---- by Marcus A. Doel
  While many concepts employed by Baudrillard have a certain aura and mystique (such as integral reality and objective illusion), 'production' is likely to strike the contemporary reader as lacklustre and humdrum. For Baudrillard, the term 'production' had particular purchase when western Marxism held sway over social theory. In Marxism, human beings are essentially productive, through their work and labour; human societies forge specific 'modes of production' such as feudalism and capitalism, each of which remakes the world in its own image; and human history unfolds discontinuously through the periodic and violent recasting of the irresolvable tension between the 'forces' and 'relations' of production, which manifests itself as an interminable struggle between those who are productive (for example, slaves and workers) and those who are parasitic (for example, masters and capitalists).
  'Everywhere man has learned to reflect on himself, to assume himself, to posit himself according to [the] scheme of production which is assigned to him as the ultimate dimension of value and meaning,' observed Baudrillard (MP, 19). '[T]hrough this scheme of production, this mirror of production, the human species comes to consciousness in the imaginary' (MP, 19). Obviously, Marxism has not been alone in being absorbed by the 'unbridled romanticism of productivity' (MP, 17), through which 'everything is "produced" according to a "labor"' (MP, 17). It is, perhaps, our signature fantasy, through which our world and we ourselves are given meaning, purpose and - above all - value.
  Now that western Marxism has largely faded from view, leaving little more than the spectre of a Gothic Marxism that is unlikely to spook anybody, production seems to have been left stranded. On the one hand, the notion that everything is produced is hardly contentious. 'Everywhere productivist discourse reigns' (MP, 18). Once we admit that everything is assembled, constructed, manufactured and fabricated, then production per se no longer has critical purchase. The critique of political economy touches only on the content of production, but it leaves the form of production - and its principle of reality - untouched. On the other hand, the contradictions that once threatened to revolutionise the world shaped in the image of production no longer seem to convulse the post-industrial world and its postmodern culture, which is more likely to be perturbed by the potentially catastrophic consequences of over-consumption, radical passivity and unbridled simulation - about which Baudrillard has had much to say.
  Given that Baudrillard began his academic career in the shadow of Marxism, it is unsurprising that he worked through production, most notably in The Mirror of Production (1975 [1973]): not in order to leave it behind, but to arrive on the other side. What he found there was not consumption (a term that he had already exhausted), but seduction (a term that would fascinate him for the rest of his life). Consequently, while the notion of production may appear to hold a largely redundant place in Baudrillard's oeuvre, in actual fact it was a pivotal concept without which his thought may not have been so radically led astray: in his pursuit of production, he was drawn to seduction.
  Baudrillard was especially adept at thinking through the implications of our centre of gravity shifting from production to consumption (see in particular The System of Objects (1996a [1968]) and The Consumer Society (1998a [1970])), and forging a 'general' political economy of the sign to supplant the 'restricted' labour theory of value (see especially For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1981 [1972])). His key insight was that the 'commodity law of value' (through which exchange value expropriates surplus value while debasing labour and eclipsing use value) has given way to the 'structural law of value' (through which the homology of the commodity form and the sign form - such that exchange value is to signifier as use value is to signified - ensures that both value and meaning flicker into and out of existence as simulacra). Production and finality have given way to reproduction and dissemination. '[A] commodity must function as an exchange-value in order better to hide the fact that it circulates like a sign and reproduces the code' (SED, 31). In short, the value of labour - which is meant to anchor the world of production - turns out to be a mirage occasioned by the play of signs. And when this mirage is mistaken for reality, it functions not as a centre of gravity around which the exchange relations of the social orbit, but as a black hole into which everything purportedly of value plunges and implodes.
  While the mirror of production 'loaded' its commodity-signs 'with the burden of "utility," with gravity' (SED, 7), the models of simulation unloaded and unburdened them, enabling them to float freely and commute/consummate among themselves. Such is the great extermination of every system of reference: 'remove this "archaic" obligation to designate something and it finally becomes free, indifferent and totally indeterminate, in the structural or combinatory play which succeeds the previous rule of determinate equivalence' (SED, 7). Production simply came to an end - and in its wake seduction, symbolic exchange and death returned with a passion and a vengeance.
  Since the mirror of production barely touches our own social formation - except in the imaginary - it is hardly surprising that Baudrillard should insist that it has no bearing whatsoever on other social formations: 'It is only in the mirror of production and history, under the double principle of indefinite accumulation (production) and dialectical continuity (history) . . . that our Western culture can reflect itself in the universal as the privileged moment of truth,' argues Baudrillard (MP, 114). 'Without this simulation, without this gigantic reflexivity of the concave (or convex) concept of history or production, our era loses all privileges. It would not be any closer to any term of knowledge or any social truth than any other' (MP, 114-15).
  Accordingly, Baudrillard argued that the principle of equivalence, which is the very essence of the commodity-sign, corrodes the principle of ambivalence, exemplified by the gift and symbolic exchange: 'a putting into value opposed to all symbolic putting into play' (MP, 44). Baudrillard is one of only a handful of theorists to have fully appreciated the real, imaginary and symbolic violence of our compulsion to make everything submit to our (re)productive principle of equivalence: the promiscuous value of exchange and the indifferent exchange of values.
  Baudrillard's encounter with production can be summarised by this fable. Once upon a time wealth was 'deduced, from the grace (God) or beneficence (nature) of an agency which releases or withholds its riches . . . If there is a law here, it is . . . a natural law of value. A mutation shakes this edifice of a natural distribution or dispensing of wealth as soon as value is produced, as its reference becomes labour' (SED, 9). In the wake of this mutation, 'The critique of political economy begins with social production or the mode of production as its reference . . . Today everything has changed again. Production, the commodity form, labour power, equivalence and surplus-value . . . are now things of the past' (SED, 9).
  Yet Baudrillard did not forget production entirely. For while production may well have ex-terminated itself, leaving only a trace of its alter ego - reproduction - in the imaginary play of simulations and simulacra, the principle of production persists, like the disembodied smile of the Cheshire Cat: not as a principle of labour, but as a principle of appearance: 'The original sense of "production" is not in fact that of material manufacture,' cautions Baudrillard (FF, 37). The original sense meant 'to render visible, to cause to appear and be made to appear: pro-ducere . . . To produce is to force what belongs to another order . . . to materialize' (FF, 37). This is why '[s]eduction is that which is everywhere and always opposed to production; seduction withdraws something from the visible order and so runs counter to production, whose project is to set everything up in clear view' (FF, 37).
  With the coupling of production and seduction rather than of production and consumption, we finally come to understand that what is ultimately at stake is the 'forced realization of the world' (BL, 45). Everything that is produced is compelled to appear. The irony, of course, is not only that this is literally obscene, but that every appearance - forced or otherwise - is destined to disappear in its turn. 'y wishing the world ever more real, we are devitalizing it. The real is growing and growing; one day everything will be real; and when the real is universal, that will spell death' (PC, 46).
  When all is said and done, our all-too-real world is ex-terminated by reproduction and executed by realisation. Hereinafter, we should forget modes of production, since only modes of disappearance will have been in play. 'It cannot be stressed enough: THERE IS NEVER ANYTHING TO PRO-DUCE' (EC, 64).
   § ambivalence
   § death
   § disappearance
   § gift
   § seduction

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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