Introduction to Jean Baudrillard

Lecture Notes

Simulation and Simulacra

 

 

1. The System of Objects and the Three Orders of Simulacra

 

2. Commentary on the Set Text: “The Precession of Simulacra”

 

3. The analysis (we explore the applicability of Baudrillard’s arguments)

 

Keywords: abstraction, connotation, hyperreal, functionality, technology, technicity, simulacrum, allegory, sexuality, cool?

 

Example Text: Supernatural (Warner Brothers TV drama series)

 

 

1. The System of Objects and the Three Orders of Simulacra: Jean Baudrillard

 

Abstractions:

 

An abstraction is the signified of a sign and functions at the level of connotation.

 

The connotations of today’s technology:

Functionality

Identity

Personalization

These connotations produce a hyperreal

 

Automation:

The starting-handle vs. the battery

 

Software: Microsoft Office   

 

 

Baudrillard on “the slipping to technical connotation via the idea of automatism”

 

“From the strictly technological standpoint, the elimination of the starting handle makes the mechanical operation of cars more complicated, because it subordinates it to the use of electrical power from a storage battery that is external to the system.  This increased complication—and abstractness—is nevertheless presented as progress, as a sign of modernity.  Thanks to the connotation of automatism, which in fact masks a structural weakness, cars with starting handles now seem outdated, and those without, modern.  Even though so many unintegrated features remain both in the engine and in the external design of cars, the manufacturers tout excessive automatism in accessories as the last word in mechanical achievement” (System of Objects 118).

 

 

 

 

1957 Volkswagen VW Crank Start Handle and Pulley Nut

US$ 125 from eBay Motors

 

 

Speed in the Hyperreal (the design suggests speed while actually slowing the vehicle down: look at those fins):

 

 

 

Classroom Work:

Find your own examples of technologies that connote improvement and increased automatism while rendering the technology weaker and more complicated.

 

 

Baudrillard’s Main Thesis:

Baudrillard develops the ideas of psychoanalysis, Semiotics, aesthetics and contemporary philosophy as a way of engaging with the sociological world of human interaction. 

 

Even by the 1960s, when Baudrillard begins to write, this “world” is saturated with media and technologies of all kinds.  So Baudrillard takes modern technology in all its manifestations as a sign for the present condition of humanity. 

 

Some basic assumptions about the human race underlie his thesis: 

 

The human race is anxious about what it cannot control.  It tends to project these anxieties onto its environment, which then in the form of “the world” represents these anxieties in various ways.  In the early days Nature, Fortune, Fate, the Universe, and the Gods lurked as the key concepts for what controls the “world,” but which are out of the control of Man (the generic name for the human race has always been Man or the equivalent of the male gender in most languages).  

 

But lately (since about the sixteenth century in Europe) the projections of the human race have taken on an increasingly technological appearance. 

 

Technology was always, of course, the means at Man’s disposal in his attempts to gain better control of his world.  The problem, though, with technology is that it can always go wrong in sometimes catastrophic ways, so we witness no actual reduction of anxiety but rather the old anxieties are shifted onto new objects.

 

The main vehicle for the projections of the human race is what Baudrillard calls the Simulacrum.

 

We speak of a Simulacrum (singular)

Or of Simulacra (plural)

 

The word Simulacrum comes from Latin and then French but we use it occasionally like this in English.  Its various meanings correspond to historical periods during which it is used.  And this is important:

 

From the sixteenth century it meant: “A material image, made as a representation of some deity, person, or thing.”  In the sixteenth century the term was similar in use to words like effigy or icon. 

 

By the nineteenth century waxwork figures and automated “man-like” machines were referred to as simulacra.  Simulacrum then takes on this supplementary meaning: “Something having merely the form or appearance of a certain thing, without possessing its substance or proper qualities.”  The sense here of falseness was always present of course (think about the false images of medieval religious dogma).  But it has become more specific and is used more and more to refer to objects and people.  The idea of a “fraud” or “charlatan” might come to mind.

 

By the end of the nineteenth century it was common to talk of the simulacrum as being “A mere image, a specious imitation or likeness, of something.” 

 

We have moved from: 1) the projection into the material image of that which cannot be represented; via 2) the copy or “likeness” of a person or thing; to 3) the specious image itself (an abstraction).  We have moved from a material thing to an immaterial abstraction.  As usual, the image or replica of “Man” is “in the middle.”

 

From the word simulacrum we get the verb “to simulate” [OED Definition]     

 

Question: What cannot Man control now?  Answer: His Sexuality (and hers, but this will possibly have different implications).  Baudrillard’s early arguments begin with the hypothesis that Man projects his sexuality into his technologies in order to control it, to tame, it or to domesticate it.  Yet the narratives of technology “out-of-control” that come increasingly to feature in nineteenth and twentieth century culture reveal the “other side” of this fantasy.  Using the psychoanalytic concept of the phallus (the material image of the male sexual organ) Baudrillard’s readings of science fiction especially illustrate his attitude to technology in the supposedly non-fictional world (i.e., science fiction is always about the present). 

 

The notion of allegory is important here: “Description of a subject under the guise of some other subject of aptly suggestive resemblance.”  One can always read technologies as well as narratives of technology in allegorical ways: what is our fixation and fascination with technology really about?    

 

Three Orders of Simulacra

 

Three orders of appearance, parallel to the mutations of the law of value, have followed one another since the Renaissance:

 

Counterfeit is the dominant scheme of the “classical” period, from the

 Renaissance to the industrial revolution;

Production is the dominant scheme of the industrial era;

Simulation is the reigning scheme of the current phase that is

 controlled by the code.

 

The first order of simulacrum is based on the natural law of value, that of the second order on the commercial law of value, that of the third order on the structural law of value. (Simulations 83).

 

 

1. In the first order the simulation can clearly be seen as a copy of some original: a forgery or some other kind of imitation.

 

2. In the second order the simulation has become so efficient a copy that the original is no longer privileged over the copy.  The simulacrum demands instead some recognition for its productive power.  Robots, machines for producing things and prosthetic devices begin to emerge.

 

3. The third order of simulation occurs when a “reality” (the Hyperreal) is produced by images or functions that have no reference to anything in the “real” world.  Yet they behave as if the imaginary and abstract real that they have produced through connotation is the real.  The “transparency” of media like the news, documentaries, reality television, etc. contributes to this.  Realistic forms of media (e.g., hand held cameras that signal that someone is actually there filming) contribute to this powerful abstraction.

 

The difference between the first two orders and the third is simple: only in the third order of simulacra does the simulacrum deny that it is a simulacrum.  A false reality parades as if it was the real.

 

In the first order, simulacra would be theatrical, utopian, magical, or mysterious.  There would be secrets and seductions: The Secret Handout

 

In the second order, simulacra would be the machines (vehicles, even robots) that were at least the equivalent of Man if not his better in terms of their efficiency and function.  Such machines, which are fundamental to the industrial principle of economy and value (profit and mass production), dominate the industrial era.

 

In the third order, the difference between the first two (between simulacrum as counterfeit and simulacrum as production) is no longer pertinent.  The counterfeit produces reality/or Production of reality is counterfeit.  Either way, nothing any longer distinguishes the real from the counterfeit productions of images, abstractions, advertising, broadcasting and every other kind of environmental sign that surround us.       

 

 

 

Understanding simulacra involves a kind of mythology, the study of myth, as Roland Barthes proposed.  It is possible to compare the three orders of simulacra to Barthes’s three ways of deciphering myth.  Obviously they are not exactly the same, but there are significant correspondences.  They both use Saussure’s division of the Sign into Signifier and Signified as their starting points.

 

Hyperfunctionality

From “what does it do?” to “does it work?” and then “does it work better than the last model?”

 

Gadgets, gizmos, thingamajigs, go-faster stickers, and other devices (consider also the range of domestic and cosmetic devices and “scientific” or “technological” lotions, potions and procedures, including Prozac, Xanax and Viagra—the “Spam-Cures”).  The word gizmo perfectly exemplifies for Baudrillard the superfluous, “empty” meaning of all those gadgets that are, when it comes right down to it, of no real use. 

 

Such devices function primarily in (and on) the imagination (magically or mythically) rather than in the real and so can be said to contribute to the production of the “Hyperreal” where reality is based only upon “models,” “modeling,” “simulations,” and other forms of hypothesis (the “what if” and the “as if” produces the real).

 

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2. Commentary on the Set Text: “The Precession of Simulacra”

 

Ø Title

 

Ø Epigraph

 

Ø The Allegory (the Map covers the Territory)

 

Ø Defining Simulation and Dissimulation

 

Ø Icons, Images and Unmasking

 

Ø Representation and Simulation

 

Ø The Four Successive Phases of the Image

 

Ø Phases of the Image:

1)  reflection of a basic reality

2)  marks and perverts a basic reality

3)  masks the absence of a basic reality

4) bears no relation to any reality whatsoever – it is a pure simulacrum

Ø  Supplement

 

Ø Disneyland

 

Ø Watergate and Scandal

 

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3. Broadcasting and Television

 

Analysis: Supernatural: Notes

 

Baudrillard moves from subject-object social psychology to a screen-network social psychology (mobile ‘phones, TV, laptops, cars: BMW Guy Ritchie film)

 

Short Introduction by Douglas Mann