other + otherness

other + otherness
  ---- by Ashley Woodward
  The Other and otherness are themes which derive in large part from the philosophy of Hegel, which was popularised in France by Alexandre Kojève's 1933-9 lectures, and from phenomenology, introduced into France by Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Paul Sartre and others. These themes subsequently became well-established in French thought. Like many of his contemporaries, Baudrillard inherited these themes from earlier German and French intellectual traditions and developed them in his own unique way.
  Baudrillard's concern with otherness is double. On the one hand, he is concerned with the erasure of otherness and its subordination to the Same in contemporary western thought and culture: 'Our society is entirely dedicated to neutralising otherness, to destroying the other as a natural point of reference in a vast flood of aseptic communication and interaction, of illusory exchange and contact' (TE, 121). On the other hand, he is concerned to demonstrate the ultimate intractability of otherness: despite the threat to it from this apparent erasure, Baudrillard insists that otherness cannot be exterminated and will have its revenge. Thus otherness is another theme through which Baudrillard develops the Möbian 'double spiral' of his thought. One side of this spiral enacts a radical critique of Enlightenment rationalism and liberal humanism by charting the destruction of otherness. The other side of the spiral defends a radical form of otherness which is posited as a fundamental dynamic of the world.
  Otherness is threatened by the attempt to understand, represent and model all that which is designated Other and in this sense reduce it to the Same through universal comprehension. The erasure of otherness thus accompanies the same process which leads to simulation, hyper-reality and integral reality: 'With the Virtual, we enter not only upon the era of the liquidation of the Real and the Referential, but that of the extermination of the Other' (PC, 109). Moreover, otherness is not just threatened by an overt logic of the Same, it is also threatened in a more subtle way by a logic of difference, which on face value appears to recognise and value otherness. For Baudrillard otherness is not difference; difference is in fact what destroys otherness. Difference is the simulation of otherness, produced in our (post)modern culture because there is so little genuine otherness left.
  According to Baudrillard, 'differences mean regulated exchange' (TE, 128). With difference, exchange is regulated by a principle of equivalence through which differences and their values can be compared. Otherness reduced to difference is exchangeable, substitutable, negotiable, comprehensible, tolerable, reconcilable and useful. Baudrillard contrasts difference with radical otherness, which is irreducibly singular, irrecuperable, irreconcilable, incomprehensible, unexchangeable, incomparable and intolerable. In Baudrillard's characterisation of contemporary culture as a vast orgy in which everything is exchangeable for everything else (TE), otherness is being erased by virtue of this very exchangeability. Communication, which saturates our media culture, is also destructive of otherness, insofar as it establishes a medium of exchange between the poles of communication. Furthermore, Baudrillard criticises those social movements which attempt to recognise and legitimise differences - such as women's liberation, racial tolerance, respect for cultural difference and so on - as destructive of radical otherness. The darker side of these movements is revealed in the fact that, according to Baudrillard, racism functions according to the same logic as liberal tolerance: the Other only appears as a threat when they seem similar to us, and it is only then that we seek to exclude them.
  Baudrillard sees the erasure of otherness as a deeply destructive process. One way in which he tries to show this is with reference to major figures in continental philosophy - such as Hegel, Sartre and Lacan. In this tradition, the Other (with a capital 'O') designates something which plays a constitutive role in its very opposition to the self. For example, in his theory of the 'mirror phase', Lacan suggests that our sense of self is constituted by an identification with the Other, which splits the subject and alienates us from ourselves, but which is nevertheless necessary for our identity. Because otherness is a constitutive condition for our identity, our very attempt to erase otherness and constitute pure identity ends up being self-destructive. Baudrillard ingeniously identifies recent developments in science and culture, from cloning to devitalised substances such as sugar without calories, as denials of otherness which will have destructive effects on identity. Because they bypass constitutive otherness, Baudrillard sees these ideals of full positivity as a kind of hell in which we lose what it means to be subjects or selves. He paraphrases Sartre: 'No longer the hell of other people, but the hell of the Same' (TE, 122).
  Although he sometimes alludes to Hegel, Lacan, Sartre and so on strategically to make his point, there is an important sense in which the otherness Baudrillard defends is not simply the otherness of these thinkers, which is typically another consciousness, a human Other. Baudrillard's insistence on the irreducible singularity and incomparability of genuine otherness is arguably more extreme than any of his predecessors or contemporaries. For Baudrillard, that which is radically Other is of a completely different order and cannot be brought into a relation of opposition. An instructive example of this is his discussion of the otherness of microbes to the human race: 'the absolute Other is indeed the microbe in its radical non-humanness - a being of which we know nothing, and which cannot even be deemed different from us' (TE, 163).
  Despite pervasive attempts to eradicate it, Baudrillard insists that otherness cannot be destroyed; it persists in the contemporary world and will have its revenge. This is, first, because identity without otherness is impossible and any attempt to establish this will be self-destructive. Moreover, the otherness expelled from the contemporary system will become monstrous and destructive because the system can neither eradicate it nor incorporate it into itself. Baudrillard argues that radical otherness is a necessary rule or principle which governs the world at a fundamental level. In this sense, radical otherness has strong affinities with other concepts which play this role in Baudrillard's thought, such as seduction, impossible exchange and so on.
   § double spiral
   § seduction
   § singularity

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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