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.