Mediamatic Magazine vol 5#3 Arjen Mulder 1 Jan 1990

La Transparence de Mal

Essai sur les phènomènes extrêmes

Jean Baudrillard, Editions Galilée (pub) Paris 1990
ISBN 2-71860363-1, French text, pp.180, FF98


La Transparence du Mal -

In his most recent book, La Transparence du Mal. Jean Baudrillard takes back up the train of thought which he seemed to have torn to pieces in the book’s fragmentary predecessors. Amérique (1986) and Cool Memories(1987).This new essay about extreme phenomena consists of small chapters put together in two parts.

Baudrillard's criticism of the present day is collected in the first part of the book (from Cicciolina to Aids and from Xerox to NY), in which the remarkable thing is that he no longer considers the media worth taking the trouble to analyse. The media belonged to the 'orgie of liberation' which began in the sixties and now. thank God. is finished. The analysis of the characteristic occurrences of our times is written in the best traditions of Baudrillard’s thought. Up to now. he has distinguished the ‘trilogy of value’ - use value, trade value and structural value. Now he’s added a fourth. Value has entered its ‘fractal stage’, in which a sort of value epidemic has burst loose, a total metastasis of value: everything has acquired value, no matter what it is, value is headed for the most extreme capacity of its history and, thus, one can expect it to leave the face of the earth any day now. This overreaching of everything which preceded it takes place in what Baudrillard. calls the 'extreme phenomena', to which he adds the prefix trans: transsexuality, transpolitics, transaesthetics, transeconomy, transetcetera. Using this sort of thinking, the ideas of LEchange Symbolujue et la Mort (Symbolic Trade and Death 1976). for example, are coupled to those of De la Siduction (About Seduction 1979) and Les StraUgies Fatales (The Fatal StrategiesigBj) to make it possible for Baudrillard to overreach his own thinking. Because that’s the heart of the matter. As he notes in reference to ‘the Heidegger case': the fact that a suspect air hangs about earlier thinkers and their ideas is inherent in thinking itself. The point isn’t to keep worrying the question of whether the wellsprings of our thought are 100% pure: the point is to think further about what we or our predecessors thought earlier. He summarizes his intentions with regard to this: Theory can't be other than: a trap which one sets, hoping that reality is naive enough to step into it. This trap is set with finesse in the second part, under the denominator ‘radical otherness'.

Baudrillard opposes the principle of the 'Radical Exotic' to the principle of the clone, the asexual and thus monomatic multiplication of one and the same thing which is characteristic of the information era. Is the Other still to be found somewhere, now that the earth’s gotten so round that leaving from point A means going to point A? Travelling always means tourism: touring round the globe. If the Other was once something like the Damned Region, it’s now become that which we never encounter anymore, because we can only perceive in terms of difference from what we already know. But the 'Absolutely Exotic' is so different that it's to be found on the other side of the differences. It constitutes the ‘outside’ that can be a guest in every symbolic order, every culture, but can never attain the same level as its host. And if the other is absorbed by a culture, then it’s destroyed by it, too (Baudrillard gives the example of Japan’s present day absorption of the West). But it's from just this outside' that our thought, insights, temptations, everything which determines our life, springs. Our will is always second hand, only what is strange to us is first hand.

What exactly is 'strange' material for us? Is it gone for good? Baudrillard summarizes the dogma of the information society in the sentence: Why talk with one another, when we can communicate so wel1? That’s his point: we’ve become radically exotic for each other, total strangers. Hell isn’t growing longer, as in Sartre’s time, formed by others, but by the unavoidable communication with those others. But on the other side of communication, the others look at one another and our secret is revealed, that through which we escape ourselves. And there, in the world beyond the media, further thought becomes possible. Because, Baudrillard writes, the last sentence in his book: The Other is that which makes it possible for me not to repeat myself eternally.