Saturday, October 13, 2012

Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard – summary

"...The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth--it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true" (Baudrillard, "Simulacra and Simulation")

The concept of Simulacra, or Simulacrum, was not invented by Jean Baudrillard, and was a reappearing concept in French philosophical thought like that of Deleuze, for example, before the publication of Baudrillard's "Simulacra and Simulation" in 1981. In its lexical ordering, simulacra is a material image which appears as something else without having that something's features or essence. This is somewhat reminiscent of Plato's objection to representations which come to replace the "real" to which we lose access.

In "Simulacra and Simulation" Baudrillard asks what happens in a world that is ultimately denied all access to the real and in which only simulacra and simulation exists. For Baudrillard, this is in fact the world in which we live. Simulations take over our relationship with real life, creating a hyperreality which is a copy that has no original. This hyperreality happens when the difference between reality and representation collapses and we are no longer able to see an image as reflecting anything other than a symbolic trade of signifiers in culture, not the real world.

In the chapter "Precession of Simulacra" Baudrillard describes three orders of simulacra. The first in which reality is represented by the image (map represents territory). The second order of simulacra is one in which the distinction between reality and representation is blurred. The third order of simulacra is that of simulation which replaces the relationship between reality and representation. Reality itself is thus lost in favor of a hyperreality.

Baudrillard famously gives the examples of Disneyland and Watergate to demonstrate the function of the third order of simulacra and the production of a hyperreality that lets us believe that we can tell reality from representation, the real from the imaginary and the copy from its original.   

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