Saturday, June 16, 2012


Recently, I had occasion to revisit some of my notes from the last days of my time in Des Moines. Weeks ago, a rainy Saturday found me reading Baudrillard's The Spirit of Terrorism. In looking over my notes, the following passage jumped out at me. Baudrillard writes:

"In the traditional order, there is still the possibility of giving something back to God to nature, or to whatever it might be, in the form of the sacrifice. This is what ensures the symbolic equilibrium between living beings and things. Today we no longer have anyone to whom we may give back, to whom we may repay the symbolic debt - and that is the curse of our culture. It is not that giving is impossible in this culture, but that the counter-gift is impossible, since all the paths of sacrifice have been neutralized and defused." [1]

He follows this by stating that "there inevitably comes a response in the form of a negative countertransference, a violent abreaction to this captive life, to this protected existence, to this saturation of existence. This reversion takes the form either of open violence (terrorism is a part of this) or of the impotent denial characteristic of our modernity, of self-hatred and remorse - all negative passions that are the debased form of the impossible counter-gift." [2]

It is this idea of actual and symbolic self-immolation in response to saturation and secular sameness has particular resonance for me. Baudrillard is right on the proverbial money. It is cousin to the abundance of choice: when we can choose to watch/see/read/be anything, our human experience is troubled, gray, removed and dissociated. Like a apathetic adolescent splitting flesh or reveling in nutritional deprivation, lacking relief our global body seeks self-destruction. Indeed, corporeal (individual or societal) manipulation is the last recourse of the desperate. In asserting power over life in the form of death--symbolic, actual, total--the originating agent (be it person, organization, or government) rescinds Christian dogma and centuries of cultural conditioning. Death alone is our mode of access to singularity; the willful appropriation of such phenomenological profundity is not only imbued congruent gravitas, but also with awesome, hyperbolic, and symbolic force.

Baudrillard writes: "Here then, it is all about death, not only the violent irruption of death in real time - 'live', so to speak - but the irruption of a death which is far more than real: a death which is symbolic and sacrificial - that is to say, the absolute, irrevocable event." [3]

It is a good read. As always, Baudrillard is a little bit of a downer, but like DFW, he knows. And that is inspiring.

1. Baudrillard, Jean. 2002. The spirit of terrorism and requiem for the Twin Towers. London: Verso. 102
2. Ibid. 102-103
3. Ibid. 17

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