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