radical alterity


radical alterity
  ---- by David Teh
  For Baudrillard, 'difference' names the play of otherness (for example, gender or racial otherness) that is contained by the referential system of signification he calls 'communication', that is domesticated within the political economy of the sign. As the semiotic currency of 'psychological, intersubjective alienation or alterity' circulates within that economy alongside others, subject to an order of production, it is therefore a 'tainted' form of otherness (RA, 127). Baudrillard wishes to raise the stakes of the play of otherness beyond difference (which 'destroys otherness' (TE, 127)), to raise difference to a higher power, beyond the semioeconomic realm and into the symbolic register outlined in his theory of symbolic exchange. Radical alterity is what the other summons to bolster itself against corrosion by the system of difference.
  Radical alterity implies that we resist the empiricist urge to render everything in communicable forms of knowledge. It is not an analytic system, but a philosophical vocation - a fatal strategy - opposed to the rational understanding and valorisation of difference that underwrites the mainstream ideology of multiculturalism. It appears when communication is bypassed, frozen or short-circuited by an otherness that exceeds it, something incommensurable or uncommunicable, something inexchangeable. It may thus be compared to Derrida's notion of différance, in that it names an otherness that is irreducible or (in Bataille's terms) 'sovereign', with respect to the restricted economy of difference staked out by liberalism under the sign of tolerance. This mirrors Bataille's distinction between 'servile' discourse and sovereign writing - the latter consists in an excessive and supplementary relation to the former. While difference describes a production (of information),itsradicalshadowcannotandshouldnotbemadesubjecttoproduction because its alterity underwrites the entire symbolic order of meaning. When all otherness has been assimilated (as difference), it has no choice but either to disappear or to turn the tables and take its revenge on rational systems of production and meaning (as on September 11, 2001). This reversibility is a hallmark of radical alterity, as it is of all forms of seduction (RA).
  While it plays a greater role in Baudrillard's later work, radical alterity lurks throughout his oeuvre. It is anticipated in his early theorisations of the object - in certain limit cases where the logics of the commodity and value appear to unravel or collapse (for example, gadgets, the objects of the collection or the art auction). In the 1970s he attacked the notions of otherness found in anthropology (MP), in political economy (SED) and in Marxism's critique of it. Radical alterity could not emerge in its own right until Baudrillard had left these analytics behind, a departure more evident in his controversial critique of sexual difference (S). This phase also saw his concepts of death and symbolic exchange crystallise as figures of a radical excess opposed to rational systems of production.
  By the 1980s, figures of radical otherness were multiplying, in Baudrillard's theories of the transpolitical/transeconomic, the 'fatal' and, in the sphere of objects, the crystal. A higher power of alterity now consistently denoted retaliatory condensations of symbolic otherness, erupting within the global system of exchange (for example, the absolute commodity, the hostage or the transpolitical figure of the hijacker). In the final stage of his career, Baudrillard recapitulates radical alterity (RA) as a response to the implosion of meaning in the era of 'orbital' capital, to a world fully discovered, where what is different is always already assimilated to the universal system of general equivalence. He proposes that we find another means of appreciating what is foreign, one that allows it to remain so. This means reintroducing a necessary distance between thought and its object, an agenda that serves as a guide to his aesthetic preoccupations as well, notably photography and exemplary artworks like Sophie Calle's (SV).
  For this distantiation, Baudrillard finds a potent ally in the French traveller, doctor and writer Victor Segalen (1878-1919), whose 'exoticism' resisted both the superficiality of the colonial exot and the scientism of a thoroughgoing ethnography. Segalen dwells instead on the strangeness that grows the closer one gets to a foreign culture. ('That is the principle of exoticism according to Segalen: keep your distance' (RA, 70)). His call to preserve the other's 'eternal incomprehensibility' becomes a model for Baudrillard to reverse the inexorable appropriation of the world as knowledge under capitalism. This alterity principle has wide ramifications for his philosophy, demanding that we respect not just the other's otherness, but its indifference, or even its silence.
  Passwords
   § death
   § excess
   § fatal
   § orientalism
   § reversibility
   § seduction
   § transpolitics

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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