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  • Baudrillards bestiary

    The symbolic is neither a concept, nor an instance or a category,nor a structure, but an act of exchange and a social relationwhich points to an end to the real, which resolves the real, and inthe same stroke the opposition between the real and theimaginary.

    Jean Baudrillard This book provides an introduction to Baudrillards cultural theory: theconception of modernity and the complex process of simulation. Itexamines his literary essays: his confrontation with Calvino, Styron,Ballard, and Borges. It offers a coherent account of Baudrillards theoryof cultural ambience, and the culture of consumer society. It alsoprovides an introduction to Baudrillards fiction-theory, and theanalysis of transpolitical figures.

    The book also includes an interesting and provocative comparison ofBaudrillards powerful essay against the modernist Pompidou Centre inParis and Fredric Jamesons analysis of the Bonaventure Hotel in LosAngeles. An interpretation of this encounter leads to the presentation ofa very different Baudrillard from that which figures in contemporarydebates on postmodernism.

    Informative and consistently challenging, this book will be ofinterest to students of Sociology and Cultural Studies.

    Mike Gane is Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences at LoughboroughUniversity.

  • Baudrillards bestiary

    Baudrillard and culture

    Mike Gane

    London and New York

  • First published 1991by Routledge11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2003. Simultaneously published in the USA and Canadaby Routledgea division of Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc.29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001 1991 Mike Gane

    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted orreproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic,mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafterinvented, including photocopying and recording, or in anyinformation storage or retrieval system, without permissionin writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing in Publication DataGane, Michael, 1943

    Baudrillards bestiary: Baudrillard and culture.1. French Philosophy. Baudrillard, JeanI. Title194

    Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication DataAlso available ISBN 0-203-41362-8 Master e-book ISBN ISBN 0-203-72186-1 (Adobe eReader Format)ISBN 0-415-06306-X (Print Edition)

    0-415-06307-8 (pbk)

  • I once met someone on a busy train in France, sitting opposite, readinga book by Baudrillard, the same book I was reading myself.This book is dedicated to the memory of the shared enthusiasm of ourdiscussion

    and to all lost friends.

  • Is it necessary to refer to Holderlins verses on salvation rising on thehorizon of maximum peril?

    Tafuri fateful moments exist only in bad novels, and past and future it knowsonly in curious variations


  • vii


    Acknowledgements viii

    1 Introduction: the double infidelity 1

    2 From literary criticism to fiction-theory 6

    3 Modern ambience of objects 26

    4 Technology and culture: Baudrillards critique ofMcLuhan and Lefebvre 48

    5 The rigours of consumer society 53

    6 From production to reproduction 75

    7 Modernity, simulation, and the hyperreal 92

    8 Fashion, the body, sexuality, and death 104

    9 Anagrammatic resolutions 118

    10 Transpolitical objects 126

    11 From the Beaubourg to the Bonaventure Hotel 143

    12 Conclusion: the other Baudrillard 157

    Notes 161Bibliography 171Index 182

  • viii


    I would like to thank all the many people with whom I have discussedand argued issues raised in this book, but especially Chris Rojek ofRoutledge who initially persuaded me of the importance of the projectand who offered encouragement throughout; also friends and colleaguesat Loughborough University, in the Departments of both SocialSciences and European Studies, who have provided expert opinion andcritical commentary. I have also given a paper on Baudrillard toseminars at Essex University and Edinburgh University, and to theDiscourse and Rhetoric Group at Loughborough University and wouldlike to thank these seminars for their debates. I have also discussed theseissues with colleagues on the editorial board of the journal Economy andSociety, especially Beverley Brown and Ali Rattansi. I would like tothank Monique Arnaud not only for help with French translations, butalso with essential critical discussion on all aspects of this project.Finally, I would like to thank Jean Baudrillard for generouslyresponding to my queries. As is customary and essential, it is necessaryto stress that responsibility for any error of fact or interpretation isentirely mine.

  • 1

    Chapter 1

    Introduction The double infidelity

    He musttake upon himself the weight of the double infidelity


    Baudrillards work represents an attempt to establish a generaltheory of two fundamental social forms. In one sense it is an evidentattempt to rewrite Durkheims two basic social formations(segmental, organized). But Baudrillards relation to Durkheim iscertainly not direct, and, if Baudrillard is fundamentallyDurkheimian, this is apparent only in displacement, repositioning,total revision. In a sense, however, to regard Baudrillard from thispoint of view is extremely enlightening. It could be said that whatBaudrillard wants to do is to convert the main focus of analysis awayfrom types of social solidarity to two basically opposed forms ofculture. There are immediate difficulties in posing the problem inthese terms however, and even Baudrillard struggles to maintain aconsistent vocabulary. For, at his most consistent, primitive societiesdo not have cultures. Their societies are lived in the symbolic, and insymbolic exchange. Theirs is a society of us and outsiders (others,gods, animals). Ours is a universal society of the human: it is thelatter universe which strictly speaking is culture, and its other is theinhuman (1976:193). Baudrillard develops this distinction throughincreasingly radical forms.

    It is not easy to describe or identify precisely Baudrillards point ofdeparture or fundamental position in this project. It is facile to suggestthat he simply supports the position of the primitive against culture. It isonly slightly more sophisticated to argue that he is best interpreted as aNietzschean surveying the disenchanted world with aristocratic disdain.Although it is probably still grossly inadequate as a description, it seems

  • 2 Baudrillards bestiary

    that his position is very close to that of a modern Hlderlin of whomBlanchot has written:

    Today the poet no longer has to stand between gods and men as theirintermediary. Rather he has to stand between the double infidelity; hemust keep to the intersection of this doublethis divine and humanreversal. This double and reciprocal movement opens a hiatus, a voidwhich must henceforth constitute the essential relation of the twoworlds. The poet, then, must resist the pull of the gods who disappearand draw him toward them in their disappearance. He must resist pureand simple subsistence on the earth which poets do not found. He mustaccomplish the double reversal, take upon himself the weight of thedouble infidelity and thus keep the two spheres distinct, by living theseparation purely, by being the pure life of the separation. For thisempty and pure space which distinguishes between the spheres is thesacred, the intimacy of the breach which is the sacred.

    (Blanchot 1982:274) This idea captures better than any other the tension of Baudrillardspoetic practice (Hlderlin is cited, 1976:239).1 What Baudrillardattempts, in an unsentimental manner, is to live in a world in which Godhas left either because He has died or because He has turned his back onit. Baudrillard keeps symbolic forms alive, and his infidelity is practisedtowards the present. Thus the pathos in Baudrillard is not as intense as inHlderlin, since, at least at the crucial stage of Baudrillardsdevelopment, he wanted to remain faithful to the idea of the symbolicorder.

    But what exactly is the symbolic order? Here Baudrillards ideashave developed. In 1976, he suggested:

    the symbolic is neither a concept, nor an instance or a category, nor astructure, but an act of exchange and a social relation which puts anend to the real, which resolves the real, and in the same stroke theopposition between the real and the imaginary.

    (1976:204) (Later even the idea of social relation itself is identified as inappropriateand replaced with the notion of symbolic tie: an inexorable process ofradicalization of the divergence between orders of symbolic ties andcultures of social relations.) In his earlier discussion the major conceptwhich carried the weight of the critique of the sign was that of

  • Introduction 3

    ambivalence. In one statement Baudrillard gave it the power to checkthe sign itself:

    Only ambivalence (as rupture of value, of another side or beyond ofsign value, and as the emergence of the symbolic) sustains achallenge to the legibility, the false transparency of the sign.

    (1972, 1981b:150) This has to be understood, as Baudrillard noted, in the sense that thesymbolic process, thus conceived, is a radical alternative to the conceptof the sign and to signification (1972:149). The sign is defined as thecrystallization of the signifier and signified, and although this can berealized on the field of polyvalence (1972:150) it cannot tolerateambivalence. The basic dilemma is well grasped by Baudrillard: how isit possible to talk of the symbolic except through a modality whichrenders it null (1972, 1981b:161)?

    The Saussurean notion of the referent (the r