- ---- by Marcus A. DoelSeduction plays a pivotal role in Baudrillard's conceptual universe and theoretical practice. It is a signature concept - even though he is much better known for his take on hyper-realism, postmodernism, and simulation. Yet seduction is also one of Baudrillard's most elusive, enigmatic and ambivalent concepts. To make things even more challenging for the unwary reader, seduction is not only a key component of Baudrillard's oeuvre. He aspired to render theory itself seductive.Baudrillard locates seduction at the centre of a dense cluster of terms that includes production, realisation, obscenity, power, reversibility, play, symbolic exchange, disappearance and death. In keeping with the etymological derivation of seduction - from the Latin, se-ducere, 'to take aside, to divert from one's path' (S, 22) - Baudrillard gives seduction an explicitly spatial inﬂection rather than a sexual reference. This deﬂection - the exemplary form of which is the sign that differs and defers reference, the sign that is barred and devoid of meaning ('Only signs without referents, empty, senseless, absurd and elliptical signs, absorb us' (S, 74)) - has been the source of considerable confusion in the secondary literature, when writers mistake seduction for a referential concept (weighed down by a femme fatale) rather than a differential concept (splayed out through a manifold deﬂection). To be seduced is to be drawn towards something that constantly eludes us, like the inexhaustible face of the beloved, and to lose ourselves on its surface. So, although seduction is located at the centre of a conceptual cluster, it offers neither stability nor balance nor security. To the contrary, precisely because it leads astray, seduction diverts, deﬂects and unhinges the entire constellation of terms, including seduction itself. Aping the 'empty square' of structuralism or the 'différance' of deconstruction - both of which are always displaced and misplaced in relation to themselves, yet without which nothing would circulate - seduction enables the conceptual cluster to hold together and compels it to ﬂy apart. As an ex-centric and ex-static enigma misplaced 'at the centre of things', seduction not only diverts them from their 'right' and 'proper' path, it also makes them curve in on themselves, spiralling towards the non-sense whence they came, and the 'superficial abyss' into which everything of value ultimately plunges. 'Things aspire to be straight, . . . but they all have a secret curvature,' says Baudrillard. 'Seduction is that which follows this curvature, subtly accentuating it until things, in following their own cycle, reach the superficial abyss where they are dissolved . . . n gambling money is [i]seduced; it is deviated from the law of value and is transformed into a substance of bidding and challenge' (EC, 70).Seduction, then, is a fatal attraction: labyrinthine, vertiginous and aporetic.Itleadsnowhereotherthanastray.Baudrillard'shunchisthatallpaths ultimately lead astray - including those that ostensibly dedicate themselves to directness, straightforwardness and irreversibility. When all is said and done, only seduction will have been left in play: 'the destiny of signs is to be torn from their destination, deviated, displaced, diverted, recuperated, seduced' (EC, 80). Everything else is an illusion: from the Latin, il-ludere, 'in play, against play.' (Hence the almost absolute proximity of the 'play' of seduction in Baudrillard and the 'play' of différance and dissemination in Derrida.) This is why Baudrillard insists that 'The absolute rule of thought is to give back the world as it was given to us - unintelligible. And, if possible, to render it a little more unintelligible' (PC, 105).Baudrillard encountered seduction by way of production. While seduction (se-ducere) diverts and leads astray, production (pro-ducere, to put forward) 'materialize[s] by force what belongs to another order' (S, 34). In other words, 'Seduction removes something from the order of the visible, while productionconstructseverythinginfullview'(S,34).So,ratherthansituate production and seduction within the seemingly incongruous domains of industry and sexuality, which meld together in libidinal economy (Lyotard) and desiring-production (Deleuze and Guattari), Baudrillard situates them with respect to appearance and disappearance, and specifically the 'play' - understood in a spatial sense - of appearances and disappearances. Consequently, seduction comes to be figured twice: once in the lesser form of disappearance, in the sense that all appearances are destined to disappear in their turn ('everything wants to be exchanged, reversed, or abolished in a cycle' (FF, 53)); and again in the greater form of the 'play' of appearances and disappearances, since this play is itself a form of seduction ('a circular and reversible process of challenge, one-upmanship, and death' (FF, 55)). This is why Baudrillard characterises the curvature of seduction as a double spiral: on the one hand, 'a spiral swerving towards a sphere of the sign, the simulacrum and simulation' (EC, 79), and, on the other hand, 'a spiral of the reversibility of all signs in the shadow of seduction and death' (EC, 79). Since the two spirals are always displaced and misplaced in relation to one another, their fate is to perpetually lead one another astray, without ever coming into contact with one another.While one might expect a symmetrical relationship between appearance and disappearance, since they are two halves of the same cycle, western culture has nevertheless shown a systematic bias towards appearance, and a concerted effort to dissimulate disappearance. 'Everything is to be produced, everything is to be legible, everything is to become real, visible, accountable; everything is to be transcribed in relations of force, systems of concepts or measurable energy; everything is to be said, accumulated, indexed and recorded' (S, 34-5). According to Baudrillard, western culture has become increasingly fanatical about appearance and forced realisation: 'an orgy of realism, an orgy of production' (S, 32). We inhabit 'a pornographic culture par excellence; one that pursues the workings of the real at all times and in all places' (S, 34). Left to their own devices, however, this 'mad obsession with the real' (FF, 38), this 'rage to uncover the secret' (EC, 73), 'this compulsion to be rid of the world by realizing it, by forcing material objectivity upon it' (PC, 42), this desire 'to drive right through to the end, to exhaust all the possibilities' (PC, 48), is both obscene and suicidal: 'Obscenity begins when there is no more spectacle, no more stage, no more theatre, no more illusion, when everything becomes immediately transparent, visible, exposed in the raw and inexorable light of information and communication,' insists Baudrillard (EC, 21-2). 'It is no longer the obscenity of the hidden, the repressed, the obscure, but that of the visible, the all-too-visible, the more-visible-than-visible' (EC, 22).For Baudrillard, obscenity is the destiny of modernity's long-standing project of effecting the 'destruction of appearances (and of the seduction of appearances) in the service of meaning' (SS, 160). Yet this project of dis-enchantment cannot but fail to be led astray by 'the immense process of the destruction of meaning, equal to the earlier destruction of appearances' (SS, 161), which Baudrillard associates with postmodernity.Faced with obscenity and the consequent decomposition of meaning and reference into non-sense and undecidability, Baudrillard brings seduction back into play: '[T]he universe of seduction . . . stands out radically against the universe of production,' notes Baudrillard. It is 'no longer a question of bringing things forward . . . for a world of value, but of . . . diverting them from that value, and hence . . . to destine them for the play of appearances' (PW, 21).Ordinarily, when theorists are faced with the appearance of a world, a reality or a theory, they undertake a critique by uprooting foundations, exploiting contradictions, displacing cornerstones, overturning structures and so on. However, every appearance 'can adapt to its subversion or inversion, but not to the reversion of its terms. Seduction is this reversible form' (S, 21). Baudrillard's key insight is to recognise that we are dealing with obscene modes of appearance and realisation that 'do not any more play on reversibility, on metamorphosis. And which have installed themselves, on the contrary, in the irreversibility of time, of production, and things like that' (BL, 57). What this situation demands is the deployment of a strategy of seduction that 'dismantles the beautiful order of irreversibility, of the finality of things' (BL, 57). Consequently, such a strategy needs to deﬂect irreversibility and restitute reversion. Accordingly, for Baudrillard, '[t]he principle of reversibility . . . requires that all that has been produced must be destroyed, and that which appears must disappear . . . Saturated by the mode of production, we must return to the path of an aesthetic of disappearance' (EC, 71). Such a manoeuvre returns the real 'to the great game of simulacra, which makes things appear and disappear . . . One could maintain that before having been produced the world was seduced, that it exists, as all things and ourselves, only by virtue of having been seduced' (EC, 71).Seduction, then, is our culture's saving grace. For when everything has been forced to appear, when everything has been exhausted through realisation and rendered obscene, it will remain the case that 'the reversible form prevails over the linear form. The excluded form prevails, secretly, over the dominant form. The seductive form prevails over the productive form' (S, 17). When everything is given over, finally, to production and obscenity, its seduction will remain in play. Everything is destined to go astray. Seduction is 'an ironic, alternative form' that 'provides a space, not of desire, but of play and defiance' (S, 21).Passwords§ obscene
The Baudrillard dictionary. Richard G. Smith. 2015.