Massumi: Realer than Real. The Simulacrum According to Deleuze&Guattari

•March 22, 2009 • 2 Comments

I should probably start by saying I wish I had suggested Deleuze’s ‘Plato and the Simulacrum’ – whereby we would make quite a loop in the course starting and finishing off with Plato. Anyhow, I might have to leave it for myself as my solitary pleasure (or torment) …

Massumi’s main point of critique aimed at Baudrillard’s theory of simulacra is the fact that it establishes the dichotomy of model/copy consequently leaving us with only two possible viewpoints – ‘being a naive realist or being a sponge’ (1). The trajectory Massumi proposes drawing on Deleuze is to apprehend that ‘simulation is all there has ever been’ (3). The language being used is crucial – Massumi abandons ‘simulacrum’ and instead prefers the verb ‘simulation’ thereby emphasising that he is addressing an ongoing process.

The way I read Massumi’s interpretation of Deleuze, if Baudrillard’s theory is the diagnosis of our cultural state, Deleuzian thought is not exactly a cure, but a way out of this condition. What Massumi proposes is to consider ‘positive simulation’ (7) and I believe this is where his trouble with Baudrillard emanates from since simulacra ultimately is viewed as a negative domain due to its juxtaposition with the model aka real.

Deleuzian thought suggests to discard binary thinking as even the real is being constructed in the process of ongoing simulation. Massumi argues that instead of tracing the model in the copy we should distinguish between two modes of simulation – one of them being ‘reality’ as a construction of norms (or as Massumi refers to it ‘a network of surface resemblances’ (5)) and the other one being art – an antithesis ‘against the entire system of resemblance and replication’ (5). As Deleuze points out, ‘destruction of models and copies sets up a creative chaos’ (Deleuze, 1983: 56).

Without immersing ourselves into too much of Deleuze, it might suffice to say that his thought encourages the deterritorialisation, the creation of new territories, the flight (not the destination) and the opening up of potentialities. Massumi mainly resonates Deleuze (along with his accomplice Guattari) and suggests that simulation eventually might be a positivity as it has the potentiality to overthrow categories such as real, human, white, male, female, nation, desire, etc. As Massumi points out, the force and charm of Deleuzian thought is the fact that it deals with the here and now, namely advanced capitalism (did Karin mentioned Marx a while ago?) and situates us in the very heard of it. Its core is simulation and, I guess, we should perform a dance with it?..


Firstly, how do you view Massumi’s stance towards Baudrillard? If you can recall Baudrillard’s text, do you also get the notion of a ‘nostalgia for the old reality’ (8) as Massumi describes it? Secondly, if you could bridge Smith’s text with Massumi’s, what parallels could you draw in respect to the trouble with representation? My ultimate rather personal formulation would be such: do media make you feel nostalgic about ‘the old reality’ or rather open up new territories?


Massumi B. Realer than Real: The Simulacrum According to Deleuze and Guattari, in Copyright, no.1, 1987, pp. 90-97.

Deleuze G. Plato and the Simulacrum, in October, Vol. 27, (Winter, 1983), pp. 45-56


A BLIK on Theory

•March 22, 2009 • 2 Comments

The new issue of BLIK is out. Not only is it all in English, but also on theory. Interviews with Dieter Mersch (who, in my modest opnion, has written the best introduction to Media Theory so far, and for those who read German I would absolutely recommend it) and Michal Kobialka, essays by Asher Boersma, Shirley Niemans, Mirko Tobias Schaefer, and Nora Wellhausen. So GO (to Lisa, for instance), BUY (only 4,95 €) and READ!

Baudrillard’s nonrepresentational theory: burn the signs and journey without maps – Richard G. Smith

•March 21, 2009 • 7 Comments


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.

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 😀

STRP Art&Technology Festival Eindhoven

•March 20, 2009 • 1 Comment

Would anybody be interested to go along to STRP Art&Technology Festival in Eindhoven 2-13 April at all? Does anybody know anything about it, btw? Looks quite exciting.

Anyone for Nichols or Rodowick?

•March 16, 2009 • 1 Comment

Interesting exchange on good ol’ Levinson there, but not anyone for Nichols or Rodowick? 

How about Nichols getting Benjamin and Baudrillard together? Not that obvious, I’d say. So here is some material for debate, I should think.

And Rodowick. I’ll admit that it’s no easy read, but you’re big girls now (en Klaas is a big boy). So here’s a hint: Think of the Babette Mangolte quote: “Why is it difficult for the digital image to communicate duration?” In the next part of the book Rodowick in a way confronts the Jean Eustache example with Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark, stating that there is a fundamental difference between both, in spite of the apparent similarity of the long take approach. For him, Russian Ark is fundamentally different. 

Have a look at Mangolte’s work here.

The work of culture in the age of cybernetic systems- Bill Nichols

•March 15, 2009 • 2 Comments

Bill Nichols examines cybernetic systems (of which the computer has become the ultimate symbol) as “self-regulating mechanisms or systems within predefined limits and in relation to predefined tasks”. As an example for his inquiry, Nichols takes Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” to explore the transformations in the concepts of self and reality brought on by the advent of cybernetic systems.

New systems have the potential to overcome the existing social institutions but are often legitimated by and incorporated into those institutions to sustain the dominant hierarchy. Still, the potential to transform our conception of reality is realized through various material embodiments of cybernetic systems. Digital communication simulates face-to-face encounter and asks for immediacy and simultaneity. Instead of creating copies of an original, cybernetics create a simulation of social processes. The processes themselves instead of the representation of an object become the object of desire, the Other. The physical self is excluded from dialogical interaction, but the existing sexual hierarchy is not easily erased. The fascination with the control of simulated interactions is still predominantly male.

The metaphors of cybernetics are the key to understand these systems, since they have acquired a tangible embodiment and have become commodities. Nichols outlines the metaphors as following:

“not only the human as an automated but intelligent system, but also automated, intelligent systems as human, not only the simulation of reality but the reality of simulation.”

The tension between human/computer and reality/simulation manifests in copyright and patent law. These legal and institutional practices serve as a measure of control, which dominates the potential of collectivity. As always, the existing social order tries to preserve its ideology. Still, by seeing ourselves as part of a larger environment that is self-regulating we can redefine the mechanisms of cybernetics and liberate the system from the control and hierarchy of capitalism.

Benjamin claims a shock effect is needed to adjust men to the changes in perception. Montage in film should introduce the audience to new ways of seeing and ordering the world until it becomes a habitual skill. This is how we can access the mechanisms that underlie the new system. As a means of exercise to become acquired with the cybernetic system, Nichols suggests the zoo and the botanical garden. These simulacra are self-regulating worlds which become real in themselves, and offer absorption and a sense of control. Could we then consider Baudrillard’s Disneyland example as an exercise in the apperception of cybernetic systems as well? Zoos and entertainment parks uphold the illusion of control and simulation, so how can they serve as an exercise? In the case of cybernetics, the production process and mechanisms disappears further from view. How can we be trained in understanding them?


What was cinema? (slightly nostalgic)

•March 15, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Part 4-9 from ‘The Virtual Life of Film’

4. Film Begets Video Cinema: “the projection of a photographically recorded filmstrip in a theatrical setting” (26) has ceased to exist with the popularity of video and advance of tv/internet, claims Rodowick. The change in the materiality of the medium (chemical to digital) has changed the experience and the cultural status of viewing cinema.

5. The Death of Cinema and the Birth of Film Studies Did the medium of motion-picture change and what effect did it have on the emergence of Film Studies? Digital technology replaced the filmstrip, which made watching film different but more easy, because the other media that distribute film comforted watching. But, does ‘film’ still exist, if the medium is not a filmstrip any longer? Should we use the name moving images to address differently mediated ‘film’?

6. A Medium in All Things What defines and distinguishes the medium of film, if not its physical support and channel of transmission, nor the difference between analog and digital or its materiality? Noel Carroll objects a ‘Doctrine of Medium Specificity, that defines a medium by a criterion of self-identity, aesthetic a prioris, and the injunctive argument: A medium does not define the work’s identity, its use or aesthetic quality. Instead: Film is a hybrid medium, irreducable to one medium. Instead of the ‘medium’, the purpose of a certain art defines its importance: historical and cultural constructions instead of physical specificity. Rodowick somehow underscribes the criteria(blz. 38) with which Carroll distinguishes ‘motion-picture’ from other media, namely by its specific performance. He also blames him a certain insensivity because Carroll denies any cognitive or sensory difference of experience that results from the difference in material.

7.Automatisms and Art The medium of an artform combines material, instrumental and formal components. Not passive, but living, continually in a state of selftransformation’(42) Cavell: media are automatisms: they are the material of aesthetic creation and the result of aesthetic practice (42), out of which new practices might grow. These elements that constitute a certain temporary medium sound very Deleuzian and are defined by Cavell as ‘potentialities’ or virtualities as they do not come into existence before the artistic process starts. But Rodowick argues that this suggests too much freedom for the medium. A medium has a conventional meaning, and its reception and creation stand in a tradition in which that meaning exists: “Creation is never free”(43), but is subject to a certain (formal) identity and physical situation..

8. Automatisms and Photography Rodowick defines photography by its automatic (Cavell) quality. Photography as automatism refers to its mechanical reproducibility ‘without the creative intervention of man’ (47) Analog photography can be defined by its self-actualizing process: the inputs and the outputs of photography are continuous: automatic analogical causation.

9. Succession and the Filmstrip Besides Automatism, Succession also defines analog film. Succession is the movement or ‘animation’ of still images on an edited filmstrip.