Volume 8, Number 1 (January 2011)
Author: Jean Baudrillard
Note: With the cooperation of The Seagull Press IJBS is pleased to offer a selection Baudrillard’s Why Hasn’t Everything Disappeared? (2009) [pages 9-19]. Translated by Chris Turner with an Introduction by François L’Yvonnet. The original text in French was published by Editions de L’Herne, Paris (2007).
When I speak of time, it is not yet
When I speak of a place, it has disappeared
When I speak of a man, he’s already dead
When I speak of time, it already is no more
(Baudrillard and Noailles, 2007:135).
Let us speak, then, of the world from which human beings have disappeared. It’s a question of disappearance, not exhaustion, extinction or extermination. The exhaustion of resources, the extinction of species – these are physical processes or natural phenomena.
And that’s the whole difference. The human species is doubtless the only one to have invented a specific mode of disappearance that has nothing to do with Nature’s law: Perhaps even an art of disappearance.
Let’s begin with the disappearance of the real. We have talked enough about the murder of reality in the age of the media, virtual reality and networks, without enquiring to any great degree when the real began to exist. If we look closely, we see that the real world begins, in the modern age, with the decision to transform the world, and to do so by means of science, anaIytical knowledge and the implementation of technology – that is to say that it begins, in Hannah Arendt’s words, with the invention of an Archimedean point outside the world (on the basis of the invention of the telescope by Galileo and the discovery of modern mathematical calculation) by which the natural world is definitively alienated. This is the moment when human beings, while setting about analyzing and transforming the world, take their leave of it, while at the same time lending it force of reality. We may say, then, that the real world begins, paradoxically, to disappear at the very same time as it begins to exist.
By their exceptional faculty for knowledge, human beings, while giving meaning. value and reality to the world, at the same time begin a process of dissolution (‘to analyse’ means literally ‘to dissolve’).
But doubtless we have to go back even further – as far as concepts and language. By representing things to ourselves, by naming them and conceptualizing them, human beings call them into existence and at the same time hasten their doom, subtly detach them from their brute reality. For example, the class struggle exists from the moment Marx names it. But it no doubt exists in its greatest intensity only before being named.
Afterwards, it merely declines. The moment a thing is named, the moment representation and concepts take hold of it, is the moment when it begins to lose its energy-with the risk that it will become a truth or impose itself as ideology. We may say the same of the Unconscious and its discovery by Freud. It is when a thing is beginning to disappear that the concept appears.
The owl, says Hegel, flies out at dusk.
Take globalization: if there is so much talk of it, as obvious fact, as indisputable reality. that is perhaps because it is already no longer at its height and we are already contending with something else.
Thus the real vanishes into the concept. But what is even more paradoxical is the exactly opposite movement by which concepts and ideas (but also phantasies, utopias, dreams and desires) vanish into their very fulfilment. When everything disappears by excess of reality, when, thanks to the deployment of a limitless technology, both mental and material, human beings are capable of fulfilling all their potentialities and, as a consequence, disappear, giving way to an artificial world that expels them from it, to an integral performance that is, in a sense, the highest stage of materialism. (Marx: the idealist stage of interpretation, and the irresistible transformation that leads to a world without us.) That world is perfectly objective since there is no one left to see it. Having become purely operational, it no longer has need of our representation. Indeed, there no longer is any possible representation of it.
For, if what is proper to human beings is not to realize all their possibilities, it is of the essence of the technical object to exhaust its possibilities and even to go quite some way beyond them, staking out in that way the definitive demarcation line between technical objects and human beings, to the point of deploying an infinite operational potential against human beings themselves and implying, sooner or later, their disappearance.
Thus, the modern world foreseen by Marx, driven on by the work of the negative, by the engine of contradiction, became, by the very excess of its fulfilment, another world in which things no longer even need their opposites in order to exist, in which light no longer needs shade, the feminine no longer needs the masculine (or vice versa?), good no longer needs evil-and the world no longer needs us.
It is here we see that the mode of disappearance of the human (and naturally of everything related to it – Günther Anders’ outdatedness of human beings ( 1980), the eclipse of values, etc.) is precisely the product of an internal logic, of a built in obsolescence, of the human race’s fulfilment of its most grandiose project, the Promethean project of mastering the universe, of acquiring exhaustive knowledge. We see, too, that it is this which precipitates it towards its disappearance, much more quickly than animal species, by the acceleration it imparts to an evolution that no longer has anything natural about it.
Doing so not out of some death drive or some involutive, regressive disposition toward undifferentiated forms, but from an impulse to go as far as possible in the expression of all its power, all its faculties – to the point even of dreaming of abolishing death.
The remainder of the text in English translation (and accompanying photographs by Alain Willaume) is available from Seagull Books (London, New York, Calcutta).
Jean Baudrillard and Enrique Valiente Noailles (2007). Exiles From Dialogue. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Günther Anders ( 1980). Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen [The Outdatedness of Human Beings] (2 volumes). Munich: Verlag H. C. Beck.