Jean Baudrillard - AMERICA - Excerpts 1
Translated by Chris Turner
excerpts compiled by Erik Haugsjaa (1999)
From America, Verso, London and New York 1998
...This is echoed by the other obsession: that of being 'into', hooked in toyour own brain. What people are contemplating on their word-processor screensis the operation of their own brains. It is not entrails that we try to interpretthese days, nor even hearts or facial expressions; it is, quite simply, the brain.We want to expose to view its billions of connections and watch itoperating like a video-game. All this cerebral, electronic snobbery ishugely affected - far from being the sign of a superior knowledge ofhumanity, it is merely the mark of a simplified theory, since the humanbeing is here reduced to the terminal excrescence of his or her spinal chord.But we should not worry too much about this: it is all much less scientific,less functional than is ordinarily thought. All that fascinates us is thespectacle of the brain and its workings. What we are wanting here is to seeour thoughts unfolding before us - and this itself is a superstition.
Hence, the academic grappling with his computer, ceaselessly correcting,reworking, and complexifying, turning the exercise into a kind ofinterminable psychoanalysis, memorizing everything in an effort to escapethe final outcome, to delay the day of reckoning of death, and that other -fatal - moment of reckoning that is writing, by forming an endless feed-backloop with the machine. This is a marvellous instrument of exoteric magic. Infact all these interactions come down in the end to endless exchanges with amachine. Just look at the child sitting in front of his computer at school; doyou think he has been made interactive, opened up to the world? Child andmachine have merely been joined together in an integrated circuit. As for theintellectual, he has at last found the equivalent of what the teenager getsfrom his stereo and his walkman: a spectacular desublimation of thought,his concepts as images on a screen.
...You stop a horse that is bolting. You do not stop a jogger who is jogging.Foaming at the mouth, his mind riveted on the inner countdown to themoment when he will acheive a higher plane of consciousness, he is not tobe stopped. If you stopped him to ask the time, he would bite yourhead off. He doesn't have a bit between his teeth, though he may perhaps be carryingdumb-bells or even weights in his belt (where are the days when girls usedto wear bracelets on their ankles?). What the third-century Stylite sought inself-privation and proud stillness, he is seeking through the muscularexhaustion of his body. He is the brother in mortification of those whoconscientiously exhaust themselves in the body-building studios on com-plicated machines with chrome pulleys and on terrifying medical contraptions.There is a direct line that runs from the medieval instruments of torture, viathe industrial movements of production-line work, to the techniques ofschooling the body by using mechanical apparatuses. Like dieting, body-building, and so many other things, jogging is a new form of voluntaryservitude (it is also a new form of adultery).
Decidedly, joggers are the true Latter Day Saints and the protagonistsof an easy-does-it Apocalypse. Nothing evokes the end of the world morethan a man running straight ahead on a beach, swathed in the sounds of hiswalkman, cocooned in the solitary sacrifice of his energy, indifferent even tocatastrophes since he expects destruction to come only as the fruit of hisown efforts, from exhausting the energy of a body that has in his own eyesbecome useless. Primitives, when in despair, would commit suicide byswimming out to sea until they could swim no longer. The jogger commitssuicide by running up and down the beach. His eyes are wild, saliva dripsfrom his mouth. Do not stop him. He will either hit you or simply carry ondancing around in front of you like a man possessed.
The only comparable distress is that of a man eating alone in the heart ofthe city. You see people doing that in New York, the human flotsam ofconviviality, no longer even concealing themselves to eat leftovers in public.But this still belongs to the world of urban, industrial poverty. Thethousands of lone men, each running on their own account, with no thoughtfor others, with a stereophonic fluid in their heads that oozes through intotheir eyes, that is the world of Blade Runner, the post-catastrophe world. Notto be aware of the natural light of California, nor even of a mountain fire thathas been driven ten miles out to sea by the hot wind, and is enveloping theoffshore oil platforms in its smoke, to see nothing of all this and obstinatelyto carry on running by a sort of lymphatic flagellation till sacrificialexhaustion is reached, that is truly a sign from the beyond. It is like theobese person who keeps on getting fatter, the record rotating endlessly inthe same groove, the cells of a tumour proliferating, like everything that haslost the formula for stopping itself. This entire society, including its active,productive part - everyone - is running straight ahead, because they havelost the formula for stopping.
All these track-suits and jogging suits, these loose-fitting shorts and baggycotton shirts, these 'easy clothes' are actually old bits of nightwear, and allthese relaxed walkers and runners have not yet left the night behind. As aresult of wearing these billowing clothes, their bodies have come to float intheir clothes and they themselves float in their own bodies.
Anorexic culture: a culture of disgust, of expulsion, of anthropoemia, ofrejection. Characteristic of a period of obesity, saturation, overabundance.The anorexic prefigures this culture in rather a poetic fashion by trying tokeep it at bay. He refuses lack. He says: I lack nothing, therefore I shall noteat. With the overweight person, it is the opposite: he refuses fullness,repletion. He says: I lack everything, so I will eat anything at all. The anorexicstaves off lack by emptiness, the overweight person staves off fullness byexcess. Both are homeopathic final solutions, solutions by extermination.
The jogger has yet another solution. In a sense, he spews himself out; hedoesn't merely expend his energy in his running, he vomits it. He has toattain the ecstasy of fatigue, the 'high' of mechanical annihilation, just as theanorexic aims for the 'high' of organic annihilation, the ecstasy of the emptybody and the obese individual seeks the high of dimensional annihilation: the ecstasy of thefull body.
Baudrillard, Jean. "AMERICA - Excerpts 1" Verso, London and New York. 1998. Available: http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/america2.html