Friday, January 02, 2009

Apples and Oranges

Does a book of theory written in 1987 have anything to say today? Here's a call and response from Baudrillard's The Ecstasy of Communication (Semiotexte, 1987), consisting of the title essay, "Rituals of Transparency," "Metamorphoses, Metaphors, Mestasases," "From the System of Objects to the Destiny of Objects," and "Seduction, or, The Superficial Abyss":

Baudrillard: "Everything began with objects, yet there is no longer a system of objects. The critique of objects was based on signs saturated with meaning, along with their phantasies and unconscious logic as well as their prestigious differential logic. Behind this dual logic lies the anthropological dream: the dream of the object as existing beyond and above exchange and use, above and beyond equivalence; the dream of a sacrificial logic, of gift, expenditure, potlatch, 'devil's share' consumption, symbolic, exchange.

"All this still exists, and simultaneously it is disappearing. The description of this projective imaginary and symbolic universe was still the one of the object as the mirror of the subject. The opposition of the subject and the object was still significant, as was the profound imaginary of the mirror and the scene. . . . Today the scene and the mirror have given way to a screen and a network. There is no longer any transcendence or depth, but only the immanent surface of operations unfolding, the smooth and functional surface of communication. In the image of television, the most beatiful prototypical object of this new era, the surrounding universe and our very bodies are becoming monitoring screens."

Baudrillard uses a favorite word of theoretical & philosophical persuasion, "all." Having claimed the full wasting of perception, art, and culture, he can begin his elegy for the loss of depth, profundity, object and its shadow: "We no longer invest our objects with the same emotions, the same dreams of possession, loss, mourning, jealousy; the psychological dimension has been blurred, even if one can retrieve it in the particular."

We live in other words in a field of shadowless identities that have been flattened by their status as electronic imaginaries. Imagine then a field of identical oranges, each in its frame a la Magritte's "This is not a pipe" series, along with its non-identical caption: the alienated orange, the starving orange, the green orange, the defiant orange, the actual orange, and orange of the past. We are aware of the actuality of oranges; we have eaten them all of our lives. Do they taste flatter now because of the depth-lack of television or because they are boxed and shipped green? Is the orange in the mirror deeper metaphysically (and of more authentic character) than the orange on HD television? Or does the orange on a grainy color television, ca. 1987, hold greater status because of its interruptive, lay-bare-the-device means of presentation, so close to our imaginary of mind?

The Platonic orange, the one we hold in our hands, peel, and eat, poses under light in the produce section of the grocery store. It has been sprayed orange with food dyes and genetically altered to be the best orange it can be. It's the orange of desire, expression, seduction, appetite, and first thinking. This is the orange you dare take home to mother.


At 1:46 PM, Blogger Sebastian Flyte said...

Is his work on seduction any good? I considered buying it on amazon, but it was a pile of money. His stuff strikes me as ponderous garbage using pointlessly large latin words that fog the mind and dim the critical cortex.

At 4:48 PM, Blogger Paul Hoover said...

I haven't thought through his system on desire and production as relates to seduction. He favors seduction over production (which he sees in opposition), and opposes production as a goal, for example, "Yet there is nothing seductive about truth. Only the secret is seductive: the secret which circulates as the rule of the game, as an initiatory form, as a symbolic pact, which no code can resolve, no clue interpret. There is, for that matter, nothing hidden and nothing to be revealed. It cannot be stressed enough: THERE IS NEVER ANYTHING TO PRO-DUCE. In spite of all its materialist efforts, production remains a utopia."

I take it that seduction and the secret collaborate with poetry. But it's impossible to claim that poetry is not a product of artistic labor. It is a complex cultural product, and, as socio-economics, it's not that distant from the man on the street selling wristwatches from under his raincoat: "Psst, you wanna see something?" It's useful, it glitters, and it doesn't cost a lot.

Baudrillard's argument on seduction struck me as one of the weaker moments in the book--he falls into a tortured, circuitous cafe logic. In that mode, he seems intent on maintaining the circus sideshow of poetic phrasing.


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