Volume 8, Number 2 (July 2011)
Reality, Simulation and Hyperreality: An Essay on Baudrillard
Dr. Martin G. Weiss
(Program Director, Department of Philosophy, University of Klagenfurt, Austria)
In the year 2000, just after the new Austrian coalition government that included Jörg Haider’s right-wing populist FPÖ (Austrian Freedom Party) assumed power, the annual Vienna Opera Ball took place as usual. Like the “Prima della Scala” of Milan, this glamorous event, where the wealthiest of the wealthy celebrate a media-intensive night out, attracts annual counter-demonstrations. Since several members of the new government had announced their intention to attend, the protests outside the Vienna State Opera House were especially large. While the demonstrators chanted “Never again!” behind police barricades, a white Rolls Royce with dark-tainted windows slowly drove up the main ramp. Upon reaching the opera’s main entrance, the car stopped and – into a fury of flash photography – out stepped Adolf Hitler in full uniform and flashing a Roman salute. With the words “We’re here again!” he strode through the reception hall where a stunned usher took his ticket just before he was arrested and led away by two police officers. A few days later, Hubsi Kramar, as the subversive actor is known, was charged with “National Socialist reactivation” (Wiederbetätigung) although in his interrogation he had stressed that his appearance at the Opera Ball had been a theater piece and he had only been portraying the Nazi dictator. Yet: Power knows no simulation (For an account of the whole affair, see: Falter. Stadtzeitung Wien [Vienna city weekly newspaper] November 10, 2000: 13 ff.
In his essay, “The Precession of Simulacra” ( 1994) Jean Baudrillard illustrates the increasing indistinguishability between “reality” and what he calls “simulation” by means of a thought experiment. Baudrillard asks how “power” i.e. the repressive apparatus of state which here apparently represents the reality pole, would react to a simulated hold-up robbery. Along with the fact that the execution of a pure simulation is impossible, Baudrillard points out that “power, i.e. the established order, is connected to the reality principle and does not allow for such a thing as simulation”. What “power” and reality have in common is their stability, or their impenetrable presence, which Baudrillard, as we will later see, understands as “speech without the possibility of reply,” i.e. as an unquestionable given.
The power of the “established order” therefore stands in a privileged relation to presence, i.e. to reality. Indeed, insofar as presence is the main feature of both, the terms power and reality can be equated. But power and reality are therefore also at each other’s mercy, as power, in order to preserve itself, can accept nothing other than reality. Power, as presence, remains bound to the real, as any questioning of reality would undermine power itself. This is why simulation cannot be permitted. The incursion of simulation as a kind of non-presence would cause the whole system to collapse. Yet this fact also gives rise to the inability of power to react to simulations, i.e. to that which shouldn’t actually exist. Because simulations as such do not occur in the scheme of power, power must grasp them as reality in order to control them. This consequentially leads to a situation where the simulated National Socialist reactivation of our example had to be considered as real by power, with all that this entails. In the words of Baudrillard:
The simulation of an offence, if it is established as such, will either be punished less severely (because it has no ‘consequences’) or punished as an offence against the judicial system (for example if one sets in motion a police operation ‘for nothing’ – but never as simulation since it is precisely as such that no equivalence with the real is possible, and hence no repression either. The challenge of simulation is never admitted by power (Ibid.:20).
As these remarks show, while Baudrillard is concerned with the increasing indistinguishability of reality and simulation, he can explain this “indifference” only by means of the abstractions of “reality” and “simulation.” Albeit hyperreality is always the first, and the differentiation between reality and simulation is a subsequent abstraction, Baudrillard must first assume the abstract poles of difference in order to explain what indifference could possibly be. These two relations, existing only de verbo, which always already form a unity in the hyperreality that surrounds us, are reality or the real on the one hand, and simulation or the simulacrum on the other. The unity of both, which according to Baudrillard determines our postmodern “life world!” he calls “hyperreality” or “indifference.” But how does Baudrillard elaborate on his understanding of these three concepts: reality, simulation, hyperreality?
What Baudrillard understands by “reality” has already been hinted at in the equation of reality with the established order and with power. But how does Baudrillard understand “power”? In order to clarify this question it is helpful to turn to another of Baudrillard’s essays. In "Requiem pour les media" ([1972[ 1979) Baudrillard defines power as the phenomenon that permits no contradiction; that allows no answer. As an example of such one-sided movement, he cites the modern mass media. According to Baudrillard, it has only one active pole, the transmitter, while the receiver is damned to passivity. “The media are that which forever ban the answer, that which render impossible every process of exchange […] Here lies their actual abstractness. And in this abstractness the system of social control and of power is founded” (Ibid.).
For Baudrillard, true communication does not consist in the transmission of information from a transmitter to a receiver, as reductionist communication theory suggests, but a concrete exchange, i.e. in the living event of “speech and response.” Baudrillard can therefore claim: “Mass media are characterized by being anti-mediatory and intransitive by fabricating non-communication” (Ibid.). But what does “speech without response,” as Baudrillard calls it, have to do with power? To shed light on this question, Baudrillard refers to the power structures of “primitive” societies and explains:
…power [there] belongs to those that can give and to whom nothing can be given back. Giving in a way where nothing can be given back means breaking through self-advantageous exchange and erecting a monopoly: the societal process is thereby thrown out of balance. Giving back, on the other hand, means breaking up this power and establishing (or re-establishing) the cycle of symbolic exchange on the basis of an antagonistic reciprocity. The same situation is found in the sphere of media: speech occurs, but in a way that allows no answer anywhere. Therefore the only possible revolution in this area – but also in all areas, the revolution in general – consists in re-establishing the possibility of answering. This simple possibility calls for cataclysm in the entire contemporary media structure (Ibid.).
According to Baudrillard, the fact that medial information can appear as “speech without response,” and therefore as power, is due to media still being attached to the metaphysical theory of ad equation or correspondence, insofar as they understand themselves as merely a “representation” of an “objective” reality. Power is firstly the power of the unchanging-objective that opposes the subject as given reality. Power is the thing, the an such or the “thing as such,” that resists the will of the subject. Insofar as the media “represent” this reality, they partake in its power. The medial image is just as unquestionable as the real onto on and its power lies in this unquestionability. Therefore, for Baudrillard, reality and mass media both stand on the side of reality, and are hence no opposites, but merely two occurrences of the reality principle, understood as “speech without response.” This definition of reality – in its different forms of “reality” and “information” – hints at the old metaphysical identification of being and presence, which Heidegger first pointed out. What Baudrillard calls reality or power is in fact the “mere presence” (Heidegger’s bloße Anwesen) that metaphysics has always identified with Being. This becomes apparent in the passages of Baudrillard’s post-doctoral lecture qualification in which he draws a connection between reality and the “obscene”: “[O]bscenity, […] the naked truth, […] the insane pretension of all things to express their truth” (1988:34). Here the obscene is the pure presence of the real. That Baudrillard equates reality, understood as mere presence, with the information of the media, i.e. with …speech without response,” is illustrated by the following passage from the same work: “Obscenity begins when there is no more spectacle, no more stage, no more theatre, no more illusion, when every-thing becomes immediately transparent, visible, exposed in the raw and inexorable light of information and communication (Ibid.:21-22).
Baudrillard’s thesis can be further elucidated when contrasted with the media theory of Gianni Vattimo, which proceeds from a very similar interpretation of power or violence, but which arrives at contrary results with respect to the media (see Weiss, 2003). Similar to Baudrillard, Vattimo identifies “reality” with power, or with violence, and this in turn with the kind of speech that allows no contradiction. By reality, Vattimo means the violent immediacy of the “direct force of the given, an incontestable self-obtrusion of the an sich [“as such” or “in-itself”] (Vattimo, 1995:116). This reality is violent, as violence is definable – if one wishes to avoid using the metaphysical concepts of nature or structure – only as the evident ground that excludes all contradiction. Vattimo identifies violence with naked actuality, with an ultimate “resort, which one does not transcend and which silences all questioning, as it terminates the conversation” (Ibid.:107). Here, Vattimo does not locate violence in the dominance of the general over the particular, as existentialism had, but in the rendering impossible of free contradiction in the widest sense of the word. According to Vattimo, this non-questionable, and therefore by definition violent real, i.e. the objective, is being increasingly weakened by the findings of modern science: “Modern science, heir and completion of metaphysics, is that which transforms the world to a place where there are no (more) facts, but only interpretations” (Ibid.:34). Yet the same destabilizing, de-realizing function that Vattimo ascribes to the sciences, he also locates in the media.
Vattimo arrives at his surprising assessment of the mass media in his attempt to critically rethink Heidegger’s “Weltbild essay (Heidegger, 1980:73-100). According to Heidegger in this essay, modernity was the epoch of “Weltbilder” (images of the world), the epoch in which the world became an image (of the subject) in the name of boundless domination (of nature). Here, the Turin philosopher shifts the common reading of this passage to its opposite. Vattimo understands image-becoming not as rendering disposable, but – in view of the postmodern duplication of world images – as a symptom of the weakening of traditional Being (understood as presence and structure) and therefore as a positive step toward a “weak ontology,” which unhinges even the supposed certainty of reality: “As a matter of fact, the ever-increasing possibilities of acquiring information on the most varied aspects of reality lead to the impossibility of thinking of reality as one reality. Perhaps one of Nietzsche’s ‘prophecies’ is being realized in the world of mass media: the real world becomes a fable. If, in our late-modern times, we still possess an idea of reality, it can no longer be understood as an objective actuality that would be found beneath or beyond the images delivered to us by the media. How and where should we find access to such a reality ‘in-itself.’ Reality to us is much more the result of the overlapping and ‘contamination’ of numerous images, interpretations and re-constructions that the media disseminates as competing with one another” (Vattimo, 1989:39).
When considering the current diversity of the media, it becomes clear that we have freed ourselves from the “metaphysical-objectivist heritage” (Vattimo and Welsch, 1998:17) of metaphysics, even in our concrete “life world” (Lebenswelt). In this sense, Vattimo can speak of the hermeneutics as well as the “koine” of postmodernity:
Hermeneutics is not concerned with freeing itself from interpretations, but much more with freeing interpretations from the dominance of the one, “true” truth, and from the demand for it – because the latter would call for being entrusted to the scientists, the religious gerontocracy, the political central committees, or another category of “unspoiled” intelligence, along with all the risks to freedom that such a step would carry. The world of medial communication can therefore appear as a world characterized by the freedom of interpretation” (Ibid.).
Indeed, Vattimo even goes so far as to suppose that the “twist” (Verwindung) of “metaphysics, as aspired to by the philosophy of Heidegger, only becomes possible under the new conditions of existence, which are determined by the technology of communication” (Ibid.:20).
In this sense, Vattimos’ radical hermeneutic, which grasps even the ascertainment of the interpretive character of all our experience as mere interpretation, is the only possible philosophy of postmodernity characterized by the limitless pluralization of the media; not because it would truly represent unchanging reality, but because it alone would be in a position to enter into dialog with our “life world”:
If hermeneutics indeed wishes to be a philosophy of dialog as a moment that cannot be reduced to a pure instrument, which is provisional and basically does not essentially serve to uncover the one objective truth, it can only consequentially follow the ‘reality-dissolving’ current that Nietzsche identified. Only on this condition will hermeneutics be able to present itself as a philosophy of the society of communication that has become general (Ibid.:19).
For Vattimo, the pluralization of the media landscape constitutes not only the realization of the dissolution of the one truth in innumerable interpretations, but, as we will see, an eminently positive, emancipatory event, because it creates plurality.
Vattimo’s media optimism stands in (conscious) opposition to the media chastising of the Frankfurt School. Where Adorno had interpreted the mass media as manipulative propaganda machinery that only serves to leave the masses in their “immaturity” (Unmündigkeit), Vattimo sees in the in principle totally uncontrolled possibilities of communication, e.g. those offered by the internet – perhaps naively, perhaps simply provocatively exaggerated – the principle possibility of absolute freedom of opinion, insofar as every societal fringe group now has the means to express itself on an equal footing: “This vertiginous duplication of communication, this ‘rising to speak’ of an increasing number of sub-cultures, is the most apparent effect of the mass media” (Vattimo, 1989:13).
Vattimo knows of the basic danger of manipulation inherent in mass media that Adorno warned about, but believes that the situation of today is fundamentally different from that of the thirties of the twentieth century. “When Adorno spoke of the mass media, he had the Nazi propaganda of Dr. Goebbels in the back of his mind – the voice of the ‘big brother’ who could impress opinions, behavior patterns and assent on the masses in an almost hypnotic manner. But the media world, as it gradually crystallized out of the seventies, had more resemblance to Babylonian lingual confusion than to a monolithic structure ruled from a single center” (Vattimo and Welsch, 1998:16).
If Jean Baudrillard could characterize mass media as a unilateral movement from transmitter to receiver, which excluded all true communication, i.e. living dialog, we must now, after the emergence of the internet at the latest, agree with Vattimo that medial events are today open to more “participants” than ever before:
Even television advertising cannot manage without a certain reference to the audience, which regardless of how manipulable and manipulated it is, remains a conversation partner that is not totally predictable or conditionable. But it doesn’t stop there: The possibility of becoming an active participant in the media ‘market,’ for instance by founding an independent radio and television station, is no longer the privilege of a small few – it any case, it depends more on political or legislative decisions than on purely economic factors (Ibid.).
In Vattimo’s concept of “weak thought” the total medialization and pluralization of “reality,” which appears in our media-dominated “life world,” is highly visible evidence that there is no as such existent “reality,” but that all our seemingly immediate experience is always mediated, i.e. interpreted: “Under the pressure of today’s medial construction of reality we comprehend that reality was always a construction” (Ibid.:7).
The duplication of “world images” in the media can indeed be assessed as evidence that the model of an objective reality that would only need to be represented to derive its truth does not hold up; if reality in-itself were accessible, there would not be so many different representations, or interpretations, of it, but only one: “What sense would the existence of several radio and television stations have in a world in which the exact reproduction of reality, perfect objectivity, the total correspondence between the map and the respective area were the norm?” (Vattimo, 1989:14). In the duplication of reality in the media it becomes apparent that the telos of the adaequation-theoretical notion of truth is not realizable:
Nietzsche did indeed show that the idea of a reality that arranges itself on a foundation according to rational criteria (the idea that metaphysics always had of the world) is only a ‘disquieting’ myth of a still primitive and barbaric humanity: metaphysics is a still violent way to react to a dangerous and violent situation; it in fact attempts to take possession of reality by means of a ‘surprise attack,’ availing (or believing to avail) itself of the main principle on which everything depends and therefore succumbs to the illusion of possessing domination over events. Along these lines Heidegger showed that conceiving Being as foundation and reality as a rational system of cause and effect was only one method to extend the model of ‘scientific’ objectivity – of the mentality that, in order to rigorously dominate and organize all things as well as finally humans themselves, reduces their inwardness and their historicity to the level of purely measurable, manipulable, substitutable factors – to Being as a whole” (Ibid.:15).
With the omnipresence of the media this concept is finally demonstrated to be untenable. In the world of mass media it becomes apparent that the object always presents itself to us in interpretations. Empty (objective) facts do not exist, or at least they would have no “meaning.” Whatever appears to us as something is always interpreted in some way. Modern mass media, in which the “one reality” appears as given only in its countless medial “world images,” thereby becomes the demonstration of the phenomenon that the “truth” is accessible only in and as interpretations. In this liberation from unquestionable – and hence always repressive – objectivity or reality lies the emancipatory function of the media, according to Vattimo:
The thesis I wish to suggest, says that in the medial society, instead of an emancipatory ideal of the completely evolved self-consciousness, of the perfect consciousness of those in the know (whether Hegel’s absolute Spirit or the man that is no longer a slave of ideologies, as Marx conceived him), an emancipatory ideal that is based far more on oscillation and plurality, i.e. on the shattering of the ‘reality principle,’ is making its way” (Ibid.:15).
For Vattimo therefore, “freedom” does not consist in “recognizing the necessary structure of the real and adapting oneself to it” (Ibid.). Rather, the new emancipation, the new “freedom” of the foundationless post-metaphysical life world of “absolute meaning,” or of generalized medialization, consists in accepting the finiteness, and hence relativity, temporariness and mutability of every position, especially one’s own, and comprehending it as opportunity, which is very reminiscent of Nietzsche’s “positive nihilism”:
If, in this world of manifold cultures, I follow my own value system – whether religious, aesthetic, political or ethnic values –, I will make a very exact allowance for the historicity, randomness and limitations of all these systems, starting with my own. This is what Nietzsche, in The Gay Science, calls the “consciousness that I dream and that I must keep dreaming in order not to perish.’ Is such a thing possible? The essence of that which Nietzsche called the Übermensch lies precisely at this point: and it is the task that he assigns to future humans, especially in a world of amplified communication” (Ibid.:18).
Jean Baudrillard, on the other hand, sees in the media merely the duplication of violent reality and can therefore not view them as means toward emancipation. Why this is so will be discussed presently.
So far we have only considered one pole of Baudrillard’s hyperreality, reality in its double nature (reality and information). But what does Baudrillard mean by simulation, the other pole of indifferent unity. If the media are located on the side of reality, simulation can hardly mean representation. On the difference between representation and simulation, Baudrillard notes:
Representation stems from the principle of the equivalence of the sign and of the real […]. Simulation on the contrary, stems from the utopia of the principle of equivalence, from the radical negation of the sign as value, from the sign as the reversion and death sentence of every reference. Whereas representation attempts to absorb simulation by interpreting it as a false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation itself as a simulacrum. Such would be the successive phase of the image:  it is the reflection of a profound reality;  it masks and denatures a profound reality;  it masks the absence of a profound reality;  it has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum” (1981¸1994:6).
The first three phases are still closely associated with representation, as they still somehow maintain a separation of sign and signified, i.e. a sign relation. Only in the fourth phase is representation definitively abandoned. As an example of an image of the first order, Baudrillard introduces the “sacrament,” which, as a symbol of the Real, does not refer to an accessible as such, even one in itself, but is rather the presence of that which is itself appearing, which can only be present in this symbol, but as such is still somehow different from the symbol in which it appears. As an example of a second order image, Baudrillard names the curse, which doesn’t depict a deeper reality, but, in a certain respect, changes it, and hence continues to refer to it as its object. An image of the third order would be magic, which would seek to belie the absence of a deeper reality by presenting itself as the appearance of something, although there is nothing behind it. “In the fourth, it [the image] is no longer of the order of appearance, but of simulation`(Ibid.). In order to comprehend what Baudrillard means by simulation in this fourth phase, a comparison with Nietzsche’s “How the Real World Finally Became a Fable,” probably the world’s shortest history of philosophy, suggests itself:
“How the ‘Real World’ Finally Became a Fable: The History of an Error
1. The real world – attainable for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man; he lives in it, he is it. (The oldest form of the idea, relatively sensible, simple, and persuasive. A circumlocution for the sentence, "I, Plato, am the truth.")
2. The real world – unattainable for now, but promised for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man ("for the sinner who repents"). (Progress of the idea: it becomes more subtle, insidious, incomprehensible – it becomes a woman, it becomes Christian.)
3. The real world – unattainable, indemonstrable, unpromisable; but the very thought of it – a consolation, an obligation, an imperative. (At bottom, the old sun, but seen through mist and skepticism. The idea has become elusive, pale, Nordic, Königsbergian.)
4. The real world – unattainable? At any rate, unattained. And being unattained, also unknown. Consequently, not consoling, redeeming, or obligating: how could something unknown obligate us? (Gray morning. The first yawnings of reason. The cockcrow of positivism.)
5. The "real world" – an idea which is no longer good for anything, not even obligating – an idea which has become useless and superfluous – consequently, a refuted idea: let us abolish it! (Bright day; breakfast; return of bon sens and cheerfulness, Plato blushes for shame, pandemonium of all free spirits.)
6. The real world – we have abolished it. What world has remained? The apparent one perhaps? But no! with the real world we have also abolished the apparent one! (Noon; moment of the briefest shadow; end of the longest error; high point of humanity; INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA.)” (Nietzsche, 1988:80).
If we compare Nietzsche’s six epochs in the history of philosophy with Baudrillard’s fourfold order of images, the following schema results: The image as a mere “reflex” of a deeper-seated reality would correspond to Plato’s doctrine of two worlds, according to which the world on this size only partakes of the ontos on of the ideas. The world of appearance that Plato speaks of would be an image of the first order. Christianity, of which Nietzsche speaks, would correspond to Baudrillard’s curse. Kant would be the magician claiming that the “thing-in-itself” lies behind appearances. And positive nihilism, which has recognized that only the world of appearances exists and has learned to love it as itself, without always leering at the real world, would correspond to Baudrillard’s simulation, which is pure appearance and therefore no longer refers to any real world or deeper reality. In simulation, the real world and the world of appearances fall into one. Simulation refers to nothing except itself; that which remains, is the world of appearances. But with the abolishment of the real world we have also abolished the world of appearances. So that which remains is the simulation, i.e. the substrate-less life world. That which remains, is the simulation without reference. In the words of Baudrillard:
Simulation is no longer that of […] a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory […] that engenders the territory […] (^1981¸1994:1).
That which Baudrillard terms “hyperreality” is the becoming-a-fable of Nietzsche’s world. Hyperreality is that which remains when one abolishes the real world and the world of appearances. Wolfgang Welsch remarks on this thesis in his standard work on postmodernity: “The Real […] no longer exists, as it can no longer be distinguished from its classical contrasts such as description, interpretation or depiction. In an information society where reality is produced by information, it has not only become more and more difficult, but also increasingly impossible and senseless to still distinguish between reality and simulacrum. Both affect and penetrate each other and consolidate a situation of universal simulation” (Welsch, 1997:149).
Before we take up a blatant contradiction in Baudrillard’s texts, it would do well to discuss another way of illustrating Baudrillard’s four-phase model of dissolution. In his book Moderne/Postmoderne (“modernity/postmodernity”) Peter V. Zima calls attention to the peculiar parallels between Baudrillard’s four-phase model of simulation and its theory of value (Zima, 1997:87-109). In Pour un critique de l’économie politique du signe and in La transparence du mal Baudrillard, following Marx, points out “how, in the course of societal development, the utility value dissolves into exchange value” (Ibid.:96). Baudrillard again names four stages: the “natural stage,” in which things are not yet viewed as exchangeable, but have their value in their predetermined utility, which also makes up their unchanging essence. The second stage is that of exchange value, where things lose their unchanging essence and their value, i.e. the market determines what they are. Baudrillard calls the third stage the “structural stage”: “Value here unfolds with reference to an ensemble of models,” without still “referring to concrete objects as referents,” as Zima elaborates. “In the fourth stage, the fractal […] stage of value, there is no reference point at all […]” (Ibid.:96). In the last two stages, the separation of utility value and exchange value still maintained by Marx dissolves. Ultimately, utility value merges in exchange value. What a thing is, is no longer derived from its Being, conceived as unchanging, but from its totally fictive exchange value. The utility value, hence reality, can no longer be inquired about. To recapitulate and in a quasi return to Nietzsche, Zima is of further use:
The appearance of exchange value corresponds on a linguistic and semiotic level to the signifier, whose unquestionable materiality and ambiguity renders the question of the signified as meaning or truth […] meaningless. Analogous to exchange value, it is said [by Baudrillard] of the signifier: ‘The signified (and referent) are only an effect of the signifier (….).’ This thought […] is a Nietzschean attempt to equate appearance as the impossibility of conceivability, meaning, reality and truth with societal totality” (Ibid.).
This condition of hyperreality, which one could grasp positively with Nietzsche as a “liberation of the symbolic” or as a “mobile army of metaphors” – as an epoch in which the objectivism of metaphysics is finally “twisted” and eternal Truth gives way to the play of interpretations, or to the play of free signifiers – Baudrillard now surprisingly castigates as “the hell of simulation,” as the hell “of the subtle, maleficent, elusive twisting of meaning […]” (Baudrillard (1981) 1994:18).Baudrillard suddenly seems to be bemoaning the loss of metaphysics of presence. If previously, he denounced the real as power that, to maintain its own stability, allows no response and is by definition repressive, he now writes: “The reality of simulation is unbearable […]” (Ibid.:38). This is Baudrillard’s contradiction; and it unmasks the prophet of absolute simulation as a “negative nihilist.” Nietzsche calls “negative nihilism” the position that has recognized that there is nothing to moral and other “otherworldly” values, the “thing-in-itself,” the signified, yet does not interpret this as a liberation, but despairs of the “death of God,” i.e. of the dissolution of the objective, and which lapses into the “spirit of revenge against time and its ‘it was,’” i.e. the resentment against the here and now. With “positive” or “active nihilism” Nietzsche meant a position that has overcome the “spirit of revenge,” that remains faithful to the earth and that has learned to love transient and elapsing appearances as such. The positive and active nihilist no longer seeks the value, meaning, or sense of things in a “real world” beyond appearances, but loves the empire of absolute meaning liberated from every “in-itself,” the empire of liberated symbolization, for its own sake. In contrast to this stands Baudrillard, who has recognized that we live in the condition of hyperreality in which we can no longer refer to any absolute referents, yet who can’t bear this fact, but despairs of it. Seen from Nietzsche’s standpoint, Baudrillard remains attached to metaphysics and their desire for objectivity and hence to the “spirit of revenge.” On the other hand, Baudrillard’s position can also serve as a – perhaps deterring – example of where a consequentially thought-out Nietzscheanism leads; in Baudrillard’s words:
The age of simulation is opened everywhere by the exchangeability of formerly contradictory or dialectically opposed concepts. Everywhere there is the same genesis of simulacra: the exchangeability of the beautiful and the ugly in fashion, of left and right in politics, of true and false in all messages of the media, of the useful and the useless on the level of objects, of nature and culture in all levels of signification (1976, 1993).
Martin G. Weiss is working on a Habilitation thesis on the bioethical and biopolitical implications of biotechnologies at the University of Klagenfurt. He collaborates with the interdisciplinary Research Platform Life-Science-Governance of the University of Vienna, and is co-director of the trilateral ELSA-GEN Project funded by the German and Austrian Ministries of Research and the Finnish Academy of Sciences. He participated in the project "Development – Sustainability – Responsibility" funded by the Foundation Bruno Kessler (Trento/Italy) focusing on environmental ethics and biotechnology, 2004-2005. From 2005 to 2008 he was Project Leader of the stand-alone project funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). In 2006 he was Visiting Scholar at the Department of Rhetorics at UC Berkeley.
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