Challenging Baudrillard: The Sacred Aim of Baudrillard’s Philosophy Or, Both Simulation and Reality1
(Dean and Professor of Philosophy and Systematic Theology, Belgrade Theological Seminary).
* * * * *
Destroy, 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 trace elements.2
...Postmodernism 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
My 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
* * * * *
By critical criticism, I imply the deconstruction of Baudrillard's "system." This 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 deconstructive method.
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.
This 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
The 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 further.
Where 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?
Using 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.
II. Both Simulation and Reality
In 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 reality.18 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 by side.
Apart 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
Baudrillard underlines that the conceptual difference between reality and the image has completely disappeared and that the image does not convey any meaning or sense whatsoever.21 "L '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 discovered again.
As 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".
I 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 .
In 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
The 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 simulation.
When 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:
If you 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
In this 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.
The 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
The 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) reality”.34 The 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.
Endeavoring 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 of simulation"; 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.
If 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. http://www.mellenpress.com/
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.
6 Jean Baudrillard. “Radical Thought” (www.uta.edu/engloish/apt/collab/texts/radical.html):1.
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, 1989:178-9.
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 82, 1987:139-145.
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.
30 Jean Baudrillard. “Radical Thought” (www.uta.edu/engloish/apt/collab/texts/radical.html):6.
31 Jean Baudrillard. Mike Gane (Editor). Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews. London: Routledge, 1993:184.
32 Jean Baudrillard. L’ Échange impossible. Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1999:31.
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), 1988:46.
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.
©International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2007)