Transcript: In the final lecture on the The Self Under Siege, we will discuss the work of Jean Baudrillard, a French social theorist… actually that is now a misnomer since one of Baudrillard’s theses is the disappearance of the social. Baudrillard is perhaps the most important theorist that can be characterised as “post-modern”. I have spent a lot of time, in fact, in a previous lecture series discussing the postmodern. I am going to give a very brief characterisation of it and then discuss Baudrillard’s relationship to it. The self under siege in modernity has always presumed that there was a self to be under siege, but in the view of Baudrillard society has reached a point at which it has literally been overcome by its technology and the new and important issues aren’t about things like the non-believer or the non-offender, but about the non-person.
In the world of Baudrillard social relations have begun to disappear between humans because humans have begun to disappear. In fact Baudrillard thinks that reality itself is in the process of disappearing; what has been learned and understood under the name of “the real”. All these outrageous things I have just said are worked out in a brilliant series of books which draw a lot of their power from many of the phenomenon we see around us, so one way to discuss Baudrillard is to run through some of these phenomena.
What Baudrillard is doing is basically to trace the symptoms and tendencies of the trajectory of the postmodern. If we were really in a postmodern society, we wouldn’t still be discussing things like “the self” under siege or “the real”; they would simply have disappeared. We would be in a way transparently communicating one with another as in an earlier example when I talked about the stock market crashing due to the computer rationality. Well, if we had really reached the postmodern in its fullest sense – the way Baudrillard uses it – it would be the computers unplugging us and not the reverse.
The postmodern is a blurring of the lines between human being and machines, a blurring of the line between reality and image. It is a society – actually I can’t even really use that word anymore – it is a world, if you will, a grouping of the world in which reality is simply that which can be simulated, Xeroxed, copied. That is one of his first theses, it’s a book called Simulations, it’s a very interesting thesis.
Baudrillard argues that this process is… one of the central things is the way in which we… that’s changed us fundamentally and has helped to bring our relations as humans to a close. I mean, in a way Baudrillard sees himself as a post-apocalyptic writer. For Baudrillard the apocalypse has already occurred; it wasn’t religious or anything, it was not atomic bombs. At some point in the development of technology human beings ceased to be the reason of things and things took on their own reasons… technological things.
Let me describe this concept of simulation just a little bit though. Baudrillard’s definition of the real itself is that which can be simulated, Xeroxed and copied. So whether you are talking about a human body where you can make a holograph of it or you are talking about The Bible; which you could Xerox, or whether you are talking about the sexual act which could be simulated either through, you know, repetitive pornographic films or in a very near future it will be able to be simulated with virtual reality where you will wear a full body suit and make love to your ego ideal thus making it pointless to search out all the Freudian implications, you could just pick your ego ideal, punch it into the laser beam program, slip into the virtual reality suit thus rendering that relation, even that intimate relation – sexual relation – technological, simulatable, reproducible to infinity.
Now all this sounds wild, crazy, and I don’t want it to sound wild and crazy, I want it to sound the way that I think that it really should sound and that’s as though we could place ourselves – and I have used this analogy before but I will again – as though we could place ourselves in that era right before atomic energy and television. Before we knew all the myriad changes that they would make in the way that we were and the way that we interact and so on.
Well we are in a period now where I have already mentioned and these are the phenomenon that Baudrillard examines with the most care. Incredible information overloads with information moving at incredible speed and even to the youngest children. I have talked about how children used to learn morality from their parents and now I think that Super Mario Brothers; they spend much more time with Super Mario Brothers and are much more emotionally involved with Nintendo than they are with their aunts, their uncles, their mothers and their fathers.
I asked one of my children “Why are you yelling at a machine?” when he began to bang his Nintendo, and he looked at me as though I were a being from another world and because of that there is a postmodern trajectory; I am from another world. I am still, as it were, caught in the modern; he’s not. Why not be emotional with a machine? His peers are machine-like; we have already discussed that. I mean in fact what he sees on the Nintendo screen is his thrill of the day. That’s the most active he’s seen any simulated image that day.
Now simulation in this society didn’t just come from nowhere; this society of simulations and of spectacles. Baudrillard actually builds his work on a foundation again that comes out of the Marxist tradition. Guy Debord wrote a book in the sixties called “The Society of the Spectacle” and what it was about; was about how when capitalism reached a certain level of accumulation, commodities began to detach themselves and become images and citizen who formerly has played roles as political actors began to detach themselves from their own lives and become spectators.
So for example you could say now, instead of going to a family reunion now we will just rent, you know, a Steve Martin Father of the Bride movie. It’s just as good and so on, and you meet the same kooky characters that you actually know; their behaviour is all simulatable. Another similar… this going to sound cynical but I don’t want it to.
I mean, Baudrillard has visited our country and when he went to Disneyland at Epcot Centre and these various parks he said “Well this is much better than Europe. The food’s better than Europe, it’s a short walk between France and Germany-land, you know, you don’t have to deal with all those nasty waiters, everyone is so polite” The simulation has outrun the so-called reality. That concept in Baudrillard he calls the “hyperreal”.
Hyperreality is more real than real. This is… actually sounds… if some of this sounds like advertising slogans: good. Because in Baudrillard the heritage of philosophy and social theory has passed over into advertising and television. So if it sounds superficial: good, because the theory; the world that he looks at has become superficial and banal. If it sounds hokey like a salesman’s pitch: good. The world he describes is the world of Jurassic Park not of Dante. So that is all evidence on the side of Baudrillard if you follow the argument deep enough and with enough clarity.
Okay let me explain the concept of hyperreality; this is an important concept in Baudrillard. In Baudrillard, we have already said that reality is simply that which could be simulated. Can’t be simulated; not real. But more real than real is a reality… and I guess again I could give you… and I hate to use these movie examples if you haven’t seen the movies but in A Clockwork Orange there is a great line that anticipates the postmodern. When the character played by Malcolm McDowell says “It’s funny how blood isn’t really blood until you viddy it on the screen”; until you see it on a movie screen. In real life it looks kind of brown and mucky, on the screen it looks sort of more real than real blood and this sense of the sort of hyperreality we get with cinema, we get with television and so on is another phenomenon Baudrillard wants to examine.
And I think that here we get… and I guess my politics are showing again, but here we get the phenomenon of Reagan; the hyperreal president, more real than real. I mean he’s better at being Harry Truman than Harry Truman. I mean, the distinction about what he is is lost in the hyperreality of his smile which like the Cheshire Cat’s, you know, just gleams across his face and we get for the first time a phenomenon never known in polling which is the phenomenon of not liking a person, but of liking liking a person. This is a sign you are dealing with the hyperreal.
Let me go over that again: Reagan’s popularity was popular. When you went through the various traits of Reagan and what Reagan stood for and his policies and so on vast numbers of people disliked nearly all of them. What was popular was his popularity and I don’t think that Reagan’s alone in this.
Show business figures had this same thing go on for years. I can’t remember the last Michael Jackson song that I even listened to – or my kids who also don’t like Michael Jackson – but he’s popular, but not in the old sense. It is a hyper popularity, if you follow me. It is popular that he is popular.
Madonna has learned to live and create herself on the curve of the postmodern by making it her goal to be more popular than popular; by having her popularity the topic of popularity. I mean, we have found out that she can’t particularly act or sing, she is not built well enough to be a true cybernetic sex symbol for this period and yet she manages because of her understanding of this situation that Baudrillard calls the hyperreal to stay on this curve of popularity.
Hyperreality of course affects us across many different spectrums and it’s built on the real. It’s not as though the hyperreal could get by without injections of reality in it. It requires – and this is not a principle from Baudrillard but one that I have realised from watching a lot of television – you have to have injections of reality in order to keep the images afloat, occasionally. In fact one of the new strategies adopted by television – and it serves two functions, one is a cost function – are these reality shows.
They have realised that we have become too intoxicated with hyperreality; with, you know, Kojak and Supercops and so on, so now we just have shows like “COPS” where you just go to Fort Worth and just film a bunch of cops being cops. That serves a good intelligent economic interest because you don’t pay cops much just for being cops; it’s not that lucrative, and it injects… well is it reality? Well it is compared only to this scale of hyperreality and only under the sign of being whatever can be simulated.
We have just had our first simulated trial – not our first, but the first televised one that caused a riot – Rodney King, where the events were videotaped, the trial is shown on television, the effects are all televised, and how anyone can find themselves around in these new phenomenon and pretend that nothing new has happened, that frustrates both Baudrillard and myself. I mean he’s not right about everything but clearly something’s different when we are in a world like that one… like this one. Clearly something significant has changed and it has affected the very nature of what selves are; what humans are, what subjects are. When I talked about how my students had no dreams, I mean, what is there left to dream?
When I was a kid I dreamed about dinosaurs; I had a little Walt Disney dinosaur book. Why would I need to dream about dinosaurs now? Steven Spielberg has made them. He has filmed them. They are more real than real dinosaurs. They are hyperreal. You would be disappointed if you saw a real Tyrannosaurus Rex after the movie. You would be disappointed; it wouldn’t be as noisy or as scary or as frightening. The same is true of Jaws, you know. I have actually caught some rather large sharks, I mean, I like to fish – you know, pier fish – so I have caught a few sharks, some of fairly good size. But those real experiences are so boring compared to Jaws. I mean Jaws is a hyperreal experience.
The only way… I mean there is no systematic way to discuss Baudrillard because these things are not systematic. These are the shifting contingent ways in which cultures change and the people who draw their meanings from them change as the cultures change. So all we can do here is point to certain exemplary phenomena, so let me pick out some more. We have discussed hyperreality and simulations, let me move on.
Baudrillard wrote a wonderful piece about the Gulf War. The name of the piece was “The Enemy Has Disappeared”. Now, I don’t want you to think that I believe what I am about to say as my own position, I am just giving you Baudrillard’s, because I don’t think the Gulf War was planned as deeply as he does in the regards that he thought it was.
Baudrillard was offered a job by a French newspaper to cover the war, so of course he agreed on condition he not go to the Gulf because he wanted to cover it on CNN where it would really happen, follow me? I mean the war would really… who won or lost would be told to us on CNN. We won’t know who won or lost anywhere else, so to cover the war in the sense of hyperreality, the way to cover it is sitting in one’s flat in Paris on CNN; that’s how he covered the war.
His thesis runs as such. He took the Gulf War very seriously. Baudrillard states that war is real if anything is. I think that’s a powerful quote: “If anything is real war is”. You know, it sounds pessimistic but if there is something we can still attach reality and meaning to, if it’s not war, one would wonder what it was because it is just an incredible human event filled with passion, pain, suffering, madness and all that; if it’s not real, what is. If anything at all would be, it would be war.
According to Baudrillard’s reading of the war America is for Baudrillard the leading society culturally in the world; the one that leads the cultural trajectory of the world through television, movies and so on, the war that we fought in the gulf was not directed against the enemy. I mean, as it turned out, the enemy was left not much different than we found them. It was not directed against any enemy at all; the enemy disappeared in the show business. The war was directed against reality. The war was to show us that even war isn’t real.
The war was to kill the Vietnam syndrome; a war that we remember as real; as a real war. So the way to kill that memory according to Baudrillard is to fight a hyperreal war complete with evening shots of shrapnel falling into Israel, which it turned out that a lot of the shrapnel was from the patriots that were fired up into the sky. I mean, you know, the scuds were after all bad Russian technology – isn’t good technology – and the technology that we had sold them wasn’t our best.
I mean, to the extent that there was some reality to the war, it was no more complex than the reason the British won a battle in the 12th Century because their bow and arrows would shoot further than the other guys so they could stand further back. The real part of the war may have been along those dimensions. But the hyperreal part was to watch the nightly scud watch, the scud explosions on TV and it’s hard to even evoke the feeling of togetherness the American people had in the glow of the television set watching… and I mean even the names are straight out of Steven Spielberg: “patriot missiles” blowing up “scuds”. I mean, the poetry of the hyperreal is something… I mean, Walt Disney wouldn’t do something that hokey: patriot versus scuds, I mean, that’s worse than Darth Vader or something, I mean… so the patriots would blow up the scuds.
Of course later we found out – according to the Israeli military – that there were only, what? One or two confirmed hits. CNN of course showed those over and over and over again to us so that as we watched the war, since those hits could be simulated, the hyperreal feeling of continuing victory and success of our technology was reinforced daily. Capped off by the moral equivalent of a sportscaster’s comment at the end of a game every night when the military people would get out and roll out the scorecards of the day. Very much like we do after the Bulls and Phoenix play and we come out and sort of like the US is Michael Jordan, you know, and the other side is Barkley and Michael scored 55 patriot missile shots and the other side 28 and we won, you know, against the third best team in the world; the third largest army.
Well by the end of the article I was wondering, I was going: you know, that’s just way too cynical even for me, I can’t buy that argument. And then I began to think about what the war looked like on TV and a comment then… then I just had to start trying to find people who had been in the war. And sure enough I found someone in Durham who has been… you know, a lot of North Carolina people go to the war, I found a young pilot and he said that no, it was very exciting and then he went on to explain to me how the sights that they used in order to, you know, fire their smart bombs were just like the games in the arcade that he grew up with; he said, you know, no way in the world could he have had better practice than he got in those arcades to fire smart bombs. It had passed him by that the real had happened even though he was really there.
I talked to a woman who had been on the ground, in a jeep for most of it and she went “Oh the desert is so big and the sand…” she said “…but I really didn’t get a feel for until I got home and saw what my husband had taped” Why? Because the little individual actors sink into insignificance compared to the damn spectacle of the thing… the spectacle of it. I mean, when humans were less important than God we could understand because he built everything. When we are less important than a Nintendo we get confused. That’s when we start thinking that we are under siege. It’s when Billy says “Oh yes, you can kill mum and dad but leave the Nintendo”, then we are rightfully upset.
The postmodern trajectory leaves us in a situation where drawing the line between the real and the unreal is no longer merely philosophical but a practical day-to-day issue. See, this is what I want to drive home; we are not off in some fairy land, this is a practical day-to-day issue of figuring out what’s a simulation and what’s not. Is this guy really an insurance salesman or is he here to rob me? You know, this is no longer Cartesian doubt that one has to conjure up in a meditation, this is a wide radical doubt about the very ground beneath our feet and the nature of whether it’s real or not.
Baudrillard says its best at this point to simply face it; that what we are witnessing is the end of the world, the end of human beings, and he thinks that there’s no reason to be sad or upset or cynical about it, in fact Baudrillard calls it The Ecstasy of Communication. I mean, I am trying to do this in a kind of ironic way; I don’t know how one presents this kind of material.
I suggest you read books by this person. I have brought in one called “Fatal Strategies”; about things one might do under such conditions, but anyway. He thinks that rather this being an occasion for some deep gloom, The Ecstasy of Communication means that we should go ahead and realise that America has won the cold war, America is utopia realised. This is the country everyone dreamed of. It is of course with all that we know that goes along with it now it turns out to be like all utopias; sadly disappointing, but weren’t they always? Weren’t they always? Every utopia in some sense boring and sadly disappointing?
Well Baudrillard says no, we have to – in spite of this – we have to look upon the end of man, the world and so on as an opportunity. Because what were these concepts anyway like “man” and “world” except concepts by which the world was regulated, policed, mapped and controlled; all four of which are becoming more and more difficult to do under this situation of rapidly increasing complexity – which I have mentioned many times – and I mean system complexity at every level; rapid increase in information technologies and invasions directly into the human body that interface it with machines. That goes all the way from plastic surgery to artificial hearts and implants to virtual reality where we will be able to make a person who can’t walk feel as though he can walk – or she can walk – and I mean this is not a technology I dreamed up, they are trying now to develop cheap marketable versions of this as I speak here right now.
So Baudrillard doesn’t want us to go “Oh it’s the end of the world, it’s the apocalypse” No, it’s too late for that; it’s already happened. If you wanted to moan, it’s sort of like the moaning curve has passed now and it’s time to try to, sort of, readjust to the flows in some way and Baudrillard suggests a whole series of what he calls “Fatal Strategies” by which we may be able to protect what he calls “our fractal selves” – if you know what fractals look like in geometry; little reproduced pictures out like this is one way to think of it – our fractal selves split, reproducible.
We have life changes now and they have become… not changes in our life – for example, to give you… to show you the distance that we have travelled – not like Augustine‘s conversion to Christianity when he hears, or thinks he heard the voice of God saying “tolle, lege” – “take, read” – and he reads the scripture and becomes a Christian and then he is a new man; he is born again. No, no, that’s over now. Now we change alright.
We change rapidly. We change, as I said, professions six or seven or eight times and we change who and what we are the way we used to change our clothes and our fashion. I mean, there are kids who get through college now and they are six different people before their junior year: two months as a bohemian, two months as a pre-med student, two months as a preppy, two months as a poet, a month and a half as a journalist, a month and a half as an ecologist, a month… and all the requisite uniforms for it; none of it felt. None of it part of affect; a fad, a personality formed as a fad, as a fashion, as an ornament. I mean, this really doesn’t overstate to case for me.
Well one of the sensations this produces is not the sensations of existentialism like dread, despair and those, but it produces new sensations; ecstasy is one of them. I mean, you go to see Jurassic Park or an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie for the ecstasy of communication. By that I mean for the pure neural thrill “Oh wow, a T-Rex!” “Oh wow, a raptor!” and it just runs through you, raptors, t-rexes, Arnold just beats up people, you know, that you view as bad or coded as bad by the society and there is this visceral ecstatic feel like when you get your first fax.
I mean, this is… in the old days your first fax – if you will permit me a slight vulgarity was when you lost your virginity. Now it still is, except now we mean faxing, you know, something out like this and it’s… people tell little secret stories about it “When did you first fax?” That’s a different world, you know. If you are a fax virgin you won’t understand it; you haven’t lived. This is a common story. Faxing has replaced a lot of things: “Just fax it to me”.
No, anyway, ecstasy is one emotion that is produced by it but don’t think that it’s the ecstasy of the sublime that Schiller talked about when one sees either a beautiful landscape or of the other feeling of the sublime one might associate with standing before the Pieta or the David or something like that, it’s not that kind of ecstasy. It’s more visceral, it’s more direct. It’s more like the ecstasy that your children feel when they beat, you know, the worst monster at the highest level of Link 2, you know, one of those new video games. They beat the big monster and there is just a visceral, neural thrill of ecstasy.
What this may cause in some of the older generation like myself… I have already admitted that I am still modern; I am just trying to trace out the postmodern trajectory and look at it. I mean, my kids will have live in more of it than I will ever see so I am trying to understand it and think about it as much as I can, and a sense you get is one that resembles vertigo. How many of you have seen Vertigo, the great Alfred Hitchcock movie? You know, that sort of sickly sense that you are twisting above, sort of, abysmally too much of something. This seems to me a fine, sort of, mood characterisation for the postmodern trajectory; a sense of vertigo before all this information.
Well if theses like the ones that I just described that Baudrillard holds are true – but of course the word “true” will no longer apply because we will be in a setting in which you won’t want the true, you will want the truer than true. You won’t even… the false won’t be a good enough lie for you, you’ll want the lie better than a lie, I mean, the truer than true explanation. You won’t just want Oliver Stone‘s film about JFK, you’ll want the film about how Oliver Stone himself participated in the plot to cover up the real assassins by making the film JFK.
They want the truth about the truth about the truth and all the way down, interminably: vertigo, that’s the sense you get looking down that chain of bizarre stories. And I think that the way people deal with this is interesting. They deal with it as a form of complexity – a word I have used probably too many times – it makes people caught in this cusp between an old world and an old paradigm that is dying and a new one that cannot really yet be born and we find ourselves in that space and it draws us to people like Ross Perot that say “It’s just that simple… it’s just that simple” That’s the most powerful political rhetoric in a world with a postmodern trajectory.
God, how we would love it if anyone could tell us anything was “just that simple”, and then of course when you see a pie chart you go “Oh, a pie chart…” I mean it has more religious meaning now than a crucifix to see a pie chart. I mean, because…. why is that so popular? Because it reduces complexity. The complexity is very real but his little soundbites, his little conversations with Larry King help to reduce that complexity and they put another message in there: “Now I know it’s real complicated but we can fix it, Americans have always fixed it and we can fix it”. Well, if Baudrillard’s right we have fixed it alright. We have fixed it all the way up and down.
And I mean, you know, we see other people engaging in this same, sort of, attempting to reduce complexity. I mean, the political parties, to the extent that they exist at all anymore as anything other than fund raising devices, which I don’t know. I don’t think they have any ideologies because in a postmodern situation who would have an ideology except just as a momentary thing? Like your “Week as a Communist” by Suzie Saint Pierre at Duke [crowd laughter], “My Week as a Trotskyist”, “My Week as a Buddhist”, “My Two Weeks as a Follower of the Cult of Elvis”, I mean, these are papers that you could legitimately expect people to write if they still read or wrote. Not many people still do either – read or write, much – but in any case; reduction of complexity.
Let’s look at political parties for a moment. The Republicans with their great traditions have come up with a slogan of incredible sophistication: “No more tax and spend”. Now any you who can quack that one out could be a Republican. And I am using that in the Orwellian sense of “quack”; you don’t need to engage higher brain functions. All you have to do is say “Don’t take my money, and don’t spend it… well, except on me and my friends, but don’t tax and spend”.
Now it’s not that the Democrats are doing any better, I don’t guess that’s news. I mean, Clinton is now less popular than Castro, if Castro ran against Clinton, Clinton would lose by a few points. I mean, he wouldn’t lose big, but he would lose, you know, by a few points. I mean, especially in a three person race with Clinton, Castro, Perot and Gaddafi. I mean, I don’t know who would win. In fact, given this postmodern world any one of the four could emerge with the biggest one fourth depending on how they ran their campaign. Probably it would depend on who could hire David Gergen [crowd laughter]. I mean, if Fidel got to Gergen first, he might win the damn thing, we don’t know. But the Democrat’s response to this “tax and spend” is “No we don’t, nah nah na-nah nah: invest”
This is political debate in a democracy. No it’s not. It’s the simulation of politics. Ross Perot is not leading a movement. It is a simulation of a movement, follow me? This is not a populist revolt; Ross Perot is not Teddy Roosevelt, this is a simulation. Now am I putting it down? No. In some ways Ross Perot is paradigmatically more real than real; he is hyperreal as opposed to Reagan; he really was a businessman that made millions. I mean, a whole bunch of billions I think is fair in Ross’ case, and so on, I mean in a way there is more reality to it.
In any case, the current political structures are way behind this curve. They don’t understand it well at all in spite of all the talk about “The Selling of the President“; that’s very old fashioned; we all have lived with advertising for years. What we haven’t lived with are ads that have more narrative structure and meaning than the programs, and I’ll mention a few of those because I think they’re interesting.
The current McDonalds ads that kind of tell a part of your life story in like a two and a half minute ad, it’s like from when you get married and when you have your grandkids until you die; you get that two and a half minutes and then there is a McDonalds thing, like “Good; I was born, I had kids, I died, and in the meantime I got a Big Mac”. I mean this is sort of “Gone With the Wind” condensed into a short version [crowd laughter] It’s fast, it’s hyperreal, and in the meantime you at least got a Big Mac. You know, you never will have to be hungry again, you know, reproduced to infinity over and over on videotape, change the Laserdisc; you can watch Scarlett O’Hara – I said that a million times – if we had the technology right now to do it we could just have Scarlett back there screaming about terror while I am doing this.
In any case, if Baudrillard is even onto something, what they postmodern trajectory means is that the self is not under siege, it’s lost. It’s just lost, and if that’s true then all of the strategies by which ordinary people try to live decent good lives are lost along with it. I am not necessarily going to buy that right away, I am really not. I do think that the new technologies are going to call forth… I mean this is why the title of this course has been “The Self Under Siege”. If I didn’t think it was a real, virulent technological siege and just some thought up philosopher’s dream, which would not have interested me. I mean, I have no interest in that.
I mean, what I am interested in is what is changing the lives of my children and your children and so on, what will shape culture and what we used to call society and culture and history, that’s what I am interested in. If it is the end of the world, I want to know so that my kids and I can enjoy the apocalypse together. If America is utopia realised then maybe I’ll just settle back and go to Epcot Centre and forget Switzerland; just go on the Swiss ride. This may be what I’ll do… I doubt it, I don’t like it.
The war zone, in other words, may not be – in defending the self – may not be any of the classical ones. Like the working class versus the ruling class, the slaves against the masters, oppressed women against patriarchal society, blacks against whites. No, the struggle in the future may be to maintain the real against the unreal or the hyperreal or the irreal. The desire for experience – and this is, I am trying to kind of be upbeat about the situation I think we are in – the desire for experience is also a desire for a kind of experience.
What I mean by that is this: that even in these rather, you know, the rather hopeless picture I painted of the young, there remains something like a curiosity about what an experience would be like if I could have one. And there is an absolute extremism everywhere about how far people will go to try to have a genuine experience, if I could still use the word “genuine”, you see, again because the language has been polluted by this very movement that I have been describing.
If I say genuine you will think about a genuine beer, genuine boots or a genuine, you know, cowboy hat or whatever; no, a genuine experience, an authentic experience, a real experience. The battlelines may be between anonymous forces that have been unleashed by technology that grew out of capital, that will be controlled in the hands of not many people – perhaps, perhaps not, I mean we don’t know – and people who still would like to have some experience. This wouldn’t make them archaic old fuddy-duddies if they said “Hey look, honey, why not tonight, why don’t we really make love – the two of us – instead of getting into our virtual reality sex machines?” That may become a revolutionary move in the near future; it may be.
It may become interesting if a candidate runs for an office and actually believes one thing. That would be an incredible new politics. You know, everybody in America wants a new politics. Well go out and find somebody that believes one damn thing in running for something and you’ll have a new politics. I mean that’s the deficit of experience that hasn’t been sucked into this system of images and so on. Now this sounds extreme but think of how we are socialised – all of us – continually bombarded with images from magazines, TVs, newspapers, videotapes; I am not unaware of where I am [crowd laughter] I am in the circuit too now.
If you want to… by the way, for a moment, follow Baudrillard’s advice. He wrote a very cute book called “Forget Baudrillard”, which meant this stuff is not theoretical; it’s happening all around you so forget Baudrillard. He also wrote a book called “Forget Foucault” where he talks about how it’s the spectacle of the prison more than the prison that frightens us now. In other words it’s rap music with its “I am going to kill you” stuff that’s really scares you. You very seldom ever see a black person, we mostly stay away from them, so don’t see many of them. It’s sort of like their music that scares us by, you know, giving a projection of street life itself that parades as real, but actually it’s more real than real. You know, I have been in Compton, they don’t have a drive by every two minutes, that’s just not true. I mean, not that I could prove it, because we have these images of hyperreality.
Well, this calls for Fatal Strategies according to Baudrillard, we have to adopt fatal strategies here; fatal strategies, extremes. We have to learn to live with complexity, uncertainty and a certain amount of vertigo. We just have to do that, we don’t have any choice. I mean, we only have the dinosaur choice. That’s when you just wander off into the ice caps and sort of fall away.
And I also think that we have to be wary of the overquick reduction of complexity. If some of this lecture has seemed a little weird or to go a little too far, it’s because I don’t want to reduce quite all of this to slogans. On the other hand I don’t want it to not be funny because part of the postmodern trajectory itself is a rather humorous joke on the human race which laboured for millennia to reduce working hours in order to produce leisure so we could enjoy this very leisure that then turns in a kind of vengeful act against us absorbing our leisure time which was to be our living time into time now spent in the service of what can only be called this inhuman spectacle. I mean, it’s a very bizarre and twisted fate to which postmodernity has led us. So I would be wary of simple answers to this.
One way to follow some of these developments without reading Baudrillard is to follow cyberpunk artefacts; movies like Blade Runner and also places which you are likely to show up in anyway. Look at the latest malls and how the tracks are designed in them; the little paths. I mean you can’t walk just anywhere in a mall now can you. I mean, there are little pathways, tracks. Look at Atlanta and see the hotel that gleams like a glistening palace and all this.
Well before I get too carried away with all these phenomena which you can see around you every day, you have got to remember that even in that hotel in Atlanta, in the winter, the poor still crawl into the postmodern cracks and sleep at night. So I mean it is not as though that turning the world, as it were, hyperreal has somehow done anything other than make our situation more extreme vis-a-vis those people who gave fallen, as it were, out of the loop altogether.
There is in this country now the most alarming lack of sympathy for those who have fallen off the boat, if you know what I mean; people who have somehow slipped off the track. I am not sure they want a lot of sympathy but if they did there would be an alarming short supply of it. And I think part of that is because they add still further to the complexity.
When I talked about the postmodern in the way Baudrillard does as a trajectory, I see it as an emergent aspect of our culture. Our culture is still dominantly modernist, rationalised, capitalist and so on. And to even make things more complex thirdly there are residual elements in our culture, left over from earlier periods. For example patriarchy, left over from a past as ancient perhaps as the species.
Well I don’t know how much further we can go down this road but in any case the road according to Baudrillard is an endless set of what will be Fatal Strategies – to use his new title – and all we can do is wait and see what will happen. If nothing does, in the sense of the real, Baudrillard will have a kind of confirmation. It’s my hope that he will be disconfirmed on the simple grounds that wherever we find power – even the power of the hyperreal – we find counter-power, and where we see an image that reproduces us as inhuman, occasionally we see an image that somehow has the bizarre transcendent power to make us slightly more human again, but it’s along that terrain I think that the battles and the struggles the self will fight with itself will be fought in the future. Thank you very much [applause].