Stung Eye
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Notes on Baudrillard - Part 2

H Two Oh? [May 4] »

We start with a guest post by Sam the RedLibrian. A response to my Baudrillard post, taken from his comment on the post and an email.


While it’s clear that many people, if not all, have fallen under the spell of the simulacrum, or the spectacle, this in itself is nothing but a spectacle: Baudrillard’s work is nothing but simulacrum, which is why he goes to such lengths to deny it. HOWEVER (and this is probably why he gave up on Marxism), Dr Johnson refuted Idealist philosophy by kicking a large stone. Just because we are under the spell of simulacra does not mean that there is not a material existing in which we can participate if we so desire. The mistake is to raise that material existence to the level of an objective universal truth. Marx had it right: be satisfied with physical existence and the product of your own creativity, nothing more.


I have a problem with Baudrillard - not fundamentally, but with the application. The society of representation (“famous for being famous”) is a con - necessary for the continuation for the status quo. What people seem to take from Baudrillard is the idea that Simulacra have replaced reality in reality when they haven’t, they have only replaced reality in people’s interpretation and behaviour in the world.

This is from Doug Mann’s short introduction:

[snip] Marx said that objects all have a “use value”: for example, a hammer is useful for hammering nails into a board. But under capitalism, all objects are reduced to their “exchange value,” their value or price in the marketplace (the hammer might cost $10 in the local hardware store). Baudrillard said, so far, so good; but he added that, at least in advanced capitalist counties, consumer goods also have a symbolic value: they symbolize distinction, taste, and social status. [/snip]

When people read this, they tend to concentrate on the concept of the symbolic value, and assumes that the use value either no longer exists or at the very least is no longer relevant. This is the basis of the “information society” “information economy”. BUT! To think of our society as no longer fueled, maintained, and founded on use value is a delusion: if I have potatoes and you have information, which of us will survive longer? If I use a hammer as a hammer, and you use it as a symbol of power, which of us will really have more power?

I think it’s very important to recognize the spectacular/simulated character of our society, but we have to not be fooled into think that it has replaced all the real things in our lives. Admittedly, the vast majority of people have nothing real in their lives (remind me to tell you about my roommate when I get home), but once you recognize the simulacra, then you start to seek out real things to put in their place, to counter their influence: cooking, music, art, relationships with people, working out, travelling, all those things which pre-existed the society of the spectacle, and remain valid human activities. And fuck everybody else. :)

Wow, anyway, you can tell how long it’s been since I’ve been able to have a serious discussion like this. As far as your “mapmakers” analogy goes, librarians/information managers definitely see themselves as performing that function for information, and they were doing it before the internet. However, many librarians have been taken in by the simulacrum, and throw themselves without reservation into the latest spectacle (which at the moment is facebook). These are/can be useful tools, but they aren’t going to fill the void in people’s lives. New spectacles have to come along because they don’t satisfy our need for reality.

Nietzsche (as usual) said it best:

“He who does not find truth in God, finds it nowhere: he must either deny it, or create it”.

* * *

I’ve been riding my bike to work all week. It’s like putting reality bookends on my computer-based work day, and unlike the bus where I read, on my bike I ponder.

During my ride home tonight I’ll ponder the above, along with Jane’s comment:

Baudrillard speaks of “reality agnostics.” There are those those believe in God, those that don’t, and those who don’t deny the possibility - but argue that it is impossible to prove. There are those who believe in a universal objective reality, those that don’t, and those that while not fully objecting, rest on the assertion that it is, once again, impossible to prove objectively.

* * *

Lastly, an atheist at Virginia Tech responds to Where Is Atheism When Bad Things Happen?:

I know that brutal death can come unannounced into any life, but that we should aspire to look at our approaching death with equanimity, with a sense that it completes a well-walked trail, that it is a privilege to have our stories run through to their proper end. […]

We [atheists] believe in people, in their joys and pains, in their good ideas and their wit and wisdom. We believe in human rights and dignity, and we know what it is for those to be trampled on by brutes and vandals. We may believe that the universe is pitilessly indifferent but we know that friends and strangers alike most certainly are not. […]

I know that our bodies are composed of flesh, bone, and blood, and cells, and molecules. I also know that this does not account for all aspects of our lives, but I know no-one who ever thought it did. That is why we have science, and novels, and friendships, and poetry, and practical jokes, and photography, and a sense of awe at the immensity of time and the planet’s natural history, and walks with loved ones along the Huckleberry Trail[.] [more…]

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