The Vital Illusion
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Aren't we actually sick of sex, of difference, of emancipation, of culture? With this provocative taunt, the indomitable sociologist Jean Baudrillard challenges us to face up to our deadly, technologically empowered renunciation of mortality and subjectivity as he grapples with the complex issues that define our postmillennial world. What does the advent and proliferation of cloning mean for our sense of ourselves as human beings? What does the turn of the millennium say about our relation to time and history? What does the instantaneous, virtual realm of cyberspace do to reality? In The Vital Illusion―as always―Baudrillard leads his readers to some surprising conclusions.
Baudrillard considers how human cloning―as well as the "cloning" of ideas and social identities―heralds an end to sex and death and the divagations of living by instituting a realm of the Same, beyond the struggles of individuation. In this day and age when everything can be cloned, simulated, programmed, and genetically and neurologically managed, humanity shows itself unable to brave its own diversity, preferring instead to regress to the pathological eternity of self-replicating cells. By reverting to our viral origins as sexless immortal beings, we are, ironically, fulfilling a death wish, putting an end to our own species as we know it.
Next, Baudrillard explores the "nonevent" that was and is the turn of the millennium. He provocatively puts forward the thesis that the arrival of the year 2000 could never take place because we could neither resolve nor leave behind our history, nor could we stop counting down toward our future. For Baudrillard, the millennial clock reading to the millionth of a second on its way to zero is the perfect symbol of our time: history decays rather than progresses. In closing, Baudrillard examines what he calls "the murder of the real" by the virtual. In a world of copies and clones in which everything can be made present in an instant by technology, we can no longer even speak of reality. Beyond Nietzsche's symbolic murder of God, our virtual world free of referents is in the process of exterminating reality, leaving no trace: "The corps(e) of the Real―if there is any―has not been recovered, is nowhere to be found."
Peppered with Baudrillard's signature counterintuitive moves, prophetic visions, and dark humor, The Vital Illusion exposes the contradictions that guide our contemporary culture and rule our lives.
in the chasm with its counterpart . . . . What is striking about this is that our reality, our “objective” reality, is the result of the amputation of antimatter. This restricted and limited form of matter is what we call reality. I find it at least on the symbolic level both enigmatic and ironic that our reality, born of a radical simplification of the cosmos, has no truth value anymore—divested of its counterpart, its dark half, our world is a definitive illusion. That this our real world, this
Reality does not care about the knowledge we are distilling from our observation and analysis of its behavior. Indifferent to every truth, reality becomes a sort of sphinx, enigmatic in its hyperconformity, simulating itself as virtuality or reality show. Reality becomes hyperreality—paroxysm and parody all at once. It supports all sorts of interpretations because it no longer makes sense, because it no longer wants to be interpreted. But this unintelligibility is not mystical or romantic: it is
Notes 1. The Final Solution p. : “These, then, are the experimental and artificial forms of cloning—not including Dolly, of course, and the rest of her kind.” Perhaps the most famous sheep in history, Dolly is the first mammal to have been successfully cloned from adult cells. The cloning was performed by Ian Wilmut and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, Scotland, in March . 1. the final solution p. : “on board the US satellite Discoverer .” The Discoverer was
monks are tired and, in order to hasten the work, they call in the experts at IBM, who come along with their computers and finish the job in a month. It is as if the operation of the virtual dimension were to bring the history of the world to an end in an instant. Unfortunately, this also means the disappearance of the world in real time, for the prophecy of the end of the world associated with this countdown of the names of God is fulfilled. As they go back down into the valley, the technicians,
its having concealed the end from us, in its having ended without our noticing it. So that it is merely the end of history that is being fueled, whereas we believe we are continuing to make it. We are still awaiting its end, whereas that end has, in fact, already taken place. History’s ruse was to make us believe in its end, when it has, in fact, already started back in the opposite direction. Whether we speak of the end of history, the end of the political or the end of the social, what we are