Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Masking Reality: Baudrillard and the Simulacrum

Having read Jean Baudrillard's  philosophical work, Simulacra and Simulation for a recent MA class, I have come to the conclusion that it is a difficult task to navigate the literary minefield of postmodernist theory, no matter how well you think that you understand it. The following post will attempt to shed some light upon Baudrillard's philosophical musings in this complicated work.

The simulacrum is advocated as a mask or representation which conceals the lack of truth within reality. The word simulacrum is derived from the Latin  which translates to 'likeness or similarity'. Baudrillard presents the simulacrum to be the only truth in this world of falsities. His theory proposes that there is no original, there are only copies of things, which the simulacrum exposes. This ability to expose the truth of falsity represents the simulacrums threat to society.

The key examples which Baudrillard uses to support his argument are that of Disneyland and the Watergate Scandal. These examples are analysed as false distinctions and they are the key to his idea of the "hyper-reality" (Baudrillard, 5). This is said to give us the sense that we can tell the difference between what is true and what is false; what is real and what is imagined; when really it is all just apart of the facade.

From a linguistic perspective it is important to focus upon Baudrillard's use of language; his use of Latin in this case. The very fact that the word Simulacrum is in a different language reinforces his argument upon masks. It evokes the word simulation also. He argues that "to simulate is to feign to have what one hasn't" (2). Baudrillard is questioning whether we have gained meaning from language at all or whether it has been lost in translation and in communication. One language masks another, which exemplifies the fact that there is no end to language in this hyper-reality. The 'word' provides meaning to that which is meaningless. In relation to language, this hyper-reality is endless, as language never ends. What I gathered from this insinuation of linguistics is that there is a cyclical nature evident in language, which effects representation, and how we view reality. What Baudrillard is examining through this idea is the nature of repetitiveness, and its lack of depth.

Nostalgia is strikingly apparent in this piece. Specifically a nostalgia for the real and for meaning. The identity of meaning within concepts of reality is striven for, yet Baudrillard considers it to be irretrievable in a postmodern world. An example of this theoretical application in modern society is the use of media, and its function as a distorter of reality. The image in media and advertising is often heavily embellished to evoke a sense of perfection and to make the consumer want to consume whatever product is being advertised.
Media theorists, especially Jean Baudrillard, have been intensely concerned with the concept of the simulation in lieu of its interaction with our notion of the real and the original, revealing in this preoccupation media's identity not as a means of communication, but as a means of representation (the work of art as a reflection of something fundamentally "real") (Devin Sandoz). 
 In other words, the meaning has been distorted or lost through the misinformation of media. The medium of the messages of the past have been miscommunicated in an effort to save representation. Therefore the aesthetic of truth has been preserved in favour of the actual truth of reality.

Graham Coulter-Smith has analysed Baudrillard's arguments in the following light:
"Baudrillard stands out almost by default as one of the few theorists to address the new postmodern technologies. However, his interpretation of these technologies appears unremittingly bleak and of limited value to contemporary visual artists. . ." (Jean Baudrillard, Art and Artefact, 91). This bleakness effects the message within his work, even going so far as to mask its own simplistic meaning.

Whether there is actually a crisis of identity happening in meaning is yet to be seen. Whilst Baudrillard's work is dramatic and provocative in effect, he fails to explore the nature of preservation which is happening in society, in reaction to the advancements of areas within technology and within new cultures. His opinions are very forceful, but they lack enough evidence. The example of Disneyland in particular does not explore the cultural connections which this theme park has to modern society or how the theme park works to preserve this cultural impact in a similar fashion to a museum. One could argue that the very elements which Baudrillard has discussed work in opposition to his ideas, in that they try to relate back to history and to act as reminders of our cultural journey.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. Mark Poster ed. Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1988. Print.


Zurbrugg, Nicholas, ed. Jean Baudrillard, Art and Artefact. London: Sage, 1997. Print.

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