literature


literature
  ---- by Richard G. Smith
  In the early 1960s, Baudrillard wrote literary reviews of fiction from Italo Calvino, Uwe Johnson and William Styron for Jean-Paul Sartre's periodical Les Temps Modernes. The reviews were Baudrillard's first publications (1962a, 1962b, 1962c), written before he took up employment as an academic sociologist, and represent the most explicit examples of literary criticism in his oeuvre. However, these reviews are not in themselves important for appreciating the role that literature came to play in Baudrillard's theoretical writings. From the 1970s onwards, literature by authors such as J. G. Ballard, Jorge Luis Borges, Elias Canetti, Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick became an important resource for Baudrillard as he drew on their novels and short stories to both shape and illustrate his theoretical writings.
  Science fiction is the literary genre on which Baudrillard draws most often as a resource for his writings. In Simulacra and Simulation (1994a [1981]) Baudrillard published two essays on science fiction: an essay entitled 'Simulacra and Science Fiction', where he conflated the themes of technology and utopia in discussing both science fiction and, more generally, the fate of theory; and the essay 'Crash', which considered J. G. Ballard's novel of the same title (SS). Baudrillard is interested in Crash because of the world it portrays: it both presents and supports his view that 'technology is the deadly deconstruction of the body', which is in stark contrast to the view that had been pertinent from Marx to McLuhan that 'technology is an extension of the body' (SS, 111) - see Baudrillard's (UB) critiques of McLuhan and Lefebvre. For Baudrillard Crash is indicative of the possibility of violence and violation that technology provides - not to the body, anatomy or physiology but in creating a 'semiurgy of contusions, scars, mutilations, wounds that are so many new sexual organs opened on the body' (SS, 112). A non-referential sexuality is presented by the (auto)accident as the body is given over to 'symbolic wounds'. The body is sign. Echoing the concerns of Seduction (1990a [1979]), Baudrillard insists that here 'death and sex are read on the same level as the body, without phantasms, without metaphor, without sentences' (SS, 113); sexual desire is simply the opportunity for signexchange at the locus of the body, so that rather than an imagined future, Baudrillard contends that Ballard's novel is a superficial abyss, a portrayal of the world that confirms his own vision of the contemporary: a world dominated by simulacra and simulation. Thus Baudrillard is drawn to Crash because it mirrors his own terminology and theory. The story of Crash is neither reality nor fiction, but is instead an account of the hyperreal: 'Crash is the first great novel of the universe of simulation, the one with which we will all now be concerned - a symbolic universe, but one which, through a sort of reversal of the mass-mediated substance (neon, concrete, car, erotic machinery), appears as if traversed by an intense force of initiation' (SS, 119).
  In Symbolic Exchange and Death (1993a [1976]) Baudrillard draws on Arthur C. Clarke's SF story 'The Nine Billion Names of God', where a brotherhood of Tibetan monks employ computer experts to speed up their recitation of the many names of God, to demonstrate how the model of symbolic exchange operates within the field of language. While the monks believe that, upon completion of their task, the world will end, the computer programmers don't believe the prophecy, but as the computer completes the recitation the stars of the night sky begin to disappear. As with Ballard, Baudrillard interprets Clarke's fable for his own purpose, so 'the nine billion names of God' becomes 'the extermination of the name of God' and consequently the liquidation of the signified, an example of how poetic language is the deconstruction of the sign and representation: 'a site of the extermination of value and the law' (SED, 195). Likewise, in Seduction (1990a [1979]) Baudrillard presents a not very faithful reading of Borges' story 'The Lottery in Babylon' (Borges, 1970) to further his own theory (see Gane, 1991b). Borges is the most frequently cited literary author in Baudrillard's oeuvre, and undoubtedly Baudrillard's most well-known usage of a Borges story is that of the map that exactly covers its territory so that the two become indistinguishable, which he uses to introduce his discussion of the precession of simulacra (SS; Smith, 2003).
  Finally, it is worth noting that Baudrillard's writings themselves have had a profound influence on the novels of many writers of contemporary fiction. This influence has been either indirect, providing the context of 'hyper-reality' for the novels of, for example, J. G. Ballard, Douglas Coupland, Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon, or direct, with authors such as Michel Houellenbecq and Maurice G. Dantec openly acknowledging the importance of his ideas for their works. The Native American writer Gerald Vizenor even features Baudrillard as a character in his novel Hotline Healers (1997) which makes widespread reference to his work on simulation to critique the popular culture of contemporary America for its misrepresentation of Native American 'reality'.
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   § hyper-reality
   § seduction

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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