Dr. Kate Liu, Dr. Wen-chi Lin
Journal on Theory
Jun. 20, 2000
Real Is Not Real
In the third section of Steven Connor's "Postmodernities," he initially gives a brief connection among Marx, Mandel, Jameson, and Baudrillard by bringing up basic acknowledgement and agreement to Marx's three stages of the genealogy of economic growth, features, and exchange value. Introducing Baudrillard, Connor gives a general picture about Baudrillard's studies and his work. Standing on Marxism, Baudrillard points out his different concerns from traditional Marxism and points out the second phase of industrial production and the third phase about abstract qualities should be separated. He thinks that this world now is world of ideology or of culture, and commodities are no longer concrete material products as Marx could have in his time, but commodities now is only images. He does not equates codes and signs, but he argues that cultural commodities produces a political economy of the sign, based on "mode of production," which is the foundation of every social and economic system.
Giving a name by "general operationalization of the signifier," Baudrillard wants to introduce a new practice concerning exchange, promotion, distribution, and manipulation of signs. He also believes that the referential connection between signifier and signified and the referent is gone. Code becomes a code, which does not have any signification because code is already beyond its signification for people. It has no need to be any indication for people, but it can exist without any imposed logic but with its own logic. Briefly, his argument has disaffiliates from prior studies on semiotics, but goes beyond their concern about signification. He either deconstructs or redefines their logic about semiotics.
Later, Baudrillard shifts his concern to media and works on "symbolic exchange" to point out the dominant power of mass media to its audience. The relationship between mass media and its audience, primarily, is a one way communication, although the audience indeed has been offered some means to respond to the media, such as call-in. However, Baudrillard wants to give more subversives through giving an example about the form of exchanging discourses on the streets. He observes that "everything that was an immediate inscription, given and returned, spoken and answered, mobile in the same space and time, reciprocal and antagonistic. The street is, in this sense, the alternative and subversive form of the mass media, since it isn't . . . a transmission system at a distance" (qtd. in Connor 54). He emphasizes on the immediate interaction between message transmitters and receivers. In this regard, he has the implication the subversion corresponding to the center, if we contextualize, as he suggests, the media activities within the political spectrum.
Baudrillard goes further into the depth from and to develop his "symbolic exchange" later when he has already implied that "the only thing that can really resist the incursions of the repressive code is death itself" (55). I want to list Baudrillar's four stages of simulation: the first, "the sign is the reflection of a basic reality," the second, "the sign masks and perverts a basic reality," the third, "the sign masks the absence of a basic reality," the fourth, "the sign bears no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum" (55-56). The first stage should be the easiest one to give an example. Based on our knowledge sticking to reality, a sign is the sign what we see. In the second stage, a sign will be distorted when we see it, which might to be covered up or to be interpreted differently. In this regard, it reminds me of Jameson's subject before the great reflective glass skin of the Bonaventura Hotel. In the third stage, referring to Connor's explanation, I think the sign can cause a both religious and philosophical question about the existence of Christian God, or any gods in any religions. Some philosophers would argue that people cannot claim that God is not there simply because they cannot see Him. About this stage, it also reminds me of the question about the referential relationship between seeing and believing. In the fourth stage, Baudrillard, a bit philosophical for me, argues that whatever we see is nothing real. At this point, I am also reminded of Plato's allegory of the cave, as if we misregard everything to be real. In Baudrillard's term, "hyperreal" therefore is given.
Together with "implode" I think Baudrillard's basic concern is about the non-existence of the corresponding relationship between authority and subordinate because within the model of simulation, two parts fall into each other fusing and merging together. There are no longer two opposites but the dispersion. There is no even the active or passive nor the dominator or the dominated. The power is no longer about possessing or losing because "the active" disappears. In fact, we cannot define any thing because everything is only an illusory image produced by vision. When everything is only an illusion, it certainly cannot to be defined by any illusion to prove the reality. What it can prove is that everything, after all, is illusion, which is proved by illusion. So, death is the only resolution to end up the existence of these illusory images. "The real is hyperrealised" Baudrillards concludes (qtd. in Connor 60).
At the end, I want to repeat and correspond to Dr. Lin's favorite example about "I love you" in BBS by giving an example from my friends. One night four of my male friends had a visit to a BBS and had a long conversation in a chat room with a boy, if it was a boy. Four of my male friends disguised them by using a female name, and they took turns to have the talk with this boy. They depicted them not only a girl but also a very beautiful girl in a good body shape and studying in one of the best three female high schools. Everything seemed to be perfect. And actually, they created a girl like this based on a real female friend of ours. In this example, I think, everything indeed is beyond real--it does not matter any more about what people know, believe, or want to believe, and it is no longer significant to find out it is real or not. But I think, death is not the end; instead, off line certainly is the end.
Connor, Steven. "Postmodernities: Postmodern Social and Legal Theory." Postmodernist Culture: An Introduction to Theories of the Contemporary. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 199723-61.