Jean Baudrillard, Simulations

Indians of the Real, or ‘objects indebted to science for still being objects’

From Baudrillard’s Simulations:
‘For ethnology to live, its object must die. But the latter revenges itself by dying for having been ‘discovered’, and defies by its death the science that wants to take hold of it’ (p. 13)

‘The Indian [..] driven back into the ghetto, in to the glass coffin of virgin forest becomes the simulation model for all conceivable Indians before ethnology. The latter thus allows itself the luxury of being incarnate beyond itself, in the ‘brute’ reality of these Indians it has entirely reinvented – Savages who are indebted to ethnology for still being Savages’ (p. 15)

What struck me in these fierce images is the consequences it has for strategies of experimental apparatuses used in scientific laboratories – as discussed exhaustively by Rheinberger in his recent book. That is, Baudrillard seems to give a quite paradoxical argument for a science that has to create the phenomena it is studying, but is thereby destroying, or acting as the ‘murderer’ of its reality – and is as such creating nothing but simulations, dead objects. His phrase – ‘God himself can be simulated, that is, reduced to the signs which attest his existence’ – could be paraphrased by saying that ‘scientific objects themselves can be simulated, that is, reduced to the signs which attest their existence’, with the decisive proviso that one must reconsider the word ‘reduce’. For Baudrillard this word would indicate that a certain order’s (say, science) influence on the real is such that it bears no relation to any reality whatsoever. Or, in other words, it would be the experimental apparatus that would be the object’s truth. The point here is that Baudrillard’s argument hinges on his definition of the real as what is always already reproduced – and, exactly for that reason, a pure simulation. The problem with this is that Baudrillard’s uses the rigor of scientific discourse as a negative ontological argument he places on the side of the object ‘itself’, i.e. he accuses science of always only producing simulations of a real Real, but then states that there is nothing left of this real Real itself. OOO/SR’ position could, at this point, interrogate and show Baudrillard that he has now devoided his real Real of any agency, of any influence on the all-pervasiveness of the simulation, the ‘simulacrum real’. Moreover, Deleuze in his Difference and Repetition exactly escapes Baudrillard’s nostalgic image by arguing for the fact that ‘modern life is such that, confronted with the most mechanical, the most stereotypical repetitions, inside and outside ourselves, we endlessly extract from them little differences, variations and modifications’ (ix). Deleuze is hereby paving the way for a more nuanced account of the role of science in producing ‘it’s’ object and of the role of the object in producing ‘it’s’ science. What, in the end, could it mean that ‘for science to live, its object must die?’ – what is a dead object, is a dead object still an object, how could the object be brought back to life?

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