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Reading Notes: 2/27

Canonical Books Assignment:

Baudrillard, Jean. The Illusion of the End. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1992. Print.

The Event Strike:

"What we seek now is not glory but identity, not an illusion but, on the contrary, an accumulation of proofs - anything that can serve as evidence of a historical existence" (21).
Baudrillard opens his chapter with this claim. Replacing the generationally repeated tales of epic glory that represented immortality, we turn to a frenzied gathering of personal history to assure ourselves that we exist and propel ourselves into immortal remembrance.

The source of the frenzy, this need to collect history, can be traced to our construct of time as linear. As Baudrillard explains, there can be no idea of something as history unless it exists as a point along linear time. Once that point has passed, the linear structure forces us to accept that the point can not be returned to; it has passed into a historical "event." And if all of our lives we hang between a past that has disappeared and the threat of an inevitable "end of the line" - the event strike itself, then we are never reassured of our existence or survival. Thus the frenzy.

It immediately reminded me of the new Facebook time line displayed in the screen shot below. The new feature is set up in a linear fashion, with the years someone has been a member listed on the side and with the ability to organize photos, interests, relationship statuses, and all the other various "proofs" of his or her existence.

CC Screen Shot of Facebook Timeline from Suzanne Sink

However, Baudrillard argues that instead of these accumulations working to create a linear (the word time line itself suggesting such a linearity) history, they merely "fall into the order of the recyclable" (27). He does not see time in this linear fashion; therefore, he concludes that the historical events are not gone. They merely await resurrection, so as friends view time lines and interact with the past in this way, the ideas and events will inevitably be recycled again and again.

He might argue we need not expend energy gathering tidbits of remembrances, which is rather a liberating argument to make in this age of hyper-documented living.

The Thawing of the East:

This short chapter outlines Baudrillard's belief that the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe will allow for a cultural exchange and expanded communication between the West and the East. However, he warns of the danger of such rapid expansion that is generally followed by rapid collapse. He sees in the new openness a disruption of balance that could bring freedom to the East but eventual economic instability to the West.

Another potential problem is in our revisionist impulses, which he covers further in later chapters. This communal (re)creation of the past "whitewashes" our history, allowing us to retract the violence of war and revolution and return to an "initial state" from which we can begin again, clean and fresh (32-33).

If we forget our past, will it liberate us to forget all the slights and grievances, start new and on equal footing? Or does it mean will be doomed to recreate it, having unlearned its lessons?

I am prone to believe these are not mutually exclusive results. Can we ever really wipe the slate clean? Should we? I for one would like to know what had been on the slate. What knowledge had we acquired and attempted to share before it was made clean? The emptiness does promise possibilities, but those possibilities include the repetition of previous mistakes. Perhaps we should do what I do in my own classroom. Start writing on the board along the side of the room, leaving the other notes in tact.

CC Image Posted on Flickr by nokozin

The Strategy of Dissolution:

Michael Jackson replaces Stalin
CC Image Posted on Filckr by Jonathan Marks

Michael Jackson replaces Stalin
"There used to be a statue of Stalin in the communist period. It beamed across the river into the old town from a park on hill just North of the old town. The statue was removed and replaced with a sort of metronome. I climbed the 254 stairs to the top to find a skateboard park and a sort of shrine to the late Michael Jackson." - Jonathan Marks, July 2, 2009

I think the photo above proves exactly the kind of cultural exchange that Baudrillard claimed would develop between the East and the West after the fall of communism.  However, this exchange does not come without Baudrillard's repeating conclusion that these communication advances have a diminishing effect (see the discussion about the void from The Ascent of the Vacuum Towards the Periphery) on the value of the information and culture overall. He argued that "if democratic values spread so easily, by a capillary or communicating vessels effect, then they must have liquefied, they must now be worthless" (44). The values that had once been "held dear and dearly bought" are now so easily bought and sold that their worth is cheapened. Without struggle there can be no appreciation. Something given and taken so freely and easily can have no value.

It is clear that Baudrillard was rather prophetic in many aspects:
  • He sees how the overwhelming amount of information that is so easily bounced over the globe and into the void so instantaneously has brought an emptiness to our culture. We long to find meaning, but so often anything of worth is lost in the crushing information wave that inundates us at every waking moment. "Language seems to wish to go beyond its intentional operation and get caught up in its own dizzy whirl" (37).
  • Baudrillard sees the spread as infectious and causing dis-ease.  
  • He posits that the "model of viral collapse" initiated by the fall of communism will be passed on to other countries desirous of "a virulence of destructive power" (38). In this new era of free-flowing information and exchange, his prediction is borne out by the collapse of power during the Arab Spring of 2011, quite a virulent spread with technology given much credit for making information widely-known and organization possible.
In the end, I am more optimistic than Baudrillard. While I see many of the same cultural losses as he, I also see the many more benefits that technology and the new media have brought about. Perhaps this is where the text becomes dated. Had Baudrillard written this today, would he be less pessimistic about the cultural ruin he so often alludes to? I do feel there is a saturation point that makes it difficult to process the information, a lack of depth to make room for breadth, and a devaluation of information that is so quickly and readily exchanged without consideration. However, for technology and media, the same rule applies that applies to all other things in life: moderation is the key.

Perhaps the take away message is that we all need to remember to step away from the keyboards and screens from time to time. Stop and move at the non-technologically-enhanced pace of humanness. I do not want to lose the value of experiences in my rush to document them and follow the documents of others.

Perhaps it is best to leave this post in the hands of another great thinker/poet/theorist/philosopher....

I think Baudrillard would approve.

Also Read:

The Timisoara Massacre:

The Illusion of War: