Baudrillard’s Millennial Thoughts

Hystericizing the Millennium

Jean Baudrillard

The fact that we are entering on a retroactive form of history, that all our ideas, philosophies, mental faculties are progressively adapting themselves to this model, is quite evident. This may just as well be an adventure, since the disappearance of the end is, in itself, an original or creative situation. It seems to be characteristic of our culture and our history which have no end in sight either as guarantors of an indefinite recurrence, of an immortality pursued in the opposite direction. Up till now, immortality was conceived of as a region of the beyond, an immortality yet to come, today however, we have concocted another type of immortality, one on this side of the fence that incorporates the recession of outcomes ad infinitum.

The situation may be original, but the final result or outcome of things is evidently lost in advance or up front. We will never get to know the original chaos, the Big Bang, and because it is a classified event, we had never been there. We could retain the hope however, of seeing the final moment, the Big Crumb, one day. A spasmodic enjoyment of the end to compensate for not having had the chance to revere the beginning [l’origine]. These are the only two interesting moments, and since we were frustrated with the first one, we invest all the more energy into the acceleration of the end, into the precipitation of things or events towards their ultimate loss, a loss from which we were at least thrown the crumbs in the form of the spectacle. Dreaming of an unprecedented opportunity open to a generation to obliterate the end of the world, which is just as wonderful as being part of the beginning. But we have arrived too late for things to begin, only the end or outcome seems to careen under our sway.

We have been reproached for the atomic age – but finally [!] we have managed to suspend the equilibrium of terror and have decisively (?) deferred the conclusive event. Now that dissuasion has succeeded, we have to get used to the idea that there is no longer any end, there will no longer be any end and that history itself has become interminable. Consequently, when one speaks of “the end of history”, of “the end of the political”, of “the end of the social”, of “the end of ideologies”, none of this is true. The worst indeed is that there is no end to anything and that everything will continue to take place in a slow, fastidious, recurring and all-encompassing hysterical manner – like nails and hair continue to grow after death. Fundamentally, of course, all this is already dead and instead of a joyous or tragic resolution, instead of a destiny, we are left with an vexatious homeopathic end or outcome that is secreted into metastatic resistances to death. In the wake of all that resurfaces, history backtracks on its own footsteps in a compulsive attempt at rehabilitation, as if in a recompense for some sort of crime I am not aware of – a crime committed by and in spite of us, a kind of crime done to oneself, the process of which is sped up in our contemporary phase of history and the sure signs of which today are global waste, universal repentance and resentment [ressentiment] – a crime where the lawsuit needs to be re-examined and where we have to be unrelenting to go back as far as the origins, if necessary, in quest of retrospective absolution since there is no resolution to our fate in the future. It is imperative that we find out what went wrong and at which moment and then begin examining the traces left on the trail leading up to the present time, to turn over all the rocks of history, to revive the best and the worst in a vain attempt to separate the good from the bad. Following Canetti’s hypothesis: we have to return to this side of the fatal line of demarcation which, in history, has kept the human separate from the inhuman, a line that we, at some point, have thoughtlessly crossed under the spell and vertigo of some sort of anticipated liberatory effect. Arguably, it is possible that our collective panic in the face of this blind spot of going beyond history and its ends (then again, what are these ends? all we know is that we’ve crossed them without noticing that we did) tempts us to take hastening steps backwards in order to escape this simulation in the void. To relocate the zone or point of reference, the earlier scene of a Euclidean space of history. This is what the events of Eastern Europe pretended to embark on by way of peoples’ movement and the democratic process. The Gulf War was also an effort to re-open the space of war, of a founding violence to usher in the new world order.

All of these instances failed. This revival of vanished or vanishing forms, this attempt to escape a virtual apocalypse is a utopia, in fact the last of our utopias – the more we try to rediscover the real and the point of reference, the more we sink ourselves into a simulation that has now become shameful and utterly hopeless.

We are therefore in an impossible situation, unable to dream either of a past or of a future state of affairs. The situation has literally become definitive – not finite, infinite, or defined but de-finitive, i.e., deprived of its end, pilfered. Consequently, the distinctive sentiment of the definitive, with its pull towards a paradisaic state of affairs, is melancholy. Whereas in the case of mourning, things find their end and, with it, the possibility of an eventual return, in melancholy we no longer hold on to the premonition of the end or of a return, all we are left with is the resentment [ressentiment] of disappearance. It’s a bit like the twilight [crepuscular] profile of the turn of this century, the double-faced Gestalt of a linear order, of progress on the one hand, of regression of goals and values, on the other.

To oppose this movement in both directions at once, there is the utterly improbable, and certainly unverifiable, hypotheses of a poetic reversibility of events and the only proof we have of it is the possibility of this in language.

Poetic form is not far removed from chaotic form. Both of them disregard the law of cause and effect. If, in the theory of Chaos, we substitute sensitive reliance upon initial conditions for susceptible dependency upon final conditions, we enter upon the form of predestination, i.e., that of destiny. Poetic language itself abides in predestination, in the imminence of its own end, and thrives on the reversibility of the end in the beginning. In this sense, it is predestined – an unconditional event without any signification or consequence, one that flourishes singularly in the vertigo of its final resolution.

Although this is obviously not the form of our current history, there is, nevertheless, an affinity between the immanence of poetic unfolding and the immanence of our current chaotic progression as events themselves are without any signification or consequence, and because effect stands in for the cause, we have arrived at a point where there are no longer any causes, all we are left with are effects. The world presents itself to us, effectively. There is no longer any reason for it, and God is dead.

If all that remains are effects, we are in total illusion (which is also that of poetic language). If effect is to be found in the cause, or the beginning is in the end, then the catastrophe is behind us. This is the exclusive privilege of our epoch, i.e., the reversal of the sign of catastrophe. This liberates us from all possible future catastrophes, and also exempts us from all responsibility pertaining to it. An end to all preventive psychosis, no more panic, no more remorse! The lost object is behind us. We are free from the Last Judgment.

What stems or follows from all of this is some sort of poetic and ironic analysis of events. Against the simulation of a linear history “in progress”, we must privilege these rekindled flames, these malignant curves, these light catastrophes which cripple empires much convincingly than major shakeups could ever do. Anastrophe versus catastrophe. Could it be that deep down there may have never been a linear unfolding of history, there may have never been a linear unfolding of language? Everything moves in loops and curls, in tropes, in inversion of meaning, except for numeric and artificial languages which, for this very reason, have neither of these. Everything takes place in effects that short-circuit (metaleptic) causes, in factual Witz, in perverse events, in ironic turnarounds, except for a rectified history which, properly speaking, cannot be such.

Couldn’t we transpose onto social and historical phenomena language games like the anagram, acrostic, spoonerism, rhyme, strophe or stanza and catastrophe? And not only the stately figures of metaphor and metonymy but instantaneous, childish and formal games, sundry tropes that comprise the delicacies of a vulgar imagination? Are there social spoonerisms, an anagrammatic history (where meaning is dismembered and dispersed to the four winds of the earth, like the name of god in the anagram), rhyming forms of political action, events that can take on either this or that meaning? The palindrome, [A word, verse or sentence that reads the same backwards as forwards. Ex.: HannaH.] this poetic and rigorous figure of palinode [recantations] would do well to serve in this time of retroversion of history with a burning lecture (perhaps Paul Virilio’s dromology could eventually be replaced with a palindromology?). And the anagram, this minute process that picks up the thread of language, this poetic and non-linear convulsion of sorts – makes one wonder whether there is a chance that history would lend itself to this poetic convulsion, to such a subtle form of return and anaphore and which, should the anagram yield beyond meaning, allow for the pure materiality of language to shine through and also show beyond historical meaning, the pure materiality of time?

This would be the enchanting alternative to the linearity of history, the poetic alternative to a disenchanted confusion, to the chaotic oversupply of current events.

Concurrent with this going beyond history is our entry into pure fiction, into the illusion of the world. The illusion of our history yields up and accedes to a space of a much more radical illusion of the world. Now that the eyes of the Revolution and on the Revolution are shut; now that the Wall of Shame has been demolished, now that the lips of dispute are sealed (with a sugar-coated history stuck to our palate); now that the spectre of communism, i.e., that of power no longer haunt Europe, no longer haunt the memories; now that the aristocratic illusion of origin and the democratic illusion of the end increasingly drift apart – we no longer have the choice to advance, ‘to abide in our present destruction’, nor to withdraw, only a last ditch effort to confront this radical illusion.

(Exerpts)

Originally published in French as part of Jean Baudrillard, L’Illusion de la fin: ou La greve des evenements (Paris: Galilee, 1992). Translation by Charles Dudas, York University.

Advertisements

One thought on “Baudrillard’s Millennial Thoughts

  1. Some important parts of the above text:
    We have been reproached for the atomic age – but finally [!] we have managed to suspend the equilibrium of terror and have decisively (?) deferred the conclusive event. Now that dissuasion has succeeded, we have to get used to the idea that there is no longer any end, there will no longer be any end and that history itself has become interminable. Consequently, when one speaks of “the end of history”, of “the end of the political”, of “the end of the social”, of “the end of ideologies”, none of this is true. The worst indeed is that there is no end to anything and that everything will continue to take place in a slow, fastidious, recurring and all-encompassing hysterical manner – like nails and hair continue to grow after death. Fundamentally, of course, all this is already dead and instead of a joyous or tragic resolution, instead of a destiny, we are left with an vexatious homeopathic end or outcome that is secreted into metastatic resistances to death. In the wake of all that resurfaces, history backtracks on its own footsteps in a compulsive attempt at rehabilitation, as if in a recompense for some sort of crime I am not aware of – a crime committed by and in spite of us, a kind of crime done to oneself, the process of which is sped up in our contemporary phase of history and the sure signs of which today are global waste, universal repentance and resentment [ressentiment] – a crime where the lawsuit needs to be re-examined and where we have to be unrelenting to go back as far as the origins, if necessary, in quest of retrospective absolution since there is no resolution to our fate in the future.

    Against the simulation of a linear history “in progress”, we must privilege these rekindled flames, these malignant curves, these light catastrophes which cripple empires much convincingly than major shakeups could ever do. Anastrophe versus catastrophe. Could it be that deep down there may have never been a linear unfolding of history, there may have never been a linear unfolding of language? Everything moves in loops and curls, in tropes, in inversion of meaning, except for numeric and artificial languages which, for this very reason, have neither of these. Everything takes place in effects that short-circuit (metaleptic) causes, in factual Witz, in perverse events, in ironic turnarounds, except for a rectified history which, properly speaking, cannot be such.

    Like

Comments are closed.