Baudrillard Benedikt Cline Allen

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Sprawl in Virginia

A crowd of simulacra at Disney's Epcot

Baudrillard texts on the Web

Though he is more famous for his flamboyant totalizing criticism of our society as a realm of hyperreality, Jean Baudrillard offers a strategic response that resembles what Benedikt and Cline suggest for dealing with our media-drenched society.

These days when all critical radicalism has become pointless, when all negativity is resolved in a world that pretends to be fulfilled . . . when the effect of desire has long since gone, what is left but to return things to their enigmatic ground zero? (Poster 1988, 205, see also 215-19)

The present argument of the system is to maximize speech, to maximize the production of meaning, of participation. And so the strategic resistance is that of the refusal of meaning and the refusal of speech; or of the hyperconformist simulation of the very mechanisms of the system, which is another form of refusal by overacceptance. It is the actual strategy of the masses. (219)

This is a twisted vestige of the Marxist hope of finding a life without exchange. For Baudrillard we should not turn from exchange value to use value, as Marx would have us do, because now there exists no use value that is not already transformed into exchange. When everything becomes the exchange of symbols and tokens, we should give up the production of meaning. However, Henri Lefebvre argues successfully against Baudrillard that space and place retain their use value even under the domination of exchange.

Could the homogenization of fragments scattered through space, along with their commercial interchangeability, lead to an absolute primacy of exchange and exchange value? And could exchange value come to be defined by the signs of prestige or 'status' -- i.e. by differences internal to the system . . .? The answer to these questions must be negative: the acquirer of space is still buying a use value. (Lefebvre 1991, 339)

The plot of land is not a pure token; it lies at a certain distance from the city center; it offers particular advantages and disadvantages; it imposes definite restrictions and possibilities on use. Those uses are taken up into motions and projects that cannot be avoided. Baudrillard talks as if reality were a mute immediacy, but we exist only in motions and mediations. Salvation comes not through resignation from the motions but in coming to comprehend their conditions, then playing some of their qualities against others.

Benedikt and Cline would agree with Baudrillard that we need to turn to our dispersed facticity and finite needs and avoid the romanticism of Lack and its commodified stimulation. But Baudrillard's silent refusal seems closer to an ironic surrender than to the positive measures Benedikt and Cline recommend.

A more adequate response somewhat along Baudrillard's lines is offered by Stan Allen. In his discussion of the ineffectiveness of distancing critiques operating in a state of distraction, Allen says "I would propose instead the appropriation and redirection of the very technologies of distraction enforced by dominant culture. . . . Hence, camouflage, mimicry, wit, guileful ruse, deception, and stealth -- forms of qualified surrender -- enter the lexicon of architectural means to reprogram the dominant logics of space in the city." (Allen 1995, 53-4) This "qualified surrender" offers more possibilities for critical intervention.