Ktismatics

3 October 2006

The Divine Irreference of Images

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 9:52 am

For Baudrillard there are no originals any more, but only copies, simulacra. So, for example, when you read this blog post, are you reading the original or a copy? How could you tell the difference?

Sometimes the original and the simulation are reversed. Baudrillard uses Disneyland as an example. A pristine island of pure fantasy, Disneyland is regarded as an escape from the real world. Baudrillard doesn’t dismiss its phoniness; in fact, he regards it as more real than the world around it. Disneyland provides its customers with the illusion that, when they leave, they are returning to the real world – as if the stuff people do every day is natural, normal, significant, real. Whereas Disneyland is a business that generates cashflow, return on investment, and job creation by providing a service in the marketplace. And the nature of that service? To provide the illusion of illusion: to make people believe that they’re entering a world of fantasy whereas in fact they’ve moved into an especially intense concentration of the real, which is the hyperreal. Or again: Los Angeles already occupies the hyperreal realm of images without referents. America is Disneyland; Disneyland is a “third-order simulacrum,” a simulation of what America has already become.

An imitation is a deception, intended to disguise the fact that it isn’t real. A simulation actually incorporates aspects of the real within itself. So, for example, someone who feigns illness is has no symptoms, whereas someone with psychosomatic illness actually experiences symptoms of the “real” illness.

An icon isn’t just a symbolic representation of the real; it’s a simulation. The sacred image is a “visible theology,” incarnating a portion of the spiritual reality residing behind or beyond the image. Eventually the icon, instead of pointing beyond itself to the fullness of the real, itself became the focus of attention as the repository of holiness. So the statue replaces the saint, the cathedral replaces heaven, the priest replaces Christ, the church-state alliance replaces the Kingdom of God. Eventually all of life takes place within a reality made up entirely of simulacra, a reality in which the images permanently take the place of the originals. The presence of God can be withdrawn entirely without affecting the real power of the simulacra to fascinate and to dominate. Even the imagination becomes dominated by the simulacra: the saint is like the statues, the kingdom is like the church, Jesus is like the priest. The order is reversed between the original reality and its simulation. The simulacra become hyperreal, serving as the model for the real.

“This is precisely what was feared by the Iconoclasts, whose millennial quarrel is still with us today. This is precisely because they predicted this omnipotence of simulacra, the faculty simulacra have of effacing God from the conscience of man, and the destructive, annihilating truth that they allow to appear – that deep down God never existed, that only the simulacrum ever existed, even that God himself was never anything but his own simulacrum – from this came the urge to destroy the images. If they had believed that these images only obfuscated or masked the Platonic Idea of God, there would have been no reason to destroy them. One can live with the idea of distorted truth. But their metaphysical despair came from the idea that the image didn’t conceal anything at all.”

Modernity was built on representations – material, linguistic, conceptual – that pointed away from themselves to the originals: truth, purpose, relationship, God himself. In postmodern reality the representations no longer point to anything but themselves; the icons have become idols. The difficulty lies in going back, either to a reality of representations or to a reality of direct engagement with the originals. We excavate the past – the original texts, the writings of the Fathers, the foundations of traditions – and live among the ruins in an attempt to return to a firmer reality, to reaffirm by weight of history the reality behind the images. But taking the relics out of the museums doesn’t change anything, because now we’re just creating a simulacrum of the past.

This blog is about creating. What possibilities remain for creating in a reality comprised of simulacra? I’ll try to address that issue tomorrow or the next day. Meanwhile, you can find a somewhat modified version of the first chapter of Baudrillard’s book here.

 

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2 Comments »

  1. “The difficulty lies in going back, either to a reality of representations or to a reality of direct engagement with the originals. We excavate the past – the original texts, the writings of the Fathers, the foundations of traditions – and live among the ruins in an attempt to return to a firmer reality, to reaffirm by weight of history the reality behind the images. But taking the relics out of the museums doesn’t change anything, because now we’re just creating a simulacrum of the past.”

    Forget the past. We can’t even get back to the reality of our contemporary situation.

    Take Terrell Owens (“TO”) as an example. TO has been turned into a symbol: He is the consumate self-indulgent sports superstar. He is the victim of media frenzy. He is the ultimate in narcisistic self-service. He is the comeback kid.

    But whatever TO symbolizes it surely isn’t the man, himself. Who or what TO is doesn’t even matter, anymore. He is whatever we say he is. The media creates a firestorm of press regarding a so-called suicide attempt and TO instantly becomes some sort of manic depressive victim. Of course, this doesn’t last long because the media then turns around and laments the fact that TO is distracting from “the team.” Ironically, the distractions faced by the team have little to do with TO and everything to do with the media blitz that created these very distractions.

    Ultimately, there is is no more TO because even the man, himself, is transformed by the spin. By being turned into a symbol a person is warped and changed. There are examples all around us of this kind of thing. Jessica Simpson used to worry about whether or not her apparel was immodest and indecent. But she has little concern for that, anymore because she is now little more than a symbol and she has become whatever it is she is trying to signify…

    Like

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 3 October 2006 @ 6:13 pm

  2. Be warned: you’re beginning to sound like a Baudrillardian. So, the next turn: TO-as-distraction is supposed to make us think that football isn’t a distraction, that NFL football would be more “real” if the media would just go away and let it go about its business? I remember that movie with Tom Cruise where his wide receiver says “show me the money.” Eventually the WR presents himself as a warm-hearted human being who really cares about the team — and then they show him the money. Maybe people will start loving TO now, and in his next free agency they’ll really show him the money. Or maybe he’s just depressed.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 October 2006 @ 6:24 pm


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