- Is There a Subject in Hyperreality?
The article discusses a dominant trend in postmodernism toward the dissolution of subjectivity into something vague, unstable, fragmented, amorphic, and always impersonal. In line with the ethical appeal of Lyotard’s idea of the inhuman as a resistance to the tyranny of subjectivity, Baudrillard defines the fatal or the inhuman as an expression of the enigma of the world, its resistance to metaphysics. What makes Baudrillard’s theory of the hyperreal problematic is the possibility for confusing the hyperreal with the pure or the impersonal (i.e., with the fatal) since both are defined as the collapse of the subject/object distinction. On one hand, the impersonal is the elimination of human perception as an external, privileged point of view. However, the hyperreal is also defined as the elimination of the subjective point of view, the suppression of the look, the fact that the object of perception is always already there, already seen, thus preventing the act of seeing. Obscenity then has two mutually exclusive meanings: it signifies either the absolute triumph of subjectivity (the world has been preempted by consciousness, objects are merely extensions or reflections of the subject) or the complete objectivization of the world (everything becomes objective because what is already seen is, for that very reason, no longer accessible: it cannot be manipulated by the subject). The de-realization of reality is the destruction of subjectivity but, as Baudrillard notes, the crime is never perfect. If the real is still preserved—as the trace of what has been murdered—the subject also survives its annihilation or dispersal; its destiny passes into the object. By subjectivizing or de-realizing the world, the subject has revealed its ability to appear and disappear—to lose itself in multiplicity—which is, in fact, the strongest proof that there is still a subject since Baudrillard himself defines the constitutive illusion of the world as the possibility of things to appear and disappear. Subjectivity includes its own annihilation, its pseudo-sacrificial self-reduction to objective (fatal) reality. —tt
The discourse of materiality or objective reality today is, first of all, a discourse of ethics. Objective reality is either treated as a victim that has been wronged by subjectivity (the latter must, therefore, be brought to justice) or is regarded as “fearful,” “fatal,” or “revengeful” (as in Baudrillard’s work). This new discourse of materiality aims at getting rid of subjectivity, which it naïvely stereotypes as a puppeteer grown too controlling and tyrannical, oversignifying the world instead of letting the world express itself. In an attempt to surmount what it regards as the inherent anthropocentrism of centuries of philosophy and aesthetics, contemporary philosophy has taken it upon itself to dissolve subjectivity into something vague, unstable, indeterminate, unidentifiable, fragmented, amorphic, and always impersonal. Hence the lively recent interest in Henri Bergson’s philosophy of becoming. While the discourse of materiality claims to be an attack on metaphysics, Jean-François Lyotard insists that it is actually a revival of the very essence of metaphysics, “which [is] a thinking pertaining to [impersonal] forces much more than to the subject” (Inhuman 6, emphasis added). The question arises: How can the subject annihilate itself completely or, conversely, as Deleuze puts it in Cinema 2: The Time-Image 2, how can the object become a point of view in its own right?
Jean Baudrillard has often been criticized for his bleak interpretation of postmodern culture. In place of Baudrillard’s “‘sour’ post-structuralism,” we are urged to accept “a ‘sweet’ post-structuralism...for example, Derridean post-structuralism, with its emphasis upon the delirious free play of the signifier” (Coulter-Smith 92). Supposedly, Baudrillard cannot be of any help to us in this technological age because he is too scornful of it, too nihilistic, incapable of overcoming his “romantic concern for the loss of the real, the natural and the human” (98), which makes his writing sound both melancholy and apocalyptic. Others feel we ought to be warned against Baudrillard’s seductive but insubstantial ideas and style. It’s been said that too much of the criticism on Baudrillard is written by his devoted fans and that his...