Category Archives: AMS179

Full Text: S&S (AMS179)

Jean Baudrillard

Simulacra and Simulations

from Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford; Stanford University Press, 1988), pp.166-184.

The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth–it is the truth which conceals that there is none.

The simulacrum is true.


If we were able to take as the finest allegory of simulation the Borges tale where the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up exactly covering the territory (but where, with the decline of the Empire this map becomes frayed and finally ruined, a few shreds still discernible in the deserts – the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction, bearing witness to an imperial pride and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, rather as an aging double ends up being confused with the real thing), this fable would then have come full circle for us, and now has nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra.l

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Simulacra and Simulations (AMS179)

What is ideology? What is ideology criticism?

What the relationship of Baudrillard’s essay “Simulacra and Simulations” to ideology/ideology criticism?

Can we use “S&S” as a means of explicating and understanding William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the Wachowsky Brothers’ The Matrix?

“Ideology only corresponds to a betrayal of reality by signs; simulation corresponds to a short-circuit of reality and to its reduplication by signs. It is always the aim of ideological analysis to restore the objective process; it is always a false problem to want to restore the truth beneath the simulacrum.”

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The Sign… (AMS179)

… consists of the signifier and the signified. The signifier is the sound/image/word, the form. The signified is the concept. Take “dog”: the word itself is the signifier, the idea that the word represents is the signified. Together these parts make up the sign. An actual dog– a real dog– is the sign’s referent, its material correlative in time and space. (For a good introduction to the sign– and, more generally, semiotics– go to David Chandler’s webpage, Semiotics for Beginners.)

One of the things Baudrillard argues in “Simulacra and Simulations” is that the sign has been de-linked from its referent. That we live in a hyper-mediated environment in which we are 24-7 inundated with signs (images, sounds, language) lacking context. A whirlpool of signification which is so ubiquitous and overwhelming that we are effectively deprived of referents, the material realities which signs are supposed to stand in for. This results in a vast confusion, a hyperreal world of appearances produced by the “precession of the simulacra.”

Very roughly speaking, this situation mirrors Plato’s famous Cave Allegory from The Republic:

We have to adapt Plato’s words to our own purposes because in formulating the allegory of the cave he was above all concerned with proving the ultimate reality of the forms (εἶδοἰ)– an effort which we can categorize as idealist. In fact, for Plato the physical world has the character of a copy, so it’s easy to see how his ideas are, in a sense, directly opposed to the scenario described in The Matrix and Neuromancer.

General Remarks on Papers (HUM415, HUM470, AMS179)

In general, papers should exhibit the 3 i’s and be informed, intelligent and imaginative. By informed I mean that they ought to be the end result of some real research, research that moves well beyond a simple google search. The sources used, that is to say, ought to be scholarly: peer-reviewed journals, serious documentary film, actual books, etc. Let me emphasize that WIKIPEDIA, as wonderful as that website can be, IS NOT a scholarly source while the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA is.  Your best bet for solid academic articles: JSTOR and Project Muse.

“Intelligent” indicates an overall critical savvy regarding your chosen topic. The concepts introduced in class will be indispensable here. Rigorous student writing always goes beyond mere appreciation and approaches the object of study (a text, a practice, a value) slyly, establishing context, analyzing form and “reading” for ideological content. For example, in terms of HUM470 the goal of a final paper is not simply to marvel at the authenticity of the writer’s self-expression. We already know that the self itself is, in William Berry’s phrasing, a kind of secular soul– in other words an ideological investment, a construct,  an effect of representation (signification) rather than something which precedes or lies outside of language. Distance yourself from your chosen text: flip it upside down, judge it from other angles, compare it with still other texts– above all read other criticism of it.

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re bored writing your paper odds are I’ll be bored reading it. An excellent paper is one which departs from the staid and predictable “term paper” mode and evinces a meaningful, thoughtful critical-imaginative enagement with the text. Sit down and throw whatever comes into your head onto a piece of paper. Write down key terms and assigned texts, pull ideas from your class conversations, my lectures, and the blog. Jumble it up and see what sticks out.

Now consider Paul of Tarsus’ first letter to the Christians of Corinth: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became [a college student], I put away childish things.” Let there be no doubt: papers ought to be not only intellectually thrilling but grammatically flawless. SFSU students have as a resource the  LAC while SJSU students have access to the Writing Center. Be advised: due to the abandonment of CSU to market forces, hours have been cut. MAKE AN APPOINTMENT NOW, particularly if I have ever written the world “syntax” on any of your reading responses.

Finally, we need to talk about plagiarism, which has already reared its repulsive head this semester. We will be using in an effort to preclude cheating. Fair warning: a plagiarized final paper will mean an F for the semester.

Any questions? Please address them to this post in the comments section.