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Jean Baudrillard - Simulacra and Simulations - XI. Holograms
Translated by Sheila Faria Glaser


It is the fantasy of seizing reality live that continues - ever since Narcissus bent over his spring. Surprising the real in order to immobilize it, suspending the real in the expiration of its double. You bend over the hologram like God over his creature: only God has this power of passing through walls, through people, and finding Himself immaterially in the beyond. We dream of passing through ourselves and of finding ourselves in the beyond: the day when your holographic double will be there in space, eventually moving and talking, you will have realized this miracle. Of course, it will no longer be a dream, so its charm will be lost.

The TV studio transforms you into holographic characters: one has the impression of being materialized in space by the light of projectors, like translucid characters who pass through the masses (that of millions of TV viewers) exactly as your real hand passes through the unreal hologram without encountering any resistance - but not without consequences: having passed through the hologram has rendered your hand unreal as well.

The hallucination is total and truly fascinating once the hologram is projected in front of the plaque, so that nothing separates you from it (or else the effect remains photo- or cinematographic). This is also characteristic of trompe l'oeil, in contrast to painting: instead of a field as a vanishing point for the eye, you are in a reversed depth, which transforms you into a vanishing point . . . The relief must leap out at you just as a tram car and a chess game would. This said, which type of objects or forms will be "hologenic" remains to be discovered since the hologram is no more destined to produce three-dimensional cinema than cinema was destined to reproduce theater, or photography was to take up the contents of painting.

In the hologram, it is the imaginary aura of the double that is mercilessly tracked, just as it is in the history of clones. Similitude is a dream and must remain one, in order for a modicum of illusion and a stage of the imaginary to exist. One must never pass over to the side of the real, the side of the exact resemblance of the world to itself, of the subject to itself. Because then the image disappears. One must never pass over to the side of the double, because then the dual relation disappears, and with it all seduction. Well, with the hologram, as with the clone, it is the opposite temptation, and the opposite fascination, of the end of illusion, the stage, the secret through the materialized projection of all available information on the subject, through materialized transparency.

After the fantasy of seeing oneself (the mirror, the photograph) comes that of being able to circle around oneself, finally and especially of traversing oneself, of passing through one's own spectral body - and any holographed object is initially the luminous ectoplasm of your own body. But this is in some sense the end of the aesthetic and the triumph of the medium, exactly as in stereo-phonia, which, at its most sophisticated limits, neatly puts an end to the charm and the intelligence of music.

The hologram simply does not have the intelligence of trompe l'oeil, which is one of seduction, of always proceeding, according to the rules of appearances, through allusion to and ellipsis of presence. It veers, on the contrary, into fascination, which is that of passing to the side of the double. If, according to Mach, the universe is that of which there is no double, no equivalent in the mirror, then with the hologram we are already virtually in another universe: which is nothing but the mirrored equivalent of this one. But which universe is this one?

The hologram, the one of which we have always already dreamed (but these are only poor bricolages of it) gives us the feeling, the vertigo of passing to the other side of our own body, to the side of the double, luminous clone, or dead twin that is never born in our place, and watches over us by anticipation.

The hologram, perfect image and end of the imaginary. Or rather, it is no longer an image at all - the real medium is the laser, concentrated light, quintessentialized, which is no longer a visible or reflexive light, but an abstract light of simulation. Laser/scalpel. A luminous surgery whose function here is that of the double: one operates on you to remove the double as one would operate to remove a tumor. The double that hid in the depths of you (of your body, of your unconscious?) and whose secret form fed precisely your imaginary, on the condition of remaining secret, is extracted by laser, is synthesized and materialized before you, just as it is possible for you to pass through and beyond it. A historical moment: the hologram is now part of this "subliminal comfort" that is our destiny, of this happiness now consecrated to the mental simulacrum and to the environmental fable of special effects. (The social, the social phantasmagoria, is now nothing but a special effect, obtained by the design of participating networks converging in emptiness under the spectral image of collective happiness.)

Three-dimensionality of the simulacrum - why would the simulacrum with three dimensions be closer to the real than the one with two dimensions? It claims to be, but paradoxically, it has the opposite effect: to render us sensitive to the fourth dimension as a hidden truth, a secret dimension of everything, which suddenly takes on all the force of evidence. The closer one gets to the perfection of the simulacrum (and this is true of objects, but also of figures of art or of models of social or psychological relations), the more evident it becomes (or rather to the evil spirit of incredulity that inhabits us, more evil still than the evil spirit of simulation) how everything escapes representation, escapes its own double and its resemblance. In short, there is no real: the third dimension is only the imaginary of a two-dimensional world, the fourth that of a three-dimensional universe . . . Escalation in the production of a real that is more and more real through the addition of successive dimensions. But, on the other hand, exaltation of the opposite movement: only what plays with one less dimension is true, is truly seductive.

In any case, there is no escape from this race to the real and to realistic hallucination since, when an object is exactly like another, it is not exactly like it, it is a bit more exact. There is never similitude, any more than there is exactitude. What is exact is already too exact, what is exact is only what approaches the truth without trying. It is somewhat of the same paradoxical order as the formula that says that as soon as two billiard balls roll toward each other, the first touches the other before the second, or, rather, one touches the other before being touched. Which indicates that there is not even the possibility of simultaneity in the order of time, and in the same way no similitude possible in the order of figures. Nothing resembles itself, and holographic reproduction, like all fantasies of the exact synthesis or resurrection of the real (this also goes for scientific experimentation), is already no longer real, is already hyperreal. It thus never has reproductive (truth) value, but always already simulation value. Not an exact, but a transgressive truth, that is to say already on the other side of the truth. What happens on the other side of the truth, not in what would be false, but in what is more true than the true, more real than the real? Bizarre effects certainly, and sacrileges, much more destructive of the order of truth than its pure negation. Singular and murderous power of the potentialization of the truth, of the potentialization of the real. This is perhaps why twins were deified, and sacrificed, in a more savage culture: hypersimilitude was equivalent to the murder of the original, and thus to a pure non-meaning. Any classification or signification, any modality of meaning can thus be destroyed simply by logically being elevated to the nth power - pushed to its limit, it is as if all truth swallowed its own criteria of truth as one "swallows one's birth certificate" and lost all its meaning. Thus the weight of the world, or the universe, can eventually be calculated in exact terms, but initially it appears absurd, because it no longer has a reference, or a mirror in which it can come to be reflected - this totalization, which is practically equivalent to that of all the dimensions of the real in its hyperreal double, or to that of all the information on an individual in his genetic double (clone), renders it immediately pataphysical. The universe itself, taken globally, is what cannot be represented, what does not have a possible complement in the mirror, what has no equivalence in meaning (it is as absurd to give it a meaning, a weight of meaning, as to give it weight at all). Meaning, truth, the real cannot appear except locally, in a restricted horizon, they are partial objects, partial effects of the mirror and of equivalence. All doubling, all generalization, all passage to the limit, all holographic extension (the fancy of exhaustively taking account of this universe) makes them surface in their mockery. Viewed at this angle, even the exact sciences come dangerously close to pataphysics. Because they depend in some way on the hologram and on the objectivist whim of the deconstruction and exact reconstruction of the world (in its smallest terms) founded on a tenacious and naive faith in a pact of the similitude of things to themselves. The real, the real object is supposed to be equal to itself, it is supposed to resemble itself like a face in a mirror - and this virtual similitude is in effect the only definition of the real - and any attempt, including the holographic one, that rests on it, will inevitably miss its object, because it does not take its shadow into account (precisely the reason why it does not resemble itself) - this hidden face where the object crumbles, its secret. The holographic attempt literally jumps over its shadow, and plunges into transparency, to lose itself there.