Volume 4, Number 2 (July, 2007).
Book Review: An Ontological Challenge to Baudrillard
Jean Baudrillard. The Intelligence of Evil or, The Lucidity Pact. New York: Berg, 2005.1
Reviewed by: Dr. Bülent Evre
(Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Department of International Relations, Near East University, North Cyprus).
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It is what haunts every world order, all hegemonic domination – if Islam dominated the world, terrorism would rise against Islam, for it is the world, the globe itself, which resists globalization.2
Understood: terrorism is still a lesser evil than a police state capable of ending it. It is possible that we secretly acquiesce in this fantastic proposition. There’s no need of “political consciousness” for this; it’s a secret balance of terror that makes us guess that a spasmodic eruption of violence is preferable to its rational exercise within the framework of the State, or to total prevention at the price of a total programmatic domination.3
Even readers who are familiar with Jean Baudrillard may find his works difficult and elusive. His latest book The Intelligence of Evil or, The Lucidity Pact, is however marked by its clarity. Baudrillard contextualizes his philosophy which turns around interrelated concepts such as “virtual reality”, “integral reality”, “sign”, “image”, “evil”, and “unhappiness” within the current conflict between global power and resistance to this power. He attempts to challenge particularly the notion of reality what he calls “integral/virtual reality”.
Baudrillard distinguishes between the concept of “objective reality” and the concept of “integral reality”. Whereas objective reality occurs in the realm of metaphysics, integral reality belongs to the realm of pataphysics. The discourse of objective reality, which was prevalent in modernity, assumes that the world is capable of being represented. For Baudrillard, however, that is an illusion. Because we cannot know the objectivity of objects, for they are necessarily dependent on consciousness, and cannot be uderstood without the mind.
On the other hand, “integral reality”, which is essentially virtual, has been constructed particularly by the communicative technologies such as TV, Internet, mobile telephony and so on. Baudrillard argues that western societies have entered an era in which objective reality has disappeared, while integral reality, which seeks to integrate everything into a unified whole, has become dominant. In other words, natural world has been replaced by artificial world. In a virtual world, things, which function as integral units, cannot be represented, but merely distorted by the communicative technologies, or are turned into reflections of reflections. Setting out from images, which have no longer any relation to the origins of objects, and are becoming more real than real – there is less possibility to make sense of politics, morality, or art, which are also virtualizing.
Nevertheless, he points to the existance of a resistence, which is, in a sense, a logic of subversion, against integral reality. Within this framework, he refers to global power and global terror as examples of the endeavour to build an integral world and the resistance against it. Although integral power and global terror seem to be diagonal oppositions of one each other, Baudrillard establishes a close relationship between these dynamics. Global terror, for him, is an outcome of the integral world, the inner adversity of global power. That is to say, a system which resorts to terror in the name of security, necessarly becomes part of terrorism which has come to be interior to the world system.
Parallel to globalization, integral power is, on the one hand, seeking to construct an integral reality which is necessarly a hegemonic attempt, and on the other, it is producing the process of resistence against integral power. Global power is trying to dominate every singularity, whereas terrorism refuses that globalization. In terms of integral reality, the forces excluded from this account of reality, are regarded as those who serve Evil. He asserts that most political powers have begun to perceive their own peoples as potential terrorists.
Although Baudrillard attacks the notions of “integral reality” and “global/integral power”, he does not support terrorism which is a resistence against global power. In other words, he is against Islamic terrorism as well as American hegemony. He believes that there is no possibility of a reconciliation between American hegemony and Islamic terror because no power is able to dominate the whole world. On the other hand, Baudrillard does not see integral reality as limited merely to American hegemony, but it can also be found in various areas such as genetic studies which seek to create an ideal human and to eliminate Evil. He suggests that the human has been absorbed by its model which is produced through technological mechanisms.
By appealing to the concept of “agnostic”, he adopts a standpoint beyond the positions above. Baudrillard as an agnostic, does not reject reality totally, but negates believing in reality. In his view, there is neither objectivity nor subjectivity. The world which determines humans, is, at the same time, the creator of the idea which presents itself as reality. However, reality is a generalization, while the world is a particular place.
Baudrillard goes on to interrogate the concepts of “Good” and “Evil” which are pivotal to this book. The humanist view of human nature that regards the good as essential, and the evil as accidential characteristics of human nature has no appeal for Baudrillard. What he is trying to do is to affirm “the Evil” which has been excluded by the western system of values, as a form rather than an object. He suggests that today good and evil have been interwoven, and that it is very difficult to go beyond good and evil.
In this context, Baudrillard explicitly adopts the standpoint of evil as a way of subversing “integral reality” which has come to be identified with the good, namely the objects that are presented as “objective reality”. Yet the way he is in favour of evil does not mean that Baudrillard supports evil as a metaphysical or moral thing, but as a form that tells us what evil is. In his account, to describe what evil is, is to describe the paradoxal situation in which good and evil are constantly dislocated, latent “accomplices” existing in a process of domination and resistance, or a latent antagonism in a process of consensus.
Baudrillard claims that in terms of intelligence we may have made progress but in terms of production of new ideas we are at the same level. Rejecting a progressive account of history, he believes that the level of knowledge in each period is at the same level. He sees no period as privileged or more developed than the others – merely different. He believes that the integration is bound to dissolve in the long term. Even the virtual integration will either dissolve by itself or turn into its simulacra and strive for survival forever. The primary principle of evil, for him, is subjected to the rule of subversion and duality, that seeks to destroy integral reality and every sort of unitary or totalitarian system. By borrowing from Nietzschean concept of “eternal return”, Baudrillard suggests that all sorts of forms are different and particular, but interrelated at the same time. Baudrillard concludes with an expectation of accidental and surprising elements.
In developing his argument – which can be traced back to the moment when he abandoned Marxism4 – that reality has been absorbed by the virtual which is created by technological mechanisms, he predominantly appeals to his personal opinion, values and speculation as evidence. Yet his position is problematic when he asserts that in a virtual world objects have disappeared, or that there is no possibility to make sense of politics, morality, or art, which are virtualizing. It is possible to interpret his assertion in terms of ontology and epistemology. Ontologically, if politics, morality or art disappeared or came to an end, then how could we still speak of them? If the things such as politics or morality, that we have been experiencing, have no longer any relevance to their origines, in this case, should we assert that the things have “disappeared” or “dislocated”? The term “dislocate” here seems to be more appropriate for highlighting the transference of things from one form into another. Otherwise Baudrillard’s insistence on the disappearence of objects in virtuality hints at a distinction between the objects before virtuality which have essentialist characteristics and the objects after virtuality which have accidental characteristics, and therefore he cannot help falling into an essentialist position which he himself seems to denounce.
Epistemologically, on the other hand, the assertion that the objects have disappeared in a virtual world implies that the objects no longer have any meaning. In Baudrillard’s view, due to the proliferation of images and signs, it is no longer possible to make sense of politics, morality or art. He contends that signification is dependant on signs and that signs have disappeared in a virtual world. In that case, there is no possibility to identify which is real or imaginary. Following that contention, such questions may be posed: if the signs had disappeard which were necessary for signification, then how could Baudrillard come to identify whether the objects are real or not. Is he not living in what he calls a ”virtual world”? or has he found a way to keep out of that world where everything gets lost? If he has, why does he not share it with us?
Baudrillard frequently refers to the concepts such as “integral reality”, “integral power” throughout the book in order to illustrate that the reality is produced virtually and that power is increasingly operated in a totalitarian way. However, he does not really have much to say on how integral reality or integral power is constituted, or the relationship between integral reality and integral power. He states that integral reality has been constructed by communicative technologies and that global power is an hegemonic formation without elaborating the processes of formation of integral reality or integral power.
Baudrillard’s attempt to apply such concepts as “integral reality” and “integral power” to the current conflict between American hegemony and Islamic terror is, in fact, a creative one which may help us to analyze concrete cases. Nonetheless, the nature of relationship between the integral power and the logic of subversion seems to be ambiguous. He holds, on the one hand, that global terror is an outcome of the inner adversity of global power, and on the other, that there is no interaction between the oppositions. If there were no interaction between the opposition, then it would be impossible for Baudrillard to establish a relationship between American hegemony and Islamic terror. Besides, it is to be noted that the assertion that there is no interaction between the oppositions can be seen as contradicting his belief that there is a complicity between global power and global terror.
Baudrillard’s challenge to integral reality or integral power is closely related to his understanding of the virtual world. The notion of individuality that involves being autonomous and free, is, for him, an outcome of modern civilization. Yet the subject has come to be the victim of itself. As Baudrillard considers that there is no need for the existence of identity in order to exist, he negates it. He explicitly demands a life in which people will not have to reduce their lives to an identity. And he calls for setting out from the concept of otherness. In this regard, prima facie, he seems to be espousing “the politics of difference”. However, his emphasis on the concept of “the other” suffers from a shortcoming and demands further elaboration. Baudrillard on the one hand negates the existence of identity, and on the other, he affirms the existence of other. His negation of the existence of identity in toto makes paradoxically no room for the existence of the other which he affirms. How could we identify the other if there were no identity? Even in order to affirm the other normatively, we have to set out from the existence of identity ontologically. If Baudrillard really keeps insisting on advocating the other, it will be more appropriate to (re)discover the other in the identity, not in ex nihilo.
Baudrillard’s position is limited to a challenge to integral reality and integral power rather than to suggest an alternative. While he rejects virtual reality and global power, he does not seek to support global terror which has emerged as a resistence. He condemns both global power and global terror, namely American hegemony and Islamic terror which are, for him, accomplices. Although Baudrillard moves in a space of phantasmic speculation, he refrains from imagining an ethico-political horizon. According to him, what people do want and which ideals they are committed to, are of no consequence. Instead the point for him is how people’s lives are and what they have been doing. He believes that any object that is created has to be a representation, agonal, accidental, or surprising, which are essentially one dimensional. In this regard, he hopes latently for accidental and surprising formations which are not clear at all. Baudrillard offers us no blueprint for an alternative to integral reality.
1 For another review of this book see Gerry Coulter and Erica Zwaneveld. “Passing Through Sociology” A Review of Jean Baudrillard’s The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact. New York: Berg, 2005. International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (On the Internet), Volume 4, Number 2, January, 2007: http://www.ubishops.ca/baudrillardstudies/vol4_1/zwaneveld.htm
2 Jean Baudrillard. The Spirit of Terrorism. New York: Verso, 2002:12.
3 Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies (c 1983). Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski. New York: Semiotext(e), 1990:47.
The two quotations appearing at the beginning of the review have been added by the editor.
4 For his break with Marxist theory see especially Jean Baudrillard. The Mirror of Production. Translated by Mark Poster. St. Louis: Telos Press, 1973.
©International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2007)