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.