Volume 11, Number 3 (August, 2014)
Jean Baudrillard – Hoping to Resolve the Irresolvable: An interview by Katharina Niemeyer
“Interviews lead to the fossilization of ideas by making them appear definitive” (Jean Bauidrillard, Baudrillard Live, Edited by Mike Gane, 1993: 205).
Katharina Niemeyer: What is the subject of your new book?
Jean Baudrillard: The title is The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact. Its subject is the idea of an integral reality (réalité intégrale); that is to say, the transformation of a “simple reality” into something where everything is wholly realized. Actually, everything has been virtually realized today: dreams, phantasms… This integral reality implies a violent abreaction; something like a denial of the situation, which is an accomplishment of all desires and at the same time an excess of the good.
KN: That means also an excess of the bad in our society?
JB: The world power, the integral reality, is demonstrated by this sort of integral power. The consequence is destabilization, and terrorism is one manifestation; I mean terrorism as an event-engine – and also the return of the image. That is the “9/11” matrix. It was an irreversible force, a totalization of things. Within are produced antibodies; there you can find evil, the so-called “axis of evil” for example.
KN: This integral reality, does it represent for you a kind of increasing of hyper-reality?
JB: Yes, it follows a logical phenomenon, as a logical result of simulation.
KN: I wonder how it might continue, this duality of ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’, which seems to have no end. One could describe it as a globalization of fear.
JB: Evidently it is a sort of counter-terror. Terrorism may be understood in two senses. This integral realization of the world is made of control, of surveillance; we deal with the global political order.
KN: George W. Bush proclaimed the undertaking of a war that would not be like other wars, and finally we see that it has become a rather classical war, including the apparition of terrorism in Iraq. I think that he underestimated the terrorism issue. It is impossible to destroy terrorism as a whole.
JB: This is typical, almost automatic; all these developments, in a sort of “operationalization” of world-wide control. Everybody develops defense systems and counter-offensives. In this sense, terrorism is everywhere, because it is not only inherent in violent events; it can also be located in linguistic, ethnical actions. We do not know where this will end. It is even in the heart of this culture: the more we carry forward ‘Good’, the more we carry forward ‘Evil’. I made a choice; I am against this attempt of globalization entering life everywhere. This attitude is quite difficult to maintain, it is an indefensible point of view. You cannot express your thinking in this society. On this level, you cannot go right to the end.
KN: At first there was a “ban” on different theories concerning the origins of the 9/11 attacks – but today there are many publications asking questions… and even some politicians openly criticizing Bush’s policy. What do you think about this?
JB: One might believe in a sort of conspiracy and, consequently, a complete manipulation of the event in the opposite direction. I have never agreed with that notion; but, since the beginning, there have been ideas like these. That does not work, that would demonstrate an ignorance of the event. There is something else. We do not know who the terrorists are. We do not know what is going on in their heads. This is an uncontrollable event on a second level. This is actually going on; do we interpret it on the first or on the second level? This is completely different; besides, reality itself is not located on the first level, this is the argument of my book. We are almost always on the
second level. I hope that an event might exist that could be a rupture of this integrality chain.
KN: What kind of event?
JB: This event, September 11. For me it is not an objective or historical reality. It shatters in terms of images, on a second level. Today everything is on a second level. One presents everything in an ironic form. There is a sort of total rupture and so one can regain this type of antagonism, just something that cannot be given back, an impossible exchange.
KN: I wonder how Europe might behave vis-à-vis the United States in the future, especially concerning globalization.
JB: This is the global issue: everything that can be presented as negativity re-enters the game, we know this very well. It is the end of an idea, a historical critique. We are therefore automatically driven into a coalition of all powers.
KN: As the clash of civilizations?
JB: This is not completely false, but in a way, it seems to be too exaggerated. I am too much a metaphysician to accept this notion – and, anyway, the idea of cultures and civilizations is so versatile: on this level you can say everything. That gives also a kind of trans-historical reality to Islam; a way of confusing Islam with terrorism which is a misapprehension for me.
KN: By following your general thinking, one day, all aspects of everyday
life might contain terrorism; that could be represented as a mathematical curve never touching the asymptote.
JB: Certainly, we will be more and more insecure. Even natural disasters are a form of terrorism, a destabilization of the order, something we cannot get under control. This is the sense of terror. That is the deciding point, we arrived here, the intelligence of evil; something irreducible, irresolvable is happening. I call it the lucidity pact, the only thing to be left for us. I saw it a few days ago during an UNESCO conference dealing with the democratization of globalization. They were just turning around like hamsters in a wheel. If you want to democratize you have to convince people to want to do it.
KN: One can ask,”What is democracy?” By inflicting it without asking if this might convenient for the others, this cannot be consistent with the philosophy of democracy.
JB: Democracy was a sort of motto, which has become compromised today. I am at my heart optimistic on the second level, in other words one should be confident in the system’s ability to destroy itself. However, I am pessimistic at the same time for, as I said, the excess of the ‘Good’ produces the ‘Evil’.
KN: A recent example is the event in Madrid, March 11th; they used cell phones to activate the bombs.
JB: In terms of the media it is – and that is the crucial point – the integral realization of things.
KN: The shaping of the potential?
JB: Yes, total communication, the catastrophe is here. If you follow the path of the media, we crash directly into the wall. Today, messages are largely laminated, just because it is an unfortunate circulation. The idea here is formed against the general exchange, against globalization; it is necessary to recreate impossible exchange. This is very ambiguous, impossible exchange exists via excess, singularity cannot be exchanged; and then there is the idea that there is no possible exchange at all. In this view the contrast imposes itself, the total realization. There is communication, but there are no more answers. But we might create impossible exchange in terms of singularity.
KN: What is really singular? In 2003, during your conference in Weimar (Germany), you said that there is no more linearity in history. Everything can be “singular” for me, even if there is a kind of inherent repetition. So history would be linearity with ruptures?
JB: Everything is singular, but we tend to the contrary concept: the extermination of all singularities. They disappear: cultures, behaviors, norms… On a micro-level, that is true, everyday life is almost a total singularity. People defend themselves and fall back into a sort of privacy; I mean something which is not concerned by the general exchange.
KN: A final question: what is an event for you?
JB: This is quite difficult to define. I do not apprehend it as an apocalypse; it is necessary to maintain this idea of an antagonist, insolvable situation. One should not despair, but this is a huge game. We are looking at an extraordinary adversity: everybody is playing the other’s game at the same time and in a certain way terrorism plays the game of a social power and vice-versa; but the whole situation is managed by the irruption of this thing. In terms of extra-ordinarity, this is maybe the event: exception. We have to think about the moment, which is also linked with the story of simulation. The simulacrum was always there, the moment of irruption of simulacrums – that is the interesting point. Terrorism poses in a way the same question.
(This interview took place on March 24, 2004: Paris, France).
About the Author
Dr. Katharina Niemeyer is an Associate Professor at the French Press Institute, Pantheon-Assas University. She is a member of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research and Analysis of the Media (CARISM). She researched and lectured and researched at the University of Geneva, where she earned her Ph.D. in media and communication studies. She has also taught in Lyon and Lausanne. Her primary areas of research are in the field of media studies, memory studies, historical (media) events, semiotics, media philosophy and the philosophy of history. She has published two books: De la chute du mur de Berlin au 11 Septembre 2001 (Antipodes, 2011); and Die Mediasphären des Terrorismus, Avinus Press, 2006).