perfect crime

  ---- by Jonathan Smith
  The dual misfit between the world and its appearances, and between our thoughts and the world, cast truth into doubt for Baudrillard, persuading him that the world's reality is like a perfect or unsolvable crime - a dreadful enigma offering few clues about its fate, its meaning or why it came into being (PC, IEx). The world may even be a crime from the very beginning - an 'original crime' marked by illusion or 'the world in the play of seduction and appearances' (PC, 2). Here, '[t]he perfection of the crime lies in the fact that it has always-already been accomplished . . . A misappropriation of the world as it is, before it even shows itself' (PC, 1).
  Because we cannot know the world as it is or exchange our thoughts for its appearances (PC), there is a sense of 'impossible exchange' between the world and us (IEx). It is this epistemic misfit which suggests the world may be a metaphysical crime. Baudrillard calls this misfit 'the material illusion of the world', 'the sacred illusion' or the 'vital illusion' (PC). It may also be called reality-illusion: 'here, the "illusion" is not simply irreality or non-reality' (ED, 45), explains Baudrillard; 'rather, it is in the literal sense of the word (il-ludere in Latin) a play upon "reality" or a mise en jeu [putting into play] of the real' (ED, 45-6). The roots of the perfect crime can be traced to Baudrillard's early reading of Nietzsche (F), particularly the truth/illusion critique (PC). Symbolic Exchange and Death (1993a [1976]) contains another root: the 'irreducible duality' and 'Manichean' vision that Baudrillard gleaned from Freud's duality of Eros (life) and Thanatos (death).
  'This is the key to the whole position', said Baudrillard (ED, 45) about the reality-illusion implied by Freud's duality: 'the idea is that of a most fundamental and radical antagonism, of no possibility existing at all of reconciling the "illusion" of the world with the "reality" of the world.' This grave misfit became 'the perfect crime' in the 1990s when Baudrillard engaged with the nothing/something duality of Argentine metaphysician Macedonio Fernandez (PC, IEx, F). Nietzsche, Freud and Fernandez helped Baudrillard conceive of reality-illusion without making illusion into non-reality within a binary opposition of Reality and illusion.
  On this point, Fernandez's duality was particularly helpful to Baudrillard (IEx) insofar as it is an antinomy (a pair of related, yet logically independent, concepts), not a binary. This dual figure suggested to Baudrillard that 'illusion' can be both nothing and something. Fernandez's influence is especially apparent in Baudrillard's end-of-the-century books where the misfit effect, reality-illusion and the world as a perfect crime are essayed in detail. For example, in The Perfect Crime (1996c [1995a]), Baudrillard reckons: 'The great philosophical question used to be "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Today, the real question is: "Why is there nothing rather than something?"' (PC, 2). An answer is approached in Impossible Exchange (2001a [1999a]) where Baudrillard suggests 'the Nothing' is part of the perfect crime insofar as it is 'the product of the dramatic illusion of appearances . . . the divine incoherence of the world' (IEx, 12).
  Here, the something of the world is thought to be accompanied, incognito, by 'the continuity of the evil, the continuation of the nothing' (PC, 2) which, in a Manichean manner, renders the world vulnerable to an 'enigmatic machination' by 'the Nothing', with such thinking being 'the perpetuation of this crime' (PC, F).
  Given his interest in the duality of reality, it is unsurprising that Baudrillard entertained a Manichean metaphysics of the perfect crime via Fernandez's antinomy. Earlier, in work prepared for a doctoral degree at the Sorbonne (EC), Baudrillard argued that the world seems marked by diabolical simulation and thus might have come into being via evil's 'original seduction' of it, within a cosmic duality of good/evil (EC, ED).
  Manichean or not, Baudrillard regarded the perfect crime's realityillusion as a vital sacred mystery - a secret shining with 'pure appearance' (PC, 2). We dread this, he argued, and want it reduced to a pure reality without any misfit effect - a simulated reality that immediately corresponds to our models and images of it (PC). This, he argues in Passwords (2003b [2000c]), is an attempt to 'eliminate duality . . . to reduce everything to a kind of single principle' (PW, 62).
  Paradoxically, this dread-driven pursuit of pure reality was regarded by Baudrillard as a contemporary form of the perfect crime, even 'the accomplishment of this crime' (PC, 2). Here, we attempt the disillusionment of reality (PC) by simulating it as hyper-reality (reality produced via models) or rendering it as 'integral reality', a hyper-realised form of simulation wherein the world and our representations of it suffer an 'immersion in the visual' that is 'diabolical' (F, 47). Baudrillard resolved the problem of how this anti-duality can possibly be complicit in the reality-illusion of the perfect crime by arguing that reality production is always already a form of illusion (PC). 'Under these circumstances' of simulation saturation, 'only few things and at rare moments attain pure appearance, and only these are seductive' (EC, 62), argues Baudrillard. Nevertheless, 'there is something secret in appearances, precisely because they do not readily lend themselves to interpretation. They remain insoluble, indecipherable' (EC, 63).
  The capacity of appearances to confound any interpretation persuaded Baudrillard that the perfect crime (original and contemporary) is, in effect, less than perfect. It is, after all, also a simulation model, albeit one that presupposes dualism. And yet, by developing his philosophy of realityillusion via Fernandez's nothing/something antinomy, Baudrillard (PC) was able to argue that the world's appearances thwart both our simulations of pure reality and the world as a perfect 'Perfect Crime'.
   § duality
   § hyper-reality
   § illusion
   § Manichaeism
   § metaphysics

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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