Hyper-sterics? Christianity and Simulacra

[Be forewarned.. all original thought represented below is a simulation. It's been done].

Elizabeth Rodwell spook@brown.edu

Intro: Jean Baudrillard's philosophy might be easier to stomach were he not so engaged in hysterical bantering, gross allusions and catastrophic doom-and-gloom prophetics. What value his work does have is buried beneath his hysterics (DISNEY LAND'S PARKING LOT IS LIKE A CONCENTRATION CAMP! p. 12) and is marred by poor diction -- possibly a result of the translation or his own brand of pseudo-intellectual babble-speak. Nonetheless, he's got some damned catchy phrases easily copied down and sloganized -- kind of like Hitler.

Baudrillard poses the question: "But what becomes of the divinity when it reveals itself in icons, when it is multiplied in simulacra?" (p.4) He claims that simulacra necessitates the loss of God, that once icons are permitted, the human mind is then more easily able to leap to the conclusion that God Her/Himself is a simulation Here he makes a leap that is typical of most of his work; if the human mind allots for the depiction of God in a statue, in a painting, in a piece of jewelry then it recognizes that it might have been as easily to invent God as it was to depict his image on canvas. These works are thus means to the inevitable end of religion, they free the mind from the contemplation of something high, something of a realm beyond human imagination and bring it down to a level of dangerous comprehension. Interesting interpretation, sir.

If I doodle a tree, it doesn't enervate the tree itself. The real co-exists with the copy, and while one might be indistinguishable from the other, the first is not rendered artificial by the production of copies. Obviously, the Godhead is a different manner altogether because the depicted object is not visible, is not proven, and thus, it's face must come from the imagination of man. Nonetheless, religious icons have not weakened the faith of the pious- au contraire- they have constantly affirmed that faith and perhaps given substance to it. When all is said and done, the human mind wants a gateway to worship, a face and a body within their realm of comprehension, to make the vague and supernatural more real, as we know real. Visual aids help.

Furthermore, the Iconoclasts/Iconodules never made the leap that Baudrillard suggests, to assuming that God is a simulation of the mind, because man can as easily invent a God (but not their God, who was never invented, as Baudrillard intimates) as he can depict one in painting. John of Damascus, a philopsopher and author of the book: On the Divine Images (eighth century) argues that images are absolutely necessary, to fill in the gaps left by the flawed and earth-bound human mind. He believed strongly that we must make images in order to help ourselves worship.. simulacra does not annihilate the religion, rather it teaches us how to approach it. Familiar, everyday media must be employed, simulation must occur, because the human mind responds well to iconography. Anton LaVey realized this in creating his Church of Satan, as do most politicians and the Church of the Subgenius. Having read the testaments of many nuns and monks it becomes obvious that the figure of Christ on the cross is adds a sort of subliminal associative/identificative depth to the practice of worship. This simulacra renders the historical immortal; it feeds the "retro fascination" with history that Baudrillard obsesses over in his second chapter (p. 44). While Baudrillard recognizes the void, the obsession of modern man to explain his past and to resurrect periods when "at least there was history" (p 44), he somehow fails to recognize the necessity of simulacra in feeding the human mind, in keeping the faith alive. Human intellect and human memory are flawed, and medieval philosophers recognized this. Icons were thusly relied upon as a study-aid of sorts, a visual-aid, rather than an idol. What John of Damascus emphasizes is that these pictures and statues are not mistaken for God, nor are they simulations, but rather metaphors for Him/Her.

Baudrillard only cites Christianity in his book; thus I will continue on my Christian-centric rant: God is not depicted, except in rare circumstances (Sistine Chapel), rather the Saints and Jesus, and Mary are generally appropriated, precisely because man does not expect that he can produce a likeness of God. To think as such would signify a lack of understanding/heresy, according to the Church illuminates.

John of Damascus writes: "The image was devised so [man] might advance in knowledge", and Baudrillard might agree... though he'd argue that advancement means the abandonment of God-delusions and the loss of religion, while John would prefer to link increased knowledge with greater piety.

Also contrary to Baudrillard's statement, the Iconoclasts did not fear that the images would become God, but rather that God disapproved of such doings, as stated in the Bible/Old Testament. While the Iconoclasts did fear that the Christians were making Gods from statues, it was not their God that was being discredited, but new Gods within the Church structure that were false idols. The Christian God's existence was never questioned- when magical symbols and statues were uncovered, belonging to other religions, Christians (at least not many) didn't say: "Hey, maybe we're all making up God." Instead they dismissed these icons as tools of demon worship, and wished to free their church from association with such things.


Responses to my Classmates:

Josh Conterio: Nice summary of Baudrillard. "What we deem to be historical (the original real) is copied, which in turn negates both the object/idea being copied and that copy itself." (Quoted from his essay). I'd argue that this is not true. First, both the original and the copy are real, and second, the original is not rendered fake by the production of a second, or a third. Though it can be a bit dizzying, and though the real is often difficult to discern, the real continues to exist. Both are valid, and both are different.. there can be no exact copy. I just can't buy into the fact that a copy can ever truly replace an original.

Wayne Huang: "In fact, the hyperreality of the 'Net is actually myriad times larger than what the physical world can contain -- it is redundantly detailed, with several sites focusing on the same thing (news sites, for example)." Actually, the net must be smaller than the physical world or it couldn't be contained in the physical world, no? And isn't the physical world redundantly detailed too? There are several TV programs, several ads, several people.. whatever etc. with similar themes about them. The whole world is repetitive and, yes, a bunch of simulations.

Laura Lee*This essay ought to be linked to mine.. similar themes. Her argument is of the same vein as mine.

Kelly Maudslien "Simulation collapses formerly opposing poles; those of the representation and the real." I would think these aren't opposing poles, rather they are so close as to overlap and cause confusion. I think maybe the hyperreal is the opposite of the real. "Communication on the internet may be a good example of a Baudrillardian simulacrum." I would argue that net communication is rather a good example of simulation, not simulacra, because it is reality based; it merely exceeds reality.

< a href= "neelon.html">Caleb Neelon This is just fun and very interesting

Dan Parke "But what do we make that is new other than better means to facilitate our reverence of the past? In short what past are we leaving of ourselves?" I think there's a whole portion of our culture dedicated to trying to make some real for this time. Of course, these are all responses in their own way, to events of the past, but they are novel in their own way. Remember the 80s… each decade leaves behind it's own stain. I have to harp on music. So much of our modern electronica is based on the 80s-pop tradition. I think new things are being produced daily -- though they're sort of the culmination of their predecessors. But what about the net? Popularity of web sites/ web culture/ AOL chat rooms?

Glen Sanford* Yes, yes… read this one. Had I not written about religion I would have argued Baudrillard's stance on science.

That's all, folks. Thanks for reading.

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