Friday, August 05, 2005

Materialism vs Hyperreality

If the oppressed masses in hyperreality were rebellious, could we convince them that we were all innocent victims of the same simulation which had no origin?

In Paul Auster's book The Music Of Chance, there is a scene in which a character of the novel expresses his intention to built a very detailed model of his house. What interesting is, he also considers to built smaller models in the biggest one in an infinite row, which will accommodate his own models as constructor at the same time... For Baudrillard, hyperreality indicates the daily life in these model houses where there is no coexistensivity between the telescoped houses: “No more imaginary coextensivity: rather, genetic miniaturization is the dimension of simulation. The real is produced from miniaturized units, from matrices, memory banks and command models - and with these it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times.”(*) Consequently, hyperrealism explores historical subjects from inside to outside and pretends not the see the reverse row in which men build not only the houses but even cities or countries. This approach could be caricaturized as: simulation does not make man, man does not make simulation but simulation makes simulation. Let us investigate how Baudrillard caricaturizes it too. Firstly, he quotes from Émile Littré to clarify the distinction between feigning and simulating: “Someone who feigns an illness can simply go to bed and pretend he is ill. Someone who simulates an illness produces in himself some of the symptoms”. Then he adapts this unobstructed determination to his philosophy with a cunning innovation: “Since the simulator produces "true" symptoms, is he or she ill or not? The simulator cannot be treated objectively either as ill, or as not ill”. I hope you have noticed the trick that metamorphoses the pronoun (someone) to a nonhuman noun (simulator). I have not chanced upon a dictionary which alludes the pronounish qualities of “simulation” for signing a human subject. Generally it is explained as a machine that simulates an environment. In other words, the eye-catching magic of Baudrillard's philosophy grounds on its quick alternation between regarding human as a rabbit and a hat. Men as prisoner in hyperreality are as lusty as Baudrillard himself. But when “he or she” takes charge of simulation machine, the sound of “his or her” pulses suddenly become inaudible through the uproar of machine.

I'd like to ask a very postmodern question: is simulation flat or round? If it is round that means one has access to reality or whatever exists out of its limits by INSISTENTLY moving ahead due one direction. Remember what happened when Truman Burbank sailed to the artificial horizon of the hypothetical world. If it is round, for example, we might reach New York-New York by moving persistently to east from Paris Las Vegas without violating the frontiers of Las Vegas. If it is round, no need to ask, “Am I there, when i here?” as regards the motto of Las Vegas: “When you're here, you're there”. Simulators provide sensational coordinate systems which work as tools for users to create their own sensational experiment map within the limits of a given system. So, asking whether your sensational coordinates are inside the coordinate system is an attack on possibilities of simulator. When a child who injured in a roller coaster accident in Disneyland asks, “Am I there, when i here?” from his bed in hospital, he or she begins to sail to the horizon of simulation. When a man (Karl Marx) asks the same question to the theories of political economy from the sensational coordinates of labour, he begins to circumvent the perceptions proceeded from the theoretical simulation machine.

Simulation, Platon's Cave, culture industry, consumption society, post-capitalism, mass society, turbo-capitalism, age of communication or whatever you call it, the only worthwhile way for criticizing a misperception is interrogation from outside to inside, contrary to the outdated concept of “immanent critique” (see Frankfurt School). The basic fault of the self-enlightened man's approach in Platon's Cave was his return to the cave after witnessing to material owners of interior shadows and his mislaid critique not from the material world but from the cave of shadows in order to replace the shadows with material realities within the Cave. In opposition to the widespread belief, Marx's critique of utopia is irrelevant with the stance of utopic glance which is accused for being beyond the present network of social relations. The real problem resides in its deprivation of connection with the strings of this network. Namely, the error of utopia is not associated with standing inside or outside. Its geopolitical absurdity is its critical approach from nowhere. Under the light of these identifications, I can claim without hesitation that Marx's critique of bourgeoisie society progresses clearly from outside to inside or from the material world to the cave of shadows (ideas) in order to pull out the shadows (ideas) to the material world. Remember Marx's and Engel's keen statement, "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas" (German Ideology). They confront this ideas with the material realities of another class. This identification is just one of the starting points of their critique while Adorno's or Baudrillard's critique of capitalism tails off through the concepts of Culture Industry or Hyperreality. Their failure resides in their limited motion area in a sort of Platon's Cave and their satisfaction with the range of immanent critique.

Let's give a really simple example to illustrate the motion of effective critique. In the first volume of Capital, at the start of Chapter 10 (Working Day), Karl Marx suddenly proceeds to speak with the mouth of the labourer: “Suddenly the voice of the labourer, which had been stifled in the storm and stress of the process of production, rises”. I think this is one of the most seductive, the most touching as well as one of the most threatening monologues ever written. Firstly, he designates his location: He clearly stands outside of the realities of a specific production process because THE VOICE OF THE LABOURER is an alien tone in the stormy, noisy musical scale of capital. And the adverb “suddenly” hints its breaking in normative discourse of the voice of the capitalist. Then he demands the exact value of his commodity (labour-power) like every other seller, which suits the divine laws of exchange: “I demand, therefore, a working-day of normal length, and I demand it without any appeal to your heart, for in money matters sentiment is out of place. You may be a model citizen, perhaps a member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and in the odour of sanctity to boot; but the thing that you represent face to face with me has no heart in its breast. That which seems to throb there is my own heart-beating. I demand the normal working-day because I, like every other seller, demand the value of my commodity”. Marx's innocentlike demand is so exceedingly impossible or unreal or beyond the coordinate system of capitalistic mode of production that it necessitates a revolution which will dismantle all the historical private property relations by precluding the unpaid labour power of slavery, the drudgery of feudalism and the surplus-value production of capitalism. Actually, he puts into practice what he promised as a young man in the 11th Thesis: changing the world, penetrating the artificial horizon. (At least, the mentioned monologue has had a big impact on the unreturnable transformation of my ethos). When Marx admits that it is impossible for the worker to negate the whole bourgeoisie without negating himself, he does not wail after the irremediable parasitic disease of the labourer but invites him to a metamorphosis from the object of parasites to the subject of revolution which enables him to negate the whole bourgeoisie. So, effective critique is not series of interpretations trying to catch its own tail. It provides the coordinate system of a different map instantly when one pricks up his or her ears towards the hardly visible voices of different sensational experiments through the totalitarianism of misperception. Marx leaves the Cave exactly at the moment when he discerns the voice the of labourer. After that, the aim of his critique has nothing to do with enabling this voice more audible inside the Cave. The thought of revolution already wanders around in his head to be realized in Hegelian sense, before his innocent demand, which is not a cause but a tool for revolution. His effective critique is an attack from outside to inside to materialize the collapse of the Cave... What a shame for the herd of philosophers to expect the collapse of the Cave by critique from inside which will probably conclude with their critical crush under the rocks of shadows.

Inside the Platon's cave, everyone seems on par with each other under the oppression of shadows: “But we are still in the same boat: none of our societies know how to manage their mourning for the real, for power, for the social itself, which is implicated in this same breakdown” (Baudrillard). Is our noble philosopher really in the same boat with the man who wallows in sea of poverty along the suburbs of Algiers? Or, I have to ask a painful question as a man who grown up in a petite bourgeoisie family in Turkey: Am I on the same boat with the bareheaded and barefoot Kurdish children? Our problem is not being in the same boat as Baudrillard claimed. We have to ask, “Why aren't we in the same boat sailing towards the artificial horizon?” Or, Are some of us actors of the show?

(*) All the quotes are from Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulations.

Mehmet Çagatay
August, 2005

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