Cyber Semiotic Institute home page
Go to Course Outline
Go to Lecture: One or Two or Three or Four or Five or Seven or Eight
copyright 1997, Gary Genosko.
Note: bibliographic references are embedded as links in the text of the lecture. To read the footnote, simple click on the link and you will be taken to the end of the lecture to the corresponding information. To get back to where you were, click on the link at the end of the footnote.
Two of the major anglophone (British and American) interpreters of the work of Baudrillard, Mike Gane and Douglas Kellner, have nominated him for the position of the 'French McLuhan'. Any reader of Baudrillard would recognize the important influence McLuhan has had on his work and not fail to notice the various ways in which this influence has manifested itself over the course of Baudrillard's career to date. The nomination elevates rhetorically McLuhan's influence on Baudrillard above the rest, and it is McLuhan's place that Baudrillard comes to occupy for a new generation of readers, for better or for worse.
The title of 'French McLuhan' is not awarded to mere followers, to McLuhanites. It is not Cazeneuve, for example, who is called upon to be the 'French McLuhan'. Perhaps Cazeneuve was much too literally a French McLuhanite in practice and theory to step into a pair of shoes he had already borrowed on numerous occasions. Further, the title would not be afforded a thinker whose work only criticized that of McLuhan. The person nominated for the position must not only contribute to media studies in its broadest sense. One must have already become a media figure, a recognizable name whose ideas have or have had cachet. Moreover, that there is a French McLuhan or, a 'New McLuhan' who is French - for most, it seems, there is only one at a given time - alerts us to a sociological phenomenon not unknown in other circles. Who are the new Beatles? How often have we heard this question? No one seriously asks: Who is the new Plato? The first question finds its sense in the rock and roll of catalogues, charts, sales figures, new products, seasonal marketing, etc. Still, the nomination of a replacement figure is a way of managing the tides of intellectual influence in so-called 'media theory' by filling a vacated position. While there are scholarly reasons for the nomination, these have not been conclusive, for the perceived need of a replacement itself satisfies other interests which critical thinking must interrogate. The nomination solves the immediate problem of filling a vacated seat without requiring the permission of the nominee, whose death is not always the reason for opening the floor for nominations. The acceptability of the nominee emerges through an informal consensus among critics and readers who, in a way, second the nomination. Objections are raised against this background.
In Gane's (1991) first book on Baudrillard, Baudrillard: From Critical to Fatal Theory, he quotes George Steiner's remarks on the problem McLuhan himself posed to his readers - that is, how to read him, given both his style and the designscape of his publications. Gane thinks it is 'instructive' to refigure this problem on the behalf of Baudrillard for his readers. He approaches the issue with the claim: 'It would be possible to argue that Baudrillard is the French McLuhan, or simply the McLuhan of today ... . But who reads McLuhan now? Perhaps Baudrillard will force people to reread a number of writers - McLuhan, Nietzsche - who are often thought to be unreadable' (1991: 3). Gane's nomination is full of hedges. It places his readers in the paradoxical position of wondering whether there will be anyone in the near or distant future who will provoke one to reread Baudrillard. This is very much like asking: who will be the next Baudrillard? Like McLuhan, however, Baudrillard poses for Gane the problem of writing as a symbolic practice. Gane (1991: 13) adds: 'As Baudrillard adopts the full force of McLuhan's notion that the medium is the message, it is to be expected that the medium of the writing style is considered tactically and strategically'. Further references to McLuhan appear sporadically in Gane's text. In Gane's (1991a) second book on Baudrillard, Baudrillard's Bestiary, there is little emphasis on McLuhan beyond a summary of Baudrillard's (1967) review of McLuhan's Understanding Media in which he rehearsed criticisms of McLuhan in the air in France at the time. What does it mean for Baudrillard to adopt the 'full force' of McLuhan's most famous slogan 'the medium is the message'? In La société de consommation, for instance, Baudrillard (1970: 189) translated this slogan into the differential logic of structural value, arguing that it is not content that is consumed, but rather, the coded semiological relations of successive and equivalent signs divorced from real referents; the slogan has, however, many other meanings in Baudrillard's writings. There is no single account of the 'full force' of Baudrillard's use of the famous slogan.
Gane's initial nomination, then, acclimatizes readers of Baudrillard to the issue of how his texts establish the critique of the order of simulation from the viewpoint of the symbolic. This critique is said to require specific writing practices beyond the adoption of key terms from the anthropological literature such as 'potlatch'. Symbolic challenges to the semiological order of simulation are developed textually through a variety of concepts (agonistic relations, anagrammatic dispersion, wit, re-socialization of death as a counter-gift) all of which serve to annul systems of value (Marxian, semiological, psychoanalytic). Gane's reference to Baudrillard's style suggests that what is peculiar to his writing of the symbolic is the ambivalence of his texts. It is not merely that one might respond ambivalently to them, but that they are themselves full of ambivalence; in fact, ambivalence is a key concept in the work of the symbolic because it cannot be positivized and positioned as a stable entity in a digital logic of value, unlike ambiguity, for instance. Indeed, Baudrillard's relation to McLuhan is itself full of ambivalence.
There was little attention paid to Baudrillard's style of writing before Gane's suggestions. This does not mean that it was an issue lost on Baudrillard's readers. When such a consideration was raised, it pointed in one direction - towards science fiction. Baudrillard has been adopted by the theorists and practitioners of cyberpunk in the same spirit that has recently elevated McLuhan to the status of a patron saint of Wired magazine, among other manifestations in glossy print of hypertextual experiments and the possibilities afforded by the development of virtual reality systems.
For instance, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay (1989, 1991) has referred to Baudrillard as a philosopher of cyberpunk and a practitioner of cybercriticism, both stylistically and substantively. Baudrillard has at times encouraged these comparisons. In an interview in Le Monde, Baudrillard (1984) suggested that his essay on Beaubourg was a vision from science fiction. Baudrillard's interest in the novels of J. G. Ballard, Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick is not surprising given the claims advanced in his essay 'Simulacres et science fiction' (1981) regarding the (con)fusion of science fiction and theory, and the idea that the real has become science fictional, especially in America with its Hollywood presidents such as Ronald Reagan and Spielbergesque military programs. Both McLuhan and Baudrillard are looked upon as figureheads in the emergence of virtual reality technologies and infobahns since the former provided a set of basic figures of electronic globalism pointing toward current developments, and the latter developed a sophisticated language with which to describe the most advanced simulative capabilities of new information systems.
The curious simulacral forms populating Dick's (1964) novel The Simulacra - the simulacral president and the simulacrum of an 'extinct' Martian creature called a papoola which is used to instill by thought projection the desire for commodities, in this case used vehicles, in unsuspecting customers - fit comfortably into the universe Baudrillard describes. In L'échange symbolique et la mort, Baudrillard (1976: 305-6) makes explicit use of Clarke's Les neuf milliards de noms de Dieu as an instance of anagrammatic resolution - symbolic writing in the poetic mode. The poetic resolution of the world in this novel, and the intense pleasure resulting from an enunciation without remainder, turns on the complete recitation of the nine billion names of God. Here, salvation is electronic since the task is facilitated by a computer, even though in the end Baudrillard claims that the computer spoils the epiphany because it enables one to retrieve the names.
Gane takes up Baudrillard's concept of anagrammatic resolution without remainder in a short chapter in Baudrillard's Bestiary. His explication of Ferdinand de Saussure's anagrams closely follows Jean Starobinski's (1979) presentation of the unpublished manuscripts. In addition, in his Bestiary Gane (1991a: 121-25) reads anagrammatically Baudrillard's little known book of poetry L'ange de stuc (1978) and locates the sounds of the theme-words of 'Saussure' and 'Mauss' in certain stanzas. Gane's work on Saussure's anagrams does not develop his earlier claim in his first book that Baudrillard's writing of the symbolic is McLuhanesque; nor does Gane pursue Baudrillard's criticism of Starobinski's reading of the anagrams along what he perceives to be semio-linguistic lines. McLuhan's phrase 'the medium is the message' is, however, closely tied to the concept of the theme-word and its circulation.
A poet may draw phonic fragments from a theme-word. These fragments are diffracted throughout the poem. For Baudrillard, there is nothing reclaimable about the theme since its identity cannot be resurrected. The intense symbolic circulation of the fragments exterminates the theme; it can be rearticulated but not reconstituted. Baudrillard's distinction between these two concepts is critical to his account of the anagram and his strategy of reading Saussure against himself in order to ensure that this so-called revolutionary poetics will be remainderless. The anagrammatic dispersion of the theme in a poem has, then, nothing left over; there is nothing to accumulate and subsequently subject to a structural linguistic law of value. This dispersion itself guarantees theoretically at least that 'the medium is the message' since there is neither a missing or latent reference nor key of some sort remaining to supplement the message.
Baudrillard's reading of Saussure's anagrams, like his use of Sigmund Freud's concept of the Witz, emphasizes that the medium cannot be separated from the message; if this was possible, the medium could be subordinated to the demands of depth models of meaning in which disclosure and analysis may be interminable. Media - by which Baudrillard here means the techniques of joking and poetry - are completely resolvable: the technique or medium is the message. Baudrillard's use of McLuhan's phrase is in the service of these expressions of the symbolic, their destruction of meaning and annihilation of the hermeneutic relevance of linguistic and psychoanalytic systems of value. This is not so much an argument against content as it is an attack on what Baudrillard calls 'depth models' of interpretation. The symbolic exchange anti-value of the phrase 'the medium is the message' supports a revolutionary poetics the possibility of which neither Saussure nor Freud fully recognised in their concepts of the anagram and the Witz.
Baudrillard (1978a: 40-1) once again picks up this argument in Àl'ombre des majorités silencieuses. The question for Baudrillard is whether or not the masses can function in the mode of the symbolic by preferring the fascination of the medium over the domain of meaning. The terms of this 'probe' are McLuhanesque, but the stakes are quite different: is it possible to communicate, Baudrillard (1978a: 41) asks, 'outside of the medium of meaning ?' The very idea is today untenable, Baudrillard observes. But the neutralisation of meaning expressed in the operation of wit is the example which Baudrillard cites in this text, but not only in order to support the obvious observation that McLuhan prophesized the rise of a cool phase of mass culture. Rather, for Baudrillard McLuhan could not have forseen the symbolic possibilities afforded by his slogan 'the medium is the message'. The medium is the message that fascinates the masses. They have no interest in the message of the medium because meaning and communication, according to Baudrillard, are neutralized in the mass form's fascination with the medium itself. McLuhan was therefore blind to the most radical effects of his slogans. This places McLuhan beside Freud and Saussure in Baudrillard's eyes.
A second set of issues at stake in my investigation of Baudrillard's writing of the symbolic revolve around design. Baudrillard's efforts at expressing the symbolic in print form did not require the construction of an essai concr*te, to use the term used by Theall (1971: 240-41) in his The Medium Is The RearView Mirror to describe the manner in which various typefaces, layouts, visual juxtapositions, etc., adhere together in the service of furthering the theoretical positions and descriptions advanced in the essay they accompany. Baudrillard's long-standing interest in design, taken together with his participation in the groups centered around the journals Utopie and Traverses, did lend visual and experimental elements to some of his early essays. The dialectical relationship between a theory and its expression is at the heart of the essai concrète as McLuhan practised it with the help of his designers. Baudrillard did not collaborate with a designer such as Harley Parker. Design was, however, considered strategically in the S.G.P.P. edition of Baudrillard's (1970) La société de consommation; the illustrations were dropped from subsequent pocket size editions, effectively destroying Baudrillard's most McLuhanesque book-object. The use of print advertisements and photographs illustrates the abundance of chains of object-signs in the society of consumption and fills the text with a busy amalgam of images in a manner similar to the ambiance of what Baudrillard called the 'drugstore'; by the same token, this concept is not a gloss upon the images. The text engages the phenomena upon which it reflects. The 'drugstore' is a model of a polyvalent commercial complex offering consumers the freedom to design their own everyday environments through the accumulation and combination of homogeneous elements. This deluxe banality is semiurgical: the participatory sign-work of consumption (shopping, using customer services, seeking entertainment in the climate-controlled interiors of malls) equates maximal comfort and satisfaction with the maximal exclusion of the real, the social, and history (Baudrillard 1970: 34).
The 'show and tell' format of La société de consommation;drew the attention of Jean-Claude Giradin (1974: 131, n.6) for whom the book seemed to guarantee itself a place in the universe of objects it described, despite its author's warnings about the 'ambiance of repression' in a consumer society in which objects take revenge, slowly, upon those who pursue democracy through them and attempt to alleviate subtle forms of alienation by means of consumption:
A 16 x 20.5 format, a cover with brocaded borders, the title in guilded letters, this volume adorns itself with a reddish brown jacket on which a car exhibits itself ... (objective fish-eye photography); a sky- scraper is reflected on the hood and wind-shield (a wink at the secondary degree of mirroring) giving a foretaste of remarkable iconography; and, it is lined with alluring captions by the author which punctuate the text. In short, for about $7.50 people will want to have this book not for what it is, they will thumb through it without reading it, but rather to leave it sitting casually between the hi-fi set and the bottle of Chivas as an element of worship in the strategy of the surrounding ... where a sign-mate will not delay in setting a trap.
A 'reader' would have wanted the book for what it was not, for its semiological interdependencies and the combinatory possibilities presented by the 'ambiance' of a room pulled together the brand of scotch favored by jet-setters and swingers, and a book by Baudrillard.
In English translation, Baudrillard' s books constitute a fetish system of their own: the pretty Verso edition of America(1988) in its time called forth Batman paraphenalia and healing crystals, and beckoned a coffee table on which to display itself and exalt its owner, like an obedient pet; the Agitac edition of Baudrillard's (1988a) Xerox and Infinity appeared as a chapbook, a photocopied text waiting to be reproduced in turn; Seduction(1990) is itself fatal in the sense of being irresistible. With its shocking pink cover featuring Man Ray's photograph Femme au longs cheveux framed with vertical green bands which contribute to the overall vibration of this restless jacket, Marilouise Kroker's design is a lesson in seduction, the key terms of which were culled from Baudrillard's text and expressed in formal terms in the book's design, effectively fetishizing Baudrillard for francophiles. Not even Baudrillard recognized himself in this book-object. In English translation, then, Baudrillard has been McLuhanized to the degree that several of his essays and books were rendered in the manner of the essai concret.
The estheticized recommodification of Baudrillard for anglophone audiences has all but ignored consideration of those texts in which Baudrillard's writings have been accompanied by images. It is not only that La société de consommation has not been translated, and the illustrated edition is long out of print. Good examples of journal articles were available for more than ten years in Traverses, the Revue trimestrielle du Centre de Création Industrielle published by the Centre Georges Pompidou, in whose pages essays by Baudrillard were illustrated along thematic lines. Earlier and more interesting examples may be found in his contributions to the journal Utopie, Revue de sociologie de l'urbain. The large format of the first two issues (1967 and 1969) accommodated typographic heterogeneity and simple uses of collage (clustering and stacking of images of objects and, on occasion, pop art inspired graphics expressing the violent explosion of the alienated and hitherto dominated masses). Utopie's design did not follow straightforwardly from McLuhan's praise of collage, whether it was in terms of the global village understood as an 'animated collage', or as the participatory spirit created by a Happening read as a kind of theatre of the electronic age (McLuhan and Watson 1970: 198-99).
Baudrillard did not uncritically adopt McLuhan's praise for collage and 'participation'. During the 1960s, claims upon collage (and Happenings) were made from several political camps. For example, the German playright Peter Weiss, four of whose plays Baudrillard translated into French in the 1960s, used collage as a means of breaking through the artificial universe of the media. Documentary theatre 'cuts and pastes' existing documentary material in order to re-edit mainstream mediatic representations of current events, revealing the latent conflicts, falsifications and political-corporate interests shaping the presentation of information to the public. Documentary theatre resists the implosive electronic-oral-aural consciousness heralded by McLuhan by engaging in subdivision and segmentation, which were for McLuhan outmoded ways of thinking. Weiss's resistance stands alongside the Situationist's attacks on Happenings (the negation of the Happening understood as a negation of naturalistic theatre) as spectacles diametrically opposed to the creation of a situation by means of the subversive appropriation and recontextualization of existing materials. Still, even such détournements could be reproduced as news or as performance art, losing their critical and transformative edges as diversionary tactics. This is a view expressed in similiar terms by the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. Recently, Schafer has reflected on a remark he made in 1972 with respect to the 'messy excretions' of what was called total theatre: 'There is no reason to retract this assertion, despite the recent growth of picture books in which various experiments in ... total theatre are presented as if they were substantive or repetitive contributions to art. They are documents only, smoothed down photographically and multiplied in quantity to give the contemporary public - who prefer illusions - the impression that something has happened. But the essence of a 'happening' ... is its nonrepeatability... ' (Schafer 1991: 29, n.3). The spectacularization and repetition of situations was not lost on the Situationists: their work was also subjected to the manufacture of alienation and the self-affirming and self-justifying economy of the spectacle.
Kellner (1989: 73) writes that 'Baudrillard can be seen as a "new McLuhan" who has repackaged McLuhan into new postmodern cultural capital'. Kellner's nomination of Baudrillard for the post of the 'new McLuhan' is a meta-rhetorical arrangement in the following sense. The results of this arrangement (the rhetorical use of a rhetorical nomination) are treated by Kellner as a trio of 'subordinations' shared by Baudrillard and McLuhan: content and use are subordinate to form; dialectical analysis is subordinate to essentialism and technological determinism; context specific cultural analyses and alternative political formations are subordinate to a romantic and nostalgic sense of theory. These 'subordinations' occlude, Kellner maintains, a critical discussion of the sort of issues he deems apposite but which are absent from McLuhan's work and from Baudrillard's as well (i.e., an analysis of the political economy of media production; an entry into a dialectical reading of form with content and media with society).
What makes Kellner's nomination of Baudrillard meta-rhetorical is that the 'subordinations' are themselves subordinate to the arguments advanced in the early 1970s by Fekete (1973) against McLuhan, which Kellner rehearses, but this time directing them against Baudrillard. The nomination, then, makes possible this kind of substitution of targets. Simply put, Baudrillard is branded as a new 'McLuhanatic' (a lunatic and counterrevolutionary) collaborating with 'the system', making a fetish of technology, especially television, and furthering the passivity, alienation and domination of consumers by the conservative media-business elites of advanced capitalism. Fekete's use of the derogatory term 'McLuhanacy' linked eccentricity with culpability - McLuhan was not so 'unsound' as to be considered incapable before the new Left - and furthered a rhetorical practice of discrediting McLuhan already in circulation by the mid-sixties (Behar and Liberman 1968). The term referred both to the enthusiasms of McLuhan's followers, thereby diminishing these person's mental capacities by branding them as irrational members of a cult, and to McLuhan's own penchant for wit, paradox, and glib talk. The 'Cult of McLuhanacy' was a precursor of the 'Baudrillard Scene' on the level of a pop-philosophical phenomenon; the latter has certainly not lacked intimations of mind control and feeblemindedness. Some of Baudrillard's (1983) French critics have called his work 'unreadable' and 'schizophrenic'.
One of the effects of Kellner's nomination is to render moot comparative and contrastive textual insights into the Baudrillard-McLuhan ligature. Why? According to Kellner, nothing has changed from McLuhan to Baudrillard. For instance, Kellner (1989:70) notes that in his 'later writings' Baudrillard adopts literary practices similar to those of McLuhan (probes and mosaic constellations of images and concepts) which prevent the articulation of a 'well-defined theoretical position'. Unlike Gane, Kellner does not connect these 'McLuhanite' strategies with Baudrillard's project of establishing the symbolic as a revolutionary concept with which to challenge the one-dimensional society of simulations; neither does the mention of such strategies suggest the variety of uses Baudrillard finds for McLuhan's concepts. In order to secure the nomination on behalf of Baudrillard, Kellner downplays the theoretical significance of the anti-semiological and anti-simulational concept of the symbolic in its so-called 'early' and 'later' manifestations. There is no equivalent concept in McLuhan's work. McLuhan's notions find a place in Baudrillard's work in relation to his own most important but least critically recognized concept of the symbolic and its manifestations. Kellner himself demonstrates the consequences of defining a theoretical 'position': the production of a fog of sameness in which critical investigation loses itself.
It would be pointless to deny, however, that there is a superficial resemblance in the relation expressed by McLuhan's idea of participation and Baudrillard's concept of symbolic exchange. The concept of participation is subject to general critical remarks in Baudrillard's Le miroir de la production(1973). As McLuhan (1964: 22-4) explained in Understanding Media, media are extensions of psychic and sensory capacities. A hot medium (photography and radio) extends a single sense in 'high definition', that is, one filled with data. A cool or 'low definition' medium (telephone and television) provides a meager amount of information and extends several senses at once. Hot media are low, while cool media are high in participation, which is defined in terms of what a receiver has to bring to the medium to complete its message: more involvement means the medium is 'inclusive'; a less involving medium is 'exclusive'.
The concept of symbolic exchange takes many forms in Baudrillard's writings. It is in general incommensurable with any system of value. It is in addition anti-productivist and involves the sumptuary destruction of signs; in this respect it is potlatch-like, and thought to be governed by obligation and agonistic reciprocity, of gift exchange, returning what is given or destroyed in kind or with interest. The fatal malady of capitalism is, Baudrillard argues, its inability to reproduce itself symbolically. Yet capital, understood as a code, can and does simulate symbolic processes by admitting as differential value every form of liberation, no matter how strange such social movements and initially non-marked forces make it seem to itself. Like McLuhan, Baudrillard valorizes, by means of an explicit archaism, so-called primitive and tribal cultures. While McLuhan gleefully announces the retribalization of the post-gutenbergian world, Baudrillard uses 'primitive' practices to attack the highest order of simulation. Both eschew ethnographic detail for the sake of their dominant conceptual figures. In some instances, their views momentarily converge. For McLuhan practical jokes and aphorisms are physically and mentally involving. Baudrillard, too, treats jokes and aphorisms as cool phenomena. These convergences quickly break down since for Baudrillard (1973: 125) participation reproduces the system of the capitalist code. For participation 'has a connotation that is much too contractual and rationalist to express what is symbolic' (1973: 123). Baudrillard attempts to explain that the code of capital integrates a symbolic variable under the rubric of participation, as sign-value. In spite of this, Baudrillard still holds out the symbolic's radical, irreducible alterity in the forms of the incessant circulation of speech which takes responsibility for itself and the personal relations it cements, the festive destruction of riches elevating consumation (the element of ritual destruction contained in Baudrillard's injunction that 'signs burn') over consommation (consumption, used by Baudrillard in sociological terms in such phrases as 'la société de consommation [consumer society] and as a metaphysical principle as in 'la consommation de la consommation' [the consumption of consumption - the way that a consumer society speaks about itself]), and the release of anti-productive potential against the structural inability of systems defined by their internal logic to realize human potential other than in terms of productive forces. It makes little difference for Baudrillard that McLuhan is thought of as a dupe of capital since the alternative offered by Marxism (including Marxist critiques of McLuhan) is itself mired in the simulation of the mandate of production and the projection of its categories onto 'primitive' societies. Baudrillard, albeit unwillingly, commits a similar projection in the name of the symbolic akin to McLuhan's (1964: 40) own myth of the anxiety-free state of "backward and nonindustrial countries" whose very backwardness and coolness prepare them for the electric revolution. While McLuhan recognized that the arrival of electric technologies created a series of minor irritations (anxiety and boredom), there is nothing quite as volatile as the 'break and entry' of the Baudrillardian symbolic into the semiurgy, at least in theory.
Inspired by McLuhan's focus on the medium, the experimental artist Fred Forest received permission from Le Monde in 1972 to provide a 150 cm2 blank space in one issue of the newspaper in which readers could 'speak in response' to the largely unidirectional messages (Fischer 1976: 213-14). Some 800 responses were returned to the artist. Forest repeated this exercise in several other media, including radio and television. By opening a space for the responses of readers, Forest did not break what Baudrillard calls the 'fundamental rule of non-response of all media'. Forest's experiment is an example of what Baudrillard (1972: 228) calls 'fragile manipulatory practices' that do not challenge the medium but, rather, stage responses in terms the medium can accommodate. In this case, the newspaper served as a medium in the sense of an intermediary channel for the delivery of letters to the artist, and maintained the abstract separateness of its readers and their mode of participation.
Baudrillard's general critical remarks on participation do not, however, address McLuhan's specific claims about the media user's involvement with cool and hot media. Nonetheless, Baudrillard's general remarks on paticipation cast a shadow of doubt over McLuhan's version of the seminal concept. In an article cowritten with De Kerckhove on television and radio for the Encyclopaedia universalis (France), McLuhan and his coauthor (1968: 898-99) maintain that television totally enages the viewer. One is involved in a 'process of configuration that is always in progress' with regard to the relatively small number of the luminous points on the screen out of which the image is, according to this 'perceptualist' position, constructed. Theorizing against the etymological grain of tele-vision as the domain of the eye, the active participation of the viewer is primarily tactile, a concept defined constitutively in terms of the interplay of all the senses. The television viewer takes an interior trip that appears by external critieria to be one that is passive. Even so, the idea that one is glued to the screen brings home McLuhan's fascination with the tactility of the television experience. This interior voyage of the central nervous system into the magnetic field gives television its communal flavour and puts it on a continuum with the psychedelic drug trip. There are no bad trips in the cool world of McLuhan-vision. The case of television is the most extreme and the most important example of participatory experience in McLuhan's writings.
Baudrillard understands participation ideologically in the context of his critique of models of communication that merely simulate communication, usually by means of consumption. His approach does not illumine the specific problems of McLuhan's definition, but succeeds in drawing attention to the ideological nature of participation in general, which in its turn may be used to reconsider certain ambiguities and problems in McLuhan's account. Francis Balle (1972) took precisely this tack in his book MacLuhan. Participation became a buzzword of sorts and circulated widely in the late 1960s and early 1970s according to various theories of 'unfinished' or 'open' works, especially the nouveau cinéma and nouveau roman of Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet, respectively. The destruction of linear narrative placed new demands on audiences. But the polysemic fluctuations of the term have emptied it, Balle claims, of all signification, since it is not clear whether it concerns the messages conveyed, their stylistic differences and the conditions of reception, or the use made of a given medium. Balle continues: 'We never know on which of these three levels MacLuhan situates his observations; moreover, the examples which serve as illustrations show, rather, that he passes from one to the other without paying attention to them' (1972: 56). Further, Balle thinks the distinction between cool and hot media expresses McLuhan's hostility towards print culture and has little to do with verifiable insights: 'the distinction has been put to work only to justifiy the disrepute into which the techniques and the arts contemporary to the age of print at one and the same time have fallen' (1972: 58). The cool/hot typology is ideological, Balle asserts, because it substitutes values for facts and desire and fear for sociological observations of the media. McLuhan's sociology of the media is in the service of his prophetism or, in other words, media serve the interests and preferences of the médium himself.
Earlier I showed how McLuhan's most famous slogan supported Baudrillard's understanding of anagrammatic dispersion and the Witz in L'échange symbolique. L'échange symbolique is often considered the last book of Baudrillard's 'early writings', after which, it would appear, he adopted more fully McLuhan's ideas, if we are to believe his critics. But this conventional reading tells us little about the details of Baudrillard's appropriations of McLuhan's work. What it does not tell us is that L'échange symboliquewas not translated into English in its entirety until 1993, precisely 17 years after it was written. There are still no studies of this important, indeed, pivotal text, available for English readers. One can only imagine what the 'Baudrillard Scene' would have looked like if this important book had appeared before the terms postmodernist and Baudrillard became synonymous.
Turning again to L'échange symbolique, Baudrillard grafts McLuhan's distinction between hot and cool media onto the logic of the sign's reference. In a hot and referential semiological regime, the medium is not the message. When the medium becomes the message, one enters the cool era of operational simulation, Baudrillard writes (1976: 41), an era characterized semiologically by the referentless Saussurean signs of the structural revolution of value. Monetary signs are cool for Baudrillard: affectless, commutable, tied to the rules of the structural system, and unconnected with parasystemic real referents. Money has not, however, become only a medium whose circulation and disconnectedness is its message: 'It is no longer a medium, a means for the circulation of goods, it is the circulation itself, that is to say, the realized form of the system in its abstract rotation' (Baudrillard 1976: 41). Money is, then, a kind of pure movement, a hyper-medium. Julian Pefanis (1991: 63; 141, n.13) draws attention to Baudrillard's parodic and subversive use of McLuhan's concepts in this passage. But Pefanis's additional passing remark that this reference rescues McLuhan from some 'oblivion' lacks a critical and historical context. Baudrillard's use of 'coolness' in this passage adheres to an often neglected aspect of the concept which McLuhan (1969c) specified in terms of 'rending' and 'wracking'. Cool money is circulation itself, liberated from both use value and exchange value, and thus relieved of exchangist messages. It is its own message. This disconnected kind of money has, then, the power to 'rend and wrack' any national economy, Baudrillard adds (1976: 41), because it is no longer tied to a market, to a local equilibrium, to a mode of production, to a common measure, etc. Cool money relates only to itself, 'participates' in its own inflationary spiral and periodic crashes, and it surpasses, as McLuhan himself noted and Baudrillard emphasizes, in it abstractness and the speed at which it moves, hot hardware and even credit, with anarchic consequences.
There is yet another way to appreciate Baudrillard's interrogation of participation as a form of simulation. Consider, for a moment, the third hypothesis regarding the social that Baudrillard advanced in A l'ombre (1978a: 86ff): 'The social has well and truly existed, but it no longer exists'. Social contracts and 'relations' in general between state and civil society, public and private domains, groups and individuals, give way to mere contacts. The social is reduced to a telephatic functionality: points of contact, information processing and exchange, a generalized connectivity, encoding and decoding ruled over by a digital code (0/1). The perspectival space of the social gives way to the space of simulation in which the real is confused with simulacral models. In this confusion there is a loss of critical distance. A few years earlier in L'échange symbolique (1976: 96ff), Baudrillard explained the loss of critical distance in terms borrowed directly from McLuhan. In the referendum mode of life, digitality has invaded everything. The most concrete form of digitality is the test. Under non-stop testing, there is no distance for critical reflection; there is no time for reaction and reformulation (later in this lecture I will show how Virilio teases out the military implications of the loss of reaction time). This is a portrait of participation in the third order of simulation. A selectively encoded message captures 'reality' in terms of a question/answer to which one is required to respond or decode by selecting one of the two terms presented. The testing mode is a form of constant contact or tactile communication. McLuhan, Baudrillard (1976: 100) remarks, correctly diagnosed the tactility of the electronic mass media. Tactility results from the loss of distance between question and answer in a world saturated with testing, probing, polling, and sampling. Herein, Baudrillard thinks, the 'message becomes a "massage," a tentacular solicitation'.
Baudrillard's attention to McLuhan is for the most part limited to textual skirmishes with certain slogans and concepts. He often stretches the limits of concepts such as cool and hot. This tactic involves, for instance, the infusion of a recurring issue in his writing such as the flotation of money and of signs without referential anchors with McLuhan's concepts. This infusion elucidates neither the concepts nor does it always add substantively to the issue at hand. Rather, they are introduced with a calculated abandon, quickly saturating an issue so as to heighten the sense that it is perfecting itself and in so doing spiralling out of control (hence, the title of this lecture).
Baudrillard's working hypothesis with respect to the slogan 'the medium is the message' is, on the one hand, that McLuhan's 'prophecy' has been realized. This acknowledgment does not mean that Baudrillard supports this state of affairs. On the contrary, this hypothesis is a first step toward pushing the terms of the slogan to the very limits of sense in order to describe the development of media in a society of simulations. On the other hand, the hypothesis that McLuhan was right and remains more correct than he perhaps should have been is an exaggeration which Baudrillard hopes will, in a second step, destabilize the very development the slogan captures. Baudrillard has attempted to theorize this 'final straw' (the straw that broke 'the system's' back) by various means throughout his career. He continued to use the revolutionary rhetoric of beating 'the system' into the mid-1970s, even though by this time 'the system' in question was defined structurally and included diverse phenomena such as models of communication and the power of biocrats to control the distinction between life and death from the Thanatos centers of the hospital and the laboratory. Paradoxically, McLuhan's slogan defines the field against which symbolic violence must be applied, and simultaneously may be used to read Freud and Saussure against themselves, thereby articulating certain modes of symbolic exchange. This is the central tension in Baudrillard's use of McLuhan's ideas: the slogan 'the medium is the message' is radical and not very radical. This is, I think, the 'fullest force' of the phrase in Baudrillard's writings.
A further, clearly parodic way of acknowledging McLuhan appears in Baudrillard's (1992: 17) notion of 'the generalization of McLuhan's theory of the "extensions of man"'. The emphasis on electronic extensions of the brain has reached, Baudrillard thinks, a critical point of reversal in which the brain becomes an 'extension' or internal prosthetic device of the body. The prosthetic brain is internal to the body but no longer centered by it. It seems to be pursuing an orbit independent of its individual body! It is at this point that Baudrillard denies he is writing science fiction. It is purely parodic to suggest that McLuhan's well-known optimism about technological extensions of bodies has resulted in the concentric orbit of these extensions around the bodies from which they were launched. Baudrillard's reason for this travesty is clear enough: he claims that it is the work of theory to play a game of oneupmanship, of going to extremes with the goal of destabilizing existing systems and theories. Baudrillard's guiding principle is, as McLuhan believed, breakdown as breakthrough, though he does not subscribe to the hypothesis that a hitherto unacknowledged depth may be disclosed through an interruption drawing attention to the medium. Rather, for Baudrillard the code is challenged by a symbolic violence which consists in returning to it the principle of its own power (the power to give unilaterally without return), thereby driving it to a point of breakdown because it can neither respond nor retort except by its own collapse (Baudrillard 1976: 64-5). The counter-gift returned to the code in the form of death. In addition, the symbolic enters the semiurgical universe with the violence of a break and entry, an effraction. In Baudrillard's theorising breakdown takes the form of a break in.
There is also an important unmarked allusion to McLuhan in Baudrillard's Amérique. The three orders of simulation which Baudrillard explained in L'échange symbolique reappear a decade later in Amérique(1986)with one finely tuned difference. Baudrillard's well-known model of the orders of simulacra has three parts (until a fourth order was added in La transparence du mal 1990a). Briefly, then, the first order is that of the counterfeit. It marked the emergence in the Renaissance of exogamous and democratic relations between signs emancipated from their referential obligations. The second order of the industrial simulacrum arose with the Industrial Revolution. The simulation of original referents is replaced by the law of general equivalence involving the production of a pure series of identical objects subject to market forces. The third order of structural simulation is a post-industrial phenomenon. Mechanical reproduction is transcended in the conception of signs and objects in terms of their reproducibility. This order is dominated by what Baudrillard calls the 'code': the rules governing the combinatorial possibilities of the terms of a closed system and the appointment and holding of their relations in an abstract separateness. Baudrillard suggests that in America there is no second order of simulation; hence, he suggests, on the basis of his wide-ranging descriptions of the three stages (here given in psycho-philosophical language, whereas elsewhere he prefers economic, sometimes semiotic, technological codings, and even the language of physics) the absence of an industrial simulacrum based upon the dominant form of production regulated by the market. Baudrillard writes (1986: 208):
What is new in America is the clash of the first level (primitive and wild) and the third stage (the absolute simulacrum). There is no second level. This is a situation difficult for us [Europeans] to understand since we have always privileged the second level, the reflexive, split personality, the unhappy consciousness.
In Baudrillard's America, the first and third orders of simulation collide to produce a real fiction given the transitive relations of the orders in what was once an intransitive model. The mystery of American reality is that it is hyperreal: it reverses European values and cultural categories, elevating the simulacrum over the ideal and the materialization of utopia over its possibility. The idea that a country such as the United States did not experience a phase of history in its development - contrary to appearances - was used by McLuhan in the mid-1960s to describe the situation of les Qé*bécois in the Province of Qé*bec in Canada. Something, in other words, is missing from Baudrillard's America and McLuhan's Québec.
In 1965, McLuhan sought to explain French Canadian nationalism in terms of the age of electricity. Cultural decentralisation was, McLuhan held, a normal consequence of the general decentralisation of the electric age of instantaneity. In Québec this took the form of a cultural-political-linguistic nationalism and separatist politics. In McLuhan's initial estimation, the rebirth of Québécois culture was permitted by the present age (Kattan 1965). By 1967, however, McLuhan theorised that les Québécois were people of the 17th century, and therefore tribal and feudal. Unlike their English counterparts, French Canadians did not experience the 19th century (nor, for that matter, McLuhan thought, did they have an 18th century). McLuhan (1987: 351) once wrote in all seriousness to the then Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau that 'French Canadians never had a 19th century'. English and French Canadians had difficulty understanding one another because the 19th century message of the Anglophone was received by a 17th century Quebecker; that is, French Canadians find it hard to understand the mechanical, specialist and rigid orientation of Anglo-Canadians. The greatest threat to Québécois cultural and political self-determination and freedom was, McLuhan believed, the industrialisation and urbanisation of French Canadian society (n.a. 1967a). These Francophone 'hippies' were perfectly adapted to the 20th century, as the mosaic called Expo '67 in Montréal revealed, at least for McLuhan; it is useful to recall that McLuhan was launched into French orbit at the Québec Pavillon during Expo'67. Despite the lack of a common experience, McLuhan opined, Expo provided the opportunity for dialogue between English and French Canadians. These sorts of remarks about '17th century hippies' contributed to McLuhan's downfall in Québec, despite the best efforts of his translator and promoter Jean Paré, among others, to provide him with opportunities to retract his statements. I will take up McLuhan's rise and fall in Québec in greater detail in lecture 7.
It needs to be remembered that Baudrillard was, circa 1967, critical of McLuhan's work, focusing on the illogicality of the hot-cool distinction and the perilous and paradoxical slogan 'the medium is the message'. McLuhan's optimism is based on 'the total misundertstanding of the history and, to be precise, the social history of media' (Baudrillard 1967: 229). McLuhan's misunderstanding results from his use of what Baudrillard calls a 'binary typology' of hot and cool media, around which he organized the triphaseal model of history: a cool pre-literate tribalism - a hot gutenbergian galaxy - a cool electric, post-literate age. While McLuhan's thesis is worked through in a more or less logical way, its terms are, Baudrillard claims in concert with many other of his fellow French readers of McLuhan, 'illogical and ambiguous'. First, McLuhan does not define the sort of 'participation' at issue in his definition of cool culture. Baudrillard wonders whether this participation is passive, a matter of an emotional investment, perhaps even of the order of 'addiction' to television, or active, involving an intellectual or contemplative attitude. One doesn't look the same way, Baudrillard remarks, at kinetic art as one does a painting by Vermeer. The term cool doesn't permit one to make fine distinctions around the sort of 'curiousity' aroused by such diverse works. Despite these objections, Baudrillard expresses his interest in the the hitherto poorly understood consequences of the introduction of hot media into cool cultures (radio into non-Westernized communities) and cool media into hot cultures (television into book culture).
As far as slogans go, Baudrillard (1967: 229) claims, 'the medium is the message' is as false and reductionistic as any other. But it must not be ignored. For McLuhan is claiming that, in Baudrillard's terms, the book-object has transformed civilization in virtue of 'the fundamental constraint of systematization that it exercizes through its technical essence' rather than through its ideological content. Media are 'technical objects' that reshape human relations. 'The message of television', Baudrillard maintains:
... is not found in the images it broadcasts but in the new modes of relation and perception that it imposes, and which change the traditional structures of the family. Further still, in the case of tv: what is received, consumed, assimilated - thus the real message - is much less this or that spectacle than the virtuality of the succession of all possible spectacles. This is the tv-object, the tv-medium: it has precisely the effect (if not the function) of neutralizing the lived, unique and occurrent character of what it transmits, making of its programs a discontinuous "message" consisting of signs juxtaposed in the abstract dimension of the broadcast. (Baudrillard 1967: 229-30).
What Baudrillard is describing is a seriality-effect of sameness that puts an end to the idea that the televisual message has a referent, instead inserting it in a chain in which images of war, for example, have a 'transitive' or direct relation toward - to employ Baudrillard's vocabulary - other kinds of images such as those of advertising rather than to real events. What Baudrillard is claiming here is that television is a harbinger of the structural revolution of value. In an attempt to take McLuhan concepts in a slightly different, but related, direction, Baudrillard adds that messages refer to other messages and media refer to other media. The other media to which the tv-object refers are the images it transmits, and these images may also refer to other objects. This relation is context dependent. Baudrillard contrasts the effects of television in an unspecified 'Africa' as opposed the West: in the former, the flow of images transmits Western objects; in the latter, the tv-object transmits images. This reciprocality of media amounts to, for Baudrillard (1967: 230), the 'totalitarian message of a consumer society'.
Over the course of his career Baudrillard has read the formula 'the medium is the message' into the logic of sign value, breaking the spell of McLuhan's optimism. Yet optimism returned as Baudrillard came to consider, in the mid-1970s, the slogan in terms complementary to the vehicles of symbolic exchange. This seemingly contradictory usage was followed by his adaptation of McLuhan's notion of a blank spot in historical experience to American society. Scattered throughout Baudrillard's writings one finds instances of parodic extensions of McLuhan's concepts and places at which their language overlaps. One of the most significant sites is the concept of implosion, to which I now turn.
'Implosion' - by which McLuhan meant the 'pulling out of the spaces [and time] between components' - is brought about by revolutions in telecommunications, primarily by the speed of new media, and reconfigures 'all operations, all information, all associations' (McLuhan 1969: 12). Echoing the critical literature, Barry Smart (1992: 126-28) remarks that in Baudrillard's hands McLuhan's 'dictum' the medium is the message works itself out in an emphasis on form, the meaning of which is 'far from exhausted'. Baudrillard's concern with form (in particular, in his analyses of the object and mass society) culminate for Smart in the implosion of the media and the masses, yielding the Baudrillardian version of the dictum the 'mass(age) is the message' rather than McLuhan's version the medium is the massage. Baudrillard uses his version of the dictum both to show, by contrast, that the mass is a form of implosion refusing socialization. Implosion indicates the catastrophe of the collapse of new media toward the mass form: the mass form does not radiate, instead, it absorbs (expansion is reversed by implosion). For Baudrillard, implosion does not produce the intimacy of the 'global village'. The new patterns of inclusive structuration postulated by McLuhan yield their inverse: inertia, silence, indifference. Saturated by communication, human relations are reduced to points of 'contact' or 'telephasis'. Baudrillard here turns McLuhan's sense of implosion inside out, but not towards explosion, by burying it in the indifference of the mass form.This is also, on another level of analysis, precisely how McLuhan (1969b: 8) worked, since he claimed that a kind of proto-Baudrillardian 'fatal reversibility' reigns over events: 'one of the observations of the I Ching, the Book of Changes, some 3,000 years old, is "when a thing reaches its limit, it turns around" - it reverses its characteristics'. Reversibility or a flip is a key to Baudrillard's critical practice of reading thinkers against themselves. On a generous reading of the relationship between Baudrillard and McLuhan, one might conclude that the apparent contradictions of Baudrillard's use of McLuhan's concepts are really only examples of a series of flips or inversions as a given concept exhausts itself and reverses its characteristics.
More specifically, Baudrillard's (1978a: 69ff) hypotheses on the social rely on the figure of reversibility, as well as those of reabsorption and recycling. He argues that the development and success of the institutions advancing 'socialization' simultaneously marks the destruction and regression of the social.The key figure in this argument is reversibility: all definitions of the social are reversible. As more and more of the social is produced outwardly, it is inwardly neutralized. Outward simulations of the social - especially those emanating from the media -are burying the social. While the social is destroyed by the media and information that produce it, it is reabsorbed by what it has produced, namely, the masses. For these reasons Baudrillard claims that the social is an empty term, an alibi of sociologists and socialists alike. The 'reverse pattern' was used by McLuhan (1964: 45ff) to describe the speed-induced flip from explosion to implosion and centralization to decentralization, from the mechanic to the organic. An 'overheated medium', to use McLuhan's language, reaches a 'saturation point' or 'break boundary' beyond which it assumes a new dynamic and direction, usually as a result of overextension through cross fertilization or interplay. McLuhan's examples are typically wide-ranging, but subsumable under the general principle that: 'during the stages of their development all things appear under forms opposite to those that they finally present' (McLuhan 1964: 46).
The indifference of the mass form as a kind of resistance has little to do with the paradise of involvement in the social process. Baudrillard considers his own position to be neither pessimistic nor optimistic. It is beyond both of these, involving irony, ruse, and antagonism borne of the renunciation of political intelligence and rational choice, the loss of interest in self-constitution, self-understanding, productive citizenship and social responsibility. Baudrillard's sense of the mass form is an antidote to sociology: if sociology survives on the positive hypothesis of the social and its expansion, it cannot survive the hypothesis of the implosion and the death of the social. No one can speak, especially sociologists, in the name of the masses.
In Understanding Media, McLuhan (1964: 47) wrote:
The stepping-up of speed from the mechanical to the instant electric form reverses explosion into implosion. In our present electric age the imploding or contracting energies of our world now clash with the old expansionist and traditional patterns of organization.
The terms employed by McLuhan and Baudrillard are identical: McLuhan writes of the shift from explosion to implosion; Baudrillard uses this shift to tell a story about the impossibility of sociology and the end of the social. The reference employed by McLuhan to a traditional organization is retained by Baudrillard as well, although for him it has nothing to do with his romnatic conception of symbolic societies that did not require 'social relations' nor the simulation of the social. McLuhan's electric form is translated by Baudrillard into a mass form. The electrical usage remains the same, but with Baudrillard the ground has a neutralizing rather than a 'tribalizing' effect.
It is not only McLuhan and Baudrillard who have developed the concept of implosion. Implosion is also employed by Virilio who emphasizes the speed of the collapse of space and time and the vehicles by means of which this is accomplished. In his essay 'The Last Vehicle', Virilio (1989) gathers together a series of diverse examples to illustrate the victory of sedentariness over movement and change: a simulated wave pool, exercise machines, flight simulators, miniature reconstructions. All of which reveal the 'advent of inertia' replacing change of place. The last vehicle is a static vehicle, the final mutation of the dynamic vehicle. In this mutation the static and dynamic vehicle become confused: the automotive and the audiovisual implode in the paradoxical priority of the arrival over the departure brought about by the information revolution, telecommunications and the nearly instantaneous presence of places and moments. Automotivity is threatened by the static vehicularity of a completely imploded world in constant communication. The intensive time of vehicular implosion threatens the extensive time of physical transportation. Intensive time is 'momentariness without history', an earthly contraction, a contraction of the starting and finishing lines parallel to the ascendency of the arrival over the departure in which the scene disappears with the emergence of the screen.
With geographical contraction, chronopolitics supplants geopolitics. Speed supplants place. Places are exterminated, localization is disqualified; again, contraction results in the interfacing of surfaces, 'the juxtaposition of every locality' (Virilio 1986: 136). What is destroyed is a field of action, of 'buffers' and distance: a radical reduction of reaction time occurs with increases in the speed with which destruction may be delivered or communicated. The 'last war' is that of time over space, the triumph of technical improvements in the performances of weapons systems over tactical maneuverability in the perilous drift toward automated decision making. The 'last war' of time is a constant state of emergency in which the present collapses in the 'instantaneous of decision'. The reduction of time for political decision making has been steadily eroded over the course of the last three decades and this entails for Virilio a decrease of freedom, a servitude produced by speed and given over to automation: the war machine itself takes over decision making as deterrence is automated. The 'last decision maker' will be only a memory of humans held in the memory banks of machines.
All of these descriptions are consonant with McLuhan's hypotheses on speed. All technological extensions of the body increase power and speed, McLuhan maintains, and this is disruptive: 'the alteration of social groupings, and the formation of new communities, occurs with the increased speed of information movement...' (1964: 91). Power structures are altered by electric and electronic speeds that erase margins and creates centres everywhere in a generalized implosive communication, an 'instant implosion and an interfusion of space and function' (McLuhan 1964: 93). There is a certain Foucaultian flavour to these observations to the extent that power appears to be decentred, that is, centres are everywhere and power thus comes from everywhere; McLuhan's emphasis on electricity also hints at an energetics of 'force relations'. McLuhan was also hypothesizing what he called a 'reverse pattern': the population explosion flips into an implosion of population, raising questions about how to live in 'utmost proximity' with the rest of the world.
Heterogeneous speeds or discrepancies in speeds of movement existing alongside one another in a given place such as a city, for instance, are conflictual, McLuhan believes, whereas homogeneous speeds entail balance and uniformity. What happens when the military runs ahead of everyone else? 'War', McLuhan observed (1964: 101), 'is never anything less than accelerated technological change'. Implosion and contraction replace explosion and expansion, but the race toward total acceleration is simultaneously a technical drive toward automated decision making that amputates McLuhan's anchor of the human sensorium and its extensions. The differences between Virilio and McLuhan are profound and best appreciated by considering their respective representations of the drive toward automation.
The global dimension of implosion created for McLuhan a 'total field of inclusive awareness'. In this total field in which space-time barriers are vaulted nostalgia develops for older patterns of human interchange. With increased speeds, specialization disappears, as do the old dichotomies of work and leisure, teachers and students. For McLuhan, automation is information instantaneously retrievable by all. Disciplinary boundaries fall; fragmentation is replaced by organic unity and specific awareness gives way to gestalt awareness. Automation doesn't extend, in this scenario, mechanization but, rather, it invades it with the 'instantaneous character of electricity' (McLuhan 1964: 302). Thinking is equal to doing; linearity is replaced by synchronicity. Automation is the product of 'electric instant speeds' and McLuhan conceives of it as the vehicle of implosion whose soft crash, the kiss of fenders, if you will, is an 'instant inclusive embrace'. Automation is contentless, non-specialist and separate from its translation or application. Electric implosion replaces mechanical explosion. Speed entails the organic interplay of electricity conceived informationally and it mystically illuminates whomever it brings into contact.
McLuhan and Virilio read contraction to dissimilar ends. While Virilio emphasizes the 'fearful friction' of implosion, McLuhan reads it as a kind of embrace carried to mystical heights. The war machine of Virilio and the love machine of McLuhan create quite different kinds of worlds. Further, McLuhan (1964: 52) recognized that the extensions of human being were autoamputations borne of stress and irritation. Autoamputations were forms of relief that gave rise to counter-irritants such as numbness and shock, requiring a new sensory equilibrium to be reached. But McLuhan thought that such new ratios would be achieved and new technological extensions would be embraced and accepted. This implies that human beings serve these extensions or that we are their servomechanisms. But are we servomechanisms of automated deterrence systems? Yes, but what sort of modifications are required to embrace them? According to Virilio, there can be no accommodation (and this applies even after the cold war in an unstable international environment with regard to the proliferation of control over nuclear resources) no new sense ratio. Sure, we are servomechanisms of nuclear weapons systems, but Virilio writes of fear, not of numbness and eventual accommodation.
The nomination of Baudrillard for the position of 'French McLuhan' has not resulted in a move to close nominations. The floor was already open, as it were, for nominations well before Kellner and Gane moved their motions, and it remains open, despite critical moves and rhetorical gerrymandering to see that the vote is eventually won, even by default. Before Baudrillard was nominated, the name of Barthes had been put on the floor by journalists in France and Canada. But these cases suggest nothing of the pataphysical effects of reversibility: isn't McLuhan a Canadian Baudrillard? As absurd as this seems, McLuhan's contemporary return to relevance in the diverse area of new information technologies has a Baudrillardian glow about it given that he is being updated for a new generation in the largely borrowed, but inflated and exaggerated, conceptual language Baudrillard had put into circulation throughout the 1980s - the time of his most widespread influence in the English-speaking world, to be sure. At times more McLuhan than McLuhan himself and at others anti-McLuhanite to the core, Baudrillard's ambivalence toward McLuhan reveals the limits of the nomination, no matter how it is phrased.
1. I develop
at length the concept of ambivalence, especially in relation to Baudrillard,
in my forthcoming book Undisciplined Theory (London: Sage, 1997).
The primary emotion of the between is ambivalence. This is the place and
condition of many young theorists in the academy who have not found a discipline
in which to settle. They are undisciplined theorists. The task of undisciplined
theory in the between is to feel and think its fundamental ambivalence,
and to spread instability through ambivalence, with and against the disciplines,
and the lip service paid to interdisciplinarity. The undisciplined theorist
'should be', to paraphrase Barthes, 'that uninhibited person who shows
his/her behind to the Disciplinary Father'.
Back to where you left off
2. The literature on
Baudrillard and science fiction includes Boris Eizykman (1973) Science
fiction et capitalisme, Paris: Maison Mame; Jonathan Benison (1984)
'Jean Baudrillard on the Current State of Science Fiction', Foundation
32; Larry McCaffery (1988) 'The Desert of the Real: The Cyberpunk Controversy',
Mississippi Review 47/48; and Istvan Csicsery-Ronay (1988) 'Cyberpunk
and Neuromanticism', Mississippi Review 47/48 and (1991) 'The SF
of Theory: Baudrillard and Haraway' Science-Fiction Studies 55. Csicsery-Ronay
has referred to Baudrillard as a philosopher of cyberpunk and a practitionaer
of cybercriticism, both sylistically and substantively. See also Baudrillard's
(1981) 'Simulacres et science-fiction', in Simulacres et simulation,
Paris: Galilée [this essay was first translated by Arthur B. Evans
in Science-Fiction Studies 55 (1991)]. In the same issue of S-F
Studies see 'In Response to Jean Baudrillard: N. Katherine Hayles,
David Porush, Vivian Sobchuk and J. G. Ballard'. Ballard thinks that the
appropriation of science fiction as an academic specialization under the
rubric of postmodernism is an affront: 'You are killing us'. The interview
in Le Monde to which I refer was conducted by Christian Deschamps
and reprinted in Entretiens avec Le Monde 3: Ideés contemporaines,
Paris: Editions la découverte, 1984.
Back to where you left off
3. Baudrillard's deconstruction
of Freud's joke book has been completely overlooked by analysts interested
in postmodernism and psychoanalysis. I first explored Baudrillard's Freud
in my (Genosko 1992) essay 'The Struggle for an Affirmative Weakness: De
Certeau, Lyotard, and Baudrillard', Current Perspectives in Social Theory
12. Freud's ideas on wit also inspired De Certeau to think through the
tactical relevance of timing and technique involved in lively retorts and
colourful invective, what Baudrillard calls 'subversion by reversion'.
It seems to me that Freud elaborated a theory of smut that lacked reciprocity
in the super-charged Baudrillardian sense of the concept because dirty
talk was always directed at women by men with the result that the former
were supposed to be aroused by the latter's exhibition of their arousal;
in a classic psychoanalytic strangle hold, women's resistance, due to 'inflexibility',
was really a sign that of arousal. In Freud's world, women do not talk
dirty to men (nor to one another).
Back to where you left off
4. Jean-Claude Giradin
(1974) 'Toward a Politics of Signs: Reading Baudrillard', trans. David
Pugh, Telos 20: 127-37. Giradin refers jokingly to the illustrated edition
of Baudrillard's La société de consommation that appeared
in the collection 'Le Point de la Question' under the imprint S. G. P.
P., as the Planète edition. In my final lecture I consider
the representation of McLuhan in the pages of the popular French journal
Back to where you left off
5. In a long footnote
in my (Genosko 1994: 166-68, n. 2) Baudrillard and Signs, I discuss
Baudrillard's work with the journal Utopie. At that time I had examined
only the first six issues (dating from 1967-1973). He continued to publish
material in this journal until 1977. It was a trying ground for the essays
that were later collected in La Gauche Divine and other books. I
am indebted to Richard Geoffrey Smith, a doctoral candidate at the University
of Bristol, for providing me with a full bibliography of Baudrillard's
writings in Utopie.
Back to where you left off
6. I developed the
theatrical elements of Baudrillard's thought in two papers, Genosko (1992)
'Fellow Doctors of Pataphysics: Ubu, Faustroll and Baudrillard', in Jean
Baudrillard: The Disappearance of Art and Politics, eds. W. Stearns
and W. Chaloupka, New York: St. Martins's Press; idem (1994), 'The Drama
of Theory: Vengeful Objects and Wily Props', in Baudrillard: A Critical
Reader, ed. D. Kellner, Oxford: Blackwell.
Back to where you left off
7. The non-salutary
use of 'schizo' is from an interview with Baudrillard (1983) conducted
by Patrice Bollon in Magazine Littéraire 193 (mars).
Back to where you left off
8. Francis Balle (1972)
Pour comprendre les média: MacLuhan, Paris: Hatier. For Balle
(1972: 72) macluhanisme is a 'total and totalitarian ideology' that 'invalidates
in advance every critique since critique may only be formulated in an anachronistic
mode of thought, which is contemporary with an outdated technology'. In
La sociétéde consommation, Baudrillard (1970: 187-91)
devotes a few pages to McLuhan's slogan 'the medium is the message'. His
argument is identical to the one he elaborated in his earlier review of
McLuhan's Understanding Media. To the critique of the ideology of
consumption ('the dislocation of the real in successive and equivalent
signs') Baudrillard adds a description of its technical structure. For
his part, Vermillac (1993: 459) thinks that Baudrillard incorrectly turns
McLuhan into a nihilist.
Back to where you left off
9. McLuhan, Baudrillard
and Virilio are the 'masters of implosion'. The analysis of implosion needs
to be conducted very carefully, keeping in mind the subtle shifts in the
deployment of the concept that I revealed in the case of semiurgy and massage.
The debts of Baudrillard and Virilio to McLuhan are enormous, and this
may be appreciated through a consideration of the concept of implosion.
My primary references are to Virilio's (1989) 'The Last Vehicle' in Looking
Back on the End of the World, New York: Semiotext(e) and idem (1986)
Speed and Politics, New York: Semiotext(e).
On two quite different approaches to the relation between McLuhan and Baudrillard see Barry Smart (1992: 120ff) Modern Conditions, Postmodern Controversies, London: Routledge; and also Joe Galbo (1991) 'McLuhan & Baudrillard: Notes on the Discarnate, Simulations and Tetrads', McLuhan Studies 1. See also Marie-Claude Vettraino-Soulard's remarks during her contribution, 'Les médias dans la réalité de 1984', to the Pour comprendre 1984/Understanding 1984 colloquium 'McLuhan and 1984' sponsored by the Centre culturel canadien in Paris in December 1983 (later published in Ottawa by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, 1984). The telecommunicational extension of Western man is, as Baudrillard argued in the pages of Le Monde in March 1984, the global village of the 'universal extension of the market, monetary exchanges and products, as well as the universal extension of the notion of culture itself'.
Back to where you left off