Baudrillard’s nonrepresentational theory: burn the signs and journey without maps – Richard G. Smith
Nonrepresentational theory, as developed by human geographer Nigel Thrift, is aimed at mobile practices and notions of performance as a means to understanind human geography. It is a theory formulated as a critique of representation. Richard G. Smith is somewhat hesitant in complying with the notion of Thrift as interested in nonrep theory suggesting rather that Thrift provides more of a general antirepresentational theory. Within Thrift’s work he has, Smith points out, ommited the work of poststructuralists like Baudrillard (which he claims is consistent with the aims of the work) which could enable to help us think about nonrepresentational theories rather than nonrepresentational theory. In order to accomplish this Smith pushes and explores Baudrillard’s thinking from representational (the space of signs) to nonrepresentational theory.
At the crux of Baudrillard’s theory of simulacra/hypperreality is his combination of the Saussarian sign and Marx’s account of the commodity-form as to state that a commodity does not simply have a use value, or exchange vaule, but also a sign value.
Signifier exchange value
——— = ——————-
Signified use value
As we see above: the exchange value is to signifier as use value is to signified. To Baudrillard the signified an use value are just “illusory effects” and in his work he “exposes the absense of the signified and use value, which are the guarantees of reality of structuralism and Marxism, respectively” (Smith 78). What happens, furthermore, is that the exchange value is fused with the use value.
To understand this reasoning an analogy to cartography is employed (maps are herein equated to the likes of theory). Through examples it is demonstrated how there is a tension between the map (theory – summarizing the knowledge of a territory) and the territory (the real).What Baudrillard posits is how the current fase of capitalism is closed, beyond representation. Within the new phase the signified and use value are absent. In reference to McLuhan it is stated that we are now unable to distinguish between message and medium because the world cannot be represented because the signs of the real are being substituted for the real itself. There is thus an absence of a basic reality the fusion of the map and territory is the hyperreal – the image is the real. [sidebar: the irony of mad cartographers trying to make maps co-extensive with the territory and coming to realize that the closer the map (theory) comes to the territory (real) the more useless it becomes].
Baudrillard upholds four precessions of simulacra, the orders of the simulacra. The third fase concerns the implosion of binaries, and that representational theory, bound to the system in which it functions, is no longer useful. In order to challenge simulacra, which comes into play in stage 4 – the fase of pure simulation, Baudrillard must become nonrepresentational. This is a theory that explains the third and fouth order condition. Representational theories aborb simulation through an interpretation of false representation and are thereby only suitable in exploring the first and second stage. In the changing relationship between thought and reality we must “burn signs” which means undoing structures: to do away with contrasts and oppositions.
Smith, however, points out that Baudrillard is against Baudrillard! This is namely because he finds that the thoughts of Baudrillard are doubly nonrepresentational This double spiral consists of a spiral of the semiotic (the critique of rep theories and establishment of nonrep simulacrum) and the spiral of the symbolic (the development of nonrep theories).
In conclusion (I cite it at length because it is provocative):
“In journeying nothing adds up, there are no equations, and no summation. Hindsight, pretending to step outside of language and the simulacrum, creates the retrospective illusion of things coming together into ordered systems, but there are no unities or stable identities. Knowable structures do not underlie empirical events; reality is a play of forces in differential flux with no order, logic, or meaning. All is contigent, nothing has any meaning, all thinking is groundless, all we can do is throw ourselves into the play of the world and dance with it” (Smith 82, my emphasis).
I believe I get the greater project of this article (and it was less of a headache than I had anticipated whilst going through it earlier). I formulated two questions, but I will start off with a comment.
Comment: During one of the sessions we were discussing Baudrillard and, do recall my somewhat hesitance here trying to go back to Marxist theory- (but was again at a loss of finding precision in my idea), it was suggested that Baudrillard correlates simulation and simulacra with information technology and computers. We should read the 3rd footnote of the article, it makes a lot more sense than our semi-consensus!
1. How does Thrift’s nonrep theory differ from the one Smith has established for Baudrillard? In extension of this – why is Thrift seen as antirepresentational and Baudrillard extended into the realm of nonrepresentational theories?
2. What are the pro’s and con’s of nonrep theory in our enterprise as researchers? I.e. how theories change the reality, the need for structures (representation/maps) in research?*
* a friend of mine (who actually suggested this text to me a while back) coined the aphorism: “I don’t believe in dualisms, I believe in duality.” It seems to me his compromise between representational and nonrepresentational theory 😀