---- by Ashley Woodward
  In a way, all of Baudrillard's work is an exploration of extremes. Extremes pertain both to the subject matter of Baudrillard's reflections - the extreme phenomena of contemporary culture - and the form these reflections take - the adoption of an extreme vantage point, an extreme form of thought, in order to take stock of an extreme situation. Baudrillard's critical diagnosis of contemporary culture rests on the contention that the animating ideals and values driving the West - in particular, those deriving from the Enlightenment dream of perfecting the world through the progressive development and application of reason - have been pushed to extremes. In this extreme state, the Enlightenment dream has not been realised. To the contrary, the extreme realisation of these values and ideals has in fact destroyed them.
  For Baudrillard, 'extreme' is to be understood in the specific sense of that which occurs 'beyond the end'. According to him, extreme = ex terminis (VI). Thus extremes are what occur beyond (ex) a boundary or limit (terminis). Baudrillard insists that this movement to extremes is not simply a change in quantity, an increase in degree. Rather there is a real qualitative change in systems once they achieve extreme points: 'It's not a matter of being more expanded or extensive - it's more intensive in gradation. It's a kind of power, an upgrading of power - a movement to extremes, an increase in power of effects . . .' (BL, 84). Systems move to extremes by pursuing their own perfection, attempting to incorporate or eradicate everything which limits them. The qualitative change in extreme systems involves 'a state of unconditional realisation, of total positivity (every negative sign raised to the second power produces a positive), from which all utopia, all death and all negativity have been expunged (VI, 46-7). The equation 'extreme = ex terminis' also suggests a link between 'extreme' and 'extermination'. For Baudrillard, when systems move to extremes, the very attempt at perfection leads to destruction.
  Extreme phenomena are explored in Baudrillard's work through many of his critical concepts, but are perhaps most evident in the various permutations of the formulae 'more x than x' and 'trans-x'. Examples of the former include the masses (more social than the social), simulation (truer than true), hyper-reality (more real than real) and so on (VI). The latter is explored in Baudrillard's book The Transparency of Evil (1993b [1990a]), which is subtitled 'Essays on Extreme Phenomena' (TE). Here Baudrillard characterises contemporary culture as a vast orgy in which every sphere of value moves to extremes insofar as it attempts to incorporate everything into itself, to make everything exchangeable in its own terms. The political becomes the transpolitical (everything is political), the economic becomes the transeconomic (everything is economic), the aesthetic becomes the transaesthetic (everything is aesthetic), and so on. According to Baudrillard, this movement to extremes leads to a generalised confusion of categories and a breakdown of distinctions in all spheres of culture. Thus, through seeking to extend its form of value to everything, each sphere in fact destroys its value because it no longer has a clearly delimited, coherent domain of application.
  Baudrillard's own theory is deliberately extreme, both in its propositions and its style. At times he argues for the necessity of extreme theory by asserting that theory must correspond to the world in order to speak meaningfully about it: 'why are people going to those extremes, if you don't suppose that at some point the world, and the universe, too, is in the grips of a movement to extremes' (BL, 115). In this sense, he suggests, theory cannot just be fiction; it must offer something like an objective, rational hypothesis, and there must be a point in the real to which it can stick (BL). At other times, however, the justification he gives for extreme theory rests on a more radical hypothesis about the relation between theory and the word. In this sense, the role of theory is to push itself to extremes beyond, or in a contrary direction to, states of affairs in the world. Speaking of the Gulf War, he asserted that: 'If the war doesn't go to extremes, then writing must be allowed to, one way or another. That is its role . . . a transfiguration brought about by writing' (BL, 180). As such, theory engages in a duel, or an antagonistic relationship with, the world. The aim of extreme theory is then not simply to describe the world, but to change it.
   § culture
   § excess
   § Gulf War
   § hyper-reality
   § masses
   § simulation
   § the end
   § transpolitics

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.


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