Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Symbolic exchange and death

In Symbolic exchange and death, Baudrillard essentially mounts a critique of the capitalist understanding of value itself. In critiquing the law of value, he mainly approaches it from a Marxist economic theory of use and exchange value and from the post War French linguistic scenario including Barthes and Saussure who talk about symbolic value of signs and meaning making.

Symbolic exchange, as Baudrillard explains, is central to all forms of meaning making and helps in the organization of social order and hierarchies. The difference from other forms of exchange is that in symbolic exchange is that the value of an exchanged object does not value the act of exchanging it. The title refers to the perception of time in so- called primitive cultures, which relies on a cyclical model instead of a linear one. Life and death are not separate, but are coextensive forms of presence. In regular, ritual festivities, the living “animate” the deceased, make them part of their present so that both the living and the dead inhabit the same space. This collapses the binary of forms (life/death) and places them as complementary to each other. This time of the ritual is also a period where the regular activities of daily life are suspended and riches are wasted in order to exhibit one’s social standing within the group. This ability to waste, to give all that one has in a symbolic act, marks an individuals social rank and is a source of recognition. Baudrillard finds these forms of negating exchange as destruction or rendering obsolete of the law of value, which then helps mount a critique of capitalism. For him, capitalism also cancels death and thus cancels all alternatives to it, making simulation and hyper reality central to its reproduction.

Apart from the economic critique, he looks at linguistic theory and the conception of signification. Baudrillard rejects semiotics’ obsession with the meaning of signs, and the entire idea of determining meaning formation as if only one meaning is produced in the interaction of free floating signs. Taking on Barthes’ idea of associative meanings and one literal meaning, Baudrillard goes a step further to say that every literal meaning (or the dominant meaning as seen in an act of signification) is nothing but a possible associative meaning. Basically, he is referring to the consciousness of the ambivalence of signs and the impossibility to fix them. Thus the symbolic becomes subversive and simulation gains immense power in the mass media.

To summarize, in Baudrillard’s argument there is a clear urge to shift our understanding of linear models of time and the exchange-use-symbolic value model of thinking. He takes the help of social interactions from pre-modern societies and the metaphor of death to move away from them.

No comments:

Post a Comment