Of the same order as the impossibility of rediscovering an absolute level of the real, is the impossibility of staging an illusion. Illusion is no longer possible because the real is no longer possible.
Nihilism no longer wears the dark, Wagnerian, Spenglerian, fuliginous colors of the end of the century. It no longer comes from a Weltanschauung of decadence nor from a metaphysical radicality born of the death of God and of all the consequences that must be taken from this death. Today’s nihilism is one of transparency, and it is in some sense more radical, more crucial than in its prior and historical forms, because this transparency, this irresolution is indissolubly that of the system, and that of all the theory that still pretends to analyze it. When God died, there was still Nietzsche to say so – the great nihilist before the Eternal and the cadaver of the Eternal. But before the simulated transparency of all things, before the simulacrum of the materialist or idealist realization of the world in hyperreality (God is not dead, he has become hyper-real), there is no longer a theoretical or critical God to recognize his own.
Everywhere one seeks to produce meaning, to make the world signify, to render it visible. We are not, however, in danger of lacking meaning; quite the contrary, we are gorged with meaning and it is killing us.
Outside of medicine and the army, favored terrains of simulation, the affair goes back to religion and the simulacrum of divinity: “l forbade any simulacrum in the temples because the divinity that breathes life into nature cannot be represented.” Indeed it can. But what becomes of the divinity when it reveals itself in icons, when it is multiplied in simulacra? Does it remain the supreme authority, simply incarnated in images as a visible theology? Or is it volatilized into simulacra which alone deploy their pomp and power of fascination - the visible machinery of icons being substituted for the pure and intelligible Idea of God? This is precisely what was feared by the Iconoclasts, whose millennial quarrel is still with us today. Their rage to destroy images rose precisely because they sensed this omnipotence of simulacra, this facility they have of erasing God from the consciousnesses of people, and the overwhelming, destructive truth which they suggest: that ultimately there has never been any God; that only simulacra exist; indeed that God himself has only ever been his own simulacrum. Had they been able to believe that images only occulted or masked the Platonic idea of God, there would have been no reason to destroy them. One can live with the idea of a distorted truth. But their metaphysical despair came from the idea that the images concealed nothing at all, and that in fact they were not images, such as the original model would have made them, but actually perfect simulacra forever radiant with their own fascination. But this death of the divine referential has to be exorcised at all cost.
We will live in this world, which for us has all the disquieting strangeness of the desert and of the simulacrum, with all the veracity of living phantoms, of wandering and simulating animals that capital, that the death of capital has made of us - because the desert of cities is equal to the desert of sand - the jungle of signs is equal to that of the forests - the vertigo of simulacra is equal to that of nature - only the vertiginous seduction of a dying system remains, in which work buries work, in which value buries value - leaving a virgin, sacred space without pathways, continuous as Bataille wished it, where only the wind lifts the sand, where only the wind watches over the sand.
Simulacra and Simulation: meta of Metatron and other ramblings
Firstly props to sparklylegolas for tackling this topic already! If you are interested you should all read their post as well, which notes how the concepts/themes in Simulacra and Simulation actually work together with various themes in Don Quixote when related to spn (something I hadn’t considered!) as well as examining how the question of ‘what is real?’ (inherent in both books) relates to spn at the moment. Cool stuff! And I’m really happy other people are flailing (albeit a little uncertainly, because like me they don’t remember much from Theory and Crit class :p) about this - it was VERY EXCITING to come across another post of it all while I was in the process of crafting this one :) Hopefully my musings will compliment -!
He had this pretty depressing view of the world. He thought (or at least he argued) that pretty much nothing in life was real anymore, instead signs (ie. words, descriptions, images - basically our means of communication) have become more important than reality, and these signs no longer refer to anything real.
He calls these signs, signs that refer to nothing or to an absence of reality, “simulacra” (or “simulacrum” singular), and the process of these signs taking over from the real “the PRECESSION OF SIMULACRA.”
As he describes it, this
‘begins with a liquidation of all referentials - worse; by their artificial resurrection in systems of signs, a more ductile material than meaning […] It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself’ (p.1733*)
To explain this concept he likens the idea of simulacra to simulating illness - unlike someone who is pretending to be ill and so can at any point 'recover’ from their pretend illness, as they are in reality experiencing no symptoms of it, 'some one who simulates an illness produces in himself some of the symptoms.’ So 'simulation threatens the difference between “true” and “false”, between “real” and “imaginary”. Since the simulator produces “true” symptoms, is he ill or not? He cannot be treated objectively either as ill, or as not-ill.’ (p.1734)
Um… let’s see if there’s an example with simulacra that maybe relates to us… so, your favourite character dies, as a consequence you feel sad, you cry, you mourn, you grieve. We can, maybe, consider this death a simulacra of death - because it refers to a dying that isn’t real, and yet it produces in people at least some “true” symptoms of grief. Which brings into question what the difference is between mourning a “real” person dying and mourning an “imaginary” person dying.
For Baudrillard, this blurring of lines between the “real” and the “imaginary” seems to lead to the conclusion that NOTHING IS REAL, or at least nothing can be trusted as real, since everything is simulatable.