Reality Blurs, Breaks Down

Karen Kayfetz '08, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University, Spring 2005

Cyberspace & Critical Theory

In "Simulacra and Simulations" Jean Baudrillard suggests that the boundary between reality and simulated reality is breaking down. He proposes that simulation is inseparable from reality, dependent on reality, because reality is the medium through which simulation is expressed. Baudrillard exemplifies this notion in the following passage.

Of the same order as the impossibility of rediscovering an absolute level of the real, is the impossibility of staging an illusion. Illusion is no longer possible, because the real is no longer possible. It is the whole political problem of the parody, of hypersimulation or offensive simulation, which is posed here.

For example: it would be interesting to see whether the repressive apparatus would not react more violently to a simulated hold up than to a real one? For a real hold up only upsets the order of things, the right of property, whereas a simulated hold up interferes with the very principle of reality. Transgression and violence are less serious, for they only contest the distribution of the real. Simulation is infinitely more dangerous since it always suggests, over and above its object, that law and order themselves might really be nothing more than a simulation.

But the difficulty is in proportion to the peril. How to feign a violation and put it to the test? Go and simulate a theft in a large department store: how do you convince the security guards that it is a simulated theft? There is no "objective" difference: the same gestures and the same signs exist as for a real theft; in fact the signs incline neither to one side nor the other. As far as the established order is concerned, they are always of the order of the real. [Simulacra and Simulations]

Discussion Questions

1. Do you agree with Baudrillard's that illusion is no longer possible? Why or why not?

2. Do you agree with Baudrillard that reality is no longer possible? Why or why not?

3. Baudrillard suggests that the simulation of a hold up is more dangerous than an actual robbery because it challenges the reality of law and order. How is this dangerous to society?

4. How does one distinguish between reality and illusion? Is making this distinction important anymore?

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Last modified 7 March 2005