BAUDRILLARD: Radical Thought (2)
(continued from (1))
Let’s ponder over what could be a stupefying experience: the discovery of another real world, different from ours. Ours, one day, was discovered. The objectivity of this world was discovered, just like America was discovered, more or less at the same period. But what was discovered can never be created again. That’s how reality was discovered, and is still created (or the alternate version: this is how reality was created, which is still being discovered). Why wouldn’t there be as many real worlds as there are imaginary ones? Why would there be only one real world? Why such a mode of exception? In reality, the notion of a real world existing among all other possible worlds is unimaginable. It is unthinkable, except perhaps as a dangerous superstition. We must stay away from that, just as critical thought once stayed away (in the name of the real!) from religious superstition. Thinkers, give it another try!
In any case, the two orders of thought are irreconcilable. They each follow their own path without blending into one another. At best, they slide on one another, like tectonic plates, and from time to time their collision or their subduction creates fault lines inside which reality is engulfed. Fatality is always at the crossing point of these two lines. Similarly, radical thought is at the violent crossing point of sense and non-sense, of truth and non-truth, of the continuation of the world and the continuation of nothingness.
In contrast to the discourse of reality and rationality, which bets on the fact that there is something (some meaning) rather than nothing, and which, in the last analysis, wants to be built on the preservative notion of an objective and decipherable world, radical thought bets on the illusion of the world. This thought wants to be illusion, restituting non-veracity to the facts, non- signification to the world, and formulating the reverse hypothesis that there may be nothing rather than something, tracking down this nothingness which runs under the apparent continuation of meaning.
The radical prediction is always that of a non-reality of the facts, of an illusion of the factual. It merely starts with the foreboding of this illusion, but never fuses with the objective state of things. Any fusion of this type would be similar to mistaking a messenger for his message, which still today consists in killing the messenger who always brings the bad news (for example, the news that all our values are null, that the real is uncertain, that certain events do not “take place”9). Any fusion of the thought (of writing, of language) with the real – a so-called “faithfulness of the real” with a thought that has made the real emerge in all of its configurations – is hallucinatory. It is moreover the result of a total misinterpretation of language, of the fact that language is an illusion in its very movement, that it carries this continuation of emptiness or nothingness at the very core of what it says, and that it is in all its materiality a deconstruction of what it signifies. Just as the photograph (the image) connotes an erasure, the death of what it represents, that which gives the photograph its intensity, what gives intensity to writing, be it the writing of a fiction or the writing of a theoretical fiction, is emptiness, an underlying nothingness, an illusion of meaning, an ironic dimension of language, which is corollary to an ironic dimension of the facts themselves, which are never what they are – in all meanings: they are never more than what they are, and they are always only what they are – a perfect amphiboly. The irony of the facts, in their miserable reality, is precisely that they are only what they are. At least, that is what they are supposed to mean: “the real is the real.” But, by this very fact (so to speak), they are necessarily beyond [truth] because factual existence is impossible: nothing is totally evidentiary without becoming an enigma. Reality, in general, is too evident to be true.
It is this ironic transfiguration through language which constitutes the event of language. And it is on a restitution of this fundamental illusion of the world and language that thought must work, without however taking language in its literality, where the messenger is mistaken for the message, and thus already sacrificed.
The two modes of thought present radically opposed projects: one hopes to reveal the objective reality of this world but wants to be a distinct thought; the other seeks to restore an illusion, of which it is an integral part. One seeks a total gravitation, a concentric effect of meaning. The other seeks to be anti-gravitational and to reach an “ex-centering” of reality, a global attraction of the void toward the periphery (Jarry).
The requirement of this thought is double and contradictory. It does not consist in analyzing the world to extract from it an improbable truth. It does not adapt itself dialectically to the facts and abstract from them some logical construction. It is much more subtle than that, and more perverse as well. This thought consists in putting into place a form, a matrix of illusion and disillusion, a strange attracting force, so that a seduced reality will be able to spontaneously feed on it. This thought will also be implacably self-fulfilling (you just have, from time to time, to displace the “object”10 a bit). Indeed, reality only asks to be submitted to hypotheses, so that it can fulfill11 all of them: this is reality’s own trick and vengeance. A theoretical ideal would be to put into place some theses so that they could be denied by reality and so that reality would have no choice but to oppose them violently and thus unmask them. For reality is an illusion, and any thought must first try to unmask it. For this purpose, reality itself must remain masked and must shape itself as a decoy, without even thinking or caring about its own truth. Reality must place its pride in never being an instrument of analysis, or a critical instrument, because it is the world that must proceed to its own analysis. It is the world, not reality, that must be revealed not as a truth, but as an illusion.
We must trap reality, we must go faster than reality. The idea too must go faster than its own shadow. But if the idea goes too fast, even its shadow faints: no longer having the faintest idea…12 Words go faster than signification. But if they go too fast, everything turns into sheer madness: an ellipse of meaning may even cause one to lose one’s taste for the sign. What can we exchange this work, this shadow, this intellectual economy and patience for? What can we sell it to the devil for? It is hard to tell. In fact, we are the orphans of a reality that came too late and which is only, like truth, an “official report” in “delayed time.”
The ultimate prize13 is when an idea disappears as an idea to become a thing among other things. That’s where it finds its completion. Having become con-substantial with the surrounding world, the idea no longer has to appear as an idea and no longer has to be supported as such. A vanishing of the idea through a silent dissemination, and of course an antinomy of any intellectual celebration. An idea is never destined to burst open but on the contrary to fade away in the world, in the trans-appearance the idea gives to the world, and in the trans-appearance of the world as it was expressed by the idea. A book is finished only when its object has vanished. Its substance must not leave any marks. It is as if it were a perfect crime. Whatever its object, writing must allow illusion to radiate and turn it into an elusive enigma: unable to be received by the specialists and the Realpolitikers of the concept. The objective of writing is to alter its object, to seduce it, to make it disappear from its own vision. Writing aims at a total resolution, a poetic resolution as Saussure would have it, a resolution marked by a rigorous dispersion in the name of God.
If the thought enunciates an object as a truth, it is only as a challenge to this object’s own self-fulfillment. The trouble14 with reality (reality’s ennui) is that it goes head-on toward the hypotheses that negate it. And then reality surrenders to the first warnings, and bends to conceptual violence. Its distinguishing sign is that of voluntary serfdom. Reality’s a bitch!15 Contrary to what is said (the real is what resists, that on which all hypotheses come to crash), reality is not very strong, or at least less and less so. Rather, reality appears to be ready to operate a disorderly withdrawal. Full walls of reality crumble – just like the collapse of Buzatti’s “Baliverna,” where the smallest crack triggers a total chain reaction. We can find the decomposed ruins everywhere – just as in Borges’ “Map and Territory.” Not only does reality resist those who still criticize it, but it also abandons those who defend it. Maybe it is a way for reality to get its revenge from those who claim to believe in it for the sole purpose of eventually transforming it: sending back its supporters to their own desires. Finally, reality is perhaps more like a “femme fatale” than a “bitch.”16
7. “Alterity,” of alterite in French, reiterates the notion of “radical otherness” already expressed by Jean Baudrillard in another work. See Marc Guillaume & Jean Baudrillard, L’Alterite Radicale (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), still not published in English.
8. Sous Tension in French.
9. Ont lieu in French means either “taking place” (in the sense of happening) or “taking its place” (in the sense of ocupying a place, a specific locus).
10. The term used by Baudrillard is objectif which means either
objective, goal/aim or lens (as in a photographic device). To leave the term objectif undecided in this translation the word “object”, unsatisfactory as it is, seemed appropriate. 11. The term used in French is verifier: to fulfill, to check or to prove.
12. The pun is better rendered in French. “Shadow” (ombre in French) appears in the common saying: ne plus avoir l’ombre d’une idee, no longer haveing the slightest idea about anything, but literally meaning “no longer having the shadow of an idea.”
13. Le fin du fin signifies that which is highest among the already high, the top of the top. Yet the term fin also means the end (so, “the end of the end” perhaps too…).
14. Ennui means trouble but also conveys the notion of “boredom”.
15. La realite est une chienne in French.
16. A very shaky translation of: “la realite est peut-etre plutot une sphinge qu’une chienne.“