37 Jean Baudrillard (2)
“Visible things do not terminate in obscurity and in silence; they vanish into what is more visible than the visible: obscenity”
“Sexuality does not vanish in sublimation, repression and morality. It vanishes more effectively in what is more sexual than sex: pornography.”1
In wrote in my previous blog entry on the sovereignty of things, which is gradually becoming total. Baudrillard describes this condition of extremity and thing-sovereignty “obscene.”
Not only things, but also desire in the form of sexuality, can reach an extreme condition, towering above and dominating all: the empire of pornography. Diverting sexual energy in the arts, in work, culture, economics, directing it elsewhere, sublimating it: we are familiar with all of this from Sigmund Freud. Suppressing sexuality, above all the less-familiar varieties, gagging them, perhaps only to bind them to their utilitarian functions—this was repression. It often emanated from political authority. Religious groups have always sought to domesticate (let us call it so) the archaic condition of sexuality with moral law: that is, to subdue it, lead it into whatever acceptable channels remain, to prohibit letting them slip under threat of punishment. That which is of no use to society and its self-preservation is rejected on evolutionary-historical grounds, is also prohibited—for example as was the case with homosexuality.
More sexual than sex, i.e. an escalation into extremity—which Baudrillard was later ironically to call “ecstasy”—would be the empire of pornography, as something of a terminus of sexual development.
At this point, you might nod to yourselves and say, “enough of that! Fine, we’re Generation Porno, we know it, we’ve already been quantified, qualified as such. We grow up with these glimmering little images—which none may forbid us, neither the child-protection authorities nor the moral impositions of the State, the church, or family—in our slickly-styled smartphones. We know how to circumvent all parental-control software, have broken through every filter, can avoid every paid product. Long live pornography!”
We have observed these naked bodies like copulating rabbits for quite some time now: gazed in wonder, become acquainted with the perversions and anomalies of sexual lust, and thereby know for certain that everything great and small crawling over and under and among one another with such vigor—all this is simulation, lies, appearances.
No normal man could keep up with these spliced-together high-performance sports; no woman could sustain in such a moaning, ongoing ecstasy these varieties of penetration techniques without becoming unfeeling (emotionally and physically).
That homosexual men, for the most part, also gladly made themselves available for hetero films, as this particular breed of human seems especially equipped to know how to deal with with the reproductive organs (once, thrice, six times!), if I might express myself cautiously, was nevertheless a new revelation to me. As well as the homosexual gaze, by the way, which significantly shapes and manipulates the style and design of menswear up to the present day. What a good-looking man has to be is defined by the homosexuals in their design and fashion studios. Who defines a good-looking woman? The omnipresent spindly, anorexic H&M posters of the present day can only have been designed by an enemy of women! Of Botticelli’s women or the classical presentation of the Goddess Venus this person has likely never had any experience.
The Obscene has, despite all this, not yet appeared to us in any way. We have learned to avert our gaze and pressed the power-off button.
After Baudrillard’s description the Obscene is “a fullness in which only absence still shines through” (although this void shines with a seductive glow—more on that later). But the “failure of the pornographic universe” reveals itself “in the apparent absence of sensuality and lust.”
Naturally, in pornographic films no warm body can be sensually felt or experiences, to exchange of words or caresses is possible. Lastly, in a quasi-entropic condition, voyeuristic lust itself vanishes: it desires more, something new, different, and again and again toward this ecstatic state of obscenity, in which the void shines through.
Another step further. From the obscene glow of pornography and their message of emptiness (sex-films are largely mere simulations of reality) to the ultimate empire of cyber-sex. In his essay Impossible Exchange (“L‘échange impossible,” Paris, 1999), Baudrillard writes:
Seen in this perspective, ‘sexual liberation’ is perfectly ambivalent. For though it seems to run in the same direction as the sexual revolution, of which it might be said to be the crowning glory, it turns out to be completely opposite to that revolution in its effects. The first phase is that of the dissociation of sexual activity from procreation: contraception, the pill, and so on. The second phase, even more fraught with consequences, is the dissociation of reproduction from sex. Sex had liberated itself from reproduction; today, reproduction is liberating itself from sex. Asexual, biotechnical reproduction, running from artificial insemination to full-blown cloning. This, too, is a form of liberation, but it is the complete opposite of the other. We were sexually liberated; now, we are liberated from sex or, in other words, virtually rid of the sexual function.2
Sexuality hovers, suspended in our communicative spaces, bound only to desire and our doubtful personal responsibilities.
What a beautiful vision, that becomes more our reality by the day! Artificial insemination, surrogate mothers, sperm banks of Nobel Prize winners, post-menopausal women pregnant, men pregnant whenever and wherever (in the thigh, as erstwhile Zeus himself brought Dionysus into the world?). Prospects that would have turned science-fiction authors like Jules Verne or Ray Bradbury pale.
Yet lust desires eternity, according to Nietzsche: deep, deep eternity. Or perhaps not? Can there be an age of voluntary self-limitation, self-restraint, and asceticism? Inconceivable! Let us rather carry on as before, exploiting all of our scientific, corporeal, and creative energies.
With condoms and the pill, sex liberated itself from reproduction and could build its own beautiful empire of manifold desires. Nor were women allowed to stay behind: under the banner of feminism and women’s liberation, women could build their own empire of desire and satisfaction, decoupled from the romantic conditions of love, tenderness, or planning for a family—an immoral privilege previously reserved for men—, and may now plan to keep a “man for few hours.”3
This liberation of sex into a desirous and responsibility-free enjoyment has nevertheless brought all manner of disorientation and confusion into the world, as I see it. With collateral damage extending to a fierce, world-wide and even warlike cultural dissent. Yet the sexual revolution, which foremost in the Islamic world we witness efforts to reverse with all available force, drives ever more couples apart, into “side relationships” or to new “common-law spouses,” who might otherwise have been ready (or perhaps not) to go quite a long ways together out of self-determined desire and a sense of togetherness. The subsequent singularization, the monadicism of many people living in separation (the word “nomadicism” is equally suited) in Western-oriented cultures has led to considerable ideological dislocation and psychological crises.
Yet in the meantime, the sexual revolution’s so-volatile reservoir or preserve of desire has exhausted itself. Nevertheless in the interim, with help from technology, science, and economics, a further source of desire has developed, this time probably significantly more novel: the empire of cyber-sex. It has replaced pornographic novellas and videos with pornographic computer-games, the final state (of ecstasy?) is ultimately to be found in robot sex. All that one might fear or hope of this new universe, stands at the ready.
I don’t wish to carry on any further with this salacious material (salacious robots?), which furthermore carries with it (biological) sex-specific differentiations according to the findings of gender research. However: that this form of human sex, in the sense of desirous togetherness, has become disused, and can be replaced by machine contact, consequently thitherto the perfect solution for all solipsistically living beings (one notes my linguistic re-creation!), that probably lies already at hand.
When language among one another no longer works, nor understanding, comprehension; if we are trapped in an ever-accelerating hamster-wheel of production and reproduction—who can hold it against us, that we no longer want to bring children into the world, no longer want to struggle with obstinate partners or take on the responsibility of raising a family? Better “no.”
The urgent question of the future is no longer whether to have sex with whom or whatever, but rather to have a family or not. And that also means, despite all positive aspects of childbearing: self-restraint of our uninhibited individualism and egotism; responsibility and care, thinking of the future, sustainability. This means love. Not sex, not lust, or base pleasure.
Let us cite one last time Baudrillard, in a further escalation of his vision of the future:
Among the clones (and among human beings soon enough), sex, as a result of this automatic means of reproduction, becomes extraneous, a useless function. Thus sexual liberation, the so-called crowning achievement of the evolution of sexed forms of life, marks, in its final consequences, the end of the sexual revolution.4
Not only in sexual conduct—our entire image of humanity will be increasingly compelled to conform to the functions of a machine or a computer.
Thinking itself, in the sense of critique, doubt, questioning, or the development of alternative models has in the meantime reached its final stage. Philosophical thinking will be dismissed as unscientific and excluded from the general discourse of universities and the public sphere. On these matters I have already written, in blogs 17 and 18.5
Baudrillard likewise had similar difficulties. He was, innately, a physicist, but didn’t estimate himself to measure up at all as a natural scientist, perhaps not as a scientist at all. In the Sokal Affair of 1996 (Baudrillard writes, “elegant nonsense”) and thence to the present day, the antagonism between the natural sciences and the humanities has carried on unabated. The “knowledge for domination” of the behaviorists or the “exact natural sciences” wrangle with the “knowledge of understanding” of the sociologists (“emancipation”) and similar.
And art, to the extent not created as “art-lite,” i.e. easily understood artworks for the masses or the boulevard, reaches only the small remaining minority, which must keep itself hidden in a niche the manner of Huxley’s “Brave New World,” occasionally graced with a tired smile.6 Perhaps I myself belong to this class.
Thinking, sex, and even death will, after Baudrillard’s ironically titled thesis, rapidly become obsolete:
All these useless functions—sex, thought, death—will be redesigned, redesignated as leisure activities. And human beings, henceforth the final solution useless, might themselves be preserved as a kind of ontological “attraction.” This could be another aspect of what Hegel has called the moving life of what is dead. Death, once a vital function, could thus become a luxury, a diversion. In future modes of civilization, from which death will have been eliminated, clones of the future may well pay for the luxury of dying and become mortal once again in simulation: cyberdeath.1
Works by Jean Baudrillard appear primarily in German translation from the publishers Matthes&Seitz (Munich) and Merve (Berlin), as well as in the journals “Tumult,” “Konkursbuch,” and “Lettre International.” In English they are carried (among others) by Semiotext(e), Indiana University Press, University of Michigan Press, as well as numerous journals and populär magazines.
1Jean Baudrillard, “Les Strategies fatales” (Paris: Bernard Grasset, 1983), pp. 9-33, 259-73. Translated by Jacques Mourrain in “Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings,” Mark Poster, Ed., Stanford University Press, 1988, 186–206.
2Jean Baudrillard, “L‘échange impossible,” Paris: Editions Gallilée, 1999. In English as Jean Baudrillard, “Impossible Exchange,” tr. Chris Turner, London: Verso, 2001, p.39f.
3“Mann für gewisse Stunden,” literally translated as “man/husband for a few hours,” was the title of the German translation of Paul Schrader’s 1980 novel (later a popular film), “American Gigolo.”
4Jean Baudrillard, The Final Solution: Cloning Beyond Human and Inhuman in “The Vital Illusion,” New York: Columbia University Press, 2000, 10.
5See Vol. II of this series -Ed.
6This formulation is a neat corollary to that of Edward Gibbon, “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” I, 2: “In their writings and conversation, the philosophers of antiquity asserted the independent dignity of reason; but they resigned their actions to the commands of law and of custom. Viewing, with a smile of pity and indulgence, the various errors of the vulgar, they diligently practised the ceremonies of their fathers, devoutly frequented the temples of the gods; and sometimes condescending to act a part on the theatre of superstition, they concealed the sentiments of an Atheist under the sacerdotal robes. Reasoners of such a temper were scarcely inclined to wrangle about their respective modes of faith, or of worship. It was indifferent to them what shape the folly of the multitude might choose to assume; and they approached, with the same inward contempt, and the same external reverence, the altars of the Libyan, the Olympian, or the Capitoline Jupiter.” -Ed
7Jean Baudrillard, The Final Solution: Cloning Beyond Human and Inhuman in “The Vital Illusion,” New York: Columbia University Press
Translated by N.Andrew Walsh