed to
metaphysics. Although conscious of certain contradictions in his worldview,
Baudrillard was not aware of the paradox of compatibility between the binary
opposites that he emphasizes. Baudrillard arbitrarily prefers one notion in
relation to the other in their binary opposites. This kind of thinking and
conceptualization within the framework of binary opposites are highly problematic
and must be deconstructed.13 In
this chapter, there will be an attempt to achieve this proposal. The main aim
is to show the originality of the new situation (simulation) is not a radical
break with the old situation (the real), but the radical achievement of the
fundamental premises of the previous situation.14
I believe that Baudrillard is a deconstructive thinker, but he did not think
about the deconstruction of "his own system." Is this deconstruction
of deconstruction actually possible?
Baudrillard's method, I wish to show with the "phantasm of linguistic
discourse" that within his "system" there is a paradox of
compatibility between the binary opposites that are present in his work. I
shall start with the paradox of the harmony of simulation and reality.
Simulation and Reality
Baudrillard's understanding of simulation, the paradox of compatibility is
primarily to be seen in that the concept of simulation in itself implies the
notion of reality. In his book The Perfect Crime15
he explains his mature notion about simulation, stressing that the
"illusion is not the opposite of reality, it is a subtler reality that
enfolds the first reality with the sign of its disappearance".16
The word “subtler” certainly implies the phenomenon of the ritual disappearance
of reality, but, nevertheless, Baudrillard stresses that illusion includes an
aspect of reality. Simulation (the virtual) includes the "dilation of the
dead body of the real".17 And
so, though simulation also implies the death of reality; on the other hand, it
also implies the widening of the "corpse" of reality. A similar
thought is to be found in Baudrillard's idea that hyperreality is a surplus of
Hyperreality is the ritual and poetic achievement of the proliferation of
reality. This is the idea that stands behind Baudrillard's surplus of reality.
Simulation here, therefore, is defined as a subtler reality. In this context,
the paradox of the compatibility of simulation and reality is particularly
evident, which irrationally and apparently without sense, inevitably exist side
from that, when he speaks about the image as the "metaphor of
simulation," Baudrillard claims: “The image can no longer represent the
real because it is itself the real. It can no longer even dream, because
it is its virtual reality”.19 The
image becomes virtual reality because it loses the power of representation. If
we were to speak about the image only as a representation, we would have to
return to the modernistic period but in Baudrillard's postmodernism the image
(the photograph) becomes reality. Baudrillard claims: “The photograph is our
exorcism. Primitive society had its masks, bourgeois society its mirrors, and
we have our images.20
underlines that the conceptual difference between reality and the image has
completely disappeared and that the image does not convey any meaning or sense
'image se substitue au reel”, BaudrilIard claims.22
However, the image (as the substitute of reality) becomes something that is
more visible than the visible, too visible23 therefore,
more than real – hyperreal. The image is the "illusion (which) does not resist
reality, it is reality but another and subtler reality that covers the first
with the sign of its disappearance".24 Thus,
the compatibility of the concept of simulation (here, the image as a subtler
reality) and reality in Baudrillard's "system" of thought is
a subtler reality, simulation is called absolute reality, because after killing
subjective illusion, simulation is created, which is not the negation of
reality but its absolute realization.25 At a
first glimpse, it is difficult to determine what Baudrillard implies by this
absolute reality of simulation. The possible solution can be found in his idea
about the existence of reality through poetic imagination.26
The transethical and transaesthetic in simulation is demonstrated with the
concept of poetic imagination. Only poetic imagination is necessary for the
creation of absolute reality (of simulation or of hyperreality). It seems to me
that Baudrillard borrowed the concept of poetic imagination from Heidegger
because it irresistibly reminds one of his ideas that the "cognition of
Being" is attainable through poetic language that transcends the
linguistic expression of Being. However, it was only postmodernist literature
and philosophy that apparently brought this concept to "perfection".
shall try to summarize the paradox of the compatibility of simulation and reality
in Baudrillard. In Symbolic Exchange and Death Baudrillard explicitly
stresses that regardless of the "real disappearing, it becomes the
allegory of death, strengthened at the same time by its destruction, it becomes
real for the sake of reality.27 There
is no doubt that Baudrillard implies that the ritual disappearance of reality
(through simulation and the hyperreal) meanwhile includes the strengthening of
the concept of reality. Reality is transformed into hyperreality .
that way, not only do the "fanatics of morals and the apostles of
rationalism believe in the concept of reality"28
but also, from the perspective of the paradox of compatibility between
simulation and reality, in his writings, Baudrillard himself confirms the
concept of reality. The indubitable confirmation of this conclusion is to be
found in the idea about the final achievement of the proliferation of the real
(the hyperreal) in the absolutely real: “Reality is growing ever larger, some
day the entire universe will be real, and when the real is universal,
there will be death”.29
achievement of the absolutely real (universally real), without any possibility
of illusion whatsoever (perfect disillusion), for Baudrillard, represents
ritual death. Death includes the real which one can no longer think about in
contrast to the illusory. Death is the final and supreme conglomerate of every
meaning and referentiality. Nevertheless, in death the final proliferation of
the real is achieved. Paradoxically, the real continues to exist as the
ultimate concept and idea. The "simulacrum guarantees the continuation of
the real", Baudrillard claims.30 To
salvage the real through ritual death, not to annihilate the real, is the
"sacred aim" of Baudrillard's philosophy. And so, through the deconstruction
of Baudrillard's simulation, we arrive at the reconstruction of reality within
I speak about the presence of the concept of reality within the notion of
simulation, I feel I should stress Rex Butler's understanding of Baudrillard's
simulation as the defense of the real. Butler bases his idea on the following
crucial quotation from Baudrillard:
start from the idea that the world is a total illusion, then life, thought,
become absolutely unbearable. So you have to make every effort to materialize
this world, realize it, in order to escape from this total illusion. And the 'realizing'
of the world, through science and technology, is precisely what simulation
is the exorcism of the terror of the illusion by the most sophisticated means
of the 'realization of the world’.31
passage it is clear that his aim was not the creation of illusion but the
"realization of the world" in simulation, through the means of modem
technology. With modem-day technology, simulation represents the hyper
realization of the world.
simulated model of the world, therefore, does not in any way exclude the idea
of reality. It is quite distinct in Baudrillard's texts that speak about the
"realization of the world" through simulation. Thus, simulation does
not represent anti-reality, but hyperreality. The ritual
"multiplication" and proliferation of reality in hyperreality retains
the basic contours of the structure and idea of reality. BaudrilIard explicitly
says that in the hyperreal world, the real exists, nevertheless, and this is as
an "exception".32 Some
traces of reality can still be found.33
era of simulation enables the perfect functioning of reality. Even though, in
this new reality, there is no longer any obstacle to experimenting and
adventures, it is clear that these experiments and adventures unfold in (hyper)
paradox of compatibility between Baudrillard's concepts of simulation and
reality is, therefore, inevitably present in his complex thought.
"Unavoidable incompatibilities" need not exist between the world of
paradox and real, everyday Iife.35
Although he heralded the beginning of the era of simulation, he did not manage,
at the same time, to avoid the "hell of the real".36
At least, if only in our hopes37 the
world is stilI real. The real Being as opposed to Nothing stilI remains the
main mystery of every thought.38 In
Baudrillard's opinion, in the history of the philosophy of Being, Nothing
(Evil) always represented the secret of thought. In his thought, however, only
the real occupies that place39; and
the real in simulation.
to remain paradoxical and irrational to the very end, Baudrillard highlights
both simulation and reality. His ontology is never based on a fixed definition
of the nature of Being. There is always the irreversible process of the
appearance of simulation and the disappearance of the real. It appears to me
that Baudrillard wished to introduce himself exclusively as the "prophet
meanwhile, he implicitly and secretly implied the notion of reality within the
simulated world. It is my belief that he was not aware of this act. That is why
I consider the above underlined paradoxical compatibility of reality and
simulation is the deconstruction of the explicit message of his writings.
we truly wish to describe the world ontologicalIy, then we must admit that the
world was, is, and wilI be, woven out of the constant overlapping of reality
and simulation. It is almost impossible to claim that either one of these two
visions of the world takes precedence over the other. Perhaps, the main problem
of Baudrillard's postmodernist understanding of the world lies in that. The
solution, in fact, lies in the constant tension between the real and the
simulated. Is not this tension very close to ontological mysticism?
Aleksandar Santrač holds a Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Postmodernism from
Belgrade University. He is the editor of Signs of Times (a Serbian
publication). Through his writing Dr. Santrač strives to develop an active
dialogue between Postmodern and Christian thought.
1 “Both Simulation and Reality” is
Chapter 10 of Aleksandar Santrač. The Deconstruction of Baudrillard:
The ‘Unexpected Reversibility’ of Discourse. Lewiston, New York: Mellen
Press (Problems In Contemporary Philosophy, Volume 64), 2005:139-146.
2 Jean Baudrillard. Cool Memories II
(1987-1990). Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1996:25). Translated
by Chris Turner.
3 Jean Baudrillard. Interview with Mike Gane and Monique
Arnaud in Mike Gane. Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews. London: Routledge, 1993:22-23.
4 Jean Baudrillard. “Interview with Le Journal des Psychologues”
(1991), in Mike Gane, Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews. London: Routledge, 1993:177.
The three quotations
which begin this article have been added by the editor.
5 Jean Baudrillard. Symbolic Exchange and Death.
London: SAGE, 1993:6. Translated by Iain Hamilton Grant.
7 Jean Baudrillard. Simulation and Simulacra. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994:19.
8 See also: Levy Zeev. "On Deconstruction: Can There Be
Any Ultimate Meaning of a Text?" Philosophy and Social Criticism. Volume
14, Number 1 (1988):18.
9 See also: Lucy Nyan. Postmodernistčcka
teorija knjižnosti (The Postmodernist Theory of Literature),
Svetovi: Novi Sad, 1999:184.
10 Jacques Derrida. Cited in Linda
Hutcheon. The Poetics of Postmodernism. Svetovi: Novi Sad, 1996:213.
11 Linda Hutcheon. Ibid.:332.
12 Jean Baudrillard. Paroxysm: Interviews With
Philippe Petit. New York: Verso, 1998:23. Translated by Chris Turner.
13 See also: Douglas Kellner. Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism
to Postmodernism and Beyond. Stanford, CA.: Stanford University Press,
14 See also: Mile Savić. lzazov
marginalnog (The Challenge of the Marginal). Beograd: Institute of Philosophy, 1996:215.
15 Jean Baudrillard. The Perfect Crime. New York: Verso, 1996.
20 Jean Baudrillard. Car l’illusion ne s’oppose pas la réalite. Paris: Descartes & Sie, 1998:1.
21 Jean Baudrillard. "Au-dela du vrai et du faux, ou Ie
malin genie de l'mage," Cahiers Internationaux de Sociologie. Volume
22 "Reality is replaced with an
image" in Ibid.:139.
23 Jean Baudrillard. L’autre par lui-même. Paris: Éditions Habilitation, 1985:20.
24 Jean Baudrillard. Car l’illusion ne s’oppose pas
la réalite. Paris: Descartes & Sie, 1998:5.
25 Jean Baudrillard. The Perfect Crime. New York: Verso, 1996:35.
27 Jean Baudrillard. Symbolic Exchange and Death. London: SAGE,
1993:112. Translated by Iain Hamilton Grant.
28 Jean Baudrillard. The Perfect Crime. New York: Verso, 1996:140.
29 Jean Baudrillard. Symbolic Exchange and Death. London: SAGE,
1993:32. Translated by Iain Hamilton Grant.
31 Jean Baudrillard. Mike Gane (Editor). Baudrillard Live:
Selected Interviews. London: Routledge, 1993:184.
32 Jean Baudrillard. L’ Échange impossible. Paris: Éditions Galilée,
33 Jean Baudrillard. The Vital Illusion. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000:63.
34 See also: Nikola Kajtez. "Improvizovana subverzija
smisla" (The Improvised Subversion of Sense), Letopis Matice srpske (Chronicle
of the Serbian Cultural and Publishing Society), January- Feruary, 1992:147.
35 See also: Miloš Arsenijević.
"Solution to the Staccato Version of the Achilles Paradox," Contemporary
Yugoslav Philosophy: The Analytical Approach, A. Pavković (Editor),
36 Jean Baudrillard. The Perfect Crime. New York: Verso, 1996:149.
38 Jean Baudrillard. Paroxysm: Interviews With Philippe Petit. New York: Verso, 1998:38. Translated by Chris Turner.