Jean Baudrillard And The Existence Of Meaning
A surprising number of people continue to ask me how I learned to think in the lateral and creative way that I do. I still don’t have a great answer for the question, but I can provide you with something to read that illustrates my intellectual development.
My Honours thesis won the Tinline Prize in the Discipline of Politics at the University of Adelaide in 1999. It is a dense piece of work that incorporates Existential philosophy and post-modern thought. It is not an easy read, but I am still proud of what I argued and how I wrote it.
David James Olney
JEAN BAUDRILLARD AND THE EXISTENCE OF MEANING
Jean Baudrillard’s writing denies the legitimacy of the meaning that has been ascribed to the world as subjects experience it. Can subjects resist and overcome Baudrillard’s conclusions and exist in a world that has meaning?
Meaning is ascribed to the world by subjects, so that they can provide themselves with a way of understanding what they are experiencing, and a means of understanding and communicating with each other. Baudrillard’s denial of this meaning depends on his conclusions that: simulations and the real are equivalent, and that systems of symbolic representation are unstable and unclear. In the arguments that Baudrillard has written to support these conclusions, the meaning that has been ascribed to the world is denied because of its apparently flexible and superficial nature. In order to demonstrate that subjects can exist in a world that has meaning, we shall consider Sartre’s writing on Existentialism as a position from which to interrogate Baudrillard’s arguments. Whereas Sartre believes that the Existentialist provides the world with all the meaning that it can have; Baudrillard proposes that meaning is influenced by deterministic codes, the illusion of the world, and objects’ ability to exhibit their inherent characteristics. None of Baudrillard’s propositions provide a credible, or sustainable, alternative to subjects creating meaning in a similar way to Sartre’s Existentialist. Whether as a part of a consensus that defines the real, or as the basis for a system of symbolic representation, subjects provide meaning with as much linearity and depth as it can have. Because subjects have imperfect intuition, as a result of their inability to recognize intentions – and the time it takes them to develop a depth of knowledge, they have to develop a sophisticated strategy for discerning what things mean. Baudrillard’s concept of power, in contrast to his writings on simulation and the symbolic, provides subjects with just such a strategy. Baudrillard’s concept of power gives subjects the potential to both resist and exert an influence, so that they can choose whether to create, support, or deny meaning. With this potential, and an awareness of their limitations, subjects can exist in a world that has meaning.
Baudrillard’s denial of the meaning that has been ascribed to the world, depends on his conclusion that things do not possess the linearity or depth of meaning that they claim to have. In order to demonstrate that subjects can exist in a world that has meaning, we shall interrogate the two most extensive arguments that Baudrillard has written to support his conclusion. The first of these arguments, which we shall consider in the first chapter of this paper, is that the real is transparent and foundationless, because a simulation can have an equivalent appearance and value to the real. The second of Baudrillard’s arguments, which we shall consider in the second chapter, is that the relationship between signs and objects can be distorted, or disrupted, which destroys a symbolic order’s capacity to represent and communicate meaning. In order to resist and overcome Baudrillard’s conclusion subjects have to be able to decide, and recognize, what things mean. In the third chapter of this paper we shall consider how Baudrillard’s concept of power makes it possible for subjects to do this.
As we are going to consider the obverse position to Baudrillard’s conclusion, it seems important to consider what Baudrillard has said about reversibility. In an interview with Rex Butler Baudrillard said that: “I started with critique, and yet it was a classical traditional critique from the position of the subject. Then I began to destabilize this position of knowledge that is always universal. And then I began to use this term reversibility, at first in an analytical but then in an ironic way ‑ ironic in that it would always be able to be itself reversed.” (Baudrillard and Butler in Zurbrugg 1997 p 43) In the same way that Baudrillard associates the potential for reversibility with a position, we shall consider how a world that has meaning might emerge out of Baudrillard’s arguments to the contrary.
Since Sartre argues that subjects have to give the world meaning, because the world has none of its own, his writing on Existentialism will be vital for explaining how subjects can exist in a world that has meaning. Sartre and Baudrillard have more in common than an interest in Communism; they both write about subjects’ potential to act, and the limitations which go along with this potential. Understanding subjects’ potential, and limitations, will inform us as to what kind of meaning can be ascribed to the world.
SIMULATING THE ILLUSION OF THE REAL
A great deal of Jean Baudrillard’s work has been concerned with investigating the impact of simulations on the real. In this chapter we shall consider the effects of ‘third order simulacra’ on subjects’ ability to discover what things mean and decide what is real. Of the three orders of simulacra that Baudrillard has discussed, ‘third order simulacra’ are the most advanced and the most dangerous form of simulation, because they are equivalent to the real. For the sake of clarity and brevity ‘third order simulacra’ will simply be referred to as simulation. Baudrillard believes that both simulation and reality can be constituted without reference to anything else. Since both simulation and the real are transparent and lack foundations they are equivalent. As a result of this equivalence, that allows meaning to be artificial and unrelated to the world, subjects do not experience or comprehend the world in a way that conforms to Baudrillard’s definition of the real. Reality, for Baudrillard, exists behind the illusion of the world. If simulation and the real are equivalent, in the sense that Baudrillard suggests, there is no way for subjects to evaluate meaning and discern what is real. Baudrillard’s conclusion depends on reality being some sort of antecedent or absolute that belongs to the world instead of the subject. This conclusion ignores the effects of subjects’ limited powers of perception and comprehension on the real. Reality is constructed as a result of subjects’ intuition, which depends on analysis of their experience, and is not determined by the world itself. By avoiding bad faith, like Sartre’s Existentialist, and developing a depth of knowledge that might lead to a consensus, reality is framed and sustained in the only way that it can be. Simulation allows things to be represented in a way that is vital for the investigation and construction of the real.
In Simulations Baudrillard sets out to prove that subjects cannot recognize if something is real or a simulation. “How to feign a violation and put it to the test? Go and simulate a theft in a large department store: how do you convince the security guards that it is a simulated theft? There is no ‘objective’ difference: the same gestures and the same signs exist as for a real theft; in fact the signs incline neither to one side nor the other.” (Baudrillard 1983a p 38) Baudrillard concludes that subjects cannot tell the difference between a theft and a simulation of a theft because the signs and gestures associated with them are the same. This lack of distinctness, which depends on the way that Baudrillard believes the real is produced, is what makes the real and simulations equivalent. Baudrillard explains how this equivalence operates, but does not consider why it is so, which is at least as important a part of a discussion of the real and subjects relation to it. Baudrillard says that: “The real is produced from miniaturized units, from matrices, memory banks and command models ‑ and with these it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times. It no longer has to be rational, since it is no longer measured against some ideal or negative instance. It is nothing more than operational.” (Baudrillard 1983a p 3) In Baudrillard’s analysis producing something real, or a simulation, depends on understanding and conforming to the existing criteria that defines what is real. A continuity of appearance maintains the real instead of a unity of content. In this way simulations and the real become equivalent, because anything that has the appearance of the real can motivate the same response as the real. This equivalence suggests that there are some major limitations on what the real can be that need to be investigated. Since subjects seem to be affected equally by the appearance of a simulation or the real, we need to consider whether subjects contribute to the production of this equivalence.
As a result of Baudrillard’s test, it is clear that subjects do not have infinite powers of perception or comprehension. The degree to which they understand their surroundings is influenced by an imperfect intuition, which is limited by the fact that they experience other subjects actions without being able to recognize their intentions. These human limitations explain why a subject cannot recognize that Baudrillard’s protagonist is only simulating a theft. A security guard is inclined to recognize a particular set of actions that are related to theft. If Baudrillard’s protagonist generates the same signs and gestures as a thief a security guard is likely to respond accordingly. Subjects comprehend reality, as they experience it, by applying, or accepting the application of, implicit meaning to particular actions. Like Sartre, a security guard can only make a decision based on intuition. “There is only intuitive knowledge. Deduction and discursive argument, incorrectly called examples of knowing, are only instruments which lead to intuition. When intuition is reached, methods utilized to attain it are effaced before it”. (Sartre 1995 p 172) A security guard decides what someone’s actions mean by applying their experience and knowledge to the task at hand, which is, in this case, to stop people from stealing things. The security guard’s intuition is critical to the outcome of Baudrillard’s test, because it is the security guard (and not Baudrillard’s thief) who decides whether the simulation is equivalent to the real. This equivalence of appearance occurs as a consequence of the relationship between actions and intentions which is not transparent or accessible. Baudrillard’s protagonist deliberately acts like a thief without revealing his or her intention to be something other than a thief. Warnock says that: “Action, as opposed to mere happening, entails intention. For a human being to act he must have a motive, and this motive must be a thought about the situation in which he finds himself, combined with a thought about the future.” (Warnock 1966 p 113) It is impossible for a security guard to know anyone’s intentions with any degree of certainty. Simulating a theft is the same as the real in every sense other than the intention. In Existential terms, rather than aiming to authenticate his or her self, Baudrillard’s protagonist tries to inauthenticate the world by demonstrating that intentions cannot be recognized. By playing on subjects limitations Baudrillard’s protagonist ensures that a simulation is equivalent to the real. In effect, it is inevitable that a simulation will be equivalent to the real if it presents signs and gestures that invite one specific intuitive response. Baudrillard is correct that subjects cannot tell the difference between the real and simulations. Simulations have the potential to be equivalent to the real because of subjects’ limited intuition and inability to recognize intentions.
For a subject to be able to ascertain the difference between a simulation and the real, simulation has to be something other than that which obscures, or is obscured by, intention and intuition. Alternative models to Baudrillard’s do exist, which allow us to tell the difference between things that are real and things that are copies of the real. Rex Butler’s relies on the fact that copies are somehow incomplete. Their incompleteness is tangible. “we cannot say what imitation is because we could resemble it only by being ourselves different from it. There would always be a prior relationship of imitation implied in any attempt to speak of it ‑ and that is precisely that imitation which allows us to imitate it.” (Butler in Zurbrugg 1997 p 52) An imitation of something, in Butler’s sense, is not equivalent to what ever is being imitated. The lack of equivalence between the imitation and the imitated depends on there being an opportunity to compare and contrast the two things. Conversely, Baudrillard’s understanding of simulation does not include a dyadic relationship, between the real and simulation, that allows for a comparison to be made between an original and a copy. For Baudrillard: “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it.” (Baudrillard 1983a p 2) Simulation, in this case, is not different to the real. Unlike Butler’s imitation, which requires an original to imitate, Baudrillard’s simulation does not require a pre-existing real to constitute itself as the equivalent of the real. Since the map can engender the territory there is no point of reference from which the real can be discerned from a simulation. Such a simulation has neither a line of development or a pattern of decay.
In contrast, Butler’s imitations seem to have a built in pattern of decay. If an imitation is not equivalent to an original it is likely that further imitations, made from imitations, would deteriorate in the same way that images on video tape do. No matter what the intentions behind the creation of imitations like these, they are forever, and at each generation, different to the original from which they were constituted. Each new generation of imitation is both an imitation and an original, avoiding the problem of equivalence, because it is different to that which it was constituted from (and different to that which it may constitute). An imitation cannot escape its relationship to an original that was imitated. The fact that the transformation from reality to imitation, in Butler’s model, can be perceived by subjects means that the foundations of reality can be known. Simulations, as Baudrillard presents them, cannot be deconstructed in the same way as Butler’s imitations.
Because Baudrillard’s simulations are not distinct from each other or the real, there is no way of determining what is real and what is not. Baudrillard says: “The relation between them is no longer that of an original to its counterfeit ‑ neither analogy nor reflection ‑ but equivalence, indifference.” (Baudrillard 1983a p 97) Because simulation can constitute the real, further reality can be created by building on top of previous simulation. This bothers Baudrillard enormously. As a possible way to redress this indeterminacy Baudrillard proposes that we might be able to work back toward the source and determine what our reality is built upon. Baudrillard says: “We must not add the same to the same, and then to the same again: that is poor simulation. We must expel the same from the same. Each image must take something away from the reality of the world; in each image something must disappear.” (Baudrillard in Zurbrugg 1997 p 11) This is the closest Baudrillard gets to recommending techniques of deconstruction. If we apply this policy of removing the same from the same we are not guaranteed to find out what lies beneath the image of the world. If we take the same from the same we can only eventually find something that is different to what we have been taking away. Being different does not identify something as being real or a simulation. If we do not know what we are taking away (reality or simulation) we cannot identify what is left behind.
As deconstruction is unlikely to help us resolve the question of what is real and what is not, we need to consider what are the motives and consequences of construction. In Existentialism And Humanism Sartre says: “There is always some way of understanding an idiot, a child, a primitive man or a foreigner if one has sufficient information. In this sense we may say that there is a human universality, but it is not something given; it is being perpetually made. I make this universality in choosing myself; I also make it by understanding the purpose of any other man, of whatever epoch.” (Sartre 1970 p 47) Sartre believes that nothing in the world has a value or meaning until the Existentialist gives it one. Despite the conflict that exists between his position in Being And Nothingness, where meaning and value only exist for the individual, and his position in Existentialism And Humanism, where individuals can choose to understand each others values and meanings, the fact still remains, for Sartre, that people determine values and meanings. There is nothing other than that which is determined by subjects. It is the consequences of this position, a reality constructed from subjective experience, that Baudrillard is challenging. While Sartre’s Existentialist cannot accept a set of values, in good faith, without making his or her own decision, Baudrillard cannot accept reality without questioning it. In the same way that Sartre wants the Existentialist to avoid bad faith, as outlined here by Mary Warnock, Baudrillard wants the subject to avoid being deceived by simulation. “Accepting values from another, indeed accepting any kind of general rules for behavior, must be Bad Faith. To avoid Bad Faith, everyone must choose himself by himself.” (Warnock 1966 p 133) For Sartre’s Existentialist interrogation is all that is necessary to make a decision about whether to accept or reject a set of values or meaning. As the subject decides what has meaning a consensus between subjects is the limit that meaning cannot exceed. Since this consensus only exists as a result of subjects acceptance of it, which can be withdrawn, like a simulation it is transparent and does not have foundations.
To give the real some foundations, to make it less transparent, subjects need to develop a depth of knowledge that provides more than isolated meaning to separate instances. When Umberto Eco traveled around the United States, trying to understand the American fixation with making copies of things, he developed a depth of knowledge about the real by analyzing a series of related experiences. Eco responded to the various Wax Museums and copies of great art that he visited by saying that: “Everything looks real, and therefore it is real; in any case the fact that it seems real is real, and the thing is real even if, like Alice in Wonderland, it never existed.” (Eco 1987 p 16) “the frantic desire for the Almost Real arises only as a neurotic reaction to the vacuum of memories; the Absolute Fake is offspring of the unhappy awareness of a present without depth.” (Eco 1987 p 30-31) For the present to have depth there needs to be something beneath the surface. We produce depth by slowly adding to the experiences and understanding that we already have. As Eco traveled across the United States looking at counterfeits his understanding of them increased every time he visited another attraction. Eco became quite adept at discerning whether a counterfeit was well done or not. Interestingly, Eco sometimes describes the poor quality of the reproduction (a wood cut or oil painting) which is displayed beside a diorama, that is supposed to be faithful to an original masterpiece. Eco can comment on the quality of the wood cut or oil painting beside the diorama because he has accumulated enough understanding of art to express a value judgement. The diorama may have no more depth than space and perspective allow for, but Eco does. Eco has a depth of knowledge which he adds to by experiencing and analyzing things that he has enough interest in to write about. Eco accumulated knowledge as he journeyed across the United States in the same way that Sartre’s Existentialist might.
Developing a depth of knowledge links events and experiences, as components of the overall experience of existence, which helps form intuition. A depth of knowledge makes it possible for you to understand both the meaning of each individual event as well as the significance of the over all experience. If you have a depth of knowledge you can make a more considered judgement. Your judgement will still be impaired by your predilections and your preconceptions but you will be able to provide better justifications. In the transparent world of simulations it is this depth, or linearity, of experience and knowledge that is supposed to be missing. According to Baudrillard: “In societies which are over‑rapid, like our own, the reality effect becomes hazy: acceleration brings a jostling of causes and effects, linearity gets lost in turbulence, and reality, in its relative continuity, no longer has time to happen. Reality exists, then, only within a certain time‑frame at a certain level of acceleration,” (Baudrillard 1996c p 45) If reality did not have time to happen how did Eco reach conclusions about reality? Eco’s understanding of counterfeits took some time to develop. Eco reached conclusions about reality despite the pace at which the world occurs. Reality was not separate from Eco; it depended on him progressively understanding what he had experienced. Because the world has depth it is only possible to learn a little bit about it at a time. As you learn more you are confronted by the fact that there is always more to learn. Accepting that things are experienced faster than they can be understood is part of the awareness of the depth of the world. Without the linearity of a process like this it would be very difficult to discern anything.
If the world had no linearity or depth we might expect to experience an irreconcilable crisis of reality. For Baudrillard, who believes that we are experiencing just such a reality, this crisis can be overcome by making the real dependent on illusion. Baudrillard says that: “It is not, then, the real which is the opposite of simulation ‑ the real is merely a particular case of that simulation ‑ but illusion. And there is no crisis of reality. Far from it. There will always be more reality, because it is produced and reproduced by simulation, and is itself merely a model of simulation. The proliferation of reality, its spreading like an animal species whose natural predators have been eliminated, is our true catastrophe.” (Baudrillard 1996c p 16) For Baudrillard, it is behind the illusion of the world that reality is to be found. “Illusion doesn’t mean another world behind or beyond this one. Illusion is simply the fact that nothing is itself, nothing means what it appears to mean. There is a kind of inner absence of everything to itself. That is illusion. It is where we can never get a hold of things as they are, where we can never know the truth about objects or the other.” (Baudrillard and Butler in Zurbrugg 1997 p 49) Through the acceptance of the incomprehensibility of illusion Baudrillard establishes a freedom of thought. You are free to believe whether something is real or not. Because of the ambiguous nature of illusion you cannot prove what is real or not. The real only exists (as an arbitrary assertion) behind illusion, so Baudrillard can deny the production of a reality, with depth and linearity, by placing the real behind something as impenetrable as simulation. What you think you know cannot penetrate illusion or the uncertainty of simulation. Everything in Baudrillard’s world can hide behind its own appearance.
As a result of this ambiguity Baudrillard’s freedom of thought is a freedom to deny rather than a freedom to create. It only allows subjects to deny the legitimacy of reality, as it is presented to them, rather than letting subjects determine what reality might be. Under these conditions subjects cannot know anything, or impose meaning on anything, because everything has meaning of its own that is concealed by the illusion of the world. This is an almost impossible situation. How limiting it is can be highlighted by considering Sartre’s double edged freedom of thought. “In Sartre’s own view the very freedom to accept or reject the false is itself creative. Our power to envisage what is not the case leads to our power to change what is. The one could not exist without the other.” (Warnock 1966 p 17) In Baudrillard’s critique of reality the two kinds of freedom do not exist concurrently. Illusion only exists, in its relation to simulation and the real, despite its limitations, to permit the critique of simulation where simulation cannot be defined as separate from reality. Illusion can only be used to critique simulation and reality and not to create alternate meaning. Baudrillard believes that if illusion did not exist we would not be able to recognize that simulations exist. “This gigantic enterprise of disillusionment ‑ of, literally, putting the illusion of the world to death, to leave an absolutely real world in its stead ‑ is what is properly meant by simulation.” (Baudrillard 1996c p 16) Baudrillard is probably the only person who could exist in this alternate reality of illusion, where you are free to critique everything, but unable to know or do anything. Instead of creating an intuition that allows the subject to determine meaning, like Sartre’s Existentialist or Eco, Baudrillard’s freedom of thought can only eliminate meaning, because, like the illusion of the world it depends on, it is separate from all meaning. Such a critical intuition is both useless and unlikely without Sartre’s capacity to invisage an alternative.
If we assume that we can construct the meaning of the world, that we actually construct our reality, as we understand it, then, we need to consider different ways of gaining knowledge. Paul Feyerabend outlined two different ways of obtaining and explaining knowledge in Farewell To Reason. The abstract method resembles traditional critical thought. “Abstract traditions formulate statements. The statements are subjected to certain rules (rules of logic; rules of testing; rules of argument – and so on) and events affect the statements only in accordance with the rules. This, it is said, guarantees the ‘objectivity’ of the information conveyed by the statements, or of the ‘knowledge’ they contain.” (Feyerabend 1994 p 294) Whether rules of logic are really objective is a contentious issue. Based on Baudrillard’s statements, and Feyerabend’s conclusions, this kind of investigation can only provide answers that are related to the form of logic that has been applied. In an abstract model like this statements are shaped to fit the type of questions that can be asked. There are only certain answers that can be given to such questions. Baudrillard can be criticized for doing something like this by making reality and simulation equivalent. Because they are equivalent Baudrillard has to develop the idea of illusion and the reality that hides behind it. A comparison between simulation and reality is not possible, even though illusion allows our awareness of simulation, because Baudrillard does not provide any way to transcend the simulation/illusion dichotomy. Without dialectical opposition the two different things cannot be compared within the same model. The model is insufficient to resolve the question being asked.
The second method Feyerabend outlines is the historical tradition. “Members of historical traditions also use statements, but they talk in a very different way. They assume, as it were, that the objects already have a language of their own and they try to learn this language. They try to learn it not on the basis of linguistic theories but by immersion, just as small children familiarize themselves with the world. And they try to learn the language of the objects as they are, and not as they appear after they have been subjected to standardizing procedures.” (Feyerabend 1994 p 295) Baudrillard excels at this type of observation which lacks a means of relating conclusions to other circumstances. After reaching the conclusion that the world is unknowable – because it hides behind its own illusion – the directions that Baudrillard’s analysis can take are limited. If the world is unknowable, then, its language will most likely remain unknown. Without the world’s own language at our disposal we have no choice other than to impose a standardized language of our own upon it. This is what Baudrillard’s criticism of the transparency and self referential nature of our current reality hinges on. Baudrillard does not seem to consider that a critical edge, like his concept of illusion, can be integrated into the search for, or creation of meaning. Baudrillard’s work does not belong entirely to either the abstract or historical tradition; and does not provide an alternative to continuing the construction of meaning that he criticizes. Neither tradition can be applied to compare simulation/reality and illusion/unknowable reality. By combining the structure of the abstract tradition, which makes it possible to pose and answer questions, and immersing yourself in the world, as the historical tradition suggests, it is indeed possible for subjects to discern what things mean and decide what is real.
This method of accumulating knowledge now depends on the relationship between the subject and technology, which affects the method of investigation and the means of transmission, that decide how things are to be represented. Baudrillard believes that a system that depends on digital code, like the hyperreal, alters or destroys the meaning of what it represents and transmits. “At the limit of an always more extensive abolition of references and finalities, of the loss of resemblance and designation, we find the digital program‑sign, whose value is purely tactical, at the intersection of the other signals and whose structure is that of a macro‑molecular code of command and control.” (Baudrillard 1983a p 104) “In high definition, the (electronic, numerical or synthesized) image is nothing more than the emanation of the digital code that generated it. It has nothing more to do with representation, and even less with aesthetic illusion.” (Baudrillard in Zurbrugg 1997 p 25) Without tactical knowledge like digital code it would be nearly impossible for me to write this paper. I rely on OCR software to convert the written word, which I have insufficient eyesight to read, into something that the screen reader and voice synthesizer can read to me. The digital code is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Under these circumstances, the medium is not the message, since the medium is only employed to make a simulation of the page and a simulation of someone reading that page. If the simulation was not equivalent to the real it would be of no use to me. In this case the digital code, and the hyperreality that it constitutes, are transparent in comparison to what they transmit. The digital code and the image on the page only have meaning in the sense that they provide information that can be interpreted and integrated, as a part of my depth of knowledge.
The digital code provides a way for subjects to present and investigate inaccessible things in a more comprehensible hyperreal state. As a type of simulation the hyperreal can either clarify or obscure the real depending on subjects’ intentions and intuition. Charles Levin views the hyperreal as being beneficial to the development of what we have been calling a depth of knowledge. According to Levin: “Hyperrealism arises from the fact that the digital reconstruction of events is often more coherent and more convincing than organic body perception normally permits or expects. Without technology, the body cannot generate a sufficient variety of experience, above or below the biological parameters of the senses, nor a sufficient distance from experience, to override the fundamental organizing principle of all animal social behavior – which is to ascribe moral content (modeled on edible inedible, friend foe, fight flight, dominate submit, good bad) to any perception of contrast notable enough to invite deliberation.” (Levin 1996 p 90) The hyperreal allows the subject to interrogate things from a distance that is not detrimental to meaning or representation. The digital code – and the hyperreal which it facilitates – are only dangerous, if like Baudrillard, you perceive their effects as being inescapable. Douglas Kellner describes how, for Baudrillard, the code is both antecedent and deterministic. “In a hyperreal world, the model comes first, and its constitutive role is invisible, because all one sees are instantiations of models (while one reproduces models of thought and behavior oneself).” (Kellner 1989 p 83) For Baudrillard, codes are more than a theory of material determinism. The difference between simulation/reality and illusion/unknowable reality has no critical value if everything is determined by the same code. Any freedom that you have disappears when the choice to view reality as a simulation is withdrawn by the universal effects of a code. This is where Baudrillard’s true fatalism lies. While it is possible to ask what things mean and what is real there is no reason for subjects to submit to such a fatal conclusion. Methods of simulation and systems of transmission do not act independently. They are only representations of subjects intentions and intuition which determine there effects. It is the subject, rather than a simulation, who confirms and discerns meaning. Hyperreality and the digital code are therefore means to an end rather than an end in themselves.
In The Perfect Crime and in Nicholas Zurbrugg’s book Baudrillard has accused the Iconolaters of Byzantium of simulating God to avoid the question of God’s existence. “The Iconolaters of Byzantium were subtle folk, who claimed to represent God to his greater glory but who, simulating God in images, thereby dissimulated the problem of his existence. Behind each of these images, in fact, God had disappeared. He was not dead; he had disappeared. That is to say, the problem no longer even arose. It was resolved by simulation. This is what we do with the problem of the truth or reality of this world: we have resolved it by technical simulation, and by creating a profusion of images in which there is nothing to see.” (Baudrillard 1996c p 5) It is interesting that Baudrillard believes that there is nothing to see in an image of God when there is nothing to see because of the illusion of the world. Whether the Iconolaters believed that God existed within the images they created is never addressed. At the very least creating an image of something you believe in is more than a simulation; it is a representation of something that does not present itself in a way that is accessible to you. God was made to appear. We do build representations of things that we cannot see that fit in to Baudrillard’s definition of simulation. We do this because we are unable to see what Baudrillard says is there behind illusion. There is plenty to see in the images we create; they are a part of our experience that allows us to constitute reality. Since there is nothing else, that can be seen behind images, we have to be able to analyze and employ images.
Reality, and the meaning that is ascribed to it, are discovered and constructed by subjects interrogating the world as they experience it. The question of whether to accept or deny meaning and values, despite Baudrillard’s conclusions, depends more on the nature of the subject than the nature of the world. Since subjects are limited by their intuition, an inability to recognize intentions, and require extensive experience and analysis to develop a depth of knowledge, whether something is real or a simulation cannot ever be known for sure. As what is considered to be real can depend on a consensus existing between subjects or on a hyperreality made from technical simulations, rather than on an obvious lineage or a deterministic code, reality cannot be anything more than an operational standard. Baudrillard’s idea of a reality existing behind the illusion of the world offers a means of critiquing reality but does not offer an alternative to it. Subjects have no choice other than to investigate what things mean so that they can decide what constitutes the real.
SEDUCING THE SYMBOLIC
If a symbolic order with clear meaning exists subjects can communicate information about themselves to each other. By using signs, that belong to a hierarchy of meaning, subjects can represent their identities in a way that other subjects can recognize. In Baudrillard’s writing the first symbolic order like this is completely under the control of subjects. They decide what symbolic value objects are to have and how signs are to be used. Subjects have an influence over the symbolic, that is as significant as their contribution to the consensus of meaning which defines the real. As Baudrillard discusses the way in which he believes the symbolic order develops, from this original stage to his commodity law of value, and then on to his structural law of value and concept of seduction, subjects’ relation to the symbolic changes. Instead of subjects giving objects symbolic value, Baudrillard proposes that objects present their explicit symbolic value to subjects. By inverting the relationship between subjects and objects the future of the symbolic is threatened, because subjects can no longer be sure of what signs represent. Baudrillard causes these problems by not addressing how subjects relate to each other, which Sartre explains very poignantly, and by overstating objects’ independent symbolic potential. For a symbolic order to have a meaningful role as a method of communication these problems have to be avoided. The best way of doing this is to maintain a symbolic order which is defined by subjects.
Baudrillard proposes that there was a primary stage of the development of the symbolic, at which point a subject and a sign were clearly related. During this stage signs represented subjects in accordance with social norms that were both cohesive and apparent. Baudrillard says that: “In the past, differences of birth, blood and religion were not exchanged: they were not differences of fashion, but essential distinctions. They were not ‘consumed’.” (Baudrillard 1998 p 93) Under these circumstances signs made it possible to communicate things like rank and occupation that were not supposed to be exchanged. Signs represented the nature of a subject, within a broad system of signification, that was employed by an entire society. In this sort of traditional society, signs could only represent the particular characteristics of a subject and had no meaning outside a determined relationship of signification. The ability to represent one’s self with a sign was conferred on the subject by the social. The significance of Baudrillard discussing this set of relationships, between subjects and signs, is that he acknowledges that there was a stage at which the meaning, production and exchange of signs was entirely under the control of the social. The symbolic order relied on, and was defined by, a consensus existing between subjects, like the consensus that constitutes reality that we considered in the previous chapter.
As less rigid limitations on social differentiation appear, as a result of mass production and a less stratified society, Baudrillard’s analysis of the symbolic takes on a different complexion. Signs that had formerly represented essential distinctions are supplemented with signs that can be consumed. Signs and objects, that have an equivalent value, are consumed as commodities in order to achieve social prestige and differentiation. At this point, where a subject’s relationship to objects and the symbolic is determined by the success of a process of economization, Baudrillard’s ‘commodity law of value’ comes in to play. “The commodity law of value is a law of equivalences, and this law operates throughout every sphere: it designates the equivalence in the configuration of the sign, where one signifier and one signified facilitate the regulated exchange of a referential content (the other parallel modality being the linearity of the signifier, contemporaneous with the linear and cumulative time of production).” (Baudrillard 1993 p 8) Comparing Baudrillard’s commodity law of value with Marx’s commodity law of value might make Baudrillard’s definition a little less obscure. As the basis for his explanation of Marx’s understanding of commodities, Mandel says that: “A mass of products which has been created for the purpose of being sold can no longer be considered as the production of simple use‑values; it is now a production of commodities. The commodity, therefore, is a product created to be exchanged on the market, as opposed to one which has been made for direct consumption. Every commodity must have both a use‑value and an exchange-value.” (Mandel 1970 p 10) While Marx views commodities as things that are exchanged Baudrillard views commodities as things that are consumed. The difference here, between consumption and exchange, depends on how value is determined. In Marx’s model commodities are exchanged for labour, or other commodities, to meet primarily material needs or wants. In Baudrillard’s model these needs and wants are driven by the need for symbolic representation, which, through the prestige value bestowed on objects by the symbolic, establishes and maintains social differentiation. According to Mandel, for Marx: “The only thing which commodities have in common from the viewpoint of exchanging them is that they are all produced by abstract human labor, that is to say, by producers who are related to each other on a basis of equivalence as a result of the fact that they are all producing goods for exchange.” (Mandel 1970 p 27) For Baudrillard, the value of a commodity/object is its symbolic value. Unlike Marx, Baudrillard has no interest in labour value because the symbolic value of an object is not determined by the value of the labour that produced it. The consumption of objects as signs, where the signs and objects are equivalent, is what is important in Baudrillard’s commodity law of value. Through the commodity law of value, Baudrillard expresses his interest in symbolic value which transcends production, through consumption, as a theory of social behavior. Objects are consumed because of their symbolic value, which gives them prestige value, that does not depend on their use or exchange value. Subjects have to work out what signs they need to, or want to consume to meet the demands for social differentiation that previously depended on the representation of essential distinctions.
Baudrillard believes that the commodity law of value is a consequence of a society having a symbolic code in common. Like his understanding of the digital code, which we considered in the previous chapter, Baudrillard asserts that the symbolic code is antecedent and deterministic. Setting out the consequences of the commodity law of value should tell us something about its origins. Since Baudrillard places so much emphasis on consumption, as being the primary action that enables symbolic representation and determines symbolic value, the commodity law of value appears to perpetuate the symbolic at the expense of the social. In such a situation, says Baudrillard: “conformity is not status equalization, the conscious homogenization of the group (each individual aligning himself with the others), but the fact of having the same code in common, of sharing the same signs which make all the members of that group different from a particular other group.” (Baudrillard 1998 p 92-93) Everyone contributes to the circulation of signs through consumption, to represent a differentiated identity, at the expense of any other project. No one within the society that Baudrillard outlines has the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the rest of society except by consuming objects. Through the very act of consumption one ensures the maintenance of the hierarchy of signs and objects that organizes prestige value. As a result of this hierarchy social differentiation is maintained and the value of consumption is reinforced. Levin says that: “For Baudrillard, consumption is, strictly speaking, not the satisfaction of a need through the appropriation of a use value, but the manipulation of signs as an active (but closed) relationship to the object system, where the latter is invested as a potential mirror of the unique self.” (Levin 1996 p 42) The subject appears to have an independent identity, because of his or her dependence on the symbolic order and consumption, which exist in an interdependent relationship. Since manufacturing difference is an obligation, a social conformity, based on the interdependence of difference, is perpetuated along with the symbolic hierarchy.
Under Baudrillard’s commodity law of value subjects have to consume objects as signs in order to represent themselves. By being consumed objects are given a symbolic value that allows them to represent difference. These conditions establish a reciprocal relationship, between consumption and representation, which is the basis for the symbolic order’s ability to communicate meaning. Rather than being produced by an antecedent or deterministic code, this reciprocal relationship seems to depend on subjects active participation in the production and maintenance of the symbolic. Constructing the symbolic order, that Baudrillard’s commodity law of value attempts to explain, is similar to establishing a consensus about what is real. The symbolic order, like the real, cannot exist or have meaning without subjects acting to make it so. Douglas Kellner says that: “consumption in Baudrillard’s early writings is itself a kind of labor, ‘an active manipulation of signs’, a way of inserting oneself into the consumer society and working to differentiate oneself from others.” (Kellner 1989 p 19) Since what is thought to be prestigious – under Baudrillard’s commodity law of value – is no longer confirmed by a series of pre-existing social norms, as it was in a traditional hierarchical society, the symbolic order depends on subjects constantly engaging in consumption to legitimize and reinforce symbolic value. Unless subjects engage in consumption they cannot accumulate the signs that are necessary to represent themselves. According to Kellner: “the subject of consumption is reduced to a system of homogenized, rationalized and generalized needs. A ‘logic of equivalence’ thus rules the consumer society in which objects function equivalently‑ as signs and have equivalent uses, values and purposes for all consumers, while all consumers have equivalent needs.” (Kellner 1989 p 24) This is not to say that all consumers will consume the same things. If everyone consumed the same things consumption would not contribute to social differentiation. Participating in mass consumption limits, but does not eliminate, a subject’s ability to represent their own identity or undertake their own project. A subject’s identity or project can only be recognized if there is a consensus of meaning that enables the signs that have been employed to be recognized as having a particular meaning. Consumption, in this case, is the method of generating the meaning that makes representation and recognition possible. In the same way that Sartre considered the creation of a human universality (Sartre 1970 p 47), we might expect the creation of a symbolic universality to increase the level of comprehension between subjects. If signs and objects are equivalent and have recognizable prestige value, as Baudrillard suggests, the meaning of signs is clear. Having a common method of creating, sustaining and giving meaning to signs ensures that a group of subjects can effectively represent and recognize a significant number of things. While signs and objects are made to be equivalent because of consumption, consumption is the means used to create the symbolic order, and the method of controlling and limiting its meaning. There is nothing antecedent or deterministic about the symbolic order or the consensus that establishes it. Both depend on the effort and good will of subjects.
Up until, and including, his commodity law of value, Baudrillard presents the symbolic as a hierarchy that facilitates the representation and recognition of difference. Beyond this point the symbolic order temporarily loses its communicative and regulatory roles in Baudrillard’s writing. This happens when Baudrillard allows signs to be produced at a greater rate than they can be made to have comprehensible meaning; which forces the symbolic into a meaningless state. This situation is not inevitable if the symbolic order’s dependence on subjects is recognized. Baudrillard says that: “Current differences (of clothing, ideology, and even sex) are exchanged within a vast consortium of consumption. This is a socialized exchange of signs. And if everything can be exchanged in this way, in the form of signs, this is not by virtue of some ‘liberalization’ of mores, but because differences are systematically produced in accordance with an order which integrates them all as identifying signs and, being substitutable one for another, there is no more tension or contradiction between them than there is between high and low or left and right.” (Baudrillard 1998 p 93) It is impossible for a symbolic order to exist unless a hierarchy of value and meaning is maintained. Without a system to evaluate symbolic value and meaning, signs and objects have no relation to each other or anything else. An object is just an item that can be consumed unless a group of subjects decide to make it something more than this. In order to be a sign an object has to be recognized by the entire group of subjects as having a symbolic value that belongs to their shared system of representation. Signs and objects are made to be equivalent, as part of a symbolic order, to enable subjects to represent themselves in a recognizable way. Signs do not just appear. They are made to appear, by subjects, as a part of a symbolic order. Since Baudrillard does not recognize this, and insists that signs can appear without reference to anything else, he unnecessarily stops the symbolic order from being able to represent subjects or be recognized as a form of representation.
Under these conditions Baudrillard replaces the commodity law of value with the structural law of value, which explains the way in which he believes that the symbolic order has lost its ability to represent subjects. Baudrillard says that: “The structural law of value signifies the indeterminacy of every sphere in relation to every other, and to their proper content (also therefore the passage from the determinant sphere of signs to the indeterminacy of the code). To say that the sphere of material production and that of signs exchange their respective contents is still too wide of the mark: they literally disappear as such and lose their specificity along with their determinacy, to the benefit of a form of value, of a much more general assemblage, where designation and production are annihilated.” (Baudrillard 1993 p 8) Baudrillard’s structural law of value is basically the opposite of his commodity law of value. Signs and objects no longer belong to any sort of hierarchy to ensure that symbolic value can be represented and recognized. The excessive production of signs reduces the meaning of every aspect of the symbolic order. Subjects can no longer understand their relationships with each other by understanding the rules of value of the symbolic order. While Baudrillard’s commodity law of value relied on the comprehensibility and careful construction of a subject’s identity based on difference, his structural law of value is characterized by their absence. Baudrillard views these circumstances as a sort of indeterminacy with the same repercussions as simulation. Signs no longer refer to anything with any degree of certainty in the same way that simulations are built without reference to anything else. In order to escape the chaos that he associates with the structural law of value, Baudrillard changes the direction of his investigation, away from the production of symbolic value, toward the recognition of explicit symbolic value.
After reaching a point at which signs and objects no longer have clear values or relationships, Baudrillard proposes a different way of understanding objects and signs. Instead of viewing objects as signs that are given their value by subjects, Baudrillard considers how objects represent themselves. Baudrillard says that: “The main focus of interest has always been on the conditions in which the subject discovers the object, but those in which the object discovers the subject have not been explored at all. We flatter ourselves that we discover the object and conceive it as waiting there meekly to be discovered. But perhaps the cleverer party here is not the one we think. What if it were the object which discovered us in all this? What if it were the object which invented us?” (Baudrillard 1996c p 55) According to this proposition the object no longer exists only to have meaning conferred on it. Objects have symbolic value of their own, that only needs to be recognized instead of having to be produced. Representation, in this case, depends on subjects understanding and employing objects with specific characteristics as signs. Recognition of an objects innate value proceeds representation, and transcends the production of symbolic value, because the symbolic value of an object is explicit. The most significant limitation of objects having explicit meaning, that Baudrillard does not sufficiently articulate, is that the subject has to be able to recognize an object for what it is, if the objects own symbolic value is to be employed.
For an object to be recognized a subject has to be aware of, and interested in, the presence of an object that is not his or her self. As Sartre says: “It is not possible then for me to have any experience of an object as an object which is not me until I constitute it as an object. On the contrary, what makes all experience possible is an a priori upsurge of the object for the subject-or since the upsurge is the original fact of the for-itself, an original upsurge of the for-itself as presence to the object which it is not.” (Sartre 1995 p 176) Since an object does not have agency of its own it cannot elicit a response or respond to the subject in the way that the subject responds to it. The symbolic value and meaning that belongs to an object can only be recognized if a subject experiences and analyzes the object. For Sartre, this is how meaning is produced; by the Existentialist responding to the world. In Baudrillard’s symbolic model responding to objects, instead of producing them as signs, means that the symbolic system has been inverted. Having a tacit influence on the subject is more than the object had when its symbolic value was entirely constructed. The object is something more than the empty vessel, waiting for a complement of signs, that it formerly was.
Once Baudrillard makes objects more than empty symbolic vessels he has to contend with a situation, of his own creation, in which objects are more important for the future of the symbolic than subjects. This leads to Baudrillard developing the concept of seduction. Seduction is Baudrillard’s attempt to make the symbolic useful and meaningful for subjects by redressing the perplexity caused by his structural law of value. Seduction depends on objects having symbolic value that subjects can use but do not have to produce. As a result of the development of the concept of seduction, according to Gane: “The basic notions of ‘symbolic’ exchange are decisively displaced by those of strategic reversibility and the duel.” (Gane 1991 p 143) Seduction lets subjects take on the appearance of objects so that they can present themselves clearly, without any further need for signs or objects. The symbolic posture they take on is independently constructed and regulated. This supposedly overcomes the problems that have plagued Baudrillard’s symbolic order. There are no reasons to produce or maintain symbolic meaning, which Baudrillard limited with his commodity law of value and destroyed with his structural law of value, or find objects that present themselves as having desirable signs, since the subject can appear to be an object with signs of its own. Baudrillard says that: “The strategy of seduction is one of deception. It lies in wait for all that tends to confuse itself with its reality. And it is potentially a source of fabulous strength. For if production can only produce objects or real signs, and thereby obtain some power; seduction, by producing only illusions, obtains all powers, including the power to return production and reality to their fundamental illusion.” (Baudrillard 1990 p 70-71) Baudrillard believes that seduction enables a subject to become both the signified and the signifier by taking on the appearance of an object and employing its inherent symbolic meaning. By being both the signifier and the signified subjects employing seduction do more than represent themselves. They become whatever is being represented; like an object that cannot be separated from its inherent signs. As a means of influencing, or resisting, another subject and the symbolic order they subscribe to (or as an aspect of Baudrillard’s theory of power which will be considered in the next chapter), seduction conceals a subject behind an influential appearance, that is made up of impenetrable signs. Kellner says that: “Baudrillard thinks that if we understand seduction properly, then we can grasp the ubiquity and supremacy of objects in our lives. For he believes that it is an illusion to think that the subject is the aggressor in the game of seduction: rather, the object is the matrix of fascination and the subject falls prey to its charms and traps.” (Kellner 1989 p 157) Seduction depends on the symbolic value of an object, and the appearance of an object, being perfectly produced and maintained so that another subject responds as if to an object that they can use as part of their own project. For seduction to succeed the subject being seduced cannot be allowed to perceive a subject with an agenda of his or her own.
The most common example Baudrillard provides of a subject appearing as an object is the femme fatale. The femme fatale is a woman who surrounds her self with all the necessary signs to make her recognizable as a seductive object rather than a subject. As the femme fatale she takes on the characteristics of both the signifiers and the signified to eliminate any ambiguity that might exist, between her self as a subject and her self as an appearance, within the guise of a seductive object. Baudrillard says that: “She plays on that speculative image by an unconditional speculation, by an inflation of her own image. By overbidding her condition as object, she becomes fatal for herself, and this is how she becomes so for others. In the very features of the artificial ideal which has been manufactured for her, it is the feminine which shows through ‑ not to meet up again with the ‘real’ woman she is supposed to be, but to distance her yet further from her nature, and make of that artifice a triumphant destiny.” (Baudrillard 1996c p 119) As an object, that can represent itself, the femme fatale has meaning for other subjects but is not expected to have agency, which only subjects possess. The femme fatale presents signs that are potentially seductive, but it is up to another subject to respond to these signs. In this way, when a subject responds to the femme fatale, there is no expectation, on the part of the subject who is being seduced, that the seductive object can manipulate the situation. Behind this appearance, as the femme fatale, a subject can manipulate the production and presentation of signs to influence another subject into an enervated state. Instead of the symbolic representing and communicating meaning in an accessible way, in which being able to recognize what is being represented is a primary consideration and limitation on the symbolic, Baudrillard’s concept of seduction uses recognizable signs to obscure a subjects actions. “Seduction lies with the annulment of the signs, of their meaning, with their pure appearance”, says Baudrillard, and, “Above all, seduction supposes not a signified desire, but the beauty of an artifice.” (Baudrillard 1990 p 76) The femme fatale seduces a subject by using signs to represent one appealing option, after another, until there is no alternative to the option that the femme fatale presents. For Baudrillard, seduction is the art of using signs to entrap another subject, through an appearance, that diminishes or delays their ability to act by extracting a measured response from them.
To elicit such a response signs have to possess well defined values, which belong to a clearly understood symbolic order that subjects trust and subscribe to. Seduction eliminates the clear value of signs and objects in any such system, by manipulating their meaning to threaten subjects. Seduction cannot be used to maintain or produce a symbolic order that enables subjects to represent and recognize their identities. Like Baudrillard’s structural law of value, which predates seduction and is not replaced or resolved by it, seduction undermines the symbolic order as a method of communicating meaning. As an attempt to make the symbolic useful and meaningful for subjects it is a failure, and is no alternative to the production of a symbolic order based on a consensus between subjects. To demonstrate this we should consider the further consequences of the femme fatale’s actions. The femme fatale appears as a seductive object, throughout the seductive process, including the point at which the subject who is being seduced is entrapped, disempowered or manipulated into an adverse position. The femme fatale shatters the illusion of the passive object, and the symbolic order that makes its meaning comprehensible, by having a surreptitious influence on another subject that an object cannot have. The femme fatale destroys the idea of an object having explicit symbolic meaning and no agency, by redefining the object’s symbolic meaning in order to have the effect of a subject with agency. Subjects can no longer trust signs and objects, because they represent a method of manipulation rather than a means of communication. When the femme fatale makes the object she is supposed to be into a threat to other subjects, by employing Baudrillard’s concept of seduction, the meaning which the symbolic order transmits is invalidated. Confidence in the symbolic is reduced by the femme fatale’s actions. Irigaray says that, “without the exploitation of the body‑matter of women, what would become of the symbolic process that governs society? What modification would this process, this society, undergo, if women, who have been only objects of consumption or exchange, necessarily aphasic, were to become ‘speaking subjects’ as well?” (Irigaray 1991 p 132) By exceeding the limits of how a woman can be objectified, which are set out by the symbolic order, the femme fatale redefines her self as a subject, rather than an object, destroying the meaning of the symbolic which expected and depended on her being an object. The femme fatale annihilates the symbolic order from within. No group of subjects would support this sort of unregulated misappropriation of signs, because of the threat it poses to the symbolic order, and to them as individuals who relate.
As well as threatening the symbolic order, seduction interferes with subjects’ ability to relate to each other. Seduction stops subjects from representing themselves and recognizing each other in an equivalent way; that lets them know as much as possible about the subject who they are confronting; by making the relationship between them unsustainable and incomprehensible. Seduction, by removing the reciprocity and challenge from an encounter between subjects, reveals itself as a fraud. Confronting a subject who acts like an object is not the same as confronting another subject who does not. Seduction generates a sort of simulation that is not equivalent to a real object or a subject. Subjects, unlike objects, can act to investigate, represent, recognize or deny each others appearances. Any encounter between subjects which is affected by Baudrillard’s concept of seduction, is likely to be as confrontational as an encounter between Sartre’s Existentialist and another subject, instead of being seductive. At least for Sartre’s Existentialist, as Warnock explains here, the rules of engagement are clear. “The Other is, for each of us, the enemy, and the danger, and his look freezes us; we direct our behavior necessarily to trying to get other people to see us in a certain light, and trying to get them to recognize our freedom; while, on the other hand, we wish to regard them as things, and to possess ourselves of them entirely.” (Warnock 1966 p 126) As part of the process of encountering another subject Sartre’s Existentialist has to analyze the other subject who is analyzing him or her. Because both subjects want to demonstrate their freedom and recognize who and what the other subject is, there is equivalent potential for them to represent themselves and recognize each other. Even if these subjects have a less radical approach than Sartre’s Existentialist, all these aspects of how subjects experience and analyze each other are still present in a less antagonistic form. The tension that exists between them ensures that they recognize the challenge that they pose to each others identities. When a subject employing seduction is observed and analyzed by another subject none of these things that characterize a meeting between two subjects with agency are present. The reciprocity that Warnock describes is missing. There is only one assertion of freedom, one attempt at analysis, one attempt to possess the other and no tension brought about by a need or desire to resist. A subject employing seduction does not assert his or her identity or defend it in the way that Sartre’s Existentialist might. Baudrillard’s concept of seduction turns an encounter between subjects into something entirely different to a situation in which difference and independence are the most important issues. Seduction makes the relationship between subjects into a disconcerting race toward submission, in which a subject is seduced into submitting by the seducer’s pretence of submission.
This is not a credible method of influencing or representing meaning, and resembles Sartre’s idea of bad faith. “The first pattern of Bad Faith”, according to Warnock, “is that in which, to protect himself against the recognition of his own freedom, a conscious being, a Being‑for‑itself, pretends to be a thing, a Being‑in‑itself, which therefore has no choice, but is managed by other people, or is just inert. In the second pattern a conscious being pretends to be nothing except a Being‑for‑others, that is, he acts out the role that people have assigned to him, and he sees himself as whatever it is that people want him to be. So his acts again seem to be determined by how he is meant to be.” (Warnock 1966 p 56) As well as appearing like an object the seducer also acts as others expect until a subject is seduced. Both kinds of bad faith are necessary characteristics of Baudrillard’s concept of seduction. It is more than likely that a subject, who is supposed to be seduced, would recognize the incompleteness of the appearance and actions that are employed against them and resist being seduced. Seduction is no alternative to a symbolic order that allows subjects to represent themselves and recognize each other. Seduction does not grasp the true nature of subjects relationships with each other or objects limited and subservient role.
According to Baudrillard it is only the first symbolic order that is created by subjects. As we have considered, subjects ability to present their identities, by constructing a symbolic hierarchy that permits social differentiation to be represented, extends far beyond this initial stage of the symbolic order. The symbolic order that Baudrillard associates with his commodity law of value is created by subjects and not by a deterministic code as he suggests. The symbolic order, like the real, is created and maintained by subjects. It is Baudrillard, rather than the consensus of symbolic meaning that is established by subjects, who destroys the symbolic order’s ability to represent subjects with recognizable signs. As a result of his conclusion, which is explained by the structural law of value, Baudrillard chooses to invert the relationship between subjects and objects, so that the symbolic order can be made meaningful and useful again. Under these circumstances Baudrillard develops the concept of seduction to take advantage of the fact that he has made objects more significant for the symbolic order than subjects. As an attempt to make the symbolic meaningful and useful for subjects seduction is as unprofitable as the structural law of value. Seduction does not recognize objects inferior symbolic position, or the true nature of relationships between subjects, and is likely to be exposed as a type of symbolic fraud that can endanger the symbolic order as well as subjects. By continuing to produce a symbolic order, that allows subjects to represent themselves and recognize each other in a clear and meaningful way, subjects can overcome any of the problems that Baudrillard causes, for the symbolic, by relinquishing his belief that the symbolic order was initially created by subjects.
THE POWER OF LIMITATION
As we have considered, in the previous two chapters, it is indeed possible for subjects to exist in a world that has meaning. In order for meaning to exist, and contribute to the consensus that defines the real, or sustain the relationship between signs and objects that a symbolic order depends on, subjects must possess the power to decide what things do or do not mean. Like Sartre, Baudrillard views power as a means of achieving and maintaining the freedom to act, which enables subjects to create, support or deny meaning. Baudrillard believes that power is something that subjects can use, to either exert an influence or resist an influence. It is a challenge that, according to Baudrillard, can only be limited by a system of governance, which reduces subjects’ awareness of their freedom and power’s potential. In this chapter we shall begin by considering how much of an influence subjects can have, and how much of an influence they can resist, by outlining a traditional conception of power, and comparing Baudrillard and Foucault’s work. Rather than viewing power as a force relation, Baudrillard views power as an ability to generate a persuasive appearance, which depends on seduction and simulation. Baudrillard’s analysis of the masses demonstrates how effective this sort of power can be, as a means of resisting the influence of a dominant system of governance. Because Baudrillard’s analysis of the masses unnecessarily presents subjects as belonging to a recondite social body, we will have to consider a concept of community, Sartre’s idea of the group, and Baudrillard’s writing on otherness to understand how subjects use power in their relationships with each other. If subjects are aware of power, in the way that Baudrillard’s conception suggests, they do have a significant ability to resist and exert an influence over what things mean.
Since Baudrillard’s concept of power can be best understood when set against widely known expositions of power, and means of resisting power, it seems worthwhile to articulate such positions before interrogating Baudrillard’s writing. Steven Lukes defines power in the following way: “A may exercise power over B by getting him to do what he does not want to do, but he also exercises power over him by influencing, shaping or determining his very wants. Indeed, is it not the supreme exercise of power to get another or others to have the desires you want them to have – that is, to secure their compliance by controlling their thoughts and desires?” (Lukes 1979 p 23) Lukes succinctly describes the two ways in which A can exercise an influence over B. If B has to decide against self interest, because A’s capacity to influence B’s future circumstances and decision making options are significant, B has an awareness of the costs and benefits of yielding to A’s wishes. If B has little awareness of what is against his or her best interest, because of earlier shaping of his or her decision making process, before any particular decision had to be made, B’s awareness of A acting upon him or her is lessened. B no longer has the same heightened awareness of the costs and benefits associated with A’s exertion of power. Under this set of conditions, according to Lukes, decisions are no longer independent or conscious, but instead represent A’s ability to systematically limit the variety of decisions that B is able to consider. “Decisions are choices consciously and intentionally made by individuals between alternatives, whereas the bias of the system can be mobilized, recreated and reinforced in ways that are neither consciously chosen nor the intended result of particular individuals’ choices.” (Lukes 1979 p 20) Whether A establishes the system’s bias, that limits B’s capacity for making decisions, or is subject to similar limitations, needs to be considered to inform us as to how subjects employ power to influence each other, and how they are influenced by it. If a system, rather than a subject, determines the way in which power is applied and the inaction or reaction that is elicited, then, the relationship between subjects is prescribed rather than an effect of individual circumstances and characteristics. The systematic application of power coerces subjects into accepting a set of limitations, which stop them from considering certain decisions.
In a thesis of power where a relationship of mutual rights and obligations exists, between those who govern and those who are governed, power is exercised in accordance with a system that expects subjects to relate to each other in particular ways. Since the use of power in such a system depends on citizens’ response to power, as much as on the sovereign’s actions, power has to flow in both directions. Hindess explains, based on his analysis of a liberal conception of power and Foucault’s writing, that, under conditions where the decision making process is made to be compliant: “Citizens are regarded both as free and independent agents and as potentially subject to government regulation of their characters. On this view, government should be concerned to influence the thoughts and desires of its subjects in certain respects.” (Hindess 1996 p 72) If subjects can be convinced to accept limitations on their ability to exert or resist power, they can avoid being exposed to, or exposing, the overtly repressive potential of the systematic application of power. By providing rewards and sanctions that condition subjects’ consciousness of their conduct, the power to influence the decision making process instills a sense of certainty and continuity into a society. The result of this is a condition that Foucault refers to as normalization. Normalization has a pervasive affect on a society, according to Hindess, because even when subjects are not being directly influenced by power, their decision making process still complies with the system of governance that could exert an influence over them. “In addition to their direct effects on behavior, rewards and sanctions can work to promote the habits of thought that govern what we agree to be true or false, good or evil: that is, they define the internal standards by which we each try to regulate our own judgements and behavior. The significance of such internal standards is that they can be expected to operate in situations more or less remote from the conditions in which they were originally formed, and in particular in situations where external sanctioning mechanisms are either absent or ineffective.” (Hindess 1996 p 78) If enough members of a society internalize a set of arbitrary beliefs, that establish limitations and expectations that ensure the maintenance of these standards, a system of governance exists that dominates subjects. Despite the external origins of these internal standards, they are the precursor to any decision or action that a subject takes. Whether they are irresistible, or can be resisted, or perhaps even countered, depends on how dominant the system of governance is.
Unless these internalized limitations can be transcended a subject is unlikely to have the capacity to resist or counter the exercise of power. Marcuse believes that: “All liberation depends on the consciousness of servitude, and the emergence of this consciousness is always hampered by the predominance of needs and satisfactions which, to a great extent, have become the individual’s own. The process always replaces one system of preconditioning by another; the optimal goal is the replacement of false needs by true ones, the abandonment of repressive satisfaction.” (Marcuse 1968 p 7) While Lukes and Hindess express the action of power in subjects’ relationships, which promote the acceptance of interdependent limitations, Marcuse suggests the principal means of resistance that needs to be developed to deny, or perhaps even reverse, these kinds of imposed limitations. Subjects have to be able to recognize the exteriority of the system of needs, wants, rights and obligations which they are compelled to abide by and maintain. This is difficult because the systematic application of power aims to reduce subjects consciousness of their servitude. Awareness of these imposed limitations is the first and most critical form of resistance to a system of domination.
The central theme of Baudrillard’s concept of power is that subjects are capable of challenging and reversing the effects of systems which attempt to make them believe particular things, or act in particular ways. Baudrillard says that power is: “Neither an agency (instance), a structure, a substance, nor in fact a force relation, power is a challenge.” (Baudrillard 1987 p 51) “We must say that power is something that is exchanged. Not in the economical sense, but in the sense that power is executed according to a reversible cycle of seduction, challenge, and ruse (neither axis nor indefinite relay, but a cycle). And if power cannot be exchanged in this sense, it purely and simply disappears.” (Baudrillard 1987 p 43) This conception of power is not like the one that Lukes and Hindess discuss because the relationship between A and B does not depend on A forcing B to accept a course of action or on limiting B’s ability to make a decision in advance. Both Lukes and Hindess present power relations in a way that establish long term patterns of behavior, which rely on a consistent flow of power. This kind of power is not reversible in the sense that Baudrillard is interested in. Baudrillard believes that both A and B have the potential to persuade each other to make a decision. Like his concept of seduction, Baudrillard’s concept of power depends on a subject presenting an appearance that is likely to elicit a particular response from another subject. Baudrillard says that: “If desire is a will to power and possession, seduction places before it an equal will to power by the simulacrum. In forming a web of appearances seduction both sustains this hypothetical power of desire and exercises it.” (Baudrillard 1990 p 87) Baudrillard seems to view simulations with ambivalence when they are used as a means of resisting power. Since power is supposed to be either seductive, or a challenge, the strength or desirability of an appearance is at least as significant as its actual potential. Power, for Baudrillard, is a means of bringing about something other than that which is, or is expected.
Like Sartre who says: “Since I am free, I project my total possible, but I thereby posit that I am free and that I can always nihilate this first project and make it past” (Sartre 1995 p 480), Baudrillard’s concept of power is a demand for, or a question of, what freedom can be. The Existentialist can nihilate any project because of Sartre’s belief that we have no choice other than to choose. Freedom, in this case, is an ability to choose that is neither limited or dependent on an outcome. Baudrillard’s concept of power is an extension of a subject’s freedom to choose, to influence another subject’s choice without the outcome being certain. The cycle of making a choice, and making others choose, depends on power being continuously exchanged. The ultimate outcome of a concept of power like Baudrillard’s is a situation, like the one cause by seduction, in which relationships between subjects are flexible and ambiguous. The strength of Baudrillard’s concept is that it gives subjects a way to recognize the exteriority of the limitations which shape their lives. If power is not being exchanged freely, and there are limitations on what subjects can choose, or be persuaded to choose, it is the system, which limits the exchange of power, rather than power itself that needs to be challenged. It is against the dominant political, economic and social systems that Baudrillard’s reversible seductive power should be seen as a challenge.
The contrast which exists, between power and a system of domination, can be illustrated by comparing Baudrillard and Foucault’s work. Even though Baudrillard, and Foucault, both believe that subjects have to possess a freedom to act, and a potential to be acted upon, in order to speak about power; the way they conceptualize power, and resistance to it, is very different. Foucault says that: “What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression.” (Foucault 1980 p 119) This definition of power provides an insight into why society survives and maintains a more or less continuous trajectory. Power is employed to create and extend social, political and economic projects that perpetuate themselves by absorbing subjects into the flow of meaning and power that they depend on. To have a share of all the apparently good things that power produces, a subject has to contribute through participation, by internalizing the standards of the system, which provides meaning and rewards.
Whereas Foucault associates some significant benefits, for subjects, with the acceptance of the systematic application of power, Baudrillard only perceives a denial of powers true potential, at subjects expense. “Power, then,” says Baudrillard, “is still turned toward a reality principle and a very strong truth principle; it is still oriented toward a possible coherence of politics and discourse (power no longer pertains to the despotic order of what is forbidden and of the law, but it still belongs to the objective order of the real). Foucault can thus describe to us the successive spirals of power, the last of which enables him to mark its most minute terminations, although power never ceases being the term, and the question of its extermination can never arise.” (Baudrillard 1987 p 12) If power is used in the way that Foucault suggests, all the apparently good things he mentions are rewards for compliant subjects. In a conception of power like Foucault’s any benefits that the subject gains from the exertion of power benefit the social, political and economic system first. The creation of meaning, and the real, is limited by the system which encourages subjects to positively engage with a set of limitations, that are not just accepted, but become the criteria to determine what is desirable. Baudrillard’s criticism of Foucault depends on power being used to add to a reality, that only exists to serve itself, rather than being used to resist or negate it. If power cannot be used to negate or resist forces of normalization or socialization, which is what Baudrillard assumes Foucault concluded, then, power is not being exchanged freely and subjects ability to choose has been retarded.
Any means of resistance, to the systematic application of power, has to be radical enough, and influential enough, to overcome the effects of the dominant system of governance. Resistance depends on the extent to which subjects can challenge the system of domination with power of their own. “there are no relations of power without resistances”, says Foucault, “the latter are all the more real and effective because they are formed right at the point where relations of power are exercised; resistance to power does not have to come from elsewhere to be real, nor is it inexorably frustrated through being the compatriot of power. It exists all the more by being in the same place as power”. (Foucault 1980 p 143) While, for Foucault, power circulates within systems that allow the flow of power to be reversed; reversibility, for Baudrillard, means disavowing not only the direction of the flow but the system of circulation itself. Like Marcuse, Baudrillard’s primary action is to deny further maintenance of the system, which can tolerate subjects changing their positions within the hierarchy of power relations. Resistance has to go beyond the system. If attempts at resistance only result in subjects changing positions within the system, Baudrillard questions whether what is being examined is really power. “What Foucault does not see is that power is never there and that its institution, like the institution of spatial perspective versus ‘real space in the Renaissance, is only a simulation of perspective ‑it is no more reality than economic accumulation ‑ and what a tremendous trap that is.” (Baudrillard 1987 p 41) Unless we can expose and challenge the system through which power circulates then we are only tinkering inside the boundaries of a system of domination. Inside these boundaries power does not exist as Baudrillard understands it.
Baudrillard’s analysis of the masses suggests how subjects can resist a system of domination. If the masses direct power, away from its normal circulation, the system’s aims can be frustrated. Baudrillard says that: “Everything flows through them, everything magnetizes them, but diffuses throughout them without leaving a trace. And, ultimately, the appeal to the masses has always gone unanswered. They do not radiate; on the contrary, they absorb all radiation from the outlying constellations of State, History, Culture, Meaning. They are inertia, the strength of inertia, the strength of the neutral.” (Baudrillard 1983b p 2) Baudrillard believes that the masses either absorb, or redirect, power directed at them, rather than resisting it in Foucault’s sense, and thus deny the system an influence over them. For Baudrillard, at least, this means that the masses have to be viewed in a new less historical way. Part of Baudrillard’s attempt to understand the masses depends on moving beyond a class based theory that expects one economically determined class to wrestle the control and direction of history from another. Gane describes Baudrillard’s analysis of the masses with an interesting twist on the Marxist tradition. “Essentially he wants to develop a black imagery of the mass as the center of gravity of the society, a version perhaps of the Marxist thesis that the masses make history but in the age when there is no history to be made;” (Gane 1991 p 129) The masses have a gravitational pull on the rest of society because they are the majority whose engagement is sought to legitimize the political, economic and social system. Rather than making history by responding to the system, Baudrillard believes that they force the system to respond to their lack of overtly transformative action. In this way the masses deny the system of domination’s influence by not providing an equal, or opposite, response to the exertion of power. This makes it difficult to comprehend or quantify the masses, or the effects of this type of resistance.
In Baudrillard’s writing the masses provide a kind of indeterminate freedom for subjects, who belong to the masses by not being defined by or resigned to a more specific identity. By attempting to overcome a class based analysis, Baudrillard makes the subjects who belong to the masses homogeneous, which they are not. According to Baudrillard saying: “That the silent majority (or the masses) is an imaginary referent does not mean they don’t exist. It means that their representation is no longer possible. The masses are no longer a referent because they no longer belong to the order of representation. They don’t express themselves, they are surveyed. They don’t reflect upon themselves, they are tested.” (Baudrillard 1983b p 20) Calling this group of subjects ‘the masses’ is a convenient way of describing a group who do not share or represent a common identity. Because of the masses apparent impenetrability, and lack of engagement with each other or the system, Baudrillard concludes that the masses can resist power, but does not see a way for subjects to take the initiative and act as agents of change.
Since Baudrillard’s analysis of the masses does not identify the complex relations that exist between subjects, we have to look elsewhere to explain the diverse forms of identity and resistance which exist within the masses. Nikolas Rose’s work on the development of the idea of community, at the expense of the broader idea of an identity bound to society, depends on a subject’s identity and project being determined by individual criteria. “The vocabulary of community also implicates a psychology of identification; indeed the very condition of possibility for a community to be imagined is its actual or potential existence as a fulcrum of personal identity.” “Community proposes a relation that appears less ‘remote’, more ‘direct’, one which occurs not in the ‘artificial’ political space of society, but in matrices of affinity that appear more natural One’s communities are nothing more – or less – than those networks of allegiance with which one identifies existentially, traditionally, emotionally or spontaneously, seemingly beyond and above any calculated assessment of self-interest.” (Rose 1996 p 334) Rather than being determined by the systematic application of power, such as processes of normalization or socialization, a subject’s identity and actions are influenced by the sense of belonging and cohesion that they get from becoming a member of a community. The groups of related subjects, whose conflicted and intertwined identities and projects make up the masses, represent a discontinuity of action and reaction, rather than a homogeneous absorption – or willful inaction – in response to power that is directed toward them. Baudrillard only seems to see the individual or the masses and neglects the social bonds and bodies that exist between these extremes. It is between these extremes that communities exist, and resist the dominant system, by creating meaning of their own.
Communities, or in Sartre’s case the group, provide subjects with an opportunity to extend their influence by acting in concert. In his attempt to integrate Existentialism into Communism Sartre concluded that: “A group can get things done, whereas a series is impotent, since each member pursues only his own Praxis. And indeed it is precisely because the series is impotent that the group is constituted in the first place. The origin of the group, Sartre suggests, can be summed up in the discovery that ‘we must either live by working together, or die by fighting each other’.” (Cranston 1976 p 220) Outwardly there are similarities between Sartre’s idea of the series and Baudrillard’s idea of the masses. In both cases subjects seem to be acting similarly but are not acting together for the benefit of the group. Individuals in the series limit the power of their decisions, because they act in isolation, while those who belong to the masses cannot conceive or proceed with a unified project. Sartre believes that the group offers a solution to both of these problems, because subjects are made to realize the significance of their interdependence. Sartre says that: “We will freedom for freedom’s sake, and in and through particular circumstances. And in thus willing freedom, we discover that it depends entirely upon the freedom of others and that the freedom of others depends upon our own.” (Sartre 1970 p 50-51) By choosing to relate, and by creating a consensus of meaning that explains their relationships, subjects exercise power for their own benefit, and for the benefit of the community or group which they belong to. In this way they can create a consensus of meaning to define the real, or sustain a hierarchy of signs and objects to facilitate a system of symbolic representation. The idea of the group or community is not a part of Baudrillard’s thesis even though his concept of power allows subjects to be critical and to choose freedom. If subjects can deny the legitimacy of the system, and choose an identity, communities and groups need to be included as means of resisting and overcoming systems of domination. Power, therefore, has to be understood in a way that explains how subjects are being acted upon – as part of communities – and how the social, in its entirety, along with the political and the economic, are influenced by the power of subjects and the communities they belong to. These various communities, together, do not seem to add up to a whole in any sense other than they are meshed together in a social system that will not accept the possibility of them being external to it. It is in and between these communities that power circulates.
In Baudrillard’s recent work the idea of the other has emerged as a major theme. Like Sartre, who realized that his freedom depended on the freedom of others, Baudrillard has written about the importance of the other. The existence of otherness is presented as being critically important to enable subjects to resist the influence of the dominant system. Baudrillard says: “By eliminating the other in all its forms (Illness, death, negativity, violence, strangeness), not to mention racial and linguistic differences, by eliminating all singularities in order to radiate total positivity, we are eliminating ourselves.” (Baudrillard 1996c p 113) By eliminating the other we destroy the dialectic of difference that makes comparison between subjects possible. Comparison and contrast are important for the conscious development of a subject’s identity and project because they expose the heterogeneous nature of human beings. Certainly, otherness can be viewed with derision and suspicion but should not be viewed this way in either Baudrillard or Sartre’s case. “Thus, otherness, for all of its associations with oppression and inferiority, is much more than an oppressed, inferior condition. It is also a way of being, thinking, and speaking allowing for openness, plurality, diversity, and difference.” (Putnam Tong 1998 p 195) Without the other all we would be exposed to is sameness which is a way of retarding the decision making process that creates our identity. “Now,” says Baudrillard, “it is much more serious to be dispossessed of the other than of oneself. Being deprived of the other is worse than alienation: a lethal change, by liquidation of the dialectical opposition itself. An irrevocable destabilization, that of the subject without object, of the same without other ‑ definitive stasis and metastasis of the same. A tragic destiny for individuals.” (Baudrillard 1996c p 112) More than a tragic destiny for individuals, the dominance of sameness increases the likely success of normalization and socialization. This would mean the end of power as something that resists and challenges the system. Without the other there is no apparent location from which a challenge to meaning might appear. The other, in all its forms, is the agent that poses the greatest challenge to the system in Baudrillard’s writing. Like his concept of power the other is not located or structured in a way that can be captured. The other, in Baudrillard’s terms, may not be a group or community but has the same importance as a focal point for subjects acting against the influence of a system of domination.
Power is a capacity that subjects have, that enables them to either exert an influence or resist an influence. Subjects can employ power against other subjects, or a system of domination, in order to maintain, or achieve, a freedom of choice. This freedom of choice is imperative for the creation of meaning. Baudrillard’s concept of power is based on the premise that a subject can influence another subject, by persuading them of the desirability of an outcome, despite its actual potential. This ability to exert an influence is the opposite of a conception of power where force is used to ensure a certain decision is made, or to limit the decisions that can be made. If a subject does not have the awareness, or opportunity necessary to make a different decision, because power is not being exchanged freely, Baudrillard believes that we are no longer discussing power. If a subject’s ability to choose is limited to such an extent, then, we are considering nothing more than the nature and effects of a particular system of domination. Through his analysis of the masses Baudrillard demonstrates that subjects do have the potential to resist such a system, and limit its effects. Otherness is important to this process because it helps subjects recognize and evade the system’s influence. Since Baudrillard does not consider the variety of social bonds, and forms of action, which occur within the masses, from which a community or group might arise, he unnecessarily diminishes subjects’ potential to exert an influence over the political, economic and social systems which attempt to limit their freedom to create meaning. Being a part of a group, or a community, provides a subject with a more comprehensible ability to exert power than Baudrillard associates with the masses.
In the first chapter of this paper we discovered that subjects’ capacity to comprehend what things mean is limited. Subjects require a lot of time and effort to develop a depth of knowledge, and cannot perceive the intentions that are related to actions. Because of these limitations subjects’ intuition can only ever be imperfect. Baudrillard’s test, to see if the world can recognize a simulated theft, should be read as an exposition of these human limitations, as much as an explanation of why simulations and the real are equivalent. Sartre and Eco demonstrate that, despite these limitations, subjects’ desire to develop a depth of knowledge and exercise their intuition, are the only means of recognizing and creating meaning that subjects possess. Simulations can be used to reduce the effects of these limitations, by allowing things to be presented in a more accessible way. Subjects create meaning, and contribute to its maintenance, so that they can share a common understanding of the world. Whether you refer to the results of this process as a consensus of meaning or, like Sartre, as a human universality, it is this creative process that enables subjects to exist in a world that has meaning.
In his description of a primary symbolic order, Baudrillard acknowledges that this was the method used to make symbolic representation possible. Subjects gave objects symbolic value, and ordered them in a hierarchy of prestige, so that they could have a recognizable way of representing their identities to each other. After this initial stage of his discussion of the symbolic, Baudrillard removes subjects from their position as the creators of meaning. The result of this decision is the destruction of the system of symbolic representation that subjects had created. Neither an antecedent or deterministic code of command and control, or an object with meaning of its own, can replace subjects ability to investigate and decide what things mean.
Since subjects’ limitations affect the depth – or linearity – of meaning that can be ascribed to the world, sometimes making it appear transparent and foundationless, subjects have to be vigilant when deciding what meaning to accept and contribute to. By independently interrogating things subjects can avoid what Sartre calls ‘bad faith’, which poses a threat to their integrity, as well as to the integrity of meaning. Baudrillard’s denial of the meaning that has been ascribed to the world provides a way of critiquing meaning, but does not provide an alternate way of understanding the world. The ability to exert and resist an influence, that Baudrillard presents as the basis for his concept of power, is the most significant and sophisticated strategy of discernment that subjects can possess. Because Baudrillard’s concept of power relies on a persuasive appearance, instead of a force relation, subjects always have the potential to create, support or deny meaning. Subjects can use power to either deny the effects of a dominant system of governance, that attempts to make them internalize a set of limitations – which lessen their ability to decide what things mean; or work together to establish a consensus of meaning like the one that defines the real. Ironically, and in keeping with his understanding of reversibility, subjects can apply Baudrillard’s concept of power to create the sort of meaning that his conclusions about simulation and the symbolic deny. By recognizing their limitations, and finding effective ways of employing their potential, subjects can resist and overcome Baudrillard’s denial of meaning and exist in a world that has meaning.
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