This work (c) 1996 by Bernardo Alexander Attias; updated 1998, 2001, and 2011
Malaclypse the Younger: O! Eris! I am filled with fear and tormented with terrible visions of pain. Everywhere people are hurting one another, the planet is rampant with injustices, whole societies plunder groups of their own people, mothers imprison sons, children perish while brothers war. O, woe.
Goddess Eris: What is the matter with that, if it is what you want to do?
Malaclypse: But nobody wants it! Everybody Hates it!
Eris: Oh. Well, then stop.
At which moment She turned Herself into an aspirin commercial and left the Polyfather stranded alone with his species.
Le Système des objets (Paris: Gallimard, 1968); pp. 255-83 trans. as "The System of Objects" by Jacques Mourrain, in Mark Poster, ed., Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings (Stanford: 1988) 10-29.
Discusses the thesis of consumer society from a neo-Marxist perspective, relying on both Lacanian psychoanalysis and Saussurean structuralism to develop his main theme, which is that consumption has become the chief basis of the social order. Consumer objects structure behavior through a linguistic sign function. Advertising has taken over "the moral responsibility for all of society and replace[d] a puritan morality with a hedonistic morality of pure satisfaction, like a new state of nature at the heart of hypercivilization," (12-3). The freedoms and liberties we have in this new hypercivilization are completely circumscribed by the commodity system: "'Free to be oneself' in fact means: free to project one's desires onto produced goods. 'Free to enjoy life' means: free to regress and be irrational, and thus adapt a certain social organization of production. [This is] the ultimate in morality, since the consumer is simultaneously reconciled with himself and with the group. He becomes the perfect social being," (13). Buying commodities is a preconditioned activity which takes place at the intersection of two systems: that of the individual, which is fluid and disconnected, and that of the relations of production, which is codified, continuous and integrated. "This is not interaction but rather the forced integration of the system of needs within the system of products," (14). The relationship is similar to the Saussurean system of langue and parole : the object of consumption is a particular articulation (parole) of a set of expressions that preexist the commodity (langue) . But this is not a language: "Here we have the tower of Babel: each item speaks its own idiom ... This immense paradigm lacks a true syntax," (15); it is "a system of classification, and not a language," (16). "Needs" as such are created by the objects of consumption: "objects are categories of objects which quite tyrannically induce categories of persons. They undertake the policing of social meanings, and the significations they engender are controlled," (16-7). Objects signify social standing, and in consumer society they replace all other means of hierarchical societal division -- e.g. race, gender, class. People are no longer ranked according to these obsolete mechanisms but by the commodities they own -- a universal code of recognition tells us that the person with the Rolex watch is higher on the hierarchy. This does not mean liberation from exploitation; "On the contrary, it appears that the constraint of a single referent only acts to exacerbate the desire for discrimination ... we can observe the unfolding of an always renewed obsession of hierarchy and distinction," (20). Consumption is a "systematic act of the manipulation of signs" (22) that signifies social status through difference -- buying a Rolex means not buying a Seiko. The object itself is not consumed but rather the idea of a relation between objects. Also, technological imperatives undermine the Marxian problematic of revolution because change is integral to the system and its very reproduction: "Everything is in motion, everything is changing, everything is being transformed and yet nothing changes. Such a society, thrown into technological progress, accomplishes all possible revolutions but these are revolutions upon itself. Its growing productivity does not lead to any structural change."
La Société de consommation: ses mythes, ses structures (Paris: Gallimard, 1970); pp. 17-26 trans. as "Consumer Society," in Poster, 29-57 [CS]; pp. 174-85 trans. Paul Foss as "Pop--An Art of Consumption," Paul Taylor, ed., Post-Pop Art (Cambridge: MIT, 1989) 33-44 [PAC]
"The whole discourse on consumption, whether learned or lay, is articulated on the mythological sequence of the fable: a man, 'endowed' with needs which 'direct' him towards objects that 'give' him satisfaction," (CS 35). This mythos ignores the nature of consumer society in which "the manufacturers control behavior, as well as direct and model social attitudes and needs ... this is a total dictatorship by the sector of production," (CS 38). Baudrillard challenges J. K. Galbraith's notion that "[n]eeds are in reality the fruits of production" (CS 41; citing The New Industrial State), arguing instead that "the system of needs is the product of the system of production.... Needs are produced as a force of consumption ." In other words, what Galbraith calls "needs" only exist in order to increase the pace of consumption: "needs are nothing but the most advanced form of the rational systematization of productive forces at the individual level, one in which 'consumption' takes up the logical and necessary relay from production," (CS 43). "The world of objects and needs would thus be a world of general hysteria. Just as the organs and functions of a body in hysterical conversion become a gigantic paradigm which the symptom replaces and refers to, in consumption objects become a vast paradigm designating another language through which something else speaks," (CS 45). Consumption is thus both an ideology and a system of communication (as exchange), and can be seen as "exclusive of pleasure" (CS 46). Pleasure is not the goal of consumption but rather a rationalization for consumption. The real goal of consumption is to prop up the system of objects: "Production and Consumption are one and the same grand logical process in the expanded reproduction of the productive forces and of their control. This imperative, which belongs to the system, enters in an inverted form into mentality, ethics, and everyday ideology, and that is its ultimate cunning: in the form of the liberation of needs, of individual fulfillment, of pleasure, and of affluence, etc.," (CS 50). The individual consumer is essential to the reproduction of the system.
Consumption has become a kind of labor; a bricolage (Levi-Strauss) in which the individual invests his/her private world with meaning through the "active manipulation of signs." What is consumed "is not the object itself, but the system of objects, 'the idea of a relation' that is actually 'no longer lived, but abolished, abstracted, consumed' by the signifying system itself ... As we 'consume' the code, in effect, we 'reproduce' the system," Levin, in intro to CPES (5).
The artistic object in this system loses its status as an artistic sign, since this is now the role of all objects. The "cynical smile" of American Pop Art (Warhol) "is one of the obligatory signs of consumption: it no longer indicates a humor, a critical distance .... Ultimately, in this 'cool' smile, you can no longer distinguish between the smile of humor and that of commercial complicity .... [I]t is not the smile of critical distance, it is the smile of collusion," (PAC 44).
For A Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (St. Louis: Telos, 1972, 1981) trans. Charles Levin. [CPES]
People's relation to consumption has hierarchical status value in a system of symbolic exchange, which is a "social institution that determines behavior before even being considered in the consciousness of the social actors," (31). In this system, consumption determines one's social status -- "Through objects, each individual and group searches out his-her place in an order, all the while trying to jostle this order according to a personal trajectory," (38). In this sense there is no point in positing the existence of an "empirical object" (63) because the object only has meaning as a signifying relation.
|Use-Value||Exchange Value||Symbolic Exchange||Sign-Value|
|what the object does||what its worth||relation to subject||relation to other signs|
|fridge stores food||2 butter = 1 gun||wedding ring||fashion|
The concept of need (as in the Use-Value domain above) functions ideologically to produce a tautology in which the subject is defined by the object and vice-versa. The legitimacy of production rests on the certainty that people will rationalize consumption through the concept of need. "And so it appears that this begging of the question -- this forced rationalization -- simply masks the internal finality of the order of production. To become an end in itself, every system must dispel the question of its real teleology," (71). "In other words, there are only needs because the system needs them," (82).
Consumption as sign-value is both wealth and the lack of it: "The act of consumption is never simply a purchase ... it is also an expenditure ... it is wealth manifested, and a manifest destruction of wealth," (112). Economic exchange value (i.e., shekels) is transformed into sign exchange value based on "a monopoly of the code," (115).
Individual agency is irrelevant in consumer society: "The logic of exchange is primordial. In a way, the individual is nonexistent ... a certain language ... is prior to the individual. This language is a social form in relation to which there can properly speaking be no individuals, since it is an exchange structure ... Language cannot be explained by postulating an individual need to speak.... Before such questions can even be put, there is, simply, language -- not as an absolute, autonomous system but as a structure of exchange contemporaneous with meaning itself, and on which is articulated the individual intention of speech," (75).
Problems with "false consciousness," esp. as manifest in theories of fetishism: "Marxism eliminates any real chance it has of analyzing the actual process of ideological labor. By refusing to analyze the structures and the mode of ideological production inherent in its own logic, Marxism is condemned ... to expanding the reproduction of ideology, and thus of the capitalist system itself ... The term 'fetishism' almost has a life of its own. Instead of functioning as a metalanguage for the magical thinking of others, it turns against those who use it, and surreptitiously exposes their own magical thinking," (89-90). It is not the passion for objects that drives commodity fetishism, but "the passion for the code ... This is the fundamental articulation of the ideological process: not of the projection of alienated consciousness into various superstructures, but in the generalization at all levels of a structural code," (92). Thus ideology "is not a mysterious duping of consciousness: it is a social logic that is substituted for another (and which resolves the latter's contradictions), thus changing the very definition of value," (118). It is the magic of the code which forms "the keystone of domination," (119).
Ideology "appears as a sort of cultural surf frothing on the beachhead of the economy," (144).
The tautology of unlimited semiosis excludes the real -- the signified is legitimated on the basis of the signifier and vice versa. This circularity "is the very secret of all metaphysical (ideological) operationality.... The 'real' table does not exist ... if it exists, this is because it has already been designated, abstracted and rationalized by the separation (decoupage) which establishes it in this equivalence to itself," (155). Signification, thus, is reification -- "All the repressive and reductive strategies are already present in the internal logic of the sign, as well as those of exchange value and political economy. Only total revolution, theoretical and practical, can restore the symbolic in the demise of the sign and of value. Even signs must burn," (163).
Mass media: must be studied in terms of form and not content; Frankfurters like Brecht and Enzensberger who argue that media can be liberating ignore that the mass media are ideological through and through: "ideology does not exist in some place apart, as the discourse of the dominant class, before it is channeled through the media ... media ideology functions at the level of form," (169). The mass media "fabricate noncommunication" (169) because they "are what always prevents a response, making all processes of exchange impossible ... This is the real abstraction of the media. And the system of social control and power is rooted in it," (170). This is not only the ultimate means of social control; it simply is social control; "It is useless to fantasize about state projection of police control through TV:... TV, by virtue of its mere presence, is a social control itself. There is no need to imagine it as a state periscope spying on everyone's private life -- the situation as it stands is more efficient than that: it is the certainty that people are no longer speaking to each other, that they are definitely isolated in the face of a speech without response," (172). Graffiti is the only subversive media because it doesn't "oppose one code to another" but rather it "simply smashes the code," (184).
"1. Political economy: Under the cover of utility ... it institutes a coherent logical system, a calculus of productivity in which all production is resolved into simple elements, in which all products are equivalent in their abstraction. This is the logic of the commodity and the system of exchange value.
2. The political economy of the sign: Under the cover of functionality ... it institutes a certain mode of signification in which all the surrounding signs act as simple elements in a logical calculus and refer to each other within the framework of the system of sign exchange value," (191).
|nucleus of meaning||"residue, superfluity, excrescence," (196)|
"There is no truth of the object, and denotation is never more than the most beautiful of connotations.... The function(ality) of forms, of objects, becomes more incomprehensible, illegible, incalculable, every day," (196).
The Mirror of Production (St Louis: Telos, 1973,1975) trans. Mark Poster.
The idea of "production" in a Marxian sense must be submitted to a radical critique. For Baudrillard, the critique of consumption "attains its full scope in its extension to that other commodity, labor power," (25). Labor power is not an essentialist notion of human potential; it is produced as a concept by the political economy. This is a fundamental critique of Marxism in Baudrillard's eyes: "And in this Marxism assists the cunning of capital. It convinces men that they are alienated by the sale of their labor power, thus censoring the much more radical hypothesis that they might be alienated as labor power, as the 'inalienable' power of creating value by their labor," (31). The Marxist view is thus problematic because it presupposes the capitalist view of human beings as production machines. A truly radical perspective would abandon this ideological construction of production -- "And in order to find a realm beyond economic value (which is in fact the only revolutionary perspective), then the mirror of production in which all Western metaphysics is reflected, must be broken," (47).
Marx argued that the critique of religion was completed after Feuerbach and only the critique of political economy could "resolve the problem of religion by bringing out the true contradictions. Today we are exactly at the same point with respect to Marx. For us, the critique of political economy is basically completed. The materialist dialectic has exhausted its content in reproducing its form," (51). This new radicalism entails not the critique of political economy but the critique of the political economy of the sign. This revolution in political economy concerns everyone, no matter what class (122-3). With the domination of the code (see CPES), "Marxism is incapable of theorizing total social practice (including the most radical form of Marxism) except to reflect it in the mirror of the mode of production. It cannot lead to the dimensions of a revolutionary 'politics.'" (152). Alienation is wrong: "What an absurdity it is to pretend that men are 'other,' to try to convince them that their deepest desire is to become 'themselves' again! Each man is totally there at each instant. Society is also totally there at each instant," (166). Reduces Marxism throughout the book to its most reductive & deterministic varieties, esp. Lenin and Althusser. It is in this work that Baudrillard begins the slippery slope into the nihilism of what Douglass Kellner calls "hypercriticism": "more critical than critical, and reminiscent of the 'critical criticism' of the Young Hegelians attacked by Marx," (JBMB 53).
L'Echange symbolique et la mort (Paris: Gallimard, 1976); pp. 19-29 trans. as "Symbolic Exchange and Death," in Poster, 119-149.
Here Baudrillard moves completely out of the realm of political economy and into his world of "radical semiurgy," total domination by the code of sign-exchange. Marxism, semiotics, anthropolgy, and psychoanalysis are all useless to the revolutionary critic until they are turned inside out through the logic of reversibility and simulation. Codes thus constitute the primary organizing principle of the social entity -- we have moved from a focus on the "mode of production" to a focus on the "code of production," Kellner, JBMB, 61. Ideology is dead: "Today, the entire system is fluctuating in indeterminacy, all of reality is absorbed by the hyperreality of the code and of simulation. It is now a principle of simulation, and not of reality, that regulates social life. The finalities have disappeared; we are now engendered by models. There is no longer such a thing as ideology; there are only simulacra," (120). The three orders of simulacra which follow are seen as a succession of historically material stages, each separated by a revolution ("these are the true revolutions," 121):
|natural laws||forces/tensions||binary oppositions|
|metaphysics of being||metaphysics of energy/determination||metaphysics of indeterminacy/the code|
|meaning is fixed||logic of equivalence||logic of ambivalence/reversibility|
|sign = referent||sign exchanged for referent||sign exchanged for sign|
Communication is wet and sticky, and it holistically organizes concepts according to a structural logic: "The culture of tactile communication is in fact burgeoning in the techno-lumino-kinetic space provided by this total, spatio-dynamic theater. It brings with it a kind of contact Imaginary, a sensorial mimeticism, a tactile mysticism that grafts onto the universe of operational simulation, multistimulation, and multiresponse like an entire system of ecological concepts," (144).
The Hyperreal: "From medium to medium, the real is volatilized, becoming an allegory of death. But it is also, in a sense, reinforced through its own destruction. It becomes reality for its own sake, the fetishism of the lost object: no longer the object of representation, but the ecstasy of denial and of its own ritual extermination: the hyperreal.... The hyperreal ... manages to efface even this contradiction between the real and the imaginary. Unreality no longer resides in the dream or fantasy, or in the beyond, but in the real's hallucinatory resemblance to itself," (145). The hyperreal is vertiginous: "the whirlgig of representation goes mad, but with an implosive insanity which, far from being ex-centric, casts longing eyes at the center, towards its own repetition en abime," (146).
"When Bataille Attacked the Metaphysical Principle of Economy," trans. David James Miller, Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory 11:3 (1976, 1987) 57-62.
Marx critiques exchange value only by exalting use value -- "The marxist seeks a good use of economy. Marxism is therefore only a limited petit bourgeois critique, one more step in the banalization of life toward the 'good use' of the social! Bataille, on the contrary, sweeps away all this slave dialectic from an aristocratic point of view, that of the master struggling with his death ... Marxism is only the disenchanted horizon of capital -- all that precedes or follows it is more radical than it is," (60). Bataille constructs a metaphysical rather than a political principle of economy; a "solar economy," a "cosmogeny of expenditure," (61) based on the principle of the unlimited gift of sunlight. "But Bataille has misread Mauss: the unilateral gift does not exist. This is not the law of the universe ... the sun gives nothing, it is necessary to nourish it continually with human blood in order that it shine," (61).
"The Beaubourg-Effect: Implosion and Deterrence," October 20 (Spring 1982) 3-13; trans. Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson; orig pub. 1977.
A critique of the Beauborg museam. Mass production is "not massive production or a utilization of the masses for production, but rather a production of the mass(es)," (8). Power disappears through implosion.
Forget Foucault (NY: Semiotext(e), 1977,1987). [FF]
"Ours is a culture of premature ejaculation," (24). "Down with theological power, long live teleonomical power!" (34)
Power Disappears: power is arbitrary and reversible in its form. "We must say that power seduces, but not in the vulgar sense of a complicit form of desire on the part of those who are dominated -- this comes down to basing it in the desire of others , which is really going overboard in taking people for idiots -- no, power seduces by that reversibility which haunts it, and upon which a minimal symbolic cycle is set up," (43-4). "In fact, the revolution has already taken place. Neither the bourgeois revolution nor the communist revolution: just the revolution," (50). Thus, it is useless to discuss power since power "is only there to hide the fact that it no longer exists, or rather to indicate that since the apogee of the political has been crossed, the other side of the cycle is now starting in which power reverts into its own simulacrum ... only the mise-en-scène of ... power is operational. But this is the sign that the sphere of power is in the process of contracting from a star of the first magnitude to a red dwarf, and then to a black hole absorbing all the substance of the real and all the surrounding energies, now transmuted at once into a single pure sign -- the sign of the social whose density crushes us," (51).
In the Shadow of Silent Majorities or, The End of the Social and Other Essays (NY: Semiotext(e), 1978, 1983) trans. Paul Foss, John Johnston, and Paul Patton.
The "mass" is a concept created by simulation. "The social void is scattered with interstitial objects and crystalline clusters which spin around and coalesce in a cerebral chiaroscuro. So is the mass, an in vacuo aggregation of individual particles, refuse of the social and of media impulses: an opaque nebula whose growing density absorbs all the surrounding energy and light rays, to collapse finally under its own weight. A black hole which engulfs the social," (3-4). "Can one ask questions about the strange fact that, after several revolutions and a century or two of political apprenticeship, ... there are still ... a thousand persons who stand up and twenty million who remain 'passive' -- and not only passive, but who, in all good faith and without even asking themselves why, frankly prefer a football match to a human and political drama? ... power manipulates nothing, the masses are neither mislead nor mystified. Power is only too happy to make football bear a facile responsibility, even to take upon itself the diabolical responsibility for stupefying the masses. This comforts in its illusion of being power, and leads away from the much more dangerous fact that this indifference of the masses is their true, their only practice, that there is no other ideal of them to imagine, nothing in this to deplore, but everything to analyze as the brute fact of a collective retaliation and of a refusal to participate in the recommended ideals, however enlightened," (13-14). "The only referent which still functions is that of the silent majority. All contemporary systems function on this nebulous entity, on this floating substance whose existence is no longer social, but statistical, and whose only mode of appearance is that of the survey ... They don't express themselves, they are surveyed," (19-20). "Today, everything has changed: no longer is meaning in short supply, it is produced everywhere, in ever increasing quantities -- it is demand which is weakening. And it is the production of this demand for meaning which has become crucial for the system. Without this ... power is nothing but an empty simulacrum and an isolated effect of perspective," (27). The mass "absorbs all the social energy, but no longer refracts it. It absorbs every sign and every meaning, but no longer reflects them. It absorbs all messages and digests them. For every question put to it, it sends back a tautological and circular response ... The mass is dumb like beasts, and its silence is equal to the silence of beasts. Despite having been surveyed to death ... it says neither whether the truth is to the left or to the right, nor whether it prefers revolution or repression. It is without truth and without reason. It has been attributed with every arbitrary remark. It is without conscience and without unconscious," (28-9). "It has always been thought -- this is the very ideology of the mass media -- that it is the media which envelop the masses. The secret of manipulation has been sought in a frantic semiology of the mass media. But it has been overlooked, in this naive logic of communication, that the masses are a stronger medium than all the media, that it is the former who envelop and absorb the latter -- or at least there is no priority of one over the other. The mass and the media are one single process. Mass(age) is the message," (44). The masses "know that there is no liberation, and that a system is abolished only by pushing it into hyperlogic, by forcing it into an excessive practice which is equivalent to a brutal amortization. 'You want us to consume -- OK, let's consume always more, and anything whatsoever; for any useless and absurd purpose," (46). The masses and terrorism are "the most radical, most intense contemporary form of the denial of the whole representative system," (52).
Lambasts Lyotard's "libidinal economy" and Deleuze & Guattari's "micropolitics of desire" rather brutally: "But take care! Out of this private and asocial universe, ... some would like to make a new source of revolutionary energy (in particular in its sexual and desire version). They would like to give it meaning and reinstate it in its very banality, as historical negativity. Exaltation of micro-desires, small differences, unconscious practices, anonymous marginalities. Final somersault of the intellectuals to exalt insignificance, to promote non-sense into the order of sense. And to transfer it back to political reason. Banality, inertia, apoliticism used to be fascist; they are in the process of becoming revolutionary -- without changing meaning, without ceasing to have meaning. Microrevolution of banality, transpolitics of desire -- one more trick of the 'liberationists'. The denial of meaning has no meaning," (40-1).
The "social" no longer exists, (65-84). Thus socialism is impossible: "The social, if it existed with second-order simulacra, no longer even has the opportunity to be produced with third-order ones: from the beginning it is trapped in its own 'blown up' and desperate staging, in its own obscenity. Signs of this hyperrealisation, signs of its reduplication and its anticipated fulfillment are everywhere. The transparency of the social relation is flaunted, signified, consumed everywhere. The history of the social will never have had time to lead to revolution: it will have been outstripped by signs of the social and of revolution. The social will never have had time to lead to socialism, it will have been short-circuited by the hypersocial, by the hyperreality of the social (but perhaps socialism is no more than this?)" (85)
Information is BAD: it destroys meaning and signification (96); two reasons: 1. "Instead of causing communication, it exhausts itself in the act of staging the communication; instead of producing meaning, it exhausts itself in the staging of meaning," (97-8). 2. "Behind this exacerbated staging of communication, the mass media, with its pressure of information, carries out an irresistable destructuration of the social," (100). "Thus information dissolves meaning and the social into a sort of nebulous state leading ... to total entropy. Thus the media do not bring about socialization, but just the opposite: the implosion of the social in the masses. And this is only the macroscopic extension of the implosion of meaning at the microscopic level of the sign," (100). Impact, fascination: "Beyond meaning, there is fascination, which results from the neutralization and implosion of meaning," (104)
Also, the Medium is the Medium! "there is not only an implosion of the message in the medium; in the same moment there is the implosion of the medium itself in the real, the implosion of the medium and the real in a sort of nebulous hyperreality where even the definition and the distinct action of the medium are no longer distinguishable," (101). "In short, the medium is the message signifies not only the end of the message, but also the end of the medium. There are no longer media in the literal sense of the term ... that is to say, a power mediating between one reality and another, between one state of the real and another -- neither in content nor in form," (102)
Terrorism, in its unrepresentativity, subverts power by unmasking the unrepresentativity of power. "Its blindness is the exact replica of the system's absolute lack of differentiation... terrorism strikes at precisely the most characteristic product of the whole system: the anonymous and perfectly undifferentiated individual, the term substitutable for any other," (55-6). "Terrorism is not violent in itself; only the spectacle it unleashes is truly violent," (114). "There is no possible distinction between the spectacular and the symbolic, no distinction possible between the 'crime' and the 'repression.' It is this uncontrollable eruption of reversibility that is the true victory of terrorism," (115-6). "The force of the terrorists comes to them precisely from the fact that they have no logic ... Hence the stupidity and the obscenity of all that is reported about the terrorists: everywhere the wish to palm off meaning on them, to exterminate them with meaning," (116-7). "[T]he stakes are not to beat power on its own ground, but to oppose another political order of force ... [not] opposing one violence to another, ... but to oppose to the full violence and to the full order a clearly superior model of extermination and virulence operating through emptiness," (119). The goal of terrorism is thus "to make the system collapse under an excess of reality," (120).
De la séduction (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1979); pp. 75-92, 107-15, 241-3 trans. as "On Seduction," Poster, 149-65.
Seduction is what separates truth from meaning in discourse. Lacanian psychoanalysis "marks the death of psychoanalysis, just as assuredly as its institutional trivialization," (153). Seduction always seduces in order to perpetuate seduction; it "is always its own end," (160). "To seduce is to weaken. To seduce is to falter.... Everything is seduction and nothing but seduction," (162).
Simulations (NY: Semiotext(e), 1981, 1983) trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman. [SIM]
Unlimited semiosis ensures not only that the real isn't possible, but also that illusion is no longer possible -- the concept of "illusion" assumes some notion of the "real" to contradict. Simulation supercedes ideology -- "it is no longer a question of the ideology of power, but of the scenario of power. Ideology only corresponds to a betrayal of reality by signs; simulation corresponds to a short-circuit of reality and to its reduplication by signs ... it is always a false problem to want to restore the truth beneath the simulacrum," (48).
Media: the Situationists were WRONG & McLuhan was RIGHT -- "We are no longer in the society of the spectacle, which the situationists talked about, nor in the specific types of alienation and repression which this implied. The medium itself is no longer identifiable as such, and the merging of the medium and the message (McLuhan) is the first great formula of this new age. There is no longer any medium in the literal sense: it is now intangible, diffuse and diffracted in the real, and it can no longer even be said that the latter is distorted by it," (54). Thus "we must think of the media as if they were, in outer orbit, a sort of genetic code which controls the mutation of the real into the hyperreal," (55). Meaning thus implodes -- "this is where simulation begins," (57). "The role of message is no longer information, but testing and polling, and finally control ('contra-role,' in the sense that all your answers are already inscribed in the 'role,' on the anticipated registers of the code)," (119). The 'real' is transformed by this process: "it becomes an allegory of death, but it is reinforced by its very destruction; it becomes the real for the real, fetish of the lost object -- no longer object of representation, but ecstasy of denegation and of its own ritual extermination: the hyperreal.... The hyperreal represents a much more advanced phase in the sense that even this contradiction between the real and the imaginary is effaced. The unreal is no longer that of dream or fantasy, of a beyond or a within, it is that of a hallucinatory resemblance of the real with itself. To exist from the crisis of representation, you have to lock the real up in pure repetition," (142). "The very definition of the real becomes: that of which it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction.... At the limit of this process of reproductibility, the real is not only what can be reproduced, but that which is always already reproduced. The hyperreal," (146).
"Beyond the Unconscious: The Symbolic," Discourse 3 (1981) 60-87; trans. Lee Hildreth.
Marxism and Freudian psychoanalysis don't mesh well because they are both totalities and thus coherent only in and of themselves, but not in combination. "Neither their 'synthesis' nor their contamination -- only their respective extermination -- can provide a foundation for radical theory. Marxism and psychoanalysis are going through a crisis. We must telescope and precipitate their respective crises rather than using one to support the other. They can still do each other a great deal of harm. We must not deprive ourselves of this spectacle. They are only critical fields," (84).
"Fatality or Reverse Imminence: Beyond the Uncertainty Principle," Social Research 49:2 (Summer 1982) 272-293; trans. Pamela Park.
A radical defense of structuralism against poststructuralism, although worded as a radical defense of "fatality" (i.e. destiny) against "chance" and "randomness." Rather than accepting the view of meaning/order as something imposed on disorder by the discourse of rationality, Baudrillard defends precisely the reverse; disorder is imposed upon order by the discourse of innocence (if everything is left up to chance, we escape human responsibility for social situations).
Impact, Nuke War: "The long work of coupling signified with signifiers, which is the work of reason, somehow restricts and reabsorbs this fatal profusion. The magical seduction of the world must be reduced, indeed annihilated. And it will be when each signifier will have received its signified, when all will have become meaning and reality. This will obviously be the end of the world," (279).
Fatal Strategies (London: Pluto, 1983, 1990) trans. Philip Beitchman and W. G. J. Niesluchowski; ed. Jim Fleming. [FS]
"The world is not dialectical -- it is sworn to extremes, not to equilibrium, sworn to radical antagonism, not to reconciliation or synthesis," (7). This book is built around the idea that the way to radicalize the world of simulation is to "fight obscenity with its own weapons." Thus, "To the truer than true we will oppose the falser than false," (7). This is the "pataphysics" of systems (14, borrowing a term from Bucky Fuller). "'Only tautological sentences are perfectly true,' says Canetti," (34). Baudrillard seems to assume that tautology is thus a good thing. "The only revolution in things is today no longer in their dialectical transcendence (Aufhebung), but in their potentialization, in their elevation to the second power, in their elevation to the nth power, whether that of terrorism, irony, or simulation. It is no longer dialectics, but ecstasy that is in process," (41). Additionally:
fashion -- more beautiful than beautiful
simulation -- more true than the true
pornography -- more sex than sex
seduction -- more false than the false
obscenity -- more visible than the visible
terrorism -- more violent than the violent
obesity -- more fat than the fat
catastrophe -- more eventful than the event
hypertelia -- more final than the final
hyperreality -- more real than the real
Please Follow Me with Sophie Calle (Seattle: Bay Press, 1983, 1988).
"What Are You Doing After the Orgy?" Artforum (October 1983) 42-6.
"The Ecstasy of Communication," trans. John Johnston in Hal Foster, ed., The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (Port Townsend, WA: Bay Press, 1983) 126-134.
Ecstasy -- more obscene than obscene: "the commodity form is the first great medium of the modern world. But the message that the objects deliver through it is ... always the same: their exchange value. Thus at bottom the message already no longer exists; it is the medium that imposes itself in its pure circulation ... the universe of communication ... leaves far behind it those relative analyses of the universe of the commodity. All functions abolished in a single dimension, that of communication. That's the ecstasy of communication. All secrets, spaces and scenes abolished in a single dimension of information. That's obscenity. The hot, sexual obscenity of former times is succeeded by the cold and communicational, contactual and motivational obscenity of today," (131). We "are now in a new form of schizophrenia ... The schizo is bereft of every scene, open to everything in spite of himself, living in the greatest confusion. He is himself obscene, the obscene prey of the world's obscenity ... He is now only a pure screen, a switching center for all the networks of influence," (132-3).
"Intellectuals Commitment and Political Power," Interview with Maria Shevtsova, Thesis Eleven 10/11 (1984/85) 166-73.
Intellectuals are inherently negative; "Intellectual activity is a kind of wager, a defiance. It is a bet on the real situation. An intellectual would be nothing if he didn't lay his bets, if he didn't defy something, at least at the level of discourse," (170). Also, "left" and "right" are meaningless categories: "I only want to judge people on new things. The criterion Left/Right leads us into dividing people into good and bad. I can no longer function according to this criterion ... I am the first victim of this old criterion ... I am taken to be a man of the Right, if not a fascist. Perhaps in objective terms I am on the Right. But I don't give a damn ... I do not recognize the judgement that I am a fascist," (171-2). Also, intellectuals cannot speak for others; in fact they might be totally useless: "I wouldn't be against envisioning a world without intellectuals as such ... it could mean a radiant and transparent world where there is no longer any need for thoughts, analyses, etc.," (173).
"L'an 2000 ne passera pas" Traverses 33/34 (1985) 8-16; trans. Nai-Fei Ding and Kuan-Hsing Chen as "The Year 2000 Has Already Happened in Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, eds., Body Invaders: Panic Sex In America (NY: St. Martin's, 1987) 35-44.
Virilio's theory of speed is combined with Baudrillard's theory of simulation to declare the end of history and total liberation: "We are truly 'liberated,' in all senses of the word, liberated to such an extent that we have left, through speed ... a certain space/time, a certain horizon where the real is possible," (34). The "vanishing point" of music is that point at which music ceases to exist in the "ecstasy of musicality" (39) provided by hi-fi systems. At the same point, history ceases to exist. The idea of an original disappears with simulation, and we will never be able to detach the "original concept ... from their model of perfection, which is at the same time their model of simulation," (40). "[T]his defiance of history has a long history, and it always fascinates, for, profoundly, time and history have never been accepted," (42).
America (NY: Verso, 1986, 1988) trans. Chris Turner.
"Caution: Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear," (1).
The American desert is "an ecstatic critique of culture, an ecstatic form of disappearance," (5). Speed is key because "Speed creates pure objects," (6). The US is "the only remaining primitive society," (7). Driving is good: "Driving is a spectacular form of amnesia. Everything is to be discovered, everything obliterated," (9)
"He who eats alone is dead, but not he who drinks alone," (15). Breakdancing is interesting, (19). Jogging is suicide, (21, 38-9). Television is still goo, "It is the screen that is laughing and having a good time. You are simply left alone with your consternation ... Suddenly the TV reveals itself for what it really is: a video of another world, ultimately addressed to no one at all, delivering its messages indifferently, indifferent to its own messages (you can easily imagine it still functioning after humanity has disappeared)," (49-50). Driving is good, (54-5). Money, however, is goo, (61-2). The desert is God, (71). "Sex, beach, and mountains. Sex and beach, beach and mountains. Mountains and sex. A few concepts. Sex and concepts. 'Just a life,'" (32). (Get a life!)
"There are no cops in New York," (22). America needs no stinking authenticity (76); "the US is utopia achieved," (77). Let's all celebrate now. Americans have the proper theory/practice balance -- "not conceptualizing reality, but realizing concepts," (84-5). Waitresses serve customers "in total freedom, with a smile," (93). The obscenity of America is its total liberation, "In short, the orgy," (96). Power is impotent, (107). Reagan has no inkling of the poor, (111). "Human rights have been won everywhere. The world is almost entirely liberated; there is nothing left to fight for," (112).
L'autre par lui-même (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1987); trans. Bernard and Caroline Schutze as The Ecstasy of Communication (NY: Semiotext(e), 1988).
This book was "meant to present Jean Baudrillard's entire work for a doctoral degree at the Sorbonne," (ed., 9). Virilio is wrong: "Speed is out!" (14).
Television is goo: "the simple presence of television transforms our habitat into a kind of archaic, closed-off cell, into a vestige of human relations whose survival is highly questionable," (17-18). It is obscene goo: in the heyday described by the situationists "the consumer society was lived under the sign of alienation; it was a society of the spectacle, and the spectacle, even if alienated, is never obscene. Obscenity begins when there is no more spectacle, no more stage, no more theater, no more illusion, when every-thing becomes immediately transparent, visible, exposed in the raw and inexorable light of of information and communication. We no longer partake of the drama of alienation, but are in the ecstasy of communication," (21-2). Thus alienation gives way to obscene ecstasy. This obscenity is no longer "hot" and "sexual" but rather "cool" and "communicational"; Baudrillard will here oppose pornography to the sensual. Simultaneously the subject has a need to speak and nothing to say -- to affirm his/her existence in the face of the disappearance of the subject and the hypervisibility of the obscene object: "The need to speak, even if one has nothing to say, becomes more pressing when one has nothing to say, just as the will to live becomes more urgent when life has lost its meaning," (30); we have sex with images and objects when subjects disappear: "our true sexual act consists in this: in verifying to the point of giddiness the useless objectivity of things ... There is without doubt a collective giddiness of escape into the obscenity of a pure and empty form, characterized simultaneously by the excessiveness of sex and its disqualification, as well as by the excessiveness and degradation of the visible," (31-3). Antibiotics = Nuke War: "It would not be too far-fetched to say that the extermination of mankind begins with the extermination of germs," (38). Thought will be replaced by a "cerebro-spinal bubble, freed of all animal and metaphysical reflexes ... to each his own bubble; that is the law today," (39).
The following two stages are opposed throughout the book; we have moved from the scene to the obscene:
|drama of alienation||ecstasy of communication|
|expression ('mimicking')||alea (games of chance)|
|agon (competition)||ilinx (giddiness/vertigo)|
|banal vision of the fatal||fatal vision of the banal|
|speed (Virilio)||immobility (thru absolute mobility)|
These oppositions form the basis of much of Baudrillard's later work, esp. FS. Expression/agon v. alea/ilinx are the four types of games according to Roger Caillois. Our faster culture tends towards immobility because "all trips have already taken place," (39). Difference is no longer the differentiation between subjects, but the differentiation between manifestations of the same subject -- "One is alienated from oneself, from one's multiple clones, from all these little isomorphic 'I's," (41).
Theory: "It is not enough for theory to describe and analyze, it must itself be an event in the universe it describes ... Theory must operate on time at the cost of a deliberate distortion of present reality," (99). Theory is exorcism; it must "conquer the world and seduce it through an indifference that is at least equal to the world's," (101).
"Beyond the Vanishing Point of Art," trans. Paul Foss, in Paul Taylor, ed., Post-Pop Art (Cambridge: MIT, 1987, 1989)
"Art" disappears as society thrashes in reproducible "culture": "The logic of the disappearance of art is, precisely, inversely proportional to that of the production of culture. The 'xerox-degree' of culture in a state of absolute proliferation corresponds to the zero-degree of art: one is the other's vanishing point, and absolute simulation ... from this a direct line links Baudelaire to Andy Warhol, under the sign of 'absolute merchandise,'" (173). "But this disappearance [of art] is not negative or depressing -- no more than merchandise is. In the mind of Baudelaire, it is an object of enthusiasm: there is a modern enchantment of merchandise, just as there is an enchantment in the disappearance of art. Of course, it is a matter of knowing how to disappear. The whole disappearance of art, hence its modernity, is the art of disappearance," (179). Art as simulacra erases history -- "Art no longer has a link with history and continuity, but is caught in a chain reaction, that of simulacra and simulation, which is exactly parallel and isomorphous with the potential nuclear chain reaction. The chain reaction of Hiroshima put an end to history. The chain reaction of simulacra put an end to art," (181).
"If I had to characterize this new state of affairs, I would call it 'after the orgy.' The orgy is in a way the whole explosive movement of modernity, with its various kinds of liberation -- political liberation, sexual liberation, [etc.] If you want my opinion, today everything is liberated. The game is over, and we collectively confront the crucial question: 'What are you doing after the orgy?'" (182).
The solution to the mess of hyperreality is for art to create an aura of simulation: "From now on we will live in a world without originals, as it was for objects and images before art existed. And in the absence of originality we may recover some of these ritual forms, but certainly they will not be the same as those existing before the age of aesthetics. Our forms and images are beyond aesthetics, just as our media are beyond the true and the false, and our values are beyond good and evil. But there is always a point beyond the vanishing point. There is always a time after the orgy. A secret reversibility lies in all things, even when they seem to be irreversible. Reversibility is beautiful," (189).
"Forget Baudrillard," Interview with Sylvere Lotringer, in FF (1987).
The human race has dropped out of history (68). This is not bad, its exciting: "Not a more reassuring world, but certainly more thrilling," (71). Deleuze and Guattari are wrong; seduction is more important than desire: "I couldn't care less about desire. I neither want to abolish it nor to take it into consideration. I wouldn't know where to put it anymore," (74). 3 modes of the disappearance of subjectivity: mechanical (cloning), organic (death), and ritual (game), (76). "All the communication theories have to be revised, including my own, which is still too meaningful," (78). "Death is an event that has always already taken place," (80). "Speed is the ecstatic form of movement," (85). "Women, children, animals - we must not be afraid of assimilations - do not just have a subject-consciousness, they have a kind of objective ironic presentiment that the category into which they have been placed does not exist. Which allows them at any given moment to make use of a double strategy," (98). "It makes perfect sense to me that the great masses, very snobbishly, delegate to the class of intellectuals, of politicians, this business of managing, of choosing, of knowing what one wants. They are joyously dumping all those burdensome categories that no one, deep down inside, really wants any part of," (103). "May '68 is an event which it has been impossible to rationalize or exploit, from which nothing has been concluded. It remains indecipherable. It was the forerunner of nothing," (114-5).
Theory "is simply a challenge to the real. A challenge to the world to exist ... a theory can attempt to reconcile the real with theory itself ... I hold no position on reality ... The real -- all things considered, perhaps it exists -- no, it doesn't exist -- is the insurmountable limit of theory. The real is not an objective status of things, it is the point at which theory can do nothing. That does not necessarily make of theory a failure. The real is actually only a challenge to the theoretical edifice. But in my opinion theory can have no status other than that of challenging the real. At that point, theory is no longer theory, it is the event itself," (124-5).
Cool Memories (NY:Verso, 1987, 1990) trans. Chris Turner.
This and America are the two "best books I shall ever write. They are done with. That is how things go," (3).
"Revolution -- including the revolution of desire -- is even less kind to those who think it has already happened than to those who oppose it. Thus it is not the Revolution which will turn me into a woman. That will come about by my espousing here and now -- passionately -- the position of femininity itself. Now for feminists this is unpardonable. For this position is more feminine, with all the supreme femininity it implies, than that of women will ever be," (7). "Seduction remains the only vital intensity; sex is simply tiring, it is merely a bonus of pleasure," (11). "Black is the derision of White. The amazing Idi Amin who has himself carried in triumph by four British diplomats and is received by the Pope. The amazing Emperor Bokassa eating up little black babies, lavishing diamonds upon the Western dignitary. Nowhere has the concept of power been ridiculed in such an Ubuesque fashion as in Africa. The West will be hard-pressed to rid itself of this generation of simiesque and prosaic despots born of the monstrous crossing of the jungle with the shining values of ideology.... Fantastic! There is no hope for this continent. All the Peace Corps will get bogged down there. The power of derision. Africa's contempt for its own 'authenticity,'" (15). "Sometimes it seems to me that I have never done anything but provide the semblance of ideas," (25). "Transsexuality is not seductive, it is simply disturbing," (76). "One day, we shall stand up and our backsides will remain attached to our seats," (146). "Popular fame is what we should aspire to. Nothing will ever match the distracted gaze of the woman serving in the butcher's who has seen you on television," (198). "How nice it would be to see the sun in profile," (203). "Information can tell us everything. It has all the answers. But they are answers to questions we have not asked, and which doubtless don't even arise," (219). "Today, ... for the first time for perhaps ten or twenty years, I realize I have nothing else to do. No projects, no constraints. Everything that was pending has been finished, and whatever else comes from this point on will, in a sense, be part of a supplementary existence," (231).
The Evil Demon of Images (Annandale, Australia: Power Institute Publications, 1987).
"Modernity," trans. Miller, CJPST 11:3 (1987) 63-72.
"Modernity is not a dialectic of history: it is the eventness, the permanent play of the present moment, the universality of news blurbs through the media. Modernity is not the transmutation of all values, it is the destruction of all former values without surpassing them, it is the ambiguity of all former values under the sign of a generalized combinatory," (71).
"Softly, Softly," trans. Malcolm Imrie, New Statesman 113:2919 (6 March 1987) 44.
Lament on the "advertising generation"; "we live in a society which only wants to be happy with itself." Also, "in terms of power we are all suffering from AIDS, all living in a society threatened by the loss of its antibodies (its reserves of social and political energy)."
"A Perverse Logic and Drugs as Exorcism," Unesco Courier (July 1987) 7-9.
All drugs are a means of exorcism; "through drugs, society exorcises certain forgotten powers, certain drives, certain inner contradictions ... Society produces this effect, and society condemns it. Failing the ability to stop producing it (which is considered desirable), society should at least cease to condemn it," (9).
"Hunting Nazis and Losing Reality," New Statesman 115:2969 (19 February 1988) 16-17.
Condemning Heidegger and Nietzsche as Nazis is silly because "One day we shall ask ourselves if Heidegger himself really existed," (17). History has become myth and we look for scapegoats; before such a crime as the Holocaust becomes myth "the crime has first to be divested of its historical reality. Otherwise, since we have been, and still are, unable to come to terms historically with all these things -- fascism, concentration camps, extermination -- we would be condemned to repeat them eternally as a primal scene," (17). Also: "in view of all this, could we not just skip the rest of this century? I intend to launch a collective petition ... calling for the 1990s to be cancelled, so that we can pass directly from 1989 to the year 2000," (17)
"The Anorexic Ruins," trans. David Antal, in Dietmar Kampar and Christof Wulf, eds., Looking Back on the End of the World (NY: Semiotext(e), 1989) 29-48.
Society of Shit: "We are living in a society of excrescence, meaning that which incessantly develops without being measurable against its own objectives," (29). Information overload: "So many messages and signals have been produced and transmitted that they will never find the time to acquire any meaning. Fortunately so for us! Fortunately, we ignore 99% of all information, 99% of the products. The tiny amount that we nevertheless absorb already subjects us to perpetual electrocution," (30). We are already liberated and vaporized in the same historical moment (34, 37); "there is no life anymore, but the information and the vital functions continue ... the year 2000, in a certain way, will not take place," (39). The silly sentimentality of yuppified peace & human rights movements is easy "after the orgy," (43-4). Radical pessimism might save us (45).
Chen, Kuan-Hsing, "The Masses and the Media: Baudrillard's Implosive Postmodernism," Theory, Culture & Society 4 (1987) 71-88.
Danto, Arthur C., "The Hyper-Intellectual," New Republic 3947/8 (10 & 17 September 1990) 44-48.
Howe, Stephen, "America: Where Dreams Come True," New Statesman and Society 1:24 (18 November 1988) 39.
Levin, Charles, "Baudrillard, Critical Theory and Psychoanalysis," CJPST 8:1-2 (1984) 35-51.
Kellner, Douglas, "Baudrillard, Semiurgy and Death," Theory, Culture & Society 4 (1987) 125-46.
---, Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond (Stanford: 1989). [JBMB]
Kroker, Arthur, "The Arc of a Dead Power: Magritte/Baudrillard/Augustine," CJPST 8:1-2 (1984) 53-69. [MBA]
--- and Charles Levin, "Baudrillard's Challenge," CJPST 8:1-2 (1984) 5-16. [BC]
Morris, Meaghan, "Hyperreality: Asleep at the Wheel?" New Statesman 113:2935 (26 June 1987) 28-29. [HR]
---, "Room 101 or A Few Worst Things in the World," in The Pirate's Fiancée: Feminism, Reading, Postmodernism (NY: Verso, 1988) 187-222. 
Wernick, Andrew, "Sign and Commodity: Aspects of the Cultural Dynamic of Advanced Capitalism," CJPST 8:1-2 (1984) 17-34.