Re: [-empyre-] Baudrillard and the future of theory

A short note on coincidence, rather than a proper address or thoughtful eulogy.

I am to understand that Jean Baudrillard passed away not a few hours
after 'Scooter' Libby was convicted of lying, perjury and obstruction
of justice as part of the stage-manager's role in the production of a
second non-war. As one curtain falls, another is torn off the

I think it is a mere coincidence of time but in which one of his most
discussed and disagreed-with works came rushing starkly into the
light. I would like to include the URL of an image I have taken from a
website - it is an actual web advertisement, and is worth a thousand

A conflict summoned by adroit punditry (rather than the media per se)
is  almost impossible to read without Baudrillard's book on the first
'war'. In the shadow of the palms, a machinic logic was born where
even public opinion cannot shake power's adoration of spectacle. A war
so pre-conceived as victorious that its loss has required a partial
lobotomisation of the military-industrial complex. (Rumsfeld's kind
exit, stage right.). What occurs in the shadow of the war's only
pan-political consensus - which is that the West has lost a war -
perhaps sooner and more directly than we thought, might change more
than we can currently imagine. The farcical attempt at revisionism
vis-a-vis Vietnam; that the West lost a war due to protests at home
and not enough money, not that manufactured conflicts cannot be won
except by manufactured goals (Gulf War I) - has largely failed. In
terms of cultural discourse, there is a turn there that will impact on
how we come to weave Iraq II into the historical fabric of the West.
It is perhaps as significant as the fact that one of the most numerous
efforts in the history of humanity - the anti-war protests of 2003 -
was as based on romanticised simulacra (perhaps a tautology) as the
war itself.

What occurred in the intervening years, bizarrely, is confirmation of
that book's relevancy and potency. The neo-conservative agenda and
that of its lovers (columnists, pundits, bow-tied experts) required
only the consent of a handful - but the concentration of power is not
the issue at stake, just as the imbalance and improbable circumstance
of the first war was not the issue at stake. What is remarkable (able
to be spoken about) the second war is that even at the highest and
richest echelons of power, it was ill-conceived and poorly
thought-out, generated by a series of images of conquest - a
disastrous mix of adventurism and media-age awe-shockery that was not
aimed at convincing a public, but at themselves. In some senses,
theory tells us that military capitalism is absolute, and Baudrillard
noted about the current war that the West seeks to remake the world in
the image of paranoia. Yet something even more dreadful has begun to
emerge; the possibility that military capitalism is genuinely
incapable of achieving this. To those who have presided over the war,
it must pose the most severe of existential crises. America cannot
defeat a people it has already defeated. Israel cannot defeat an enemy
it defined on the parameters it chose. I am reminded of the
extraordinary neo-conservative recant on the eve of the US mid-term
elections where, to the last, the establishment of the movement, down
to Wolfowitz himself, expressed doubt that this most absolute of
philosophies could even work. His comment that "We may be finished as
a movement for the next 15-20 years." is extraordinary for many
reasons, but most pointedly in the belief that it is, or was, a

When individuals as categorically wrong-headed as Thomas Friedman
(journalist) can claim centrist-liberal status and yet continue to
write that we 'could have won this war, if only we had spent more
money.', we are beyond the point where a simulacrum has any vestigial
devotion to a Real. Many of you have produced great essays on these
themes so I apologise for the agnosticism of these thoughts. If I can
be so rude as to quote one of our guests for the month:

"For Baudrillard the simulacrum still appears as the negation *of
something* --  of the real that it supplants. He's still trapped in
critical theory, nostalgia, melancholia.  Far from being 'postmodern'
he mourns the loss of references for signs. But it is no longer enough
to point out that signs float free from their referents, that signs
can indeed become models according to which the real is created.
Thinking about simulacrum freed from this critical negativity that it
is not something else -- that's  what this moment demands."
- McKenzie Wark, Review of TGWDNTP

The prefabrication of enemies, construction of fear, and the
manufacturing of consent tells us as much about popular culture - at
least - than it does about power. Especially at the beginning of 2007,
where the power of images to construct consensus has become the
primary focus of images in the first place.

Generative thought arrayed around the illusory, and the imagery of the
present is still as difficult to conceive of, but increasingly, the
everyday demands its intervention. Not in amorphous, indirect ways;
when morning television, drenched in righteous indignation as it is,
begins to ask philosophers onto satellite links to discuss how entire
societies were convinced by images, we may have to admit that orders
have shifted and theory is required to announce and enunciate the
present moment as well. If we accept the precept from Crowds and Power
that clusters form, then diagnose the present as a time when the
cluster is aware and even sickened by its last lynching, theory's
capability is perhaps subtly altered.

Or, again, McKenzie, as you said in the other discussion, "It's not
that we should imitate him or even agree with [Baudrillard]. It's a
question of trying to imagine the other possibilities for theory that
his example indicates are possible."

Baggini's obit may be right to claim that 'the gulf war did not take
place" and "the west wanted 9/11" sound like absurd exaggerations
antithetical to common sense, but for some at least, I think the
opposite is true. Anything short of analysis of these events as pure
images, and murders and crimes devoted to pure images, is equally
absurd, equally an exaggeration.

In the first essay of Baudrillard's I read as a confused
undergraduate, from a book borrowed from a local library, was a short
note written in pencil in the margin: "Isn't all thought excessive?
Isn't that why we think?".

-Christian McCrea

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