Volume 3, Number 1 (January 2006)
Author: Dr. David Teh
I. Introduction: Mythology and Social Science
The study of myths raises a methodological problem, in that it cannot be carried out according to the Cartesian principle of breaking down the difficulty into as many parts as may be necessary for finding the solution. There is no real end to mythological analysis, no hidden unity to be grasped… The unity of the myth is never more than tendential and projective… It is a phenomenon of the imagination, resulting from the attempt at interpretation… Unlike philosophical reflection, which claims to go back to its own source, the reflections we are dealing with here concern rays whose only source is hypothetical… Mythological thought… manifests itself as an irradiation; by measuring the directions and angles of the rays, we are led to postulate their common origin… It coincides with its object by forming a homologous image of it but never succeeds in blending with it… In seeking to imitate the spontaneous movement of mythological thought, this essay… has had to conform to the requirements of that thought and to respect its rhythm. It follows that this book on myths is itself a kind of myth. If it has any unity, that unity will appear only behind or beyond the text and, in the best hypothesis, will become a reality in the mind of the reader.1
With this admission, Lévi-Strauss introduces his “science” of mythology. In the mirror of myth, social science confronts itself and the limits of its scientificity. Structuralism did much to anchor in the human sciences a certain relativity, which would subsequently become a norm for what is called (less than lovingly, more often than not) post-structuralist or postmodern discourse. The ramifications of this relativity have tended to promote the postmodern incredulity most easily identified with Jean-François Lyotard2 , a posture embedded in, and inseparable from, a deeply conflicted modernity, and characterized by a distrust of the latter’s cherished “metanarratives” – emancipation, humanism, liberalism, science and technology. These articles of faith have increasingly met with doubts, which culminate, writes Octavio Paz, “in the critique of the central idea which inspires our society: progress.” The human sciences thus stand at a pivotal point in modernity: ethnography, for example, “was born at almost the same time as the idea of history conceived as uninterrupted progress; it is not strange that it should be, simultaneously, the consequence of progress and the critique of progress”.3
In an earlier, artistic modernity, we find a precursor in the work of Alfred Jarry: the same ambivalent approach to scientific progress – in the literal sense of this word, which denotes not indifference but a dual interest. Suspended between the radical faith engendered by techno scientific progress (and by popular fetishizations of technology in mass media and spectacles like the Great Expositions), and the cataclysm of the Great War which would put this faith on trial, Jarry was obsessed with the sciences. But he found himself before (that is, both prior to and facing) the general demise of progress as a universal goal of humanity, as an organizing principle of society, and as a moral project to which art might be shackled. He thus wrote a sort of ironic sunset clause in the heroic social contract of western modernity, at once aping modern science and paying it homage, in an ecstatic but parodic appropriation.4 Jarry’s parody of science has much in common with our own postmodern strains of incredulity. Like ours, Jarry’s response to this generalised breakdown is an ambivalent one – he clearly distrusts science’s grand, universal claims, and yet he espouses axiomatic claims of his own; he mocks science’s dialects (witness his habit of expressing quantities to the power of 10), and yet the sources which inspire his quasi-scientific assertions are often referenced and praised for their wisdom; he deigns to produce science effortlessly through his art, and yet shows more respect for his scientist-muses than for most other artists. Jarry was at home on that “parodic-serious stage” imagined by Guy Debord, where “the greatest seriousness advances masked in the ambiguous interplay between art and its negation”.5 To Lyotard’s incredulity, then, we may add Jarry’s disingenuousness.
Jean Baudrillard fits easily into this tradition of skeptical or incredulous critical modernity6 , with his détournement of both particular sciences and the general cult of science and technology, with his creative “repurposings” (some might say abuse) of their language and concepts. Baudrillard exchanges disciplinary propriety for catachresis and illegitimacy. With his figures of cancerous and viral replication, for example, or his invocations of the uncertainty principle or fractal mathematics, he seeks no validity beyond the aptitude of metaphor. But all the same, he bolsters their currency as emblems of the society that generated them. Baudrillard was not alone in his impiety towards the taxonomies of official knowledge – think of Deleuze and Guattari’s “geology of morals” or “geophilosophy”, or Foucault’s “archaeologies” – hence, his guilt-by-association with the nebulous forces of postmodernism, a movement alongside which Baudrillard must surely be read, but a term the use of which he has done little, if anything, to advance.7
Nevertheless, we might be tempted, with Charles Levin, to invoke Richard Rorty’s notion of a hybrid “postmodernism theory”, distinguished by “neither the evaluation of the relative merits of literary productions, nor intellectual history, nor moral philosophy, nor epistemology, nor social prophecy, but all of these things mingled together”.8 This hybridity might describe Baudrillard’s writing quite aptly, with qualifications: insofar as it is literary criticism, it is far from being comparative; if it is intellectual history it is either preposterously selective or willfully myopic; if moral philosophy, then only to the extent that it is a philosophy of amorality and a purportedly amoral philosophy. At any rate, one suspects that Baudrillard would be satisfied with this taxonomic uncertainty. For his challenge is not simply epistemic. It is reflexive: he attacks the boundaries not just between one disciplinary knowledge and another, but also between theory and its object. Thought is both practice and product. As Levin puts it, Baudrillard’s distinctive skill is to
… relate the formalized abstractions of the civilized habitus to the mysteries of social being, … [showing] how social observations throw as much light on the problems of theory as the theories throw on the problems of society. … He senses vividly how social life itself is ‘theoretical’, as ‘abstract’ as the social science which tries to distil it into formal models.9
Critics who have attempted to come to terms with his oeuvre as a whole have not surprisingly encountered some difficulties10 ; and many of Baudrillard’s intellectual influences have been either misunderstood (such as Marx), or underemphasized (such as Bataille11 and Jarry). Indeed, how are we to reconcile his interest in projects of high-modern knowledge (Marxist and radical sociology, anthropology, etc.) with his obvious kinship – more than just aesthetic – with modernist literary traditions from Symbolism to Surrealism and Dada?12
This essay identifies a current of ambivalence throughout Baudrillard’s oeuvre, affecting it politically, aesthetically and philosophically. It expresses a pataphysical relativism that underpins Baudrillard’s writing, and that demands a pataphysical reading. That is, I argue (after Rex Butler) that Baudrillard’s oeuvre must be assessed in its own terms, and not according to the demands of conventional disciplinary thought. Rather than attempt a disciplinary classification, let us ask: What sort of an object – what sort of a thing – is Baudrillard’s theory? Is it in fact critical theory at all, or is it fictional, as Levin suggests, “closer to a sort of art”? So it is with Lévi-Strauss’ disclaimer in mind that I take my turn. Whatever unity I can give Baudrillard’s oeuvre is only imaginary, an epiphenomenon of interpretation and, like its object, “tendential and projective”.
II. The Turn: The Poetic Is Political
The problems of characterization undoubtedly stem, to some extent, from Baudrillard’s isolation (after the mid-70s) from the mainstream French intelligentsia. Here we encounter two schisms: that between Baudrillard and the intellectual left (which generated a good number of misreadings); and also that between Baudrillard and himself – the so-called turn – variously characterized as a parting of ways with Marxism or radical politics13 , a plunge into postmodernism or an involution into egoistic self-referentiality. These criticisms (progessivist /Marxist, moral/ethical and literary respectively) tend to relate the turn to the social upheaval of May ’68, and the attendant rifts in French radical politics (especially between the workers’ and students’ movements).14 There were profound effects upon Baudrillard’s political outlook, but these alone do not explain all the transformations his work underwent in the ensuing decades.
Until quite recently, in the Anglo-American academy it was widely held that Baudrillard’s work – especially that of the 1980s and 90s, for which he is best known – is either apolitical, or at least fails to offer any socio-political cues or conclusions.15 Such characterizations imply that writers only contribute to socio-political debate insofar as they explicitly engage with its official discourses, an obviously false assertion.16 Baudrillard’s art, like Baudelaire’s poetry, speaks constantly to a real state of affairs, just as Marx, who describes this state of affairs so as to transform it, could not do so without a certain poetry. In Baudrillard’s case, we are fortunate that for the first decade of his career, he did grapple so explicitly with sociological problems. Yet the reception of Baudrillard’s later texts was often hampered by either an ignorance of, or else an inattentiveness to, the more difficult, earlier works.17 A thorough reading of these reveals a more complex and reflexive politics, one predicated, in fact, upon a certain death of politics, or of a certain mode of political economy, the end of that era dominated by material production. Not that politics becomes impossible – for this end segués into political economies of the sign, the body, etc.18 – it simply means that to use Baudrillard politically, one would need to observe these new parameters rather than those of political economy and Marxism.19 Rather than confining them to a political spectrum, we must accept that Baudrillard’s turnings were as much aesthetic as they were political, and that to understand the latter, it will be essential to come to grips with the former.
Most interpreters have not. While I cannot provide here a detailed summary of the scholarship on Baudrillard, it will suffice to note that some leading interpreters have not read him in his own terms.20 Failing the Marxists’ requirements of materialism, dialectics, class analysis and so on, Baudrillard was left to be claimed by whichever “postmodernism”, by turns either under- or over-theorized, best suited the critic’s agenda. Some have even read his moves beyond use value and the commodity, his indifference to the plight of the alienated subject, as a “capitulation to Capitalism”.21 Certainly, Baudrillard’s predilection for the object is an effacement of the subjectivism that has dominated continental philosophy since Descartes. But respect for the inhuman is a far cry from the “hatred of the human” Kellner alleges.22 What Baudrillard renounces is not the human, but humanism and anthropocentrism. (Siding with the object is neither ethical, nor metaphysical. It is pataphysical.) Where does it come from, this humanist piety that brings Kellner to take such umbrage, and such liberties, with Baudrillard’s position?
Marx’s favourite motto was the humanist credo ‘Nothing human is alien to me.’ Against this, Baudrillard seems to be suggesting that nothing inhuman is alien to him, and that nothing human is worthy of much respect.23
Baudrillard’s turn had obviously left some lasting bruises on Marxist humanism. In his indignation, Kellner muddles everything up: Baudrillard’s point about the inhuman is precisely that it is alien, that its alterity, which he bolsters, should be respected. It is when the subject is the only thing accorded any respect that things get the better of us, proliferate and overwhelm us, alienate us. Accusing Baudrillard of a “capitalist” one-upmanship, Kellner also misses the point of Baudrillard’s “fatal” theory.24 Baudrillard’s logic of out-doing (the more x than x) is not a competitive gesture at all – witness his isolation from political debates after the 1970s. It is a poetic device, referencing a whole anthropology of the challenge, a timeless theme of agonistic exchange of which capitalism is merely the latest mutation.
Baudrillard’s first three books concern the structure and logic of consumer capitalism, its systems and its categories – logics of semio-capital, of production, of value, etc. After that, his theory becomes less systematic, articulating not so much the logic, but a poetics of these categories, addressing them less as dispositifs, and more as metaphors. While he still demystifies the ideological contents of socio-cultural systems, he is more interested in riffing on the system’s own refrains, amplifying and exacerbating them such that they exceed the system. After the “end of production”, for instance, what is gone is not the idea of production, but production as a rigid analytical apparatus (the “mode of production”). The concept of production in fact proliferates, as Baudrillard maps its extension across other spheres of social life (sex, aesthetics, identity, etc.). Hence, simulation, a poetic account of late-capitalist production, stressing its distinctive motifs (simulacra, repetition, the model).25
III. Beyond Use Value: Generalizing Marxism
Surely Baudrillard cannot be said to have avoided entirely the pitfalls of post-Marxism – no doubt he helped to dig some of them – but when he returns to Marx, as he does often, he quotes him without dissimulating, without disclaimers or qualifications of Marxism’s theoretical and political failures. On the contrary, he quotes Marx in characteristically lengthy excerpts; he appropriates Marx’s concepts, dismantles them – or in a Situationist spirit, détournes them – in that spirit of invention by which he distinguishes theory from philosophy. Baudrillard’s “exploratory hypothesis” is to ponder:
… to what point Marxist logic can be rescued from the limited context of political economy in which it arose… This is on condition that it give to its theoretical curvature the flexibility that it lost long ago in favour of an instrumentalism, of a fixed linearity. We are attempting to rescue it from the limited dimensions of a Euclidean geometry of history in order to test its possibility of becoming what it perhaps is, a truly general theory.26
The point is precisely to let Marx become what he wasn’t. Whereas philosophy invokes its forebears in order to position itself within a pre-existing tradition, Baudrillard aims to do just the opposite: to disengage Marx from Marxism, and re-introduce him as a new “conceptual persona”.27 It is not the veracity of Marx’s claims that interests Baudrillard, but the urgency of his injunction. In a beautiful excursus on the polyvocality of Marx, Blanchot identifies this as the second of “Marx’s Three Voices”. The impatient “political” voice designates not so much a content as a frequency, a pitch – it is “brief and direct, … it short-circuits every voice. It no longer carries a meaning but a call, a violence, a decision of rupture. It says nothing strictly speaking; it is the urgency of what it announces…”.28
The task of making Marxism “truly general” has an important theoretical (and poetic) touchstone in the “pre- or post-Marxist” perspective – in the “general” economics – of Georges Bataille.29 Marxism’s becoming general is precisely the overcoming of the restricted economy (dialectical materialism) created by its meticulous overcoding of an already “limited” field (political economy). In the same spirit, Baudrillard drives his theory of the object beyond the restricted language of the commodity. As long as it was anchored in the sphere of human needs, the commodity had some claim to natural worth. But modern gadgetry, with its pure aestheticization of function, its non- and dys-functional objects, upsets this naturalism.30 Baudrillard discovers that the system of objects, and its phantasmatic utility principle, are essentially pataphysical. Their hypertrophic circulation of values is amoral and self-perpetuating – irreferential, as he would later put it, or in Debord’s words, “as the mass of commodities becomes more and more absurd, absurdity becomes a commodity in its own right.”31 The absurdity of commodity exchange, of this rationality without rationale, prompts Baudrillard to abandon political economy, in favour of a more literary, science fictional mode. The point is not to abandon the real in favour of farce, but rather to show that the techno-scientific real is itself farcical, and respond in kind.
If he theorizes the object “beyond use value” then should we not consider his own theory as just such an object? This is precisely what Baudrillard does, and it is where his Marxist interpreters have baulked. But cultural theory is as susceptible to commodification as any other literature. Rather than fight its alienation, the truly “radical and modern” solution – Baudelaire’s, and after him, Baudrillard’s – is to embrace the commodity’s “formal indifference to utility and value, [and] the preeminence given to circulation”, to accentuate commodification, to play up to it, pataphysically.32 Slipping from science into art, Baudrillard’s theory becomes an object fashioned after Baudelaire’s absolute commodity (or Warhol’s), a commodity that has “exceeded its own form” to become a “pure object of marvelous commutability”, its worth guaranteed precisely by its avowed inutility.33
IV. Baudrillard In His Own Terms
Reading Baudrillard must therefore be different from using him. In courting what he calls “the transpolitical”, Baudrillard raises a perennial problem of theory itself, namely, what can it possibly do? Nothing, perhaps. But the impotence of theory (in praxis) carries with it a valency or potency in representation. As Rex Butler describes it:
The aim of theory for Baudrillard is to devise a statement about a system that at once follows its internal logic to the end, adds nothing to it, and inverts it entirely, reveals that it is not possible without this ‘nothing’. It is a statement that is at once a pure description of the system, speaking of it in terms of the real, and a pure prescription of the system, demonstrating that it excludes the real. It is a statement that is at once totally specific to each system examined… and absolutely universal, testifying to the fundamental reversibility at the origin of the world.34
Locating within each of his propositions both a description, and a prescription – the writing that comes before the system and from it (after it) – Butler grounds Baudrillard’s poetics firmly in the act of writing itself. The relationship between the proposition and the system is constituted first and foremost in an inscription, a writing performativity, and therefore unfolds in the space of the system itself, to which it is “totally specific”.35 To “use” theory beyond this system is thus “always-already-impossible”. Butler provides the best lens for seeing Baudrillard with Baudrillard’s own philosophical outlook – that is, in his own terms: in the systems he analyses, he “is not simply comparing them to some outside real which they exclude, but implicitly agreeing with them that there is no outside, that the real can henceforth only be defined in their terms … it is only by applying their own criteria that they can be assessed”.36 This deference is integral to what I call Baudrillard’s pataphysical epistemology. (Jarry extends the same courtesy to the sciences – he takes them as true, at face value.) And this is why the interview with Guy Bellavance for Parachute is still one of the most revealing texts about Baudrillard’s work – it adheres to this principle of agreement, it is a collusive duel.37
Butler elaborates the shape of Baudrillard’s thought, its mythomorphic curvatures. On one hand, the ecstatic, the escape velocity achieved by the accelerated units of hypertrophic systems like cybernetics, communication, or indeed exchange value; and on the other, the recurring figure of nothingness – supplementary yet essential – thought’s involutionary limit.38 So often the pretext for denunciations of Baudrillard, on the superficial grounds of a vague nihilism39 , nothingness is salvaged by Butler, and taken for what it is – that dark space or anti-matter at the heart of things, the limit to a microscopic, analytic intelligence. Not the destructive void, in which all light, matter and meaning fail. But rather the void that permeates, that subtends and intervenes; a nothing that pervades presence and makes it possible; the silence which is, for Foucault, “an element that functions alongside the things said”.40 The nothingness Butler describes is elementary, mysterious but ever-present, like symbolic exchange, or death. If theory is to seduce, it must – like religion and art – maintain something inexplicable at its centre, a sort of black box. For some writers (Blanchot again springs to mind) this nothing at the centre of thought is precisely what guarantees its movement. Thus, also the “un-knowledge” of Bataille, for whom “the fundamental question is posed only when no phrase is possible”.41
Baudrillard’s nothing, too, is almost functional. It is a condition of possibility – that is, neither positive nor negative, but the very guarantee of ambivalence. Butler emphasises this absolutely pivotal concept in Baudrillard’s work – really a complex of concepts, encompassing reversibility, heterogeneity and doubling, which I group under the sign of ambivalence. At once poetic and logical, aesthetic and structural, ambivalence is a critical strategy, a critique of equivalence (in an economic theatre) and of identity (in representation and communication). Observing it is not a whimsical gesture. It is a philosophical position in favour of what is unknowable and reversible at the heart of the world, and is therefore opposed in every sense to the order of equivalence imposed by capitalism, with its imperative of predictability, its irreversible, linear accumulations of value and history.
As an explicit theoretical device, ambivalence is integral to Baudrillard’s theory of “symbolic exchange” of the 1970s. But it inflects his entire oeuvre, even in his more bombastic, provocative and unequivocal moments. In his political analyses, he pays close attention to the system’s repressions and simulations of heterological structures. Metaphysically, ambivalence can be associated with certain temporalities (cyclical and reversible) that Baudrillard defends against those of a rationalist modernity (linear and irreversible).42 At the levels of logic and representation, Baudrillard consistently observes regimes of doubling (the copy, the mirror, the simulacrum). And at a rhetorical level, his text can change directions, double back on itself, at any moment; metaphors of reflection and mirroring abound.
Baudrillard’s ambivalence thus goes by many names, but is best summed up in the pairing of the “duel/dual”. The duel designates fundamentally agonistic social relations, a sociology of challenge, beginning with the kula and the potlatch. The dual, on the other hand, is a logical trope, standing for the logic of the double. While they may appear unrelated, the two sides of the homynym are deliberately confused in Baudrillard’s thought.43 As doubling proliferates with reproduction, then escalates with information processing, there develops a logic of challenge between the thing and its copy (the more x than x). This gives rise to a whole sociology of the double, a discourse riddled with the anxieties of identity in representation – the theory of simulation. The dual/duel thus illuminates the intersection between Baudrillard’s theories of social relations and of representation. If representation relies on a principle of identity, this does not automatically imply any agreement (or equivalence), but on the contrary, its doublings give rise to challenge and ambivalence.
As Butler stresses, Baudrillard’s ambivalence is fundamental, a principle of fate: it concerns the “origin of the world”,44 but also its end – it rears up in the pataphysical hysteria of terrorism, of virtual apocalypse, of the Bomb or Y2K, the illusion of the end that will never happen because it already has.45 The cosmogenic backdrop of Big Bang theory furnishes Baudrillard’s oeuvre with an aleatory instability, the inescapable possibility that the tables will turn, as with Mallarmé’s coup de dés. But we ought to distinguish this uncertainty from randomness: as Meaghan Morris notes, the rule of Baudrillard’s game may have no sense, but “its operations are never random”.46 Indeed, “any throw of the dice ended chance long ago”.47 Ambivalence names a fatal determinism whereby “the outcome of every game is always predetermined by a capricious, unreasonable and rigorous fate”,48 the arbitrary fate implied by Baudrillard’s “fatal” theory. This cosmic ambivalence cannot but have epistemological ramifications. It is what keeps us guessing, what preserves the unknowable beyond the reaches of truth, at the unstable frontiers of metaphysics, in “the irony of photons fleeing the instruments of the physicist”.49
V. The Parity of Discourses: Pataphysical Relativism and Sovereign Reading
The word science becomes a key word again. Let us admit it. But let us remember that if there are sciences, there is not yet science, because the scientificity of science still remains dependent on ideology, an ideology that is today irreducible by any particular science. …
[L]iterature… becomes science only by the same movement that leads science to become in its turn literature, inscribed discourse, which falls always within ‘the senseless play of writing’.50
“The fiction of science,” writes Anthony Wilden, “commonly appears in a positivist and objectivist form.” But in the “relativist and subjectivist form” typified by the social sciences, it “reduces all knowledge to the status of fictions like itself – while covertly maintaining that some of these fictions are more real than others”.51 For Lyotard, even the most empirical research is not immune to this crisis of legitimation. On the contrary, it exemplifies it: “Scientific knowledge cannot know and make known that it is the true knowledge without resorting to the other, narrative, kind of knowledge, which from its point of view is no knowledge at all”.52 Is it not all literature in the end, just “language games”? We are moving, then, within the duel/dual force-fields between truth and fiction, like the metaphysicians of Tlön in the fable by Borges for whom “metaphysics is a branch of fantastic literature”.53 Similarly, any truth of Baudrillard’s is fictive, a figment – a word whose history unites invention and its object, the image with the imaginary – perhaps “science non-fiction” would be more accurate, or “sociology fiction”.54 Jarry had already recognised a certain pataphysical parity amongst narrative and scientific knowledges. Exemplary of this is the peculiar phenomenon of Faustroll’s books which, while attesting to this equivalence, also performs a critique of equivalence.
VI. Faustroll’s Books: Sign Equivalence Versus Sovereign Writing
“If you were marooned on a desert island, what five albums would you want to take with you?” The Desert Island Top Five – a 20th Century question, one would have thought. Jarry posed it in the 19th Century in terms of books, but the fewest he could narrow it down to was twenty-seven, cited not in order of merit but alphabetically, a heavy, arbitrary assemblage, like the volumes of some encyclopaedia. Such is the literary encumbrance with which we find ourselves burdened, as stowaways on a psychomantic trip steered by the drunk urbanaut Faustroll, powered by a “bum-faced” baboon Bosse-de-Nage, and documented by the shanghai-ed bailiff Panmuphle. The voyage is undertaken in Faustroll’s ingeniously repurposed copper bed; his high seas are the streets of Paris, but the craft’s prodigious buoyancy is not in vain, for the islands he visits are in fact lakes. As cargo, the twenty-seven volumes are thus a kind of anxious object, somewhere between Noah’s precious menagerie and so much intellectual ballast. They include literature, criticism, gospel, history and of course, a copy of Ubu, an arbitrary distillation of the libraries of all knowledge, into these twenty-seven “most excellent quintessence’s of works”.55
Having decided on this essential reading – a literary miscellany – Jarry names them as “equivalents”.56 Whether or not he means this pejoratively, it brings the books together under the logic of the series; like signs or commodities, they are rendered commensurable. This would be close to Debord’s dystopia, a general evisceration of meaning towards a mere possession of information. Or to put it another way (Baudrillard’s), in the discrete world of free-floating signifiers, “the sign suffers the same fate as labour, for just as the ‘free’ worker is only free to produce equivalents, the ‘free’ and ‘emancipated’ sign is only free to produce equivalent signifieds”.57 As in the encyclopaedia, completely incommensurable knowledges become equally valid or valuable. There is thus a doubling at work, for this commensurability is precisely what capital does to both art and science as it invests and commodifies them.58 In the “gay relativity” (Bakhtin) of pataphysics, we find a parody of that equilibrating economy. A central tenet of a pataphysical reading is therefore the imposition of a certain leveling, of an epistemic equivalence across a range of more and less official knowledges.59 If Jarry’s ambivalent approach to science is anything to go by, the “equivalents” would indicate a similar approach to literature: the molar logic of the collection tells us nothing, and leads nowhere (just as science does not lead to progress); yet each of its molecules is exemplary in its own right, a fragmentary glimpse of some absolute truth.60 Thus, Jarry thwarts the general equivalence of the sign with a magical explosion of particularity, conjuring “across the foliated space of the 27 equivalents” a wonderful array of the exceptional, a heterogeneous assortment of epiphenomena: details, characters, objects, one from each book. Listed on a page, they appear trivial; but like trivia, they are resolute in their particularity, their singularity.
Jarry’s scientistic art or artistic science enacts the instability which interdisciplinarity has lately made so obvious. It implies that thought is inherently interdisciplinary, that all discourse is heterogeneous, leaving knowledge there for the taking, or perhaps the making, by mere histories (or archaeologies, or geologies) of ideas. Pataphysics assimilates discourses that are heterogeneous in their foundations, methods and purposes, arts and sciences alike. It flattens out the hierarchy of knowledges, embracing this “reversion of science into art”.61 As Baudrillard rehearses Jarry’s mantra, “La Pataphysique est la science”.62
VII. Pataphysics: Baudrillard’s Poetics
The most compelling argument for a pataphysical reading is Baudrillard’s irreverent and whimsical treatment of the scientific. If his work is pataphysical, then whatever the difficulties, we should read it in pataphysical terms. But does pataphysics lend itself to such an approach? What would these terms be? They would be terms proper to a “science of imaginary solutions.” Baudrillard’s abuse of scientific languages is close to what Lyotard calls “paralogy” – it situates him, and his reader, in “unknown phrase universes”. Such epistemological adventuring might be thought to escape the orbit of the political, had politics itself not become “transpolitical”. Lyotard even affirms the political urgency of this cross-disciplinary drifting: the “heterogeneity of phrase regimens and of genres of discourse”, he writes, is “the only insurmountable obstacle that the hegemony of the economic genre comes up against”.63 The idea of an imaginary science recalls Lévi-Strauss’ science of mythology, which only finds its “reality in the mind of the reader”. It suggests an epistemological diversion: that of science perverted by imagination (fantasy). But we must equally consider here a perversion all the more common and more readily accepted: imagination as perverted by science. For has not an entire modern imaginary – in work, culture, education and so on – nearly succumbed to an artless rationality?
Genosko links pataphysics with the excessive, ecstatic or metastatic in Baudrillard, with that “destructuration of value which marks the advent of a viral culture”.64 However, he warns against the temptation to read in pataphysics “an essential referent of Baudrillard’s text”. Why? Does pataphysics not designate a poetics central to his oeuvre – his indiscriminate borrowing from various knowledges, for instance, as well as his later fixation upon ecstatic and hypertrophic systems? Our aim here must be to demonstrate that Baudrillard is a pataphysical thinker and writer. This should reveal something about pataphysics itself – that it is not simply an aesthetic position but, like Baudrillard’s ambivalent, fatal theory, a critical and political one, a sort of ecstatic critique of general equivalence.
If it is a peculiar gambit to take pataphysics seriously as a philosophy, it is not unprecedented. In the attempts to classify Jarry’s unusual literary practice, much has been made of its nomenclature, and of Jarry’s own facetious description that his “science of pataphysics” goes beyond metaphysics as metaphysics goes beyond physics.65 Taking him at his word, Deleuze (who also proceeds from the name) compares Jarry’s project to Heidegger’s “Great Turning”, the overcoming of metaphysics.66 The deferential but disingenuous, pseudo-scientific approach Jarry takes to science, Deleuze takes to the science of pataphysics. This pataphysical strategy bears some investigation: it is not modernist iconoclasm, but rather the playful disrespect of pastiche and parody – as Magritte describes trompe l’oeil, a “playful physics”.67 In crossing between the disciplinary framings of the sciences, Jarry neither breaks these framings apart, nor dismisses them; instead, he overproduces them, ultimately showing how easily they can be brought into existence. For the point of pataphysics is not to invalidate the sciences, but to affirm for them a much wider validity – as Baudrillard says, “Ce n’est pas le ridicule. C’est une inflation”.68 With his flatulent hyperproduction of the axiomatic, Jarry defies not science, but the exclusivity of scientific discourses. While it flouts their boundaries, pataphysics also extends their concepts into new contexts; it would expand scientificity to encompass all knowledges, local or cosmic, official or illegal, quotidian or mystical. Pataphysics wills a return to the heterodoxy of a pre-modern episteme.
VIII. Being, Invention, Catachresis
So what would it mean to characterize Baudrillard’s theory as pataphysics? Deleuze offers a few cues when he does the same to Heidegger. He notes three resemblances between Heidegger and Jarry. The first is phenomenological: Jarry’s science of epiphenomena recognizes, as does Heidegger, that it is only by the perversion known as metaphysics that the occidental intellect has come to regard the being of phenomena as contingent upon a perceiving consciousness, “a superior being that would ground the constancy of other perceived beings.”69 All four authors agree on this: things have a life of their own; it is metaphysics that “clubs them to death with Berkeley’s cudgel”. The subtext here, for Deleuze as much as for Jarry, is Berkeley’s famous dictum that for unthinking things, esse est percipi – to be is to be perceived.70 In denying the existence of matter, Berkeley unwittingly inaugurates a genealogy of radical subjectivism, culminating in the subject-centered worldview of modern metaphysics that leaves the object a mere “detour on the royal road of subjectivity”.71 Taking the path less traveled, Baudrillard responds with a richly developed theory of the object – an object that is, independent of and indifferent to the subject – the “fatal” object so central to his work. Berkeley’s immaterialism was founded upon a definitive split between the animate and the inanimate, whereby only the gaze of the animate animates the inanimate. The counter-assertion, that objects have a life of their own, extends the franchise of Being to the inanimate. This is a notion keenly explored by Jarry, and by his Sûrmale – witness André Marcueil’s moonlit duel with a coin-operated urinal, and Jarry’s other spectacular becomings-machine. In these very experiments – for André’s cyborgian feats take place in controlled environments – Deleuze identifies “the culmination of metaphysics in technology that makes possible the overcoming of metaphysics, that is, pataphysics”.72
This brings us to the second of Deleuze’s resemblances: the concern with technology, and particularly its capacity to open a futurity. Jarry’s syntheses of man and machine anticipate Heidegger’s “saving power”, the possibility of Being’s salvation. Jarry, like Baudrillard, “ceaselessly invokes science and technology”.73 Where Jarry’s vélo-mania offers the Passion reconceived as a bicycle race, Baudrillard fixates (with Warhol and Ballard) on the sublime car crash. Both dwell on ironic (con)fusions, in death, of man with machine. Baudrillard is of course less sanguine about technology – and not at all messianic – but his interest in cybernetics (and the future it imagines) is one of few themes to endure his entire career. Futurity and invention are integral to his theory, not just as thematics, but in his method. If Baudrillard writes pataphysics, then it is not so much philosophy (which, as Derrida is given to remind us, is always also a history of philosophy, predicated on old philosophic concepts), as it is theory, which is prescriptive and concerns itself with invention.74 Deleuze and Guattari also stress this criterion, the “invention” of concepts, dismissing any philosophy that is
…content to brandish ready-made old concepts like skeletons intended to intimidate any creation, without seeing that the ancient philosophers from whom we borrow them were already doing what we would like to prevent modern philosophers from doing: they were creating their concepts, and they were not happy just to clean and scrape bones like the critic and historian of our time. Even the history of philosophy is completely without interest if it does not undertake to awaken a dormant concept and to play it again on a new stage, even if this comes at the price of turning it against itself.75
Philosophy should be, like the stage, a space where something new issues, literally, a space of poesis and play. What links drama, fiction and theory is their poetic medium: a language that goes beyond description into invention – the third of Deleuze’s resemblances between Jarry and Heidegger. Even at the hard end of the hard sciences – in theoretical physics or mathematics – the experimental gives way to the speculative and falls back into language, into the “senseless play of writing”. In an inverse movement, pataphysical literature would arrogate the status of a science. Thus for Deleuze, pataphysics can also designate a semiotics, albeit one which proceeds from “a poetic conception of language, and not a technical or scientific one”.76 For Deleuze, pataphysics was “above all a theory of the Sign”. Foucault said the same thing about classical philosophy.77 And were we to indulge this speculation for a moment, taking Deleuze at his word, there would indeed be little to separate the two; it would be impossible to disqualify pataphysics from the status of organized knowledge. Disciplines, says Foucault, are “groups of statements that borrow their organisation from scientific models which tend to coherence and demonstrativity”.78 Pataphysics is certainly a “group of statements” that borrows from “scientific models” – including reports from scientific journals, from which Jarry drew constant inspiration. Its coherence may be questionable; but coherence for Foucault is neither necessary nor sufficient, and what Jarry lacks in coherence he easily makes up for in demonstrativity.
Scientific language is geared towards precision (identity) and taxonomy (order). But has not recent science – Heisenberg’s uncertainty theorem, chaos theory, string theory (or more recent understandings of emergence and Artificial Intelligence) – brought itself to the limits of the ineffable, where only a “poetic conception of language” will do its ideas justice? All this explains why the refutation of Heidegger’s inexpert etymologies does not interest Deleuze. For modern literature, precision is beside the point: “Has not every scientific criterion of etymology been repudiated in advance, in favour of a pure and simple Poetry?” It would be contradictory to expect “linguistic correctness from a project that explicitly sets out to go beyond scientific and technical being toward poetic being”?79 To this end, pedantic etymology promises little compared to the “agglutinations” brought about by the mixing of languages:
…language does not have signs at its disposal, but acquires them by creating them, when a language acts within a language so as to produce in it a language an unheard of and almost foreign language. The first injects, the second stammers, the third suddenly starts with a fit. Then language has become Sign or poetry…80
Heidegger’s pataphysical way, says Deleuze, consists in the revival of archaic words in modern language; but no less fruitful, and no less pataphysical, would be mixings of contemporaneous discourses, or catachresis, the willful abuse of concepts. And few have abused the languages of science as wantonly as Baudrillard, who carries on a semiotics derived from Mallarmé, Saussure, Duchamp and the Surrealists. The pataphysical scene, then, anticipates this sea of floating signifiers, a theatrical laboratory where a kind of verbal alchemy takes place.81
With its detachment from signification, the modern word confirms language’s affinity with chance, play, and non-meaning – that is, with excess. In this poetry which abandons denotation, we detect that “sovereign” writing celebrated by Bataille, which similarly drops its claims to representation. Sovereign writing, writing without pretense to knowledge, forms a dialogue not with the “telos of meaning” but with an “indefinite destruction of value”.82 As Derrida describes it, this unknowledge:
transgresses the entirety of the history of meaning and… takes its responsibilities from the completion of history and from the closure of absolute knowledge, having first taken them seriously and having then betrayed them by exceeding them or by simulating them in play.83
Pataphysics is just such a sovereign writing – and how better to describe Jarry’s modus operandi than as a simulation of science’s “absolute knowledge”, closing off its domain, “putting it back in its place … and inscribing it within a space which it no longer dominates”?84
IX. Conclusion: Baudrillard, The “New Idiot”?
On all counts, Deleuze’s characterization of a pataphysical Heidegger turns out to be a good guide to a pataphysical Baudrillard. But we could extend it to include characterization itself as a literary device. For pataphysics is without doubt a character-driven program. That Jarry was to name Faustroll’s art, and that he named it a science, need not mislead us from the theatrical, the essentially performative nature of his life and work. Even the writing – and the naming – of a “science of imaginary solutions” is a theatrical gesture.85 More overt is the démultiplication86 of Jarry’s identity into those of his dramatis personae, into Marcueil, Ubu, or all three “players” in his “Neo-Scientific Novel”. Pataphysics takes its cues – and its liberties – not primarily from literature, but from the representational schema of the theatre. Thus, even when speaking of Faustroll the scientist, or of Jarry the novelist, we should keep in mind Jarry the dramaturge, the comédien. Jarry does not use science, nor does he examine it – he performs it. In the words of Alan Cholodenko, he “enacts what he describes”.87 Pataphysics is a kind of mis-en-scène. Baudrillard’s theory, too, enacts what it describes, especially as it becomes fatal. His nihilism only matches the system’s own nihilism.88 And his concepts are like characters – his figure of the Object89 , for instance, or his “figures of the transpolitical” (the hostage, the obese, etc.). They describe types or tendencies, not laws; there is no condensed or summarized exposition; one gets to know them gradually.
This lands us somewhere between a theatre of the absurd and Nietzsche’s critique of the will to truth, alongside Bataille’s will to unknowledge. So Baudrillard is a philosopher, but a mutant philosopher, closer to what Deleuze and Guattari call a “conceptual persona”, a fluid and multiple filter that performs as a sort of amoral, third-person protagonist for thought. Baudrillard the conceptual persona sports the sovereignty of the “new idiot”:
The old idiot [Descartes’ cogito, e.g.] wanted indubitable truths at which he could arrive by himself: in the meantime he would doubt everything, …The new idiot has no wish for indubitable truths, …and wills the absurd… The old idiot wanted truth, but the new idiot wants to turn the absurd into the highest power of thought – in other words, to create. The old idiot wanted to be accountable only to reason, but the new idiot … wants account to be taken of “every victim of History”… The new idiot will never accept the truths of History. The old idiot wanted, by himself, to account for what was or was not comprehensible, what was or was not rational, what was lost or saved; but the new idiot wants the lost, the incomprehensible and the absurd to be restored to him. This is most certainly not the same persona; a mutation has taken place. And yet a slender thread links the two idiots, as if the first had to lose reason so that the second rediscovers what the other, in winning it, had lost in advance.90
How could one speak of pataphysics, but pataphysically? Or of Baudrillard, but in his own terms? This fatal strategy, whilst subject to its own limitations and a certain insularity, offers a way to politicize Baudrillard’s transpolitical. It acknowledges that his theory was seduced by what it addressed – the mythologies of capital – and was thereby, in keeping with Lévi-Strauss’ admission, itself becoming-mythological; but it requires that we remain attentive, like Baudrillard, to the mythological doubling to which mythography is prone.
For Baudrillard, as for Nietzsche, the future influences the present just as much as does the past. Even when he addresses what is already before him, Baudrillard’s observations are portentous, affording glimpses of things to come. Infused with a spirit of invention, like pataphysics, his theory is unconcerned with its legitimacy as knowledge, its credibility compared to other knowledges. Like the ecstatic social critique pioneered by Jarry, exalting as a critical method, it is an aping homage to scientific rationality – not as a system of truth so much as a system of belief – a way of mimicking the belief in the rationality of capitalism and technological progress. Pataphysics can thus be seen as a parodic double of capital. But this demands that it be no less viral, no less pervasive, no less indiscriminate than its other. So in the name of the very “maximalism” Butler announces, to read Baudrillard in his own terms we must do so even when those terms are fatal. Perhaps only the pataphysician will manage to be more Baudrillard than Baudrillard.
About the Author
David Teh is a writer, teacher and curator. He is currently an assistant curator with the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, Thai Ministry of Culture, Bangkok. He has lectured in new media art and theory at the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales (College of Fine Arts), where he is currently an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Centre for Contemporary Art and Politics. His background is in the history, theory and philosophy of visual culture, with an emphasis on theories of modernity and postmodernity. His doctoral dissertation (2005) was undertaken at the Power Institute (University of Sydney) in postmodern philosophy, cultural and critical theory (especially the work of Jean Baudrillard). He recently curated an exhibition of Australian digital video art, entitled “Prospectus: projections in new media” at blank_space Gallery, Sydney. He is a founder and moderator of the Fibreculture mailing list for critical internet culture (http://www.fibreculture.org).
1 – Claude Lévi-Strauss. The Raw and the Cooked: Introduction to a Science of Mythology, Volume One. Translated by John and Doreen Weightman. London: Jonathan Cape, 1970:5-6, emphasis mine.
2 – Jean-François Lyotard. The Postmodern Condition: a report on knowledge. Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.
3 – Octavio Paz. Claude Lévi-Strauss: An Introduction. Translated by J.S. Bernstein and Maxine Bernstein. London: Jonathan Cape, 1971:68.
4 – Cf. Michel Foucault’s reading of Baudelaire’s “ironic heroism” in “What is Enlightenment?”, in Paul Rabinow (Ed.), The Foucault Reader. New York: Random House, 1984:32-50.
5 – Guy Debord. “Détournement as Negation and Prelude”, Internationale Situationniste #3, December 1959; reproduced in Situationist International Anthology. Translated and edited by Ken Knabb. Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981:55-56.
6 – At once the reactionary modernist (in his ethics), yet also an irresponsible modernist (in terms of modernity’s metanarratives), Baudrillard confounds the schema of Fredric Jameson’s punnet diagram of the various (post)modern postures. Fredric Jameson. “Theories of the Postmodern”, in Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Verso, 1991:61.
7 – Mike Gane. Introduction to Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death. Translated by Iain Hamilton Grant. London: Sage Publications, 1993: ix. Gary Genosko. Baudrillard and Signs: Signification Ablaze. New York and London: Routledge, 1994:xvii.
8 – Richard Rorty. Consequences of Pragmatism (c 1982), quoted in Charles Levin. Jean Baudrillard: a study in cultural metaphysics. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall, 1996:15.
9 – Charles Levin. Jean Baudrillard: a study in cultural metaphysics. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall, 1996:81-82.
10 – See Douglas Kellner. Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989; Gary Genosko, Baudrillard and Signs; and the introduction to Mike Gane’s Baudrillard: Critical and Fatal Theory, London: Routledge, 1991.
11 – Although Paul Hegarty’s excellent book does much to correct this neglect. Paul Hegarty. Jean Baudrillard: Live Theory. London and New York: Continuum, 2004.
12 – Baudrillard’s work is a discipline, writes Levin, “in the sense that discipline is required to write novels and poetry, make films, draw and paint, sculpt, compose or act.” This aligns Baudrillard with a set of “artistic” positions, such as Surrealism, Dada, Jarry and Bataille. (And while this approach is germane to my own, I would qualify Bataille’s place in it, for he is taken rather more seriously by Baudrillard as an economist than he is by most other readers.) In an interview with Nicholas Zurbrugg, Baudrillard confirms this affinity. Asked if his work could fairly be described as “often quite poetic in spirit”, Baudrillard agrees that his writings are sometimes “much closer in spirit” to those of Artaud, Bataille and Rimbaud, to “a less disciplinary language.” Jean Baudrillard and Nicholas Zurbrugg. “Fractal Theory” in Mike Gane (Ed.), Baudrillard Live. London and New York: Routledge, 1993:166.
13 – See especially Chapter Two of Douglas Kellner, Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989: 33-59; Gary Genosko, Baudrillard and Signs: Signification Ablaze, New York and London: Routledge, 1994: xiv-xvi; and Mark Poster. Foucault, Marxism and History: mode of production vs mode of information, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1984:2.
14 – See Jean Baudrillard. Symbolic Exchange and Death. Translated by Iain Hamilton Grant. London: Sage Publications, 1993:25-30.
15 – See, for example, Steven Best, “The Commodification of Reality and the Reality of Commodification: Jean Baudrillard and Postmodernity”, Current Perspectives in Social Theory 9, 1989: 23-51; and Joseph Valente, “Hall of Mirrors: Baudrillard on Marx”, Diacritics 15/2, 1985:54-65.
16 – We might as well ignore the socio-historical articulations of Shakespeare, who was after all just a playwright, or of Baudelaire, who was just a poet.
17 – See Douglas Kellner, Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989:1, 218, n.2. The neglect I describe is undoubtedly attributable prima facie to matters of translation – it took nine years for an English translation of For a Critique to appear, and an astounding seventeen years for Symbolic Exchange. However, this situation may have turned around somewhat, judging by a recent compilation, in which the early work receives far more attention; see Victoria Grace, Heather Worth and Laurence Simmons, (Eds.), Baudrillard West of the Dateline, Palmerston North, N.Z.: Dunmore Press, 2003. See my review essay, “Putting Baudrillard To Use Down Under”, International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Vol.1, No.2, July, 2004.
18 – Jean Baudrillard. The Mirror of Production. Translated by Mark Poster. St Louis: Telos, 1975:129-131.
19 – Rex Butler. Jean Baudrillard: The Defence of the Real, London: Sage, 1999:17.
20 – Levin is on the right track when he entreats Baudrillard’s critics to “decompress” their “overdeveloped ‘Western’ sense of moral and political urgency.” (Charles Levin. Jean Baudrillard: a study in cultural metaphysics. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall, 1996:20). But reading Baudrillard’s work as a “metaphysics”, Levin implies some straying from a path, from the pursuit of truth, be it social scientific or historical materialist. We cannot accept this straying without tacitly restoring the necessity of the paths and their attendant telos. Such a concession would be anathema to Baudrillard’s way of thinking, and should be so to ours if we are to address it in his terms. His project is anti-metaphysical, a philosophy that “does not consist in knowing and is not inspired by truth. Rather, it is categories like Interesting, Remarkable, or Important that determine [its] success or failure.” (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. What is Philosophy? Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchill. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994:82.)
Mike Gane’s disciplinary sociological focus, while providing valuable background to Baudrillard’s early work, tends to reinforce the division between late and early Baudrillard. Gary Genosko’s account, meanwhile, is circumscribed by the dialects of semiotics and linguistics, as if he would conjure the semiologist who was not to be, as Kellner imagines a Marxist who was not to be. I wish to drag Baudrillard in the opposite direction, to follow the poetic, fatalistic Baudrillard, focusing not on what he abandoned, but on what he took up instead.
21 – Douglas Kellner. Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989:51-53.
22 – Ibid,:165.
23 – Ibid.
24 – Ibid.:51-53.
25 – Jean Baudrillard. Seduction. Translated by Brian Singer, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990:37 ff.
26 – Jean Baudrillard. The Mirror of Production. Translated by Mark Poster. St Louis: Telos, 1975:123.
27 – Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. What is Philosophy? Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchill. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994:64.
28 – Maurice Blanchot. “Marx’s Three Voices” (Translated by Tom Keenan), in Friendship. Translated by Elizabeth Rottenberg, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997:98-100, emphasis mine. Baudrillard’s Marx is close to what Derrida calls hauntology, a “logic of haunting … [which] would harbour within itself … eschatology and teleology themselves.” And it is the elision here between the end of Marx (past) and the ends of Marx (present or not yet discovered) – between a certain being-dead, and the social being of a “more than one” [le plus d’un]; to speak of, to and with the specter; “to learn to live with ghosts” (Derrida) – that enacts the very symbolic relationship or commerce with the dead (a figure simultaneously singular and plural, particular and general) that occupies the incomprehensible heart of Baudrillard’s unruly theoretical corpus. After all, what is symbolic exchange if not an anthropology of the no more one / more than one? Jacques Derrida. Spectres of Marx. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. New York and London: Routledge, 1994: xvii–xx, 10-11.
29 – Jean Baudrillard. “When Bataille Attacked the Metaphysical Principle of Economy” (c 1976). Translated by David James Miller. Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, 15/1-3, 1987:135-138. Reproduced in Fred Botting and Scott Wilson (Eds.), Bataille: A Critical Reader, Oxford and Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1998:193.
30 – Jean Baudrillard. The System of Objects. Translated by James Benedict. London and New York: Verso, 1996; and “Beyond Use Value”, Chapter 7 of For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. Translated by Charles Levin. St Louis: Telos, 1981:130 ff. See also Rex Butler, The Defence of the Real, London: Sage, 1999:28.
31 – Guy Debord. Society of the Spectacle. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: Zone Books, 1995:43-44.
32 – Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies. Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski. New York: Semiotext(e), 1990: 116-119. See also Jacques Derrida, Spectres of Marx. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. New York and London: Routledge, 1994:162. On the cultivated absurdity of this “absolute commodity”, I noted on a recent visit to France that Baudrillard’s pamphlet on pataphysics (Pataphysique, Paris: Sens and Tonka, 2002) was prominently displayed for sale (for a trifling EURO 2,38) in Virgin Megastores – a brand associated in my own country with products as diverse as budget cola, mobile telephony and discount air travel. One can imagine Baudrillard feeling as much at home between Shirley Bassey and the Beach Boys as between Georges Bataille and Zygmunt Bauman.
33 – Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies, Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski. New York: Semiotext(e), 1990:118. See also Rex Butler, Jean Baudrillard: The Defence of the Real, London: Sage, 1999:15; and Charles Levin, Jean Baudrillard: a study in cultural metaphysics. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall, 1996:2: “… by 1976, it was clear that Baudrillard was working against the ‘utility’ of thought as we conventionally understand it.”
34 – Rex Butler. Jean Baudrillard: The Defence of the Real. London: Sage, 1999:120.
35 – Some similar inclination guides Mike Gane when he warns that “Baudrillard is a cruel, theoretical extremist, and must be read accordingly”, an inclination to grasp his work by its “internal logic”. See Mike Gane. Critical and Fatal Theory. London: Routledge, 1991:12.
36 – Rex Butler. Jean Baudrillard: The Defence of the Real, London: Sage, 1999:17. See also Mike Gane, Baudrillard’s Bestiary: Baudrillard and Culture, London and New York: Routledge, 1991:79.
37 – Jean Baudrillard and Guy Bellavance. “Revenge of the Crystal: an Interview with Jean Baudrillard” (first published in Parachute, June-August 1983), reproduced in Jean Baudrillard, Revenge of the Crystal: selected writings on the modern object and its destiny. Edited and translated by Paul Foss and Julian Pefanis. London and Sydney: Pluto Press and Power Institute of Fine Arts, 1990:15-34. Of Bellavance’s thirty-seven questions, Baudrillard answers “Yes” to twenty of them. Not to mention “Indeed” (twice), an “Absolutely”, an “Exactly” and a “But of course!” (Mais Oui!).
38 – Butler writes (with a nod to Derrida) that this involutionary limit marks not a fixed centre but a space of undecidability – and this suggests a precedent for his reading of Baudrillard “in his own terms”: this strategy of doubling closely resembles Lévi-Strauss’ intuition that his discourse on myths must itself be mythomorphic. See Jacques Derrida. “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”, in Writing and Difference. Translated by Alan Bass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978:286; and Rex Butler, “It is Never a Decision to Choose Between This and That: A Response to Herwitz”, Film-Philosophy, Volume 6, Number 46, November 2002: http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol6-2002/n46butler
39 – See especially Douglas Kellner’s reading of the “transpolitical” and “fatal” Baudrillard in Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989: 117-120, 154-167.
40 – Michel Foucault. The History of Sexuality, Volume One. Translated by Robert Hurley. London: Penguin, 1990:27.
41 – Georges Bataille. “Un-knowing and its Consequences” in Botting and Wilson (Eds.), The Bataille Reader, Oxford and Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1998: 322.
42 – Apart from the obvious connection here with primitive cultures, this emphasis also derives from the society of the festival theorized by the Collège de Sociologie (Bataille, Caillois, Hollier).
43 – Editor’s note: Brian Singer notes that Baudrillard clearly plays upon the double meaning of the word duel, which in French means both duel/dual. See Jean Baudrillard. Seduction (c 1979). Montreal: New World Perspectives Press, 1990:42 (translators note).
44 – Rex Butler. Jean Baudrillard: The Defence of the Real. London: Sage, 1999:120.
45 – See for example “Hysteresis of the Millennium” and “Pataphysics of the Year 2000”. In Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End, Translated by Chris Turner. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994.
46 – Meaghan Morris. “Room 101, or A Few Worst Things in the World”, in André Frankovits (Ed.), Seduced and Abandoned: the Baudrillard Scene, Glebe, New South Wales and New York: Stonemoss Services and Semiotext(e), 1984:109.
47 – See “The Fatal, or, Reversible Imminence”, in Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies, Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski. New York: Semiotext(e), 1990: 144 ff.
48 – Meaghan Morris. “Room 101, or A Few Worst Things in the World”, in André Frankovits (Ed.), Seduced and Abandoned: the Baudrillard Scene, Glebe, New South Wales and New York: Stonemoss Services and Semiotext(e), 1984:109 (emphasis mine).
49 – ibid.:109. We find a precursor in Bataille’s sovereign knowledge, given only equivocally – it was originally man’s, but not consciously so, and “so in a sense it was not his, it escaped him, … forever eluded him.” Georges Bataille, “Hegel, Death and Sacrifice”, in Botting and Wilson (Eds.), The Bataille Reader, Oxford and Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1998:293.
50 – Maurice Blanchot. “Marx’s Three Voices” (Translated by Tom Keenan), in Friendship. Translated by Elizabeth Rottenberg, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997:100.
51 – Anthony Wilden, System and Structure: essays in communication and exchange, London: Tavistock, 1972; these comments appear only in the revised Introduction to the 2nd edition, London and New York: Tavistock, 1980: xxiii.
52 – Jean-François Lyotard. The Postmodern Condition: a report on knowledge. Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984:29.
53 – Jorge Luis Borges. “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”. Translated by Donald Yates, in Labyrinths, New York: Penguin, 1970:34.
54 – Jean Baudrillard and Guy Bellavance. “Revenge of the Crystal: an Interview with Jean Baudrillard” (first published in Parachute, June-August 1983), reproduced in Jean Baudrillard, Revenge of the Crystal: selected writings on the modern object and its destiny. Edited and translated by Paul Foss and Julian Pefanis. London and Sydney: Pluto Press and Power Institute of Fine Arts, 1990:15. While the aim of theory is “not exactly fiction”, Baudrillard maintains that it “has the right not to be true”, and continues: “Narrative can be valuable as a form of theory… We need to have many ways of expressing theory – including philosophy… It could even be poetry…” (page 24).
55 – Alfred Jarry. “Exploits and Opinions of Dr Faustroll, Pataphysician: a neo-scientific novel”. Translated by Simon Watson Taylor, in Roger Shattuck and Simon Watson Taylor (Eds.), Selected Works of Alfred Jarry, London: Eyre Methuen, 1980: 203. Keith Beaumont compares the equivalents to the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. See his Alfred Jarry: a critical and biographical study, Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1984:183.
56 – Ibid.:185.
57 – Jean Baudrillard. Symbolic Exchange and Death. Translated by Iain Hamilton Grant. London: Sage Publications, 1993:51.
58 – Jarry performs a similar equilibration when he arms his friend Le Douanier (the painter Henri Rousseau) with a “painting machine.” See Alfred Jarry, “Exploits and Opinions of Dr Faustroll, Pataphysician: a neo-scientific novel”. Translated by Simon Watson Taylor, in Roger Shattuck and Simon Watson Taylor (Eds.), Selected Works of Alfred Jarry. London: Eyre Methuen, 1980:235-236. See Dougal J. Phillips. Capitalist Realism: Disappearance and the Screen in Painting, Ph.D. Thesis, unpublished, University of Sydney, 2005.
59 – While it is pataphysical, this parity has a more orthodox face in academic discourse, suggesting the relativism for which post-structuralism is famous, or infamous. See Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: a report on knowledge. Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984; Michel Foucault. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Random House (Vintage re-issue edition), 1970; and “Science and Knowledge”, Chapter 6 of Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge. Translated by A.M. Sheridan-Smith. London: Tavistock, 1972:178-195. See also Thomas S. Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1962.
60 – I invoke here Deleuze and Guattari’s distinction between the molar and the molecular, as described in their A Thousand Plateaux: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Volume 2. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
61 – Gilles Deleuze. “An Unrecognized Precursor to Heidegger: Alfred Jarry”, in Essays Critical and Clinical. Translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997:96.
62 – Jean Baudrillard. Pataphysique. Paris: Sens and Tonka, 2002:27. Transliteration here encounters a différend – in his English translation, Simon Watson Taylor has emphasized the definite article, italicizing it. In the original, the article “la” is of course redundant. “Pataphysics is science” – either a particular type of science, or science generally, all science. The English rendering (“Pataphysics is the science.”) exaggerates the ambivalence by implying, with an absurd pomp, that it is the one and only science. This pataphysical confusion of general and particular recurs constantly in Jarry’s scientific speculations. See Alfred Jarry. “Exploits and Opinions of Dr Faustroll, Pataphysician: a neo-scientific novel”. Translated by Simon Watson Taylor. in Roger Shattuck and Simon Watson Taylor (Eds.), Selected Works of Alfred Jarry, London: Eyre Methuen, 1980:192.
63 – Jean-François Lyotard. The Differend: Phrases in Dispute. Translated by Georges van den Abbeele. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988:181.
64 – Gary Genosko remarks that the “necessary superfluity” of the pataphysical epiphenomenon returns in Baudrillard’s “diagnosis” of late modernity. Folding Jarry’s famous description of his science back upon itself, via Baudrillard: “Pataphysics spreads out from its host (metaphysics) like a hypertrophied cell travels over a membranous surface.” Gary Genosko, Baudrillard and Signs, New York and London: Routledge 1994:107-110. Genosko provides good bibliographical background for a pataphysical epistemology, spanning most of Baudrillard’s oeuvre, but focusing on the more palpably pataphysical “sociological diaries” (Transparency of Evil, Cool Memories, and America) of the 1980s and 90s (104-116).
65 – Alfred Jarry. “Exploits and Opinions of Dr Faustroll, Pataphysician: a neo-scientific novel”. Translated by Simon Watson Taylor, in Roger Shattuck and Simon Watson Taylor (Eds.), Selected Works of Alfred Jarry, London: Eyre Methuen, 1980:192 ff.
66 – Gilles Deleuze. “An Unrecognized Precursor”, in Essays Critical and Clinical. Translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997:95-96. “In this reversion of science into art, Heidegger perhaps rediscovers a problem familiar to the late nineteenth century, … encountered in a different manner by … Jarry himself.”
67 – Cited by Michel Foucault in This is Not a Pipe. Translated and edited by James Harkness. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983: 43 and 62, n.1.
68 – Jean Baudrillard. Pataphysique. Paris: Sens and Tonka, 2002:13.
69 – Gilles Deleuze. “An Unrecognized Precursor”, in Essays Critical and Clinical. Translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997:92.
70 – George Berkeley. A treatise concerning the principles of human knowledge. C.M. Turbayne (Ed). New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1957, Paragraph 3: http://eserver.org/18th/berkeley.txt (link no longer active 2019)
71 – Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies, Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski. New York: Semiotext(e), 1990:111. See also Jean Baudrillard, Mots de passe, Paris: Pauvert (Éditions Fayard), 2000:14. “It seemed to me that the object was almost endowed with passion, or at least that it could have a life of its own, leaving behind the passivity of its usage to acquire a sort of autonomy and perhaps take revenge on a subject too sure of its mastery” (my translation).
72 -Gilles Deleuze. “An Unrecognized Precursor”, in Essays Critical and Clinical. Translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997:93. In fact, pataphysics could be taken for a point by point refutation (or détournement) of immaterialism. Whereas Berkeley detests the scientific worldview, Jarry – albeit disingenuously – exalts in it; whereas Berkeley piously holds that physical science can be nothing more than “useful fiction” (De Motu, 1721). Faustroll espouses his fictional physics as though it were religious truth; and whereas in Berkeley’s non-material, theocentric universe, the enlightened have a direct line to the Almighty, when asked “Are you Christian?” Faustroll answers simply: “I am God.” (Selected Works, 1980:203). See also Alfred Jarry. The Supermale. Translated by Ralph Gladstone and Barbara Wright. Cambridge, Mass.: Exact Change, 1999. [Originally Le Sûrmale (1902).]
73 – Gilles Deleuze. “An Unrecognized Precursor”, in Essays Critical and Clinical. Translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997:93.
74 – Rex Butler. “Baudrillard: towards a principle of Maximalism”, Hermes Number 7, Sydney: University of Sydney Union, 1991. Republished in the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Volume One, Number One, (January 2004).
75 – Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. What is Philosophy? Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchill. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994:83.
76 – Gilles Deleuze. “An Unrecognized Precursor”, in Essays Critical and Clinical. Translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997:95-96.
77 – Michel Foucault. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Random House (Vintage re-issue edition), 1970: 66; “Classical philosophy… was through and through a philosophy of the sign.” See also Gilles Deleuze. “An Unrecognized Precursor”, in Essays Critical and Clinical. Translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997:96.
78 – Michel Foucault. The Archaeology of Knowledge. Translated by A.M. Sheridan-Smith. London: Tavistock, 1972:178.
79 – Gilles Deleuze. “An Unrecognized Precursor”, in Essays Critical and Clinical. Translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997:97.
80 – Ibid.:98. Foucault, too, observes this regenerative jouissance of language: “When we destroy words, what is left is neither mere noise, nor arbitrary, pure elements, but other words, which, when pulverized in turn, will set free still other words.” (See Michel Foucault. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Random House (Vintage re-issue edition), 1970:103). Whereas Foucault marks the birth of modern language with Mallarmé’s discovery of the Word “in all its impotent beauty”, Deleuze gives its nativity a machinic metaphor, with this Duchampian ignition sequence.
81 – Editor’s note: Not all “scientists” were impressed, see especially: A. Sokal and J. Bricmont, Intellectual Impostures, London: SAGE, 1998:137-143. Mike Gane points out that Sokal and Bricmont’s criticism of Baudrillard is a dismal failure because they do not adequately “reconstruct the problematic” in a way that would allow them to “reach a judgement”. Gane suggests that “Sokal and Bricmont start their chapter noting that ‘Baudrillard is well known for his reflections on the problems of reality, appearance and illusion… but when it comes to the analysis they do not seem to know or indeed want to know the first thing about these reflections or a poetics of scientific language’”. In short, Gane finds a similar lack of sincere scholarship among Sokal and Bricmont that Cusset identifies in those who abuse Baudrillard’s texts to make their own point. See Mike Gane’s. Jean Baudrillard: In Radical Uncertainty. London: Pluto Press, 2000:46 ff. See also François Cusset, French Theory: Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze & Cie et les mutations de la vie intellectuelle aux États-Unis. Paris: Éditions La Découverte, 2003.
82 – Jacques Derrida. Writing and Difference, Translated by Alan Bass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978:270. See also Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death. Translated by Iain Hamilton Grant. London: Sage Publications, 1993:198.
83 – Jacques Derrida. “From Restricted to General Economy: a Hegelianism without reserve”. In Writing and Difference, Translated by Alan Bass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978:269-270.
84 – Ibid. Emphasis mine.
85 – The performative overtones of the word “Gestes”, lost in translation to the English “exploits”, underscores this affinity with the stage.
86 – Though translated as “differentially proliferating division”, this difficult term means literally a “gearing down”, as of an engine. Derrida uses it to denote a proliferation and confusion of voices which obscures authorship; see “Of an Apocalyptic Tone Recently Adopted in Philosophy”, Oxford Literary Review, Number 6, 1984:3-35. Démultiplication stands for a kind of proportional adjustment, whereby a lack of semantic precision may be recast as a strength (polyvalence), the ration supplémentaire of the structuralist sign. It designates not a diminution, but something like an acceleration – more output appears to arise from a lesser input, as in the cyclist’s shift to a higher gear. (Velocity is maintained despite fewer revolutions of the pedals.) The manipulation may also be temporal. In the controlled environments of biology, for example, organisms can be tricked into an altered biorhythm, by the simulation of zeitgebers (time-givers), temporal cues such as light and temperature. Most plants and animals are “entrained” to the 24 hour day, and many behave differently when that cycle is shortened or lengthened. In some cases, when the normal 24 hour period is a multiple of the short artificial one (8 or 12 hours), the organism stays entrained to the normal cycle even though its environment has accelerated around it, a phenomenon known as frequency demultiplication. An exemplary démultiplication machine would be Jarry’s Sûrmale who, nourished on “superfood”, snatches the trans-Siberian bicycle race from both train (technology) and the five-man bicycle (labour).
87 – With this phrase, Cholodenko likens Baudrillard to Artaud. See his “The Logic of Delirium, or The Fatal Strategies of Antonin Artaud and Jean Baudrillard”, in Edward Scheer (Ed.), 100 Years of Cruelty: Essays on Artaud, Sydney: Power Publications and Artspace, 2000:153. Genosko points out that much of Baudrillard’s earliest work (as a Germanist) was in translations for the theatre (Baudrillard and Signs, 1994: xi and n.1, 165-166).
88 – Jean Baudrillard. “On Nihilism”. On the Beach, Number. 6, Spring, 1984:38-9.
89 – Gary Genosko. Baudrillard and Signs: Signification Ablaze, New York and London: Routledge, 1994:137-139): “[The] inexorable rise of the pure object is the drama of theory.”
90 – Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. What is Philosophy? Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchill. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994:62-63 (emphasis mine).