File spoon-archives/baudrillard.archive/baudrillard_2001/baudrillard.0109, message 54

Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2001 11:26:40 -0700
Subject: Re: Hello (?)

Well, I don't know if any of you remember me or not.  I used to annoy everyone with a post now and again.  I had rejoined
the lists a few months ago after suffering through 2 hard drive crashes a while back (alas, no backups of anything - a
mistake I am never going to make again :P) and some ISP nightmares.  Given the utter lack of messages, I assumed that the
list was dead.  I was correct, apparently, though I suppose it's nice to see some folks up and kicking suddenly these
days, especially those few whose posts I was particularly fond of.  I am somehow now receiving two issues of every
message, which is interesting in its own right.  But enough, on to the topic at hand.

First, I have generally been dismayed by the flippant use and appreciation of Baudrillard on this list.  Ever since the
Krokers, there's been this perverse desire to see Baudrillard as hip and happy, a kind of bubbling joviality mocking the
seriousness with which the rest of us view the world.  And while this presence of play clearly has its purchase in some of
Baudrillard's writings (the travel diaries are a good choice, and the comments on Reagan's teeth in _America_ is a classic
example), there is a profound nostalgia and sadness at work in his texts as well, and it is a movement too often ignored
by those who want only to reference Baudrillard as the trumpeteer of the simulacrum.  Steve and Salwa (hello again!) have
both engaged this aspect of JB's writing in their recent posts, albeit from different starting points.  I would encourage
others to do the same.  Not because of its accuracy or the correctness of our appropriation, but because the "attack on
America" carries with it the most serious of portents.  The reality principle has been challenged in America in a manner
unheard of since its Hollywood metamorphosis.  Baudrillard was right to say, when writing on Sarajevo, that the reality
principle must be maintained (a descriptive rather than normative statement) and it is this maintanence that has been at
work since the first explosion, and it is the transcendence of this maintenance that will announce itself in the seemingly
unavoidable retaliations.  That this list dies until the onset of catastrophe is naught but ironic proof of the failure
(read: unsustainability) of strict theoretical joviality (be it theoretical dismissal or apotheosis).  When Baudrillard's
work becomes reduced to a constricting hipness, it is small wonder that folks like John Armitage will decry it as "tired

Second, Steve is correct that Baudrillard need not encourage a kind of passive nihilism.  Certainly, his reading of the
"mass" in the _Silent Majority_ lends itself to that interpretation, but confining his work to that phase is akin to
abandoning him as a semiotic Marxist because of _System of Objects_.  His work has progressed, regressed, and changed
itself over the course of its publication, and there is the tendency so common to those who love the parenthetical
allusion to "Baudrillard, 1983" to leave Baudrillard as someone simply playing in the realm of theory.  But his more
recent work bears the trace of Derridean ethics (note the discussion of hospitality in Transparency of Evil, or for that
matter the exploration of the face in The Vital Illusion) without any of Derrida's acknowledged happiness.  My attraction
to Baudrillard as a political and ethical thinker comes from what I see as a sadly aporetic set of thought: having
correctly diagnosed the unavoidable mediation of the contemporary West, Baudrillard longs for someway to escape it.  But
theory is as much a simulation (perhaps of a different degree) as is any televisual mimesis.  The critic engages the media
as an object of reality.  The theorist replicates the media's logic.  Having no avenue of escape, Baudrillard evokes a
sort of nostalgia (always conservative, never effective, except as a rhetorical and polemical practice) for the
primitive.  But being aware that even his nostalgia lacks purchase on reality, Baudrillard theorizes to the death.  What
else can one do if not saturate the simulation with its own theoretical weight?  It is in this formulation of theory as
both essential and useless that marks the aporia of common ground between the symbolic "need" that Steve identifies and
the "need" to deny the efficacy of sign-value that other posters seem to be hinting at.  I don't know if that means
activism in whatever sense Steve is speaking of it, but it certainly is active.  Think of it as active nihilism if you

Third, I have long thought that the greatest disservice to Baudrillard has been done by those who engage him at the level
of abstraction.  The "attack" is a case in point.  Here we have a concrete instance, an exigency large enough to prompt a
flurry of fingers for a listserv long since dormant.  Yet the easy trick (read: easy escape) is to speak in terms of broad
policy guidelines, to compare to past entertainments (a word which ironically enough comes from the french for "to hold
together"), or to deny (even if only as provokation) the existence of the event that prompts the reaction.  Simulation has
never been about the absence of existence but about the absence of the real--everywhere existence encountered only by
ascending mediation and the production of meaning.  I think the more productive application of Baudrillard requires that
kind of "radical materiality" that Michael Calvin McGee has talked about--a massive appreciation for the contextual, for
the intersection of the anecdotal and the anstract that occurs in the realm of mediation.  Not an appreciation for the
material conditions (being themselves a model of the real) but rather for the different channels of meaning that go into
constructing/constituting the event as an event.

Steve is wrong to think the world is anti-intellectual; the world seems fine with intellectualism to me--it's the
intellectuals who seem to have a problem with it.  The symbolic haunts our signification just as much as it haunts the
media, but we claim the mass's ignorance (rather than indifference) of it and so resign ourselves to play with it.
Therein may reside one of the problems.  There's a difference between the comic frame (a la Kenneth Burke) and the poor
imitation of French jouissance.  The attack is both emblematic of the absurd, and a desparate reaction to the absurd.  So
fuck playing with it, and let's begin to think ways of playing against it.  If the hijacking and the deaths and the media
bombardment have done anything, it has challenged the unreachability of the real as it orbits its simulation.  Zizek's
recent "welcome to the desert" offers some insight; there may be no better time for a serious theory to really have a
chance to play.

Kenneth Rufo
Doctoral Student
University of Georgia
Department of Speech Communication


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