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That sort of stuff isn't considered bona fide by most of our team, which is why a group of Cambridge academics tried to stop their university awarding Jacques Derrida an honorary degree in It's certainly true that France is a philosophically foreign country: they do things differently there. You could say they adopt a different style, but that would be to imply that Anglo-American philosophy has any style at all, when most of its arid writing is actually the literary equivalent to Alan Partridge's sports-causal fashion collection.

What our breed of philosophy has is a method, and with it supposed rigour.

Jean Baudrillard's "Simulacra and Simulation" (notes/reflections)

The French, in contrast, have, if anything, too much style. Yet, if you get past the hyperbolic flourishes, thinkers like Baudrillard are actually saying things that have more resonance and relevance to contemporary society than the majority of what is written by more sober Brits and Americans. That's why, although shunned by philosophers, the likes of Baudrillard have been taken up by other social sciences and humanities.

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The recurring theme of Baudrillard's work is that we live in a world in which representation and simulation have come to dominate over what was once thought of as reality, to the extent that our reality now often is our simulation of it. We live in an age of simulacra. Discuss with reference to the work of Jean Baudrillard, making close use of the example of the internet, or in liaison with your tutor, another media genre. Baudrillard , a world within which exists simulations upon simulations, copies of copies of copies. Baudrillard , not really real, nor signs of reality, but simulacra.

Specifically, the internet has become more than a medium that networks the globe, but a network that creates a metaphysical world in which we conduct our lives. We can start with the geographical metaphors that are associated with the internet. Depthless and infinite, Baudrillard's screen appears as the "superficial abyss," a hypnotic transparency which simulates and denies space at the same time: "An aesthetics of the hyperreal, a thrill of vertiginous and phony exactitude, a thrill of alienation and magnification, of distortion in scale, of excessive transparency all at the same time" Simulations Baudrillard describes this fascination as a mutation in pleasure from seductio to subductio , from the seduction by the other to a hypnosis of the self, endlessly repeated on the screen Ecstasy A simulated presence escapes the possibility of counterfeit and the possibility of reproducing an original, because the original no longer exists Simulations The fax machine, for example, sends a reproduction over phone lines, but e-mail produces and sends a simulated document: one which can be copied infinitely, forwarded simultaneously, reproduced in multiple formats, etc.

E-mail obscures the concept of "the original," but it likewise throws into question both origin and destination, since a virtual address is independent of the user's physical location. The move on Internet from simulation of the post e-mail to the simulation of presence the MOO is a fated or fatal step toward creating a "more real than real" reality, the hypertelia of communication technology.

Carrying this Baudrillardian reading to its furthest limits, one might conclude that telematics only deters the recognition of what has already occurred: the end of space through cyberspace, the end of knowledge through information, and the end of the imaginary through the hyperreal. The MOO simulates human activity and presents the user with an arena of immense freedom in communication.

But for Baudrillard, the simulation of liberty can never escape its own "fatal" or predetermined operational parameters. As John Unsworth points out, the predetermined "core" code of a MOO functions as an unescapable fate, limiting every player's free will Unsworth. Likewise, the pre-existing operational code of any closed communication system "restricts itself to putting things that already exist in contact with each other" Gane As noted above, Internet is ultimately a tracing of a map of connectivity; one cannot "create" new contacts on Internet.

This inability to "self-transcend" is what separates communication from community and society in Baudrillard's work: "Communication is more social than the social itself: it is the hyperrelational, sociality overactivated by social techniques Communication, by banalizing the interface, plunges the social into an undifferentiated state" Transparency The attempts to figure Internet as a space capable of supporting communities differentiates it from other systems of communication using those same real telephone lines.

Once again, one could read this shift as a symptom of Internet's status as a hypertelic form of communication. Having superseded its own telos, technology aims at simulation and deferral; simulations of the communal and the social become more "real" to defer the fact that the "real" has long since disappeared. Those unfamiliar with virtual communities may not yet appreciate the strength of these interactions between virtual bodies in virtual space.

In a Village Voice article, for example, Julian Dibbell describes in some detail an incident of "cyber-rape" at LambdaMOO, detailing not only the emotional trauma of the female victim, but also the repercussions of such an act in the virtual community.

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The crime brought players together in a heated discussion over the state--literally the state --of their virtual community, and how to balance justice with liberty. The Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link the WELL provides another example of a virtual community, and in fact, one of the earliest: a set of electronic bulletin boards on which groups of "citizens" could communicate with one another.


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Howard Rheingold, author of Virtual Communities and long-time resident of the WELL, describes this and other virtual communities as electronic agorae , offering the possibility of becoming "one of the informal public places where people can rebuild the aspects of community that were lost when the malt shop became a mall" Already Internet has its own civil liberties group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation EFF which, as its name implies, connects virtual topography with the American conception of frontiers and liberty.

EFF and other groups place great hope in cyberspace if democratic principles cannot prevail in the "real" world, perhaps they can in cyberspace. For literally millions of "netters," cyberspace is a real place with real potentials--and it is precisely this blurring of the real and the unreal which marks Baudrillard's postmodern moment of the hyperreal. From this perspective, the compelling image of "Internet as world" pushes us beyond the world, beyond its containment, all the while pursuing the same Enlightenment goals which drove the world beyond its own ends and into hyperreality.

To apply Baudrillard to this utopianism, one would have to conclude that cyber-community offers nothing more than a strategy of deterrence; like a Disneyland for Enlightenment conceptions of community, it creates "an imaginary effect concealing that reality no more exists outside than inside the bounds of the artificial perimeter" Simulations The model of community can exist in such an immanent form precisely because it is a model, a simulacrum of community, deferring the moment of realization that community longer exists.

More precisely, community can only exist in a mediated society via the medium because no other "real" exists. Baudrillard argues that "the compulsion of the virtual is the compulsion to exist in potentia on all screens," and that this community of circulating, simulated selves results in the disappearance of "real" self and "real" community through a proliferation of these signs Transparency No longer fragmented, the self and community becomes "fractal," capable of infinite division into self-same parts, each part a simulation of a whole that no longer exists.

This threat of disappearance by proliferation is far different from the fears of informational "overlords" or computer-mediated panopticons. In fact, the dream of utopian possibilities and the threat of imminent informational catastrophe provide the same function for Baudrillard: a strategy of deterrence. The promises of an America that will provide its citizens with free access to a world of information and the threat of a world in which this information is controlled, parcelled out, or withheld are part of the same deterrence.

In short, the image of free and infinitely increasing information does nothing more than deter the realization that the Enlightenment pursuit of "knowledge" has imploded. Increasing sophistication in technology produces more convincing simulations of information and more convincing strategies of deterrence. The fascination of the depthless screen--"the superficial abyss"--keeps us firmly rooted.

With a wealth of information, we have no time to realize that we have nothing to learn. Although a Baudrillardian reading of Internet provides a compelling critique of a postmodern hyperreality, his criticism might also provide an "other" heading of sorts: one that places a stake in this technology rather than pursuing it to catastrophe; one that poses a challenge to the 'net. For the most part, this current analysis of Internet has followed Baudrillard to his "fatal" conclusions--the fascination beyond the closure of a system driven to simulation and hyperreality.

But Baudrillard has also often written of the necessity of seduction and challenge in the face of the insistence of a telos. In a recent interview, he explains: "There is a game, which has nothing to do with the forced realization of the world, a game in which things demand to be solicited, diverted, seduced. You've got to be able to make them appear as well as disappear. Writing is nothing but that, and theory as well" Gane In place of this "forced realization," theory disrupts the total vision of a system.

It takes the place of "the other" to the system--the accidental, the unaccountable, the accursed share. Rather than attempting to expose and hence, realize "the world," Baudrillard dissimulates its totality, leading it off course and out of orbit:. Although his critique of hyperreality calls attention to Internet's metaphorical existence as a virtual "world," placing Baudrillard in cyberspace may also lead to the question, Can Internet produce a locus of challenge or seduction, "a locus of that which eludes you, and whereby you elude yourself and your own truth" Ecstasy 66?

Can the screen gain depth? In light of the fascinating transparency of the media, can this "virtual realm" do other than endlessly repeat its own model? The challenge of Internet, one might argue, is in its potential to derail the very assumptions which have led to the postmodern moment.

Postmodern Theory and Internet

Baudrillard, in other words, could be used to raise the stakes in that banal MOO question, "Where are you in real life? From his somewhat utopian perspective, Rheingold notes that although virtual interfacing facilitates community by obscuring many social barriers age, race, and sex, in particular , this same interface allows for deception and artifice, leaving virtual citizens vulnerable to "electronic impostors" The possibility of elusion, illusion, and allusion has no place in a utopian community.

These "evils" however, in Baudrillard's "other heading" may prove to be resistances which prevent closure assumptions about what it means to be an "authentic" self in an "authentic" community , and which keep a system open to experiment, drift, and "peregrination. On the 'net, one will expect to find the banal at every turn. One would also hope to find objects of seduction and artifice, objects that turn us away from our intended goals. One might even find something resembling Lyotard's "passiblity. He suggests a "working through" Freud's durcharbeitung in place of modernity's directed work; a free play in place of strategic play Inhuman 54, Lyotard and Baudrillard, while worlds apart in many regards, merge on this point: the desirability of escaping the containment of a totalizing system driven toward and beyond its own assumptions.

In Lyotard's words: "Being prepared to receive what thought is not prepared to think is what deserves the name of thinking" Inhuman The virtual utopian sees the immediate and immanent fulfillment of Enlightenment ideals in a world liberated from itself through virtuality. Perhaps, though, the very immanence of the model can challenge the assumptions which have led to its creation.

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In this reversed image, then, Internet might offer a virtuality which resists our attempts to totalize it as a world, presenting instead loci for playing with the assumptions that we have taken for granted in modernity: community, information, liberation, self. In general, virtual communities pose more questions about how individuals construct connections than they answer concerning the ends of achieving an electronic democracy. Rather than working toward re producing a model community, cyberspace could just as easily keep us moving beyond our ends, toward new connections: new " chorographies " that would demand new discourses Virilio, Aesthetics Likewise, the virtual body sets us astray from our assumptions about what it means to have a "real" body.

In the virtuality of Internet, our words are our bodies, an aporetic copula which forces a reexamination of "the body" as both physiological noumenal entity and phenomenological experience. In each instance, Internet provides the medium for disrupting models, rather than confirming them. Following this other heading, Internet might present a seduction rather than a subduction: a challenge to modernity's assumptions of self and body, of individual and community.

Internet, rather than presenting a simulation of totality, might provide a space of play. Rather than pursuing ends through this technology, one might instead turn oneself over to the drift and derive of "cyberspace. His vision, however, also challenges us to find a depth to the screen, to find- -or rather, lose--ourselves on a different heading, off our familiar paths.