Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Simulacra and Simulations

In this essay, Baudrillard finds abstraction today to be no longer of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. For him, simulation is the generation of the real without origin or reality – a hyperreal. The imaginary representation that a cartographer creates between the map and the territory disappears with simulation that does not operate in a discursive way. The age of simulations begins with the “liquidation of all referentials” and then their resurrection in systems of signs. He elaborates that there is no longer any question of imitation or even parody but rather a question of substituting the real itself with signs of the real.

He says, “To simulate is to feign to have what one hasn’t” and gives the example of someone who can simulate an illness by producing in himself some of the symptoms itself. If the simulator produces the symptoms, can he or she be ill at all? If symptoms can be produced, then every illness may be considered simulatable and medicine loses its meaning because it only knows how to treat “true” illnesses. He also gives the example of divine icons. He questions if their supreme divine authority lies in their incarnation in images as a visible theology or due to simulacra which deploys their power of fascination – that of substituting the visible icons for the pure idea of God. This is exactly what drove the iconoclasts to destroy images because they feared the omnipotence of simulacra and instead accorded them their actual worth in the process of despising and destroying them. Baudrillard says, “God himself has only ever been his own simulacrum.” On the other hand iconolaters through the representations of God, enacted his death and disappearance, for example the 
Jesuits who based their politics on the virtual disappearance of God. He suggests four phases of the image: it is a reflection of a basic reality – the image is a good appearance; it masks and perverts a basic reality – it is an evil appearance; it masks the absence of a basic reality – plays at being an appearance like in sorcery; and finally it bears no relation to any reality and it is its own pure simulacrum or simulation. This is a turning point for Baudrillard. He further says that when the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning.

He then gives the example of Disneyland as a perfect model to illustrate the orders of simulation. It is a play of illusions and phantasms and a social microcosm. Inside it a whole range of gadgets attract the crowds while outside exists solitude in the parking lot. All the values of the United States are recreated and exalted here in miniature and comic strip form. He explains that Disneyland is presented to be the imaginary to make believe that the rest is real, when in fact the rest of America is no longer real – but hyperreal. Disneyland is neither true nor false but a “deterrence machine” set up to reiterate the fiction of the real. He next discusses Watergate. He finds that it was not a scandal but succeeded in perpetuating the idea that it was a scandal by injecting a “large dose of political morality on a global scale”. Since capital is itself immoral, it can only function behind a moral superstructure, that which the Washington Post journalists furthered. It cannot be denounced according to moral or
economic judgements but according to symbolic law.

Baudrillard gives another example of the Moebius strip to illustrate how referentials and their discourses mingle in a circular way – if history took its force from opposing itself to nature and the discourse of desire opposed itself to that of power then today their signifiers and scenarios are exchanged. Further everything proves its existence by its opposite: real by the imaginary, truth by scandal, work by strike, art by anti-art, theatre by anti-theatre etc. Thus every situation and power “speaks of itself by denial”. Power can stage its own murder to regain legitimacy eg. Kennedy murders.

Law and order too might be nothing more than a simulation. It is impossible now to prove the real, to isolate the real, and illusion is no longer possible because the real is not possible anymore. Thus the order, or the weapon of power is to “reinject realness and referentiality” everywhere so that we are convinced of the social reality, the economy and production. It is melancholy for societies without power that gave rise to fascism. And ironically it is through the death of the social that socialism will emerge, as through the death of God that religions emerged. Thus “power is no longer present except to conceal that there is none”. Also, real work and real production has also disappeared. Ideology is a betrayal of reality by signs and simulation corresponds to reduplication by signs. Ideology will always want to restore the objective process but it is impossible to restore the truth beneath the simulacrum.

Author: Harmanpreet Kaur

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