---- by William Pawlett
  Illusion and its cognates - appearance, image, double, mirror, simulation, shadow - are terms woven throughout Baudrillard's writings, from his earliest studies of consumption to his last provocations on evil and the 'dual form'. In his early studies Baudrillard understands the consumer society as presenting the illusion of freedom, and he suggests that Marxist and psychoanalytic theory produce only the illusion of critique. Yet illusion is often used in a positive sense, for example in Baudrillard's argument that symbolic ritual is the illusion that conjures away the opposition of life and death, and concerning seduction he insists 'to seduce is to die as reality and reconstitute oneself as illusion' (S, 69). Baudrillard defines the simulacrum as the illusion 'that hides the truth's non-existence' (S, 35), and his final works suggest a stage beyond the orders of simulacra, that of 'integral reality'. Integral reality or 'virtuality' is, for Baudrillard, the 'final solution' that seeks to dispel illusion forever; however, the dual form is 'indestructible', he argues, and even virtual technologies preserve something of the 'original illusion' (LP, 85).
  It is useful, heuristically, to distinguish three senses of illusion in Baudrillard's work. However, these are always in tension, spiralling together and cannot be isolated; this is more than a polite caveat as Baudrillard insists on 'the interconnection of appearances' (FS, 210). First, there is radical or original illusion. Second are the 'degraded' forms of illusion including representation and simulation which is 'the lowest degree of illusion' (P, 3). Between these are the symbolic forms, ritual, seduction, play, the trompe l'Œil, destiny: the cycles of appearance and disappearance. On radical illusion Baudrillard states:
  One can imagine the world even before the appearance of human beings and thought, when there's nothing there to give it meaning, when it is, strictly speaking, without truth or reality - hence in a state of radical illusoriness . . . that's what I mean by 'radical illusion'. (ExD, 44)
  Rational thought, for Baudrillard, attempts to exert control over the world by reducing its power of illusion. Yet the world will not be controlled or ordered by human thought, indeed thought is plunged 'beyond objective reality, which is an unstable form, into integral reality . . . into a total elimination of illusion and of the dual situation' (ExD, 46). And it is illusion itself 'profound' and 'indestructible' that 'takes its revenge by plunging the real into simulation, then into the virtual and integral reality' (ExD, 46).
  Radical illusion should not be confused with the symbolic order or symbolic exchange, yet symbolic ritual does enable the play and metamorphosis of appearance and disappearance. In elaborating this sense of illusion, Baudrillard stresses the etymology of the term 'Il-ludere is to put into play, to put oneself into play. And for that you have to create the rules of the illusion' (ExD, 44). To engage in the play of illusion is to be 'initiated' within a set of rules, a convention 'in which something other than the real is at stake' (FS, 211). Illusion works against the real and truth, it is their enemy. In the play of illusion the sign becomes 'pure', charged with a uniqueness or singularity, 'art, theatre, language have worked for centuries to save illusion . . . to maintain the tiny distance that makes the real play with its own reality, that plays with the disappearance of the real while exalting its appearance . . . they have kept something of ceremony and ritual in the violence they do to the real' (FS, 211). Whether in poetic language, in the gestures of seduction, in ritual or gaming, symbolic forms are 'vectors of a vital illusion' (VI, 29).
  With the progressive loss of banal, transcendent or degraded illusion in the contemporary age we face the prospect of 'unhappy uncertainty', yet Baudrillard raises the alternative of a 'happy uncertainty', the embracing of the world as pure form, as immanence, as 'poetic illusion'. Here the world is accepted as 'wholly enigmatic' (IEx, 9): 'illusion, being par excellence the art of appearing, of emerging out of nothing, protects us from being. As the art of disappearance, it protects us from death. The world is protected from its end by its diabolical indeterminacy' (IEx, 10). For Baudrillard illusion is enchanting as well as protective, it 'creates a kind of absolute gain by removing causes, or by distorting effects and causes' (IEx, 11). In this way it opens up the play of destiny, 'the passion of illusion and appearance', the encounter with 'that which comes from elsewhere, from others, from their face, their language, their gestures . . . outside of you, without you . . . without your having anything to do with it' (FS, 172-3). By contrast objectivity and subjectivity, the prerequisites of rational thought, are for Baudrillard twin illusions of equal banality. Though they might seem self-evident, the situation is never certain. We experience great pleasure, Baudrillard asserts, in denying or suspending reality, and the world and human consciousness live in a state of complicity, reciprocity and 'entangling' which prevents a final resolution. Influenced by Nietzsche, Baudrillard states 'representation, this superstition of an objective reality . . . is itself a part of the general illusion of the world, of which we are a part at the same time as we are its mirror' (LP, 40). Thus knowledge itself is part of the illusion of the world. An acceptance and embracing of this complicity constitutes, for Baudrillard, the 'lucidity pact' (LP).
  The world in its immanence is an appearance, an illusion, a play of forms. We can only attempt to capture the illusion through techniques of representation, or alternatively attempt the replacement of illusion through the modelling techniques of simulation and virtualisation. In either case we cannot move beyond the play of appearances to the absolute, to truth or reality, and this, for Baudrillard, is itself a positive outcome as we remain free from the unbearable burdens of reality and absolute truth. And further, Baudrillard insists ritual, ceremony, seduction, the play of illusion and metamorphosis are 'in no sense an illusory mastery, but a mastery of illusion' (IEx, 88).
   § double
   § evil
   § image
   § mirror

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.


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