Biography  |  Bibliography  |  Articles  |  Lectures  |  Photos  |  Videos  |  Quotes  |  Links  

Jean Baudrillard. Integral reality


"We have eliminated the real world - which world is left ? The world of appearances ? Not at all. Together with the real world, we have eliminated also the world of appearances" (NIETZSCHE)

There are two hypotheses. The first one, the poetic one, is that the lost universe of appearances has not given way to an objective world - the world relieved from truth and appearances becomes a fable. But at first I would come to the second hypothesis, that of a gigantic countertransfer, a negative counter-transfer, which is quite simply the fall, the collapse of the world into reality. Once the world of truth is lost, together with the world of appearances, the universe becomes a real one. It falls into reality in a kind of telescopic collapse. It falls into reality as a rest, as a residue, as a definitive reduction and deconstruction of the enchanted world of illusion - as a sort of final solution . Reality as a product of the universal process of entropy. The universe becomes a factual one, a matter of fact, posi-tive, operational, never to be contested anymore, and which no longer even needs to be true. As factual as a ready-made. So to speak a "fountain" : the most famous ready-made of Duchamp is the emblem of our modern hyperreality, as a result of a violent countertransfer of all poetic illusion onto pure objectal reality - the object transferred to itself by feedback thus cutting short any possible metaphor. The ready-made as archetyp is up now overwhelming not only the artworld, but our whole life, as the only magic left to us - that is a sort of radical fetishism. Just as Dushamp desinvolves himself as subject from the fountain as objest, depriving it from any usage, any reference and any illusion, so we could say that God has withdrawn from the world, abandoning it to its destiny as a ready-made.

The world becomes real to such a degree of reality that is bearable only by the way of a perpetual denial of the type :"This is not a world" (echoing the famous "This is not a pipe" of Magritte, as a surrealist denial of the evidence - Duchamp could just as well have said This is not a fountain). This double impulse of the absolute, definitive evidence of the world and of the equally radical denial of this evidence dominates the whole trajectory of modern art, but not only : all our perceptions and imagination of the world are affected. And it is not a question of moral philosophy or nos-talgia, as one would say : The world is not what it ought to be - or :The world is no longer what it was. No : the world is quite such as it is. Once all transcendance has been expelled, things are merely what they are, and such as they are, they are unbearable. They become immediately and totally real, without shadow, without comment. A giant ready-made. The reality is insuperable, but at the same time it doesn't exist anymore. It doesn't exist because it can no longer be exchanged for anything else. "Does reality exist ? Are we in a real world ? Such obsessive questions, which are the pervasive leit-motiv of our culture, simply expresses the fact that the world, trapped in the claws of reality, is bearable mow" only under the sign, in the shadow of the principle of Evil, that is in the form, whatever it may be, of a basic and radical denial. This is our double bind : since the world can no longer be justified in another world, it must be invested as real and released from all illusions (included, of course, the illusion of art, which no longer has any reason for being, except that of reinforcing this reality, as in the ready-made object), and at the same time we must go further and further into the denial of this reality, through the very impact of this negative countertransfer.

For this state of things I would state the concept of integral reality, and the opposite concept of negative countertransfer, or radical abreaction to the world.

Even the meanest aspects of the world, its trash, become positive, immanent in their dejection, particularly in contemporary art, where they feed the majority of works and events. Modernity is dominated by the expulsion of the natural order - this process is irreversible, and the whole of contemporary art takes part in it in its own way, by illustrating as trash, as waste, all the residues of a natural order - body, figure, sex, environ-ment - by treating itself as a residue and celebrating itself as a useless function.

Since a long time art pretends to be useless (it was not the case till the 19th century, where, in a world that was not yet objective nor real the question about useful- or uselessness was not even to be raised). It is therefore logical that it should have a predilection for trash and waste, which is also useless. To turn any object into a piece of art you just have to make it useless. What the ready-made achieves by taking away the function from the object, without changing it in any way (by the way, Duchamp was not so obsessed with the ready-made : he said "One ready-made from time to time, but not ten a day !")

To turn reality itself into an art object, you just need to make a useless function out of it. And this may be extrapolated to the whole production of material or immaterial things. As soon as this production reaches a critical level, a critical mass, where it can no longer be exchanged for anything in terms of social or individual achievement, it becomes a kind of gigantic surrealistic object, seized by the aesthetics of the performance, and virtually inscribed in a sort of irresistible final process without finality. Instant museification of the whole technical environment, but also of the existential environment : for example this housewife who puts herself 24 hours a day on the Internet - her acting recreates exactly Duchamp's gesture of the ready-made, she transfers her everyday life into the frame of the screen just as Duchamp transfers his fountain into the frame of the museum. She doesn't make a narrative or a fable out of her life, only a clone of it, a factual stereoscopy, an hyperrealistic transfer - a virtual ready-made.

Along this trend to materialize its non-use value, its non-exchange value (while being sold at very high prices), art reaches to a nihilistic stage, to a state of nullity, of self-denegation, striving for non-sense, insignificance, banality, minimalism, even up to the point of disappearance and absence - which is in fact the sign of an-extreme aesthetic pretension. But there is no chance for this pretended anti-art. Since the readymade has appropriated the banality of life, since our dayly lives have turned into an aesthetic performance, there is no space for transgression or non-sense. Automatic aesthetization is unavoidable, and all there efforts towards nullity, all these efforts to exorcize itself as art only reinforce the abominably aesthetic nature of this anti-art.

Art has always negated itself. But it did so by excess, exalting itself in the play of its own disappearance. Today it denies itself by default - worse still : it denies its own death. Returning to absolute banality and becoming "but an object among objects", it immerses itself in reality instead of being the agent of the symbolic murder of this rea-lity, instead of being the magical agent of its disappearance. And the paradox is that, the closer it gets to this phenomenal confusion, to this nullity as an artform, the more it is recognized and over-valued, to the point where nothing is beautiful or ugly anymore, as Canetti said. We have, without realising it, gone beyond that dead point and, because of our inability to find this blind spot again, we can only persevere in the current destruction of art.

It is within this immersion, this implosion of the world into reality, that the object rises on the horizon of the modernity. The photography, the film, the novel, the art testify since the 19th century of this emergence of the object, of objects in their matter-of-factness, in their nauseous banality, in their hostile technicity. When objects rise on the horizon of perception and collective consciousness, it is as a spectral instance, as a medium for frightening fantasies, as uncanny and powerful projections of ourselves. " In the black light of his panic, the objects seemed to be looking at him as conscious witnesses of his sad destiny. And so, like primitive men, he was starting to fetichise the universe…"(Saul Bellow) Objects are the protagonists of the transparency of evil - even if actually, through the objects, other human beings are haunting us. Up to invading the literature and the New Novel, with the meticulous description of an incomprehensible environment - objects with an opaque presence and a quite so transparent absence - mirroring nothing, like the ready-made, exact products of a useless function reflecting a useless reality.

The revolutionary idea of contemporary art was that any object, any detail or fragment of the world could exert the same attraction and raise the same questions as those formerly restricted to a few aristocratic forms called works of art. That was democracy : not just in the access of all people to the enjoyment of art, but in the aesthetic upr-ising of an object-world where, to quote Warhol's famous formula, each object, without distinction, would have its quarter hour of fame - and particularly those banal objects, images and commodities. All are equivalent, everything is great - universal ready-made. Reciprocally art and the work of art are also transformed into objects - ready-mades without illusion nor transcendance - art as a merely conceptual acting-out, a generator of deconstructed objects that deconstruct us in turn. Conceptual objects generated not by art itself, but by the idea of art. No body, no face, no gaze - just organs without a body, flows and networks without substance, fractals and molecules. No more judgment, pleasure or contemplation - one gets connected, absorbed, immersed, just as within force-fields or networks.

Properly speaking, there is in all that no object anymore - just the idea of the object. And what we enjoy in it is not art itself, but merely the idea of art. Thus we are no more in the space of forms, but in the space of ideology. And the ready-made cristallizes this dual malediction of modern and contemporary art that of an immersion within reality and banality, and that of a conceptual absorption in the idea of art.

SAUL BELLOW on PICASSO :" This absurd sculpture of Picasso, with its metallic twigs and leaves - neither wings nor victory, just a testimony, a vestige - nothing more than just the idea of a work of art. Very similar to the other ideas and vestiges from which our existence takes its inspiration - no more apple, but the idea, the reconstruction by a pomologist of what was
once an apple - no more ice-cream, but the idea, the memory of a delicious thing, now made of substitutes, of glucose and other chemical products - no more sex, but the idea or the evocation of sex, and the same for love, belief, thought and all the rest…"

That why now, in the matter of art, the most interesting would be to penetrate the cerebral cortex of the modern consumer, to penetrate the nevralgic center of this mysterious submission to "works of art". What happens there, which mysterious collusion between the artist and the spectator. That is what I called the "conspiracy of art" : the consumers inflict upon themselves, upon their mental faculties and their aesthetic judgment the same mortifications, the same alterations and the same deterrence as the "creative artists" inflict upon their objects and their own body. Of course, the tolerance to the worse in art is considerably growing as a result of this pervasive complicity.

Now, this triumph of the idea of art over art itself, and, with the ready-made, the triumph of the idea of the object over the object itself are but an aspect of an immense feed-back, of an instant recycling of all events and images in the visual universe and to the realm of media. But also our intellectual and political life, our actions and our thoughts are affected by this automatic selfrefraction. Everywhere the process of image-feedback ("retour-image")induces everything to focus on itself, to duplicate itself in advance, cutting short the process of representation - a phenomenon particularly noticeable in the field of photo-graphy, where very few images, be it a face, an event, a human being or a landscape, escape that image-feedback. Most of our images mask themselves with a con-text, a culture, a meaning, an idea of themselves and this leads to a kind of blindness described by Sanchez FERLOSIO (a spanish essayist): " There is a terrible form of blindness, which allows you to look at things and not to see them. Time before, we did not look at things, we just saw them. Today all is wrapped in duplicity, no impulse is pure and direct. That is how the countryside has become a landscape, that is to say a representation of itself … Wherever I set my eyes, I see that terrible scenery that people glorify under the name of landscape " It is our faculty of perception itself, our immediate sensibility that have been aestheticized. Sight, hearing, touch, feeling, all our senses have become aesthetic in the worst, the most banal sense of the term. And any new vision can be born only out of a radical deconstruction of this image-feedback, a resolution of this process of countertransfer that obstructs our vision, in order to reinstate the world in its radical illusion - its original state indeed, for the world itself is actually without return, without screen, without selfreflection. This process of reduplication, of cyclical confusion with our own image must be clearly distinguished from our mirror-relation, where on the contrary we take distance from our own image and enter within an open process of alienation and alterity. The mirror, the glance, the gaze, the scene open up to a tranfer, eventually to a poetic transfer, to a whole culture of the metaphor which is quite the opposite of that visual and aesthetic enclosure.

This whole issue seems to me to determine the analysis of television. In short : not we look at the television, the TV looks at us, and because it looks at us, it prevents us from seeing. It looks at us from a blind spot, that is to say from nothing. And it is that nothing looking at us which results in this fundamental indifference for anything given to be seen on the screen. Through television, but through all media as well, things look at us blindly, without us being able to see them. Thereby leading to that specifically modern kind of blindness described by FERLOSIO.

I would say that, in the same way that thought invents truth for itself, so that it can be exchanged for it, we invent information and communication in order to achieve a simulacrum of exchange against reality. Everything we perceive on the screen is nothing but an image-feedback producing a reality-effect through a simulacrum of exchange. Now the question is : how to break this circularity, this vicious circle of integral reality - how to think beyond truth, how to look beyond TV, how to live beyond reality ? Is any possibility of an inversion of the gaze, an inversion of the truth-effect, any possibility to counteract the integrated feedback loop of truth and reality, in short to break the fallacious magic of information?

It must be an acting-out, and this acting-out must be that of the world itself. Just as in the fable of Borges, "The peoples of the Mirror", where people break the mirror of representation which keeps them locked out of the world, so we must break the screen, the veil of information, the dead point of information, this blind spot where we are trapped by this blind force. Against this general black-out it must be a general acting-out, a radical abreaction. This brings us back to the singularity of the image, to the acting-out of the image and, via the photography, to the poetic transfer of situation " The photograph reproduces what only happens once. It repeats mechanically what will never be repeated existentially. In it, the event doesn't transcend itself into something else. It is the absolute Specifi-city, the Chance, the Encounter, the Real in its inexhaustible expression, in its implacable reality"(BARTHES) Of course, it is not the matter about the realistic moment, or the realistic meaning of the moment. The moment is the most fallacious, because it is pathetic, and full of meaning. We must reduce its meaning, its shock-meaning, which acts as an aphrodisiac in a pornographic trading of the image. Photography is one on the strongest aphrodisiacs, and there is of course no prescription against the erotic stimulation of it. Yet we must see that this kind of photo-reportage emphatically transforms reality, simplifying it a5 a message and oversignifying it, whereby it creates the shock-effect, but by erasing the "punctum", which is the specific object of the photography - that is the detail or the fragment which points at you, which signifies nothing and disturbs the message - just like the wit, the "Witz", destabilizes the language and its coherent meaning. That is why void and silence are part of the specificity of the photo. That is why the photography is "pensive" (BARTHES again).

There is a pensiveness (a thoughtfulness) of the object, as of someone who looks at you without seeing you, and there is a pensiveness of the photographic gaze as well, which is not just an act of reflection, but an act of thought without thinking, so to say : cosa mentale. For example : "primitive people", in old photographs, look at you without seeing you, they do not focus on the operator. Their anthropological distance makes their singularity, beyond any kind of interaction, or image-feedback. The object, like primitive people, is always pensive - silent, inactive and motionless.

" The essence of the image is to be entirely outside, without intimacy, and yet more inaccessible and mysterious than the most intimate thought … manifest and unrevealed" (BLANCHOT)

If the photograph cannot be explored in depth, then because of its evidence : no interiority, no psychology, no pathos, no subject/object interaction. The object itself is not phenomenal, but mental,thoughtful, just because it thinks us. For reflecting is a matter of the subject, but thinking is not reflecting, it is making things disappear and transappear, and that makes the object : it makes the subject appear, disappear and transappear.

For example the red armchair : what is to be seen in it is the virtual shape of the human body which is no longer there, but the trace of which remains like an elliptic smile. And that makes it pensive. The same with the submerged car in the river, or the dark blue cafe table, or the red desk with the lamp and the manuscript - even the meat carcasses are captured as the trace of a vanishing form. None of them are realist images, none of them are the simple mirror of a presence. I remember some other pictures from a Brasilian photographer, picturing the poor houses of the peasants in the Nordeste. Only the facades, not a living soul. But the peasants are there. They are behind these facades, as if behind masks. Each facade is like a mask or a face. In their abstract simplicity, lines and colours are like the features of a face, and the openings are like the apertures of a mask.- the very figure of their survival. The absence of human beings is only the naive absence of their bodies, which is substituted by the living mask of their condition. Physical nakedness of misery, metaphysical nakedness of its expression, photo-graphic nakedness of their reproduction. So the object brings back the subject to life not in its relative presence, but in its irreducible absence.

So this interplay of absence and transparition is the secret rule of the image. And this happens in the inner core of the form : the vanishing of the object, of content, of meaning.. In theory, the operator has nothing to do with it. One even could dream that such images could generate themselves, according to a Warholian machine-like process, according to the automaticity of dream itself.(sometimes while dreaming I feel regret about having forgotten my camera !) In any case, the operator has to disappear at the same time as he makes his object disappear. This is a part of the magical illusion of the photography. Have you noticed that God is absent from all photographs? And why is He absent? Because Himself is the photographer

So we have to do with a sort of metamorphosis, or rather of anamorphosis of the thought into the image, through which it escapes all types of discourse, and so reaches to this poetic transfer of situation - to the realm of the Fable. That is to say, to something that is neither true nor real, but mythical - existing not through its context or its meaning, but literally, and only literally. Not through discourse, but through the word in its literality, as in the poetic language - and through the world in its materiality.

For me, the photography, in its purest form, is a variant of the fable. Another way of saving the appearances - a way of signifying, through this fabulous capture, that this supposed "real" world is always about to loose its meaning and its reality, that it actually could do without meaning and reality (but we can hardly face this hypothesis, no more than that there might be nothing rather than something). Some few images may be this ideal place, or non-place, where the concepts disintegrate and we are free of the servitude of knowledge and information - but images which at the same time retrace and celebrate this final state of things, in the same way that myths celebrate and retrace our origins and the original murder of the reality.