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03 December 2009

MCT: And so, Baudrillard

I'm not sure which weakness is shown up here: either that of MCT's anthological approach, or that of Baudrillard's own view. The extract is from Simulacra and Simulations - the unnecessarily perverse re-titling of Simulation et Simulacres published in 1980, translated in 1983. Examining Disneyland and Watergate, Baudrillard says that these more or less obviously fantasy creations are a kind of mask, hiding the fact that there is no reality. There is a false contrast between their obvious fiction and the assumed, but false, reality of everything else. Watergate is "an imaginary effect concealing that reality no more exists outside than inside the bounds of the artificial perimeter". OK, I can see that there's hyperbole at work here, but it's unhelpful. You may wish to redefine reality, but surely a belief system that acknowledges nothing as reality - however ethereal the nature of that reality - just can't exist. Unfortunately, in this extract there is nothing to show how Baudrillard sustains this impossible act. Maybe it's elsewhere in his work.

What we do find here is more evidence of his jokey references to other concepts: "When the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its true meaning". It's not a great joke, and I'd advise him not to try it at the Glasgow Empire, but suggests something lost in translation. However, I'm not tempted to read it in the original. I'd probably still miss the jokes, and a lot more.

In the extract, though, there are traces of a post-marxist-freudian basis for his view:
The only weapon of power, its only strategy against [its own break-up], is to reinject realness and referentiality everywhere, in order to convince us of the reality of the social, of the gravity of the economy and the finalities of production.
And he even slips into italics: "Undoubtedly this will even end up in socialism". Let's generously assume that "even" is a clumsy translation and that the French original is a sentence someone might possibly have written. The recourse to italics suggests a recourse to blind hope, or faith in historical inevitability, which 29 years later isn't looking too good.

But again, it's a stretch to link this social/economic analysis to literature. Near the start of the extract, Baudrillard covers some semiotic theory. The denial (by capital) of the non-existence of reality show itself in four successive "phases of the image":
(1) It is the reflection of a basic reality.
(2) It masks and perverts a basic reality.
(3) It masks the absence of a basic reality.
(4) It bears no relation to any reality whatsoever; it is its own pure simulacrum.
I'm not sure how this would help me understand what goes on when one reads The Cantos. And even here, the bedrock of the argument is an unargued assertion about the loss of reality.

Is it the fault of MCT's selection or of Baudrillard itself that this argument is unmade? I still can't say, but it's clearly a fault of the approach that I can't tell. The editors' introductions are impartial, correctly, but do refer to critical works, which are probably more useful. Surprisingly, then, my experience of MCT is making me think that it may be better to read secondary works, rather than the sources. And we're getting further away from the actual primary sources, our original concerns, the literature, than ever.

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