Mediamatic Magazine 8#2/3 Geert Lovink 1 Jan 1995


Jean Baudrillard, L'illusion de la fin, Édition Galilée, Paris 1992


L'illusion de la fin -

Dietmar Kamper says in an interview with Rudolf Maresch: Jean Baudrillard is an extremely conservative thinker who certainly does not betray the ideals of the bourgeois revolution. He observes with deep disappointment how they are being sold off cheap by precisely those who appear to uphold them. Those who have to uphold values have already betrayed them. Baudrillard, who turned 65 this year, was read at the height of his popularity as a sort of liberation theologist proclaiming the end of politics, the social, sex and other ideologies. His objective irony was suited to the euphoria around the circulation of signs and simulacra, believed to have been discovered as a tendency in the art and media of the 1980s. Must we now suddenly view Baudrillard as a secret agent of the Enlightenment?

L'Illusion de Fin (The Illusion of the End) does indeed contain indications in that direction, though not explicit ones. His radical media criticism can no longer be interpreted as ironic and is becoming ever harder and more pessimistic, without losing any of its acuteness. Besides Virilio, Baudrillard remains Europe's most important media theorist, following the changes after 1989 more closely than anyone else and writing about them from his own standpoint, without either being born out or falling back into resignation or despair. But there is precious little to laugh about anymore, for even the most brilliantly agile mind.

Waiting for Baudrillard to come out as a rationalist and a democrat would be in vain. Yet something has fundamentally changed in his writing. Baudrillard floats in a void; he has lost his `scene.' Twenty-five years after 1968, Marxist and psychoanalytic polemicising is no longer worthwhile. The scenery around these debates has crumbled and collapsed. Referring to the importance of simulacra has become equally ridiculous and redundant; today the artificial and the polished are everywhere and impossible to avoid. Fake, it's so real; I'm beyond fake. (Courtney Love) The departure of all the old and the sudden entry of the new has effected nothing, according to Baudrillard at the beginning of the 90s. The new era refuses to arrive; it is as if phenomena have gone on strike and refuse any longer to mean anything. Events have lost their aura and radiate no immortality, glory or salvation. The fall of the Wall was not a party, it was a hangover. After the orgy there is only remorse and melancholy.

For Baudrillard the 90s are no fin de siècle. Since belief in linearity (from point a to point b, from Creation to Judgement Day) has been suspended, without a future to work toward there can no longer be an end either: transfinality. Since 1985 (Gorbachev, Chernobyl) Baudrillard has seen the timeline of history curving back in order to avoid the magic point, the year 2000. We have either overshot the endpoint through speed, or through slowness and compression will never reach it. History is not over, nor has it been reborn; it has become a rubbish bin, full of waste that will be recycled into infinity. Everything is reused and strewn over the globe. We will have to get used to the idea that nothing can come to an end any longer. Things are de-finite, robbed of their end.

According to Baudrillard it is no longer possible to return in an act of regret or regression to a state of affairs before the vanishing point. We will never regain history as it was before information and media. There are no more real actors, nor authoritative interpretations. What is left is only actuality, `action' as in film, and `auction,' the evaluation of events by the price they fetch in the bidding for information.

According to Baudrillard we are fed up with the eternal simulation of modernity and have entered a phase of `desimulation.' We no longer observe the presentation of a truth, but subject ourselves to a test of credibility. The problem of `disinformation' in the cases of the Gulf War and the exhumed corpses in Timisoara, Romania lies in the fact that the information itself, and not the events, became the scandal. In the more recent case of the mass rapes in Bosnia, too, the reconstructions centre on the question of how the story was created. The virtual character of contemporary images gives rise to indifference (It's only television), distance, scepticism and apathy. Television not only offers us illusions; it also aims to profoundly disappoint us. Illusion and disillusion go hand-in-hand and ensure that the real repels and frightens us. We can thank media makers as well as politicians for taking on this thankless task. The immunising effect of television protects us from an unbearable responsibility. We have arrived at rock bottom; we are careful not to meddle in communication, however much the ideology of interactivity makes us believe otherwise.

As events roll past on the screen and are forgotten as quickly as possible, so at the same time nothing must disappear and everything must be preserved and excavated. What's bad about this is not that we are burdened with a waste problem, but that we are becoming waste ourselves. The Net turns human traffic directly into waste. Baudrillard goes in great detail into Biosphere ii, a project beyond apocalypse and the end, without having solved the problem of the end. This evil ecology assumes that soon there will only be interactive subjects, without objects. Natural selection has been eliminated, everything is neatly embalmed and offered up to artificial survival.

The compact disc. It does not wear out, even when one uses it. That is terrible. As if one had never used it, as if one had never existed at all. Baudrillard cannot laugh at all at this sort of ad-speak. He shivers at the fallacy of realisation, which wants to exhaust all possibility. Everywhere around him he sees an impulse to perfection, a maximalisation of capabilities, limits which must be reached. The universalisation of data and knowledge is merely a preliminary stage of their disappearance, just as with stars: their maximum expansion is followed by agony. The indifference which arises from this is burdened by a lack of difference. The transparent neo-individualist (no longer self-directed but other-directed) can no longer jump over his own shadow, because he no longer has one. He no longer differentiates himself from himself and is therefore indifferent to himself; not a schizophrenic but an isophrenic. Our computers too long for difference - they are autistic, bachelor machines: they suffer, and avenge themselves with an unrestrained tautology of their own language.

What can still be deployed against medial inflation is an ironic form of information confusion, a meaningless way of writing, which keeps pace with the meaningless content of reportage. Does an `homage to vagueness' lurk behind this? At the end of L' Illusion de Fin, in spite of his pessimism Baudrillard gives us a positive outline of the poetic reversibility of events. This gives insight into the radical illusion of the world, which he presents as a magical alternative to the linearity of history, the disenchanting confusion and the chaotic profusion of current events.

translation laura martz