Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I admit I read this primarily because I learned that the whole cast of The Matrix was forced to read it to get them all primed and pumped for the deeper meaning of the film.
Welcome to the Desert of the Real.
Indeed! In fact, most of the most salient points of this classic 1981 work of philosophy ARE delineated in the movie! One of the most telling points was when a certain piece of steak was getting cut and he was cutting a deal with the policemen of the Matrix, talking about how much BETTER the steak is.
This book is a regular nightmare to get through if you prefer all your words to get right down to the truth of the matter without being overblown with jargon that could have been better spent elsewhere, but the IDEAS within it are pretty awesome. And often ferociously antithetical to anything I believe. And yet, he's right on so many aspects and I want to fist-bump the air all the time while also, in an aside, wanting to revile him for being the worst kind of monster.
In other words, it's an awesome, divisive read.
There's a lot of great reviews out her on this book, but let me sum up the most salient points:
Maybe you've heard the saying that the map is not the terrain. That the conceptualization, the ideal of a subject or a real-world representation is NOT the thing, itself. But what happens when all of reality IS just our conceptualizations of it? Don't laugh. Our brains do not have a direct line to the world. We process it all through our perceptions and we are always getting that wrong.
So, the more we continue to map out the world, the bigger the map, the more likely we start losing the certainty that we're dealing with the map OR reality. Pretty soon, and I mean this is true for every single one of us, we cannot tell the difference.
This is an idea that has made it almost everywhere since 1981, and I think we can thank Baudrillard for making it popular in academia. He, himself, gives thanks to Philip K. Dick and Jorge Louis Borges and J. G. Ballard for his ideas, among certain mathematicians, philosophers, and nihilists of every stripe. He also gives us many great examples to support the context and the theme that pretty much made me nod and grin and want to curse him.
Why? Because in a lot of ways, he's entirely right. The debate about Art and Life is an old one. Art imitates Life, but Life imitates Art, too. We see it everywhere, from advertising to the great movies of nostalgia for times that never were to practically every dream we subscribe to. Like this example: wishing that we could be just like *insert impossible celebrity that is totally fake*. There is no substance to it. It is an artistic representation that we want to become, but when enough of us strive for it, we change reality to fit that mold in countless little or even big ways until Life, or Reality, has been changed. It doesn't alter the fact that there is no substance. It just means that we're all living the simulacra. The simulation, the Art, is merely the first step, but Art always has its foundations in the simulacra, the Real. When we can no longer figure out what is life and what is art, we have figured out that we are stuck in a recursive loop.
Many modern non-fiction books spell out the idea much more clearly than Baudrillard did. All our language is an example of this. So is our preoccupation with Myths. Let's not forget the very concept of money. They're all fake, but they're used in order to make a map of the terrain. And let's not fool ourselves. Most of us believe in the infallibility of money.
Come on. Give me some. Now.
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