Alan N. Shapiro, Visiting Professor in Transdisciplinary Design, Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, Germany

Blog and project archive about transdisciplinary design, media theory and creative coding

Baudrillard’s Importance for the Future, by Alan N. Shapiro

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Baudrillard’s Importance for “the Future”, by Alan N. Shapiro

The Media Philosopher, The Poet of Techno-Culture

One of the best commentators on Baudrillard is Gary Genosko, who wrote the book Baudrillard and Signs, placing Baudrillard in the context of semiotics and pataphysics.1 Genosko writes: “Baudrillard is the inventor of a sophisticated language describing the most advanced simulative capabilities of new information systems.”2 Baudrillard is an icon of techno-culture. He believed that he was the critic of techno-culture, but he was the poet of techno-culture. Baudrillard has something important to say about “the future” of techno-culture, and not necessarily only negative and critical. I read Baudrillard not as a philosopher, but as a media philosopher. That is why I will begin by talking about the film The Matrix.

Simulacres et Simulation, The Matrix

Baudrillard is most well-known for his theory of hyper-reality. His most celebrated book is Simulacres et Simulation, where he wrote about the map preceding the territory, and about Disneyland existing to conceal the fact that all of America is Disneyland.3 The book Simulacres et Simulation was immortalized when a hollowed-out copy of it appeared in the 1999 Hollywood blockbuster science fiction film The Matrix, directed by the Wachowski brothers. Baudrillard disliked The Matrix. In an interview in Le Nouvel Observateur in 2003, he said that the film was a misunderstanding of his theory of simulation, and that The Matrix: “C’est un peu le film sur la Matrice qu’aurait pu fabriquer la Matrice.”4 I think that The Matrix is an excellent film pedagogically to show to students to incite discussion about the impact of Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and software code on our lives. I think that The Matrix takes Baudrillard’s theory of simulation in some new and interesting directions, especially in the ways in which it shows how software code institutes hyper-reality on the micro level of details, and how hacker ethics might become a challenge to hyper-reality and cybernetic capitalism, and that Baudrillard himself was not able to see this.

The character played by Keanu Reeves is, by day, a computer programmer and, by night, the hacker Neo. He answers the door of his apartment to greet buyers of his contraband software. He pulls down from his bookshelf a copy of Simulacra et Simulation, where he keeps diskette cartridges of rogue programs and his cash. Baudrillard said that the film was an enactment of Plato’s and Hollywood’s ideas of what simulation is. The Hollywood simulacra-factory has produced a film called The Matrix which projects the “disastrous” event of the takeover by AI machines and the VR of The Matrix into the future, whereas we are already living in the disaster of The Matrix which is our visual, rhetorical and signifying culture.

In his last writings, Baudrillard states that VR and AI are beyond all simulacra and simulation. It is humanity’s endless self-destructive techno-scientific experimentation on itself. Humanity stages its own extinction by fleeing into the Artificial Paradise of Virtuality, a technical copy of the world. Baudrillard is not making a prediction or warning about some “future catastrophe.” It has already taken place. And not as a “real” or “literal” catastrophe, but as a “virtual” catastrophe. As Alan Cholodenko, another outstanding Baudrillard scholar comments, the merging implosion of film and everyday life in post-1945 America (and Europe and Japan), according to Baudrillard, occurred in the wake of the Nazi Holocaust and the American Atomic Bomb – Hiroshima/Nagasaki and Auschwitz to mention the terrible names – which cast their dark shadow over our entire post-war existence.5 World War II never ended. C’était à l’époque de ces événements que le monde entrait dans l’hyper-réalité et que «l’avenir» lui-même était virtualisé.

Baudrillard cites many times an aphorism by Jewish German-language philosopher Elias Canetti from 1945, speaking about a certain point in history, when exactly this point was is unknowable, when history itself disappeared. Canetti writes: “As of a certain point, history was no longer real. Without noticing it, all mankind suddenly left reality, everything happening since then was not true; but we didn’t notice.”6 Historiography and the humanist humanities become a big problem. Philosophy and the social sciences and political activism which place the human subject and confidence in so-called “reality” and “the social” at their center would have to be thoroughly revised. From within a culture of media hyper-reality, we no longer have clear access to the past.

Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?

Speaking of films about the Matrix that the Matrix would have made about the Matrix, have you ever noticed that three SF films about “are we living in a computer simulation?”7 – David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, Roland Emmerich’s The Thirteenth Floor, and The Matrix all came out in the same year 1999? That must have been pre-programmed as a clue by the advanced alien civilization which created the VR simulation known as our existence. (JOKE)

Simulacra are copies without originals. They never had an original, or they have lost their referent. Media culture has become so intense that images replace the physical objects of which the images were the representations, and discourses replace the meanings of which the discourses were the “signifiers” in modernist democracy. Simulation is the rule of models and codes, the way that they precede and determine our everyday life existence.

High Life by Claire Denis

I will speak about a recent film which is very Baudrillardian: the 2018 film by Claire Denis, starring Juliette Binoche and Robert Pattinson, a film called High Life. High Life connects very much to some key ideas of the later Baudrillard – that humanity is engaged in an endless techno-scientific experimentation on itself, that sexuality and reproduction are in crisis, that humanity is faced with its extinction as a species, and that the “black hole” – which symbolizes the furthest Deep Science advancements or the suspension of physical laws, may provide the escape-hatch way out for humanity from its generalized prison-like situation.

I am American

I am American, so I will say something about the reception of Baudrillard in America. Before Baudrillard turned to writing about simulation and simulacra, he published three books around 1970 called The System of Objects, The Consumer Society, and For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign.8 With this first phase of his work, I believe that Baudrillard should have been established as the most important thinker for the radical left since Karl Marx. But this did not happen. In the 1970s there appeared books on Baudrillard, and anthologies of essays by Baudrillard, published by Douglas Kellner and Mark Poster.9 Kellner and Poster made their careers by presenting themselves to the student reading public as “Baudrillard experts.” But they did not like Baudrillard. They were both Marxists, and they responded to Baudrillard’s brilliant and important revision of Marxism by restating classical Marxism. They blocked a whole generation of young people from understanding Baudrillard.

Baudrillard challenged almost all the leftist social, political, and intellectual movements. He wrote texts challenging Marxism, feminism, the sexual liberation movements, psychoanalysis, Foucault and Deleuze, the free radio movement, and the ecology movement. Personally, I am more on the side of feminism than of Baudrillard’s contestation of feminism, and more on the side of the ecology movement than of Baudrillard’s divergence from it. Yet what I believe personally is totally irrelevant to the question of what is the intellectually and academically responsible way to read Baudrillard. It is not right to respond to Baudrillard’s disputation of Marxism or feminism or the ecology movement by simply using the occasion to restate their principles.

I Will Make 8 Points About Baudrillard

I will divide the rest of my talk into 8 parts. Having expressed my deep agreement with Baudrillard, where do I claim to see something beyond what he saw? What was the later Baudrillard’s theory of “taking the side of objects”? Having diverged from Marxism, does he provide an alternative to Marxism, a new radical challenge to cybernetic capitalism? This new challenge to cybernetic capitalism begins with his articulation of the radical theory of “taking the side of objects.” I will discuss the emergence of a non-mainstream and alternative project of object-oriented “informatics of seduction,” a project inspired by Jean Baudrillard.10

Baudrillard’s Great Insight in His First 3 Books

What is the great insight about media-consumer culture that Baudrillard formulates in his first 3 books? For the modern cultural citizen, the physicality of objects is subordinated to their participation in the “perfect circulation of messages.”11 All objects enter into an equivalence through their belonging to the “universal” System of Objects. Marx’s political-economic theory of the commodity-form of exchange value in capitalism gets merged with a radicalization of Saussure’s linguistic semiotics. This results in an original fusion critique of the sign-form in cybernetic capitalism. This unified “political economy of the sign” equals “the code.” This is the inauthenticity of modern objects, despite their being more functional than ever before. The signifier of the greatness of America and the serial object stand in for concrete singularities of objects. We live in the formal democracy of the signs of affluence – the republic of the car and the cheeseburger. To use-value, exchange-value and sign-value, Baudrillard opposes symbolic exchange, of which the circulation of gifts is an illustration. The non-comparability of the gift is “other” to capitalism.

The First Order of Simulacra: The Student of Prague

Baudrillard ends The Consumer Society with his consideration of the 1913 German expressionist film The Student of Prague.12 Baudrillard interprets this film as a parable of the loss of the self who is mediated in a healthy way by others, and its replacement by a self-absorbed narcissistic self, in the simulation-consumer society. The “postmodern” individual stands face-to-face with himself. The Student of Prague tells the story of a poor but ambitious student impatient for a prosperous life. He sells his mirror-image to the devil in exchange for worldly success. When he loses his shadow-self, the protagonist loses his very existence.

Contemplating history from the Renaissance to the first industrial revolution, Baudrillard establishes the ideal type of what he calls “the natural law of value.” He connects this also with Plato’s idea of the simulacrum, where the image is taken as a reflection of a profound reality. In the first order, there was something like a “real.” Post-modern simulation or the third order of simulacra, however, is not a “break” with some previous “reality.” It is a consequence of, and a continuity with, what was always the concept of reality in Western philosophy, science and culture – so-called “reality” was always a simulation model.

Baudrillard mentions the architectural material stucco. The baroque was a highly detailed style in many different arts in 17th century Europe. The trompe-l’oeil was a technique in art that created the optical illusion of a three-dimensional object or scene. Stucco, baroque and trompe-l’oeil are all associated by Baudrillard with the first order of simulacra.

The Second Order of Simulacra: Industrial Revolution

The second order of simulacra is associated with the first industrial revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It also includes the mid-20th century invention of the factory assembly line known as Fordism, and the theory and practice of “scientific management” – or fragmentation and control of work processes – known as Taylorism. The second order is the ideal type of “the market law of value.” The dominant scheme is production. The creation of originals is abolished in favor of the production of the infinite series of identical objects and, in a subsequent step, cultural artefacts. Baudrillard connects the second order with Karl Marx’s fetishism of commodities – the image masks and denatures a profound reality.13

The Third Order of Simulacra: Simulation is Here

The third order is simulation itself: the structural law of value, the consumer society, the system of simulated differences generated by the code. The third order speaks again of “the real,” now become hyper-real. Baudrillard speaks with Nietzsche – the image masks the absence of a profound reality.14 The paradigm shift from the second to the third order, from production to cybernetics, is a golden moment for “the media is the message” (McLuhan). The media or form of reproducibility gains the upper hand. Objects are not so much technologically reproduced as that they are designed with their reproducibility in mind.

The Era of New Media: Interactive Performance, Integrated Spectacle

The fourth order of simulacra, which is fractal and viral, and where value “radiates in all directions… like a cancerous metastasis,” is first described in The Transparency of Evil.15 Before this “discovery” come important comments about the first wave of digitalization. In The Ecstasy of Communication, Baudrillard characterizes the paradigm of digital new media as an “interactive performance” or the “integrated spectacle” where the individual stationed at his computer becomes a self-managing node of a network, micro-administering his own operations and desires.16 There is a disappearance of private and public. “The most intimate operation of your life becomes the potential grazing ground of the media.”17

The Fourth Order of Simulacra: Value Radiates in All Directions

In the fourth order, the image has no relation to any reality whatsoever. Each sphere or instance of trans-modern society loses its singularity and is absorbed by all the other spheres. There is sexuality without sex, politics without stakes, communication without meaning, and information without truth. Everything, even the most banal, is subject to aestheticization, made into a semiotic sign, or launched into the pure circulation of images.

The Fifth Order of Simulacra: Irony, Parody and the Carnivalesque

What I call, in my interpretation, the fifth order is discussed in Carnival and Cannibal?18 Baudrillard diagnoses the self-parodistic stage of Western society. This is a political-sociological theory powerfully marked by the field of literary theory which studies the tropes of irony, parody and Mikhail Bakhtin’s carnivalesque. The influence of Bakhtin demonstrates Baudrillard’s allegiance to literature and fiction.19 Simulation is now a farce, a masquerade, a funhouse-mirror distortion of the values of modernism (freedom, culture, truth). Or vice versa. “Power is only the parody of the signs of power – the cannibalization of reality by signs.”20 America’s values degenerate into self-caricature – a neo-fascistic aesthetic jouissance in the grand show of trans-Reality TV.

Trump: “I just don’t want to kill 10 million people, OK?”

We are currently experiencing – in  the showmanship of Donald Trump, in the full-scale replacement of politics by Reality TV, in the tele-morphosis of the merger between Reality TV and everyday life – the disappearance of politics into the banal and 15 minutes (Andy Warhol) of famous insults of the culture of obscenity of American life. Trump is a very successful empty signifier. Fake is not a betrayal of authenticity. Fake is good. Trump is the most talented fake in the world. I love fake. Lies are exciting. They institute their own forceful narrative. Many commentators of the liberal media like CNN and The New York Times keep pointing out that Trump is a liar, and this may be true. But that does not reduce the number of his supporters. Trump is already more “advanced” than the modernist discourse of truth. Invoking “the truth” against him does not work. Trump is on the border between post-modernism and hyper-modernism. On the one side, he is a classical figure of the post-modernist 1980s. On the other side, Trump uses Twitter to exist in the endless present. Claims made on Twitter disappear quickly and are removed from any context of their verification.

When Trump says something, it becomes true because Trump says it. There is nothing that the New York Times can do about it. Trump changes what he says on any given topic from day to day. The liberal media will “prove him wrong” with evidence, but this substantiation has the opposite effect for the “silent majority” of half of Americans for whom they are the liars. The institutional bases for legitimation of “the truth” have disappeared beneath the mountains of information. When Trump said that thousands of Muslims celebrated on rooftops in Jersey City, NJ on the evening of 9/11, he was right. 100% right, as he later tweeted. Within the epistemology of the humanist-democratic subject and of truth, the alleged rooftop event “did not take place.” Yet in the hyper-modernist epistemology, the emotional power of the mental pictures evoked by Trump carry the force of the “hyper-real image-object” of those evil Muslim celebrators. Probably Trump saw on TV some cynical celebrations in the Palestinian territories. In the culture of images, it is OK to transpose the al Qaeda-sympathizing revelers from one geographical location to another, the hyper-space of Trump’s memory intermixed with the televisual space enacted on all the screens of the world.

From a Baudrillardian perspective, one could say that the media themselves (not only the news media, but the media considered in their widest sense) – having promoted a culture of simulation and simulacra where words and images stand on their own and have no reference – are responsible for Trump. The media culture in general paved the way for Trump. All of America is responsible for the disastrous situation in which we now find ourselves.21

Baudrillard’s Oeuvre is a Literary Oeuvre

Baudrillard began his career as a sociologist and a 1960s leftist critic of capitalism. Yet he was also a scholar of (German) literature. Critiques of capitalism postulate a human subject who embodies the critique: some social actor or the critic herself. Baudrillard went from “critical” to “fatal” theory and said that “everything is simulation.”22 He could have instead said that “simulation is on the rise and reality is on the decline.” If you operate within a “realist” epistemology, which Baudrillard went beyond, you cannot at the same time (A) say that everything is simulation, and (B) be the person making that statement. If simulation is absolute, then you cannot say it. But you can say it as a science fiction. The future has already taken place. Cool Memories II: “La fiction? J’y suis déjà.”23 Cool Memories I: “Theory does not derive its legitimacy from established facts, but from future events.”24 You have an SF scenario of “the future,” and then you reverse this projected world with its narrative rules into the present. In this theory-fiction mode, you can say that “everything is simulation.”

The Nine Billion Names of God

An SF story that Baudrillard often cites is “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke.25 A group of Tibetan monks who live high in the mountains are engaged in the endless task called for by their spiritual beliefs of inscribing in writing the alleged 9 billion names of God. According to their prophesy, the completion of this monumental effort will be followed by the end of the world. The monks grow weary of their arduous work and decide to hire a group of IBM technicians to computerize the process. After working in the Tibetan mountain village and completing the job, the IBM consultants make a quick getaway, not wanting to be around when, according to their view, the monks will experience the disappointment of the non-fulfillment of their prophesy. The technicians descend the slope back to civilization, only to witness in the night sky the stars going out one by one.

Baudrillard’s interpretation of the story is that the technicians have “launched the code of the world’s automatic disappearance by exhausting all its possibilities.”26 “When the virtual operation of the world is finished,” he writes, “… which is the same basic fantasy as the declination of the human genome or the worldwide declination of all data and information – then we too shall see the stars fading away.”27 In his advocacy of poetic language in Symbolic Exchange and Death, Baudrillard presents an idea about language, and potentially about software code, which is the opposite of code as understood by the IBM technicians.28

Outre l’argument de Baudrillard sur la virtualisation du monde par l’ordinateur binaire-numérique tel que nous le connaissons, il a également évoqué un deuxième argument concernant l’histoire de Clarke qui a presque toujours été négligé. The point about “The Nine Billion Names of God” is not that the spiritual worldview of the Buddhist monks wins out over the scientific worldview of the IBM technicians. The crucial point is that the informatics code of mainstream computer science is the exact opposite of the poetic and anagrammatic understanding of language that Baudrillard elaborates in Symbolic Exchange and Death. Writing and poetry “aim at a total resolution” dans les possibilités ludiques du verset.29 «La jouissance… écrit-il, «est à la mesure du détour, du retardement, de la perte de l’énoncé.»30 La résolution poétique, qui émane de l’ambivalence et de la réversibilité, n’est pas la même que la résolution du monde des programmeurs d’IBM ni la signification sans fin du système des différences simulées de la sémio-culture de consommation.

Software code is the writing of the 21st century. Our task would be to anagrammatize it in Baudrillard’s sense. This would be the insurrection of code against its own laws of value. The anagram is a dispersal and a postponement and a radical detournement31 of the mode of signification.

Baudrillard and High Life

With a cinematic mood reminiscent of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris32, the  2018 film High Life expresses many of the ideas of the last phase of Baudrillard’s work – that our social existence is essentially carceral, that humanity is engaged in a techno-scientific experimentation on itself related to its possible extinction as a species, that sexuality and reproduction are in a crisis, and that the metaphorical “black hole” – site of the extreme phenomenon of the end of all physical laws – may provide the way out for humanity.

The retroactive extinction of humanity, as opposed to apocalyptic warnings of its future occurrence, was already a theme in films like Jurassic Park and Planet of the Apes.33 Baudrillard invoked the image of the black hole in his 1978 text In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities… or the End of the Social.34 The black hole was a metaphor for “the death of the social,” that zone where the statistical and humanist laws of sociology cease to operate. The masses are “a black hole which engulfs the social.”35 These “silent majorities,” as they have been termed by American Presidents from Nixon to Trump, “oppose their refusal of meaning and their will to spectacle to the ultimatum of meaning.”36 In the language of astrophysics, the space-time or gravitational singularity of the black hole is a point of infinite density and indeterminacy where physical laws collapse.

The passengers in the spaceship of High Life are prisoners with life sentences or who have been condemned to death, but whose execution will serve a useful techno-scientific purpose for possibly saving humanity. The proximity of the ship to the black hole will be monitored for its effect on revivifying their reproductive potency or fertility. The prisoners are to be “recycled to serve science.” They are also tasked to impossibly harvest the energy of the black hole and send it back to Earth. Dr. Dibs is a crazed murderer who nonetheless has authority over the other prisoners. She conducts experiments on them, including artificial insemination. The ship is also equipped with “The Box,” which is an orgone-energy type device that both Dibs and the prisoners use to experience intense solitary erotic pleasure.

Monte and his friend Tcherny spend much of their time in the ship’s overgrown green garden, an area recalling Biosphere 2, the artificial simulation of nature in the Arizona desert which Baudrillard writes about in The Illusion of the End and The Vital Illusion.37 Biosphere 2 is the project to create an artificial paradise of so-called “nature” and so-called “reality,” whereas both of those referents have already disappeared.

Biosphere 2: The Artificial Paradise of Nature

Biosphere 2, writes Baudrillard, is “the artificial synthesis of all the planet’s systems, the ideal copy of the human race and its environment.”38 His divergence from the ecology movement is not a rejection or ignoring of concern for the fate of the planet, but is rather a plea for a more radical ecology, an “ecologie malefique” consistent with his Nietzschean valuation of the term “evil” which recurs throughout his system of thinking and which must be understood in the context of The Genealogy of Morals.39 Baudrillard writes: “It is the inseparability of good and evil which constitutes our true equilibrium, our true balance.”40 He wants to deepen ecology with an ethics of radical alterity, meaning both the recognition of a more savage and truly “other” nature, and a media philosophy analysis of VR and AI as the primary system of replacement of the ecological-habitat-sustaining “vital illusion of the world.” The physical destruction of the planet is a secondary effect of the VR cloning of “existence” and the AI cloning of “intelligence.” Just as the Gulf War of 1991 was primarily a TV war of images which produced death and physical destruction as its secondary reality-effects or required the “fresh meat” of death as data input for the TV-becoming-VR viewers.41

Biosphere 2 contains 7 different ecosystems and all the planet’s climates, techno-scientifically recreated, housed in a geodesic steel-and-glass structure, including an ocean, a savanna, and a virgin rain forest. Visitors to the Arizona theme park of the Earth in miniature come to watch the eight astronaut-like inhabitants go through the daily routine of their two-year sentence, a veritable zoological garden of the artificial survival of our species.

The Black Hole “Escape Hatch” Way Out

To return to the conclusion of High Life. Years pass and many tragedies occur. Following the deaths of all other crew members, Monte raises his daughter Willow over a span of 15 years, in total isolation. Having arrived at the black hole, the female character Boyse, who is a rape victim of another convict, had taken a shuttlecraft and traveled through a molecular cloud. She dies from the extreme tidal forces of the dense gravitational field. The metaphor of the exotic physical energy from a black hole as an “escape hatch” way out for humanity from its current catastrophic course is an appropriate symbol of Baudrillard’s anticipation of a better future or enigmatic new hope which he hints at in his last works. Monte et Willow entrent dans le trou noir avec lucidité comme dernier acte de leur voyage. «On y va?» demande-t-il. «Oui» répond-elle. Il semble qu’ils vont disparaître sans mourir. Ils ont atteint la singularité où le temps et l’espace deviennent égaux ou nuls. Pourquoi tout n’a-t-il pas déjà disparu? Pourquoi y a-t-il rien plutôt que quelque chose?

Considering Technology Pataphysically

Physicists posit that an exotic energy with negative value is going to be necessary to get futuristic technologies like time travel and faster-than-light speed up and running. We will need exotic configurations of spacetime and energy. In lieu of proclaiming a 6th order of simulacra, Baudrillard speaks of VR as beyond all simulacra. Then he speaks of an “elusive stakes” for humanity in what may possibly appear after the virtual.42 “Radical uncertainty” is the “event horizon” of our times where Baudrillard sees hope. This hope is pataphysical. Heidegger saw modern technology as culminating in metaphysics, or Western metaphysics culminating in technology. In The Perfect Crime, Baudrillard writes that we must achieve a deeper understanding of the essence of technology than that of Heidegger.43 We must consider science and technology ironically, beyond the laws of both physics and metaphysics, deploying the pataphysical “science of imaginary solutions.”44 “If it were possible,” he speculates, “one would transform technology from within” (repeat three times) (repeat three times) (repeat three times).45

The Thinking of the Software Object

My claim is that Baudrillard’s masterful theory of poetic language can be connected to the project of an informatics of seduction within the Creative Coding movement. In his 2005 interview with Chronic’art, Baudrillard says:

“Perhaps there are some who can penetrate the cracks in this cybernetic universe? I must say that I do not know the internal rules of the game for this world, and I do not have the means to play it. This is not a philosophical or moral disavowal or prejudice on my part. It is just that I am situated somewhere else and I cannot do otherwise… And maybe a new space-time domain for thought is now opening?”46

For me, the most important concept of Baudrillard’s system of thinking is the object, and we are now in the era of transition from the physical object to the software object. He writes in Passwords that the study of the object must be transdisciplinary.47 The new philosophical informatics will be based on the principles of fragments, seduction, ambivalence, allusion, singularities, similarities, patterns, duality within uncertainty, and poetic resolution in language. Ce sont des principes qu’il a lui-même mis en évidence dans différents écrits.

Baudrillard hopes that technology will liberate us from technology. This is like the narrative of the 1998 film Star Trek: Insurrection, where Captain Picard and his crew encounter an alien civilization which has developed advanced technologies which enable them to live without technology. In the essay “Beyond Artificial Intelligence: Radicality of Thought” in Impossible Exchange, Baudrillard discusses a “benign potential” within the technologies of VR and AI, one that hints at a “new freedom.”48 He writes: “We have to revise our judgement of this ‘alienating’ technology which our critical philosophy spends its whole time denouncing.”49 He defines the conditions for an alternative philosophical informatics, going beyond intelligence to thinking. Thought is enabled by the existence of “the other.” Thought is a rhetoric of forms, illusions, appearances and paradoxes.

Baudrillard’s Photography

Baudrillard rejects a critical theory articulated by the human subject and advocates “taking the side of objects.” “It is the object which thinks us,” he writes. Baudrillard’s photography is an example of a radical technological practice.50 What he experienced in photography as the scene of radical illusion can be enacted in other design practices. As he writes in “For Illusion Isn’t the Opposite of Reality”: “We believe that we can overpower the world with technology. But through technology, the world has imposed itself on us… You think that you photograph a… scene for the pleasure that it gives. In fact, it’s the scene that wants to be photographed.”51 Radical technological practices take us beyond representation and simulation, back to something like the “heart of the trompe-l’oeil of reality.”52

“Les choses sont bien pires que cà”

In the meantime (while waiting for this Godot), “les choses sont bien pires que cà.” This is what Baudrillard said in response to Douglas Kellner at the 2004 Baudrillard symposium in Karlsruhe.53 The technologies of VR and AI, as designed and implemented in the mainstream, are beyond all vital illusion. They appear to be the final solution, a phrase with a strong echo of the 1930s Nazis and the Holocaust.54 The vital illusion of the image disappears into VR. The vital illusion of the body disappears into genetic coding. The vital illusion of the world is replaced by Biosphere 2. Memory is replaced by “information at your fingertips.” Thinking is replaced by AI. “If… simulation is… the murder of the real, the virtual is… the murder of the sign.”55

“Artificial machines cannot experience pleasure”

One of Baudrillard’s main points in his challenge to mainstream AI is his observation that machines cannot experience pleasure. He writes: “What… distinguishes the functioning of human beings from that of machines… is the intoxication of functioning, of living: pleasure.”56 This is the heart of his contestation of mainstream AI. Baudrillard wrote about pleasure in 1976 in his discussion of Saussure’s notebooks on anagrams. “La jouissance,” he writes, “dans tous les cas, est à la mesure du detour, du retardement, de la perte de l’énonce, du temps perdu à le retrouver.”57 He writes “de la jouissance propre aux textes.”58

Reading the Saussure of the Anagrams against the Saussure of the Course in General Linguistics59, Baudrillard conjures poetics as the seduction of the three laws of value:

La loi du poème est… de faire, selon un processus rigoureux, qu’il ne reste rien… Un vers (ou plusieurs) anagrammatisent un seul mot… Le mot-thème se diffracte à travers le texte… Le corpus original est dispersé en «objets partiels»… Le poétique… se définit par le fait d’opérer sur un corpus restreint de  signifiant, et de viser a sa résolution complète.»60

As opposed to capitalist signifying systems, with their logic of equivalence and simulated differences which go on ad infinitum with their material-cultural production, Baudrillard seeks poetic expression which arrives at resolution. Reciprocal response is restored to words.

Towards an Informatics of Seduction

The paradigm of an informatics of seduction seeks the transfiguration of code, emanating from those software objects within the code which bring about the reversibility of the codes. Digital-binary computing as it has been since its inception by the seminal thinker Alan Turing is based on the so-called “discrete logic” of clearly separated identities and differences.61 What we need instead is a new logic of similarities or resemblances. Right now, the relationship between the whole (the software executable) and the parts (the smallest database units of information) is a mechanistic relationship, based on the metaphor of the machine, a relation like a car engine. What we want instead in an informatics of seduction is a relation of pattern or resonance between the software instance and its data elements. A relation like that between notes and composition in music or the ambiguity enacted in poetic word chains.62

What I see in the fractal image is the importance of the constituent part as pattern. In the Mandelbrot fractal image set, the pattern is everywhere similar, independently of at which level one looks at the image, large or small, zoomed out or zoomed in. There is scalability. Resemblance or self-similarity is not the same thing as identity. The fact that the unit is a pattern and not a combinatorial part represents a significant paradigm shift in data structures. This paradigm shift places into question the original Alan Turing paradigm of digital-binary computing. This is the beginning of the end of informatics or computer science as we know it.

Baudrillard writes in Seduction:

“[Seduction] lies in wait for all that tends to confuse itself with its reality… For if production can only produce objects or real signs, and thereby obtain some power, seduction, by producing only illusions, obtains all power, including the power to return production and reality to their fundamental illusion… All science, reality, and production only postpone the due date of seduction.”63

In the philosophical terms suggested by Heidegger, Baudrillard’s oeuvre enables a turning in how we contemplate informatics and techno-culture from the ontic to the fundamentally ontological. The ontic would be the mere “thinghood” of specific technologies considered concretely and in their practices as means to specific ends. The ontological addresses the deeper underlying constitution and aspects of being. In the philosophical terms suggested by Castoriadis, Baudrillard makes an ontological creation by providing an original toolkit of ideas that explains the imaginary self-institution of the society of cybernetic capitalism. Baudrillard develops an autonomous system of thinking, a vocabulary of keywords around the topics of hyper-reality and “taking the side of objects” and the “transformation of technology from within,” an invention of concepts which Deleuze suggested was the primary task of philosophy. Ou, parce que je crois en la transdisciplinarité, permettez-moi de dire: de la philosophie des médias.

J’espère que certains membres d’une nouvelle génération de jeunes liront Baudrillard et comprendront que (1) Baudrillard renouvelle et réinvente profondément la théorie critique radicale du capitalisme cybernétique. (2) Baudrillard propose des concepts pour changer le monde, une éthique et un projet que je crois qu’il n’a jamais abandonnés, et (3) il nous apprend à voir que l’avenir est virtuel jusqu’à ce qu’il ne le soit plus.

NOTES TO BE ADDED LATER

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