Volume 9, Number 3 (October 2012)
Author: Jon Baldwin
This special edition of the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies has the broad focus upon Jean Baudrillard and politics. The breadth of Baudrillard’s engagement with political concerns can be gauged by the vast array of topics featured and intersections with other theorists. For instance the exploration of issues surrounding the financial crash, capitalism, neoliberalism, austerity, democracy, the state, the citizen, communism, insurrection, revolution, revolt, anarchism, resistance, protest, Occupy, the Tea Party, power, violence, the carnivalesque, feminism, globalisation, Islam, China, Tibet, the Balkans, the Gulf War, the WTO, Berlusconi, the ‘Arab Spring’, 1989, Sept 11 2001, terrorism, archaeology, political assassination, new media technologies, consumption, psychoanalytic critique, the masses, and representation. The contributors show how Baudrillard’s work traverses, challenges, and continues the thought of those such as Adorno, Agamben, Badiou, Bataille, Benjamin, Berardi, Debord, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Habermas, Hardt, Lacan, Laclau, Lyotard, Machiavelli, Marx, Mauss, Negri, Nietzsche, Stiegler, Virno, and Žižek. The overview here will begin with discussion of what I consider to be three pertinent political notions from Baudrillard: exacerbation, singularity, and indifference. That is the exacerbation and implosion of simulated financial capital, the singularity of symbolic interruptions disturbing the reified norm, and indifference as a strategy. A brief introduction of each paper shall follow.
Jean Baudrillard was born in 1929, the year of the Wall Street Crash, and died in 2007, the year that inaugurated the most recent crisis of capital.1 Perhaps only a pataphysician would claim a causal relationship. However, there might not be a better illustration of Baudrillard’s concept of simulation, and its political significance, than the recent financial crash. One narrative, assuming that the crisis is essentially a debt crisis,2 suggests that in the late 1960’s the U.S. began to borrow enormous sums to fund Lyndon B. Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ and the Vietnam War: “the US began to live – and kill – considerably beyond its means” (Kunkel, 2012: 23). To avert a run on America reserves Richard Nixon, in 1971, suspended the gold-standard – the convertibility of the US dollar into gold.3 In semiological terms Nixon suspended the relationship between a sign and its referent – money and gold. This disconnected the circuit between paper and bullion, and hence representation and the real. The implications following this type of divorce of the sign from its referent (even if the relationship was always only ever idealist or utopian) underpin many of Baudrillard’s essays in For a critique of the political economy of the sign (1981).
In 1973 dollar-gold convertibility was abandoned once and for all. Enter now the play of borrowing and lending: all monetary debt since has been “mere paper promises” (Kunkel, 2012: 23). Overall indebtedness has grown faster than most national economies: “In the last forty years, the world has been more successful at creating claims on wealth than it has at creating wealth itself” (Coggan in Ibid.: 23). Marx’s circuit M – C – M’ (Money – Commodity – Money) becomes, as he anticipated, M – M’ (Money – Money). In the financial economy money (a ‘paper promise’, a ‘claim on wealth’) becomes a sign free of any reference to real wealth or production: this might be termed a financial simulacrum. In The Mirror of Production, Baudrillard anticipates and summarises: “The sign no longer designates anything at all. It approaches its true structural limit which is to refer back only to other signs. All reality then becomes the place of a semiurgical manipulation, of a structural simulation” (Baudrillard, 1975: 128). A financial bubble, viewed through a Baudrillardian lens, could be conceived as one such simulation.
Benjamin Noys proposes that the “prefigurative qualities of Baudrillard’s writing are, now, self-evident” (Noys, 2012). Problems with the symbolism of the disentangling of the gold-standard are emblematic and the seeds of the current crash are planted in the early 1970s. Baudrillard notes, in 1973, that this process culminates in the ‘virtual international autonomy of finance capital’, in the uncontrollable ‘play of floating capital’. When financial capital is extracted from ‘all productive cautions’, and even from ‘all reference to the gold standard’, then ‘general equivalence’ becomes the strategic place of the manipulation: “Real production is everywhere subordinated to it. This apogee of the system corresponds to the triumph of the code” (Baudrillard, 1975: 129). Here, in a characteristic motif, the economic real (of production for instance) is subordinated to economic simulation: simulation becomes more real than the real (hyper-real). The code now becomes the greater political problem than alienation, exploitation, inequality, and so on. The financial simulacrum should not be taken as having no effect on everyday economic life: the code, the model, precedes the real. The economy is hyper-real,4 a financial simulacrum.5 Capital freed in this way, has no obstacle to circulation and value radiates “endlessly in every direction” (Baudrillard, 1987: 25).
Recently, trade in derivatives worldwide was one quadrillion US dollars, which is ten times the total production of goods on the planet over its entire history. This is one sense of what Baudrillard means by ‘floating capital’. There is no anchor in real production or wealth.6 Speculation is “without reference to production or its real conditions…[it] plays now on its own orbital circulation and revolution alone” (Baudrillard, 1998: 1). One result of this is the ‘fictitious’ nature of wealth, as Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy suggest. For instance, income is withdrawn against asset bubbles, and there are claims made on future wealth that neither can, nor will be produced. The signs engendered by the financial simulation cannot fully be converted into real wealth, as it seems the market is currently experiencing.7
For Baudrillard, one imagines that the crisis was an always already coming implosion impacted upon by the trans-economics of speculation. It is a flouting of the ‘law’ of value, of the market, production, surplus-value, and the’ very logic of capital’. The trans-economic develops into “a game with floating, arbitrary rules, a jeu de catastrophe” (Baudrillard, 1998: 1). Interestingly here, the crisis has come and traditional political economy has come to an end, “but not at all as we expected it to – it will have ended by becoming exacerbated to the point of parody” (Ibid.). The financial crisis has emerged and we witness one of the biggest threats to capitalism and neoliberalism thus far, through the exacerbation of simulation. Not – as much as it would have been desirable to be agents of change – through critique, or dialectics, or rational discussion, or insurrection, or event, or act, or the deconstruction of political concepts, or long-term revolution, or instant revolt, and so on.8
Regarding the crisis, there is no transcendent critique at play but immanent implosion.9 This is “a way of putting an end to the economy that is the most singular in style, ultimately more original than our political utopias” (Baudrillard 1998: 1-2). For Baudrillard, ecstasy is the process in play rather than dialectics. The only revolution in things today is no longer in their dialectical transcendence (Aufhebung), but in “their potentialization, in their elevation to the second power, in their elevation to the Nth power, whether that of terrorism, irony, or simulation” (Baudrillard 1990: 63). Baudrillard proposes that it is from the inside, by overreaching themselves, “that systems make bonfires of their own postulates, and fall into ruins” (Baudrillard, 2001: 6). The process at play in the movement towards the trans-economic is also evident in other spheres which lose their ‘gold-standard’ referent, such as power, sexuality, aesthetics, politics, and so on. In a methodological consideration Baudrillard writes that the only justification for “thinking and writing is that it accelerates these terminal processes. Here, beyond the discourse of truth, resides the poetic and enigmatic value of thinking” (Baudrillard, 2000: 83).
In another temporal coincidence, Alex Cline (2011) suggests that it seems fitting that The Coming Insurrection (2007) should have been released in France only two weeks after Baudrillard’s death. Cline explores the proximity between Baudrillard and the collective of authors and activists associated with the short-lived radical journal Tiqqun. Some of these co-authored The Coming Insurrection. Significant also is the fate of the ‘Tarnac 9’, who apparently contributed to the book and had the temerity to attempt to live communally. Alberto Toscano writes that “the modern capitalist nation-state does not suffer alternatives gladly” (Toscano, 2009) and the law has made itself known10 in a scandal Toscano has termed the ‘War Against Preterrorism’. The work of The Coming Insurrection collective, with the use of Agamben’s ‘whatever singularities’ and Badiou’s event,11 “resonates closely” with Baudrillard, Cline suggests. They appreciate the interruption of singularities, the “enormous potential of moments of resistance which remain unconnected and undecipherable” (Cline, 2011). Cline writes of the shift of politics proper into the cultural politics of “bacchanalian modes of resistance”, the rave, the riot, the suicidal teen, the graffiti artist, pernicious internet chat rooms, underground drag-racing, the apocalyptic jouissance and drug use of hipster adolescents, all of which often “take the entertainment and mediation provided by the Spectacle and return it as reciprocal gifts that are occult and dangerous” (Ibid.). On a larger scale, there is the “surrealist” mass whose anti-politics mock “conceptions of representation and of the social” (Ibid.).
Whatever we might think of The Coming Insurrection12 the notion of singularity is a clear resource for Baudrillard’s politics. In one of his final essays, From Domination to Hegemony, a career summary of sorts which cuts many corners, Baudrillard makes a broad distinction between domination and hegemony. There has been a move, with political implications (in terms of power, expansion, resistance, etc.) from domination to hegemony. Hegemony indicates something new in terms of power relations. It signifies the “disappearance of the dual, personal, agonistic domination for the sake of integral reality – the reality of networks, of the virtual and total exchange where there are no longer dominators or dominated” (Baudrillard, 2010a: 33). This sees the slippage of political antagonism into simulation and revolution into devolution. Domination is characterised by the master/slave relation and is a dual relation with potential alienation, and a relationship of forces and conflicts. In this sense domination is the sphere of the possibility of politics: “It has a violent history of oppression and liberation” (Ibid.). However, when the emancipated slave internalizes the master, the ‘work of the negative’ is abolished. With hegemony, we are the hostages far more than the slaves. The core condition of the age is a form of Stockholm syndrome: “the alienated, the oppressed, and the colonized are siding with the system that holds them hostage” (Ibid.:37).
Domination and hegemony present two different, almost contrary paradigms: “the paradigm of revolution, transgression, subversion (domination) and the paradigm of inversion, reversion, auto-liquidation (hegemony)” (Ibid.:34). The political implications of this change are clear to Baudrillard: “the work of the negative, the work of critical thought, of the relationship of forces against oppression, or of radical subjectivity against alienation, all this has (virtually) become obsolete” (Ibid.:36). Critical discourse, even in its radicalness, remains “pious and denunciatory” (Ibid.:39). The possibility of singularity13 emerges as the predominant form of confrontation in the era of hegemony: “It is not a class struggle or a fight for liberation on the global level…It is an irreducibility, an irreducible antagonism to the global principle of generalized exchange” (Ibid.:56). This confrontation is “no longer political but metaphysical and symbolic in the strongest sense” (Ibid.).
The move to the metaphysical and symbolic indicates Baudrillard’s departure from a certain tradition of emancipatory politics. Baudrillard certainly has notions of political economy, resistance, liberty, equality, fraternity, the masses, power and so forth – the criteria upon which the contribution of a political thinker might be judged. But his radical rethinking of these seem alien to the orthodoxies of much emancipatory politics. In an early account of his politics, Douglas Kellner writes that since Baudrillard is “distancing himself from the radical tradition anyway, it may seem inappropriate to criticize him in terms of that tradition” (Kellner, 1989: 216). Baudrillard’s preference is for “the direct confrontation between globalization and all the antagonistic singularities” (Baudrillard, 1998: 23). This is a “symbolic violence more powerful than any political violence” (Baudrillard, 1987:58). The symbolic and metaphysical heritage of Baudrillard would include the likes of Nietzsche (Dionysian), Artuad (complicity), Freud (death drive), Durkheim (collective effervescence14 ), Mauss (the sacred), Bataille (expenditure), as well as what Merrin calls Baudrillard’s ‘explicit metaphysics’ of Taoism, Manicheanism, and Gnosticism (Merrin, 2008: 265). In very broad terms Baudrillard is investigating implications of the choice (extended over centuries)15 whereby “we’ve substituted a mode of material production and consumption for sacrifice and sacrificial consumption” (Baudrillard, 2007: 32).
In the context of the singularity it is worthy to note that the self-immolation and symbolic violence of Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi was said to have sparked the ‘Arab Spring’ (of course, the ‘dominated’ ground was already fertile). It is this kind of symbolic sacrifice, the singular return gift of death to the system that fascinates Baudrillard (however Pyrrhic the victory, and however much we may be dealing with the disjunctive synthesis of two nihilisms). Koslow remarks on the suicide of Lee Kyung Hae, who stabbed himself in protest, at the WTO summit in Cancun, Mexico in 2003. For Baudrillard this is a gesture with the power to disrupt neoliberalism: “in refusing to offer political arguments for or against globalization – instead totally self-destructing – Lee represents a singularity which cannot be recapitulated to the political morality of good and evil” (Koslow, 2012).
There is a sense, however, that in a certain context, even this most radical gesture is already pathetic and passé. For instance in Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis the protagonist (a rouge capitalist) witnesses an anti-globalisation demonstration. The protest, he feels, is ‘theatrical’ and a “form of systemic hygiene, purging and lubricating…[attesting only] to the market culture’s innovative brilliance, its ability to shape itself to its own flexible ends, absorbing everything around it” (DeLillo, 2003: 99). From his limo he then witnesses a self-immolation: “What did this change? Everything, he thought…The market was not total. It could not claim this man or assimilate his act…This was a thing outside its reach” (Ibid.: 99-100). This clearly resonates with aspects of Baudrillard’s singularity. But the retort of his unimpressed ‘theorist assistant’ is damning: “It’s not original…It’s an appropriation” and she alludes to the tradition of self-immolation in Tibet. The protagonist still believes there may have been a singular event: “He did a serious thing. He took his life. Isn’t this what you have to do to show them that you’re serious?” (Ibid.: 100).
For Baudrillard opposition to global hegemony cannot be the same as opposition to traditional oppression: “It can only be something unpredictable, irreducible to the preventive terror of programming, forced circulation, irreducible to the White terror of the world order” (Baudrillard 2010a: 75). This would be something antagonistic, in the sense that it opens a hole in the ‘Western agony’. It would be a singular form of impossible exchange within generalized exchange. Hegemony is only broken by this type of event, “by anything that irrupts as an unexchangeable singularity.” (Ibid.: 75) Referring to the singular and symbolic violence of the banlieues, Baudrillard speaks of “a revolt whose end is nowhere in sight” (Baudrillard, 2006). In so doing he affirms the belief that politics might best thought of in the way described by one of Pynchon’s characters16 : “Explosion without an objective, is politics in its purest form” (Pynchon, 2007: 124).17
Baudrillard’s use of hegemony makes no reference to the Gramscian heritage and might actually be best thought of, like aspects of his work, as a form of provocation: today we willingly consent and are indeed complicit with the exercise of power over us rather than being coerced into it. The development in the West from domination to hegemony is short hand for Baudrillard’s analyses of the political inertia and ineffectiveness of the (new imperial) state,18 the (share-holder) citizen,19 (complicit) protest,20 or new (anti)social media technology,21 in affecting change in the world. Baudrillard would instead propose the potentiality of exacerbation, singularities, and finally, indifference.
Baudrillard’s attitude towards political praxis, Papadopoulous (2012) proclaims, travels from traditional revolutionary action (the late 1960’s), to absolute quietism, withdrawal, disappearance, sacrificial suicide (death), singularities, and more recently, indifference. Indifference can be a new form of ‘class-struggle’ with active indifference to consumption, work, and dominant ideology. (Consumption here as distinct from a symbolic act of expenditure, and work distinct from a labour of love.) One becomes indifferent to interpellation and the call of capital – one refuses to be subject of, and subject to, capital. For instance the “refusal to consume, [is] a social treason in the eyes of the dominant free-market liberalism. A new class struggle is beginning (if the herd doesn’t want to graze, how is one to make one’s butter?)” (Baudrillard, 1998: 58) If Ernst Jünger’s hero, the hero of general mobilization, was the Worker, then, “Our hero is the hero of general demobilization: the non-worker” (Baudrillard,1997: 57). The abandonment of consumption and employment as constitutive instances of subjectivity can be envisioned as a denial of subjectivation: “The dissolution of subjectivity is a necessary step both for revolutionary politics and for an affirmative biopolitics of jouissance: a negation of the self, a loss of oneself in pleasure” (Papadopoulous, 2012).
The core figure of indifference, who has attracted many thinkers, is Bartleby the anti-hero from Herman Melville’s short story Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street. The key mantra is Bartleby’s notion that ‘I would prefer not to.’ In many regards, by preferring not to leave the office in Wall Street, Bartleby can be said to originate and prefigure Occupy Wall Street. For Baudrillard, Bartleby declares “’I would prefer not to!’ I am not playing the game!” (But without aspiring to provide a reason (Baudrillard, 2010b: 64) One element of agency and praxis in Baudrillard’s politics can be found in the claim that “we’re all potential Bartlebys” (Baudrillard, 1998: 60). Bartleby’s rejection and non-provision of reason, will also occupy Žižek a decade later. Žižek marks a contrast with the use of Bartleby in Hardt and Negri’s Empire. There Bartleby’s ‘I would prefer not to’ is ultimately linked to a political process, as the starting point of ‘abstract negation’ which should then be overcome in the “patient positive work of the ‘determinate negation’ of the existing social universe” (Žižek 2006: 382). However Žižek’s Bartleby is beyond the work of the negative and direct resistance to domination: “he does not say that he doesn’t want to do it; he says that he prefers (wants) not to do it. This is how we pass from the politics of ‘resistance’ or ‘protestation,’ which parasitizes upon what it negates, to a politics which opens up a new space outside the hegemonic position and its negation” (Žižek, 2006: 381-2).22 It is this possible indifferent ‘space’ that interests Baudrillard.
Indifference is not ‘a quiescent sea’, not a ‘flat encephalogram’, it is ‘a passion’: “There’s certainly a violence of indifference” (Baudrillard, 2005: 145). Indifference (whether conscious strategy, in some sense ‘involuntary’, or as a consequence of globalisation) is identified by Baudrillard in a number of phenomenon: I would prefer not to run (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner);23 I would prefer not to write (Rimbaud’s ‘literaturicide’]);24 I would prefer not to be represented (the masses)25 ; I would prefer not to be saved (Gary Gilmore);26 I would prefer not to play the game (Zidane);27 I would prefer not to be a subject (but an object);28 I would prefer not be hold power;29 I would prefer not to collaborate with capital, and so on. And there are the everyday acts of indifference and in the “interstices, alveoli, and shreds of reality that survive in the heart of globalization and the hyper-reality of networks” (Baudrillard, 2010a: 74). The positive corollary here would be the preference instead (conscious or otherwise), for seduction, sacrifice, unproductive expenditure and so forth.30
There is also the extra nihilistic dimension of indifference as a result of globalisation. Recalling the antagonistic form of the gift termed potlatch, Baudrillard claims that the
terrorists’ potlatch against the West is their own death. Our potlatch is indignity, immodesty, obscenity, degradation and abjection…We cannot involve our own death because we are already dead. We throw this indifference and abjection at others like a challenge: the challenge to defile themselves in return, to deny their values, to strip naked, confess, admit – to respond with a nihilism equal to our own. (Baudrillard, 2010a: 67)
In conclusion, this brings together a number of themes and confirms that Baudrillard offers a form of ‘potlatch politics’. The antagonistic challenge of the return gift in Mauss is more radical than merely the good and fair management of production and political economy offered by Marx. Exacerbation is witnessed in the escalation and overbidding of potlatch competitions; the singularity, like the gift proper, is inexchangeable; and indifference can be seen as snubbing the gift relation – an act which has symbolic power.
“The democratic dictatorship is shaping up nicely” (Baudrillard, 1997: 49) – if this is the case then ultimately, for Baudrillard, we are to challenge this from the realm of the symbolic. The system suppresses and is built upon the denial of the symbolic: one must “therefore displace everything into the sphere of the symbolic, where challenge, reversal and overbidding are the law” (Baudrillard, 1993: 36). Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Ross Abbinnett suspects that Machiavelli’s The Prince offers the first systematic account of modern politics as appearance and spectacle. The evil of the The Prince springs not from its ‘perverse veneration of violence’ as the foundation of politics but rather in its recognition of a fundamental change in the relationship between aesthetics, authority, and the exercise of power. The power of the Prince depends on his ability to ‘mask the true consequences of its exercise’. The relationship between the state, sovereignty, violence, and aesthetics is examined. Baudrillard’s concept of fourth order simulation is deemed to mark a radical break with Hegel’s notion of the state as a transcendent unity. Religion, for instance, becomes hyper-religion: the symbolic mediation of ‘man’s relationship to the unknowable is dissolved into a performance of faith that has lost both its purity and its danger.’
One of the problems likely to rise in the current era of austerity is revealed when recollection is made of that version of the Prince titled the Führer. Abbinnett recalls Baudrillard’s symbolic exchange based critique of Marx’s naturalisation of use value and utility, and Adorno and Horkheimer’s examination of the rise of Nazism, and the expressive rituals of social identity they called mimesis. Abbinnett writes that it is not until we have understood the power ‘that pure economic subjection (in the form of the economic strictures imposed on Germany after the First World War) is able to exert on the symbolic identity of the state, that we can conceive the intensity of the desire for mimesis (death, sacrifice, love, worship, etc.) that haunts the system of utility.’ This is one way in which the violence of the symbolic can return to the ‘instrumental regime of modernity’ and how an autocratic singularity can interrupt reified relations of capital.
Abbinnett confirms Baudrillard’s notion that the process of globalisation is one in which the symbolic is erased by simulation. The symbolic economy of the real, with ‘all of its desires, intensities, taboo, and seductions’ is subject to the ‘logic of representation in which the power of the unknown disappears into an infinite play of signs.’ This makes inevitable a certain conflict between Western secular societies and Islamic theocracies, as the latter are put in the position of having to constantly ‘defend the symbolic relations through which God is made present in the economy of law, family, and state’. Following the events of Sept 11th the figure of the enemy, for the West, has been completely transformed from the meaning once provided by Carl Schmitt.
Abbinnett concludes with a consideration of China and global capitalism. Capital has lost any anchor in the territorial space of the nation state and is in ‘orbit’ and circulation through virtual networks ‘completely mutable and without limit’. However, the state-led capitalism of the People’s Republic of China complicates this with its hybrid of collectivism and individualism. The state attempts to limit the process of hyper-commodification known to the West by keeping in check ‘the dangerous performance of sex, femininity, personality, desrie, and egosim’. This has proven economically successful to the point where China is poised to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy and owns $1.2 trillion of the U.S. treasury debt. This is a clear breach of the old economic and global hegemony and Abbinnett considers possible ramifications.
Metaphors from horror usually accompany description of the socioeconomic present: capital is ‘vampire-like’, monstrous, cannibalistic, entering a zombie-phase, in the form of usury attaches itself to production as a parasite, making it miserable, sucking blood, and killing nerves (Marx), and so on. Capitalism is a “regime of gangsters” (Badiou, 2012: 12). The ‘becoming mafia’ of capitalism is not an accident which would be more or less epiphenomenal; rather, “it is the normal and everyday functioning of such a capitalism” (Stiegler, 2010: 63). What might make the skin really crawl is Beller’s claim that the post-Fordist, information technology regimes of work ‘burrows into the flesh,’ not just the corporeal, but even into the brain as ‘flesh’. If capital literally gets under our skin, then what possible sites of resistance to the logic of capital exist? This is the question explored by Craig Anderson via Baudrillard’s notion of irony, Virno’s notion of ambivalence, and Hardt and Negri’s notion of joy. Resistance, here, is evaluated according to ‘the plausibility of the interpretation at play, with the overarching question of the inventiveness, the creativity, of the assessment/critique and the strength of the prescriptive conclusions.’ The political indifference or silence of the masses, proposed by Baudrillard, ‘is an active response that entails a refusal of the system of representation’. This freedom from the burdens of representation also entails freedom from the burdens of ‘revolutionary convictions’ and an identifiable political subjectivity. What Anderson reads as Baudrillard’s ‘hyperbolic’ macro-analysis is countered by the micro-analysis of everyday life and the optimistic views of media-technology. However one wonders if for Baudrillard that media agency and activity is simply another form of consumption – merely the manipulation of signs (a feathering of one’s nest – a padding of one’s cell) that leave the hegemony of the code unchecked and the possibility of the symbolic remote.
Virno proposes that workers are forced into ‘opportunism’. The remarkable contingencies of the postmodern workplace necessitate a cynicism that arises from the sensation or perception that ‘the new regime of work is one in which a fluid practice of agency is both required and yet is squandered continually in our efforts to ward off fear, and to prevent ourselves from being today’s offal in an oscillating employment environment that affords little security.’ Virno and Hardt/Negri attempt to grasp the ‘irreversible nature of the current state of capital – the mutable, disruptive, contingent nature of it – and work within this a new revolutionary program’. Hardt/Negri ‘rely on use value to lionize human productivity to ground their resistance to Empire’, whereas Baudrillard is suspicious of the naturalisation of use value. However, there is a general resonance with Baudrillard in that Hardt/Negri ‘insist that representational politics are no longer useful, rather it is immanent activism that is given primacy.’
The centrality of the gift in Baudrillard’s thought is commented upon by Jon Baldwin. The gift / commodity distinction is discussed through the work of Lukács (on reification), Simmel (on the philosophy of money), Mauss (on exchange), Durkheim (on religion), and Bataille (on unproductive expenditure). The development of the core concept of symbolic exchange is examined as well as the critique from Lyotard. The subsequent reworking of symbolic exchange is recalled.
The ‘problem of Tibet’ and the rhetoric of the holiday named the ‘Serfs Liberation Day’ is explored by Brian Gogan. He utilises one of Baudrillard’s final characteristic dualities, or dual forms, that of ‘carnival’ and ‘cannibal’. This allows a comparison with Bakhtin on the nature of the carnivalesque. The Chinese mediated promotion and celebration of an ‘authentic’ Tibetan culture actually signals a simulation and degeneration of that culture. Gogan concludes with a consideration of the fate of Baudrillard’s notion of reversibility.
Ingrid Hoofd considers feminist engagements with post-structuralism and deconstruction and presents a nuanced consideration of Baudrillard’s encounter with feminism. In so doing she contests the preconception that Baudrillard’s work is in any way straightforwardly ‘anti-feminist’. She explores the paradox today, also attributable to much ‘identity politics’, whereby more and more spaces of feminist politics appear to be opening up but there seems to be less and less political efficacy and actual subversion. Feminism seems to have ‘won’, yet also seems utterly deadlocked. Conventional feminist politics have failed to ‘address the raised stakes around a primarily masculinist, rationalistic, and neoliberal form of globalization’. Indeed conventional feminist politics may be subtly complicit with, and actually ‘exacerbate the violence of contemporary globalization’. The feminist subject herself ‘re-appears as an object or product of the current masculinist-productivist social order rather than as an opposing agency.’ The ‘simulation of emancipation’ provides ‘mere camouflage’ for an exceedingly oppressive global regime.
Hoofd recalls Baudrillard’s suggestion that the very ‘concept of critique emerged in the West at the same time as political economy and … is perhaps only the subtle, long-term expression of the system’s expanded reproduction.’ Feminism needs to up its game because the issue today is no longer simply the critique of patriarchal representation or sexist content, but an entire political economy built on a ‘patriarchal modelling of the semio-economic sphere which paradoxically relies on the reproduction of the ideals of identity, representation, visibility, and voice.’ Baudrillard’s ‘The Ecliptic of Sex’ proposes a radical opposition between production as masculine, and seduction as feminine. Hoofd concludes that in this essay, with reversibility showcased and with words ‘both serious and hilarious, both spot-on and nonsensical’, that Baudrillard’s feminism reaches its final conclusion/confusion: ‘woman is but appearance. And it is the feminine as appearance that defeats the masculine as depth … Besides, has there ever been phallic power?’
The recent swings to the left and right, epitomised in the U.S. by the Occupy movement and the Tea Party, are discussed by Peter Hulm. Baudrillard’s reading in the 1980s of America seems astute given, for instance, the current economic and psychogeography of Santa Barbara. Here affluent students make sumptuous statements of fashion whilst their teaching assistants can only afford to live in houses 150km from campus. The rise (and fall?) of the Tea Party appears to follow the template on rightwing politics offered by Baudrillard in America, and similarity between the Tea Party and Occupy is noted.
It is significant that the right has become “the ‘degree zero’ of politics, and it remains in being as such because it’s the easiest solution” (Baudrillard, 2007: 80). The right and left, “merely exchange themselves for each other in a fictive alternation” (Ibid.) and this oscillation, which may briefly satisfy the electorate, leaves unchecked the entire system and corporate puppet-masters. How do we explain the ‘persistence of stupidity’ and ‘absence of imagination’ in politics? Baudrillard suggests we should not consider the masses as being completely duped by this power, but instead see their strength and strategy. With Berlusconi in mind, Baudrillard opines that the masses have a subtle transpolitical vision to the effect that “the locus of power is empty, corrupt and hopeless and that, logically, one has to fill it with a man who has the same profile – an empty, comical, histrionic, phoney individual who embodies the situation ideally” (Baudrillard, 1997: 104). This would be the general disposition among people to ‘delegate their sovereignty’ to the most inoffensive, ‘least imaginative of their fellow citizens’. This is a malin génie that pushes people to elect the most “nearsighted, corrupt person out of a secret delight in seeing the stupidity and corruption of those in power. Especially in times of trouble, people will vote massively for the candidate who does not ask them to think” (Baudrillard, 2010a: 46). The people’s intelligent reading of parliamentary politics is also revealed in two recent political slogans which are exemplary in their insight: “I didn’t vote for these bastards, I voted for some other bastards” and “You’ve been fucked”.33
What are the imaginative poetic and political possibilities of dreaming? Bradley Kaye appropriates Foucault (and Binswanger’s) conceptualization of dreaming into a political theory. In taking Baudrillard seriously, Kaye suggests, we might think about how we are awash with hyper-realities that deaden our ability to dream of worlds constructed otherwise. Baudrillard is read as an anarchist. By this, Kaye means anarchism as ‘an-arche-ism’ with the root of the word being an-arche, which literally means anti-foundational. The political theory offered by Baudrillard is almost always posited against any sort of metaphysical foundation. By extension it demystifies the basis of political structures, ultimately un-concealing their foundationless illusionary base of power.
Kaye takes into account Guattari’s notion that madmen hallucinate history. Kaye juxtaposes Difference and Repetition (where Deleuze deals with groundlessness in metaphysics) with Baudrillard’s theory of simulation. The social importance of the work is the attempt to give a voice to a population that has historically been silenced, precisely because they/we have been codified as pathological. Baudrillard speaks on behalf of the disenfranchised, the mad, and the pathological alienated from an otherwise dysfunctional capitalist regime of exploitation, greed, and nihilistic pleasure seeking. Cast in this light, Baudrillard is the penultimate theorist who thinks through a politics of pathos in an empowering way, as an always already unthinkable silence that is all around at all times. A politics based on Baudrillard would be about pushing reality even further in the direction of opacity rather than clarity and transparency. In this sense his work can be seen to dovetail with Foucault’s work on heterotopias constituted as antithetical to utopias.
Michal Klosinski considers Baudrillard’s The Transparency of Evil to think through the idea of freedom post-1989. He suggests that the true politics of Baudrillard’s discourse can be best seen in his poetics and metaphors of the political biological and body politic. “Despite all the things modern pathology has taught us about the physical body, we pay no attention to it for the social body” (Baudrillard, 2005: 34). All of Baudrillard’s metaphors call for the structural play of differences to happen and fuel his anti-metonymy thought. The development of the fourth fractal stage of simulation allows comparison with Derrida and Beradi. The viral-fractal metaphor, which Baudrillard expounds upon in The Spirit of Terrorism, appears to open a dialogue with Derrida’s notion of auto-immunity, to interpret the terrorist attack of September 11th 2001. Their ideas are ‘so close and similar that one would doubt that they were written separately.’ Following Baudrillard’s metaphor of the fractal, whereby the smallest part is a mirror image of the whole system, it is possible to deconstruct politics as a fractal at any level by analyzing its myths and poetic structures. Klosinski opines that Derrida’s différance is a kind of a fractal, and should be understood as a principle that reflects both micro and macro, and transcends any structure and makes divisions impossible.
Berardi also utilizes the notion of the fractal when describing the reification of the cognitive worker, who is turned into a fractal/cell and is managed by the company s/he works for in the same way one can manage data on the Internet. The political power of Baudrillard’s poetical discoveries lies in the possibility of their re-contextualization, as in Berardi, who coins new and revolutionary notions such as the ‘fractalization of labour’ or ‘fractal recombination’. Baudrillard’s metaphors constantly evolve and infect discourses and ideas to eventually auto-immunize the humanistic thinking against trans-political oppression.
James Lawler proposes that Baudrillard’s political thought must be appreciated and understood within the context of the symbolic and the ‘haunting refrain of ancient times that the King must die’. Sacrifice is situated at the heart of pre-modern societies. The status of immortality ‘achieved’ by the Pharaoh marks a decisive break with the symbolic order, and begins the long transition into the modern. This sees the abstraction and isolation of people and things from the engagement with the symbolic as characteristic of the pre-modern era. We are now living in a time of the demise of the state, and political wisdom consists in being aware of this situation. The right demagogically plays on this idea, while the left wants to postpone its implementation to a later time. In the American context after the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, if the King must die, then US Presidents must feign the credentials of assassination, if only by adopting a cool demeanour in the face of ritual assassination by the Congress.
“One of capitalism’s defences is the outrage-fatigues it engenders” (Miéville, 2012: 22). This is also the case with mainstream politics which have the tendency to exhaust and exasperate us, as Jason Royce Lindsey makes apparent. His contribution considers the contemporary use of the modern political tactic of detournement as described by Guy Debord. Baudrillard’s consideration of the society of the spectacle and its supplanting is discussed: ‘Debord’s analysis is already obsolete because we are no longer an audience to a spectacle but instead we are a part of simulation.’ However, ponders Lindsey, if Baudrillard is correct, then why is there evidence of detournement being effective in contemporary culture? Debord’s idea of the ‘spectacle’ is compared to Baudrillard’s idea of ‘the system of objects’: detournement could still be alive in pockets of the hyperreal. An exploration of political nostalgia follows. Lindsey concludes that politics eventually begins ‘to resemble religion in that we appeal to it and diligently perform our duties waiting for an intervention that does not come.’ Hence we witness the contemporary return of political theology and the recourse to the structure of the Pauline conversion, variants of Christianity, Messianism, Buddhism, mysticism, and so forth.
Ole Jacob Madsen’s paper discusses Baudrillard’s late phase and the conception of the trans-political. The Republic of Italy, under the Presidency of Silvio Berlusconi, as portrayed in Erik Gandini’s documentary film Videocracy, is used as a demonstration of the neo-society of the spectacle. The image and television hold unique power and influence over politics and the people. Traditional rationalist democratic theory makes little sense in the interpretation of the admiration of Berlusconi and aspirations of the characters featured in the documentary. Madsen relates the analysis of a virtual democracy to Laclau and Mouffe’s restoration of ‘the political’. Baudrillard’s approach, in all its reserved ‘gloominess’, may be helpful in expanding on their acknowledgment of how right-wing popular demagogues continue to hold power over the electorate through the undercurrents and desires in mediated society.
Shawn Malley provides a Baudrillardian reading of the political nature of archaeology. Under occupation in April 2003, a three-day period of looting and vandalism of the Iraq National Museum saw the U.S. military mobilised in order to protect the antiquities. The leader of this task force subsequently wrote an action packed account of this excitedly titled ‘The Thieves of Baghdad: One Marine’s Passion for Ancient Civilizations and the Journey to Recover the World’s Greatest Stolen Treasures’. This narrative, both apologetic and paternalistic, meets out justice to untrustworthy Orientals and ‘perpetuates all the stereotypes that accord the need for Western intervention in Iraq’. With the revelation of the absence of WMDs and the legitimacy of the invasion in crisis, ‘archaeology is a potent counter-measure in the propaganda war on terror.’ It is suggested that some archaeologists are wilfully ignorant of the ideological nature of their practice in the context of the invasion and the ‘Archaeology-Military Complex’. The sci-fi ‘B’ movie, Manticore, about a group of U.S. soldiers charged with protecting the Baghdad Museum, offers further cultural material for contemplation of the role of archaeology in the war on terror and occupation of Iraq. The group encounter the Manticore, a winged beast, a living, breathing WMD reanimated from an ancient statue by an Iraqi insurgent leader. As a metaphor for Iraqi resistance, the Manticore’s defeat is a foregone conclusion in the film.
The polemical Forget Foucault is revisited by Benjamin Noys. There Baudrillard charged Foucault’s plural conception of power as being a fatal replication of the new micrological and capillary forms of capitalist control. Foucault’s theorisation of power is traced as the inverse mirror of Deleuze and Guattari’s theorisations of desire. Baudrillard notes how both mirror capitalist discourses of control and domination. Foucault never responded directly to Baudrillard’s criticisms; however his 1978-9 lecture course, The Birth of Biopolitics, was actually devoted to an analysis of the new modes of post-war capitalist governance that would later be analysed under the rubric of neoliberalism. This genealogy of the forms of neoliberalism suggests that far from a global ‘system’ they incarnated an unstable plurality of practices that produced the new ‘enterprise subjectivity’ of the present: ‘Neo-liberalism is opposed to the spectre of the passive consumer just as much as various forms of leftism and anarchism, instead what it wants to bring forth is the person of enterprise and production.’
This missed, or delayed, encounter between Baudrillard and Foucault offers the opening to a mutual critique that takes aim at the ‘mutation’ of neoliberalism and the effect of this formation on theoretical articulations of political critique. While Baudrillard’s critique of Foucault’s ‘power’, and Deleuze and Guattari’s cognate concept of ‘desire’, proved prescient, his own ‘alternative’ conceptuality of fatal outbidding and acceleration of these tendencies of capitalism in a new ‘trans-political’ order, are argued by Noys, to also involved a certain ‘endorsement’ or replication of neoliberalism. In this sense Foucault’s lectures, whether direct response or not, provide a means to refine Baudrillard’s initial critical point and to indicate the difficulties of ‘radical theory’ in the encounter with ‘radical capitalism’. This suggests the necessity to return to this earlier moment to re-work the elements for a new thinking of political critique post-Baudrillard.
The question: ‘why might Baudrillard have largely been neglected by the ‘continental’ brand of philosophy?’ is considered by Georgios Papadopoulos. It could be attributed to his style – Baudrillard’s work, above all, is performative. There could be suspicion of his use-value to philosophy – Baudrillard attacks the very notion of use-value and utility. Pierre Bourdieu suggests that the technique of objectifying or reifying the philosophical tradition one belongs to in order to launch critical commentary can be a useful career move, drawing attention to and centring one’s name on the philosophical stage. One gains both “the profits of transgression with the profits of membership” (Bourdieu, 1986: 497). If this was the case, then it seems to me that Baudrillard was only interested in transgression. Also worthy of consideration would be the comparative popularity of public interest in Baudrillard. Perhaps, as Simon Critchley claims with Schopenhauer in mind, “[n]othing sells better than epigrammatic pessimism” (Critchley, 2009: 281). Papadopoulos proposes that the critical neglect of Baudrillard might best be explained in terms of his political attitude, particularly the contempt for traditional Marxism and left-wing politics. The attack on Marxism in The Mirror of Production, and critiques of Foucault in particular, and Deleuze and Guattari, and Lyotard, created hostility in an era when ‘political allegiances tended to trump the importance of honest and harsh criticism’. It must be added that some of the critiques Baudrillard made at this time (‘adamant iconoclasm is a sign of deep appreciation’) that were once deemed so outrageous, are today the staple of much radical political theory. Baudrillard’s assault ‘was neither to be forgotten nor forgiven’ by those on the left who considered him irrelevant for political praxis and a distraction in the struggle for liberation. Papadopoulos aims to restate the relevance of Baudrillard’s work for political theory and praxis by reading it in conjunction with Lacanian psychoanalysis. Indeed Baudrillard could be integrated into the ‘Lacanian Left’, of whom Papadopoulos includes Slavoj Žižek, Ernesto Laclau, Yannis Stavrakakis, Chantal Mouffe, and Alenka Zupančič. This ‘project’ subverts established orthodoxies, is skeptical of utopian fantasies, and refuses to accept a finality for political praxis.
Papadopoulos notes that Baudrillard was generally critical towards psychoanalytic concepts but suggests that his early work ‘anticipated much of the psychoanalytic ideology critique against capitalism’. Papadopoulos warns that the terminology could lead to confusion but broadly speaking Baudrillard’s concept of symbolic exchange resonates with the Lacanian Real, and what Baudrillard defines as ‘reality’ is largely equivalent with the Lacanian symbolic. The Real for the Lacanians, as well Symbolic Exchange for Baudrillard, provides ‘the possibility of a utopia that is necessary for ideology critique and more importantly is necessary as point of rupture that can facilitate the possibility of radical liberation.’
In his early work on consumption, Baudrillard had proposed the importance of ‘enforced enjoyment’ as a strategy for the reproduction of the system of needs and consumption. This is in the same fashion that the eve of capitalist accumulation dictated an ascetic work ethic: ‘contemporary consumerism markets enjoyment as an obligation, and happiness as a duty.’ Here Baudrillard is in accordance with Lacan and Žižek, who portray the super-ego as the agent of forced enjoyment: the injunction of the super-ego is consumption.Under the aegis of the political economy of the sign (the sign and commodity collapsed into one another) Baudrillard’s approach does not have to face the ‘artificial distinctions between production and consumption, base and superstructure, commodity and object, [or] reality and ideology, that haunt Marxian ideological critique.’ For Papadopoulous, Baudrillard’s analysis is thereby more penetrating in the criticism of the capitalist ideological than Marx’s or even Žižek’s and Laclau’s.
How is one to read and respond to Baudrillard? Francisco Proto begins with this question. Is he to be buried under commentary and reified within the obscene project of proving (or disproving) his work? Perhaps, instead, we become silently complicit with Baudrillard in the way he spoke of a ‘pact’ and complicity with Artaud (Baudrillard, 2005: 220). Or does the interlocutor take the risk to be as enigmatic as Baudrillard himself? The risk being that when ‘the copy comes too close to the original, it no longer resembles it, but is another original’. In essence, the interpretation Baudrillard’s work calls for, ‘always ends up itself constituting a piece of theory.’ This is both the challenge and seduction of Baudrillard. Proto asserts that Baudrillard’s writings discuss two different models of political representation: the trompe-l’oeil [‘deceive the eye’] and the dompte-regard [‘taming of the gaze’]. The position of the vanishing point is core: in the trompe-l’oeil, the vanishing point appears to materialize between the observer and picture (providing the image with the depth of a base-relief) and in the dompte-regard the vanishing point seems as materializing beyond the picture, on the horizon (giving the observer the feeling of infinite space). These map onto one of the core dualities in Baudrillard’s thought. Seduction (to ‘lead astray’) is mapped onto the trompe-l’oeil, and simulation (‘a literal version of reality’, ‘pro-duce’ – to ‘make visible’) onto the dompte-regard. Important here becomes the representation of the masses. Proto concludes with a discussion of Italy, where ‘the commedia dell’arte takes over the vicissitudes of politics’: ‘Berlusconi did not happen.’
William Purcell examines the G20, the collective of finance ministers and bank governors from 20 major economies who account for about 80 per cent of gross world product and world trade. In 2009 the G20 conference visited Pittsburgh under the rationale that Pittsburgh had become a model city in the quest to survive the demise of industrialism. Left less visible in the city’s marketing was an equally salient signal of the postmodern and the global: the division of Pittsburgh into adjoining first and third worlds, the gap between them widening to ever greater dimensions in wealth, education, and opportunity. The G20 arrival was that of an invasion, conducted in the usual manner of massive police deployment. The state of exception, the state of G20 security, rendered the spectacle of what the end of history might truly look like – ‘a pristine urban grid built by a race now extinct’. Revealed in this moment was the fundamental opposition between the public and the global, between the historical real and the hysterical simulation of the end of history.
Purcell pursues the implications of this staging of the end of history: how might politics return or dissipate in this simulation of the end, and how is protest short-circuited and is it even still possible to protest? One of the curious aspects of the G20 security was a designated, secured and fenced-in pit where protestors were allowed to gather and perform their function as protestors: ‘The space bore an unfortunate resemblance to the caged yards found in prisons and death camps: the same sense of bleak confinement and futility.’ This was a symbolic re-enactment of the archetypal ghetto that is the shadow of modern power. In any case the security maze created by street closings and blockades made it virtually impossible for citizens to actually reach the pit of protest – the grid of approved passages led in every direction to a dead end. Recently the Occupy movement also seems to have run aground against the peculiar non-locality of global hegemonic power: ‘Wall Street is everywhere, and nowhere. It cannot be occupied…Zuccotti Park devolved into an indifferent and nostalgic spectacle, lacking the self-immolation that sparked its model, Tahrir.’ Purcell places emphasis upon the spectacle of the rotating G20 conference. The analysis is informed by the work of Debord, Agamben, Benjamin, Badiou, and with reference to the texts of Kafka as fabulist of oblivion and bureaucratic domination. Perhaps our political cynicism ‘is symptomatic recognition that our lives have become a catastrophe of anhedonia and indifference.’
Steve Redhead reviews the ‘theory after theory’ within ‘post-political politics’, late work of Baudrillard. In the posthumous, The Agony of Power, power is theorised as incorporating a ‘double refusal’, the sovereign’s refusal to dominate as well as the subject’s refusal to be dominated. The activities of, for instance, the post-political Italian Autonomists of the 1970s exemplify these ‘agonies’ of power, and is where, Redhead claims, the late Baudrillard best fits.
Agnieszka Zietek recalls Baudrillard’s geopolitical ponderings from the fall of the ‘Iron Curtain’ to the events of September 11th 2001, encompassing the Balkan’s conflict and Gulf War. She compares Baudrillard’s understanding of the issue of the ‘end of history’, globalisation, and the positing of a New World Order, with the accounts offered by Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama, and Zygmunt Bauman. Sept 11th is read as a breaking of the ‘strike of events’, as a symbolic act, as a prefigurative event, and as harbouring in the ‘Fourth World War’. The responses of Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida to terrorism are considered and compared.
About the Author
Jon Baldwin is from the London Metropolitan University, UK.
Acknowledgements: I would to thanks all the contributors and appreciate the immense support of Gerry Coulter, as well as the help from Steven Hughes, Jeremy Collins, Tony Jenkins, and Billy Skeggs. Lily, this is for you.
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Žižek, Slavoj (2012). The Year of Dreaming Dangerously. London and New York: Verso.
1 – On the 9th August 2007 BNP Paribas is the first major bank to acknowledge the risk of exposure to the sub-prime mortgage market and freezes three of their funds. The chief executive of another major bank (Northern Rock) will later claim that this was ‘the day the world changed.’ Capital has always had waves of boom and bust – capitalism is crisis – but what is crucial about the contemporary financial situation is its scale. It “is a global crisis and not regional, like the others” (Marazzi, 2011:13). In the late 1990s Baudrillard had proposed that “what has triumphed isn’t capitalism but the global” (Baudrillard, 1998:10). It may now already be a cliché and a form of wishful-thinking, but Marazzi suggests that this is “one of the greatest crises of history” (Marazzi, 2011: 9). Nobel laureate economist, Joseph Stiglitz has proposed that the crisis – the ‘fall’ of Wall Street, the machinations of the bankers, and ‘market fundamentalism’ – presents a legitimation crisis along the lines of the effect of the ‘fall’ of the Berlin Wall upon Communism. This may well be overly optimistic. What remains significant, as Žižek has indicated, is the fact that ‘capitalism’ or ‘neoliberalism’ is emerging as the name of the problem. As Noys proposes, “now the call goes out to save capitalism, whereas previously its existence had been denied” (Noys, 2012). Noys also notes an irony in a movement in contemporary theory. Jacques Rancière, as indicative of this trend, lambasts the failures of critique for being too totalising, and treating the object of critique – capitalism – as a seamless totality. The alternative is the possibility of local disruption and local resistances, and micro-historical and pluralising attention which “distrusts the reification of such explanatory entities as capitalism” (Ibid.). The irony now, however, is that “global critique is abandoned exactly with the emergence in actuality of capitalism as global social and political form” (Ibid.).
2 – In The Crisis of Neoliberalism, Duménil and Lévy argue that neoliberalism has “less been an ideological programme on behalf of free markets than a quest for more high income on the part of the upper classes” (in Kunkel, 2012: 28). In true ‘trickle-down’ fashion, however, this quest also appeals to the middle-class and the poor. There was the attempt to extend to ordinary consumers “through rising home prices [consumer debt, student loans, credit, etc.], a fictitious income long enjoyed by the financial classes. The scheme could hardly last” (Ibid.). This is congruent with the claim by Angela Mitropolous and Melinda Cooper that the crisis is generated by “usury from below […] that extended beyond the limits which were tolerable to capital” (in Noys, 2010: 46). Marazzi points to the notion of ‘biocapitalism’ and how capitalism must invest in the ‘bare life’ of people. The expansion of “subprime loans shows that, in order to raise and make profits, finance also needs to involve the poor, in addition to the middle class” (Marazzi, 2011: 39). The poor cannot provide any guarantee for credit and offer nothing apart from their life. Capitalism turns bare life into a direct source of profit “on the basis of a probability calculation according to which the lacking debt repayment is considered “manageable,” i.e., negligible, when considered on the scale of the entire population” (Ibid.:39). Access to housing is created on the basis of “mathematical models of risk where people’s life means absolutely nothing, where the poor are ‘played’ against the less poor, where the social right to housing is artificially subordinated to the private right to realize a profit” (Ibid.:40). There are agreeable sentiments when Marazzi concludes: “May the academic economists who all these years have been putting their scientific competence and their dignity at the disposal of financial industry find peace in their consciousness” (Ibid.). As well as debt being a significant contribution to the crisis, we witness a form of ‘business as usual’ for capitalism. Marazzi points out the transition from the Fordist mode of production to financial capitalism and that “[t]ypical twentieth-century financialization thus represented an attempt, somewhat ‘parasitic’ and ‘desperate,’ to recover what capital could no longer get in the real economy in financial markets (Marazzi, 2011: 26).
3 – Žižek confirms that “Nixon’s decision to abandon the gold standard for the US dollar was the sign of a much more radical shift in the basic functioning of the capitalist system” (Žižek, 2012:17).
4 – McGoun uses Baudrillard’s notion of hyper-reality in his study of intrinsic value. The simulation-model and virtual market comes to determine the real economy itself: “decisions affecting production and employment are made on the basis of stock prices, and not on the basis of production and employment” (McGoun, 1997: 16). Hence the following conclusion: “it is not the real economy that shapes reality but activity in the financial economy. The financial economy is thereby more real than the real economy itself; it is a hyper-real economy” (Ibid.).
5 – The financial simulacrum consists of an exchange sphere without any reference to economic reality. It is an internal (virtual) exchange with no referent. The sophistication of the financial simulacrum tends to reduce the degree of materiality of the financial reality. Schinckus explains the evolution from commercial fairs to financial markets: “the goods were not exposed anymore and the transactions (on paper) became symbols” (Schinckus, 2008: 1086). Finance has largely abandoned its role of raising capital or supporting entrepreneurial activity (with subsequent variants of exploitation) and is now almost totally dedicated to speculation. Orléan (1999) evokes the ‘virtual character’ of finance to describe this disconnection with the sphere of production.
Schinckus uses Baudrillard to tease out some of the consequences of the move to e-finance and the technological virtualization of the financial market. The emergence of automatic trading and the creation of electronic financial products have profoundly modified the organisation of the markets and financial exchanges themselves. The ‘Iowa Electronic Market’, created in 1988, was the first virtual market where all interactions took place online. Oral negotiation has been superseded by an abstract sociability whereby traders only interact via computer screens. Schinckus suggests this leads to a ‘screen sociability’ which sees traders “personify their screen by giving them a hypothetical personality” (Schinckus, 2008: 1081). One issue with this creation of a virtual market is the ambition to reach the idea of the ‘perfect market’ model seen only in economic theory textbooks. In this case, “the finance reality has become a “hyper-reality” i.e. the image of the theoretical reality that we have in mind” (Ibid.:1082). One trend of this desire to develop ‘hard models’ in finance has been the rise of econophysics, whereby economists, physicists, statisticians and computer specialists endeavour to apply models developed in physics to the market. In these instance financial quotations are studied as if they behaved, for example, like gas molecules. These models then actually shape the market by being transformed into computational algorithms to price or hedge financial securities with the belief that returns will behave like physical entities. One prominent simulation model, certainly influential in derivatives, has been the Black-Scholes formula published in 1973. This was meant to cut risk and scientifically legitimate the activities of options markets around the world. However, over-reliance upon the model, and its incorrect axioms (e.g. the presupposition of negligible probability of extreme price change) was said, by the likes of NassimTaleb and Jean-Philippe Bouchaud, to spiral into the worldwide October 1987 crash.
6 – Žižek has recently suggested that the stages in the predominant mode of money seem to obey the Lacanian triad of R.S.I.: “gold functions as the Real of money (what it is ‘really worth’); with paper money we enter the Symbolic register (paper is the symbol of its worth, worthless in itself); and, finally, the emerging mode is a purely ‘Imaginary’ one – money will increasingly exist as a purely virtual point of reference, of accounting, without any actual form, real or symbolic (the ‘cashless society’)” (Žižek, 2012:101).
7 – Marazzi has presented, by far, the best reading of the current crisis. However, there is, at times, a certain fatalism. He writes, “[t]here is no sufficient private capital to absorb the present and foreseeable losses and reconstruct bank assets. The resources for this must be public (whether one likes it or not)” (Marazzi, 2011:24). This seems to be an attempt to put the genie back into the bottle. Must the public pay rather than default? Is there really not sufficient private capital? Why must bank assets be reconstructed? Why not, for instance, follow David Graeber, associated with the Occupy movement, whose response is as devilish as (unfortunately) unlikely. Graeber characterises neoliberalism a ‘giant machine’ whose ideology is designed to ‘destroy any sense of possible alternative futures’. The internalisation and inculcation of hopelessness rests on a vast apparatus of coercion and consent: armies, prisons, police, private security firms and police and military intelligence apparatus and “propaganda engines of every conceivable variety, most of which do not attack alternatives directly so much as create a pervasive climate of fear, jingoistic conformity and simple despair” (in Kunkel, 2012: 25). This aspect of Graeber is not necessarily original, though worth repeating. However, Graeber’s Debt: the first 5000 years, concludes with a call for a ‘biblical-style jubilee’ to cancel outstanding consumer and government loans. In the past there have been times whereby all debts were annulled after a period of time (e.g. 50 years). Middle East Kingdoms regularly pronounced universal debt cancellations, and Confucian administrators enforced periodic debt relief. “Nothing would be more important than to wipe the slate clean for everyone, mark a break with our accustomed morality, and start again” (in Kunkel, 2012: 25). Elsewhere Graeber confirms that “in the ancient world, there was basically one single revolutionary program, voiced whenever the rural poor rose up: ‘cancel the debts and redistribute the land’” (Graeber, 2011: 232). Indeed, “far more rebellions have begun over debt than over slavery, caste systems, or the depredations of landlords, plantation foremen, or factory owners” (Ibid.:233). Debt cancellation would be a rather nice poetic reversal – a gift. It seems to me a mistake that the left fight on the terrain of the right and attempt to produce a better management of the economy. As Žižek writes, “[If we] continue to humanize capitalism, we will only contribute to the process we are trying to reverse” (Žižek, 2012:16). “[W]e should stop worrying about how to prevent financial collapse in order to keep the whole system going” (Ibid.:109).
8 – Of course, these will play a role, especially post-crisis. At best the crisis presents an opportunity for genuine change and the possible return of real politics and history. Some signs, however, indicate that the opposite will happen, that there will be business as usual or worse. The Greek Prime Minister in 2010 uttered precisely this notion, the “crisis is an opportunity” (in Kaplanis, 2011: 226) and spun things to the effect that now corruption and tax evasion can be curbed and so forth. As has become evident the crisis is also an opportunity for alleged necessary austerity measures. It is an opportunity to deregulate labour, cut labour costs, restructure pensions, reduce welfare provision, and expand the privatisation of energy, transport, education, health, and so on: “It is a class-based restructuring that serves the interests of the ‘big capital’, both the local and its international partners” (Kaplanis, 2011: 226). Greece has seen a 22 per cent cut in unemployment benefit (where unemployment stands at nearly 25 per cent), but austerity does not extend, for instance, to a cut in the arms or policing budget. Greece will effectively become an economic – and to a large extent political – colony of Germany and its allies. Writing in March 2012, Markakis could claim that in Greece the “fabric of democracy is unravelling” (Markakis 2012: 35) and in its stead is the dictatorship of global finance. The unelected prime minister, Lucas Papademos, was a former banker whose only qualification for the post is that he “knows how the market works” (Markakis, 2012: 35). Here, the Greek government, devoid of legitimacy, remained in power merely because of its role in continuing negotiations, which are in name only since it is obliged to accept the troika’s (the European commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund) demands. As Alain Badiou can claim, this is becoming a war “conducted by means of finance, politics and law, a class war against society as a whole” (Badiou et. al., 2011). Greece is turning into a ‘ a laboratory of social change’ that is the blueprint for Europe whereby “public social services, schools, hospitals, and dispensaries fall into ruin, where health becomes the privilege of the rich, and where vulnerable populations are doomed to a programmed elimination while those who work are condemned to the most extreme conditions of impoverishment and precarity” (Badiou et. al., 2011).
9 – This resonates with the theoretical manoeuvre Benjamin Noys has identified, and critiqued, as ‘accelerationism’ (Noys, 2012). Noys notes that there are those who argue for the need to ‘radicalise and deepen the tendencies’ that led to the current crisis: “[t]he tendency now becomes the immanent radicalisation of capital’s own dynamic of deterritorialisation” (Noys, 2010: 51). One early notion of this comes from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: “But which is the revolutionary path? Is there one? – To withdraw from the world market, as Samir Amin advises Third World Countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist “economic solution”? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go further still, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to “accelerate the process,” as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.” (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in Noys, 2010:51).
10 – “Apparently a number of the group’s members had bought a small farmhouse and ran a cooperative grocery store and were engaged in such dangerous activities as running a local film club, planting carrots and delivering food to the elderly” (Critchley, 2009: 302).
11 – Not the entire architecture of Badiou’s philosophy of course. Both share the notion of the rarity of politics. The interruption to the situation by an event does evoke fleeting similarities with Baudrillard’s singularity but the causes and consequences drawn and procedures that follow differ tremendously. The critique of Baudrillard by Douglas Kellner, would resonate with a Badiouian analysis of Baudrillard as a half-right, melancholy, ultra-leftist: “Baudrillard is the latest example of critical criticism which criticizes everything, but rarely affirms anything of much danger to the status quo” (Kellner, 1989: 216). One response to this, however, would be to point out Baudrillard’s repeated affirmation of the symbolic dimension.
12 – Any consideration of the pamphlet should be in conjunction with the (both bitchy and amusing) reading of the collective by another collective calling themselves ‘Endnotes’: the ‘insurrectionary pep-talk’ and ‘what we must do’ that The Coming Insurrection presents “becomes reduced to a trivial list of survival skills straight out of Ray Mears” (Endnotes, 2011: 35). There is an implicit priority of revolt over revolution and reform. The final turn to fiction at the end of The Coming Insurrection is perhaps indicative of the book as a whole. The fictionalised account of the middle of a process of insurrection resembles the opening shots of a half-forgot Jean-Luc Godard film.
13 – In a world that wants to be universal, productive and cleansed of all ambiguity, in this “culture of equivalence and calculation” (Baudrillard, 1997: 128) a singularity stands as, and valorises, the unique, uncertain, unpredictable, incalculable, unrepresentable, untranslatable and unproductive. It challenges the drive towards a globalised, secure, neutralised sameness with a radical otherness. In this sense a singularity is analogous to the concepts offered by Baudrillard as antidotes to simulation, political economy, globalisation, monoculture, media- semiosis and the principle of equivalence: namely symbolic exchange, seduction, radical alterity, negativity and death – ‘the most singular of singularities’ (Baudrillard, 2002: 68). Baudrillard speaks of the possible singularity of events, beings and things. A singularity might take an ethnic, religious, linguistic or individual form. A singularity is a resurgence or insurrection, a bursting- in, a breaking- in: “It can come from a person, a group, an accident in the system itself” (Baudrillard, 1998: 51). Existence under the aegis of singularity is preferred to identity (and identity politics): “each person should have an unyielding singularity” (Baudrillard, 2004: 8). Singularity is sovereignty, a fight for glory, adventure, a mastery of existence: in “a totalised, centred, concentric universe, only eccentric possibilities are left” (Ibid.:9). On the other hand, identity is security, a mere reference, “an existence label” (Baudrillard, 1998: 49) in a “bloodless, undifferentiated world” (Baudrillard, 2002: 65). The singularity has “a total autonomy, and exists only as such” (Baudrillard 1998: 51). Singularities may often assume ‘monstrous forms’. From the viewpoint of ‘enlightened’ thought they may assume “violent, anomalous, irrational aspects” (Baudrillard, 1998: 13). This is certainly the ‘enlightened’ view of terrorism. Baudrillard defines the spirit of terrorism as “the act that restores an irreducible singularity to the heart of a system of generalized exchange” (Baudrillard, 2003: 9). A singularity is, in this sense, antagonistic to “a globality totally soluble in circulation or exchange” (Ibid.:58). Singularities do not resolve the antagonism with the system but exist in “a symbolic dimension” (Baudrillard, 2003: 58) and function as ‘a force of defiance’. Therefore singularities do not, in a traditional way, offer head- on resistance, but rather constitute “another universe with another set of rules, which may conceivably get exterminated, but which, at a particular moment, represents an insuperable obstacle for the system itself” (Baudrillard, 2004: 71). The antagonistic nature of a singularity means that it “is made for a very rapid disappearance” (Baudrillard, 1998: 51).
14 – It is interesting that elements of Durkheim’s notion of collective effervescence, which is a clear influence upon Baudrillard’s symbolic, seem to resonate with the answer Žižek gives to his own question of “what would a communist culture look like?” (Žižek, 2010: 371) “[W]e have to endorse a shamelessly total form of immersion into the social body, a shared ritualistic social performance that would send all good liberals into shock with its ‘totalitarian’ intensity…each individual should be fully immersed in the crowd, joyfully abandoning his or her critical distance, passion should obliterate all reasoning…the atmosphere should be fully ‘pagan’, an inextricable mixture of the sacred and the obscene, and so on” (Ibid.:371-2)
15 – Jean-Luc Nancy writes that capitalism is “infinity interpreted as the endless accumulation of things (which are all equivalent, as measured by the very possibility of accumulating them, whose name is money – money itself taken as the endless process of making money). Capitalism is endlessness instead of infinity, or infinity as the endless production of capital itself…This has been, so to speak, a choice made by civilization. At one point (even if this point is extended over centuries) Western civilization opted for endlessness” (Nancy, 2010: 151).
16 – Miles Blundell in Pychon’s Against The Day. The novel also features ‘Dope’ Breedlove, an Irish jazz-playing revolutionary who praises the Irish Land League. (Take the patriotism out of Michael Davitt’s slogan “The land of Ireland for the people of Ireland” and it becomes the perfect demand: “The land for the people.”) The Irish Land League, Breedlove opines, is the closest the world has ever come to a perfect Anarchist organization:
“Were the phrase not self-contradictory,” commented ‘Dope’ Breedlove.
“Yet I’ve noticed the same thing when your band plays — the most amazing social coherence, as if you all shared the same brain.”
“Sure,” agreed ‘Dope’, “but you can’t call that organization.”
“What do you call it?”
“Jass [Jazz]” (Pynchon, 2007: 370).
Pynchon’s art, here, turns to art itself – jazz specifically – for a possible model of anarchic organisation: “intimations of an anarchist miracle are sensed through aesthetic experience” (Piekarski et. al., 2011: 61).
17 – Revolt here, with the temporal sense of the instant and immediacy, is prioritised as a ‘pure’ politics over the longer-term revolution. This may actually be a dangerous notion: can politics ever be ‘pure’ – does it not always involve some degree of mediation? The revolt / revolution conflict is at the heart of an important debate. Julia Kristeva, for instance, is representative of a series of thinkers who would prioritise revolt: “I revolt, therefore we are still to come” (Kristeva, 2002: 42). Revolt is categorised as “psychic revolt, analytic revolt, artistic revolt”, it refers to a state of “permanent questioning, of transformation, change, an endless probing of appearances” (Ibid.:120). She claims that revolt is always ultimately compromised, betrayed, and loses its purity, when it turns into revolution: “the French Revolution becomes a betrayal of the initial movement of revolt…The Russian Revolution established a totalitarian regime which betrayed the revolt, because the rebellion against the old bourgeois world forgot to question the new values that it put in its place” (Ibid.:102). Baudrillard’s work certainly seems to favour revolt and he acknowledges the potential disturbance to the purity of revolt that comes with revolution. He reads Hannah Arendt as critiquing thus: “with the revolution, the compassion for the happiness (and especially for the unhappiness) of others took the place of passion, of freedom, of action, which are politics proper” (Baudrillard, 2005: 149).
However, the immense problem here is indicated, for instance, by Žižek with reference to the recent protests and revolts: “They express an authentic rage that remains unable to transform itself into even a minimal positive program for socio-political change. They express a spirit of revolt without revolution” (Žižek, 2012: 78). Or, as Alex Trocchi has revealed with reference to Greece, “After December , the question of insurrection in Greece became not how to ‘start’ the insurrection – where, when, and how to attack – but how to sustain it.” (Trocchi 2011: 318) How is the ‘pure’ spirit of revolt to be sustained without betrayal and exhaustion? If this is one current political problem then perhaps the remedy is not an answer as such, but another problem. This would be what Badiou calls “the problem of politics par excellence – namely, organisation” (Badiou, 2012: 42). To try to prevent the potential revolt (or ‘immediate riot’) burning out and becoming merely “a nihilistic spurt” (Ibid.:92) ‘organisation’ would be required. This, of course, is easier said than done. It would, in Badiou’s terminology, “attempt to preserve the characteristics of the event (intensification, contraction and localisation), when the event as such no longer possesses its initial potency” (Ibid.:70).
Mapped onto the revolt / revolution dyad would be the dispute between anarchism and authoritarianism. These are two of the main traditions of the non-parliamentary, non-liberal left. Badiou and Žižek, for instance, are feared by Simon Critchley to be authoritarians and/or violent. Critchley (2009) recalls the venom with which Lenin attacked the anarchists. Badiou declares his preference for a ‘popular dictatorship’ (Badiou, 2012: 59) a “dictatorial element that enthuses everyone” (Ibid.:61). Were, for instance, the state to wither away, the process would require “not mass democracy everywhere, but its dialectical opposite: a transitional dictatorship which was compacted and implacable” (Ibid.:45). Critchley feels that this is a misguided nostalgia for revolutionary violence. Badiou’s conception of politics suffers from “a heroism of the decision, a propaganda of the violent deed in all its deluded romance.” (Critchely, 2008: 1933) In a world ordered by the violence of military neoliberalism, resistance should not, Critchley argues, mirror the neo-Leninist logic of al-Qaeda and “take the form of a counter-violence…but should be devoted to the prosecution and cultivation of peace. But peace is not passivity or a state of rest. It is a process, an activity, a hugely difficult practice.” (Critchley, 2008: 1933) We are living through “a long anti-1960s” (Critchley, 2009: 300). Perhaps Lima syndrome would be the remedy to Stockholm syndrome.
Baudrillard would arguably place himself outside the revolt / revolution distinction and speak instead of symbolic revenge (the return gift). Regarding the banlieues, Hussey has claimed that they “are not looking for reform or revolution. They are looking for revenge. And this can take strange forms” (Hussey, 2012: 25). This is in accord with Baudrillard who believes that they “have a profound contempt for us; they dislike us with an irreducible feeling of rejection” (Baudrillard, 2005:143). Baudrillard’s challenge is that “[m]aybe what comprises an event is no longer constructed in the direction of history or in the political sphere, but against them” (Ibid.:144).
18 – In The New Imperial State Leo Panitch (2000) offers a corrective to the popular conception on the Left, epitomised by Eric Hobsbawm for instance, of the relationship between ‘the state’ and globalization. Hobsbawm repeats the conviction that the neoliberal ideological position in globalization is the freeing of markets from states in untrammelled financial speculation, export competition and capital accumulation. There is a desire on the left then, to counter neoliberalism by strengthening states, with the “hope that votes rather than dollars might determine the choices that govern our lives” (Panitch, 2000: 7). However this has resulted in an idealisation (a variant of ‘Left-Hegelian idealism’) of the state as “the repository of community values and societal needs” (Ibid.:7). In Age of Extremes Hobsbawm writes, “[t]he most convenient world for multinational corporations is one populated by dwarf states or by no states at all” (Ibid.:5). To this model of global and capital domination against the state in which the state suffers and shrinks, Panitch want to place a form of global and capital hegemony in which the state is constituted by, and complicit in the furthering of globalization: “states, and above all the world’s most powerful state, have played an active and often crucial role in making globalization happen. Increasingly, they are now encumbered with the responsibility of sustaining it” (Ibid.). In essence, the domination model, and “static duality of the categories of state and market, which so many would-be opponents of neo-liberalism accept without reservation, is a barrier to understanding the political economy of neo-liberalism” (Ibid.:8). Panitch provides a commentary on Nicos Poulantzas’s Classes in Contemporary Capitalism. Poulantzas reiterates the need to think beyond domination the usurpation of the state by forces of globalization: “formulations which inevitably took the state to have ‘lost its powers’ to multinational capital were ‘fundamentally incorrect’” (Panitch 2000: 8). Poulantzas’s contribution was to explain that when multinational capital penetrates “a host social formation”, it arrives not merely as abstract “direct foreign investment”, but as “a transformative social force within the country” (Ibid.). Far from the state receding or losing importance, “the host state actually becomes responsible for taking charge of the complex relations of international capital” (Ibid.) and actively helps establish “relations of production characteristic of American monopoly capitalism” (Poulantzas in Ibid.:13) within their own metropolis. The notion of the ‘host’ state becoming held hostage to global capital is apt and would find agreement with Baudrillard’s use of Stockholm syndrome to diagnose the age.
Following the crisis of the Bretton Woods system and American defeat in Vietnam, Poulantzas suggests the birth of a new era of imperialism and American global dominance. This is a non-territorial imperialism, and implanted and maintained “not through direct rule…nor even through political subordination of a neo-colonial type” (Panitch, 2000: 9). It thereby transcends “the restrictive confines of earlier Marxist theories of imperialism” (Ibid.). For its part, the ‘superpower’ attempts to discredit the notion of imperialism, with its connotations of expansionist and aggressive foreign policy. Indeed, “American imperialism has been made plausible by the insistence that it is not imperialistic” (Ibid.:18). Poulantzas demonstrates that globalization does not mean “the virtual disappearance of national state power” (Ibid.:10) rather “they had to be transformed from welfare systems into regimes designed to facilitate and police the free flow of capital around the globe” (Ibid.:11). One must be careful not to invest this process with too much coherence, and the political actors with too much clarity and foresight, but it happens that turmoil in Britain provided the first crucial test of “a confrontation between radical-democratic and financial-capital solutions” (Ibid.:12). In 1974, a combined strike by miners and engineering workers had brought a virtual state of emergency to the country, culminating in the fall of Edward Heath’s Conservative government. The Labour government returned to office, with the apocryphal boast of Denis Healey, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to ‘squeeze the rich until their pips squeaked’. The response from financial markets was to administer a ferocious assault on sterling, and within two years Healey was forced to petition the International Monetary Fund for credits to end the run on the currency. The conditions attached by the IMF imposed financial capital and neoliberal economic policy “upon a major Western state whose people had just voted for public expenditure and full employment” (Ibid.). The necessary vigour with which the IMF conditions were met, and the ensuing dismantling of Britain’s capital controls and welfare state meant that “for the first few years of her government Thatcher could claim she was only following Labour’s policies” (Ibid.:13). (Contemporary austerity measures taken by David Cameron’s coalition government can likewise be seen to be merely the continuation of the principles of Tony Blair’s ‘new’ Labour).
The process of globalization then, far from dominating, dwarfing, eradicating states, or being threatened by states, has been constituted through, and by, state action: eradication of cross-border control on financial flows, the breakdown of internal barriers in financial markets, privatisation of public services and assets, and broad financial deregulation has all been accomplished through state action. This also facilitates “a legalization and juridification of new relations among economic agents in both domestic and international arenas” (Ibid.:15). This has been achieved, for instance, without any abdication by states of their ‘supervision’ of banks: “in some respects they have even been strengthened” (Ibid.). Witness the recent bailing out of banks. Those who hold out hope for European social democracy in a battle over capital controls and a taming of the chaos that is global finance today “could not be more mistaken” (Ibid.:20). Thinkers on the left, retaining the domination model, who have been unable to theorise the hegemonic ‘new imperialism’, have been likened to “generals who, overtaken by events, make elaborate preparations for the last war” (Susan Strange in Ibid.:16).
19 – The citizen, like the state, becomes hostage to capital. The bailing out of banks, which so outraged us all recently with the socialist solution to the problems of capitalism, has occurred before. Baudrillard discusses the French government bailout of Crédit Lyonnais in 1995. Once this is done “capital, confident in its impunity, can step forward without its mask, saying explicitly: ‘Capital is you! The State is you!’…If all cases of social need are taken care of, there’s no reason not to assist Crédit Lyonnais when it’s in distress…If Crédit Lyonnais falls, you fall. If the factory closes, you clear out!” (Baudrillard, 1998: 55) The unemployed and so forth, however, “are now given to understand that they have to look after themselves, that they have to manage their ‘enterprise’ better” (Ibid.:55). In this role-reversal, whereby the individual is treated as a capitalist business and the capitalist business as a citizen on welfare, “the social has backfired in a manner entirely to the advantage of capital” (Ibid.). All of this was not the case in the classic age of domination and exploitation, “when the demarcation line between oppressed and oppressors, exploited and exploiters, was clear” (Ibid.:56). The citizen is now a shareholder interested in his business. It is the nervous system of the human that is now being ever more proletarianized: “the cognitive has been reduced to calculability – logos has become…ratio” (Stiegler, 2010: 46). So-called ‘creative workers’ are merely creators of the kind of ‘value’ which is “capable of being evaluated on the market” (Ibid.:46). We become middle-managers of our own demise: “the manner of controlling production shifts from entrepreneurial control to shareholder management” (Ibid.:88) Nowadays “everyone has to fight to find a place in a system of exploitation” (Baudrillard 1998: 64). Or as Žižek argues, “the chance to be exploited in a long-term job is now experienced as a privilege…Who dares strike today, when having a permanent job is itself a privilege?” (Žižek, 2012: 10) We are under democratic house arrest and “in an immense Stockholm syndrome” (Baudrillard, 1998: 66). One of the consequences of this is that Revolution, “in which those at the bottom took power, has given way to Devolution, in which the government itself cedes its powers from the top down” (Ibid.:56).
20 – One limit to protest, for Baudrillard, would be the inability to conceive that political economy and its critique emerge at the very same time. Baudrillard quotes Don De Lillo’s Cosmopolis: “But these [protestors] are not the grave-diggers. This is the free market itself. These people are a fantasy generated by the market. They don’t exist outside the market. There is nowhere they can go to be on the outside. There is no outside…” (De Lillo in Baudrillard, 2010b: 54). Regarding protest and activism Baudrillard writes that all “analyses confine themselves to a superficial level, most often seeking a solution by amplifying the factors that actually militate against one” (Baudrillard, 2010b: 75). This is a possibility Hoofd (2012) explores in a contribution to a growing discontent with the limitations of traditional activist politics and practice. Hoofd quotes Baudrillard: “All the movements that only play on liberation, emancipation, on the resurrection of a subject of history … do not see that they are going in the direction of the system, whose imperative today is precisely the overproduction and regeneration of meaning and speech” (Baudrillard in Hoofd, 2012: 114). Hoofd’s ambition is to reinvigorate ossified and compromised activist practice. There is concern over the romanticization of the activist themselves and the object of activist concern: e.g. the refugee, or ‘nature’. What emerges from her analyses are a series of compromises and complicities made by activism which replicate the valorisation of speed and activity of the subject-agent of neoliberalism. This may actually have the outcome of accelerating and strengthening the spin of the neoliberal globe.
At worse protest becomes spectacle and lifestyle choice. The commodification of protest may be indicative of how imbued it actually is in capital and account for some of its inefficiency. Trocchi writes of how “even self-professed revolutionaries are trapped within a politics based on images” (Trocchi, 2011: 312) While the anti-globalisation movement may have created new forms of organisation, “its content was still held hostage by identity politics” (Ibid.:313). Insurrectionary content was “neutered by an inability to supersede the image of being an anarchist” (Ibid.:313). Instead of focus being upon the creation of social relationships without forms of domination and the cultivation of these relationships into the insurrectionary process(es) of revolution, “anarchists became identified with a particular kind of image as given by dress and music, as well as pre-defined taboos on eating and consumption…in Berlin one can go from one anarchist bar to another every night for months – living and eating only with other black-clad vegans – and never leave this bubble” (Ibid.:213). What would be refreshing, promising, and dangerous would be the absence of identity politics, the very “lack of anarchist identity” (Ibid.:313).
What of the recent series of protests in the West? Are there similarities to the outrage of the ‘primitives’ in a ‘cargo-cult’ who lose delivery of their magic goods? Are these protests against the neoliberal system itself or merely the bemoaning of ones place in the system? Žižek claims that for the lower levels of the salaried bourgeoisie “political protest is their only recourse if they are to avoid joining the proletariat. Although their protests are nominally directed against the brutal logic of the market, they are in effect protesting about the gradual erosion of their (politically) privileged economic place” (Žižek, 2012: 10).
When Time magazine makes ‘The Protester’ their ‘Person of the Year 2011’ it seems that protest has become commodified and repackaged back as a lifestyle choice. Corporate advertising comfortably sits next to images of protest. The patronising back-slapping reveals that there is little fundamentally radical or disturbing to the current order about such an entity. The 2011 runner-ups were fairy tale Princess Kate Middleton, and Admiral William McRaven, leader of the ‘special-ops’ team that executed Osama Bin Laden. The 2010 winner was Mark Zuckerberg. This is the company the protester, as perceived by Time, is keeping.
The Time award very awkwardly brings together (but then again so did many academics) the ‘Arab Spring’, Occupy, the London riots, Slutwalks, Tokyo anti-nuclear protests, Mexican anti-drug violence campaigns, European austerity protests, Russian anti-Putin demos and so on. It no doubt indicates a premature judgement upon the ‘Arab Spring’, as well as confusing the degrees of heroism, inventiveness, and protest from politically distinct regions. It confuses those protestors in a state of domination (Egypt, etc.) with those in a state of hegemony (e.g. the ‘identity politics’ of Slutwalks). Underlying all this is xenophobia: by representing ‘the protestor’ in such broad geopolitical strokes Time magazine manages to avoid granting the award to an Arab collective.
21 – Hoofd suggests we need to review the celebration of the alleged radicalism of new media technologies: “The depictions of new technologies in radical Italian thought are totally in step with much of the American cyber-happy and neo-liberal discourses on technologies. This makes one wonder how ‘radical’ these ideas really are” (Hoofd, 2012: 27). As Trocchi recalls, “[i]nvented by Indymedia, digital user-generated content is the heart of capitalist production” (Trocchi, 2011: 312). Being political, Koslow sarcastically notes, “is as easy as signing online and clicking on ‘Like’” (Koslow, 2012). Andrew Koch stresses the corporate colonization of the internet against the utopian view of technology and the supposed inherent progressive democratic and political possibilities. In his analysis of the political use of the internet by both the left and the right, both anarchists and fascists, Koch concludes “the web contains no implicit normative bias towards the principles of democratic pluralism” (Koch, 2005: 168). In fact, in developing and facilitating a ‘virtual’ space for political discourse, the internet has the “potential to dilute the commitment to ‘real’ political space for democratic processes” (Ibid.:161). The internet, Koch proposes, is largely a medium of one way communication, “on the order of a super-television where there are millions rather than hundreds of channels” (Ibid.:171). This one-way environment reinforces “the passivity of political agents, undermining the conditions for democratic politics” (Ibid,:161). The web reinforces an individualistic conception of subjectivity, leading some to conclude “that the political outcome of the web’s influence on human subjectivity will be one of political fragmentation” (Ibid.). Koch recalls a Stanford University study that suggests when people are exposed to the internet they are turned into passive users, spending less time with friends and family. The paradox of the internet, Koch suggests, is that while it “may be a place where one can practice freedom in virtual reality, when one leaves the machine one returns to whatever form of oppression suffered in the real world of embodied selves” (Ibid.:172).
22 – Considering Foucault on power, Žižek writes that “we become the subjects of power precisely when we resist it” (Žižek, 2012: 106). What are we do then in the face of neoliberalism? Dependent on the context and ‘given constellation’ we should prepare “for a radical violent Act, a total revolutionary upheaval” and/or engagement in “local pragmatic interventions” and/or “the ‘Bartleby politics’ of doing nothing” (Žižek, 2010:398). At times, then, “rather than actively resisting power, the Bartleby gesture…suspends the subject’s libidinal investment in it” (Ibid.:400). This is somewhat counterintuitive: “the only way to stop the system from working is to stop resisting it…In a strange kind of release, we have to cease to worry about other people’s worries, and withdraw into the role of a passive observer of the system’s circular self-destructive movement.” (Žižek, 2012: 108-9) Ironically, “those who refuse to change anything are effectively the agents of true change” (Ibid.:111).
23 – The proficient running rebel of the narrative prefers not to win a cross country race for the governor of his prison school for ‘delinquents’ against a prestigious public school. To gain glory for the governor would be to endorse the harsh school system. In such a scheme, “winning means the exact opposite” (Sillitoe, 1985: 45), the runner prefers not to run after taking a huge lead over the others, “I’m going so slow I’m almost marking time” (Ibid.:51). He is subsequently punished but “it was worth it when I look back on it…as far as I’m concerned I lost the governor’s race all right, and won my own twice over” (Ibid.:53).
24 – “Delahaye: So! No more literature, then? Rimbaud: I have nothing to do with that anymore” (Robb, 2001: 302).
25 – In The Shadow of the Silent Majorities Baudrillard discuss the leftist lament, consternation and condemnation of the perceived political apathy and inertia of the masses: instead of playing the role of political hero, or even sacrificial victim, they seem to do nothing. They resist this simulation. Seemingly they will not awake from the slumber of their false consciousness to follow the revolutionary avant-garde into history. On the other hand when they are roused caution is needed: they could be mobilised in fascist drama. Take, for instance, the masses preference, in their millions, for watching a football match on television in 1977, rather than on the same night, protest, as did a few hundred, the extradition of Klaus Croissant. (Supported in La Monde by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari as a ‘man of the left’, Croissant, ostensibly, was a lawyer of the Red Army Faction. His collaboration with the Statsi was made public in 1992.) This consternation denies the masses their own behaviour: “Occasionally, they are conceded a revolutionary spontaneity by which they glimpse the ‘rationality of their own desire,’ that yes, but God protect us from their silence and their inertia” (Baudrillard, 1983: 12) The indifference demands to be analysed “in its positive brutality, instead of being dismissed as white magic, or as a magic alienation which always turns the multitudes away from their revolutionary vocation” (Ibid.:12). Baudrillard asks the question, why “after several revolutions and a century or two of political apprenticeship, in spite of the newspapers, the trade unions, the parties, the intellectuals and all the energy put into educating and mobilising the people, there are still (and it will be exactly the same in ten or twenty years) a thousand persons who stand up and twenty million who remain ‘passive’ – and not only passive, but who, in all good faith and with glee and without even asking themselves why, frankly prefer a football match to a human and political drama?” (Ibid.:13-14) There is no ignorance to enlighten here; the turning away is a strategy in itself. The alleged inertia of the masses does not seem to shift political analysis at all, but rather reinforces the “vision of an omnipotent, manipulatory power, and a mass prostrate in an unintelligible coma” (Ibid.:14). This results in an illusory comfort of power, and turns attention away from the much more ‘dangerous fact’ that this indifference of the masses “is their true, their only practice…[there is] nothing in this to deplore, but everything to analyse as the brute fact of a collective retaliation and of a refusal to participate in the recommended ideals, however enlightened” (Ibid.). It is only in the denial of this issue that “the whole promise of the social and of social change” (Ibid.:15). has been able to function. Revolutionary convictions “have always speculated on the possibility of the masses, or the proletariat, denying themselves as such. But the mass is not a place of negativity or explosion, it is a place of absorption and implosion” (Ibid.:22). The silence of the majorities “is the unknown of the political equation, the unknown which annuls every political equation. Everybody questions it, but never as silence, always to make it speak” (Ibid.:29).
It could well be that the silence of the masses is precisely their political import: “withdrawing into the private could well be a direct defiance of the political, a form of actively resisting political manipulation” (Ibid.: 39). This notion of a defiant mass would be beyond the political, a ‘transpolitical’ which condemns the political to annihilation. This defiance to politics can be extended to the defiance of history, morality, art, culture, and so forth. The transpolitical, ‘depoliticised masses’ of the “private, the unnamable, the ordinary, the insignificant, petty wiles, petty perversions etc., would not be this side of representation, but beyond it” (Ibid.). Care should be taken of this defiance, not to “make a new source of revolutionary energy…give it meaning and to reinstate it in its very banality, as historical negativity” (Ibid.). This would be the ‘final somersault’ of the intellectuals “to exalt insignficance, to promote non-sense into the order of sense. And to transfer it back to political reason” (Ibid.). Rather than maintaining the fiction that the masses are silent through ignorance, political observers should perhaps acknowledge “that the masses silence in politics is due to their engagement elsewhere. For political theorists and social scientists this shift would involve study of contemporary, popular culture. An activity they have often relegated to those interested in “postmodernism” or “cultural studies” (Lindsey, 2007).
A protest banner was marched recently through Moscow with the slogan ‘Vynasdazhe ne predstavliaete’. This has a double meaning: both, “You don’t even represent us.” and “You can’t even imagine us” (Wood, 2012: 11). This can be conceived as a condense articulation of what Baudrillard says about the masses and representation. Indeed perhaps there is only political progress without representation: “Let us consider now the real history of class struggle whose only moments were those when the dominated class fought on the basis of its self-denial ‘as such,’ on the basis of the sole fact that it amounted to nothing…When the class itself, or a fraction of it, prefers to act as a radical non-class, or as the lack of existence of a class…when it chooses to implode suddenly instead of seeking political expansion and class hegemony, then the result is June ’48, the Commune, or May ’68” (Baudrillard, 1987: 58).
26 – Gilmore is the focus of Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, which depicts the events surrounding the execution of Gilmore by the state of Utah for murder. Gilmore is content to accept the gift of death but in a battle of law and bioethics, he is “forced to fight against his staunchest defenders (those who refuse to let him be executed in the name of the absolute principle of the right to life, a principle which does, however, show itself for what it is: the moral obligation to live at all costs, the categorical imperative to exist, that principle in whose name they hanged suicides, dead or alive, in the Middle Ages)” (Baudrillard, 2010b: 65). Gilmore is not necessarily in favour of the death penalty, he is opposed to the ‘injunction that he must live’. He sets up another ‘human right’, “the right to die” (Ibid.). In doing so he transcends crime and punishment and “transforms his particular case into a metaphysical duel with the forces of Good” (Ibid.:66). In a ‘fetching contradiction’ of the whole system of moral values, the very people who only want to do him ‘good’, who want to save him, come to actually detest him. In demanding the authorities face up to the sentence of death, Gilmore makes a “challenge in which the price to be paid is his own death” (Ibid.:67). Leniency “would cause him to lose face” (Ibid.:69). What is at stake in this duel? “[M]aking the whole of a society lose face when that society, in its arrogance, reserves the right to grant him mercy against his own will” (Ibid.:67). In this he shares the ‘terrorist’s strategy’, “the putting in play [of his] own death, not suicidally but as a weapon of defiance” (Ibid.). If he wins he loses his life – but ultimately “he recovers a glorious image of himself” (Ibid.).
27 – Consider Zinedine Zidane’s head butt and dismissal in his final game and World Cup final 2006: “it was almost as if a great Shakespearean actor, playing King Lear at the National Theatre for the last time, interrupted his final soliloquy by punching the dead Cordelia and then announcing his life-long hatred for producers, directors and – especially – the paying public” (Smith, 2009:28) The butt was a “decisive, brutal, prosaic, novelistic act: a perfect moment of ambiguity under the Berlin sky, a few dizzying seconds of ambivalence, where beauty and blackness, violence and passion, come into contact and provoke the short-circuit of a wholly unscripted act…Zidane’s act knows not the aesthetic categories of the beautiful or the sublime, it stands beyond the moral categories of good and evil, its value, its strength and its substance owing only to their irreducible congruence with the precise moment in time at which it occurred” (Toussaint, 2007: 12). For Baudrillard it was a singular exhibition of indifference to global power. It was “a stunning act of disqualification, of sabotage, of ‘terrorism’. By blighting this ritual of planetary identification, these nuptials between sport and planet, by refusing to be the idol and mirror of globalization in such an emblematic event, he is denying the universal pact that permits the transfiguration of our sad reality by Good and allows billions of unidentified human beings to find an identity in the void (the same sublimation operates in the sacred illusions of war)…And it was, indeed, stigmatized as an act of desertion, but, as such, it also became simultaneously a cult gesture: by passing from the peak of performance to the peak of dysfunction, to the thwarting of Good in all its splendour, it suddenly pointed up the Nothingness at the heart of globalization…And all this by a simple act that is not in any sense a gesture of revolt…Certainly the most glorious (and most elegant) ‘scandal’ we have been afforded for many years. It is a ‘blow’ by which everyone can be said to have lost the World Cup. But isn’t that better than having won a victory for globalization itself?” (Baudrillard, 2010b: 78).
28 – Baudrillard’s indifference “is an indifference that emerges from the radical (ex)termination of any shred of humanism: the shift from that of subject to that of object” (Grace, 2000: 191).
29 – “Power itself must be abolished – and not solely in the refusal to be dominated, which is at the heart of all traditional struggles – but also, just as violently, in the refusal to dominate (if the refusal to dominate had the same violence and the same energy as the refusal to be dominated, the dream of revolution would have disappeared long ago). Intelligence cannot, can never be in power because intelligence consists of this double refusal” (Baudrillard, 2010a: 48).
30 – Or perhaps the preference to become, if one so prefers, and is pierced and can keep going, subject to that which is disinterested and indifferent to capital – Badiou’s subjectivity based on the fidelity to a truth emerging from an event of art, politics, science, or love.
31 – This is one theme in the collection The Idea of Communism (2010). Terry Eagleton writes that the “idea of communism is an ancient one…Marxism is a relative latecomer on the scene” (Eagleton, 2010: 109). Jean Luc Nancy writes of a communism “to come” (Nancy 2010: 146) and Gianni Vattimo of a “weak communism” (Vattimo, 2010: 205). This is part of an attempt to retain the idea of communism in the wake of its historical failures. Bosteels describes Badiou’s ‘communist invariants’ “as a recurring set of ideological anti-property, anti-authority and anti-hierarchy principles” (Bosteels, 2010: 52). Bosteels also argues the need to see communism in the present: “Thus far, we could also say, philosophers have only attempted variously to construct communism as a utopian ideal or future horizon; the point, however, is to express it as already being at work within the present state of affairs.” (Ibid.:49). This latter aspect is explored in Communization and its Discontents (Noys [ed]. 2011). Communization “is a way of stating a problem” (Ibid.:15), it “draws attention to the exhaustion of existing forms of organisation that have tried to lead, dictate or pre-empt struggles, it contests the tendency to affirm or adopt an alternative counter-identity (worker, militant, anarchist, activist, etc.), and it challenges the despotism of capitalism that treats us as sources of value” (Ibid.:8).
32 – Stiegler’s reading of the contemporary situation is of “a crisis calling as such for a new critique of political economy” (Stiegler, 2010: 16). This will be interesting insofar as Geoffrey Bennington has suggested that one of the things deconstruction is ‘especially not’ is critique: “critique is bound up with a teleological structure” (2000: 143). This is illustrated by the contrast between a deconstructionist approach to politics and a (traditional) politics thought within a teleological scheme: “A politics thought of as an economy of violence does not allow itself the dream of realising peace (which does not exclude the possibility of dreaming peace as a dream made possible by what disallows its realisation). This implies that politics is now, not projected into a utopian future, but in the event of the tension which is not to be resolved” (Bennington 1993: 257). For Stiegler however, “deconstruction remains a critique, and it is as such that it remains invaluable. But none of this is very clear, and I would say that, in a way, deconstruction failed to critique its critique of critique, failed, that is, to critique the claim that the form taken by critique has historically been metaphysical. In other words, it has not clarified what a critique might be were it no longer founded on a system of oppositions” (Stiegler, 2010: 15).
33 – These slogans on banners marched through Moscow were predominantly displayed in reference to the allegation of fraud and corruption in the recent Russian parliamentary elections (Wood, 2012: 11). Like Baudrillard’s reading of the Watergate scandal, these ‘corruptions’ function to imply that the rest of politics is clean. Apparently, in Chechnya, ‘United Russia’ won 99.5% of the vote on a 98.6% turnout. In Rostov-on-Don the combined share of all the parties came to 146%. Abnormally large turnouts in districts correlated with gains for ‘United Russia’. Where turnouts were reported in suspiciously rounded percentages, exactly 75%, 80%, or 85%, compared to the national average of 59.7%, there were also major gains for ‘United Russia’. “The uncanny roundness of many turnout figures has led some analysts to suggest that electoral officials were padding United Russia’s score rather as Soviet industrial bosses used to plan targets. After counting up all the votes, they would see how far turnout fell short of the target, then add that number of votes to the ruling party’s total” (Wood, 2012: 11). One suggestion is that this fraud added as much as 14 million extra, ‘dead souls’, votes. The slogans, in protest to this, are astute and say it all. On the political class there is little left to add. “There is no need to attack politicians. They are engaged in spontaneous self-destruction. You simply have to be firm about not going to their aid.” (Baudrillard, 1997: 51).
The slogans reiterate a problem rather than a remedy. In his discussion of the concept of the historical and political riot Alain Badiou writes of how a single slogan can emerge from the ‘nihilistic din’ of riotous attacks that “envelops all the disparate voices” (Badiou, 2012: 35). In the recent case of Egypt it was the slogan, on banners and placards, of ‘Mubarak, clear off!’ One can, to a certain extent, read a political situation by analysis of its slogans. Against those who would seek to capitalise upon the ‘Arab Spring’ as exemplifying a desire for the West, Badiou writes that the people “who day after day have read the banners of Tahrir Square in the Arab language have noted, often to their great surprise, that the word ‘democracy’ virtually never features” (Badiou, 2012: 55).
“I didn’t vote for these bastards, I voted for some other bastards”, concisely declares that contemporary parliamentary democracy merely presents the electorate with a choice of bastards. Some might say that this is unfair to the political class and that there are rare exceptions. Others might say that the comparison is unfair to bastards. The slogan confirms that under neoliberalism the electorate is not offered any sense of an alternative and ‘the Left’ remains in name only. Liberal democracy has always been an elitist bourgeois construct designed by the radical bourgeoisie of late feudal and early modern Europe in reaction to the feudal aristocracy. Its aim, first and foremost, was to provide democratic participation for its own members. It reflects bourgeois values and existence, not the interests of people as a whole. Today political parties resemble fund raising collectives devoted to their own perpetuation and maintenance of power. There is the need for the fiction of an opposing party (another bastard) to maintain the illusion of legitimacy. Results present no major change: each party protects the political class and corporate interests. This is clearly party politics as a protection racket designed to protect the biggest racketeers. “You’ve been fucked!” may lack the poetics and pragmatism of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”, but as a commentary on the contemporary political scene I take it as signifying that we are living in politically troubled times that require exceptional political responses.