Volume 9, Number 3 (October 2012)
Berlusconi and Other Hostages: Politics and Simulation
(Graduate School of Critical Theory, University of Nottingham, UK)
I think that every other country is in the same situation, despite appearances to the contrary. They are all in a situation of political simulation, but one on the sly.
Italy, on the other hand, seems to be exercising the simulacrum as such, seduction as such (Baudrillard, 1987:121).
I. Introduction: Theory as Simulation
To apply Baudrillard’s politics and political slant is a difficult task because no definitive assessment exists. In this essay the process of his thought has therefore been privileged. This calls for a theoretical framework. For it matters little that Baudrillard is part of that legacy meant to oppose the hegemony of the eye: his work originates from this – reality as representation – and the strategy formulated to describe it1. This, then, is the issue inherent in his work, which is built on opposites; and herein also lays its paradox, for opposites are exactly what simulation denies. Contradictions implicit in experience are thus artificially overcome.
Yet, Baudrillard’s writing strategy is itself contradictory, perhaps deliberately so. Meant to describe simulation, it is dissimulation that it ultimately targets. It does so in order to let seduction, as that which opposes simulation, arise. This is made clear by Baudrillard himself: by claiming that “[t]o simulate is to feign to have what one hasn't” Mike Gane (1991:3), Baudrillard (2000). Steps of argument are often passed over in Baudrillard. I myself was forced to pass over steps of argument, although more for theoretical construction than willing choice. As a result, I have left out the primo moto of the events I am describing: Diane Rubenstein’s analysis of “credibility” as the currency of contemporary politics (Rubenstein, 2009).This is because it is exactly in linking the missing connections in his work, in making good the gaps in his writing that we prove we have been seduced. The challenge always lies in whether, or to what extent, Baudrillard should be discussed in his own terms. The risk is in fact to become enigmatic as he so often is; or, by being unequivocal, to come to dead end.
In fact, if simulation implies a presence, seduction implies an absence. And it is precisely in the attempt to fill such an absence, or void, in Baudrillard’s work that interpretation arises. Theory is thus disclosed as Baudrillard’s privileged field of ‘symbolic exchange’, where it is exactly the attempt at ‘resembling’ Baudrillard’s theory - or at completing the representation of reality he provides - that interpretation - as the revealed difference between original and copy – also originates. To the same extent, Rex Butler writes:
In a paradox originally pointed out by Foucault in his essay “What is an Author?”, we would say that the defining quality of great thinkers, of the so-called ‘initiators of discursive practices’, is that they somehow rediscover or re-create in their work this fundamental reversibility of the world: but, at the same time, in order to make this work a discipline, they must also attempt to systematize that which cannot be systematized. In a way, that reversibility they discover is both what makes their thought possible and that which cannot be thought (Butler, 1999:100).
This is Baudrillard’s ultimate form of seduction, the interpretation his work calls for always ends up itself constituting a piece of theory. But this is also the risk that this operation inheres because, when “the copy comes too close to the original, it no longer resembles it, but is another original” (Butler, 1999:25).
As Butler makes clear, “the aim of simulation is not to do away with reality, but, on the contrary to realize it, make it real”, which is exactly what scholars engaging with Baudrillard constantly do. Against allegations of obscurantism and inscrutability, they try and prove his work all the more (Ibid.:23). This must be deemed an obscene project: driven as it is by the wish to make what is invisible visible, it “force[s] what belongs to another order (that of secrecy and seduction) to materialize (Baudrillard, 1987: 21). It is on such premises that Butler’s dyad is expanded into a triad, the simulation/seduction relationship thus being broadened out to include obscenity as a further facet of simulation; one where “the system begins to reverse on itself” and the objective resemblance of the copy to the original produces “the opposite effects from those intended” (1999:25). And this reversal of intended outcomes is precisely what happens in contemporary politics, whose paradox consists being a Moebius strip, a never-ending but twisted loop that absorbs every possible deviation. Prevented from evolving into the next stage, history turns uncanny and open to interpretation.
On the other hand, the restoration of meaning is always at risk of saturating, for resemblance suddenly becomes that which entirely does away with seduction (Butler, 1999:25). To ‘interpret’ does not just mean to ‘manifest’, but also, and to the same extent, to ‘dissolve’, for “the real world begins, paradoxically, to disappear at the very same time as it begins to exist” (Baudrillard, 2008:24). He continues:
Thus the real vanishes into the concept. But what is even more paradoxical is the exactly opposite movement by which concepts and ideas (but also phantasies, utopias, dreams and desires) vanish into their very fulfillment; when everything disappears by excess of reality, when […] human beings are capable of fulfilling all their potentialities and, as a consequence, disappear, giving way to an artificial world that expels them from it, to an integral performance that is, in a sense, the highest stage of materialism. […] That world is perfectly objective since there is no one left to see it. Having become purely operational, it no longer has need of our representation. Indeed, there no longer is any possible representation of it” (Ibid.:25).
Hence, not only is Baudrillard’s theory made more consistent with every attempt at decoding, but it also liquefies by means of this process – “explanations involving a saturation of the event with the obscene form of the secret” (Baudrillard, 1987:118).
Being Baudrillard’s theoretical stand to show the functioning of simulation, simulation is what Baudrillard manages to achieve. This is done by means of our very complicity, and according to a process that I apply here. Contemporary politics thus emerges as that particular condition of reality which is not only saturated with representation, but also disappears by means of this saturation: obscenity, too much representation - that which now engenders reality and that reality engenders in return.
II. Obscenity, for a Start
Let us start with Obscenity, Baudrillard’s primary scene. And of course, it’s opposite, the scene. If the latter is based on secrecy, obscenity indicates not only the lack of secrecy but also, and to a broader extent, whatever is exposed, over-exposed, open to the nth degree and therefore transparent. Obscenity is thus Baudrillard’s crime scene, for it connotes reality when suddenly and criminally revealed; and, to the same extent, it is the loss of innocence of the west: challenged by over-representation, reality is by now threatened with disappearance. Power is no exception: “political space, the locus of power, being itself perhaps only an effect of perspective”. It appears by means of representation, and disappears when representation is exceeded (Baudrillard in Proto, 2006:92).
Taken as a whole, Baudrillard’s writings discuss two different models of political representation: the trompe-l’oeil [‘deceive the eye’] and the dompte-regard [‘taming of the gaze’]2. It is in comparing these that Baudrillard’s vision emerges, for attached to each is the very idea subtending Baudrillard’s poetics: the opposition between simulation and seduction and, by extension, between the scene and the obscene. These seminal oppositions are analogous to the position of the vanishing point in the representation. In the case of the trompe-l’oeil, the vanishing point appears to materialize between observer and picture (thus providing the image with the depth of a base-relief); in the case of the dompte-regard, the vanishing point seems as materializing beyond the picture, on the horizon, thus giving the observer the feeling of infinite space. Hence, the secret of “the Pope, the Grand Inquisitor, the great Jesuits and theologians”: representation is what makes God appear and, by the same token, disappear (Baudrillard in Proto, 2006:92).
III. Seduction as a Trompe l’Oeil
From the Latin se-ducere, seduction means to “lead astray”, thus implying “the getting of another to do what we want, not by force or coercion, but by an exercise of their own desire”; hence Baudrillard’s use of seduction to describe “the paradox of representation […] where, if the copy comes too close to the original, it no longer resembles it but is another original” (Butler, 1999: 71, 25). Seduction and simulation are respective sides of the same phenomenon: while simulation is what always attempts to cross the distance between two poles, seduction is “both the distance that allows this resemblance and the distance that arises when this space is crossed” (Ibid.:72). Seduction thus emerges as “the necessity of taking the other into account when trying to produce resemblance”, provided that “we still want to maintain a connection with it” (with the other, the real) (Ibid.).
In order to explain this relationship Baudrillard provides two examples: the myth of Narcissus, whose protagonist mistakes his reflection for another and dies longing for it; and Kierkegaard’s Diary of a Seducer, a book in which the heroine is first seduced and then lost. With respect to Narcissus, what interests Baudrillard is the surface of the water: since seduction is representation, it only materializes as the distance between the original (Narcissus) and its mirror image (water). However, since the water is ungraspable, not only can seduction be said always to elude us (any description we try to construct always misses the presence of the mirror), but also to re-emerge as the residue of an impossible resemblance. This becomes clear in Baudrillard’s discussion of the Diary of the Seducer, a fictionalized account of the character Johannes’ acting as a mirror image to a young girl, Cordelia. Not only is Cordelia led astray (she leaves the man whom she loves and wants to marry) but seduction also emerges as a means of representation, for Cordelia becomes self-aware only once she is mirrored by Johannes.
Baudrillard’s use of the trompe-l’oeil to describe reality as a game of appearances follows the same logic: as soon as seduction is abolished, reality is abolished too, for reality only emerges when seduced by its mirror image. Hence representation must seduce, lead astray or, at best, deceive (tromper), which is exactly what the objects depicted in the trompe-l’oeil do. They simulate depth and, whereas they are painted on a flat surface, they describe “a void, an absence, the absence of every representational hierarchy that organizes the elements of a tableau, or for that matter, the political order…” (Baudrillard in Proto, 2006:87). As a consequence, not only “do [trompe-l’oeil] not describe a familiar reality”; they oppose the perspective flight by pointing out “the irony of too much reality”.3
Let us take, as a literal illustration, Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi, where Piero il Gottoso, red-blanketed in the middle of the scene, is caught by the painter in the very act of offering to the infant Christ something which is not actually shown, the gift concealed by a scarf. The painting freezes the Florentine republic at a time when the House of the Medici, here represented by three of its most eminent members (Cosimo, Lorenzo and Piero himself), manipulated the political life of the city. It is not the celebration of the Holy Family which is staged here, nor of the House of the Medici; rather, it is a celebration of the city’s patricians taking part in a solemn procession. Of course, patricians are not supposed to be there, nor are the Medicis. Yet, the painting glorifies political space as an extension of social mise-en-scène, thus materializing what Medicis’ politics is about: given a backseat, the sacred family becomes irrelevant, the vanishing point focusing on Piero and his gift. Perspective, in other words, is inverted and, ‘brought forward’, turns everything into a fictive act – as if objects and images were each the simulation of the other. Why bother with reality? The truth is here denied: unachievable, and distant, it is encapsulated in that far, far away vanishing point on the horizon.4
IV. Simulation as Dompte-Regard (Perspective)
Charged with elevating the status of reality, perspective was believed to reveal the inner structure of the world.5 No surprise, then, to Baudrillard, that the Renaissance is in charge for the thaumaturgy attributed to the image. Not only does the image satisfy that particular function of representation which consists in the mastering of reality but, taken to the extreme, it totally de-realizes reality, for no higher degree of ‘truth’ is implied.
Let us take Marx’s utopia: to realize the social, to make it real. Making of the masses a matter of representation has produced not just more masses, but also more simulation, for “the masses are not simply the end of the social, but also arise because of it”. The masses are thus both an invention of the social and what the social always excludes; or, to the same extent, “what all systems of politics seek to mobilize or make active” (Butler, 1999:62). And yet after centuries of doing so, the masses still remain to be socialized, are merely known and under-represented as before” (Ibid.:58). The vanishing point on the horizon of politics, the masses are therefore the failure of that “political truth” that once made of them its “object of knowledge.” As a result, not only is the social de-realized, but representation is only turned real to conceal the disappearance of politics:
All contemporary systems function on this nebulous entity, on this floating substance whose existence is no longer social, but statistical, and whose only mode of appearance is that of the survey (Baudrillard, 1983: 19-20).
If Platonic metaphysics always concerns a truer, ‘objective’ reality, Baudrillard’s simulation thus unveils to a literal version of reality. One which is naked, too naked, completely stripped of any other meaning but the objective evidence of that ‘nothing-to-see’ Baudrillard defines as the obscene. In the case of Borges’ fable in which the “cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up covering the territory exactly”, obscene is the “generation of models of a real without an origin or reality”: not only is any outside an effect of the system itself, but Reality is finally excluded by its own representation (Baudrillard, 2000:1).
This ultimate exclusion of reality is evident in Baudrillard’s discussion of Disneyland and Watergate: “the amusement park only exists to convince us that rationality is out there, that the ‘real America’ is outside the childish domain” (when in effect rationality has been replaced by childishness everywhere), and Watergate (the impeachment of US President Nixon) is set on stage only to “rejuvenate a fundamentally empty belief - the principle that moral law regulates politics” (Proto, 2010:19). Both Disneyland and Watergate conceal a real world ‘out there’ (Disneyland, a real world of rationality, which is America; Nixon’s scandal, the allegedly good politics behind it); yet, reality “out there” (rational America, good politics) is itself but a simulation generated by the system.
In Baudrillard’s discussion of the masses, however, we are beyond this. For not only are the masses materialized out of the system of representation; but, constantly interrogated by polls, they remain in that respect mute. As a result, any attempt to establish a sense – i.e. an understanding of what the masses want – is doomed to failure, for the very paradox of the masses lies in the fact that making them the object of representation has produced only more social simulation.
Clearly, Baudrillard’s considers the vanishing point asthe realization of political advancement: “there is no avant-guard, be it either political or sexual or artistic”; rather, a never-ending process of disappearance where the political re-emerges everywhere else but in the very domain to which it originally belonged:
Power is truly sovereign when it grasps this secret and confronts itself with the very challenge. When it ceases to do so and pretends to find a truth, a substance, or a representation (in the will of the people, etc.), then […] it dies […] at the hands of that infatuation with itself, that imaginary concept of itself, and that superstitious belief in itself as a substance; it dies as well when it fails to recognize itself as a void” (Baudrillard, 1987:59).
One such domain is capitalism, for only that has acquired the autonomy necessary to totalize “the world in its own image” (Baudrillard, 1993:10). And, indeed, this is a matter of image, for “[t]he people didn’t really want the revolution, they wanted a spectacle of it (Antoine de Rivarol, in Baudrillard, 1990 :75).
Such spectacle is neither the choreography depicted by Bataille when discussing the king as scapegoat for a whole society, nor the symbolic scenario discussed by Baudrillard himself when addressing fascism as the last seductive stand. Such spectacle is rather the shift of the vanishing point from its original position on the horizon to the edge of the perspective window, where the distance between scene and audience disappears.
V. The Smile of The Cheshire Cat
It is in terms of this spectacle that we should interpret the most recent events in contemporary politics. This means not just in terms of the image, but of the very obscenity such an image entails: the production of the real, the materialization of the truth - which ultimately corresponds to the increasing literality of the world. So, when the Italian ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi claimed that “to rule the country is his favourite hobby”, the statement was not only true, but also too true to be true, Berlusconi materializing to the letter the obscenity inherent in this spectacle. On the other hand, this is the miracle of Italy, something baroque painting already anticipated - the materialization of heavenly hierarchies (God, angels, saints), all spiraling towards the vanishing point of the church’s dome. In Italy, society as a whole spirals towards nonsense, and does so to materialize simulation, to turn simulation obscene as a tribute to that social theatre which is Italy’s own invention. So the world, Germany at the forefront, condemns Italy for its untrustworthiness; but Italians s’en foutre, knowing very well that “this secret disobedience of a group to its own principles, […] these immorality and deep duplicity reflect the universal order of things”. It certainly does, and that is why “Italy, for the most part, lives in a state of joyous simulation”;because:
...all Italians, from Red Brigades to the secret services, from Momma to the Mafia, from earthquake victims to the P2 Cell (miracle of the State become secret society!) are, somehow in complicity, maintaining an ironic connivance in the theatricality and now in the simulation of power, law, living order or disorder – a secret pact sealing the strategy of appearances that dominates all of this (Baudrillard, 1990:77).
All this is unbearable and incomprehensible anywhere but in Italy, where the commedia dell’arte takes over the vicissitudes of politics; and, in so doing, supports everywhere else the myth of efficiency and reliability but in the country.
Take in this context the Lewinsky scandal. Once again, this is the classic plot of simulation, where the strategy of politics “in putting forward its other is ultimately to get rid of this other” (Butler, 1999:45); and, just like with Watergate, “the denunciation of the scandal testifies that, as opposed to this, there is a moral law in politics” that can only emerge once opposed to politics’ dysfunctional aspects (ibid.). The same could be said of Berlusconi: had Berlusconi been this black hole of negative power, we would long times ago have gotten rid of him. Instead, Berlusconi’s crime is neither his immorality nor his lack of ethics but this dazzling revelation of power’s inexistence; something for which “at once leaders were killed” (Ibid.:59). Berlusconi himself ran this risk, hit as he was by a marble memorabilia – an event that – supreme irony – was immediately addressed as simulated. And in fact, it had nothing of the mortal reversibility of seduction, but rather the empty equivalence of simulation.
Let us turn to Duchamp, the trauma of representation in modern art. Ready-mades were artworks produced by chance; that is, produced by elevating any object to the status of an artwork [The object was meant to be fortuitously encountered under given circumstances (size of the object, time of meeting, etc) as to increase the detachment of the artist from artistic judgement]. So that, by the time Duchamp exhibited his first ready-made – a pissoir – art turned into a rendezvous where the artists’ expectations were denied. There is something obscene in this, for the secret is suddenly revealed: no such thing as art exists but an obscene equivalence with reality.
Berlusconi is no exception, for politics changes forever, and, like in Duchamp, the way is opened toward disappearance. Yet, the reality principle is left untouched - what happens when reality and representation overlap.
VI. Reversibility vs Equivalence
Baudrillard’s understanding of seduction is that of the symbolic exchange, a practice nostalgic for an aristocratic era when people used to reciprocate. Seduction, in its simplest terms, is therefore the idea that any system arises in an exchange with the other, and that the fundamental rule of the world is reversibility. Kierkegaard’s Diary makes this clear: the perfection of Johannes’ crime lies not so much in the fact that his seduction leaves no traces (the relationship is never consummated), but in the fact that, as is customary in seduction, “[w]e only seduce insofar as we risk being seduced; we only seduce insofar we cannot know whether we are seduced or not” (Butler, 1999:111; Gane, 2009:172).6
Baudrillard himself makes the point by discussing Death in Samarkand, a story where a soldier meets Death in a marketplace and, believing he’s been addressed by a “menacing gesture”, asks the king for his best horse to flee overnight as far as Samarkand. Reproached by the king for having frightened one of his best servants, Death replies in astonishment that there was no intention to do so, and that the gesture was merely in reaction to his surprise at seeing the soldier there: a rendezvous was scheduled forth in Samarkand (Baudrillard  1990).
Clearly, destiny must be mirrored (seduced) by appearances. However, the opposite also occurs, for “[t]he moment a thing is named, the moment representation and concepts take hold of it, is the moment when it begins to […] vanish into [its] very fulfillment.” At that point, the “world is perfectly objective” and “[h]aving become purely operational, it no longer has need of our representation […] there no longer is any possible representation of it” (Baudrillard, 2008:25).
Hence, representation is duplicitous, for it is both what materializes reality and what makes reality disappear (the very paradox embedded in representation being that, as soon as the resemblance between representation and reality becomes too close, representation no longer resembles reality, but is another original); but also is Baudrillard’s understanding of simulation. For not only does “to simulate [mean] to feign to have what one hasn’t”: what is simulated is precisely the alleged difference between representation and reality (Baudrillard, 2000:3).7
Clearly, this logic works for Disneyland (“Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the ‘real’ country, all of ‘real’ America, which is Disneyland”), and for Watergate (“Watergate is not a scandal: this is what must be said at all costs, for this is what everyone is concerned to conceal”); but also for modern politics, which only emerges in opposition to a faked antagonist (Baudrillard, 2000:12-15).
Let us take terrorism, “deforming mirror of order and the political scene”: not only is terrorism that which the state emerges against, but also what the state itself exerts on the citizens. Citizens are thus taken hostage by the state on the basis of the protection against the threat and panic of terrorism itself (Ibid.:34). Oddly enough, however, such a condition is reversible, for if the state exerts terrorism it does so because it itself is taken hostage by the citizens who blackmail it through polls and referenda. Terrorism thus becomes the generalized terrain of socio-political exchange. “It is no longer ‘don’t do that’, but rather ‘if you don’t do that’” writes Baudrillard, by which, he means that deterrence and blackmailing are what inform contemporary society at any level of the social exchange.
Such a paradox can be found the heart of the society of consumption (consumption is possible because of waste, so waste is possible because of consumption), and Baudrillard’s understanding of the social (the masses are possible because of the social, so the social is only possible because of the masses), but becomes all the more evident in the relationship existing between terrorism and the hostage: the latter is what terrorism must include (it is engendered by terrorism) and exclude (it is what terrorism emerges against) in order to let simulation happen. Hence, the obscenity of the hostage which is, by definition, irrepresentable: it is what must be always excluded by simulation‘s total resemblance because always already over-represented.
In fact, the hostage is what “no longer represents anything” (Baudrillard’s definition of obscenity), and that for this very reason can become the “guilty party” [The hostage is eminently obscene because he “no longer represents anything” (Baudrillard, 1990: 43). In the case of Berlusconi, whom against which a moral and general ‘whitewashing’ was allowed: all of a sudden, Berlusconi let emerge that there was a ‘good’ politics putting up a fight; that there was a ‘good’ journalism reporting a ‘good’ society becoming indignant; while the opposite must also hold true due to the reversibility of the system.
VII. “Pecca Fortiter”
Such a condition is embedded in the history of representation and must be deemed incestuous, for “the image bases its legitimacy on the fact that it is not ‘akin’ (consanguineous) to the thing, which it is neither of the same nor of the same substance, and only for this the image can marry (simulate) the thing” (Senaldi, 2003:16, my translation). As a result, “what is let emerge is the prohibition inherent in power as the mechanism substantiating power itself”: the Law-of-the-father as prohibiting the incest between mother (thing) and son (representation) (Ibid.:29). Therefore, to say that the ready-made breaks the taboo of representation is not enough if we do not add that “in order to operate the infract ion, the ready-made commits a self-infringement” [this must be deemed a self-infringement, for what is abused is the symbolic mandate], and not just because it establishes the dialectic of enjoyment; but because the transgression on which enjoinment rests is inherent in the object.
Now, does not the same apply to Berlusconi? He who is supposed to represent the Law, the state or, to a broader extent, society, is the one who abuses them. It is for this reason that there are those who, like Mario Perniola, claim that Berlusconi has materialized – i.e., made obscene - the political programme of the Left: through the politicization of art, the latter used to target sex as an area non-exploitable by the Capital; or those who, like Bonazzi and Carmagnola, debate in terms of delirious identification with him (see Perniola, 2011). The opposite is perhaps true: public indignation, protest movements, etc, rather than being interpreted as attempts at restabilising the symbolic order, could be read as a further manifestation of simulation. As evident in Baudrillard’s understanding of the student uprising of ‘68, power was kept in place not despite its fragility, but because of its fragility: following a national strike, the French government was restored through the secret complicity of the masses.
The same complicity can be seen at work with Berlusconi: precisely because of power’s obscenity, power must be saved at all costs8. Hence the obscenity of power as the cause of paradoxical enjoinment: it is what the system must get rid of to prove the system all the more; but also what the system keeps in place in order for transgression to occur.
In the “Borges fable in which the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up covering the whole territory exactly”, the territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it; conversely, it is the map that precedes the territory, that engenders the territory, reality being generated by models without original or reality (Baudrillard, 2000:1). This simulation is “no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, the concept”; it is the abstraction engendered by the media when the Gulf War is portrayed as clean, minimalist and hi-tech; as if, in fact, no Gulf War took place (Patton, 1995:7). Moreover, not only was the representation of the war staged as “a spectacle which serves a variety of political and strategic purposes on all sides”; but the “practice of misinformation, lies and propaganda” set up by the media made of the war a “non-event, an empty war in the sense that there [was] a lack of real engagement between the combatants, and an excessive, superabundant war in terms of the quantity of personnel and material involved” (Ibid.:10-11).
Likewise, Berlusconi did not happen; for no terrorism exists without the media just as no hostage exists without terrorism; hence, the saturation of representation taking place in the social realm, which made of Berlusconi a simulacrum ante litteram. Such saturation is not only what made Berlusconi the scapegoat of international finance, but also what engendered international finance – the obscene blackmailing of an entire country via market fluctuations and information. This could only take place through the equivalence established by the hostage (Berlusconi as “the null equivalent of the state”), and through the terrorism of the state itself, which kept Berlusconi hostage to the political parties (Baudrillard, 1990:43). Thus could Berlusconi inject new blood in Italian politics, and only thus could Berlusconi reveal the terrorism embedded within Italian society: that unspoken complicity of the entire population playing politics to the bitter end. This cruel spectacle goes back to Roman times, when the enemies of the political system were dismembered in public. Yet, an honorable death was granted to the martyr, while Berlusconi’s disappearance “becomes the mirror of the obscenity of power” (Ibid.). “It is the obscenity of someone who is already dead” and for this very reason turns problematic (Ibid.). In fact, it makes no difference whether he is dead or alive: politics is changed for always; and, at the same time, is left intact [to another extent, this is the condition of simulation as described by Baudrillard]. No judgment can therefore be applied to Berlusconi, for politics only emerges as that universal scapegoat whose obscenity inheres the obscenity of society. “We are all hostages, and we are all terrorists” (Baudrillard, 1990: 39).
Let us take Mario Monti, who has replaced Berlusconi as Italy’s prime minister: the former is now accredited in advance exactly as the latter was discredited in advance - and by means of this very exorcism invoked to restore the balance. It should not surprise us that it is Berlusconi’s coalition that supports Monti’s technical government, since Berlusconi’s majority still rules the country. Mutatis mutandis, people’s will has been manipulated in the name of that very manipulation allegedly performed by Berlusconi and that has brought to what is, technically speaking, a coup-d’état. “Terrorismo dell’arte!”: “One must admit that Italy, which has already given history its most beautiful spectacles, Venice, the Church, trompe l’oeil, and opera, presents us today, in the spectacle of Terrorism, with its most fertile and baroque episode, and this with the general complicity of the whole of the Italian society” (Ibid.:45). For this is Berlusconi’s contribution to politics: the execution of politics by popular demand – something for which he himself had to be executed in return.
Francesco Proto is an architect and a theorist, and a Senior Lecturer in Architecture, Visual Culturue and Critical Theory at the School of Architecture, University of Lincoln [UK]. He is currently investigating the "inhuman strategies of the subject", and his forthcoming releases include, among others, Baudrillard for Architects (Routledge).
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Jay Martin (1994). Downcast Eye: The Denigration of Vision in Twenty Century French Through. London: University of California Press.
Paul Patton (1995). “Introduction”, in Jean Baudrillard, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. Sidney: Power Publications.
Mario Perniola (2011). Berlusconi and il ’68 Realizzato. Milano: Mimesis.
Francesco Proto (2010). “Architecture”, in R G Smith (ed), The Baudrillard Dictionary.
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1. . Rex Butler (1999) has proved particularly insightful for this piece – his aesthetic, rather than semiotic, understanding of the simulacrum, supports my interest in western ocularcentrism. See also Martin Jay (1994).
2. Namely, the linear perspective device as originally set up by Renaissance artists and finalized by renaissance architects (Brunelleschi). The expression was originally used by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan to address a picture that “tames the eye” (Foster, 2001). It is here implied as an opponent to the Trompe l’oeil.
3. Baudrillard writes: “While the Renaissance organized all space in accord with a distant vanishing point – perspective in the trompe-l’oeil is, in a sense, projected forward. Instead of fleeing before the panoramic sweep of the eye (the privilege of panoptic vision), the object “fools” the eye (“trompeant l’oeil”) by a sort of internal depth – not by causing one to believe in a world that does not exist, but by undermining the privileged position of the gaze. The eye, instead of generating a space that spreads out, is but the internal vanishing point for a convergence of objects. A different universe occupies the foreground, a universe without horizon or horizontality, like a mirror placed before the eye, with nothing behind it [...] This is why the pleasure that they give us: their seductiveness, however small, is radical; for it comes from a radical surprise borne of appearances, from a life prior to the mode of production of the real world” (in Proto, 2006: 90-1).
4. In Botticelli we find an antithetical scenario to the Duke of Montefeltro’s studiolo, which also inverts the rules of perspective. “Cut off from the rest of the structure, without windows, literally without space […] this blind spot within the palace […] reigns supreme”. By enacting the “abrogation of the rules”, its trompe l’oeil conceals an unspeakable truth: as soon the secret of appearances is revealed, reality is threatened with disappearance (Baudrillard in Proto: 92).
5. See Dalibor Vasely, 2004:110-12. Dante (2002:58) writes that over the Renaissance: "the reconstruction of moments of the sacred history of miracles, of celestial visions of Judgement, or the great flight of angels” anticipates "the contradictory and potentially misleading nature of modern technology [...] where the maximum effect of likelihood matches the best of fiction" (my translation).
6. This risk may be seen in Machiavelli’s Il Principe, where political and social stability are believed to be achieved in the face of moral corruption, a contradiction in terms that obliges the Principe to disguise the methodical exercise of brute force, deceit, etc. Hence Machiavelli’s hero, Cesare Borgia, is praised for his political masterpiece, a subtle and public mise-en-scène through which his opponents are trapped and killed. So that even death occurs through seduction, thus turning from objective destiny into a rendezvous. This, Baudrillard states, is the destiny of appearances; and the reason why appearances seduce us is that they are always interpreted in a different fashion from their objective reality. This, Baudrillard claims, is the only way for existence to have a destiny. “Death does not exist before us, is only an effect of our attempting to run away from him. It is our very attempt to escape fate that is our fate” (Butler, 1999:103). On the other hand, seduction can only occur via a misguided interpretation of appearances: in the case of Cesare Borgia, not only are his opponents trapped and killed under the pretence of a lasting peace; but Cesare himself is seduced and killed under similar circumstances.
7. To the same extent, so Baudrillard “recounts of the day when […] the ethnologists and anthropologists of the Philippines decided to return the Stone-age Tasaday Indians to the rainforest where they had recently been discovered after having lived there undisturbed for some eight centuries. Now, it might be thought that this was an effort by science to think its proper limits, the fact that it always turns its object into a simulacrum, to save this Indians by putting them ‘out of the reach of the colonists, tourists and ethnologists’ […] However, insists Baudrillard, it was not in order to save the Indians that the ethnographers put them back to the forest, but to save themselves. Ethnography, like any other system, only exists at a certain remove from the object it analyses – and it was this distance that was disappearing with the sudden apparition of these Indians (Butler, 1999: 42). Philippine’s ethnology and anthropology, in other words, could only be justified on the basis of the materialization of the Tasaday in absentia: the very instant the Tasaday become “too real, to accessible”, then both Ethnology and Anthropology becomes irrelevant.
To Baudrillard, simulation is thus ignited “in the modern age, with the decision to transform the world, and to do so by means of science, analytical knowledge and the implementation of technology.” This happens to such a degree that not only is “the natural world […] definitively alienated”; but “the real world begins, paradoxically, to disappear”. This happens “at the very same time as it begins to exist”, being representation what let reality emerge but also what make reality dissolve by an excess of representation (Baudrillard, 2008:24).
8. Zizek’s analysis of power goes in the same direction: the very secret of power is that, beyond power, another invisible, “fool” structure of power exists. As a result, we are never seduced by power as such, but by the very fantasy supporting it (1999:15, my translation). This is evident in the so-called Rubygate, where nothing can be found of the Lewinsky debacle. While the Levinsky episode rests on the fantasy of power as the obscene indulging in forbidden pleasures – with Berlusconi the opposite happens.