Simulacra, the Author Function, Fuzzy Logic, Rene Magritte, Hajime Sorajama, Information Theory and American Football

Izel 'Izzy' Sulam

With his discussion of simulacra, Baudrillard brings up some very important points, although I believe that his binary analysis of reality versus simulation comes across as less than convincing. However, let us consider some basic points first:

Baudrillard defines a representation as a copy of an original which requires the existence of the original to justify its existence. Souvenirs, for instance, are representations in that they serve to remind visitors of their original visit - if the original visit, or the relevant location, never existed in the first place, then the raison d'etre of all souvenirs would be nullified. Simulations, on the other hand, constitute entities which, although they may be based on reality, no longer necessitate the existence of an original once the process of construction is finished. Simulacra are therefore existentially and functionally independent from reality.

This sounds suspiciously like the problematic of the author function. To wit: Let us assume that the simulacrum symbolizes a text and that reality symbolizes an author. Naturally enough, at least parts of a simulation will be based on reality, although this will probably entail recombinations / enhancements / modifications of reality. Similarly, any text written by an author is bound to reflect their background and life experience at least in some respects, although imagination may well constitute part of the text. When the the text is written and the simulation is constructed, however, the author is dead, and so is reality. In fact, we might even quote Ecclesiastes whom Baudrillard alludes to at the beginning of his book. Ecclesiastes offers:

"The simulacrum is never what hides the truth - it is the truth that hides the fact that there is none.

The smulacrum is true."

This quote has significant implications within the context of our mischevious little analogy. If we are to believe Ecclesiastes, and grant that the analogy is justified, we must also accept that the author does not exist. It simply represents a social construct designed to facilitate interaction with information, until such time as homo sapiens matures sufficiently enough to appreciate the text for what it is, without feeling the need to associate it with a particular author. This calls for a paradigm shift in information technology, switching from a categorical to an associative mode of thinking.

Let us modify Ecclesiastes' quote, then, and see what we have:

"The author is never one who writes the text - it is the text that hides the fact that there is no author.

The text is true."

Let us now analyze Baudrillard's dichotomy in the context of fuzzy logic. The seminal book Fuzzy Logic, written by Bart Kosko, proposes a new way of dealing with information. Although binary opposition has had a firm grip on the sciences (and much of human thought) for the past five thousand years, and although our current technological infrastructure basically thrives on binary thought, Kosko notes that many problems defy such analysis. Categorization and persistent identity are two common examples. Whenever one tries to define a simple concept, such as chair, for instance, one can always find an instantiation of said category which contradicts with any definition that may be offered. Philosophy has so far been unable to convincingly resolve the problematic of categorization. Similarly, the question of persistent identity - how I know that I am the same person that I was a second ago, or ten years ago - poses an equally difficult challenge. The difficulty, however, may not lie within the questions themselves but rather in the tools which we employ to solve them. Binary thought has been around for so long that we readily acknowledge binary analysis as a viable (and perhaps the only available) method to attack such questions. Kosko disagrees. He proposes a new method, which utilizes a continuous spectrum with two extremes situated at the two ends. I am not happy or sad today, for instance, my emotion-o-meter (which is purely a product of my mischevious imagination, Kosko does not refer to his mathematical construct as such) may read 0.72 happy and 0.28 sad. Similarly, the state of any static entity or dynamic process in existence can be represented as a real number variable situated between two extreme points, the infamous 0 and 1 of binary thought. Problems which previously yielded to binary analysis can still be solved, however: They simply constitute special cases, where the variable equals either 0.00 or 1.00.

This approach would apply to Baudrillard's conception of simulacra as well. In his occasionally rather heated discourse, in which he likens Disneyland's parking lot to a concentration camp, Baudrillard expresses a paranoia of simulation which implies a yearning for reality. Baudrillard readily acknowledges that reality does not exist within our contemporary society. He, however, stops short of asserting that reality does not exist, period. We can only perceive (although this represents most people's conception of reality) a simulation constructed by our sensory organs. We do not know if reality indeed exists out there somewhere, the fact remains that there need be none. Although I hate to bring up a post-Cartesian vision of the brain in a vat hooked up to a machine which keeps feeding sensory input to it, that might indeed be the case. When we dream, for instance, do we experience reality or not? When we talk about fiction based on real life, for instance, should that fiction be considered real or simulated? Such questions, as Bart Kosko notes, defy binary ananlysis. I similarly propose that we consider each entity or event in life within the context of our own reality spectrum: Those that resemble our previous experiences, or those which our education has lead us to regard as 'real' will attain greater variables than those which seem unconvincing, unfamiliar or downright goofy.

For a visual interpretation of these ideas, let us consider Rene Magritte and Hajime Sorajama:

Although some critics contend that the main inspiration for much of Magritte's work remains highly associated with frequent indulgence in psychoactive chemicals, a less sarcastic attitude towards these admittedly unconventional paintings may indeed prove to be more useful in our discussion of simulacra. Magritte's paintings transcend ordinary boundaries of space, time, existence and reality. The entities in his creations do not possess representitive identities, probably not even persistent ones. Definitions blur, borders merge, objects morph, and basically, everything looks disturbingly weird:

La belle captive

La magie noire

Le soir qui tombe

Le blanc Seing

Ceci n'est pas une pomme.

La lunette d'approche

Portrait de Mme. Nellens

Les liaisons dangereuses


Magritte's paintings do not constitute representations of reality. When Magritte offers "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." or "Ceci n'est pas une pomme.", he refers to the existential distinctness of his painting from that of a pipe or an apple. His painting would still remain in existence, even if the apple that inspired it ceased to exist for some reason. His paintings stand for aesthtically pleasing (and possibly philosophically profound) forms of expression. Their function is to convey a message or simply to look good, and their existence is justified by this function alone. The fact that the window in his Le soir qui tombe looks like a real window, or the fact that the lady in his Portait de Mme. Nellnes resembles an authentic person, does not mean anything. These paintings do not mirror reality, they extrapolate from it. They do not make any assumptions about the universes they exist in; they play around with form, figure, color, identity, granularity, dimensionality, existence and various other concepts which we hardly ever think about. Their functionality remains irrelevant of such concerns, and they consequently overlook most universally accepted maxims. Magritte's paintings therefore exist regardless of our own universe. They constitute textbook examples of simulations.

Hajime Sorajama's paintings are an entirely different story. His earlier work concentrates on the beauty of the female figure, explored with meticulous care. Sorajama studied women from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, in diverse outfits, and in various moods. His only prerequisites were that the female was going to form the central (and usually only) figure in his painting, and that the end result would turn out to be tastefully erotic.

Sorajama's work might not have differed from that of a million other artists had he not reflected on his actual motives and decided to pursue them within different contexts. Sorajama decided that he cared more about the aesthetic quality of the female form than the actual authenticity of his paintings. He therefore began to explore fantasy themes: The female form embedded within the context of different mythical or fictional characters. This paradigm shift in his work attracted some attention, since, perhaps unintentionally, Sorajama had indeed made a statement about his own art and possibly about contemporary art and design.

Sorajama's latest creations, a series of paintings which he called gynoids, brought him to mainstream attention. With these pictures, Hajime openly explored and expressed the beauty of the female form within the context of androids whose sole purpose consisted of looking sexy and providing pleasure, assuming that a prototype were ever constructed. After all, androids can only be defined as machines, constructs designed to serve people, except for the fact that androids happen to resemble humans. Some critics felt that this represented a highly offensive vision which clearly fetishizes (as Noah would say) the female form and restates the historically infamous viewpoint that the function of a female should be to look good and to provide pleasure. Others disagreed. Sorajama, they claimed, did not impose a function on beauty, rather, he added beauty to a function. Rather than making a statement about women, they offered, Sorajama simply explored a new twist on an old genre - not belle nature but efficient functionality. After all, aesthetic beauty was to the Renaissance what efficiency is to the Information Age.

Indeed, Sorajama's work has been a series of simulations all along. Even his earlier paintings cared more about capturing sensuality rather than the physical nuances of his model. He rarely based his work solely on real life: The outfit of his model, or the hairstyle, or the background, or some other detail would be recreated during the process of painting. His later work relied less and less on models, until he finally started painting without using any models at all. His paintings represent sensuality, and do not make pretensions to any other motive. Their existence is based on this one functionality alone: They look good. The gynoids, presumably, both look good and fulfill whatever service one may ask of them. The pictorial depictions of these gynoids, unfortunately, only appeal to our optic nerves and to our imaginations. Since gynoids are not commercially available as of this writing, the paintings represent our only instantiation of this concept. Nevertheless, the functions of gynoids and of these paintings remain well-defined and ultimately justifiy their existence. The paintings, therefore, do not constitute representations of reality and do not need it anyhow. They function, therefore they exist.

Baudrillard's definition of a simulation versus a representation redefines existence in the Information Age. Nothing is real or simulated - things exist insofar as they cause other events. Consequently, highly functional entities, both material substances and dynamic procedures, are more real than sloppy designs, since reality is directly proportional to efficiency. The aura of a unique object matters little in an age where existence is perceived, expressed and encoded digitally. If two entities provide the exact same functionality, if their quantitative encodings are equivalent, then the two entities are equivalent. Information theory could care less about how one of the two is a real person and the other an android.

How does American football fit in with all this, then? Well, it's a cool game - just as representation versus simulacra is a cool subject for discourse.

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

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