The Differentiated Hyperreality of Baudrillard


A sense of meaning for Baudrillard connotes a totality that is called knowledge and it is here that he differs significantly from someone like Foucault. For the latter, knowledge is a product of relations employing power, whereas for the former, any attempt to reach a finality or totality as he calls fit is always a flirtation with delusion. A delusion, since the human subject would always aim at understanding the human or non-human object, and, in the process the object would always be elusive since, it being based on signifiers would be vulnerable to a shift in significations. The two key ideas of Baudrillard are simulation and hyperreality. Simulation accords to representation of things such that they become the things represented, or in other words, representations gain priority over the “real” things. There are certain orders that define simulations viz. signs get to represent objective reality, signs veil reality, signs masking the absence of reality and signs turning into simulacra, since they have relation to reality thus ending up simulating a simulation. In Hegarty‘s reading of Baudrillard, there happen to be three types of simulacra each with a distinct historical epoch. The first is the pre-modern period, where the image marks the place for an item and hence the uniqueness of objects and situations marks them as irreproducibly real. The second is the modern period characterized by industrial revolution signifying the breaking down of distinctions between images and reality because of mass reproduction of copies or proliferation of commodities thus risking the essential existence of the original. The third is the post-modern period, where simulacra precedes the original and the distinction between reality and representation vanishes implying only the existence of simulacra and relegating reality as a vacuous concept. Hyperreality defines a condition wherein “reality” as known gets substituted by simulacra. This notion of Baudrillard is influenced by Canadian communication theorist and rhetorician Marshall McLuhan. Hyperreality with its insistence of signs and simulations fit perfectly in the post-modern era and therefore highlights the inability or shortcomings of consciousness to demarcate between reality and the phantasmatic space. In a quite remarkable analysis of Disneyland, Baudrillard (166-184) clarifies the notion of hyperreality, when he says,

The Disneyland imaginary is neither true nor false: it is a deterrence machine set in order to rejuvenate in reverse the fiction of the real. Whence the debility, the infantile degeneration of this imaginary. It’s meant to be an infantile world, in order to make us believe that adults are everywhere, in the “real” world and to conceal the fact that real childishness is everywhere, particularly among those adults who go there to act the child in order to foster illusion of their real childishness.

Although his initial ideas were affiliated with those of Marxism, he differed from Marx in his epitomizing consumption as the driving force of capitalism as compared to latter’s production. Another issue that was worked out remarkably in Baudrillard was historicity. Agreeing largely with Fukuyama’s notion of the end of history after the collapse of the communist block, Baudrillard only differed by placing importance on the idea of historical progress to have ended and not history necessarily. He forcefully makes the point of ending of history as also the ending of dustbins of history. His post-modern stand differed significantly with that of Lyotard’s in one major respect, despite finding common grounds elsewhere. Despite showing growing aversion to the theory of meta-narratives, Baudrillard, unlike Lyotard, reached a point of pragmatic reality within the confines of an excuse laden notion of universality that happened to be in vogue.

Baudrillard has been at the receiving end with some very extreme, acerbic criticisms directed at him. His writings are not just obscure, but also fail in many respects like defining certain concepts he employs, totalizing insights that have no substantial claim to conjectures, and often hinting strongly at apodicticity without paying due attention to the rival positions. This extremity reaches a culmination point when he is cited as a purveyor of reality-denying irrationalism. But not everything is to be looked at critically in his case and he does enjoy an established status as a transdisciplinary theorist, who, with his provocations have put traditional issues regarding modernity and philosophy in general at stake by providing insights into a better comprehensibility of cultural studies, sociology and philosophy. Most importantly, Baudrillard provides for autonomous and differentiated spaces in cultural, socio-economic and political domains by an implosive theory that cuts across boundaries of various disciplines paving the way for a new era in philosophical and social theory at large.


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