The Deconstruction of Baudrillard: The "Unexpected Reversibility" of Discourse by Aleksandar S. Santrac (Problems in Contemporary Philosophy: Edwin Mellen Press) Jean Baudrillard is a unique, postmodernist philosopher, who developed amid controversies, directly in the contemporary postmodernism of his time and the most important tradition of modernism and premodernism, which, as counterpoints, actually define him.
Postmodernism stresses that in the "meta-narratives" of philosophy, reason cannot satisfactorily resolve the existential problems of present-day mankind. Hence, the postmodernistic fundamental critique of rationalism, of progress, of truth, of systems, and metaphysics; the deconstruction of the meaning of the discourse and of metanarration; advocating positive fragmentariness and the plurality of effective "small narratives," "new linguistics," the end of History . . . and pataphysics in Baudrillard one finds all these basic characteristics of postmodernist philosophy, according to which he is a traditional, postmodernistic author.
Apart from the aforesaid, among the features of non-Baudrillardean postmodernism, we also find mainly linear chronology, the crisis of dialectics and the semiological approach to the discourse, from which Baudrillard unsuccessfully dissociates himself. He also distances himself from the other leading postmodernists, primarily with his radical critique not only of modernism but also of postmodernism; as well as with his understanding of theory not as the reflection of reality but as simulation and seduction.
All these differences from the postmodernism of that time are not a sufficient reason for defining Baudrillard as a post-postmodernist, to which he himself aspires, but more precisely qualify him simultaneously as a traditional and
unique postmodernist thinker, whose philosophical stands are condensed into an asystemic fragmentarism of critical criticism, that are the essential, specific, general, methodical and ontological terms of simulation, seduction and pataphysics.
Simulation and Seduction
In the modernistic world, the principle of reality prevails, to which the notions of system, determination, purposefulness, ideologies and suchlike belong, Baudrillard believes .. .
The postmodernist world, however, is ruled by the PRINCIPLE OF SIMULATION, this philosopher claims, whose para-notions new signs are asystem, non-determination, hyperreality, the code, the simulacrum and so on. With the floating of these and other signs upon reality, postmodernism produces the ineffective that has no origin in reality: essentially, simulation lies in that, the exchange of signs that have no referential value in reality. . .. Its products are the simulacrum, "objects of the world of simulation" which is more perfect than true reality . . . . As paradigmatic examples of hyperreality of the postmodernistic world Baudrillard mentions present-day cinematography, television, computers, cloning, Disneyland . . . ; all this and the essentially similar are perfectly counterfeited realities, "the perfect crime" of killing reality and the realization of the hyperreal . . . the illusion before the phenomenon. The most complete simulation today is happening on the Internet, Baudrillard believes, with the absolute, momentary synchronization of all existence: of all places and epochs in the UBIQUITOUS, which as the newly discovered fourth dimension (past + present + future = ubiquity) of hyperreality "erases all else," in which Man ceases to be a human being and becomes a "kiborg the mythical man-machine," which the new science of man exams; "cyber-anthropology" .. .
These stands on simulation and ubiquity are the "principal positive contribution" of Baudrillard's philosophy, Santrac considers; they radically change the hitherto understanding of anthropology because Man, in interference with the machine, can become a specter, a technological mutant. . . . Rather differently from Baudrillard, the author of this study stresses that as a whole, the human world nevertheless always "was, is, and will be woven" out of reality and
simulation, that even Baudrillard too, contrary to his own intention, irrationally, always included reality in this simulational world, as well, in which the paradoxical compatibility of reality and simulation in his work, which is an implicit "deconstruction of the explicit message of his writings."
Seduction is the other strong methodical idea of Baudrillard's philosophy. And, that term in his work is the metaphor whose meaning is hard to fathom through psychoanalysis, sexuality, feminism . . . and even pornography.
Modernistic metaphysics strived to abolish phenomena and attain the essence, in which it found the meaning of the discourse. Conversely, postmodernistic "seduction stresses the game of phenomena as a . . . principle" and endeavors to "deprive the discourse of meaning." According to the meaning and determination of science in reality, "seduction shines as non-sense" with its non-definition . . . . While sex is "based on the rules of the game"; seduction will "merely play with the signs of sex," it is arbitrary, perverse, quasi-transparent .. . As such, essentially, seduction is "the will for power . . . in the form of the simulacrum," "the effect of truth that conceals that truth does not exist"' . . . . The secret of seduction, therefore, lies in the fact that it "permits the subject to live in the illusion that it has conquered the object, whereas, in fact, it is seduced by the object."
Baudrillard's stands on seduction conceal "a false and ideological dichotomy between the object and the subject" with the illusion of the total victory of the object, Santrac believes. The subject and the object are relations, they only exist simultaneously, so too in Baudrillard's seduction, simulation and suchlike. The allegedly destroyed subject always implicitly survives at least as their (self)understanding . . . Therefore, as opposed to Baudrillard's explicit stands on the non-sense of seduction and the complete victory of the object . . with him there is always the presence of the paradoxical compatibility (1) of the subject and the object, (2) of seduction and knowledge.
The dominant ontological idea of simulation and mainly epistemological metaphor of seduction are Baudrillard's methodical instruments of de/construction of the subject, history, epochs, nihilism, Good, Evil, Death .. . metaphysics and pataphysics, which this study deals with.
Binary opposites and the world ...
In contrast to Baudrillard's exclusion of one member of his essential binary opposites (simulation and reality, seduction and knowledge, the object and the subject, the end and history/time, Evil and Good, pataphysics and metaphysics . . . ) according to the model of either or, Santrac has succeeded in demonstrating an unexpected inclusivity of the relations of these opposites according to the model of both and: in other words, NOT "either simulation or reality," "either seduction or knowledge," "either pataphysics (the marginal . . . ) or metaphysics (the central . . .) . . .," as Baudrillard does this rigidly, preferring the initial members; BUT "both simulation and reality" . . . . Thereby, one does not achieve a new philosophical system, but only the implosion of Baudrillard's a-system by means of deconstructing his deconstruction, claims Santrac.
Baudrillard's considerations about simulation, seduction and pataphysics and striking preference of the simulative and marginal compared with reality and the essential (the central . . . ) help us, in fact, to reach a fuller truth about the human world and about paradoxical synthesis and the simulative and the real, and the marginal and the central . . . , which is not merely a subjectivist view, but always every historical state: therein really lies "the foundation and the crown of Baudrillard's philosophy," Santrac claims. Is not, perhaps, the "solution of the mystery of existence" at this point "of encounter between the simulational and the real, " the author of this study asks himself
This historical mysticism is really "the ultimate achievement of Baudrillard's thought," whereby he is among other things, "one of the most original thinkers of today," Santrac concludes.
This study by Santrac about Baudrillard's postmodernism was done on the basis of all the available primary sources and an adequate selection of others. In it, concisely and painstakingly, the author innovatively and correctly interprets
Baudrillard, subjecting his ideas to criticism with arguments, within the framework of which he formulates several of his own original views . . .
A special feature of this study is Santrac's highly successful "translation" of Baudrillard's most significant, irrational and scarcely communicable statements and para-notions into comprehensible philosophical stands and concepts, particularly, in interpreting simulation, seduction and pataphysics, those crucial, methodical and ontological terms of this philosopher, but also several belonging to others . . .
According to all this and other things, this is the most exhaustive and best scientific philosophical work in Yugoslav territory and one of the most thorough in the world about the most intriguing, living thinker of postmodernism. Therefore, I heartily recommend it to all readers, who are interested in contemporary philosophy and books on philosophy.
Zdravko Munisic, Professor Emeritus, Belgrade University, Belgrade, March 24, 2005
A Study in Cultural Metaphysics
by Charles Levin
$25.00, paper, 245 pages, notes, bibliography, index
Prentice Hall Harvester Wheatsheaf
This book traces the philosophical roots of Baudrillards thought to the evolution of critical theory in the Hegelian and Nietzschean traditions, through Marx, Lukacs, Benjamin, Heidegger, Bataille, the Frankfurt School and structuralism. A profound thinker never really convinces us of anything; he or she can only awaken us to the choices we have made, and make us wonder about their meaning and their consequences.
Special attention is paid to Baudrillards characteristic preoccupation with the uncanny- the bizarre phenomena of deja vu, doubling, replication, reproduction, repetition, reversion and regression.The book also explores Baudrillards idiosyncratic use of such concepts as symbolic exchange, fetishism, simulation, death, seduction, evil, the devils share (Batailles la part maudite), the fatal strategy and the end .His metaphorical anticipations of new social territories such as virtual reality and cyberspace are also examined and related to his original concept of the object system.
This study goes beyond conventional terms of Baudrillards reception in the English-speaking world. Levin argues that Baudrillards work has helped to consolidate the emergence of cultural metaphysics, a new branch of speculative social criticism. He demonstrates how Baudrillards self-conscious role as the court jester of the poststructuralist movement is forcing radical philosophy to choose directions at the crossroads between equality and freedom, between entropic utopianism and the revival of liberalism in critical social thought.
From the standpoint of cultural metaphysics, we would be wise to consider the possibility of something like social simulation, as Baudrillard has described it. Cultural metaphysics in this larger, political sense can be understood as a symptom of generalized panic in the industrialized world over the loss of community. The atavistic strain of cultural authoritarianism, such as one finds in Heidegger, is essentially a reaction to modernization and secularization. It answers peoples need to belong to a group that is good and right and pure - or, in other words, a group purged of all that is thought to be bad, wrong, dirty. This retrospective consciousness of the lost community, as Jean-Luc Nancy calls it, is by no means exclusive to modernity (or even to the West). Our history begins with the departure of Ulysses . . . [and with] Penelope, who reweaves the fabric of intimacy without ever managing to complete it. What is specific to modernity, particularly the contemporary scene, is the academization and scientization of these timeless anxieties about identity, sexuality and evil .In a world where the only culture is cultural metaphysics, superstition becomes social theory: What society looks toward is no longer a return to the promised land, but a general disaster that is already upon us, woven into the fabric of day to day lifes.
The other side of cultural metaphysics, however, is dispassionate contemplation. It offers not only a valve for the evacuation of floating social anxieties, but potentially also a vehicle, or holding environment, where the residues of discharged panic can accumulate for observation. How else might the anguished and distorted leavings of the psychosocial process become available as materials for reflection? In this secondary, metabolic role, cultural metaphysics suggests a model for working through the disturbing anomalies of social experience. It is a way of elaborating the psychodynamics of the uncanny and the aesthetics of the grotesque, which address the paradoxes of the exteriorized and mechanized image as catalysts of cultural experience and thought.
Although Baudrillard can be and has been interpreted as a panic theorist, my reading emphasizes the contemplative element of his work, which I believe affords genuine insight into the vicissitudes of the social process. To that extent, my views have an affinity with
Gianni Vattimos postmodern reading of Nietzsche and Heidegger. (Incidentally, the latter seems to be an unacknowledged elaboration of Baudrillards critique of the political economy of the sign. Through a kind of philosophical piggybacking on what Vattimo calls the nihilistic reduction of Being to exchange value, cultural metaphysics is able to heighten (or to debase?) the rational, cumulative, proto-scientific efforts of history and social science to the level of pure speculation, denuded of all presence at referentiality and practicality. Thus, cultural metaphysics transforms the intellectual content of the human sciences into a self-contained aesthetic sphere, where one is more free (but never completely so, unfortunately) to elaborate, divide and connect, rhizomatically, without any necessary prior reference to an organizing principle or practical structure, such as left and right, serious and frivolous, true and false. The ideal is of a social thought experiment occurring in a discursive space void of moral parameters.
Baudrillards cultural metaphysics is a kind of Critique of Pure Critique .It is radical mainly because it questions the self-image of the intellectual as a privileged agent, and thus undermines the whole moral basis for cultural studies as a respectable discipline with a function and a purpose and a raison detre .As should be clear by now, the basic speculative value in this kind of discourse is aesthetic. Like a good Nietzschean, Baudrillard is not interested in goodness, because it claims to be general and objective (something in accordance with which intellectuals think they should be trying to shape the world). He is more attuned to the problem of diversity. The difficulty of diversity from the point of view of academic respectability is that it cannot be conceived or planned (or meaningfully judged). It is an inherently unpredictable interrelation of particulars and singularities, not the holistic field of integrated causes and effects the social sciences seek. Diversity cannot be justified on grounds other than a mere preference for diversity - that is, a belief that in the absence and unlikeliness of Truth and Goodness, we must settle for variety, which exists naturally, and thrives when conditions are open.
Chronology: Jean Baudrillard 1929-
Abbreviated titles list
1. The rules of the game
2. Cultural metaphysics
3. Baudrillard as an emergent property
4. The imitation of the self
5. Things traditional and modern
6. Oppositional semiotics: the nonsubject of meaning
7. The object of life
8. The Baudrillard effect
9. Commodity fetishism and the theory of reification
10. The object in postwar French culture
11. The structuralist articulation of the object
12. Symbolic exchange as a critical standpoint
13. The metaphysical ambience: a prelude to fatal strategies
14. Metaphysical accounting: the costs of value
15. The impossible object of morality
17. The double
18. Madame Baudrillard, c'est moi
19. Text, technology and death
21. Pataphysics, politics and simulation
22. Canada as an unidentified historical object of international significance
23. The aesthetics of evil
24. Cultural metaphysics and politics
Glossary of key terms
Charles Levin is a faculty lecturer in the Graduate Program in Communications at McGill University and a practicing member of the International Psychoanalytic Association.
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