Friday, November 16, 2007

Baudrillard and Simulacrum

In an interview Baudrillard reveals the strain of thinking about simulation, 'I stopped working on simulation. I felt I was going totally nuts.' I can understand why Baudrillard would say this, as I am working on an essay about Baudrillard for the workshop at Newcastle.

Here is a short section from it. i would be happy to hear comments. My main purpose is to try and make Baudrillard into a (sort of) Deleuzian, which should hopefully remove the perverse platonism in Baudrillard:


In Merrin’s assessment, the majority of Baudrillard’s commentators have simplistically critiqued, and misunderstood, the concept of the simulacrum (see Best and Keller, 1991). For Merrin they fail to grasp that Baudrillard adopts a critical stance towards the simulacra, which privileges the symbolic. This means to challenge Baudrillard ‘we must oppose him not with the real but with the simulacrum, not rejecting but accepting, employing and escalating its force to challenge his work’ (Merrin, 2005: p30).
One of the few works I have found attempting to turn Baudrillard against himself is a short essay by Brian Massumi. Written from a Deleuzian perspective Massumi is able to argue simulation both replaces a real that did exist and is all there has ever been. The result is Massumi adopts a paradoxical position of believing simulation is both transhistorical and historical. To understand simulation, for Massumi, means focusing on how ‘simulation takes as its point of departure a regularized world comprising stable identities. But these “real” entities are in fact undercover simulacra’ (Massumi, 1987). Simulation is then a process of immanent becoming, with no foundational referent, but rather an appropriation of reality to alter and metamorphosis life. There is only ‘simulation upon simulation’ (Massumi, 1987).
However, for Baudrillard the referent, or what we call reality, is the symbolic, which is outside the process of the dominant semiotic processes. The symbolic is excluded from the semiotic, as the symbolic is an external threat to the semiotic, which can cause a rupture in the semiotic. Yet, Lyotard, and Merrin, have both critiqued the privileging of the symbolic as producing another simulacrum. Lyotard has labelled this privileging of the symbolic as the creation of a ‘good’ savage simulacrum, which holds nostalgia for the past in order to challenge the present. I completely agree with Lyotard’s assessment, and the ‘good’ savage is nothing other than another simulacrum. However, simulacrum become crucial, as it is through the production of simulacrum that life is lived. The production of simulacrum should be regarded as the creation of habit, the creation of machines, the creation of assemblages, and so forth. Baudrillard recognises this, claiming ‘the simulator produces’ (Baudrillard, 1983: p5). Simulacra may then also be a form of empowerment, and not only to be regarded as domination.
It is my belief Baudrillard’s orders of simulacra are aimed to comprehend different blocs of becoming. These blocks of becoming are how life is produced. The names attached to these blocs of becoming are arbitrary and unimportant. What is important is the recognition that something different is occurring, ‘becoming produces nothing other than itself. We fall into a false alternative if we say that you either imitate or you are. What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which becoming passes’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 2004: p262). Baudrillard is then proposing the orders of simulacra to argue, in comparison to other ages of production (counterfeit and industrial production), the affirmation of the contemporary world is different. This is why Baudrillard is complementary to Walter Benjamin and Marshall McLuhan, who were both able to understand the significance of new mediums entering into production processes.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

"the 'good' savage is nothing other than another simulacrum"

it seems to me that the relevance of simulacra is completely dismissed in the absence of the 'good' savage. Perhaps it is okay to say that the 'good' savage is nothing other than ANOTHER simulacrum, but if we treat the 'good' savage as such, then we would lose sight of the decadent effect that simulacra have on the world.
Perhaps, you'll say this is precisely why we should treat the symbolic as such- to lose sight of the decadent effect it appears to have. But this is a rebellion against enlightenment and a negligent return to ignorance.

As far as the last sentence in that paragraph goes, "Simulacra may then also be a form of empowerment..." I'm not sure that Baudrillard could agree to the statement that simulacra could ever be a form of empowerment. I think it is only the 'good' savage that wields empowerment. Instead of calling the 'good' savage another simulacrum, it would probably be a more prudent decision to keep the two separate.

Mark202 said...

I can understand that there is an argument for keeping the simulacrum away from the 'good' savage, but the whole point is questioning if the two can be devided/seperated? Is not symbolic exchange just another simulacrum?

Anonymous said...

Symbolic exchange is another simulacrum, but without the same effect of simulacrum, upon simulacrum, upon simulacrum. So in that sense, it is not the same as simulacrum.

Mark202 said...

thanks for the comments:

I think the problem could from my definition of simulacrum. From my perspective I am coming from a Deleuzian definition, which tries to argue for a reversal of Platonism, and the empowerment/affirmation of simulacrum. Simulacrum, from my definition, are singularities, without an essential transcendental signified. The simulacrum are not degraded copies, but the continual production of the (hyper)real. As deleuze and guattari write, 'everything is production', but this is the production of the Body without Organs, which has no essense (God or Platonic Ideas). In otherwords, the BwO only simulates, as it has no essential reference to refer back to. Even Baudrillard realises the real that is lost to the hyperreal was not a real, but just another simulation. in passwards, when writing about the 'vritual' baudrillard claims 'the virtual stands oppossed to the real, but its sudden emergence, through new technologies, gives us the sense that it now marks the vanishing or end of the real. i have already said that, as i see it, to bring a real world into being is in itself to produce that world, and the real has only ever been a form of simulation' (p39)
However, I do understand your point that symbolic exchange is different from Baudrillard's simulacra. However, I find it more helpful, now, to differentiate between the semiotic and the symbolic, as forms of exchange, rather than the simulacrum and symbolic.

hope this clears up where i am coming from.

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