Understanding The Postmodern Simulacra and Simulation

Is reality substituted by signs of reality? What role would images play in this substitution? What is the role of aesthetics in all simulation? How does Jean Baudrillard’s simulacrum shape political and social life? These are some of the questions I will be addressing here.

In the following I will mainly refer to Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation and try to explain what these two terms entail.

Simulacra and Reality

The easiest way to understand how simulacra relate to reality is through an analogy that Baudrillard makes between a map and real life. In this respect, when we start to blindly follow a map and ignore what it stands for, we are then in the midst of simulacra. It is quite difficult to acknowledge the exact moment when some sort of a map has taken over our vision of reality, mainly because simulating is different from deceiving, as the first implies the production of “symptoms” as these were authentic manifestations of reality.

Simulacra are, therefore, “subversive” towards the truth because the two tend to be confounded. Basically, the analogy that Baudrillard makes is similar to the crisis of iconography, during which it was widely thought that the real God disappears in the epiphany of His own representations, i.e. in icons.

The Becoming of Images

Baudrillard argues that the image passes through several historical states. In its first manifestations, the image reflects a profound reality which is afterwards masked and denaturized. A third step in the evolution of images consists of marking the absence of any profound reality and disclaiming its relation to anything that would be “more real” than it. It is this third state of the image which is most present in our daily lives.

Any profound (or “originary”) reality becomes neither “dead”, nor “alive”, through what should have been the images that had to reflect it. Should anyone wish to restore some hidden moments or forgotten dimensions, they must make use of some knowledge or science. However, any science and thinking bases its premises in the order of simulacra that have replaced reality, hence a vicious circle for any thinker trying to rethink the order of things.

The Aesthetics of Hyper Reality

All our comprehension moves through repetitive circles that bring forward an “operational negativity” of social phenomena. By assessing that “X does not exist” we cannot help assume that “X” has been thought to exist at some point or another. That is why society receives its tendencies by means of continuous oscillation between conceptual diades, such as scandal and truth, law and law-breaking, labour and strike, system and crysis, capital and revolution and so forth. Baudrillard clearly states that everything undergoes a certain metamorphosis towards its opposite term in order to survive in itself (Baudrillard, 1985, page 35). This is a possible reason for which every institution that seems to be of no real and immediate use can and often ressuscitates its own existence.

The issue explained above is not a simulacrum itself, but rather becomes one when the general purpose of society is rendered lost in the process of oscillation. For example, labour is often looked upon as if it were a purpose and not a means of society and leaders become a “must-have” simulacrum of people’s will. The only way these simulacra institute their own reality is by creating false problems and presenting them to the public as if they were essential to the well-being of any form of organization.

What we perceive as real is more likely to be a sheer model presented as real. Because all “models” of reality multiply extremely rapidly, controlling people’s adherence to them becomes more and more necessary,  simultaneous to the way that virtual liberties seem to increase. However, controlling simulacra and attaining liberty do not pertain to anything at all, but disappear each time their system grows so vast that it is forced to implode. An example of this latter idea is history itself, which lends itself nowadays to being “secularized”, after it has gained a lot of ground as an unquestionable myth throughout the ages.

References:

Jean Baudrillard (1985), Simulacres et simulation, Paris, Galilée.

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