A book review always contains the simultaneous representation of the book it reviews. And it does not.
Sentences similar to these litter the text of Jean Baudrillard’s The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact; they can sometimes irritate (“Before the event it is too early for the possible. After the event it is too late for the possible”) and sometimes illuminate (“The non-event is not when nothing happens”). Samuel Beckett, a fellow exponent of the elliptical and the bald-faced, would have loved that. Baudrillard has never been as willfully abstruse as Gilles Deleuze or Felix Guattari; he has never been as playful as Jacques Derrida; he has never been as rib-ticklingly laugh out loud as Michel Foucault, or as technologically perceptive as Paul Virilio. In Intelligence, he has decided to attempt a synthesis of his theories while challenging, incorporating, and having fun with those of his contemporaries.
Baudrillard’s thesis addresses the problems of dualistic-relationship reasoning — what we mean when we say “duality”. According to him, there is an inevitability and inviolability to such relationships, as in, among others, active/passive, subject/object and signifier/signified. According to this form, you are either one thing or you are another; there is no room for ambiguity or fluidity. Evil cannot exist without good. The capitalist powers cannot exist without the counter-claim of terrorism; terrorism being a symptom of the West’s unconscious desire for an evil adversary, an almost Manichaeistic dualism, an example of which will soon be seen in Frank Miller’s latest Batman adventure, in which the Dark Knight battles al-Qaida.
Baudrillard, like many post-structuralist theorists, chooses to place the study of human thought in the context of a struggle within and against the Western concept of either/or. He attacks and condemns the prevalence of such Aristotelian thought systems. For example, Baudrillard questions the morality of cloning, arguing that it is a sign that the human species is approaching the end of its usefulness. Baudrillard argues, in a manner similar to Michel Houellebecq in his recent novel The Possibility of an Island, that cloning represents the end of sexual reproduction, a move from the Other to the Same, of the obliteration of biological diversity in favour of homogeneity.
If history ended in 1992 with the end of Soviet dominance in Europe, then the events of 9/11 propelled us beyond history.
As with his earlier analyses — particularly those made during the first Gulf War, where he said that the US-led United Nations coalition response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was more a media event than an actual war — Baudrillard offers no end of controversy-laden prognoses. If history, as Francis Fukuyama would have us believe, ended in 1992, with the end of Soviet dominance in Europe, then the events of 9/11 propelled us beyond history. Any event — be it war, natural disaster, Big Brother — metastasizes throughout the media, which translates it into instant history (“Information represents the most effective machinery for de-realizing history”) — or, to put it another way, nothing (“We live in terror of the excess of meaning and of total meaninglessness”).
History, according to Baudrillard, is not real. It is meaningless. Why? Because it is lived instantly. Living in the instant moment does not afford us the luxury of looking back and analysing it from an Olympian perspective, uncorrupted by personal, professional, or governmental bias. The speed with which such events are reported upon simply does not permit it. A car bomb kills fifty, an Egyptian ferry overturns with a thousand feared dead, Tony Blair resigns (yeah, right). The media penetrates our lives, invites us to respond to such events in a visceral fashion — regardless of whether or not the raw facts correspond with their interpretation — and history as it has been traditionally understood — as the agreed-upon facts of human existence from the beginning up to now — is brought to an end.
What we are left with, argues Baudrillard, is a world founded upon actual experience having been replaced by one of simulated stimuli, superficial rituals, games and cartoonish structures — a copy world, or, as he termed it, ‘hyperreality’. The vortex of hyperreality, Baudrillard argues, is America. Las Vegas is more ‘real’ than the real — think The Luxor and New York New York hotels: buildings that represent a world seen only as American, seen only from America. Rather than the self-proclaimed fulcrum of the planet, America is regarded by the rest of the world as self-absorbed and self-important.
Baudrillard, refreshingly, demystifies our obsession with good and evil.
His theory of seduction may help provide an answer to the overwhelming instances of such simulation in that it offers an escape route. For Baudrillard seduction is beyond exchange and power, freed from the shackle of the sign, seduction is beyond simulation; a foretaste of a post-capitalistic, pre-utopian world, it implies an ambivalence of order. Baudrillard theorizes that the West has lost its seductive desire, and that the U.S.A. dreamt 9/11 — which is not to say that it did not occur, but rather that it was a part of our historical unconscious desire for a radical dualism; witness George W. Bush’s invocation of Islamic fundamentalists as agents of darkness, while those very ‘agents’ portray America as the Great Satan.
These theories are vitally important to our understanding of aesthetics, politics, and war in that they provide a distanced but analytical observation of the media’s preoccupation with the immediacy of life and information. If you have never read Baudrillard, The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact is a good introduction; I had a slight problem with Chris Turner’s translation: quite a few sentences ended in prepositions — something that would never occur in the French language — but overall he has rendered the original, if not breezy, at least readable.
Why is it that Britain and America distrust French philosophers? Intelligence and The Neutral, rather than symptoms of the decline of post-structuralism as a historico-cultural movement, further our understanding of a world at war with itself and its neighbours, a world bereft of ideas, fraught with misunderstanding — stem-cell research, artificial intelligence, Islam. Barthes and Baudrillard question the basis of Western thought: Barthes, by challenging the dyadic hegemony of male/female, subject/object, positive/negative, rethinks Western philosophy; Baudrillard, refreshingly, demystifies our obsession with good and evil. In a desecularized yet increasingly fundamentalist world, he tells it like it is. “The possible itself is no longer possible. What happens happens, and that’s all there is to it.”