- ---- by William PawlettDeath is a vital term in Baudrillard's theoretical vocabulary, used in a number of different but interrelated senses. According to Baudrillard the system of power and control is founded on a particular construction of the relationship between life and death, one which separates and opposes them, making death the absolute termination of life. Baudrillard explores an alternative understanding of death in 'symbolic' or 'primitive' cultures: death as a social, cyclical and reversible position in symbolic exchange ritual. Death, understood as a stake in an ongoing cycle of symbolic exchanges, is never fully eliminated by rationality, Baudrillard asserts. Indeed, he contends that the symbolic exchange of death, in sacrificial or 'suicidal' form, constitutes the 'ultimate weapon' against the capitalist system because it strikes at the very foundation of its organisation. His work on the 9/11 suicide attacks explores this difficult idea (ST). Baudrillard also discusses the (attempted) elimination of death as symbolic form through the technology of cloning, and his final works suggest ways of thinking about life and death as 'parallel', inseparable and 'complicit' symbolic forms.For Baudrillard death is the most vital stake in social organisation for both modern and 'symbolic' societies. He claims that a fundamental reversal in the nature of social organisation has taken place: a shift from the symbolic order where 'what cannot be symbolically exchanged constitutes a mortal danger for the group' (SED, 131), to capitalist modernity where 'everything which is symbolically exchanged constitutes a mortal danger for the dominant order' (SED, 188). Modern society functions only by dismantling and preventing the cycles of symbolic exchange, specifically by disallowing the moment of response or 'counter-gift'. The system creates a fundamental 'symbolic debt', showering consumers with (simulatory) gifts of culture, education, medical technology, communication and 'liberation'. This unexchangeable debt constitutes 'the social relations of symbolic domination'; capital is a form of 'domination over life and death' (SED, 31). We are constructed as 'wage-consumers' who must work for a wage and must spend that wage on 'dead signs' supporting the system of consumption, 'a man must die to become labour power . . . [he dies] by his definition as a productive force' (SED, 39). Baudrillard refashions Hegel's master/slave dialectic arguing, 'The master confiscates the death of the other while retaining the right to risk his own' (SED, 40); the power structure is thus 'a structure of death' (SED, 40). For Baudrillard immediate death is the ultimate weapon against this system: 'you will never abolish this power by staying alive . . . only the surrender of this life, retaliating against a deferred death with an immediate death . . . the only possibility of abolishing power' (SED, 40). Baudrillard insists 'the revolution can only consist in the abolition of the separation of death, and not in equality of survival' (SED, 129).For Baudrillard, death is 'ultimately nothing more than the social line of demarcation separating the "dead" from the "living"' (SED, 127). In symbolic cultures death is affirmed and marked by elaborate ceremony. Through ceremonial forms of symbolic exchange death is understood as part of a symbolic and reversible cycle, not merely as the biological endpoint of the individual's life. For example, initiation rites are a kind of social 'death' followed by a rebirth with transformed status - indeed all 'death' is social because it is part of a process of the transformation of social status. '[T]he initiation consists in an exchange being established . . . the opposition between birth and death disappears' (SED, 132), 'Symbolic exchange is halted neither by the living nor by the dead' (SED, 134). By contrast in modernity the dead are 'thrown out of the group's symbolic circulation . . . no longer beings with a full role to play' (SED, 126). Increasingly, death is separated from life; it is medicalised and 'confined'. The symbolic exchange of death is ruptured as the dead are removed further and further away from the living, no longer buried in village churchyards but banished to out-of-town cemeteries or 'ghettos', increasingly inaccessible to their kin. Death becomes 'anormal', 'it is not normal to be dead, and this is new. To be dead is an unthinkable anomaly: nothing else is as offensive as this' (SED, 126). Separated out from symbolic ritual death is devoid of meaning, an 'unprogrammable' horror, an 'unthinkable anomaly'. Yet life too, separated from death, loses its meaningfulness, reduced to 'the indifferent fatality of survival' (SED, 127).With the technology of cloning the separation, confinement and control of death reaches a new level: death can finally be eliminated. For Baudrillard cloning would eliminate radical otherness, death, sex and the Other (the 'singularity' of other people). In cloning the individual is 'reduced to his abstract and genetic formula' to be 'nothing more than a message' (TE, 118). For Baudrillard death is inseparable from, and runs parallel to, life: death 'does not . . . await us at the end of life, but accompanies us faithfully and implacably in it . . . one is dead in one's lifetime itself; multiple deaths accompany us' (LP, 199). Liberation from death is a far more terrifying prospect than is death, and, Baudrillard asserts, death as symbolic form will always haunt us leading to the possibility of new ritual forms of death. He conjectures 'clones of the future may well pay for the luxury of dying and become mortal once again in simulation: cyberdeath' (VI, 12). A further possibility is that 'original' humans may desire to 'Kill your clone, destroy yourself with no risk of actually dying: vicarious suicide' (VI, 27). Where previous generations have suffered alienation, future generations face an infinitely worse prospect: the horror of 'never knowing death' (CM5, 55).Baudrillard often wrote of cancer as a condition caused by cells that forget how to die (VI) and proliferate wildly, killing the host. With cancer, as with civilisation, the loss of death prefigures the loss of life. Developing the theme of double lives and 'parallel universes' in The Intelligence of Evil or The Lucidity Pact (2005a ), Baudrillard suggests that we have a life of biological existence and a second life of destiny; the two rarely intersect: 'Double life entails the notion of double death' so that 'in one of these two lives you may already be dead, doubtless without knowing it' (LP, 198). Cloning technology represents a terrible violence because it threatens to eliminate both forms in an 'absolute death', yet this 'perfect crime' can never take place because life and death, are symbolic forms, 'complicit . . . parallel and indissociable' (LP, 200). People - 'original' and cloned - will fight, to the death, for their death.Passwords§ destiny
The Baudrillard dictionary. Richard G. Smith. 2015.