Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

from one strategy to another, opposing strategy. We must not expect the discourses on sex to tell us, above all, what strategy they derive from, or what moral divisions they accompany, or what ideology--dominant or dominated--they represent; rather we must question them on the two levels of their tactical productivity (what reciprocal effects of power and knowledge they ensure) and their strategical integration (what conjunction and what force relationship make their utilization necessary in a given episode of the various confrontations that occur).

In short, it is a question of orienting ourselves to a conception of power which replaces the privilege of the law with the viewpoint of the objective, the privilege of prohibition with the viewpoint of tactical efficacy, the privilege of sovereignty with the analysis of a multiple and mobile field of force relations, wherein far-reaching, but never completely stable, effects of domination are produced. The strategical model, rather than the model based on law. And this, not out of a speculative choice or theoretical preference, but because in fact it is one of the essential traits of Western societies that the force relationships which for a long time had found expression in war, in every form of warfare, gradually became invested in the order of political power.❖

Jean Baudrillard ( 1929-) is one of France's most flamboyant social commentators and intellectuals in the fashion that dominated in Paris in the 1960s and 1970s. His explorations of the social reality of simulated worlds, like Disneyland, lead some to dismiss Baudrillard. Yet his writing, like the selection on simulacra, is deadly serious in an ironic way. Baudrillard is perhaps the most representative of the postmodern cultural leftists, who argue (as he does in the selection) that the line between reality and simulation is false. By implication, only modernity maintained the distinction; by inference, today's world has erased it, both in philosophy and, so to speak, in "reality." Baudrillard's early writings, in the years following 1968, were much more in the tradition of Marxism. At that point, Baudrillard was primarily concerned with developing a social theory of mass society based on Marx and Saussure--a critique of political economy and a semiotics. To this day, his For a Critique of Political Economy ( 1972) is rightly considered the most perspicacious interpretation of the close similarity of Marx's and Saussure's theories of social values. In this early period, he also wrote The System of Objects ( 1968) and Consumer Society ( 1970). The selection is obviously from a later period, when Baudrillard had left behind all visible traces of Marxism and his interest in semiotics had been fully transformed into a general, discursive theory of culture. Cool Memories ( 1987) is also from this later phase.


Simulacra and Simulations: Disneyland

Jean Baudrillard ( 1983)

The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth--it is the truth which conceals that there is none.
The simulacrum is true.

-- Ecclesiastes

____________________
Excerpt from Mark Poster, ed., Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman, trans., Jean Baudrillard "Simulacra and Simulations" Semiotext(e) ( Brooklyn, NY, 1983), pp. 1-13, 23-49. Copyright © 1983. Reprinted by permission of Semiotext(e).

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