Volume 8, Number 2 (July 2011)
Author: Alex Cline
I. Kingdoms of Gold and Rust
Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future… (Marcus Aurelius).
From this would follow, in the literal sense, a pataphysics or science of imaginary solutions, a science of the simulation or hypersimulation of an exact, true, objective world, with its universal laws, including the delirium of those who interpret according to these laws (Baudrillard ( 2007:57).
For Jean Baudrillard, any attempt to create a conception of social life based on production, as Marx undertakes, is fundamentally a product of the logic of the very dominating force which our society’s dissidents oppose. Even this force is enigmatic – as opaque as it is dynamic, it operates through the State and hierarchy, through Capital and Capitalism, through Power and the powerful – but it cannot be reduced to a single locus. Rather, this totality that provides for the increasing complexity, for the incessant development of new forms of exploitation, alienation and abstraction, should be seen as a form of metaphysical framework, a pole of an eternal duality that will be elaborated later. This construct draws inspiration from Debord’s analysis of the Spectacle and from Foucault’s conception of Power; however, its ability to manipulate conceptions of temporality, of space and reality, render it both more elusive and simultaneously more integral. Yet while it remains occulted, we can be relatively sure that Baudrillard’s totality remains the architect of political economy, which “coincides with the proclamation of the commodity law of value” and the beginning of production ( 1993:9).
Drawing from Walter Benjamin’s conception of the object, particularly the artistic object in different stages of production, Baudrillard conceives of a parallel development of simulacra and of simulation. Initially, the counterfeit served as a symbolic object that challenged nature’s role as subject of genesis; simultaneously, it served as a mechanism to prolong delay and ’emancipate’ the sign from its origins. Architecture shifted from a rearrangement of the environment to a genuine provocation, while the infrequent acts of craftsmanship began to aggrandize the human condition. Tools began to qualify as counterfeit the moment they became obsolete, the moment they became representative of an archaic struggle with nature. The counterfeit object is still primitive, in the sense that it works “only on substance and form, not yet on relations and structures” (Ibid.:53), but still constitutes a politicization of the engagement with nature previously rooted in necessity. Baudrillard asserts that such a creation “is already aiming at control of a pacified society;” we can conceive of its ultimate form “cast in a synthetic substance which evades death, an indestructible artifact that will guarantee eternal power” (Ibid.). It remains relatively harmless, given the fact that remains an object to be observed, experienced, but not interacted with. Yet it serves as a signal of the aspirations of political economy, which has taken its first steps towards hegemony over our reality.
The popular etymology of the word ‘commodity’ has it coming from commoditatem, the Latin word for adaptation; this seems fitting given its origins as a replicant of the natural object. Yet the commodity also can be related to the root of the name of the Emperor Commodus; this is perhaps a more fitting analogy as we enter Baudrillard’s second stage of simulation. For the sovereign, who ruled Rome in the second century A.D., was possessed by a bizarre logic eerily reminiscent of that of the commodity. Believing he was endowed with the powers of Hercules, he endeavored to personally slay thousands of animals and citizens in the arena while setting about a series of reforms that culminated in an attempt to rebuild Rome (Dio:105). The empire was decorated with his statues, facilitating a transition to the second stage of the Commodity; in Commodus’ reign, statues, once carefully crafted singularities, became mass produced. Also relevant was the genesis of planned obsolescence; Rome, which he sought to constantly rebuild, would have to be destroyed. In the eyes of Cassius Dio, he is responsible for Rome’s shift from “from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust” (Dio, 1927:69), from a space of artisanship to a prototype of a new political economy bound to decay. The commodity form constitutes a profound rejection of the writings of stoic Marcus Aurelius, Commodus’ father, who stated that “anything in any way beautiful derives its beauty from itself and asks nothing beyond itself.” For Baudrillard, the commodity form and its reproduction “absorbs the processes of production, changes its goals, and alters the status of the product and the producer” ( 1993:55). The product is defined by its relationship to the subject, which it proceeds to fundamentally alter. Following the industrial revolution, in which the production of goods on a large scale becomes possible, society is reconstituted on the basis of its relationship with the economy. Yet Marx was wrong to view this stage as terminal, or even that significant; for Baudrillard, “the stage of serial reproduction is ephemeral” (Ibid.:56). Much more significant are first order simulacra, which illustrate our potential to challenge nature, and third order simulacra, in which simulation begins to be totalized.
For “we have passed form the commodity law of value to the structural of value”; in other words, production is now effectively obsolete (Ibid.:68). Baudrillard observed, in The Mirror of Production, that “in the era when Marx began to write, workers were breaking machines. Marx did not write for them”. The German philosopher was attached to the idea of production, to the idea of the objective. Yet even the most uneducated Luddites began to understand that the way that the machines they operated would soon operate them; they recognized that the era of production only entailed a more perfect form of reproduction and organization of society. The teleology of the industrial world would not be a utopian paradise of plenty; instead it would entail complete alienation. Yet many Luddites did not reject creation completely, they simply aspired for a return to the age of craftsmanship and unique products.
Walter Benjamin asserted that “the unique value of the “authentic” work of art has its basis in ritual, the location of its original use value.” With this in mind, one can begin to understand the reason that one of the first proclamations of the mob upon the death of Commodus was “let the statues of the murderer and the gladiator be overthrown”. Commodus had altered traditional statues of Hercules, a folk hero, to serve the interests of the state; furthermore, he had began to reproduce them in alarming numbers. At stake was the ‘golden’ nature of the Rome, the unique cultural reservoir that Commodus threatened to destroy in his attempt to rebuild his capital as the Disneyland of the ancient world. The populist rage appears surprising, given the relatively elite of nature of most Roman coups. Yet one could argue the revolt was not against a man, but instead the cultural valorization and wage labor he was attempting to promote. “We have been slaves to slaves”, exclaimed the crowd in the senate, demanding that the corpse of Commodus, “who demanded a price for the life of a man,” be “dragged by a hook” [Historia Augusta]. This would, in fact, be a resistance prefiguring the revolts of millions of industrial workers against new forms of labor and imposed consumption.
II. Luddism in the Age of Metaphysical Production
Our Great War is a spiritual war. Our Great Depression is our lives (Tyler Durden, Fight Club).
Oh sir, it was Kahn! We found him on Setia Alpha 5, he put creatures into our bodies to control our minds, made us say lies, do things, but we beat him! He thought he could control us, but he could not (Pavel Chekov, Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn).
Jean Baudrillard is widely considered to be one of the first post-Marxist philosophers and a man who deeply criticized the conservatism of political economy (see also Coulter, 2009). He asserted that “Work is a process of destruction as well as of “production,” and in this way work is symbolic” ( 1975:99). The product, as a simulated resource, became commonplace in the ‘counterfeit’ crafts of the Renaissance, as Baudrillard asserts, but was first found in the manufactured relics of the Scholastic age and the arcane trinkets of Antiquity. The project of modernity was to spread the logic of production and consumption around the globe, but the technologies of industry and media rendered this process relatively complete in a matter of centuries. The mass product, deprived of all aura or specificity, abounded in the productive mayhem of the Twentieth Century. By the end of the century, however, intellectuals were beginning to observe “capital to such a degree of accumulation that it becomes an image” (Debord). According to Baudrillard: “this spectacle, which is at once that of the death throes and the apogee of capital, surpasses by far that of the commodity described by the situationists. This spectacle is our essential force” ( 1994:101). While Debord and others deserved respect for realizing the increasingly semiotic nature of Capital, they fell short by situating their analysis in the realm of political economy. Baudrillard prefers to see semio-capital not as a product of an economic base, but as a more complex form of symbolic exchange, of the sort that Marcel Mauss and other sociologists describe in pre-capitalist economies. The philosopher asserts that in our contemporary civilization as in most cultures throughout history, the material values of commodities are largely unimportant, when compared to their symbolic and structural values.
The innovation of the first order of simulation was the possibility of the manufacture of an object that would “involve social relations and social power” ( 1993:52); it was the potential for the manipulation of exchange value through artifice. In the cultural milieu of 15th Century Italy and later Europe, with the blessing of the Church, such a procedure became generalized. The innovation of the second order was the extension, through industrial labor and wages, of the exchange of simulated products to entire populations. Labor and its resultant processes proved essential to the production of contemporary identity; “death, loss and absence are inscribed in it through this dispossession of the subject, this loss of the subject and the object in the scansion of the exchange ( 1975:99). This process of reproduction was reinforced by the mainstream revolutionary movements of modernity, such as Marxism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, which held firm to the necessity of labor under different conditions. Yet the nature of the third order of simulation is yet more spectacular, since it allows for domination at the metaphysical level. It ensures that the worker remains enamored with the idea of products, even if they are not actually producing anything and are too poor to consume anything. As pure code, its logic ensures continued domination: “social control by means of the end is replaced with social control by means of prediction, simulation, programmed anticipation and indeterminate mutation…” ( 1993:60). Stoppages, strikes, even revolutions no longer matter as long as the logic of production and consumption remains the same; “although the concept of non-labor can thus be fantasized as the abolition of political economy, it is bound to fall back into the sphere of political economy as the sign, and only the sign, of its abolition” ( 1975:41).
The Imperial-Capital Totality has allowed for the production of digital watches and highways, quantum theory and the internet. Our creativity has allowed for the production of self-regulating, virtually self-aware machines; has provided for the complete colonization, for the complete uniformity and regulation, of our conceptions of space and time. Our labor power is irrelevant, provided we reproduce social relations; it is impossible to find a form of meaning that has not itself been produced. Even our boredom becomes used against us, perpetuated by the development of fashion, the planned obsolescence of the omnipotent product. Commoditus, did not just alter the Roman economy, but set about renaming everything after himself, perverting the myths of Hercules to make them about his own exploits. As Baudrillard notes: “we are all victims of production become spectacle, of the aesthetic enjoyment, of delirious production and reproduction, and we are not about to turn our backs on it, for in every spectacle there is the immanence of catastrophe. Today we have made the vertigo of politics that Benjamin denounces in fascism, its perverse aesthetic enjoyment, into the experience of production at the level of the general system.” ( 1993:186).
We have built a dead world, a meaningless abandon of hyperreal sensations. Yet resistance is still possible. In ‘On Nihilism’, perhaps the closest thing Baudrillard has to a political manifesto, he observes the metaphysical structural revolutions of the nineteenth century, which entailed “the destruction of appearances in the service of meaning”, and of the late twentieth century, which resulted in “the immense process of the destruction of meaning.” Popular struggles have generally remained behind the times; the rise of the proletariat was confounded by conceptions of national history and identity, by commodities and the occlusion of racial, ethnic and sexual oppressions. The biggest barrier, however, came in the form of Marxism: “Marx objectified the convulsion of a social order, its current subversion, the speech of life and death, the liberator of the very movement, in a long-term dialectical revolution, in a spiraling finality that was only the endless screw of political economy” ( 1975:163-64). The objective destruction of reality by capital provided for objective conceptions of revolution that ignored subjectivity and desire, agency and hierarchy.
By 1968, this hegemonic conception of revolution had been fractured, as students demanded “all power to the imagination” and third world resistance movements revolted against both imperialism and historical materialism. The struggle of workers was turned against alienation and the institution of work itself; the fires of the Prague Spring permanently changed the nature of resistance. Yet by 1970s, it was already too late; “today, everything has changed,” wrote Baudrillard in 1976: “no longer is meaning in short supply, it is produced everywhere, in ever increasing quantities – it is demand which is weakening” ( 2007:53). The capitalism of code attempted to induce existential crises amongst its subjects; to get them to change their job, partner or lifestyle on a regular basis and become fanatical consumers of media, the nectar of the simulation. Che Guevara t-shirts and films about the Bader Meinhof Gang are a worthwhile investment; there is no ‘making punk a threat again’. Fighting capital and the state through subcultures and activist issue groups is doomed to fail in the gulf of postmodernity. “It is up to us to again become the nomads of this desert, but disengaged from the mechanical illusion of value” ( (1994):100). For we can aspire to no values or goals, not even the destruction of capital; such values are its own. Following a global recession, the corporate media speculated on the end of capitalism, just as it has done previously on catastrophic climate change and nuclear destruction. Yet “death is imminent to political economy, which is why the later sees itself as immortal” ( 1993:186).
What must ask ourselves what Luddism, the confounding of the principles of political economy, could look like in a world that has no longer any use for the means of production. In Symbolic Exchange and Death, Baudrillard discounts “The workplace accident is the concern of the economic order and has no symbolic yield whatsoever. Since it is a machinic breakdown rather than a sacrifice, it is as indifferent to the collective imagination as it is to the capitalistic entrepreneur. It is the object of a mechanical refusal, of a mechanical revolt, based on the right to life and to security, and is neither the object nor the cause of a ludic terror” ( 1993:165-166). The laborer, by adamant refusal of labor, nonetheless reinforces the code and the logic of labor; such action is therefore relatively impotent. Except for the fact that “the worker, as is well known, plays too freely with his security, at the whim of the unions and bosses who understand nothing of this challenge” (Ibid.:166). The death of meaning in society enables a minute trace of nihilism amongst a sea of apathy. Yet this nihilism orients itself in several directions; when by chance it challenges death, it threatens to undermine the entire basis for the simulated nature of modern society.
Luddism finds its postmodern equivalent in the surrealist abandon of the mass, in forms of anti-politics which mock conceptions of representation and of the social. We witness the divine brilliance of the rave and the sports riot, the suicidal teen and the graffiti artist; these bacchanalian modes of resistance take the entertainment and mediation provided by the Spectacle and return it as a reciprocal gifts that are occult and dangerous. Those who constitute the modern mass “know there is no liberation, and that a system is abolished only by pushing it into hyperlogic; by forcing it into an excessive practice which is equivalent to a brutal amortization” (Baudrillard  2007:65). As such, their actions defy meaning; they can be explained only as the resurrgence of the primitive cultural desire to blur the lines between life and death; as such they constitute a potent response to capitalist metaphysics.
Nihilism of the system can only be reciprocated by the nihilism of the mass; conversely the inexplicable deaths, the suicides and assasinations, of random members of a society provide a symbolic gift that the system cannot reciprocate except through its own decay. One recalls the manner in which Athens was torn apart last year following the death of a young teenager; similar events occurred in 2005 and 2007 in the suburbs of Paris, or in recent years in American cities. What is significant is not the state violence, which has taken place as a constant; rather, important is the ludic manner in which members of the population are starting to approach death. In a fragment titled “Kool Killer, or the Insurrection of Signs”, Baudrillard speaks of how urban graffiti constitutes a semiotic assault on the existing order, a new form of resistance in the age of the Spectacle ( 1993:76). Yet Baudrillard fails to mention a fact he would certainly find significant: the willful danger in which young people undergo to create such signs, an engagement with death that is replicated in pernicious internet chat rooms, underground drag-racing, in the increasingly apocalyptic jouissance and drug use of hipster adolescents. Such is the nature of metaphysical luddism; “if life is only a need to survive at any cost, then annihilation is a priceless luxury” ( 1993:156).
III. Tiqqun, Valentinus and Jean Baudrillard’s Imaginary Wake
…the forces of annihilation gather upon a path very different from that where one had once thought to find them (Tiqqun  2009).
Congratulations to those who know where the rebels are going to attack (Jesus Christ, Gospel of Thomas).
The Spectacle, that amalgamation of oppressions, is therefore no longer just a semiotic phenomenon. Capital’s domination of our interpersonal relationships was prodigious, its permeation of all images and cultures profound, but these were not the terminus of its advance. Beggaring belief, it has sought to alter our very affective capacity and metaphysical framework, altering and commodifying our views and expressions; this mutation of the system must be realized as a precondition for its disruption. Tiqqun, a journal of messianic resistance founded in the final months of the last century, asserts that “the world of the quelipoth, the Spectacle is bad, through and through”. Further, “the Old World offers to our view a desolate countryside of new ruins and dead carcasses that wait for a demolition that does not come and could yet wait for eternity, if no one had the idea to undertake it. Never has there been the project of so many celebrations, and never, too, did their enthusiasm appear more false, more faint and more forced”. One may draw analogies with the climax of Commodus’ reign as Emperor in 2nd Century Rome, during which spectacular carnivals and an intense propaganda campaign attempted to distract citizens from rampant political corruption, economic crisis and virtual martial law.
Yet simulated environments, both of the arena and the modern multiplex, do not just affect relationships between members of the audience. Rather, they serve to create a fundamental disjuncture between generations and peoples, to replace de facto community with de jure society. They seek to crystallize the moment, be it the moment of love, as in a perfume advertisement, or the moment of death, as in the climax of a major Hollywood movie. “Thanks to the photographic lens,” writes Giorgio Agamben in Profanations, said captured gesture “is now charged with the weight of an entire life; that insignificant or even silly moment collects and condenses in itself the meaning of an entire existence” (1993:24). The moment of social control that defined the Commodian Empire was the control over death vested in the Emperor’s thumb, but ultimately facilitated by the hundreds of thousands of spectator-citizens. In his Marginal Notes on Debord’s Commentaries, Agamben establishes the Timisoara massacre as the crux of the Integrated Spectacle; as a space in which manufactured death and mass media participation are blended into a horrifying Combine (2000:80). Baudrillard writes: “Power is possible only if death is no longer free, only if the dead are put under surveillance, in anticipation of the future confinement of life in its entirety” ( 1993:130).
Such an apparatus of power, in hyping the spectacular death, seeks to exorcise the concept of death from the rest of society. Some will be fortunate enough to be granted a spectacular death, in a catastrophe or crash. Yet this real event will be closely guarded, (“hence the police presence at the scenes of catastrophes,”) witnessed at best through a high degree of mediation. The ‘natural death’ remains the fate for most; exiled to the rear of a hospital, retirement home, tenement or jail cell, the epitome of a non-event. Yet for Baudrillard, “it is correct to say that the dead, hounded and separated from the living, condemn us to an equivalent death: for the fundamental law of symbolic obligation is at play in any case, for better or worse” ( 1993:127). We are fated to experience a socialized form of death, a glaciation of consciousness and of massive potential. “It can no longer be said that the social is dying,” writes Baudrillard in his critique of Sociology, “since it is already the accumulation of death” ( 2007:84). By removing ulterior conceptions of death from our culture, by exiling it to a mythical, spectacular moment, or denying its existence completely, we have allowed an effective stranglehold. Tiqqun observes that neoliberal subjects “are born,” “wish to live;” “to follow out their moribund fate.” If they reproduce, it is only “to birth other deaths, other destinies of death” ( 2009:159). Remarkably, this resonates closely with Baudrillard’s observation that “the cemetery no longer exists because modern cities have entirely taken over their function: they are ghost towns, cities of death” ( 1993:127). One can imagine entire societies addicted to the aesthetic slaughter produced by film and video game developers, who are simultaneously completely unprepared to face their own mortality.
Yet we find, in both Tiqqun and Baudrillard, a particularly optimistic form of Nihilism. For Baudrillard, he sees potential in “the refusal of socialization which comes from the mass; from an inumerable, unnamable and anonymous group, whose strength comes from its very destruction and decay” ( 2007:63). This is precisely the phenomenon championed by Tiqqun in their work, most notably in their Theses on the Imaginary Party. Their ‘Imaginary Party’ is constituted by anonymous members of society who “have re-appropriated the anonymity with which they were constrained;” by those who have engage in meaningless and absurd acts of resistance and rebellion on a daily basis ( 2009:Theses 16). The political order of the 1970s assured itself victory through it’s capacity to criminalize and marginalize political dissident groups, such as the Red Army Faction in Germany, Autonomia in Italy and the Weather Underground in the United States. Tiqqun threatens to invert this process, politicizing all that is criminal and marginal within our society into an invincible ‘Imaginary Party.’ “A society which is itself collapsing has no chance of integrating its immigrants, who are both products and cruel analysts of our decay,” wrote Baudrillard of the Parisian riots of 2005 ( 2006). They have realized the simple fact, he observes, that it is often more fun to watch expensive cars burn than to drive them; such constitutes a profound rejection of Western culture, but also Western metaphysics. Tiqqun similarly takes extreme pleasure in random attacks on society, even when they risk becoming absurd or gratuitously violent: “each one of these murders without motive and without designated victim, each one of these anonymous sabotages constitutes an act of Tiqqun, that executes the sentence that this world has already pronounced against itself. It returns to nothingness that which Spirit has already quitted, to death those who do not live but rather survive, to the ruin of that which has for so long been no more than ruins” ( 2009, Theses 16].
If the Spectacle exists as a metaphysical evil, a dangerous illusion distorting our perception and instilling apathy, Tiqqun sees the Imaginary Party as its dualistic counterbalance. The authors of the journal find themselves inspired by messianic and heretical sects of Judaism, particularly the Sabbateans and the proponents of Kabala. A Hasidic prayer recalls their conception of the Imaginary Party as agents of an occluded Good: “there are times when the love of God burns so powerfully within your heart that the words of prayer seem to rush forth, quickly and without deliberation. At such times it is not you yourself who speak; rather it is through you that the words are spoken” (Green and Holtz, 1977). Yet for Tiqqun, there emerges more than words from the faith of the multitude; “they robbed for their family and their farm,” asserts an article detailing ‘Some Recent Actions of the Imaginary Party.’ “They ran to stay alive. They killed to avenge a 14 year old girl. They shot lasers at planes just for fun,” explains an anonymous commissar; “in their disregard, they joined the Imaginary Party” (Pudget Sound, 2009). Baudrillard similarly realizes the enormous potential of moments of resistance which remain unconnected and undecipherable: “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, i.e. to act out its own death right away within the explosive structure of capital, when it chooses to explode suddenly instead of seeking political expansion and class hegemony, then the result is June ’48, the Commune, or May ’68” ( 2007:63).
What occurred in the suburbs of Paris in 2005, atrophying through unemployment and poverty, was hardly revolutionary. No matter, Baudrillard predicted this, since “the revolution too fixes its sights on an immortal objective, in the name of which it demands the suspension of death, in the interests of accumulation. But immortality is always the monotonous immortality of a social paradise” ( 1993:186). Refreshingly there were no demands for better conditions, for more access to the glimmering commodities of the West or its similarly flashy democratic institutions. Shopping malls and cars were torched; schools and libraries were burned to the ground. The actions of the rioters should instead be construed have been an attempt to engineer an immediate escape from the hell in which they found themselves. Similar maneuvers were undertaken by residents of New Orleans’ devastated wards at the same time, who confounded government attempts to provide for or move them; they were insistent that they would immediately reconstitute the communities they aspired to live in, free from the sort of aid that would soon aspire to turn their vacant homes into condos. “In this underhanded, inescapable confrontation between the silent majority and the social imposed on them, in this hypersimulation reduplicating simulation and exterminating it according to its own logic – there lies the genuine stake today,” asserts Baudrillard ( 2007:66).
One finds it interesting to discover that a similar metaphysical struggle was underway during the reign of Commodius, around the point at which an earlier attempt was made to submerge Society beneath the logic of the commodity, of the Spectacle. For the beginning of his reign roughly coincided with the death of Valentinus, a Gnostic scholar who taught in Rome and sought to create a community there. “From the beginning you are immortal and children of eternal life,” he told his followers. “You wished to distribute death amongst yourselves so as to consume it and annihilate it, and so that death might die in and through you. For when you dissolve the world and are not yourselves dissolved, you rule over creation and over the whole of corruption” (Brons). Due to the way in which they were ambivalent towards, if not completely embracing of, death, the Gnostic Christians constituted a huge threat, both to more conventional branches of Christianity and to the Roman Empire itself. They constantly faced the threat of the Arena, yet their systematic persecution only served to make them stronger, to inspire more acts of random and diffuse rebellion. “Each one of these metaphysical communities awakens to a harsh world where humans can no longer meet save on the basis of the essential, and constitute, in the midst of the desert, an exclusive pole of substantiality,” writes Tiqqun, explaining the nature of current resistance groups but alluding to those of previous times. Random, seemingly unconnected acts began to challenge the Empire: an angry gang of children disrupt an important horse race, sparking a popular uprising [Dio, 1927: 98). Small groups of assassins spring up, making it their business to inject random members of the population with deadly drugs (Ibid.:102). A portion of the Roman Army in Gaul defects, destroying prisons and attacking other soldiers before engaging in an insane plot to assassinate the Emperor during an annual carnival (Herodian, 1961:187).
“As long as commodity domination subsists,” writes Tiqqun, “those of the Imaginary Party must expect to receive from it consideration as criminals to be dealt with, or as partridges to be dealt with, depending on the circumstances” (Tiqqun  2009, Theses 21). Thus the disenfranchised minorities of the Paris suburbs and wards of New Orleans are beaten down, shot at, arrested only to be exiled or deported elsewhere. Similarly, the citizens of Rome found themselves subject to an intense wave of slaughter. The Gnostic sects were no doubt appealing because they had developed a complex understanding of a prototypical commodity society. The idea of a Demiurge, an evil or imperfect creator of the Universe, leads easily to conceptions of hyperreality and simulation analogous to those of Baudrillard: “however much a portrait is inferior to an actual face, just so is the world inferior to the living realm” wrote Valentinus in the second century (Brons). Baudrillard in fact references “great Manichean heresies that threatened the foundations of the Church” through their conceptions of the world “as an antagonistic duality”  1993:145). In conceiving of the world as full of simulacra and useless distractions, in promoting esoteric development of spirituality and in refusing to promote ideas of an objective afterlife, the Gnostic sects were well equipped to describe the acts of refusal, resistance and subversion already underway across the Empire. In the Gospel of St. Thomas, a Gnostic text written in the first or second Century, a disciple asks Jesus: “When will the rest for the dead take place, and when will the new world come?” Jesus replies: “what you are looking forward to has come, but you don’t know it” (Miller, 1992). Baudrillard espouses a similar view in Forget Foucault with disdain for both eschatological religion and revolution: “the revolution has already taken place”… An entire cycle is ending, and they have not noticed. And they will play the game of linear revolution, whereas it has already curved upon itself to produce its simulacrum, like stucco angels whose extremities join in a curved mirror” ( 2007:58).
Jean Baudrillard is dead, and it is now clear that the actions of the Imaginary Party – the riots in Paris, Tehran and Athens [and today throughout the Middle East], the occupations in Austria and California, the suicidal attacks that occur around the world on a daily basis – constitute a significant part of his wake. It seems fitting that Tiqqun’s The Coming Insurrection, should have been released in France only two weeks after Baudrillard’s death. Such a text is valuable only if it is seen in the context of the groups earlier work; not as a manifesto for utopian seclusion, but instead as a catalog detailing the resurgence of occult conceptions of a simulated world, describing ongoing process of subterfuge – not the Coming Insurrection, but a sort of Becoming-Resurrection. For, as noted in Tiqqun’s theses, “the Imaginary Party is the party that tends to become real, incessantly”. By Baudrillard’s own logic, his death constitutes not an end to his legacy, but rather a call to the rest of society to reciprocate his absurd pataphysics, his metaphysical and theoretical terrorism; for him, “death is neither resolution nor involution, but a reversal and a symbolic challenge” ( 1993:157).
I am intrigued by the discovery that Commodus’ reign as despotic architect of a prototypical spectacle was not ended through direct confrontation, though many attempts were made. Rather, the terminus came after somebody burned down the palace which acted as the focus of Imperial cartography and codification: “nearly all the State records were destroyed” (Dio, 1927:121). The conflagration, possibly an act of arson, also destroyed the ‘Temple of Peace’, wiping out the riches stored in it; “in a single night,” it “made paupers of many rich men” [Herodian, 1961:191]. One can only wonder who might have been responsible. Either way, such an assault succeeded in pushing the system into hyperlogic; Commodus, plagued by anxiety, “fell into a drunken madness”. At this point, he appears to have invented fashion, “making himself an object of ridicule by combining in one set of garments the frailty of a woman and the might of a superman” (Ibid.). At the same time, his duplication and distribution of statues of himself reached an insane speed. “He who set aside the testaments of the dead” and presided over the birth of the commodity ended up being assassinated by his own partner and, quite ironically, by an athlete named Narcissus (Historia Augusta, 1921).
Five Emperors claimed to succeed Commodus and riots continued throughout the Empire, which soon fell into decline. The metaphysical framework of the Empire had been subverted; after two centuries of strife and persecution, a moderate form of Christianity was eventually made the official religion of Rome. Eleven centuries later, it would preside over its own attempt to introduce high-order simulacra, the logic of production and cultural simulation, with the invention of the Gutenberg Bible, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment; such is another story. Yet just as through his death and philosophy Valentinus constituted a symbolic assault on the old order, Baudrillard has seriously threatened the new one. As he asked us to consider: “only death can put an end to political economy” ( 1993:187).
About the Author
Alex Cline is a recent graduate of the New School and an incoming postgraduate at the University of Sussex. His forthcoming thesis explores the correlation between digital territories and radical idealism.
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