Jean Baudrillard – Simulacra and Simulations

In his text, “Simulacra and Simulations”, Baudrillard states that we no longer have a relationship with that that is “real”, but that our experiences and actions are based upon simulacra (signs without a reference in “the real world”, that only gains its meaning through a mutual dependence; a copy without an original). Therefore, we are living in a ‘hyperreality’, a simulated reality in which distinctions between reality and illusion are blurred. He illustrates this by using examples such as Christianity and Disneyland, showing that through the organization of power, capital and ideology (especially in todays mediatized culture) we no longer see ‘the truth’ (or the true function) behind a good but that we are trapped in a web of simulation, where reality stops to exist.

After reading his text, I immediately had to think of performance theory, which we were discussing last week. In “Performing Safety in Faulty Environments” (2003), Peter Simmons states that “once situations are defined as being real, they are real in their consequences” (p. 79). I’d also say that reality is something we create and that there never was “a reality”. Yet Baudrillard uses the notion of reality as if it is a seizable concept, that loses its ‘truthness’ throughout time. How does this loss relate to mechanical reproduction, of which Benjamin speaks of? And, more important: is there really a loss, or are we just growing closer to “a [personal] true state of realness”, in which the media function as external storage devices that enables us to explore the different dimensions of the sign?

And then still the question remains: what is reality?

[1] Simmons, P. (2003). “Performing Safety in Faulty Environments. In B. Szerszynski W. Heim & C. Waterton (Eds), Nature Performed: Environment, Culture, and Performance (pp. 78-93). Oxford [etc]: Blackwell Publishing.


~ by bernadetteschrandt on March 1, 2009.

8 Responses to “Jean Baudrillard – Simulacra and Simulations”

  1. What this text and your questions make me think of is actually the Matrix, as I find it an interesting example of how something that is a simulation for one can be reality for another. And if this sounds like a popular culture reference and does not look like a plausible argument, we can look at Plato’s cave that also refers to alternative perceptions of reality.

    Reality is an incredibly complex concept, as I believe it depends on how you define it. For instance, if reality is what we can experience then even an online world can be a reality for some. During my research on online identity I came across examples of people who felt their online personality was very much real and could relate more to it than their physical self, but still many others argue that online worlds are fictional places. So what is reality and what simulation is really an issue of perspective and I don’t think an objective definition that everyone would agree to can be found.

    The issue of reality losing its “truthfulness” seems like a recent issue due to the fact that mechanical reproduction made us think more about what is original and what a copy, what is authentic and what a reproduction and in that sense what is real and what is not. However as reality is all about perception I don’t think we can talk about loss.

  2. reality. a difficult, if not impossible, general word to define. we all have our personal definitions of what is “real” or “not real” but to tackle the concept in generality, that is another matter. therefore i decided to go to one of the most neutral places i know… the dictionary.

    so what is real? according to most dictionary sources i looked into, however cited from Webster’s New World College Dictionary, real is “anything that actually exists” or “existing and happening as or in fact”. thus to be real is to exist. but then what is exist? according to American Heritage Dictionary, to exist is “to have being or reality” or “to be real”. so to be real is to exist and to exist is to be real – not very helpful. however, as the dictionary, a neutral source, dodges this definition, one can assume this is a definition that is of a personal nature. what is reality to one may not be reality to another, however, as Edward Castronova argues in his book – to stick with the example Joanna used on digital worlds – real is in fact a personal definition, however, the value of something culturally (think in terms of real actions have real consequences) cannot be erased just because people disagree on whether it is “real” or not.

    Castronova states “You are free as an individual to decide whether any particular thing has value for you, but it is not up to you to decide what value these things have for society.” (Castronova, 2005) Therefore I would argue in response, “real” on a personal level is personal, therefore one can view the digital as real and another as not, however, the one who views it as not real has to respect the fact that some view it as real, and it has a real affect therefore on society.

    Castronova, E. (2005) Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

  3. “Yet Baudrillard uses the notion of reality as if it is a seizable concept, that loses its ‘truthness’ throughout time.”

    I did not get the idea that Baudrillard knows what reality is exactly or that he thinks that we can reach it. His problem with virtuality or simulations however, is that we are trapped in them. We are indeed because Baudrillard argues that we do not choose our own version of the real, our own virtuality as much as the above examples of performativity and virtual identity. I think he was making a political statement that we are all involved in this one, global system of representation of representation which overshadows other deviant ideas (that could be a reality as well). This shows from his examples of religion and Disneyland. Disneyland enables adults to act like kids as an opposite to what they would do in their normal lives, the comparison shows to them how adult they behave in daily life. While the simulation of the attraction park masks that the child-like behaviour is just a part of the adult person that they normally do not express. It upholds this distinction of adult/child to make the adult feel serious outside the park.

  4. Yes, I would agree with Lotte, that Baudrillard does not convince in his idea of what reality is. What is experienced as reality, he relates to ideology. To cite him in the last paragraph: “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.”
    I think it is an interesting question that Bernadet posed, when comparing Benjamin and Baudrillards idea of reality. We should take into account that the texts were written in different times (1935 Ben. and 1981 Bau.) I wonder if Benjamin questions whether something exists that is real. His stance differs from Baudrillard’s in the sense that Benjamin has a positive attitude to the development of reproduction techniques; he does not associate it with being ‘caught in a matrix’ and the aura of an original work of art is in his regard also related to experience/ perception.
    Through Baudrillard’s text I also heard Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, from 1965. He was at that time quite revolutionary with his idea that we were losing sight of the real because of all the images representing needs we don’t ‘really’ need (commodity fetishism). The mass media blur our perception of the authentic, etc. Debord believes in a real that we are loosing. Baudrillard also seems (not sure) to do so. And we do not seem to believe in ‘a reality’, but should that not also say that we do no longer believe in the idea of ‘a simulacrum, as also ‘simulation’ depends on experiencing something as simulated?

  5. I find it hard to compare Benjamin to Baudrillard. I don’t think that Benjamin question the reality of objects/artworks, although he does talk about the immediate perception of reality which becomes rarer. However, Baudrillard does not really talk about perception but about the fact that everthing is simulation however we might perceive it. His point is that there is no truth anymore behind these simulations, so the simulations become “true”. What makes it difficult to compare different theories is the confusion around the concepts. Authenticity, reality, truth, original, aura; they all have different meanings. I don’t think we “lose” a reality or whatever you want to call it, but the point is that our perception and conception of this changes. As Baudrillard claimes, simulation becomes reality, and as Benjamin says, the concept of aura and authenticity changes but does not necessarily disappear altogether (for example, Benjamin talks about a different kind of aura in photographs of people)

  6. I wonder if anyone else has the chance to read Giorgio Agamben’s “the paradox of sovereignty” in Homo Sacer (1995)?

    The concern with reality and how it is substantiated through a suspension of it seems to have a lot of similarity to the Agamben text. Herein he identifies the paradox of living as an exile within the law: so it is the exclusion that gives identity, but the law that recognizes the individual.

    I would seek the answer to bernadette’s question in a re-read of Agamben 😀

  7. In this discussion it is maybe also interesting to think about what Beaudrillards ideas actually mean for performance and performance studies as such. Since I am not that familiar with these media texts, I wondered how Auslander approached Beaudrillards ideas from a performance perspective in his book “Theory for Performance Studies”. An important question he ask is the following: “If one can no longer distinguish the theatrical from the real, what concepts of performance remain meaningful?” (Auslander 2006, 59). Indeed, what if the boundaries between the ‘real’ and simulacra are not visible anymore, what will happen to the theatre?

  8. Again one more shamefully belated remark, but the most slippery slope in Baudrillard, in my opinion, is to start posing ontological questions (what is real?). As I was rereading him after B.Massumi’s text ‘Realer than Real. The Simulacrum According to Deleuze and Guattari’ where he addresses Baudrillard’s simulacra theory ‘one long lament’, I realised that the fundamental question is not what is real, but how do we come about to grasp reality, in other words – the epistemological question.

    My biggest problem with Baudrillar is that I get the notion that he as if looks back trying to trace where ‘the real’ began to be obliterated. It seems to me that he has an idea of the conception of real at some point in history, whereas now we find ourselves loosing it. What is enlightening in Massumi (and he draaws on Deleuze&Guattari) is that ‘simulation is all there has ever been’ and in dealing with it two modes of simulation emerge: the construction of normative ‘reality’ based on resemblances (such as hard work, loyalty, parenting) and the simulation that goes against resemblances and replication, which is the agency of art: ‘art also recreates a territory, but a territory that is not really territorial’ (Massumi, 3).

    What I miss in Baudrillard, is ‘extracting and combining potentials’ in the (hyper)reality constructed, to put it in Massumi’s words. Although Baudrillard does suggest to address the question of power, I’m afraid, he only suggests to decipher it (as a semiologist would do). While what interests me, is how to live in it – this is the dimension Massumi introduces by drawing on D&G.

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