- ---- by John LechteThe key to understanding the image in Baudrillard's work is that it is not representational. In other words, it does not re-present reality or the real. Semiotically speaking, the existence of the referent is problematic. All of the texts written in the 1970s and early 1980s had presaged this position which is given one of its strongest articulations in the publication of a lecture Baudrillard gave in 1984 entitled, The Evil Demon of Images (1987 [1987a]). Images, this text tells us, are diabolical because they seem to conform to reality: 'It is precisely when it appears most truthful, most faithful and most in conformity to reality that the image is most diabolical' (ED, 13). Because, in Baudrillard's view, there is still (in the early 1980s) a naive belief in the image's realism and fidelity to reality, the demonic aspect becomes more pronounced.Taking a cue from his earlier essay, 'The Precession of Simulacra' (Baudrillard, 1978), Baudrillard proceeds to analyse films such as Woody Allen's Zelig and Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now in order to demonstrate that reality, if there is one, is the production and presentation of the film itself - or at least films such as these show how the simulacrum precedes reality and constitutes it. Coppola's film, for example, is an instance of how war itself has 'become cinematographic and televisual' (ED, 16). The image, then, 'begins to contaminate reality and to model it' (ED, 16). The China Syndrome, subject of an earlier analysis, shows, for its part, that reality is anticipated by images, so that upon release of this movie about a nuclear catastrophe, a 'real' incident occurred at Harrisburg (ED, 19).Baudrillard's purpose in invoking the image, then, is to argue vigorously for the primacy of the image in its own right (= simulacrum) over any putative reality. In his mind, there is still much naivety about when it comes to grasping the truly non-representational nature of the image. In putting this case, Baudrillard, along with Deleuze, albeit in a different way and with a different purpose, is opposing Plato's condemnation of the simulacrum. In Plato, it is a question of the relation between eidos (real, or truth), îkon (image) and eidôlon (simulacrum). The issue here has always been about the relation between the true model - and the model as truth - and the attempt to capture this model in a representation (îkon). There is general agreement that Plato is not against a good representation which, by definition, cannot be the same as, or identical to, the truth; a good copy (îkon) is acceptable. What is unacceptable for Plato is the eidôlon, or simulacrum, that which, because it has no relation to the model, escapes the strictures of Platonic mimesis altogether. Baudrillard, against Plato, promotes the image that has no essential connection to reality - the image as autonomous, engendering effects in its own right.In passing it is to be noted that Baudrillard does not include television in his list of media concerned with the image. Cinema, he says, still has an authentic image status because it is able to tap into and be animated by 'an intense imaginary' (ED, 25), whereas television is ultimately a screen that fascinates without allowing the image as such to appear.Images also participate in what Baudrillard calls a 'fatal strategy', which he compares with a 'banal strategy'. The latter refers to the possibility that images can reveal, or be exchanged for, a true reality or meaning. The image thus becomes a means to an end, not a transcendent end in itself. A fatal strategy, by contrast, is one of immanence, where there is no transcendent destiny (= meaning) - no finality - of images. Images, in short, come to refer to other images - ad infinitum. Jean-Luc Godard's quip that 'there are no just images, just images' captures the spirit of Baudrillard's approach.In the end, though, Baudrillard personalises his notion of the image. For him, it is a question of the pure enjoyment of images for their own sake independent of any transcendence or ultimate meaning. As he puts it: 'There is a kind of . . . anthropological joy in images, a kind of brute fascination unencumbered by aesthetic, moral, social or political judgements' (ED, 28). There can be no doubt that Baudrillard's is the most trenchant version, illustrated via the image, of a more general scepticism, if not nihilism, circulating in postmodern society. The question is: is such a thorough-going 'fatal strategy' sustainable? Or does it, on the contrary, ignore key aspects of the history of the image which point to something fundamental in the human relation to transcendence?Passwords§ fatal§ Gulf War§ image§ model
The Baudrillard dictionary. Richard G. Smith. 2015.