Tag Archives: Baudrillard

The Reversible Straitjacket Of History

Alan W. Watts, in The Wisdom of Insecurity (1951), deconstructs our faith in the power of belief:

Most of us believe in order to feel secure, in order to make our individual lives seem valuable and meaningful. Belief has thus become an attempt to hang on to life, to grasp and keep it for one’s own. But you cannot understand life and its mysteries as long as you try to grasp it. Indeed, you cannot grasp it, just as you cannot walk off with a river in a bucket. If you try to capture running water in a bucket, it is clear that you do not understand it and that you will always be disappointed, for in the bucket the water does not run. To “have” running water you must let go of it and let it run. The same is true of life and of God. (24)

Watts exposes the profound absurdity of human existence: the pursuit of life gets us nowhere in the end. The wise know there is no security. This is the beginning and end of the proverbial human story.

The grand narrative of modernity centers on the indestructibility of Progress. Mankind is constantly getting smarter and moving faster, onward and upward to bigger and better things. The sky’s a limitation—for now.

Baudrillard challenged self-perpetuating systems of modernity, working hard to destroy them, theoretically, in his polemical prose. A disillusioned postmodern mystic, Baudrillard believed in the power of reversibility. Systems, he said, have the ability to undermine themselves. Computer viruses, for example, circulate in vast networks built for the smooth transmission of critical data. Superbugs continually infect residents of meticulously scrubbed hospital rooms, mocking the germaphobe morality we’ve waged against the natural dirt and stink of the human body.

Baudrillard tells us to celebrate reversibility; when we try to perfect systems, they fight back for our own good. We reclaim what makes us human in the face of out-of-control technically efficient machines. In a blessed moment of poetic resolution, the violence of perfection becomes the perfect violence against our increasingly sophisticated attempts to realize the world in its totality. Reversibility itself is subject to reversal.

History has the uncanny ability to jump over its own shadow. At their peak performance, oppressive economic, political and social systems engineer their own implosion. The most spectacular events of terror set the scene for the one-upmanship of further murderous replies. Clever machines compute themselves into exhaustion, activating the internal suicide switch of their planned obsolescence.

What’s “done” today is free to be undone tomorrow or next year or next century.

A recent example: Billy Bush conducts the “pussy grabbing” interview with Donald Trump in 2005. Hot mic audio of the exchange resurfaces in 2016; Bush’s career is finished within days of the leak. Trump, no matter his place in history, remains a tool.

A new year is upon us as the world rushes headlong into the past. Russia and the United States are engaged in full-blown Cold War mode again. In a dramatic reversal of fortune, if Congressional Republicans get their way, more than twenty million Americans currently covered under Obamacare will lose their benefits.

We’re forever bound in the straitjacket of history, but when we relax and let our minds run, things have a way of turning inside out. One day the poor man will be rich and the rich man poor. We make poetic resolutions every day, not just on New Year’s Eve.

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Electoral College Educated

It’s been two weeks since Hillary Clinton called Donald Trump to concede the election. Wonder if she used her rollover minutes.

Against the math, the polls, the demographics, Trump is now transitioning from troll to big kahuna. Some pundits argue that voters who identified for months as “undecided” knew they were voting for Trump all along but were afraid to admit it. Trump didn’t make their hearts go pitter-patter, but one look at Crooked Hillary turned them into stone.

Baudrillard had no faith in surveys, opinion polls or questionnaires. Pollsters don’t objectively gather information; they look for (and subconsciously elicit) answers that confirm their own ways of thinking. But the amorphous political collective–which includes you and me and everyone–known as the Masses has grown weary of all the poking and prodding. We resist the incessant demand to “rationally” decide and “truthfully” register a definitive Yes or No.

Trump supporters who refused to be counted weren’t conflicted but clever. They messed with the media, played the system. We all have to live with the results, and Trump’s executive decisions, now and into the un-foreseeable future.

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Manifest Destiny

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America’s fate took a sharp right turn last week. Was electing Donald Trump our destiny? Or another random occurrence in an absurd universe? Or the logical result of intricate causal relationships that began with the Original Thought in the mind of the Unmoved Mover?

Baudrillard liked to write about destiny and seduction. It’s silly to speak of an individual’s destiny, he said. We have a collective destiny with every living being and every non-living object in the world.

But each life has a double life. “Each individual life unfolds on two levels, in two dimensions–history and destiny–which coincide only exceptionally” (Impossible Exchange, p. 79).

I have my biological life, the physiological stuff of my existence, which allows for the development and expression of myself as “subject” over time. But my fate lies beyond my individual choices, in the mysterious inner-workings of a destiny I can neither name nor change. Baudrillard calls this double life my “becoming-object” or my “becoming-other.”

Many folks see their lives in linear terms. They embark on paths they mistakenly believe are straight, their goals attainable if they stay focused and plow ahead. But paths diverge, lines intersect. GPS recalculates.

Seduction, in Baudrillard’s world, has little to do with amorous pursuits and more to do with our secret desire to be led astray. We seduce ourselves and each other. Objects seduce us. We long for a shove in unexpected directions.

Donald Trump seduced American voters. The election results seduced the pollsters. We don’t know where the county goes from here. History is a poor substitute for destiny, which is here before you know it.

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Online Bating

Ever the provocateur, Baudrillard tells us in Baudrillard Live about “the story of the woman to whom a man sends an ardent love letter” (p. 110). “She asks him what part of her seduced him the most. What else can he answer? Her eyes, of course.”

The plot twist: “He receives in the mail, wrapped in brown paper, the woman’s eye.”

The ultimate play of appearances, a literal seduction: “She loses an eye, he loses face.”

Who writes ardent love letters today? Who sends anything in the mail?

The web eliminates distance and, paradoxically, my desire for intimacy. No time for relationships or sexual relations: today I have at my fingertips an endless stream of naughty amateurs with fully functioning lady parts and bills to pay.

If “Amber” ever asks, here’s what about her seduces me the most:

  • her webcam
  • her microphone
  • her keyboard
  • her mouse
  • her modem
  • her internet speed
  • her Wi-Fi connection
  • her ISP
  • her IP address
  • her domain host
  • her SSL protocol
  • her firewall
  • her customer service department
  • her virus protection
  • the vacant look on her face
  • the fact she accepts American Express

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Porno For Pyros

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. . . with their Samsung Galaxy Note 7 inside.

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The Art Of The Heel

“Something in all men profoundly rejoices at seeing a car burn.” –Baudrillard

Trump is a car fire

He’s the death drive Freud warned us about. Our innate desire to self-destruct for the pure spectacle of it. Sometimes he’s the car, a vehicle for change in reverse. Sometimes he’s the fire itself, a burning in the body politic.

Trump is Moloch

Moloch is the Biblical name of a Canaanite god that demands a costly sacrifice. Ginsberg writes in his masterpiece “Howl”:

“Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!”

In voting for Trump we sacrifice our children, the future, the promise of American ideals—in the name of security and (white) power.

Trump is part of the accursed share

From Wikipedia:

“According to Bataille’s theory of consumption, the accursed share is that excessive and non-recuperable part of any economy which must either be spent luxuriously and knowingly without gain in the arts, in non-procreative sexuality, in spectacles and sumptuous monuments, or it is obliviously destined to an outrageous and catastrophic outpouring, in the contemporary age most often in war, or in former ages as destructive and ruinous acts of giving or sacrifice, but always in a manner that threatens the prevailing system.”

Trump’s platform stinks. It’s the waste of democracy. A spewing from the mouth we’re desperate to expel. His campaign represents “an outrageous and catastrophic outpouring” of hate we excrete in small amounts to keep the system flowing.

Trump is the sorcerer’s apprentice

Goethe’s poem “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” was published in 1797. As the story goes, an old sorcerer leaves his apprentice with chores. The apprentice, not fully licensed, bonded and insured, enchants a broom to do the work for him, but soon he can’t stop its frenetic sweeping. He splits the broom in two with an axe, but each piece then splits in two, on and on. The old magician returns and breaks the spell, reminding his pupil that powerful spirits should only be called by the master himself.

Mickey Mouse assumed the role of apprentice in the 1940 Disney film Fantasia. Trump is neither Mickey nor sorcerer, but the magic itself. He will make people disappear, preferably back to Mexico.

Trump can’t fire Mickey, now a celebrity apprentice, because Mickey’s hands are twice the size of his.

Trump is a human being

The most frightening proposition of all: Trump is just himself. He’s you and I. Out of many, one.

Donald Trump is the fate we’re surprised to meet halfway down the path of our escape route. The brutal truth of our collective demise we couldn’t imagine during the primaries, but after November 8 we will come to realize was waiting for us all along.

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Radical Freedom

“The principle is to exaggerate: that is how to destroy reality.”—Jean Baudrillard

One of Baudrillard’s most intriguing concepts is reversibility. Pushed beyond the point of no return, the entire consumer-driven capitalist apparatus will collapse under the weight of its own logic. One example: In February 2005 a mob of bargain-seeking Ikea customers in North London caused a riot, fighting over furniture and bed frames, forcing police to close the grand opening of the retail giant after thirty minutes of chaos (see also William Merrin in Jean Baudrillard: Fatal Theories 61-82).

On the page at least, the theorist’s task is to steer oppressive systems like racism, sexism and classism over the edge, in the hopes of forging a path to radical freedom.

With emancipation in mind, I’ve decided to push my depression beyond the limits of its own ill-logic. Some principles to exaggerate: I shall listen to and absorb all negative thoughts; I shall accept my inferiority complex as absolute truth; I shall maintain no hope of recovery, etc.

Rather than fight against it, I shall afford my depression full range of motion. Delighting in a presumed but ultimately false sense of victory, my depression will ignite the flames of its own implosion.

Liberation through misery: the goal is to survive the onslaught of sadness and anxiety—to come out on the other side of depression refreshed and empowered to finally live without debilitating guilt and self-doubt. It’s a thought I’m free to entertain even in my darkest dreams.

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