---- by John Lechte
  In Lacanian psychoanalysis, the Imaginary is one of three relatively permanent orders constitutive of human subjectivity, the others being the Symbolic (which includes language, signs and symbols of all kinds) and the Real. The Imaginary, the order of the ego, relates to the world through what the ego experiences as an entirely transparent Symbolic order. With the example of language, the Imaginary always seeks what it takes to be meaning and truth; it never consciously experiences language in itself. Put more sharply: the Imaginary accepts the Symbolic as a window on reality, a notion which Baudrillard would say is ideological.
  Baudrillard is clearly aware of this psychoanalytic take on the Imaginary (SED), but he effectively argues against it in favour of a full-blooded acceptance of the Symbolic, right to the moment where the key to understanding social life is to grasp the nature of the simulacrum which has no link whatever with any reality. Baudrillard's use of the term imaginary thus has an everyday sense not found in psychoanalysis. Baudrillard's imaginary is what psychoanalysis would call imagination. Take death: we can never know death; we can only imagine it: 'death is our imaginary' (SED, 133). Thus the radically unknowable, such as the real event of death, becomes imaginary. This is the case on a broader plane with regard to a European experience of the Third World and vice versa, as it is also the case for every term that connotes otherness (for example, nature in the human-nature opposition, or high-brow culture as the imaginary for popular culture).
  The imaginary as imagination is illustrated in Baudrillard's analysis of Disneyland. Here, the general public are understood to believe that Disneyland is a fantasy world: a world of pure make-believe which contrasts sharply with external reality. The true nature of reality is hidden precisely by this distinction between Disneyland as fantasy and the world outside as the real world. But, in fact, Disneyland is the truth of the real world, which is itself based in fantasy. Baudrillard goes further and claims that the power of capitalism itself is 'based in the imaginary' (SED, 129). Just as religion gave, and continues to give, rise to all sorts of imaginary beings, so capitalism becomes its 'fantastic secularisation' (SED, 129). All reality, then, is implicated in an imaginary realm whose only limit is the limit to human imagination. To think the opposite - to subscribe to an objective world independent of imagination - is to become mired in a metaphysics and ideology of the ultimate reality, or origin. But there is no ultimate reality or foundation Baudrillard never tires of reiterating. Little changes in the later works, where the 'world' becomes a 'radical illusion' (PC, 1) and '"reality" is an imposture' (IEx, 3). So, what we have is an imaginary governed by the entirely autonomous simulacrum (a sign or an image without a referent or a real object, a sign that cannot be exchanged for reality). Paradoxically, to say that the simulacrum is a kind of truth implies the transcendence of the imaginary-reality divide, insofar as if everything is imaginary a non-imaginary realm becomes irrelevant. Or rather, we are left with what Baudrillard calls 'hyper-reality'. An elaboration is given in an interview as follows: 'now we are dealing with a sign that posits the principle of non-reality, the principle of the absolute absence of reality' (BL, 143).
  Another domain in which the imaginary is in play is in what Baudrillard called, following the radical French playwright Alfred Jarry, 'pataphysics', the science of imaginary solutions. Pataphysics is a response to the dominance of the code in society. The code makes everything equivalent and tautologous. It gives rise to what Baudrillard calls a 'banal strategy', even as it pretends to be the ultimate real, and even though it has no finality, so that every concrete effort made to oppose the existing state of affairs is recuperated by the code - that is, is turned into a quasi-legitimate part of the capitalist system. Left-wing thought in particular has been appropriated by the code and turned into an entity that, far from being a threat to the system, becomes an integral part of it (the opposition needed to affirm the power of capital). Politically, therefore, it is necessary, Baudrillard estimated, to challenge the putative real, to move things to the extremes in order to avoid recuperation. These extremes, however, are precisely products of the imaginary. Whether or not he was successful in this enterprise remains a constant source of debate with regard to Baudrillard's intellectual legacy.
   § code
   § death
   § hyper-reality
   § orientalism

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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