File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0106, message 71

Date: Sat, 16 Jun 2001 12:50:25 +0100
Subject: tantalising times - arguing for aethism - symbolic


The symbolic –another line we can take in relation to the proliferation
of religions is to consider the issue of religion through the work of

Those familiar with Baudrillard’s work will be familiar with his
critique of residual meaning as an anti- or non-symbolic principle. (In
terms of latent or hidden meaning).  Baudrillard has always wanted to
take, or give precedence to the position of symbolic exchange over that
of sign exchange and exchange value. But states, correctly, that
“Symbolic exchange is not the organising principle of modern society”.
It is almost a truism to suggest that religion(s) attempt to own and
occupy the terrifying symbolic realm of society, in that they, even in
our exchange and use bound societies work though a relationship with
death and the dead. Baudrillard presents in Symbolic Exchange and Death
an argument that is descended from Durkheim’s classical text The
elementary forms of the religious life. But with the significant
difference that his argument has a direct relationship with the inhuman
materialist core which we recognise as the post-modern. [At least the
variety of the PM that I argue has meaning]. The history and origin of
religion is proposed as being from some kind of enchanted (ignorant and
brutish)  world of traditional societies – not just the societies that
acceded and welcomed the invention of the megamachine of the state but
also those that struggled against and resisted the state form (see
Clastres Society Against the State for example), the world of the
traditional societies was formed out of the ‘fatalistic culture of the
peasants’ – (I am conscious that I am conflating the economic and
material differences between say Medieval peasantry and primitive tribes
but still…). What makes Baudrillard especially interesting is his
suggestion that the Symbolic order is superior to that of the order of
the sign. (There is a deep critique of the Marxist theory of exchange
and use value here). What this argues is that - symbolic exchange is
over the economic – but with the arrival of capital what Baudrillard
describes whilst describing the destruction of the symbolic by exchange.
Religion and here we must ‘get rid of the idea of progress in religions,
leading from animism to polytheism and then to monotheism, in the course
of which the immortal soul emerges…’ becomes in effect one primary
aspect of the organisation of the symbolic…. In the fatalistic cultures
of  the indo-european and indo-iranian mythological lines at a certain
point, probably during the first despotic empires, the religions
occupying one of the organising poles of the society began inventing the
immortality, the godhood to the rulers of the state. Baudrillard
phantasies that social movements were rife demanding ‘the right for
immortality for all’… The symbolic in its religious guise offers a
resolution for the fatalism that derives from the appalling human
condition… founded of course in death, economic inequality and despair.
“What does immortality matter?…. It’s all imaginary. Yes and it is
exciting to see that this is where the basis of the real social
discrimination lies, and that nowhere else are power and social
transcendence so clearly marked than in the imaginary. The economic
power of capital is based in the imaginary just as much as is the power
of the Churches: capital is only its fantastic secularisation…”

The increased secularisation of the social derives from the collapse of
the symbolic and the increased domination of exchange and (Baudrillard’s
sign). But with the collapse of the dominance of the symbolic we end up
with proliferation of religions – they proliferate because they no
longer have such a straightforward relationship to the state.

As an afterthought its worth stating that the relationship to Lyotard is
through the Libidinal Economy work - libidinal intensity, desire,
difference and the surrendering of death which is always there to be
exploited by capital - 'the abjection of value and and the rule of

Baudrillard - Symbolic Exchange and Death
Baudrillard – The illusion of the end
Baudrillard – The mirror of production




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