Baudrillard: Radical Thought (3)
More subtly, reality also gets its revenge from those who challenge it by, paradoxically, proving that they are right. Whenever any risky idea, any cynical or critical hypothesis proves to be right, it in fact turns out to be a dirty trick. You are fooled and disarmed. Your arguments are lamentably confirmed by a reality without scruples.
So, you may posit the idea of a simulacrum, and yet, secretly, not believe in it, hoping that the real will avenge itself. The theory is then not necessarily convinced of its own validity. Unfortunately, only those who are reality fanatics react negatively. Reality does not seem to be willing to deny itself, far from it: all simulacra wander freely. Reality today is nothing more than the apocalypse of simulation. Consequently, the reality supporters (who defend reality as if it was a moral value or a virtue) play, so to speak, the part of those who once were called the fanatics of the Apocalypse.
The idea of simulacrum was a conceptual weapon against reality, but it has been stolen. Not that it has been pillaged, vulgarized, or has become common-place17 (which is true but has no consequence), but because simulacra have been absorbed by reality which has swallowed them and which, from now on, is clad with all the rhetoric of simulation. And to cap it all, simulacra have become reality! Today, simulacra guarantee the continuation of the real. The simulacrum now hides, not the truth, but the fact that there is none, that is to say, the continuation of Nothingness.
This is the very paradox of any thought that reveals the falsehood of the real: when reality steals your concept and realizes (fulfills) it, and by the same token flies away from any criticism. Events, deprived of any direction, steal any possible meaning.18 They adapt to the most fantastic hypotheses like natural species and viruses adapt to the most hostile environments. They show an extraordinary mimetic capacity. There has been a reversal here too: it is no longer theories that have to adapt to events, but events that adapt to theories. In any case, they mystify us because a theory that realizes itself 19 is no longer a theory. A realized hypothesis is no longer a hypothesis. It is terrifying to see a hypothesis be realized like this. It is terrifying to suddenly see the idea coincide with reality. This is the agony of the concept. The epiphany of the real is the twilight of the concept.
We have lost the advance that ideas had on the world, that distance that makes an idea stay an idea. Thought must anticipate, be exceptional, and in the margin – the projected shadow of the future events. Yet, today, we are lagging behind the events. They may sometimes give the impression that they regress, that they are not what they should be. In fact, they have passed over us for a long time. The simulated disorder of things has gone faster than us. The effect of reality has disappeared behind the acceleration of things – an anamorphosis of speed. What happens to the heterogeneity of thought in a world that has been converted to the craziest hypotheses and to an artificial delirium? In their accelerated occurrence, the events have in a sense swallowed their own interpretation. Things have been cleansed of their own meaning. And consequently, they are like black holes and can no longer reflect. They are what they are, never too late for their occurrence, but always beyond their meaning. What is late rather is the interpretation of things. Interpretation is then merely a retro figure for an unpredictable event.
What to do then? What is there to do when suddenly everything fits the ironic, critical, alternative, and catastrophic model that you suggested (everything fits the model you gave beyond any hopes you had because, in a sense, you never believed it could go that far, otherwise you would never have been able to create it)? Well!… It’s heaven! We are beyond doomsday, in the realm of immortality. All there is to do is survive. For, then, at this point, the irony, the challenge, the anticipation, and the evil are terminated, just as hope inexorably dies in front of the gates of hell. In fact, hell starts here. Hell as an inferno characterized by the unconditional realization of all ideas: an inferno of reality. We then understand (see Adorno) that concepts prefer to commit suicide rather than come to that point.
Something else has been stolen from us: indifference. The power of indifference, which is the quality of the mind, as opposed to the play of differences, which is the characteristic of the world. But indifference has been taken away from us by a world that has become indifferent. Similarly, the eccentricity of thinking has been taken away by an eccentric world. When things and events refer to one another and to their non-differentiated concept, the equivalence of the world joins and erases the indifference of thinking. Boredom emerges. No more confrontations, no more stakes. Just a parting of dead waters.
How beautiful indifference was in a world that was not indifferent! In a world that was different, convulsive and contradictory, with stakes and passions. Back then, the indifference of the mind could turn into a stake or a passion, in total opposition to the world. It could anticipate the indifferent future of the world and turn this indifference into an event. Today, it is difficult to be more apathetic and more indifferent than the facts themselves. The world in which we operate today is apathetic, indifferent to its own life, without passion, and deadly boring. There is no point in being dispassionate in a world without passions. Being dis-invested in a world without investment makes no sense. That’s how we have become orphans.
Our point is not to defend radical thought. Any idea that can be defended is presumed guilty. Any idea that does not sustain its own defense deserves to perish. But we have to fight against charges of unreality, lack of responsibility, nihilism, and despair. Radical thought is never depressing. This would be a complete misunderstanding. A moralizing and ideological critique, obsessed by meaning and content, obsessed by a political finality of discourse, never takes into account writing, the act of writing, the poetic, ironic, and allusive form of language, the play with meaning. This critique does not see that the resolution of meaning is right here, in the form itself, in the formal materiality of an expression. As for meaning, it is always unfortunate. Analysis is by its very definition unfortunate since it is born out of a critical disillusion. But language on the contrary is fortunate (happy), even when it designates a world with no illusion, with no hope. This would in fact be here the very definition of radical thought: an intelligence without hope, but a fortunate and happy form. Critics, always being unfortunate (unhappy) in their nature, choose the realm of ideas as their battle field. They do not see that if discourse always tends to produce meaning, language and writing on the contrary are always a matter of illusion. Language and writing are the living illusion of meaning, the resolution of the misfortune of meaning operated through the good fortune of language. This is the only political or transpolitical act that a writer can accomplish.
Everyone has ideas, even more than they need. What matters is the poetic singularity of analysis. Only this witz, this spirituality of language, can justify writing. Not a miserable critical objectivity of ideas. There will never be a solution to the contradiction of ideas, except inside language itself, in the energy and fortune (happiness) of language. So the loneliness and sadness in Edward Hopper’s paintings are transfigured by the timeless quality of light, a light which comes from some place else and gives to the whole picture a totally non-figurative meaning, an intensity which renders loneliness unreal. Hopper says: “I do not paint sadness or loneliness; I only seek to paint light on this wall.”
In any case, it is better to have a despairing analysis in a happy language than an optimistic analysis in despairingly boring and demoralizingly plain language. Which is too often the case. The formal boredom that is secreted by an idealist thought on values, or by a goal-oriented20 thought on culture, is the secret sign of despair for this thought – not despair with the world, but despair toward its own discourse. This is where the real depressing thought emerges. It emerges with those people who only talk about a transcendence21 or a transformation of the world, while they are totally unable to transfigure their own language.
Radical thought is in no way different from radical usage of language. This thought is therefore alien to any resolution of the world which would take the direction22 of an objective reality and of its deciphering. Radical thought does not decipher. It anathematizes and “anagramatizes” concepts and ideas, exactly what poetic language does with words. Through its reversible chaining, it simultaneously gives an account of meaning and of its fundamental illusion. Language gives an account of the very illusion of language as a definite23 stratagem and through that notes the illusion of the world as an infinite trap, as a seduction of the mind, as a stealing away of all mental capacities. While being a transporter of meaning, language is at the same time a supra-conductor of illusion and of the absence of meaning24. Language is only signification’s unintentional accomplice. By its very force, it calls for the spiritual imagination of sounds and rhythms, for the dispersion of meaning in the event of language, similar to the role of the muscles in dance, similar to the role of reproduction in erotic games.
Such a passion for the artificial, a passion for illusion, is the same thing as the seductive joy (jouissance25) to undo a too perfect constellation of meaning. It is also a joy (jouissance) to render transparent the imposture of the world, that is to say the enigmatic function of the world, and its mystification which supposedly is its secret. Doing this while perhaps rendering its imposture transparent: deceiving rather than validating meaning.26 This passion “wins”27 in the free and spiritual usage of language, in the spiritual game of writing. And it only disappears when language is used for a limited finality, its most common usage perhaps, that of communication. No matter what, if language wants to “speak the language” of illusion, it must become a seduction. As for “speaking the language” of the real, it would not know how to do it (properly speaking) because language is never real. Whenever it appears to be able to designate things, it actually does so by following unreal, elliptic, and ironic paths. Objectivity and truth are metaphoric in language. Too bad for the apodicticians or the apodidacticians! This is how language is, even unconsciously, the carrier of radical thought, because it always starts from itself, as a trait d’esprit vis-a-vis the world, as an ellipse and a source of pleasure. Even the confusion of languages in the Tower of Babel, a powerful mechanism of illusion for the human race, a source of non-communication and an end to the possibility of a universal language, will have appeared, finally, not as a divine punishment but as a gift from God.
Ciphering, not deciphering. Operating illusions. Being illusion28 to be event. Turning into an enigma what is clear. Making unintelligible what is far too intelligible. Rendering unreadable the event itself. Working all the events to make them unintelligible. Accentuating the fake transparency of the world to spread a terroristic confusion, to spread the germs or viruses of a radical illusion, that is to say operating a radical disillusion of the real. A viral and deleterious thought, which corrupts meaning, and is the accomplice of an erotic perception of reality’s trouble.
Erasing in oneself any remaining trace of the intellectual plot. Stealing the “reality file” to erase its conclusions. But, in fact, it is reality itself which foments its own contradiction, its own denial, its own loss through our lack of reality. Hence, the internal feeling that all this affair – the world, thought, and language – has emerged from some place else and could disappear as if by magic. The world does not seek to have more existence, nor does it seek to persist in its existence. On the contrary, it is looking for the most spiritual way to escape reality. Through thought, the world is looking for what could lead to its own loss.
The absolute rule, that of symbolic exchange, is to return what you received. Never less, but always more. The absolute rule of thought is to return the world as we received it: unintelligible. And if it is possible, to return it a little bit more unintelligible. A little bit more enigmatic.
17. The term used in French, lieu commun, gives the idea of place (literally, a common place), but also signifies “banality”.
18. Baudrillard here plays on the term sens which, in French, means “direction” or “meaning” (it can also mean “sense”). Teh terms “direction” and “meaning” are interchangable in this sentence and can be conbined any way the reader prefers.
19. Or “fulfills itself.”
20. Voluntariste in French.
22. or the meaning.
26. imposteur, et non composteur de sens.
27. L’emporte in French means either “winning” or “carrying away with oneself.” La passion l’emporte can thus signify the success of this passion over meaning or the fact that this passion has grabbed meaning and takes it away with itself.
28. Faire illusion is also a French expression which means “conveying unfulfilled hopes or promises,”