Jean Baudrillard's "Simulacra and Simulations" analyzes contemporary conceptions of reality, using exempla such as Disneyland and Watergate to show how layers of simulations come to take the place of reality. Baudrillard reasons that because a simulation necessarily takes on a part of the simulated, the line between the two, as well as the line between true and false and right and wrong, blurs. Early in his argument, Baudrillard extends this analysis of reality to religion and human conception of the divine:
Outside of medicine and the army, favored terrains of simulation, the affair goes back to religion and the simulacrum of divinity: "I forbade any simulacrum in the temples because the divinity that breathes life into nature cannot be represented." Indeed it can. But what becomes of the divinity when it reveals itself in icons, when it is multiplied in simulacra? Does it remain the supreme authority, simply incarnated in images as a visible theology? Or is it volatilized into simulacra which alone deploy their pomp and power of fascination -- the visible machinery of icons being substituted for the pure and intelligible Idea of God? This is precisely what was feared by the Iconoclasts, whose millennial quarrel is still with us today. Their rage to destroy images rose precisely because they sensed this omnipotence of simulacra, this facility they have of erasing God from the consciousnesses of people, and the overwhelming, destructive truth which they suggest: that ultimately there has never been any God; that only simulacra exist; indeed that God himself has only ever been his own simulacrum. Had they been able to believe that images only occulted or masked the Platonic idea of God, there would have been no reason to destroy them. One can live with the idea of a distorted truth. But their metaphysical despair came from the idea that the images concealed nothing at all, and that in fact they were not images, such as the original model would have made them, but actually perfect simulacra forever radiant with their own fascination. But this death of the divine referential has to be exorcised at all cost.
In this passage, Baudrillard rapidly bounds to certain conclusions with little explanation, such as that God does not exist because simulacrum do. Illumination of these assertions requires an understanding of Baudillard's core argument, the analysis of the ongoing interplay between simulation and reality, and the constant redefinition of each in terms of the other.
1. Do you agree with Baudrillard's conclusion about the iconoclasts, that they destroy images of God because there has never been God, but only the simulations of the divine? For that matter, do you agree that the presence of icons suggests that God has never existed? How does Baudrillard argue these points?
2. What does Baudrillard mean by the last line of the passage, "But this death of the divine referential has to be exorcised at all cost"? Why does he say that?
3. Can we think of God as something that makes a human a cyborg? In other words, can God function as a sort of prosthesis, a tool that man creates for himself to facilitate interaction with the world?
4. How does Baudrillard's conception of the divine and icons connect to the Loa in William Gibson's Neuromancer trilogy? What similarities and differences arise between the two?
Baudrillard, Jean. "Simulacra and Simulations" in Selected Writings Ed. Mark Poster. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. 166-184. [Available at European Graduate School site.]
Last modified 7 March 2005