fragments


fragments
  ---- by Mike Gane
  In his studies of the double spiral of the symbolic and the semiotic (EC) Baudrillard includes the spiral of the fragment and the fractal (F). The fragment belongs to the symbolic order, but the fractal belongs to the semiotic or networked order. There is a whole range of phenomena that Baudrillard identifies as fragments - including the aphorism, the witticism, the joke, the anagram, the singularity - that contrast fundamentally to those in the category of the fractal that include the video-clip, the advert and the news alert. Baudrillard's consideration of this dual thematic is marked by two contrasts therefore - one is between the fragment and fractal, but this is developed against a wider context which is the opposition between the symbolic order considered as a culture and the networked system considered as an order of simulacra.
  Baudrillard emphasises the fact that although there might be some characteristics that are shared between the fragment and fractal, such as ephemerality and instantaneity, the difference is fundamental in the sense that a fragment 'creates a whole symbolic space around it' (F, 26). Yet fragments can be put together to form a whole as he remarks several times in his series of notebooks (CM, CM2, CM3, CM4, CM5) called Cool Memories: 'each fragment could become a book. But the point is that it will not do so, for the ellipse is superior to the straight line' (CM3, 8). In fact he did collect all the fragments he had written on America and published them together (A). He said in preparing America (1988b [1986]) that the material 'is secretly ordered by the same thinking' (CM, 219). Again in such an enterprise 'there must be a poetic resolution which encompasses and integrates all the fragments of a finite whole - one merely has to find the rule which organizes the reversibility of the slightest details' (CM3, 61).
  Fractals, but not fragments, on the other hand, are networked into the system. These terms are used as very loose categories, what Baudrillard suggests would include any element and any whole which is modular and totalising or detotalising where subdivision might be endless. In this sense Baudrillard takes considerable licence with his concepts. Totalities here include both ends of the spectrum of high and low integration. What is key is the fact that the fractal as an element is part of a continuity, a matrix, whether or not it is a cell, a node, a module, a value, a vote or even an object without such coded systemic regularity; whatever the nature of the element it is by nature something that will fit, or be capable of being absorbed into a networked totality. Such is the power of the modern order of simulacra, he suggests, even an alternative 'form of continuity, wholeness or totalization . . . will be immediately obliterated by the system itself' (F, 26). What happens is that each absorbable element becomes coded with positive value and thereby becomes exchangeable or interchangeable. There is then a reduction, so that the essential space or symbolic void around the fragment is annihilated (P). The fragment becomes a fractal.
  There is, therefore, a strategic aspect to Baudrillard's idea of the fragment. In order to counter the hegemony of the system it is necessary to break out of system thinking itself, break out of thinking that is dominated by the idea of working progressively towards a final end. He says 'we have to break all that down by saying that at each moment each phase is perfect in its incomparable singularity' (F, 26). In this sense there is a certain ambiguity in the idea of the symbolic order itself. As his writings progressed it seems that the idea of the symbolic became less system-like; indeed, he was led to present it at some points as being characterised as having 'no scale of measure in the symbolic chain. No species is inferior to any other. Nor is any human being. All that counts is the symbolic sequence' (CM3, 131). This chain is essentially one of the metamorphoses of forms. Each form is not an element or unit or cell that has a univocal value derived from an exchange system, and here Baudrillard emphasises that gift exchange is not an exchange system in the modern sense - in his terminology it is, paradoxically, more like 'impossible exchange'.
  The term 'fractal' therefore should not be taken too literally in Baudrillard's usage and it is possible to find alternative formulations such those he uses to define contemporary individualism. This he maintains arises out of a 'liberalization of slave networks and circuits, that is, an individual diffraction of the programmed ensembles, a metamorphosis of the macro-structures into innumerable particles' (IE, 107) so that the 'neoindividual is . . . an interactive, communicational particle, plugged into the network, getting continuous feedback' (IE, 106). The logic here is the same: it is the system functioning that produces the place for the particle or 'fractal' and networks that element into the totality. It seems superfluous to note that Baudrillard is not using fractal theory as a mathematical technique, yet the whole development of fractal mathematics is profoundly linked to the semiotic logics of contemporary orders of simulacra. As the theory of fractals develops he even claimed that it did produce a new situation in which a new kind of singularity could be identified.
  Although Baudrillard develops an interest in fractals and singularities, it is clear that the significance of the primordial features of symbolic order remain paramount: 'exactly like the shaft of wit, the character trait or facial features, the fragment is made up of contradictory lineaments of meaning and their happy coincidence. The aphorism is like the starry sky, the blanks in it being the intersidereal void' (CM5, 10).
  Passwords
   § America
   § anagrams
   § double spiral
   § reversibility
   § semiotics
   § singularity

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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