Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thoughts on Simulacrum

[*Sorry about the missing references for this post]

Arguably, simulacra have been misunderstood, in philosophical terms, since Plato. For Plato the production of simulacrum represents the move away from the real and into unreality. Overall, Plato regards simulacrum as merely pretenders of the real that appear as (bad) copies of the real. For example, if I photograph a chair and then paint a picture from that photograph, in a Platonic world, I am continually moving away from the real and into unreality. The Platonic world can therefore provide a hierarchical ordering of reality and realness. Firstly there are the Platonic ideas. These Platonic ideas are the essences of an object that are never realised in the actual world. Secondly, there are the copies that are closest to the essence of the Platonic ideas. For example, a ‘real’ wooden chair is the closest the actual world can come to the Platonic idea of a chair. Thirdly, there are the copies of the copies, which are the simulacrum. For example, a poet who writes about a chair in their poem is producing a simulacrum in the Platonic world. The poet is further away from the Platonic idea of a chair than the carpenter who constructs the chair. This understanding of simulacrum still persists in contemporary academic literature, and is found in the work of Frederic Jameson and Jean Baudrillard. Even if both contemporary scholars agree that simulacrum are dominant in today’s world they both define simulacrum as moving away from the real. This is evident in Jameson’s example of photorealism to define simulacrum and Baudrillard’s argument that we have lost the real and entered into a virtual world of simulation and hyperreality.
In contrast to the Platonic trend of defining simulacrum as the move away from the real, Deleuze argues simulacrum is the (continual) production of the real. On the whole, Deleuzian simulacrum is defined through the task of reversing Platonism, which aims to remove the idea that there are Platonic ideas. The problem of Platonic ideas is it represents an essentialist perspective that generates a privileged and narrow idea of the real. As Deleuze writes ‘the motive of theory of Ideas must be sought in a will to select and to choose. It is a question of “making a difference” of distinguishing the “thing” itself from its images, the orginal from the copy, the model from the simulacrum.’[1] In other words, I should recognise that the chair I sit on is more ‘real’ than the chair I read about in the poem. Against this Platonic world Deleuze argues there is no essential real that serves as the Archimedean point to define everything else. For Deleuze there is only the continual, and creative, production of the real, which is summed up in the maxim ‘everything is production.’[2] This means a chair in a poem or painting is no less real than the chair I use to sit on. Instead, each chair affirms its difference and realness through its presence, which has been generated from a necessity and contingency. Steven Shaviro explains this ‘implosion’ of the real and the simulacrum in terms of the various cartoons and comics of Batman:

Batman is a simulacrum. There is no Platonic Idea of Batman, no model that all the all iterations of Batman would conform to more of less, and in relation to which they could hierarchically according to degree of their resemblance. There is no best of all possible Batmans, no iteration which can be judged more perfect than the rest. Rather, the disparity between the different iterations of Batman, their distance from one another, is itself the only common measure between them. Each Batman arises independently, as a unique “solution” to a common disparity or problem…In the absence of any Platonic criterion, or any Leibnizian God, there is only the disjunctive synthesis which affirms each iteration, one at a time, in its divergence from the rest. This means that any particular Batman is entirely contingent, although the synthesis itself, with its affirmation of all these multiple iterations, responds to a necessity.[3]

Overall, Shaviro is expressing the important point that one Batman cannot be privileged as the real Batman that the rest copy. Instead each Batman is created as a result of necessity and contingency. In Deleuzian terminology it is a disjunctive synthesis that produces each Batman simulacrum. The notion of a disjunctive synthesis is used to account for how the heterogeneous flows of life generate a self, which in this case is the self of Batman. In other words, a disjunctive synthesis is required to produce a simulacrum, and this disjunctive synthesis is entirely contingent and necessary.

[1] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense (Continuum: London, 2004) p291
[2] Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus (Continuum: London, 2004) p4
[3] Steven Shaviro, God or the Body without Organs (, accessed 12th March 2008) p17


Tor Hershman said...

“Science without religion is science; religion without science is religion.”

“There is no God in foxholes”

Tor Hershman

The Brooks Blog said...

What does it mean to say that "[o]verall, Plato regards simulacrum as merely pretenders of the real that appear as (bad) copies of the real" as Plato never uses the term?

Mark202 said...

Hi Thom,

I know that Plato does not use the term, but there is a clear hierarchy of defining reality in Plato's thought, which is required in order to form an argument for existence based on (ideal) ideas.

A lot of this can be taken from "Poetry and Unreality" in The Republic. For example, a football game on a computer game would be a (bad) copy for Plato as this would be moving into unreality, or what is now regarded as a simulacrum.

However, this line of thought can be expanded further. Take the example of Plato's ideal state. Could there not be states the come close to this idea and states that are far from this idea? The former could appear as good copies of the republic and the latter as bad copies of the republic.

Overall, I tend to believe that it is Plato's theory of ideas and forms that allow one to speak about Plato's Simulacrum. Is it not the case that the real/material world is only a copy of a real (ideal) world for Plato? A world where we only have copies and imprints of transcendent ideas?

The Brooks Blog said...

I think this needs a lot of unpacking. First, I am not sure that Plato is a transcendentalist. Kant was, but not all Idealists were.

That said, I am not sure of what copies/imprints of ideas beyond experience and sensibility would be. Kant believes that noumena are intelligible, if supersensible, and the possibility of our freedom is intelligible, if supersensible, too. What does it mean to have a copy of something supersensible, which I make intelligible even if I must presuppose its existence (making a transcendental leap of sorts)? I have no idea.

Or more simply: what would it mean to 'copy' a right to free expression? I can't see this making any sense.

Far more promising than Simulacrum, may well be work on possible worlds. Are you acquainted with David Lewis's work?

Anonymous said...

Please check out this reference which describes the inevitable consequences of the (totalising) power and control Simulacrum in which we are trapped.

Plus this reference describes the origins of the perceptual strait-jacket which INEVITABLY lead to the situation desribed above.

Mark202 said...

Hi Thom,

I agree that this topics does require a lot more unpacking, and will write another post on the topic. (I need to get The Republic back down from the shelf and also Kant's Critique of Pure Reason).

Hi anonymous,

are u relating the simulacrum to capitalism and the dominant semiotic codes of the contemporary social world?
The point i was making about simulacrum is an attempt to connect the concept to (Deleuzian) complexity theory that concentrates on processes of individuation that does not assume pre-established identities or objects. It is for this reason I would like to implode the division between the real and the simulacrum, which stands in contrast to Baudrillard and Jameson's understanding.

eda said...




Sujyothi said...


Loved your blog!! I am Master Degree student from India and am learning about "Poetry and Unreality" from the Republic. I was amazed to see so many people discussing Socrates in such depth. A lot many more concepts and words seem obscure to me still. But I hope to learn more. I am working on Literary Criticism and Indian English[ both contemporary and colonial].
Looking forward to converse with you!



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