Volume 6, Number 2 (July, 2009)
Interviewed by: Dr. Alexandr Dyakov, Faculty of Philosophy, Sociology and Culture, Kursk State University, Russia.
* Dr. Alan Cholodenko is an Honorary Associate, from the Department of Art History and Film Studies, University of Sydney, Australia.
Alexandr Dyakov: When did you first learn of Baudrillard’s work?
Alan Cholodenko: I first learned of Baudrillard’s work in 1979, through Edward Colless, my co-teacher in a film course. Edward had been to Paris and had come back with some of Jean’s writings, whose translation he was working through, texts like Pour une critique de l’economie politique du signe and Le miroir de la production. He also came back with a copy of Traverses 8, the Les Betes issue. I found Edward’s enthusiasm for and descriptions of Baudrillard’s work incredibly fresh, exciting, challenging and dangerous. Do I dare say: seductive?
From that time on, interest in Baudrillard was gaining momentum in Australia. Mind you, the Sydney-based Working Papers Collective [which Collective included Meagan Morris, Paul Patton, Paul Foss and George Alexander], first in “sex, science, culture”, then in “sex, subjectivity, power”, was already engaged in address and dissemination of the work of contemporary French theorists in the second half of the ’70s. Their work culminated for me in the key Feral Publications’ anthologies Language, Sexuality and Subversion (1978), edited by Paul Foss and Meaghan Morris, and in Michel Foucault: Power, Truth, Strategy (1979), edited by Meaghan Morris and Paul Patton. The former contains what I believe to be the first published translation of Baudrillard’s work in Australia: “Requiem for the Media”, from his Pour une critique de l’economie politique du signe (1972). At around the same time Edward was telling me of Baudrillard’s work, he and I crossed paths with that article.
That interest in Sydney in contemporary French theory in general and semiotics in particular crystallized in February 1981 in the Foreign Bodies Conference Semiotics in/and Australia at the University of Sydney, organized by Chris Burns and Peter Hutchings. The papers, edited by Peter Botsman, Chris Burns and Peter Hutchings, were published as The Foreign Bodies Papers by Local Consumption Publications.
The following year was a watershed moment in the dissemination of Baudrillard’s work to and in Australia. In that year, in October, no. 20, Baudrillard’s “The Beaubourg Effect: Implosion and Deterrence” was published, followed in 1983 by the publication by Semiotext(e) of Simulations, with the key essays “The Precession of Simulacra” and “The Orders of Simulacra”, and In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities…Or the End of the Social; and “The Ecstasy of Communication”, in The Anti-Aesthetic, edited by Hal Foster, also reached these shores.
That dissemination of Baudrillard’s work in Australia was all the more helped by several key Australian journals of the period: Local Consumption (edited by Peter Botsman), On the Beach (published by the On The Beach Collective of Ross Gibson, Lindy Lee, Sam Mele, Mark Thirkell and Mark Titmarsh, who became its editors), Tension (edited by Ashley Crawford), Art & Text (edited by Paul Taylor), and Frogger (edited by Rex Butler and David Messer).
In August 1982, Local Consumption 2/3 published Baudrillard’s “Oublier Foucault”; On the Beach, no. 1, Autumn 1983, published his “Hostage and Terror – The Impossible Exchange”; On the Beach, no. 2, Winter 1983, had an interview with Baudrillard entitled “Mannerism in an Unmannered World”; Tension 2, September/October 1983, published his “Is Pop an Art of Consumption?”; Art & Text 11 published “The Precession of Simulacra” in the Spring of 1983; On the Beach, no. 5, Winter 1984 published a second interview with Baudrillard, one conducted by Salvatore (Sam) Mele and Mark Titmarsh called “Game with Vestiges”; Tension 4, July/August 1984 had an interview that Sylvere Lotringer conducted with him called “Jean Baudrillard: Dropping Out of History”; and On the Beach, no. 6, Spring 1984, published Baudrillard’s “On Nihilism”.
Of course, during this period articles in these journals by local authors contained references to Baudrillard: Frogger, which started publishing February 1984, had references to Baudrillard in the first issue; published a bit of an interview with Baudrillard in the second, March issue; and translated parts of his Les Strategies fatales in both the third, April issue and fourth/fifth, May 1984 issue… And so it went. This meant that by late 1983 Baudrillard had a public profile in not only these journals but with those they serviced, people inside and outside the universities and art schools, etc., of Australia. His name was on people’s lips. And people were discovering books by him that had been around for a while in English, his The Mirror of Production (1975) and For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1981).
And with this setting, it was in late 1983 that Edward and I sat with Nad Viguier in her flat in Bondi Beach as she, a French woman doing her PhD in Sydney, made the call to Baudrillard to invite him for Edward and myself, on behalf of the Mari Kuttna Bequest and the Power Institute of Fine Arts, to come to the University of Sydney in July of 1984 to deliver the Inaugural Mari Kuttna Lecture on Film in the Power Institute and to give the keynote address at FUTUR◊FALL: Excursions into Post-Modernity, the first conference/art event on postmodernism in Australia, which Edward and I organized.
Notably, just days before the conference, the first to my knowledge book on Baudrillard was published, Seduced and Abandoned: The Baudrillard Scene. Edited by André Frankovits and published in Sydney, this anthology was a deliberately provocative, anti-Baudrillard corpus.
Dyakov: What did Baudrillard speak about in Sydney? Please tell me about FUTUR◊FALL.
Cholodenko: Baudrillard’s lecture on film was entitled The Evil Demon of Images. It was and remains his most extended meditation on film. It was published by Power Institute Publications in 1987, and I worked as unofficial editor on the book. The keynote address Baudrillard gave at FUTUR◊FALL was “The Year 2000 Will Not Take Place”. It was published subsequently by him as “Pataphysics in the Year 2000”. The video recordings of these talks appear in the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Volume 5, Number 1, January 2008.
The Kuttna Lecture was the first that Jean ever gave in English. For some, it was hard to make out what he was saying; but I think it will not be difficult for those fluent in English to work his words out.
The first event I organized for Jean was his presentation of the Kuttna Lecture, on 25 July 1984, and which served as a lead in to FUTUR◊FALL. His talk drew a throng of people, at least 1200, and we wound up splitting them into two theatres. Luckily, I had the foresight to book a second theatre as back up, one into which the television service of the university could pipe a signal. So one group saw him ‘live’, the other on TV monitors! One cheeky person even told me Baudrillard was better on TV than live! The energy that night, the crowds queuing up for miles, it seemed, the anticipation, well, that was just overwhelming. What a thrill! I still can feel and taste it.
FUTUR◊FALL (26-29 July) represented a watershed moment, event, in the intellectual and artistic life of this country, not only crystallizing but consolidating the advent of postmodernism in Australia, which at the least meant the end of the late ’60s Marxist ‘rule’ over the arts at university here. It encompassed four nights and three days and had a registration of over 700 people. It opened at the Jamison Street Cabaret, for a night of music, films, performances, a rap even (written and recorded by me, in fact), and then dancing by the attendees from midnight until 4am (accompanying the ‘go go’ girls on the stage!). I entitled the night “The Eve of Distraction”! There were over 1200 partygoers there that night, although a goodly number stood in the rain for hours trying to get into the club with no success. Of course, that enhanced the caché of the event.
Then the papers started at 9:30am, too early for some of the late night revelers. Over the next three days, 31 scholarly papers were presented at the Women’s College at the University of Sydney. Many were quite special. Indeed, Rex Butler’s paper, “Buying Time”, was taken by Baudrillard back to Paris, shown by him to members of the editorial board of Traverses, and published in issue 33-34, Politique fin de siecle, under the title “Acheter le temps”, an issue in which Baudrillard’s FUTUR◊FALL talk was likewise published, entitled “L’an 2000 ne passera pas”.
The second night was at Sydney College of the Arts, a night of papers accompanied with film and with music, a fashion parade, Super 8 films and a closing musical performance.
The third morning Gayatri Spivak presented a talk at the Footbridge Theatre on the campus of the University, entitled “The Production of “Post-modernism: Rei Kawakubo’s Minimalist Aesthetics”, to a full house of 700 people. There was quite a commotion during the talk when a young woman walked past Baudrillard, his partner Marité Bonnal, Edward, and myself, up on to the stage and put her arm around Spivak’s shoulder! I should add: from the moment she entered the theatre, she was declaiming loudly. And she continued to do so for a number of minutes until she was finally escorted from the stage, aggressively reluctant to do so. There were many in attendance who thought this the greatest event at FUTUR◊FALL, some even thinking it was one Edward and I had in fact staged.
It was late that afternoon, following the presentation of more papers, that Baudrillard delivered his FUTUR◊FALL lecture, “The Year 2000 Will Not Take Place”, also to a full house at the Footbridge Theatre. As with his first talk, the atmosphere was electric. Edward chaired the event, with Philippe Tanguy as translator.
The third night was at Bondi Pavilion Theatre, adjacent to Bondi Beach, Australia’s most famous sand. A number of performances were mounted, the most memorable for me being that of Maladie de la mort, Marguerite Duras’ most recent play, which Nad Viguier had secured permission to stage. Given the play’s inscription of the sea in it, it proved perfect for the location at which it was performed. Baudrillard and Marité were in the audience, which made the evening all the more special.
The final day consisted of yet more papers, and in the evening a party was held at Artspace, which had installed a dedicated show of works by Australian artists exemplary of Australian postmodern art. And that was followed by a post-party party! It was said that, for the run of those four nights and three days of FUTUR◊FALL, its host, the Power Institute, was the centre of the cultural life of Australia. And that had a bomb gone off at the Jamison Street Cabaret, that life would have gone up in smoke! It certainly was a fine event, one that even today people recall to me as a highlight of their cultural lives in this country. It long ago assumed mythical proportions. Oh, yes, if you’d like to read my rap, entitled appropriately ‘The FUTUR◊FALL Rap’, it’s in IJBS, Volume 4, Number 3, October 2007, the ‘Special Issue – Remembering Baudrillard’. I think it helps to give a sense of the flavour of FUTUR◊FALL, at least as I understood and felt it.
Dyakov: In France (and in Russia too) Baudrillard’s philosophy frequently encounters resistance from traditionally minded philosophers. In Australia was his writing accepted at once?
Cholodenko: As far as I have witnessed and even experienced it, the standard reaction of traditional philosophers to Baudrillard’s work is resistance, a willful refusal to consider it, rather dismissing it out of hand, a dismissal usually accompanied by blanket ridicule. Not only was and is Australia no exception to the resistance to Baudrillard’s work as you characterise it on the part of traditional philosophers in France and Russia, I’d have to add England, too, having experienced that resistance personally from there, as well as in Australia. I’ll say more about the English experience later.
But first, I must say, I see Baudrillard as provoking and playing off of that resistance insofar as it is bound to what he calls his second order of simulacra, that of production, including of meaning, truth, reality, identity, self-identity, etc., pushing it further, consistent with what he called his sole “methodology”, that of the ecstatic, of pushing things to their limits where they at once fulfill and annihilate themselves. That’s one reason why, when he returned to the University of Sydney in 1994 and I gave the Introduction to his talk, I said this in it:
For me Baudrillard is nothing if not provocative. By this I mean not just the kind of response triggered by his book America, his articles on the Gulf War, published in book form as La Guerre du golfe n’a pas eu lieu (The Gulf War Did Not Take Place) (1991) and I gather his pieces on the New World Order, the contemporary whitewashing of history, Biosphere 2 and ecology, collected in his latest book L’illusion de la fin. We know that Baudrillard’s work elicits condemnation without being understood, without being read, even in advance of its publication(!), ‘proof’ of its continuing provocativeness and currency. By ‘provocative’ I also mean, more radically, that he takes provocation as his vocation in the fatal sense of the term, in the sense that he issues a challenge to ‘reality’, as his work constitutes a defiance, an outbidding, a leading astray – in a word, a Seduction – of that zone of referentiality called ‘the real’, summoning meaning to appear the better to make it disappear in its apparition.
That zone of referentiality called ‘the real’ is that of his second order of simulacra, a zone that traditional philosophers, and I must add, many others from across the disciplines and faculties, defend, redoubling their efforts to defend it as it increasingly disappears in hyperreality, virtual reality, as Baudrillard articulates it.
Now, back to England, for what I take to be a fine and telling example of what you say about French and Russian traditional philosophers. If one Googles my name, one will find tagged to it a blog called “The Joy of Curmudgeonry: The International Journal of Boundless Idiocy’ (31 January 2006). Refusing to provide his given name, the blog’s author calls her/himself Deogolwulf; and s/he names her/his residence Lancashire, England! (hence my reference to England, but of course, that could be a sham address on the part of ‘Deogolwulf’!)
If one examines the content of the blog, it seems ‘Deogolwulf’ is one among several analytic philosophers engaged in deriding me as an ‘idiot’, but not only me: the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, as the journal of idiots. Of course, that derision is marked in the very title of the blog, meant to refer to the IJBS. So s/he and his/her mates, like Paul Cossins, paint with a scatter gun, mocking not only me but the journal, those it publishes, and even Baudrillard himself and his work as ‘idiocy’. (Indeed, for explicit disparagement by ‘Deogolwulf’ of Baudrillard, see ‘his’ piece entitled ‘The Professor of Absurdity’, The Joy of Curmudgeonry, 9 December 2005: http://curmudgeonjoy.blogspot.com/2006/01/international-journal-of-boundless.html
The denigration of me appears to follow this ‘logic’: how can a person teaching in an art history and theory department in Australia presume they have the right and ability to talk about and comment on Stephen Hawking, as I do so in my article ‘The Nutty Universe of Animation, the “Discipline” of All “Disciplines”, and That’s Not All, Folks!’, published in IJBS 3/1, January 2006?
But here it is crucial for me to declare: while I am a bit miffed by the blog and its ridicule, to say nothing of its being tagged to my name, at the same time I find it and these derogatory pronouncements marvelous, wonderful gifts, for they help to establish my bona fides, as it were! One needs enemies, Alexandr, even jokers like these, whom I have clearly and powerfully provoked, as has Baudrillard, the IJBS and those who publish therein. For me, their mockery turns on itself, mocking only them. For me, the hilarious and derogatory term Cossins and ‘Deogolwulf’ deploy in ‘The Professor of Absurdity’ reverses on them, turning into a self-description: ‘taurocoprologists’. So, instead of replying to them in a direct manner with reasoned responses, instead of trying to engage them in scholarly debate, I choose to just have a good laugh, one at their expense. I know this is how Baudrillard did and would ‘reply’ to such close-minded, empty-headed abusive utterances.
Dyakov: What can you tell us about the movement of Baudrillard’s ideas from Australia to New Zealand?
Cholodenko: I was in New Zealand with Jean in March 2001 for the first conference there on his work (University of Auckland, organized by Victoria Grace, Heather Worth and Laurence Simmons). The conference papers were published in a book entitled Baudrillard West of the Dateline, edited by that trio and published by Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, New Zealand, in 2003. It was a fabulous conference and a wonderful time, thanks to the efforts of its organizers and the contributions of its participants. My friend Nicholas Zurbrugg, then teaching in England, gave the keynote address. At the end of the Auckland conference, Baudrillard returned to Sydney for his third and final visit; and he, Rex Butler (who was also at the Auckland conference), and I re-presented (at the College of Fine Arts, the University of New South Wales) the papers we gave at Auckland. As in Auckland, we had a great time in Sydney. Sadly, it was the last time I would see Nicholas alive.
Dyakov: What kind of person was Baudrillard? Was it easy to communicate with him?
Cholodenko: He was a wonderful guy, “salt of the earth”, as the expression goes. So easy to talk to, a person who did not ‘put on airs’, who never talked down to people. He enjoyed a good conversation, the play of ideas. He was a lovely, sweet person. I miss him greatly, as one of the world’s leading thinkers and as a dear friend. He is already greatly missed.
Dyakov: Did you meet with Jean in France? What was his dwelling?
Cholodenko: I met with Jean many times in Paris, from 1985 on. He always helped me find a place to stay; and for the weeks I was there we would run around Paris together, have dinner together, go to art openings, book fairs, etc. It was such fun. Jean was a person who was so alive to things, who enjoyed things greatly, with great gusto, and had a great sense of humor – and a wonderful, mischievous laugh. We laughed all the time. I cherished those times and cherish the memory of them. And of him. I remember one day at Jean’s flat, drinking whiskey at 11am and looking at images of his photographs for the first time. He was planning his first photographic exhibition, and he asked my opinion. I told him my favorite was the chair covered in red velvet. That photograph, called Sainte Beuve (1987), I think has become the favorite Baudrillard photograph of many people. It’s on the cover of the book Jean Baudrillard, Art and Artefact, edited by Nicholas Zurbrugg.
Although I do not remember seeing that chair in what I saw of Jean’s apartment, I assume the chair was his, and the markings in the velvet left by him, so that what one sees there are the traces, the remains, of what left, withdrew: Baudrillard himself. And the velvet feels very much the sheet of a ghost, a shroud even, all the more so in the wake of his death.
I have such vivid memories of being with Jean in Paris (as well, of course, as in Auckland, Sydney and New York City even, where we also had some great times). Once he was giving a talk at the FNAC Forum, and the audience had what seemed to me rather a few nutty members. For instance, the person right in front of me read aloud to himself through the entirety of Jean’s presentation! Another asked a very long question, one taking many minutes, at the end of which Jean replied: “No, it’s not as simple as that”! At the end of the talk, I thought some of these nutters might come up to try to harm Jean, so I ran up and stood in front to form a protective barrier, as it were. That’s actually the same thing I did for French cine-semiologist Christian Metz many years earlier, when he visited Cambridge, Massachusetts. As we were walking along, a drunk appeared out of nowhere and headed straight at Christian with evil intent in his eyes. Fearlessly (!), I interposed my body, and the guy veered away from us.
You asked about Jean’s dwelling. Jean lived in a flat on Rue Sainte Beuve off the Boulevard du Montparnasse, and I joined him for meals a number of times at Le Select nearby. And once at Le Dom, after the opening of the annual book fair, an opening at which Baudrillard introduced me to Michel Delorme, editor of Editions Galilée (a terrific person, I might add), to Sarah Kofman and to Karl Appel. It was a fabulous day and evening. As you are probably aware, Jean is now buried in the Cimetière Montparnasse, not far from where he lived.
Dyakov: What did Baudrillard photograph in Australia and in New Zealand? He in fact always chose rare objects for photographing.
Cholodenko: I do not know what he photographed in New Zealand, but I do know of one object he photographed in Australia. In 1994, on his second visit, his first stop was Brisbane, for the world’s first international conference on his work, organized by Nicholas Tsoutas and Nicholas Zurbrugg. As part of the conference there was an exhibition of Jean’s photographs, entitled “The Ecstasy of Photography”, at the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane. As best I remember he included in that show a photograph he had just shot in Brisbane, a photograph that is the third one imaged in the book Jean Baudrillard: Photographies 1985-1998, Hatje Cantz Publishers, Germany, 1999.
It is a photo that reminds me of Diane Arbus’ shot of a Hollywood outdoor set that is a flat, just the front of a building, with the props holding the flat up seen on the side; but in the case of Jean’s, it’s the whole photo that immediately takes on that appearance of simulacrum.
I don’t agree that Jean always chose rare objects for photographing. I think he often photographed mundane objects, ones that one would see in the course of daily existence, objects whose very photographing turned them into enigmatic objects – one might say, rare objects. His photographs restored, returned, reality to illusion, to appearance, to artifice.
Dyakov: In my book I have suggested three key sources, components, of Baudrillard’s philosophy: Hegelianism, pataphysics and gnosticism. What would you say to each?
Cholodenko: I’ve written of the relation of Jean’s work to Gnosticism and Manichaeism in my article “The Logic of Delirium, or the Fatal Strategies of Antonin Artaud and Jean Baudrillard”, in 100 Years of Cruelty: Essays on Artaud, published by Power Publications (2000). By the way, it’s a terrific anthology, from a 1996 conference on Artaud in Sydney of which I was one of four organizers, a conference I got Derrida to participate in live (via satellite) from Paris.
So I do see Gnosticism and I’d add Manichaeism as key influences on Baudrillard’s work. But, as Baudrillard has pointed out, he was not a Gnostic, not a Manichaean. Rather, he found resonances there with his own thinking. And I develop these resonances in my “The Logic of Delirium” essay.
Pataphysics is certainly an influence. In fact, Jean’s first paper compared Jarry and Artaud, and favored the former over the latter. It has finally been published in Baudrillard’s The Conspiracy of Art, under the title “Pataphysics” (1952).
As for Hegelianism, I am first reminded of something Baudrillard repeated to me a number of times, and as well went into print with. That is, he said he was not a real philosopher, which meant for him ‘having training in it [philosophy] in the proper sense’, to quote him from the interview “I Don’t Belong to the Club, to the Seraglio” that he did with Mike Gane and Monique Arnaud that is published in Baudrillard Live, the anthology of interviews edited by Mike Gane (1993). Nonetheless, as Baudrillard also indicates there, he did “have a good familiarity with it” [philosophical culture]. There is no question but that there are connections to philosophy he himself foregrounded in his writings, notably the connection with Schopenhauer and especially Nietzsche. But as he points out, again in that interview, he did not consider Schopenhauer and Nietzsche philosophers and states: “If I started anywhere, it was with poetical things, Rimbaud, Artaud, etc., Nietzsche, Bataille”, which would include Jarry. To them he adds (or would add) Hölderlin, Barthes, Lefebvre, Mauss, Lévi-Strauss, Saussure, Marx, Freud, McLuhan, Warhol…, some of whose thinking he of course insists must be turned on/against itself, which he does.
As for Hegel, Baudrillard did acknowledge him even in that interview with Gane and Arnaud, declaring Hegel interesting “to the extent that he questions the disappearance of art, etc.” Or as Baudrillard puts it in another interview in that anthology, “The Revenge of the Crystal”: “art as disappearance, as the magic of disappearance, he [Hegel] had seen that very well”. For Baudrillard, art as process of self-destruction is modern art since Hegel. I see Nietzsche as a more significant influence on Baudrillard than I do Hegel.
Beyond that, I do not think one can reduce Baudrillard’s “philosophy” to three key sources, components. For me, he ranged across far too many important sources, thinkers and subject areas for one to be able to do that, including some sources, thinkers and subject areas he reacted against, which of course makes them no less key. I would ask if by “Baudrillard’s philosophy”, you mean to encompass the range of his ideas and theories, ideas and theories that were of course highly animated, undergoing major metamorphoses, as he delineates in The Ecstasy of Communication. If so, how is that possible? How do you, or anyone, do it? For me his notions of Evil, irreconcilability, etc., would contest such a possibility as what he called an artificial paradise.
Dyakov: Did Baudrillard create his own aesthetics or an ethics of art?
Cholodenko: I think Baudrillard would have fought against such notions. For Baudrillard aesthetics is a first and second order simulacrum, one that, with the advent of Duchamp’s ready-made, passed into transaesthetics, which is an aesthetics of banality and the banality of aesthetics. This is where aesthetics is everywhere except in itself, and everything is in it but it. As Baudrillard states in “Too Much is Too Much” in The Conspiracy of Art, “Duchamp signals the end of the aesthetic principle”. For Baudrillard, “Today, everything is aestheticized” and when that happens, it is the end of art and aesthetics.
To return to Hegel, for Baudrillard art disappears, negates itself, in its hyperreal form, what could be called hyperart, even as reality negates itself in hyperreality, even as art and reality negate each other. Which is the opposite of what art once did for Baudrillard, art as first order simulacrum, which was to issue a challenge to reality, to push reality to be more, more illusion than illusion, even as reality pushed art to be more reality than reality. Insofar as art becomes hyperreal, for Baudrillard it negates illusion, and in negating illusion, it negates itself, which negating of art is for him the big project of art for most of the last century.
Beyond this, let me relate something I’ve never mentioned in print before. While Baudrillard was in Sydney in 1984, Edward Colless, David Kelly and I did an interview with him, one which was published in Baudrillard’s The Evil Demon of Images book, and republished in Mike Gane’s Baudrillard Live. Just after we ended the interview, Baudrillard said to us “we have passed from aesthetics to anaesthetics”. We laughed.
Transaesthetics, hyperaesthetics, is not only inaesthetics but anaesthetics for Baudrillard, and it is generalized in hyperreality. Anaesthetics and indifference, key feature of hyperreality, go together.
As for ethics, it is likewise for Baudrillard a first and second order simulacrum, one associated with value (as is aesthetics). Insofar as for him we have passed with hyperreality into the transdevaluation of all value, where ethics/value is everywhere except in ethics/value and everything is in ethics/value but ethics/value, I feel confident he would say ethics/value has passed into political correctness, the pure and empty, hyperreal form of ethics/value.
But, to try to extend your questions, I would first give you a bit more of my 1994 Introduction of Baudrillard at the University of Sydney, in which I state:
Baudrillard’s work remains a defence of Seduction, a defense of Illusion, a defense of the ecstatic necessity of destiny against the chaos of the increasingly cold, statistical, aleatory world of simulacra.
To the viral, metastatic processes of the world, he counter-poses his own writing strategy – the ecstatic – pushing these processes to their limits, where, at once completing and exterminating themselves, they disappear, as his writing must likewise do, what would be not critical theory but fatal theory, theory of the order of theory-fiction, theory fatal not only to its subject and its object but to itself.
For me Baudrillard’s…works are themselves as writings complex, subtle performances of that of which they write, and more, shimmering with an exquisite, seductive surcharge of artifice, irony and humour as they come to pass, as they evanesce. Like the desert form, they shimmer. Like the astral form, they scintillate. They leave me dazzled and speech-less.
Now, let me suggest: Insofar as the sole “method” for Baudrillard was the ecstatic, the pushing of things to their limits, and insofar as this is what for him art once did, art as first order simulacrum – issuing a challenge to reality, potentializing it, defying it, outbidding it, seducing it, pushing it to be more illusion than illusion – to the extent that this is what Jean did, he was an artist of such character. And his works are of such character.
But there is more to say here. In 1991, Baudrillard shifts the simulacrum from the side of Illusion to that of reality. Given that art is a simulacrum for him, it shifts to the side of reality, even as for him art’s old power of illusion even as simulacrum had been lost and it had become “only an aesthetic prosthesis”. In the wake of that shift, Baudrillard becomes for me more than artist and his work more than art. For in that shift, art shifts to the side of the production and representation of reality ‘versus’ their Seduction. It is this that I tried to mark in my 1994 Introduction, when I proposed that his work remains a defense of Seduction, of Illusion, of the ecstatic necessity of destiny, and his writings have a seductive surcharge, coming to pass, evanescing, in other words, making things (dis)appear dazzlingly, dizzyingly.
Indeed, for me his power to conjure reality to (dis)appear in its apparition, as apparition, links him to Descartes’ evil demon.
After 1991 Baudrillard’s work is akin for me to what is prior and superior to the simulacrum, that is, Seduction, Illusion, Evil, fatality, irreconcilability, cruelty – the savage, cruel power of the sign to erupt and to illusion a world that is irreconcilable to and for the subject – as I write in “The Logic of Delirium”.
And here I quote something he wrote in 1994, something I find quite apt:
The realm of art and aesthetics is that of the conventional management of illusion, of a convention that neutralizes the delirious effects of illusion, which neutralizes illusion as an extreme phenomenon. Aesthetics constitutes a sort of sublimation, a mastery of the radical illusion of the world. Other cultures accepted the evidence of this original illusion by trying to deal with it in a symbolic balance. We, the modern cultures, no longer believe in this illusion of the world, but in its reality (which of course is the last and the worst of illusions). We have chosen to exorcize this illusion through this civilized form of simulacrum, which we call the aesthetic form.
Illusion has no history. Aesthetic form has one. But because it has a history, it also has an end, and it may be now that we can see the fall, the failure, the fading of this conditional form, of this aesthetic form of the simulacrum – in favour of the unconditional simulacrum, that is, of the primitive scene of illusion, where we may join again with the rituals and phantasmagories of symbolic cultures, and with the fatality of the object.
This passage is from his essay “Objects, Images, and the Possibilities of Aesthetic Illusion”, in Jean Baudrillard, Art and Artefact, and it appears in very similar translation in “Aesthetic Illusion and Disillusion”, in The Conspiracy of Art.
For me, Baudrillard’s seductive writings reanimate that primitive scene of illusion, that delirious radical scene I wrote of in “The Logic of Delirium”. They turn us from belief in the reality of the world, even from radical disillusion, to belief in radical illusion, the radical illusion of the world. This makes Baudrillard more than an artist – it makes him an animatic animator.
Dyakov: With Baudrillard there were always difficult relations with “the world of art”. Postmodernists counted him one of them, and he offended their feelings, renouncing the label “postmodern”. To what it is connected?
Cholodenko: I do not think it is as simple as that. Baudrillard talked and wrote of the mistaken belief on the part of New York City artists that they were Baudrillardian, in the sense that they believed they were applying his ideas in and to their art. For Baudrillard, his theoretical work was not something that could be applied, at least not like that. For him, simulation was a hypothesis, and these artists, the New York Simulationists of the 1980s, treated it as a fact and worse made it a fact of their art. In the same way that for Baudrillard the Wachowski Brothers made The Matrix a work that the Matrix itself could have produced, as Baudrillard said in his “The Matrix Revisited” in The Conspiracy of Art.
I recall Baudrillard declaring he was not a postmodernist, just as Derrida declared he was not a poststructuralist. They didn’t like their work being pigeonholed period, nor did they believe it could be. If anything, Baudrillard’s work is connected to that of those thinkers I named in my reply to your earlier question.
Let me add: given how not only the popular press but vast swathes of academics and “intellectuals” ridicule postmodernism and postructuralism, reducing them to labels, to categories – “pigeonholing” them, and then “shooting them down”, as it were – I try to avoid using these terms too, or when I do use them, I usually put them in quotation marks.
Dyakov: Why do you think Baudrillard refused to appear in the film “Matrix”? Would he have participated in the film if script writers studied his philosophy more attentively?
Cholodenko: He was asked to be involved in the second film, which he mentions in “The Matrix Revisited”; but I do not know what form that involvement would have taken. In any case, it’s funny you should mention The Matrix, Alexandr. I used to ask as an essay question in my film studies course, “Is The Matrix a Baudrillardian film?”. I felt the Wachowski Brothers had ventured very far from Baudrillard’s work, significantly misunderstanding it; and I even wrote them a letter telling them so. Even though they were shooting the sequel to the first film at Fox Studios in Sydney at the time, I never heard back from them – not that I expected to.
I don’t know how to answer your second question, except to say that in my appearance in Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman’s film Derrida, I say to Derrida, “My theory is that Americans exist to the degree that they are being filmed or believe themselves to be filmed. It’s the natural condition”, to which he replies “You see how Americanized I am”. Given what Jean says of America in his book America concerning America as always already cinematized, I can only think that he likewise saw himself as in a movie, an American movie. As I do, and write of, in terms of not only myself but him, in my essay ‘“OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR”: The Virtual Reality of Jurassic Park and Jean Baudrillard’, republished in IJBS, Volume 2, Number 1, January 2005.