There is a seductive image of contemporary culture circulating today. Our world, Jean Baudrillard tells us, has been launched into hyperspace in a kind of postmodern apocalypse. The airless atmosphere has asphyxiated the referent, leaving us satellites in aimless orbit around an empty center. We breathe an ether of floating images that no longer bear a relation to any reality whatsoever. That, according to Baudrillard, is simulation: the substitution of signs of the real for the real. In hyperreality, signs no longer represent or refer to an external model. They stand for nothing but themselves, and refer only to other signs. They are to some extent distinguishable, in the way the phonemes of language are, by a combinatory of minute binary distinctions.
But postmodernism stutters. In the absence of any gravitational pull to ground them, images accelerate and tend to run together. They become interchangeable. Any term can be substituted for any other: utter indetermination. Faced with this homogeneous surface of syntagmatic slippage, we are left speechless.
We can only gape in fascination. For the secret of the process is beyond our grasp. Meaning has imploded. There is no longer any external model, but there is an immanent one. To the syntagmatic surface of slippage there corresponds an invisible paradigmatic dimension that creates those minimally differentiated signs only in order for them to blur together in a pleasureless orgy of exchange and circulation. Hidden in the images is a kind of genetic code responsible for their generation. Meaning is out of reach and out of sight, but not be cause it has receded into the distance. It is because the code has been miniaturized. Objects are images, images are signs, signs are information, and information fits on a chip. Everything reduces to a molecular binarism. The generalized digitality of the computerized society. And so we gape. We cannot be said to be passive exactly, because all polarity, including the active/passive dichotomy, has disappeared. We have no earth to center us, but we ourselves function as a ground--in the electrical sense. We do not act, but neither do we merely receive. We absorb through our open eyes and mouths. We neutralize the play of energized images in the mass entropy of the silent majority.
It makes for a fun read. But do we really have no other choice than being a naive realist or being a sponge?
Deleuze and Guattari open a third way. Although it is never developed at length in any one place, a theory of simulation can be extracted from their work that can give us a start in analyzing our cultural condition under late capitalism without landing us back with the dinosaurs or launching us into hypercynicism.
A common definition of the simulacrum is a copy of a copy whose relation to the model has become so attenuated that it can no longer properly be said to be a copy. It stands on its own as a copy without a model. Fredric Jameson cites the example of photorealism. The painting is a copy not of reality, but of a photograph, which is already a copy of the original. Deleuze, in his article "Plato and the Simulacrum," takes a similar definition as his starting point, but emphasizes its inadequacy. For beyond a certain point, the distinction is no longer one of degree. The simulacrum is less a copy twice removed than a phenomenon of a different nature altogether: it undermines the very distinction between copy and model. The terms copy and model bind us to the world of representation and objective (re)production. A copy, no matter how many times removed, authentic or fake, is defined by the presence or absence of internal, essential relations of resemblance to a model. The simulacrum, on the other hand, bears only an external and deceptive resemblance to a putative model. The process of its production, its inner dynamism, is entirely different from that of its supposed model; its resemblance to it is merely a surface effect, an illusion. The production and function of a photograph has no relation to that of the object photographed; and the photorealist painting in turn envelops an essential difference. It is that masked difference, not the manifest resemblance, that produces the effect of uncanniness so often associated with the simulacrum.
A copy is made in order to stand in for its model. A simulacrum has a different agenda, it enters different circuits. Pop Art is the example Deleuze uses for simulacra that have successfully broken out of the copy mold: the multiplied, stylized images take on a life of their own. The thrust of the process is not to become an equivalent of the "model" but to turn against it and its world in order to open a new space for the simulacrum's own mad proliferation. The simulacrum affirms its own difference. It is not an implosion, but a differentiation; it is an index not of absolute proximity, but of galactic distances.
Brian Massumi • REALER THAN REAL "The Simulacrum According to Deleuze and Guattari" - Originally published in Copyright no.1, 1987
full article - http://www.anu.edu.au/hrc/first_and_last/works/realer.htm
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