Volume 4, Number 3 (October 2007)
Author: Michael Austin
The book must break up so as to resemble the ever increasing number of extreme situations. It must break up to resemble the flashes of holograms. It must roll around itself like the snake on the mountains of the heavens. It must fade away as it is being read. It must laugh in its sleep. It must turn in its grave.1
Some know how to slip away at the appropriate moment. Their death is a stroke of cleverness: it makes the world more enigmatic, more difficult to understand than it was when they were alive, which is the true task of thought.2
I cried the day Jean Baudrillard died. How could I forget that day? It was the first (and so far only) intellectual death I have mourned. Yet. . . on that day I began to forget Jean Baudrillard.
To dream of one day waking. . .
What is forgetting? It is not complete negation. . . it is not total subtraction. Forgetting is not a nothing, it is always a something. Forgetting is a way of thinking, but it is also a way of being.
Forgetting is a blurring of images. It is a slurring of words. Forgetting is a fogging – a fogging of the view – a fogging of the mind – a fogging. When I forget something, I never forget that thing totally. . . it is never completely gone from me. The thing simply begins to fade, to blur around the edges and to bleed into other things inside of me. Thoughts and memories blur and bleed, soaking each other and saturating the mind with an odd mixture of half-truth, wish, and desire. More than all of those, the mind becomes filled with the topic of the later Baudrillard (the Baudrillard with Cool Memories), that is, a state of utter confusion and apathy (or is it resignation to ignorance?)…
“Being forgetful is a way of being.”
It is the way we are according to Baudrillard. We are fragmented in our lust for knowledge (of everything in toto), this is our original sense of being (existing), this fragmenting is eerily natural but increases at an alarming rate with the birth of the global. With the first traces of the forgetting of the real, with the quiet crime of coating the world in the hyperreal, we fragment more and more, until eventually the “natural state” of the human being is a loose amalgam of products, brands, turns of phrase, and utter uselessness. The user is now broken beyond recognition, to a point where the homo fragmentis would not understand the very being of the homo-sapiens. This is the creature of the Cool Memories, and explains the reason why many disregard the works. Just as few recognize the “art” of the caged elephant, few recognize the description of a new species, the species that exists in a blur, a being that sounds like a telephone and knows only flashes – homo fragmentis. . . discovered by Jean Baudrillard.
Forgetting is never complete; it is always fragmentary. Forgetting is a fragmenting of the subject, but also of the world around the subject (as if either is actually distinct). The thing I forget breaks apart into pieces, some of which fall away, while others simply linger inside of me, floating to the surface as fragments are wont to do.3
Forgetting is a breaking of the world, the mind, and the System. There exists a purity in forgetting, a naïve innocence in a way. . . but mostly there exists only pity for the being who lives the life of forgetting (before our attention is quickly turned to the latest in canine fashions). When thoughts fire back and forth, when a being is out of sorts and never themselves (whatever we may take that to mean) they are forgetting. The splitting of mind is equal to the splitting of thoughts is equal to the splitting of hairs is equal to our crisis du jour as a species.
Being forgetful is being fragmentary.
It is being broken. Always.
Baudrillard taught us all to forget. Or rather, Baudrillard taught us that we are always already forgetting. This is the state of our existence, we have gone from the Enlightenment “knowers” of the cosmos to the Contemporary “forgetters” of. . . any/every-thing.
Forgetting breaks our memories, it breaks them down and breaks them apart. I am always filled with fragments – bits and pieces of lives, some mine, most not. I am always already filled with these fragments. My attention focuses long enough to begin to count them and to wonder where they all could have come from but I am quickly distracted. I don’t think I will ever truly know where my fragments came from, how many are “really” mine to begin with, or anything else we may wonder now in a brief moment of reflection. This is our interlude before the next coup by a new fragment, a new glimmer of recognition that blinds us just enough to distract us before it is moved, covered over by a new piece of something.
(“I used to have that technology but it was ripped right our of me”.) An overheard half of a conversation. (“From the book of dying words.”) A memory of a misread book title. (“. . . .and I support this message.”) A sample of someone (I can’t recall who).
To be forgotten is to be made into fragments, to be broken down and never to be put “back” together. This is assuming that cohesion and continuity are necessary or original. Our lives are fragmentary, they are incongruous and awkward. There is no continuity. . . only fragments. We drift in and out of consciousness in this hyper-real world, never completely aware, but never in total darkness either. Like being jolted in and out of a coma, we fade in to a shock and quickly fade out.
Heraclitus is the first thinker to be made fragmentary, to never be cohesive or coherent. He is always to be forgotten and never to truly be remembered. The more we think we know (grasp) him, the more Heraclitus is actually forgotten and covered over and blurred and fragmented (even further).
With every (heart)beat a second self. A simple square and a simple question. How long have you been asleep? With the dream of death… and the death of dreams… the dread of waking becomes a nightmare. “. . . the last thing I remember was a flash of light and the feeling of metal on skin.” When did the dreams stop? When did they die? How does one start dreaming again?
. . . .painkillers take you back. As if by force. The dream comes at you from all sides like when heavy rain soaks you to the bone. You don’t know what to expect, because you never expect anything. Expect everything. Expect only the unknown. Whatever dreams may bring. . .
The greatest thing we could ever do for Jean Baudrillard would be to forget him. . . to never know him. This forgetting is not a means of depreciating the value of Baudrillard to philosophy and the history of ideas, I am fully supportive of the man’s work, his investigations into how we experience our contemporary setting and the environment that has bred such creatures and we. To say that Baudrillard is not important is absurd in my mind. This forgetting is an honouring. To forget Baudrillard would be to elevate the symptom he describes to the highest degree. It is only when a disease is discovered, analyzed, and isolated that it can be cured. Part of this process is the forgetting of the discoverer, for them to fade into the background and become like lighting or scenery rather than actors. There are no more actors – the only actor is the prop. We must forget Baudrillard is how work is to become untainted by the idea that it belongs to him in any way. He is simply the one to discover such events (and non-events) and to begin the explanation of this new world, filled with new species and new behaviours. When we forget the man, Jean Baudrillard, we honour him to the highest degree by leaving nothing but the fragments he left behind. To forget him would be to allow him to be irrational, to be incoherent, and to allow his fragments to float to the surface in a continual forgetting. Either we must forget the man, or forget the works. With the former, the author becomes no one and everyone, the fragments left behind enigmas and challenges to those (un)fortunate enough to discover them and attempt to form them into a cohesive whole. In this case, Baudrillard remains alive and quietly laughing at the inevitable failure of their efforts. With the latter, Baudrillard also lives, with the man standing as a monument to the work that no longer exists, with only the pedestal engraved with the following words: “My name is Jean Baudrillard, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
About the Author
Michael Austin is from firstname.lastname@example.org
1 – Jean Baudrillard. Cool Memories I (1987). New York: Verso, 1990:116.
2 – Jean Baudrillard. Cool Memories IV. New York: Verso, 2002:65.
3 – Jean Baudrillard. Fragments: Cool Memories III. New York: Verso, 2007: 8.