- ---- by Jon BaldwinIn astrophysics a gravitational or space-time singularity refers to a point of infinite density and absolute uncertainty in which all laws collapse and from which anything can emerge. At the beginning of the Big Bang the initial state of the universe was a singularity. As with concepts such as strange attractors, paroxysm, metastasis, the viral and the fractal, Baudrillard's notion of singularity borrows terminology from the sciences, making a poetic and metaphorical application to the social mass and cultural universe.Singularity receives no extended analysis or prime focus in a single text but haunts the later output such as The Perfect Crime (1996c [1995a]), Impossible Exchange (2001a [1999a]) and the dialogues The Singular Objects of Architecture (2002b [2000d]) and Paroxysm (1998b ). If we follow Baudrillard's own version of a guide to his concepts, Passwords (2003b [2000c]), then we are alerted to his suggestion that 'we are in exchange, universally. All our conceptions lead back to it at some point or other' (PW, 73). What, then, is the relationship of singularity to exchange? Insofar as a singularity consists of uncertainty, the collapse of laws, and from which the new, or an event, can emerge, it is precisely that which, initially, has no equivalent. It is therefore not exchangeable. Singularity is a 'unique sign' (IEx, 130). The uniqueness of the singularity means it is impossible to exchange.This resistance to exchange gives singularity its radical edge. In a world that wants to be universal, productive and cleansed of all ambiguity, in this 'culture of equivalence and calculation' (CM3, 128) a singularity stands as, and valorises, the unique, uncertain, unpredictable, incalculable, unrepresentable, untranslatable and unproductive. It threatens the drive towards a globalised, secure, neutralised sameness with a radical otherness. In this sense a singularity is analogous to the concepts offered by Baudrillard as antidotes to simulation, political economy, globalisation, monoculture, media-semiosis and the principle of equivalence, namely symbolic exchange, seduction, radical alterity, negativity and death - 'the most singular of singularities' (SC, 68).Different implications are drawn, but Baudrillard's singularity is comparable with the discussion of singularities by Jacques Derrida as 'infinitely different and thereby indifferent to particular difference' (Derrida, 1997: 106) and Gilles Deleuze as 'non-exchangeable and non-substitutable' (Deleuze, 1994: 1). Baudrillard speaks of the possible singularity of events, beings and things. A singularity might take an ethnic, religious, linguistic or individual form (P). A work of art, worthy of the name, can be a singularity: indeed, the 'whole task of art is to bring language down to its singularity, to wrest it from the particularity and universality of meaning' (F, 80). A singularity is a resurgence or insurrection (P), a bursting-in, a breaking-in: 'It can come from a person, a group, an accident in the system itself' (P, 51).Singularity is valorised as an existential attitude. Francis Bacon's singularity and 'touch of enchantment' (P, 99) is admired. Unlike most contemporary artists who are 'all too conscious of their place in the history of art' (P, 99) and exchangeable with art theory, the business of art, culture, value and aesthetics, Baudrillard's Bacon is retained as a singularity, 'a pure event'. Existence under the aegis of singularity is preferred to identity (and identity politics): 'each person should have an unyielding singularity' (F, 8). Singularity is sovereignty, a fight for glory, adventure, a mastery of existence: in 'a totalised, centred, concentric universe, only eccentric possibilities are left' (F, 9). On the other hand, identity is security, a mere reference, 'an existence label' (P, 49) in a 'bloodless, undifferentiated world' (SC, 65).The singularity has 'a total autonomy, and exists only as such' (P, 51). Singularities may often assume 'monstrous forms' (SA, 21). From the viewpoint of 'enlightened' thought they may assume 'violent, anomalous, irrational aspects' (P, 13). This is certainly the 'enlightened' view of terrorism. Baudrillard defines the spirit of terrorism as 'the act that restores an irreducible singularity to the heart of a system of generalized exchange' (ST, 9). A singularity is, in this sense, antagonistic to 'a globality totally soluble in circulation or exchange' (ST, 58). Singularities do not resolve the antagonism with the system but exist in 'a symbolic dimension' (ST, 58) and function as 'a force of defiance'. Therefore singularities do not, in a traditional way, offer head-on resistance, but rather constitute 'another universe with another set of rules, which may conceivably get exterminated, but which, at a particular moment, represents an insuperable obstacle for the system itself' (F, 71). The antagonistic nature of a singularity means that it 'is made for a very rapid disappearance' (P, 51).Science provides one further conception of singularity: the technological singularity. This is, in theory, a future point that occurs during a phase of unprecedented technological progress, sometime after the creation of a super-intelligence. This event of intelligence explosion could see the machine surpass human intellect and improve its design into far greater intelligences. The intelligence of man would be left far behind. The mathematician and science fiction author Vernor Vinge proposes that drastic changes in society would occur following such an intelligence explosion. This anxiety is often reﬂected in the science-fiction of Issac Asimov, Greg Bear, Phillip K. Dick and William Gibson, and in popular film and TV such as The Terminator, The Matrix and Battlestar Galactica. In summation, Baudrillard is for the interruption of singularities and against their violent incorporation. However, his work stands against the implications and pursuit of a technological singularity: cloning, artificial intelligence, virtuality, networks and other-world simulacrum. This technological goal is inhuman, against the human: 'in a world that wants absolutely to cleanse everything, to exterminate death and negativity . . . [thought must] remain humanist, concerned for the human' (PW, 92). Theory itself, to resist the artificial double, to resist assimilation, must be akin to a singularity, for 'in its singularity thought may be able to protect us' (VI, 29).Passwords§ death§ viral
The Baudrillard dictionary. Richard G. Smith. 2015.