Thursday, October 30, 2008

Don't Worry, We'll Make Them Look Real...

It's up to you to decide what that title means.

Let's hear it for Ken Rufo.

I will have to agree with him that I sort of have a nerdy-theoretical crush on Baudrillard; I won't be ashamed to admit. There are several points that I found interesting so I apologize in advance.

Systems of exchange-values

Our current system of exchange value is an incredible model of a simulacra. There is no tangible evidence of worth; there is barely the concrete exchange of bills because now we have plastic, which apparently is worth more than pretty much anything when considered within the simulacra. There is a suggested value in every aspect. I work X hours and get paid Y amount per hour then on a given day I just know (because of direct deposit...which is arguably the most indirect activity in human interaction) that this total amount of X multiplied by Y is now in my bank account. Never once is there money involved; the value is then given to the representation in a computer somewhere that updates my account...which is also not tangible. I've certainly never seen it "because the use of money no longer requires any actual referent to a real object or action" (Rufo's post). Maybe I would be more excited about this simulacra if my X was less and my Y was much greater. Which ties into what Baudrillard suggests about the lower classes simulating the upper class.

My parents do that- shopping at yard sales and what not, but it is for the attempt to simulate a kind of life. It makes them happy and, hey, what else are they supposed to do? The value lies in the social exchange value. Even if no one sees this simulation it exists for them. Does that make sense?

Meaning Machines
"Marxism: it is just another model, and as such a simulation, and since it is about producing a truth, in ends up inadvertently feeding the idea of production that it attempts to subvert or oppose as being the evil axis of capitalism...
Psychoanalysis acts like it has discovered the unconscious, but really what it does is to produce the unconscious as an expository device in accordance with its own precepts."
Wait Baudrillard (via Rufo) you're telling me that theory is not legitimate? Just a bunch of made up processes that end up being true because they are being constructed instead of discovered truths? Well, yeah...but this doesn't make them any less valuable in my opinion. There is something marvelous about this criticism of literary theories.

"Expression always falls into the trap... of assuming the force of an authority, an agency, rather than a substance. Western thought cannot bear, and has at bottom never been able to bear, a void of signification, a non-place and a non-value." (p. 234).

What a bold statement. Everything has an answer, purpose, or meaning in the Western world. Some religions of the Western world are great examples; there is concreteness, there are definitive rules, and a specified meaning to all things which doesn't exist in several mystic or Eastern religions.

I'd like to turn the tables a bit to further examine this idea of vacancy. I noticed among the fun trivia that Baudrillard was also a photographer. Last night I went to MassArt to hear photographer, Gregory Crewdson, speak about his photography and show us the progression of his work from beginning to end. The connection here is Crewdson's obsession with the intangible nature of the unknown, the elements of mystery, and like Baudrillard the beauty of unanswered questions. Please, I urge you to look him up and I'm sure his photographs will leave you asking who what or why. This is part of his intention and I cannot help but tie him to Baudrillard in that category of explorers versus discoverers; it is more about the entanglement and ambiguity of meaning than the concrete answers. There is more to observe in transition and in instability than there is in "simple arithmetic one two three" (Boogie Nights).

Pretty as a Picture

"...the simulational stuff is so pervasive that you filter your real experiences through the simulation of that reality. This is what Baudrillard calls the hyperreal.
to be the possibility of illusion, of non-meaning, of mystery, and much of his work attempts to reproduce that."

While reading through this section, if you will, of Rufo's post I couldn't help but think about my road trip across the United States. Part of the goal in my mind was to (although I wouldn't have put it in these terms two years ago) deconstruct my perceptions of the United States (as a whole and as individual states) and see if I could do so by escaping the hyperreal experience. Turns out it sort of worked out. I went to all the major stops: Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Las Vegas, Memphis, even Wall Drug (drive out west and you'll find out about Wall Drug). It was nearly impossible not to think about the meanings I had originally attributed to these locations. I didn't want to see the massive white stone of Rushmore but came to realize that it is nothing like the postcards and actually much more impressive in person. I wanted to take a picture in front of the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign because of what it has represented for me but the only way I'll go back to Vegas is through Hunter S. Thompson (sorry about the recent focus, but I just watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). And Wall Drug had billboards that started in Minnesota, possibly Illinois, and trust me its nothing like it.

What's my point? Essentially, its all just an example of the experiencing of the hyperreal but then again we are living the hyperreal constantly. There is an obsession in our culture and, arguably, the human race with signification. While we assign value, I feel as though we constantly work off of the ideals that we have constructed within the simulacrum. Is there anything real anymore? Even if you were to choose live in isolation on a farm to evade it, wouldn't you just be partaking in Romanticized ideas made up within the simulacra? Has anything ever existed before simulation? Isn't even a representation based on a falseness? Are our attempts to quantify, qualify, and classify devoid of any true significance? "Each one causes a regression that overwhelms the relationship between reality." Is there such a thing?

Bottom line- the only thing that is real to me after this roller coaster ride I call a thought process is the fact that I am going to be Michael Jackson (Jackson 5 era). HAPPY HALLOWEEN. (Talk about simulation!)


Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Author, My Friend, is Blowing in the Wind

*Note: No particularly specific link from title to post (other than the fact that the author is dead and he or she could be blowing in the wind if he or she went out Hunter S. Thompson style- )

In Barthes essay "The Death of the Author" he discusses the role of the author in the search for meaning behind a text. Historically, the author served as an individual subject who can, through individual thoughts, beliefs, and experiences, develop a whole and transcendental understanding that is then transmitted to the masses through a literary text. Barthes refutes this tradition by suggesting that the author does not exist in this format. He terms the individual who actually transcribes/produces the text as the scriptor and strips this individual of the transcendental 'powers' he or she once had. Most importantly, the power of limitations is taken away when the author is removed. This allows the criticism to flourish because there is no need to understand the Author nor the context of his or her life. For post-structuralist this is a party not a funeral procession. This absence allows for further explication. Without the concreteness of referring to the author, there is the possibility to stray from one ultimate meaning. Unfortunately for the liberal humanists in the world, the death of the author allows for multiple meanings that derive from the text itself versus originating from the ideas of the author.

This is where the reader is born. "The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost... the reader is without history, biography, psychology; he is simply that someone who hold together in a single field all the traces by which the written text is constituted (Rice and Waugh, Modern Literary Theory, 2nd ed.)." I would like to consider myself a reader but by nature I suppose I am not; is there a chance that I can transform myself into a reader? Disassociate myself fro my self and what I know it to that what you want from me Barthes?

*My attempts to put the link in as suggested in the Critical Theory and Academy blog have failed so here it is old school style:

In this blog (link above) the blogger discusses his recent frustrations in a literature class. The blogger feels an obligation to explain the biographical information of an author in order to place the text in a historical context. Unfortunately, his/her students are proponents of Barthe's biggest fear (and apparently a fear shared by this professor): limited analysis because of the author! NO! But, it happens. It can seem daunting to eradicate the role of the author his/her life and historical context in which the text was written. Barthe's and this blogger (and myself) think that there is a need to remove the limitations the author's position imposes. At the same time there is a need to understand in some way the context, is there not? I welcome arguments because I really do not know for sure the way to be a buffet-pick-n-choose deconstructionist. Is there such thing? Aside from understanding Barthe's theory about the author and the not so tragic death of said author, this blog touches upon the practicality of applying these and other theories of analysis to literary studies.


Friday, October 10, 2008


Is there irony in the project of trying to capture the true Derrida in a documentary film? Do the directors realize it? What is the format of their "biography"? Does the format provide an acknowledgement of some of his ideas?

Watching a documentary of Derrida is absolutely one of the most ironic projects possible. A man who suggests that our system of understanding (language) is unstable being documented on film, which is arguably the most manipulated form of representation (think of editing processes, the pretense of the fourth wall, any reality television show that is on currently). The brilliance of it comes from the directors being aware of this irony. Why? Because it exposes what Derrida thinks in that kind of setting. He admits that he is not being himself as he is himself when there are no cameras around- no one can be. I refuse to believe that people act purely and candidly while knowing there is a camera watching them. Capturing anyone in this format seems to be a supportive argument to Derrida's view of instability in representation; using Derrida himself however is perhaps the ultimate example. More so than trying to capture who Jacues Derrida is or was the film captures the 'what' of his theories and ideas quite abstractly.