---- by Mike Gane
  Baudrillard's work involves a consistent effort to chart and theorise what happens to the idea of 'reality' in western cultures. For most readers this is paradoxical since it is assumed that 'reality' is universal and it might seem absurd to think there are societies which do not encounter the real world. For Baudrillard, however, the idea of the real and the real world is a cultural construction, certainly linked to the birth of the sciences and technology. When the real is born it engenders a profound modification from the primordial cultures which are symbolic to modern cultures that are organised around signs. The sign in the classic form theorised by Saussure is made up of the triad: signifier, signified and referent. The 'referent' here indicates the outside of thought - the real world (the 'signifier' refers to the word, the 'signified' refers to the concept). Evidently there is a perennial problem in this formulation - does the real refer to a representation (is it inside the sign) or is it merely that which is outside the sign? Clearly, as science passes through stages of development, even revolutions within science, earlier ideas of what constituted the real are abandoned and even treated as scientific illusions even if they once appeared impregnable. It is one of Baudrillard's most provocative ideas that in contemporary cultures from the middle of the twentieth century there is a return to a situation in which the reality principle is once more questioned and abandoned. But this does not lead to a situation in which there is no referent (as with the symbolic order), but to a state in which the sign conditioned by the mass media and the entertainment industry increasingly posits its own basis and non-reality. And this 'negation' is absorbed into the sign itself (BL, 142).
  This identification of the hyper-real as a stage in the cultural development marked by the appearance of the mass media is framed by Baudrillard's general theory of the transition from the bourgeois culture of drama and the spectacle to that of a mass culture mediated by televisions and computers. Hyper-reality is a precursor of virtual reality. But Baudrillard also drew on other sources for the development of this term. In fact the concept of hyper-reality brings three of Baudrillard's thematics together. The first is the crisis of the sign already indicated: hyper-reality is born with third-order simulacra, that stage in which the real absorbs the image.
  The second is the way in which modern cultures implode, in which they wipe out age-old boundaries or transgress boundaries (towards the 'transpolitical'). Here the hyper-real is that which moves towards the 'more real than real'. Indeed, as reality decamps into the image the image ironically absorbs the space of the real - and that, Baudrillard concludes, the hyper-real can 'no longer [be] the mirror of reality' (AA, 12). It is from this perspective that Baudrillard examines the modern art world - not just the phase of the image that is more real than real, but the disappearance of illusion in abstractionism and simulationism. It is important to note here that Baudrillard does not simply chart this as a negative development but distinguishes between artists who can genuinely explore this development (for example, early Warhol) and those whose work simply adds to disillusion and banalisation. This evidently has consequences that go far beyond the question of transaesthetics (see TE).
  The third is the emergence of a popular culture which breaks down the difference between the real and the artifice. An example of the third is popular American culture and Disneyland, the 'perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulacra . . . the first great toxic excrement of a hyperreal civilization' (SS, 12 and13). Baudrillard thus here moves beyond an ideological analysis of Disneyland as alienated idealisation of American life, to his provocative analysis suggesting that it 'exists in order to hide that it is . . . "real" America that is Disneyland' (SS, 12). The reversal has taken place and the separation between the fun world and the 'real' world simply conceals the fact that 'the real is no longer real' (SS, 13). Baudrillard provides a long list of the institutions that reinvent and recycle lost dreams and illusions as a new hyper-real social 'function' (SS, 13).
  Underlying this whole analysis of the emergence of the hyper-real is therefore an important continuation of the idea of alienation. Baudrillard locates classic Marxist theories of alienation in the phase of second-order simulacra when societies were marked by the threat of dialectical progression and social and political revolution. Marxist theories and practices belong to this epoch often referred to by Baudrillard ironically as 'the golden age of alienation'. Hyper-reality on the other hand belongs to third-order forms. Whereas alienation theories identified traumatic loss in a world that stood against the subject, Baudrillard sees the contemporary problem as belonging to a different order. Now, he suggests, the problem is the very lack of distance, the 'universe has swallowed its double, and it has lost its shadow' (AA, 13) - hyper-reality produces proximity, transparency, the absorption of the subject. In art it leads to hyper-realism in which the representation of the naked body is so realistic, says Baudrillard, that it is 'an image where there is nothing to see', an 'obscenity of the real' (EC, 31). This movement towards a hyper-real culture invades all spheres but especially information. Baudrillard rejects the theory that this is driven simply by profit-making culture industries, and suggests that it is aligned with the fatal strategies of the silent majorities (SSM). A new sociality is produced, a hyper-real sociality which reflects not the alienation of the masses, held in check by repression as in the Marxist theories, but hyper-conformity and terrorism. The latter are conceived by Baudrillard as hyper-real forms that correspond to the hyper-real culture - indeed as vital responses to hyper-real culture.
   § art
   § code
   § image
   § real
   § sign
   § simulation
   § transpolitics

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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