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Until the End of the Illusion, We Will Baudrillard Forward_Reading Notes October 6th

Okay, so this is part two from last week’s reading notes on Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. This time, though, much of these notes will be focused on Baudrillard’s The Illusion of the End (such an uplifting title, no?), with the hopes that I will have enough time (and attention span) to return to talking about Simulacra and Simulation. Both of these texts are going to be part of my bigger Canonical Text Presentation, which is due next week (crap, that due date is coming up far too quickly).

Nothing starts a post off better than Benedict Cumberbatch as Kahn. Image hosted on Deviant Art.

Nothing starts a post off better than Benedict Cumberbatch as Kahn. Image hosted on Deviant Art.

Whew, Baudrillard isn’t the most accessible scholar (though he doesn’t quite rank with Foucault on whose work can be the most difficult to muddle through), but I definitely chuckled (probably shouldn’t have) through this book. The moment where I had to put the book down and just laugh for a few minutes was when I first started reading the section “The ascent of the vacuum towards the periphery” where Baudrillard introduces a group who had called themselves the “Stealth Agency,” which he said “could equally well be called: ANATHEMATIC ILLIMITED/TRANSFATAL EXPRESS/VIRAL INCORPORATED/INTERNATIONAL EPIDEMICS (14). I know the group was probably very serious about their work in which they “gather[ed] news of unreal events in order to disinform the public of them” while the group “remained…unreal” (14), but I couldn’t stop humming Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.” (Hell yeah, James Bond!)

Must as well have a visual. Image hosted on the website Gaming-Asylum.

Must as well have a visual. Image hosted on the website Gaming-Asylum.

Okay, straight face and back to being a serious scholar. As I was settling into reading his first section (chapter?) titled “Pataphysics of the year 2000,” I was a little taken aback by just how affected Baudrillard’s work seems to be in regards to people’s reactions (and potentially his own) to the Y2K terror that internationally swept through countries dependent on computers and the Internet. There were moments in the text where I had to stop and think about the culture in which Baudrillard was writing about the year 2000: “All thoughts are going underground in cautious anticipation of the year 2000. They can already scent the terror of the year 2000. They are instinctively adopting the solution of those cryogenized individuals plunged into liquid nitrogen until the means can be found to enable them to survive” (9). Looking back from 2014 to 1999, it seems a little strange to think about what would have been so terrifying (I was eleven at the time, so I wasn’t aware of a whole lot beyond childhood worries). Were we really so sure that our world would be torn asunder because our computer programmers might not have taken into consideration that we would be using their software after 1999? (It is in this moment that I think of the 1995 film Strange Days and the 2014 film A Walk Among the Tombstones as one film anticipates the mania and one film looks back with a semi-sober eye).

A little Y2K mania, anyone? Image hosted on Time Magazine's website.

A little Y2K mania, anyone? Image hosted on Time Magazine’s website.

Having the capability of looking back retrospectively on the Y2K mania displayed above, I can see where Baudrillard is coming from when he hashes out his three hypotheses concerning the end of history. Yes, take a moment (I need to) and digest the idea that Baudrillard is telling us there is no more history. Okay, moment is up. Let’s rock our way through this.

First up, a definition of the word patapysics, which is defined as “the science of imaginary solutions and the laws governing exceptions” (Hugill). Now we see that the title for Baudrillard’s first section deals with the imaginary solutions for the year 2000, which would explain the three hypotheses that he offers. So what are our three options?

  • “one might suppose that the acceleration of modernity, of technology, events and media, of all exchanges– economic, political and sexual — has propelled us to ‘escape velocity,’ with the result that we have flown free of the referential sphere of the real and of history,” with history seen as “the kind of crystallization or significant crystallization of events” and reality as “the kind of coherent unfolding of causes and effects” (1). To flesh this out, Baudrillard draws on more physics concepts: “through the impulse for total dissemination and circulation, every event is granted its own liberation; every fact becomes atomic, nuclear, and pursues its trajectory into the void” with it having “to be fragmented like a particle” (2).
  • This hypothesis deals with a slowing down, rather than reaching an escape velocity, as it has to do with “the slowing down of history when it rubs up against the astral body of the ‘silent majorities’. Our societies are dominated by this mass process, not just in the demographic and sociological sense, but in the sense of a ‘critical mass’, of passing beyond a point of no-return” (3). — Absorption is a key mental image here, as “Events follow one upon another, cancelling each other out in a state of indifference” (3)
  • Baudrillard approaches the third hypothesis with an analogy about music and our cultural obsession with “high fidelity” to the point where the music is no longer music (think auto-tune, as it leaves the singer’s voice perfectly flawless, though no one’s voice has such a quality). For history, “by dint of the sophistication of events and information, history ceases to exist as such. Immediate high-powered broadcasting, special effects, secondary effects, fading and that famous feedback effect which is produced in acoustics by a source and a receiver being too close together and in history by an event and its dissemination being too close together and thus interfering disastrously — a short-circuit between cause and effect like that between the object and the experimenting subject in microphysics” (6).
So Baudrillard and Nietzsche walk into a bar, and Kahn is their brain child. Image hosted on Tumblr.

So Baudrillard and Nietzsche walk into a bar, and Kahn is their resulting brain child. Image hosted on Tumblr.

Each of these three hypotheses (from what I could pull out of the mire, anyway) makes sense in terms of our current culture and international relationships. I would be curious to see what Baudrillard would have to say if he had come into contact with the changes that Cloud computing is offering to us in terms of archiving. Anyways, onwards through the escape velocity needed to pass from the real and history, the vanishing point of history within absorption and indifference, and the high fidelity/idealization of history. It took me quite a while to break down and process what Baudrillard was saying about history. As someone who loves to read books, watch documentaries, and listen to lectures on historical events, I struggled to understand how history could have ended, vanished beyond the horizon point. What was this man talking about?

And then I started to think through his example with CNN (in the “Immortality” section) and how “History in real time is CNN, instant news, which is the exact opposite of history” (90). I remember not too long ago watching the constant newsfeed surrounding the mysterious disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The broadcasters droned on and on for days (weeks?) about this flight being lost and searchers continuing to scour the ocean to find out what had happened. They were presenting the news as history in the making, creating this “historical moment” in the real time that Baudrillard was talking about, rather than looking back at the disappearance retrospectively. As Baudrillard declares, “nothing takes place in real time. Not even history” (90). To think of this another way to help me out, I think about how World War I is presented versus the Vietnam War. In the midst of World War I, the “bigger picture” of the war was not readily available. The soldiers, the politicians, and the civilians did not know they were in what would become known as a world war, and even the reasons for the war emerged after the war had ended. No one was sitting in the middle of a battlefield thinking, Ooooh, so this is what global conflict is like. They were going through the motions of what they had considered a traditional war (men fighting and dying with honor) until they came face-to-face with how advancements in weapons technology would require a rethinking of tactics. How the  Vietnam War was presented was very different as it was the first televised war. Here, people back home could see the harrowing situations soldiers on both sides were facing, as well as those civilians who were caught in the crossfires. When talking about the Vietnam War, my mom (who was a little girl at the time while my grandfather was in the military and overseas) said that being able to see what was going on during the war from the family’s living room was like watching history in the making. While something is happening, though, is not history so much as it is being. History (for me, anyway) is what is created when we look back and see a pattern of events emerge from the actions we have taken (individually as well as collectively).

One of the most fascinating points that Baudrillard makes within his third hypothesis about the vanishing point of history was how we are always looking to an end point of history, which is tied to his idea that “history itself has always, deep down, been an immsense simulation model. Not in the sense that it could be said only to have existed in the narrative made of it or the interpretation given to it, but with regard to the time in which it unfolds — that linear time which is at once the time of an ending and of the unlimited suspending of the end” (7). The questions that Baudrillard follows up with in regards to the end point we are obsessed with as a society were thought-provoking: “Where does this suspense come from? Where do we get the idea that what must be accomplished (Last Judgement, salvation or catastrophe) must come at the end of time and match up with some incalculable appointed term or other?” (7) and “The same denial is found in apparently opposite behavior [from immediate enjoyment of the event]– recording, filing and memorizing everything of our own past and the past of all cultures. Its this not a symptom of a collective presentiment of the end, a sign that events and the living time of history have had their day and that we have to arm ourselves with the whole battery of artificial memory, all the signs of the past, to face up to the absence of a future and the glacial times which await us?” (9).

No matter how many times I read this section, I always return to our current societal fascination with zombies and post-apocalyptic survival. Even though zombie apocalypse stories (books/comics/movies/podcasts) are centered on the survivors (for the most part, since we do have narratives from the undead side, nodding to the film Warm Bodies), we see the zombie invasion/infestation as the end of human civilization, the end of our history. Survivors are shown to turn towards anarchic and nomadic living, cannibalism, might-makes-right, the-strong-survive, which appears brutal (and yet enthralling) to those of us who are living on this side of the end. Why would history and civilization end if there would be people who still remember what those two were to our society? Why must there be only one way to thrive? Is life after a zombie apocalypse what Baudrillard would consider existence after the end point of history? When looking at the place for zombie narratives in our culture, it seems as if we are projecting the Y2K fears that Baudrillard had been commenting on into a new (yet not new) form, but this is something we have been doing for centuries. Humans are drawn in and repulsed by something that will put an end to us all (angry gods from the pantheon, alien invasions, giant asteroid hitting the Earth, global contagions, or nuclear fallout). It’s a little weird to think about, but, then again, I do love my science-fiction films.

Side note before I end since I have the need to turn everything towards video games: While I was reading, one of the things that really caught my attention was a moment in Baudrillard’s section “Maleficent Ecology” in which he discusses how we as humans are turning ourselves into waste-products along with the entire planet: “What is worst is not that we are submerged by the waste-products of industrial and urban concentration, but that we ourselves are transformed into residues. Nature– the natural world –is becoming residual, insignificant, an encumbrance, and we do not know how to dispose of it. By producing highly centralized structures, highly developed urban, industrial and technical systems, by remorselessly condensing down programmes, functions and models, we are transforming all the rest into waste, residues, useless relics. By putting the higher functions into orbit, we are transforming the planet itself into a waste-product, a marginal territory, a peripheral space” (78). This is not a new idea, but Baudrillard’s comments reminded me of a scene from one of my favorite childhood video games, Final Fantasy VII, in which the planet and all life on that planet were threatened because of humankind’s desire for more and more energy. The clip below is from a scene in which a scientist/professor explains how life on the planet is part of an intricately connected lifestream and the man-made energy was disrupting that lifestream to a critical level. While the developers at Square-Enix tend to pack the games in the Final Fantasy series with messages that show the consequences of war, promote strong bonds (especially between different groups of people/races/species), and encourage going against the norm to save others, one of their main messages is to preserve a balance between nature and human activities (destructive tendencies?). In Final Fantasy VII, the main characters come to the realization (like Baudrillard) that the planet is being turned into a waste-product in order for humans to advance their civilizations.

All right, readers (imagined or otherwise), so ends my reading notes for this week. Next week: Canonical Text Project! (*hear the sounds of a slow brain meltdown*).

Only nearing the halfway point of the semester. So much left to do. Image hosted on Tumblr.

Only nearing the halfway point of the semester. So much left to do. Image hosted on Tumblr.


Baudrillard, Jean. The Illusion of the End. Trans. Chris Turner. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994. Print.

Hugill, Andrew. “Pataphysics: A Useless Guide.” The MIT Press Online. MIT, 2014. Web. 06 Oct. 2014.

Illusion On, Reader

Update on two peers’ posts.

The first person whose post I commented on was Sarah Carter on the second half of Haraway’s Simians, Cyborgs and Women. Her break down of the text was very straightforward, but I am curious as to the broader implications of the concepts, especially in terms of Sarah’s own research interests and her interests in horror films. How can the lens of the post modern human and bio politics change our perspectives regarding characters in horror films? This question led me to wonder how this lens would also affect video game scholarship? Most games reinforce stereotypes of gender while also pushing against such boundaries (strong female heroes who eventually succumb and must be rescued by the male protagonists), but then there are exceptions are video games like the Mass Effect trilogy that subvert the gender norms they are attempting to reinforce. Haraway’s concepts are very promising and are something I may look into with future research.

The second person who post I commented on

It’s a Little Simulacra, A Little Simulation, and All Baudrillard_Reading Notes for September 29th

Oh Baudrillard, Sweet Nihilist Baudrillard

Desert of the Real

Welcome to “The desert of the real itself” (1). Image hosted on the website English Scholar.

Ah, week 6 reading notes, how is it already this far into the semester? So these reading notes are going to be a little different in the sense that each of my classmates and I are doing different texts that will lead up to our Canonical Text Presentations. I am in charge of Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation and The Illusion of the Endbut for this particular post, I am going to be dealing with Simulacra and Simulation. Where is our leading man?

Jean Baudrillard looking particularly ready to share with us all he knows. Image hosted on Student Pulse: The International Student Journal.

Jean Baudrillard looking particularly ready to share with us all he knows. Image hosted on Student Pulse: The International Student Journal.

What do you think of when you see the word simulation? For me, I always return to virtual reality and the promise that lies at the heart of advancements in video games. But, simulation is more than what designers can create with software and hardware; it is something that individual people can do, or people can do collectively. Ah, that was vague, but it helps me get closer to how I am trying to define simulation, and, in turn, simulacra. So let us back up a moment and see how Baudrillard distinguishes between the infinitives “to dissimulate” and “to simulate“:

“To dissimulate is to pretend not to have what one has” (3)

Dissimulate reminds me of Sakura early in the anime Naruto as she would repress emotions, which were then revealed only to the viewers through the appearance of an inner Sakura.

Dissimulation reminds me of Sakura early in the anime Naruto as she would repress emotions that were then revealed only to the viewers through the appearance of an inner Sakura. Image hosted on Photobucket.

“To simulate is to feign to have what one doesn’t have” (3)

King of Simulation. Image hosted on the blog Casa de Queenie.

King of Simulation. Image hosted on the blog Casa de Queenie.

Dissimulation is not the only concept that simulation is contrasted with, as Baudrillard also sets up the difference between simulation and representation:Representation stems from the principle of the equivalence of the sign and of the real (even if this equivalence is utopian, it is a fundamental axiom). Simulation, on the other hand, stems from the utopia of the principle of equivalence, from the radical negation  of the sign as value, from the sign as the reversion and death sentence of every reference. Whereas the representation attempts to absorb simulation by interpreting it as a false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation itself as a simulacrum (6).

Before we go any further, let us stop and define the word simulacrum. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), simulacrum is “A material image, made as a representation of some deity, person, or thing.” We see these all the time in our society and in societies that have long since past, even though we may not notice. Okay, now forward, comrades, to more definitions before we start to hash out this fun book.

To develop the conversation about representation versus simulation further, Baudrillard lists the “successive phases of the image” (the example he develops is that of religion and simulacrum of the divinity) (6):

-“it is the reflection of a profound reality” –> “good appearance — representation is of the sacramental order”

-“it masks and denatures a profound reality” –> “evil appearance –it is of the order of maleficence”

-“it masks the absence of a profound reality” –> “plays at being an appearance — it is of the order of sorcery”

-“it has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum” –> “it is no longer of the order of appearances, but of simulation” (6)

 In his section on “Simulacra and Science Fiction,” Baudrillard extends this further by discussing “three orders of simulacra“:

-“simulacra that are natural, naturalist, founded on the image, on imitation and counterfeit, that are harmonious, optimistic, and that aim for the restitution or the ideal institution of nature made in God’s image” – “imaginary of the utopia

-“simulacra that are productive, productivist, founded on energy, force, its materialization by the machine and in the whole system of production — a Promethean aim of a continuous globalization and expansion, of an indefinite liberation of energy (desire belongs to the utopias related to this order of simulacra);” – “science fiction”

-“simulacra of simulation, founded on information, the model, the cybernetic game — total operationality, hyperreality, aim of total control” (121)

Before we go any further, we need one more definition before we start to sort this all out: hyperreality, which is “exaggerated in comparison to reality” (Oxford Dictionaries).

Image hosted on Buzzfeed article.

Image hosted on a Buzzfeed article.

But, what does any of this mean? 

If you feel a little steam coming out of your ears, rest assured that you are not alone. While I love his ideas and find them to be absolutely fascinating in terms of video games, he makes me feel a little cross-eyed. However, if you are familiar with Disneyland or Disney World (a theme park that Baudrillard himself talks about in this book), then you have already come into contact with the concepts seen above.

Hyperreality, thy name is Magic Kingdom. Image hosted on the website Goista.

Hyperreality, thy name is Magic Kingdom. Image hosted on the website Goista.

When examining Disneyland, he sees the theme park as a “simulation of the third order” – “simulacra of simulation, founded on information, the model, the cybernetic game — total operationality, hyperreality, aim of total control” (12; 121). Just think about Disneyland and Disney World for a moment. It is not just a theme park where people can visit, nor it is just a animation studio that produces entertaining films. Disney is a brand, and Disneyland becomes a space in which visitors can come and be immersed in a park that is and is not founded on the real society from which they believe they are stepping away. It is exalted as a place where dreams can come true, but it is also a place where real money is spent (a lot of it, usually). Consumerism, you have found your place in the midst of fantasy. Baudrillard goes on to explain how Disneyland, in light of an ideological analysis, is a “digest of the American way of life, panegyric of American values, idealized transposition of a contradictory reality. Certainly. But this masks something else and this ‘ideological’ blanket functions as a cover for a simulation of the third order: Disneyland exists in order to hide that it is the ‘real’ country, all of ‘real’ America that is Disneyland” (12). For Baudrillard, Disneyland is presented as a fantasy in order to make the rest of society seem real.

Now pause. Let that sink in. If you’re like me, it’s okay to take a moment away from this screen to process the implications of that statement.

Okay, are we back? Moving deeper into that thought!

For Baudrillard, the idea that society is real is false and that “It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology) but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus saving the reality principle. The imaginary of Disneyland is neither true nor false, it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate the fiction of the real in the opposite camp” (12-13). He goes on to explain that it is Los Angeles, by having amusement parks like Disneyland within its boundaries, that is a “city of incredible proportions but without space, without dimension” (13). Disneyland, by having boundaries (it is clear where the amusement park physically ends), can (in a very strange way) fill in the gaps that remain in the “real” city of Los Angeles. It is more real than what should be considered real, even though we are aware that everything within that city is not real. It is a performance in which we all engage, willingly so whatever the reason.

This argument about there being no real reminds me of Plato and his idea about copies of things. For a very basic rundown (it’s been more than a few years since I last had to deal directly with his work), Plato believed that the items around us, the items we build, such as a chair, are merely copies of the ideal. Let’s just roll with the chair example since that is the one I was taught. The chair I am sitting on is, according to Plato, a copy of a chair that is ideal but also unobtainable. I will never sit in that special, ideal chair. If I were to draw a chair (at least once that was recognizable as a chair), then my drawing would be a copy of a copy of that ideal chair. I don’t know where Plato or Baudrillard got their ideas that there is no real (I am deeply grounded in the practical, so theoretical works make my brain rather twisty). For me, if I can touch and sit on a chair, then it’s real to me; not just a copy that was delivered from the Twilight Zone. In much the same way, thinking that Los Angeles is not real is also harder to grasp, so I think of it in two ways. Yes, there is the real, physical space of a city called Los Angeles. If I ever travel there, I would be able to walk along its streets, shop in its stores, greet its inhabitants, and visit the hyperreality of Disneyland. However, I can also see where Baudrillard is coming from. The concept of Los Angeles is less concrete, less real. As a city that has sprawled out and consumed neighboring spaces, Los Angeles is a behemoth of a metropolitan area, and not all of it can be considered Los Angeles. Society is run on a set of ideas that are not truths; they are social and cultural beliefs that we have collectively agreed on and continue to keep in existence by voluntarily agreeing on them.

Ah, but I digress. For anyone who is reading this post, I will be expanding upon my notes for this book in another entry (one that will also deal with The Illusion of the End) in order to explore how the ideas expressed by Baudrillard fit into New Media and the digital era. My goal is to start fleshing (always makes me think of zombies) out how video games can be understood within the concepts of simulation and simulacra (not if video games can be understood with these two lovely concepts, but how they can be understood).

To help give me a concrete vision of how simulacra and simulation are used and played upon today, I turned to YouTube.

And, for your viewing pleasure, I give you a taste of Baudrillard in his own right.

Whew, we made it to the end. Do we care what the neighbors think as my pups and I blast “Defying Gravity” to end this blog entry?

It's the little things in life we need to celebrate. Like making it to the end of another set of reading notes. Image hosted on the blog Heroine of Time.

It’s the little things in life we need to celebrate. Like making it to the end of another set of reading notes. Image hosted on the blog Heroine of Time.

Ah yes, feel the bliss of having seen this image. Image hosted on Harry Potter Buzzfeed article.

Ah yes, feel the bliss of having seen this image. Image hosted on Harry Potter Buzzfeed article.


Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2006. Print.

Time to Defy Gravity 


For this week, I commented on Ramona’s post as she was discussing Tornatzky and Klein’s concept of Innovation, and  Bolter and Grusin’s  Immediacy, Hypermedia, and Remediation. Ramona’s notes were very clear in presenting how each concept was defined by the respective author(s) and then using images and popular culture references to give a fuller understanding of the concept. The concepts of immediacy, hypermedia, and remediation are very useful in video game studies, as they are the goals and processes through which video games work. Ramona’s post made me think about how each of these terms works (and sometimes fails) in the video games I play and study. One interesting thing is how video games work towards immediacy as they want their players to be immersed in the worlds they are providing, dropping into lush environments, being surrounded by gripping music, and having a character to follow around in the gamespace. However, because there is a barrier between the gamer and the gamespace (computer screen, television screen, or gaming device screen), the games fail in having complete immediacy. Then enters hypermediation as video games integrate text in the forms of dialogue (captions at the bottom) and written narration (not every game draws on this, but many do). The use of written narration was very popular before video games could integrate voice actors into their games, with some of my favorites (Final Fantasy 8) drawing upon such tactics in their opening scenes. Remediation also makes an appearance as video games, especially role playing games, using cinematics for opening and closing scenes but also for moments known as CGI (clips in-game where control is taken away from the gamer, placing them in the role of viewer for a short time) to help progress the story. Video games do resemble animated movies, but the bulk of the experience is in playing them; however, with CGI moments, video games take on characteristics of movies, attempting to absorb that medium as part of the experience.

While reading Ramona’s notes, I thought a lot about the game, especially the opening, of Final Fantasy 8.

Next, I read Cynthia‘s post on McLuhan’s The Media is the Massage and her notes on Tornatzky and Klein’s Innovation. Cynthia’s notes on the concept of innovation were really interesting because she tied them to apps that people use all the time on their cell phones; she even linked out to a TED Talk on NPR that discusses how free apps are not quite as free as they are believed to be or advertised. I thought this was a nice way to present the material because it provided a foundation and context through which her readers could connect the concept to their own lives and technology uses. The main part of Cynthia’s post, though, was concerning her Canonical text, which was the McLuhan piece. I liked that she linked out to essays that embodied some of McLuhan’s points (shall we say, fears?) regarding advancements in technologies and their cultural and societal impacts, which also gave her readers context and a way to apply McLuhan’s discourse to their own lives. The context she provides was especially helpful since I am getting a sense of McLuhan’s work through her post alone (unless I get off my lazy scholarly butt and order the book to read…over winter break?) and would not have full access to his ideas and how they would apply beyond his work.

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: