double spiral

  ---- by Richard G. Smith
  Once upon a time there was a general consensus among the AngloAmerican Left that Baudrillard's writings could be separated into those that are Marxist and those that are postmodern. Reminiscent of Althusser's famous separation of Marx's oeuvre, the story told by many early Baudrillard commentators was that there is a watershed (an 'epistemological break' or 'critical disjuncture' (Gottdiener, 1994: 25)) in Baudrillard's oeuvre: that those books published before 1976 broadly fall within a neo-Marxist paradigm, while those after, and including, Symbolic Exchange and Death (1993a [1976]) fall under the aegis of postmodernism. However, following the translation of The Ecstasy of Communication (1988c [1987b]) it became quite apparent to many (for example, Gane, 1991b) that to understand Baudrillard he must not be broken in two but, rather, that the rhythm of his writings as a whole must be understood as a 'double spiral'. Indeed, after Baudrillard had explicitly pointed out the double spiral (EC) in his philosophy it quickly dawned on many specialists that he had first spelt out this opposition of forms in considerable detail in For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1981 [1972]), some four years prior to when many commentators (for example, Kellner, 1989) had identified a divide in his writings, and in The Mirror of Production (1975 [1973]) and Symbolic Exchange and Death (1993a [1976]).
  It was Baudrillard himself who likened his thought and oeuvre to that of a Möbius strip, a double spiral like the DNA double helix or Giuseppe Momo's famous double spiral staircase in the Vatican:
  The double spiral moves from Le Système des Objets to the Fatal Strategies: a spiral swerving towards a sphere of the sign, the simulacrum and simulation, a spiral of the reversibility of all signs in the shadow of seduction and death. The two paradigms are diversified in the course of this spiral without altering their antagonistic position. On the one hand: political economy, production, the code, the system, simulation. On the other hand: potlatch, expenditure, sacrifice, death, the feminine, seduction, and in the end, the fatal. (EC, 79)
  In other words, the double spiral traces the destruction of the symbolic by the semiotic and the ironic eruption of the former in the latter, as both spirals are always in fact one, like a Möbius strip. As such, the double spiral is a figure that captures not only the opposition of the symbolic (ambivalence and so on) to the semiotic (the code and so on) in Baudrillard's philosophical system, but also, as with a Möbius strip, refers to the inseparability of the symbolic and the sign; ambivalence always haunts equivalence in Baudrillard's thought, thus allowing for the possibility of reversibility.
  The double spiral is present from Baudrillard's first book (SO) all the way through to his last book (CC). The semiotic appeared as the 'code of social standing' in 1968, the 'code' in 1970, the 'political economy of the sign' in 1972, the 'structural law of value' in 1976, 'hyper-reality', 'simulation', 'simulacra' and 'simulacrum' from around 1981, and the 'virtual' and 'integral reality' from the mid-1990s onwards, whereas the symbolic appeared as the 'gift' and 'ambivalence' in 1972, 'symbolic exchange' and 'death' in 1976, 'seduction' in 1979, 'fatal strategies' in 1983 and as 'evil' and 'terrorism' more recently. However, it is important to note that the double spiral is not the structure of Baudrillard's oeuvre, but rather is best understood as its rhythm (BL). For while two forms are in opposition across Baudrillard's writings - between production and seduction, political economy and death, hyper-reality and symbolic exchange, the fatal and the banal, appearance and disappearance, and so on - one must not take the double spiral metaphor too literally (Smith with Doel, 2001). As Baudrillard himself says: 'What is interesting is that notions and concepts criss-cross each other, slide into each other, melt into each other' (BL, 202). In other words, the double spiral is not a fixed structure that 'explains' Baudrillard, it cannot be precisely because 'there is no static opposition, no binary system that functions ad libitum from beginning to end. It means that polarization is in movement, in a rising upward curve' (BL, 202). In short, the double spiral follows a non-equilibrating logic of escalation and potentialisation, not a dialectical logic of sublation and resolution, for it is 'sworn to radical antagonism, not to reconciliation or synthesis' (FS, 25).
   § hyper-reality
   § reversibility

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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