Sim Questions

Owen Strain '08, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University, Spring 2005

Cyberspace & Critical Theory

Simulation and representation have been around since ancient times, and have manifested themselves in different ways over time. Sculptors, taxidermists, and the makers of first-person-shooter video games all make their living via simulation. Writers, architects, and bankers, on the other hand, create and manipulate representations. Baudrillard examines the differences between the two paradigms, and looks at how they relate to each other.

So it is with simulation, insofar as it is opposed to representation. Representation starts from the principle that the sign and the real are equivalent (even if this equivalence is Utopian, it is a fundamental axiom). Conversely, simulation starts from the Utopia of this principle of equivalence, from the radical negation of the sign as value, from the sign as reversion and death sentence of every reference. Whereas representation tries to absorb simulation by interpreting it as false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation as itself a simulacrum.

These would be the successive phases of the image:

  1. It is the reflection of a basic reality.
  2. It masks and perverts a basic reality.
  3. It masks the absence of a basic reality.
  4. It bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum.

In the first case, the image is a good appearance: the representation is of the order of sacrament. In the second, it is an evil appearance: of the order of malefice. In the third, it plays at being an appearance: it is of the order of sorcery. In the fourth, it is no longer in the order of appearance at all, but of simulation.

So as the image moves further from reality it progresses from representation towards simulation becoming, in the end, a pure simulacrum.

Discussion Questions

1. In the forth phase of the image, "it bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum." If a simulacrum becomes indistinguishable from a real object, how can it bear no relation to any reality whatever? Does the simulacrum define its own reality?

2. If the sign is the "reversion and death sentence of every reference," does this mean we should try to avoid representations? If so, is this even possible with the prevalence of symbols, characters, and icons in our world?

3. Give a concrete example for each of the four successive phases.

4. Does it matter if a thing exists as a simulacrum or a real object if the two behave identically? What about a person?

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Last modified 7 March 2005