Date: Wed, 18 Feb 1998 13:03:17 -0500 (EST) X-Sender: Mime-Version: 1.0 To: From: Katherine Angus Subject: a quick question, and baudrillard Professor Landow-- Here is my critique of Baudrillard. I apologize for its egregious lateness. I've been pretty sick all weekend, and am not sure whether or not I'll be able to make it to class. If I don't make it to class, would it be possible for you to email me about whether or not we have a lab tonight? I would appreciate it very much. Thanks, Katherine ` I think I havethe HTML correct on this. if not, please let me know. Considering the Real

Considering the Real

Katherine Angus

Theory is a concept. This is a truth that is self-evident but one which is none the less worth stating. The most common criticism of theory is that--being of the mind--it is disassociated from the body. Beyond this bodily disassociation, however, theory invites a disassociation from the thing about which one is theorizing. To create theories about a culture or about the world is to remove one's self somehow from that world. Although, obviously, one cannot be outside of the world, the very nature of theory invites a distancing or an attempt at self-removal, so that a purer level of objectivity may be reached. That this is an impossibility is not always noticed or accepted by the theorists, perhaps it is a matter for debate. What is obvious and undebatable is the way in which this level of conceptual thought can harm its own concepts.

Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation is a prime example of this. By attempting to theorize the real, the hyperreal, the simulacra and the simulation, Baudrillard has removed himself from the very realm in which these things operate. Because his vision is a conceptual one, he fails to acknowledge that what he theorizes about may not exist only as concept but also as actualities. This is particularly evident in his discussion of the possibility of law and order as a simulation. In this example, Baudrillard discusses the "impossibility of isolating the process of simulation" (20) and claims that this impossibility leads to a realm where it is also "impossible to isolate the pcrosses of the real" (21). To illustrate this concept, Baudrillard uses the example of a bank robbery, claiming that one may attempt to simulate a bank robbery but, in the midst of the simulation, "the network of artificial signs will become inextricably mixed up with real elements" (20).

Baudrillard uses this as an example of a system which must reduce everything to the real for fear of being exposed as, itself, a simulation. Though his theory is interesting, he fails to acknowledge a fundamental principle of reality, one which seperates simulation from the real quite easily. The principle is this: so that it may be a measurable or quantifiable entity (and thus fit into Baudrillard's theories more easily), reality cannot be measured by the intentions behind an act, but rather only upon the action itself. For theorists like Baudrillard, concepts and intentions are measurable and quantifiable and therefore can be seperated from the actions which result from them. For those that live in a less theoretical world, this is impossible. One cannot simulate a bank robbery because a bank robbery is not a concept or an intention, but rather it is an action or series of actions which involve the removal of money from a bank through a direct or perceived threat.

If one robs a bank with harmless weapons and leaves the money outside of a door, even then one has still commited an act of bank robbery. Baudrillard's inability to reconnect with the world about which he theorizes allows him the leeway to forget that reality is not so much a concept upon which all of us but the mad have agreed, but rather that it is a system of actions and consequences. If, during Baudrillard's simulated robbery, a bystander is inadvertently shot by a security guard, than is his/her wound a simulation? No, obviously the wound is real, and if the wound is real than the system of actions which engendered this wound must also be real. So, in essence, Baudrillard is correct when he claims that one cannot simulate the real in such an instance, but he is incorrect when he claims it is because the real consumes the simulation. Rather, there is no possible simulation in such an instance, for the real here is based on an act and one cannot simulate an act but instead only commit it.

The example of the simulated bank robbery is perhaps the most egregious example of Baudrillard's Achilles heel. While his theories are of no small interest, his inability to reconnect with the world about which he theorizes renders many of Baudrillard's examples at best moot and at worst ridiculous. Because Baudrillard exists primarily in the world of his theories, he fails to understand that they are not universal. While he flippantly dismisses such notions of spirituality , others cannot or will not. Baudrillard excels at discussing concepts in the realm of concepts, but he falters in his attempts to fasten them to concrete exanmples in the world. His discussion of politics (particularly American politics such as Vietnam War policies and the assassination of Kennedy) fall flat because they do not show a true reflection of the events or of their consequences. Indeed, they become almost insulting. When Baudrillard claims that war itself has become a simulation, he throws in only lip service to the fact that the death toll and suffering caused by war are themselves not a simulation for the people who experience them. Grasping desperately on to a series of concepts, Baudrillard claims that the reality of war has become a simulation because "what no longer exists is...the ideological seriousness of war" (38). Blinded by a binary system which divides all modern day ideologies along the lines of capitalist/communist, Baudrillard refuses to assess the possibility that the ideologies themselves have begun to change.

other discussions of Baudrillard by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]

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