---- by David B. Clarke
  Many of Baudrillard's concepts appear in the recurrent motif of the mirror. The mirror seems to capture perfectly a world forged in the image of the reality principle: a world dedicated to the eradication of deceptive appearances in the name of dependable reality. For mirrors are 'condemned to the servile fate of resemblance' (PC, 149), to slavishly giving back a faithful reflection of reality. They yoke appearances to the burden of re-presentation, bearing witness 'to the world with a . . . touching fidelity' (ED, 14). They are 'the watchdogs of appearance' (S, 105). The mirror accords to the principle of production in the original sense of that term, which 'is not . . . that of material manufacture; rather, it means to render visible, to cause to . . . appear: pro-ducere' (FF, 37). Invoking the 1926 film, The Student of Prague, however, Baudrillard considers what happens when the image escapes its model, when the representation is detached from the original.
  The film concerns a pact with the Devil, the hapless party to which, Balduin, witnesses the Devil peeling his 'image from the mirror as though it were an etching' (CS, 187). His image is subsequently made flesh and proceeds to stalk Balduin, with ultimately fatal consequences.
  As the good image it is, it remains attached to its model; but, as the bad image it has become, it now accompanies him not only when he chances to pass by mirrors, but in life itself, wherever he goes. (CS, 187)
  Like all doppelgängers, 'From having been an assurance of immortality, it becomes the uncanny harbinger of death' (Freud, SE XVII: 235). In the film's denouement, a violent confrontation sees Balduin fire a pistol-shot at his double in front of the very mirror from which his image became detached.
  Naturally, the mirror is smashed and the double, become again the phantasm it once was, vanishes into thin air. But . . . it is he who is dying . . . In his death throes . . . he grasps at one of the fragments of the mirror scattered about the floor and realizes that he can see himself again. (CS, 188)
  Insofar as it is governed by the logic of commodity exchange - the Faustian bargain earns Balduin a fabulous sum of gold - 'The Student of Prague is a remarkable illustration of the processes of alienation' (CS, 190). It dramatises the fact that 'There is a part of us which gets away from us in this process, but we do not get away from it' (CS, 189). Such is the méconnaissance of the subject - for the appearance of the image in the mirror does not leave being intact. It is in the mirror of production that 'the human species comes to consciousness [la prise de conscience] in the imaginary' (MP, 19). The imaginary, 'through which an objective world emerges and through which man recognizes himself objectively', is overcoded by 'this scheme of production, which is assigned to him as the ultimate dimension of value and meaning' (MP, 19). Such are the terms of 'the identity that man dons with his own eyes' when he gazes into the mirror aligning the 'discourse of production and the discourse of representation' (MP, 20).
  By invoking The Student of Prague, Baudrillard contends that the classical phase of alienation - likewise played out in Marx's Capital (1954) - is over, having lost itself in reversal: 'there is no longer any soul, no shadow, no double, and no image in the specular sense. There is no longer any contradiction within being, or any problematic of being and appearance' (CS, 191). Modernity's vain attempt to abolish appearances in the name of reality succumbs to that 'fatal reversibility' to which all such efforts fall prey: 'the more they go towards universality, towards their total limits, there is a kind of reversal which they themselves produce, and which destroys their own objective' (BL, 91). This short-circuits the distinction between being and appearance, real and imaginary, culminating in their ex-termination: their abolition as terms. It 'definitively shatter[s] the specularity of the sign' (EC, 58).
  Despite the realism of signs and images, despite our naive confidence in their ability to conform to the real, their destiny lies elsewhere. Unbeholden to the reality principle, the sign regales in its clandestine capacity 'to oppose another scene to the real one, to pass to the other side of the mirror' (AA, 12). It is 'precisely when it appears most truthful, most faithful and most in conformity to reality that the image is most diabolical' (ED, 13).
  One should distrust the humility of mirrors. The humble servants of appearances, they can reflect only the objects that face them, without being able to conceal themselves . . . But their faithfulness is specious, for they are waiting for someone to catch himself in their reflection. One does not easily forget their sidelong gaze. They recognize you, and when they surprise you when you least expect it, your time has come. (S, 105)
  Such is the strategy of seduction - from 'se-ducere: to take aside, to divert from one's path' (S, 22). '"I'll be your mirror" does not signify "I'll be your reflection" but "I'll be your deception"' (S, 69). Increasingly, however, the image 'can no longer transcend reality, transfigure it, nor dream it, because it has become its own virtual reality' (AA, 12). In its mediatised, high-definition resolution, the image comes too close to reality, effecting its disappearance qua image: 'In this space, where everything is meant to be seen . . . we realise that there is nothing left to see. It becomes a mirror of flatness, of nothingness, that reflects the disappearance of the other' (Baudrillard, 2003: 13). The implosion of the real and the imaginary ensures the disillusion of the image: 'the extermination of the real by its double' (AA, 9). Yet, although the power of the image wanes where 'images have passed over into things' (AA, 12), the image's power to challenge the world to exist, to connect with the radical illusion of the world, is not so easily vanquished: 'Objects in this mirror may be closer than they appear!' (A, 1) - and they are poised to take their revenge.
   § illusion
   § imaginary
   § modernity
   § production
   § reversibility
   § seduction

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.


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