- ---- by Rex ButlerNietzsche is one of Baudrillard's defining inﬂuences. He is one of the few thinkers whose presumptions are not turned against them - as Baudrillard was to do with Marx in The Mirror of Production (1975 ) and Saussure in Symbolic Exchange and Death (1993a ). Indeed, as Baudrillard admits in interviews, Nietzsche barely features in his work because he is so deeply embedded in it. He is in a sense the absence around which Baudrillard's work is built. And Nietzsche brings with him the problem of nihilism. Generalising broadly, we might say that nihilism takes either one of two forms in Nietzsche. The first is when the world is devalued in the name of some supposedly higher, transcendent value, as in Platonism or Christianity. Life is judged as wanting in relation to something outside of it, as though it has meaning or value only because of some quality that is always missing. The second form of nihilism is when these higher values are themselves devalued, as in the project of critique of the Enlightenment. Here there is no meaning or value in life, as all values fall prey to doubt and scepticism. And, for Nietzsche, the great test of any philosophy is how it deals with these two pitfalls, which are not definitively to be overcome but are inherent to thought. Nietzsche's well-known solution was his doctrine of the Eternal Return, which was at once to accept things as they are, insofar as they will return forever, and a principle of selection, in that not all things will come back.Baudrillard inherits - like every other French intellectual of his generation - this Nietzschean problematic. His most extensive commentary on the subject is the essay 'On Nihilism', which was published as part of the collection Simulacra and Simulation (1994a ). In 'On Nihilism', Baudrillard in slightly different terms follows Nietzsche's original argument in discerning two historically distinctive forms of nihilism: the first that of Romanticism, which corresponds to the 'destruction of the order of appearances' (SS, 159); and the second that of surrealism, dada, the absurd and the political, which corresponds to the 'destruction of the order of meaning' (SS, 160). But Baudrillard then goes on to argue that we have passed beyond the terms of Nietzsche's analysis, in that we are now in a nihilism of 'transparency' (SS, 160). Here it is not a matter of the violent destruction of appearances or meaning, but of their 'neutralisation' (SS, 160), which takes place as a slow and gradual 'disappearance' (SS, 160). What Baudrillard can be understood to mean by this is that it is no longer a matter either of devaluing the world by pursuing higher values or devaluing these values by subjecting them to the evidence of the world. Rather, if we can put it this way, the auto-referentiality of our contemporary systems of simulation is the effect of them posing their own higher values. In our contemporary systems of simulation, that is, both the world and higher values coexist, which is to say both are equally devalued. In Baudrillard's exact formulation, ends or higher values are done away with not through critique or denegation but through a kind of 'hyperfinality' (SS, 161). It is for this reason that Baudrillard emphasises that it is no longer a matter of diagnosing the collapse of critical values and then beginning the process of revaluing them from there. Not only is self-criticism part of the system, but even the Nietzschean gesture of speaking of the collapse of critical values is already part of our systems of simulation. As Baudrillard writes: 'When God died, there was still Nietzsche to say so . . . [but today] (God is not dead, he has become hyperreal), there is no longer a theoretical or critical God to recognise his own' (SS, 159).It is for this reason that Baudrillard is able to say that he is a 'nihilist' (SS, 160). Of course, in saying this, Baudrillard seems to be going against the whole Nietzschean problematic of somehow going beyond nihilism while nevertheless recognising it. Is Baudrillard, in claiming to be a nihilist in 'On Nihilism', rejecting or breaking with Nietzsche? Things are not quite so straightforward as they might at first appear. Later in his essay, Baudrillard introduces an ambiguity into nihilism, in a manner akin to Nietzsche's own distinction between its 'active' and 'passive' forms. After claiming to be a nihilist, he goes on to speak of a nihilism that carries, 'to the unbearable limit of hegemonic systems, this radical trait of derision and of violence' (SS, 163). What does Baudrillard mean by this, which resorts to the very language of violence and terrorism he has argued is no longer possible? Here again, there is a surprise: in the final words of his essay, Baudrillard conjures up the notion of 'appearance', which he previously said had been 'neutralised' by our systems of simulation. As he writes, in a translation that is undoubtedly awkward (although, in fact, the original French is not much clearer): 'But that on which [meaning] has imposed its ephemeral reign, what it hoped to liquidate in order to impose the reign of the Enlightenment, that is, appearances, they, are immortal, invulnerable to the nihilism of meaning or of non-meaning' (SS, 164). Perhaps what Baudrillard is trying to think here is that moment 'before' that nihilism in which meaning and non-meaning exchange themselves for each other, and in which the system is no longer able to be criticised because it already proposes values opposed to itself. He is attempting to capture a brief and fugitive 'appearance' that would be neither the world nor something beyond it but a split or division within the world, which means it can never be equal to itself and is never entirely able to be realised. It is a 'nihilism' that Baudrillard conjures up later in The Perfect Crime (1996c [1995a]) when he asks: 'Why is there nothing rather than something?' (PC, 2), and in his most recent book (WD). Baudrillard is indeed a nihilist in the sense that he wants to think that 'nothing' with which the world began and - if cosmology is to be believed - to which it will one day return.Passwords
The Baudrillard dictionary. Richard G. Smith. 2015.