Simulacra and Simulation (The Body, In Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism)

by Jean Baudrillard

Other authorsSheila Faria Glaser (Translator)
Paperback, 1994




University of Michigan Press, (1994)

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LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
Baudrillard writes like a mystic, or the high priest of the coming hyperreality. Everything is formulae, intoned, lulling softly, making you believe in the reality of what he says, but of course it only takes like six pages for you to twig that it's all absence, simulation. It really foregrounds the difficulty of trying to write poststructuralism with relatively everyday prose--in situations where a Deleuze, say, would get over on a rhizomatic ferment of obfuscation, Baudrillard's relative clarity leaves him blowin' in the wind, looking a little fooling trying to defend the indefensible. And that's when he retreats into "the child does not exist" and "Vietnam doesnot exist"-type crap, less paradoxical (his favourite word to describe his own ideas) than gnomic. Of course he doesn't believe that reality doesn't exist, though--just that our experience of it is necessarily mediated by the structures by which we interpret ourselves to ourselves, of which the most important is the media), importantly a bivalent process in which we are both watchers and watched, contra Foucault--and that we can neither conceive in terms that are outside the whole filthy works nor see beyond it. Less The Matrix than "the medium is the message", an a lot less irritating when you give him his eccentricities of expression.

Here's an example of a moment when this works--you'll note that it is when he stays general and speculative, and doesn't try to ascribe too much "reality" to his construction:

"One must think of the media as if they were, in outer orbit, a kind of genetic code that directs the mutation of the real into the hyperreal, just as the other micromolecular code controls the passage from a representative sphere of meaning to the genetic one of the preprogrammed signal

"It is the whole traditional world of causality that is in question: the perspectival, determinist mode, the "active", critical mode, the analytic mode--the distinction between cause and effect, between active and passive, between subject and object, between the end and the means . . . ."

Clear. Broad, sweeping, imaginative, making the desert of the real bloom with fancies of signification and recursion. Good for cloud-talk, or for describing that feeling we all get sometimes about postmodern life. (Also super-Orwellian--the media only exist to provide the illlusion of something happening, as opposed to before, when they existed to cover up something--exploitation. Exploitation as a process is so deeply seated that all the noise on top just distracts and wronegfoots and draws us into the Moebius strip. War is peace. I worked for Gordon Campbell, so I know this: it's not about doing anything--it's about fostering the perception that you are, and whether that fake action draws support or opposition, it's doing its job. Obfuscating. Baudrillard is so good on advertising, which should not surprise anyone.)

And here's an example of where it doesn't work:

"In the United States, a child was born a few months ago like a geranium: from cuttings . . . . the first born from a single cell of a single individual . . . ."

This book is filled with shit like that, and this is just the most egregious case. Whenever Baudrillard gets specific, he gets shit wrong, and it would just be harmless, the dopey professor misunderstanding everything in the outside world and fitting it into his pet framework like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet or Garth Ennis's retarded, broken-record Wolverine--"the ol' Canucklehead, the ol' Canucklehead". But every time, Baudrillard builds huge fanciful structures on misunderstandings of basic facts--I guess he was talking about the first test-tube baby? Certainly not the first clone,as he avers. Or like, he talks about China adopting the Roman alphabet as their final surrender to the bipolar world order, which would make no sense even if they HAD adopted it (pinyin wasn't even official until 1986 . . .). It doesn't surprise me to learn that he was a high-school teacher, used to making pompous pronouncements in front of a bunch of ignorant or bored teens without fear of contradiction. But whenever he gets down to the nitty-gritty, it is to laugh, because he clearly thinks, in the proud tradition of the French pan-intellectual, that he is a literary critic and an urban planner and a geneticist and oh, everything else, and it would be one thing if he approached the areas with a little humility, but instead he just exposes himself as a charlatan.

But before being a charlatan, he's also a beautiful dreamer, and one with a deep understanding of how people lie to themselves and each other and where their desires come from,and how that relates to their construction and negotiation of their world.
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LibraryThing member Chamelline
Baudrillard has an unnecessarily dense writing style (he doesn't seem to think in a linear style -- he assumes that we know what he knows), but once you pick up the trick of translating what he's saying, this book is phenomenal. I especially found fascinating the section about media and the explosion of information in our world -- which we can see right here, in this fabulous little website. Makes me wonder what our future will be like, as a result of the influence of technology on the individual.… (more)
LibraryThing member jvalamala
There is so much insight here, but it is packed behind extremely dense writing with little regard for the reader. It was as if the author never meant to publish his thoughts, or if he did, he had no pretensions about them lasting outside a very narrow readership. His diction is involved and presumes familiarity with the cultural milieu he draws his insights from.

It is a critique, almost a rant, in the well-worn western tradition of antinomian skepticism, irresponsibly bashing up against the equally irresponsible established order. Since writing, our world has witnessed a convergence of cultural views, and the west should no longer feel trapped in its monolithic navel-gazing, the unfortunate consequences of which are described in this work. It is one of his earlier works though and I have not read further to comment on his more recent views.

Perhaps Simulacra & Simulation is a bit gloomy, but never boring - much like the Matrix movie. For someone so critical of modernity and farce, he takes little time to examine the basis of all of the absurd dramas he describes. Baudrillard is evidently enmeshed in his world and his perception of his universe spiraling out of control is based on a presumptuous belief in a definitive 'real' which he never questions, except to say that it has become defiled, and this leads him into a (self-proclaimed) nihilism. Its also bound to make him grumpy. Judging from his portraits, it seemed he was. Baudrillard is a showman. He's not interested in definitions and diagrams. He wants to educate through entertainment, by his flashy use of metaphors which in writing becomes quite overwhelming.

I think Baudrillard would have appreciated the indefatigable vitality of Buddhist philosophy and in particular Chogyam Trungpa and his work 'Cutting through Spiritual Materialism':

Q: What happens if you give the monkey acid?
A: He has already taken it.
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LibraryThing member breadhat
Say "aleatory" again. Say "aleatory" again. I dare you. I double-dare you, motherfucker.

Okay, aside from that, I really liked this book. Much more entertaining than is the norm for poststructuralist theory: the little passage about theme parks ringing Los Angeles like power stations will stick with me for a while, like a tidbit from a favorite novel. Most of the content here isn't the sort that you can take away and use to live your life, but it's fun and relevant in a vague way. It's weird to see how much of the theory is more applicable now than at the time of its publication. "Whoa, this is totally about Facebook," and so on.… (more)
LibraryThing member aguba
A turning point for intellectual expansion towards the end of last century. The Matrix, Altered Carbon or The Bequeathal-Godsent would not have happened without this one. A very important read.
LibraryThing member trilliams
Baudrillard is line a painfully verbose version of Dave Chappelle in Undercover Brother. He makes great points but his writing style obfuscates them and sometimes you just get the feeling he hates everything. I spent a lot of time reading this going "What the hell is he talking about?" before things would finally make sense. I guess this is what happens when you get a book from The Matrix.

Consider, though, his point about how when a simulation is identical to reality, both cease to be real. With the advent of social media, it's now possible to simulate social life almost perfectly. Indeed, the premise of Catfish is people being fooled by online profiles that have all the signs of being a different person only to find that this profile doesn't actually exist. When a simulation of person mirrors an actual person identically, do the simulation or the person themself still any meaning? A priori, they're equivalent. Or what of the Japanese "singers" that are entirely computer simulated and even have their own concerts? If both produce the same effect, does the real singer actually have value? There's enough in this book that you could go on about it forever. However, I strongly recommend that you don't do that. Good stuff to think about, though, and packed with references to much clearer source materials.
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