[iDC] Re: baudrillard's terror

Ben Vershbow ben at futureofthebook.org
Tue Mar 13 08:28:14 EDT 2007

Baudrillard and the net
(from if:book: http://www.futureofthebook.org/blog/archives/2007/03/baudrillard_and_the_net.html

Sifting through the various Baudrillard obits, I came across this passage
from *America*<http://www.egs.edu/faculty/baudrillard/baudrillard-america-excerpts1.html>,
a travelogue he wrote in 1989:

...This is echoed by the other obsession: that of being 'into', hooked in to
your own brain. What people are contemplating on their word-processor
screens is the operation of their own brains. It is not entrails that we try
to interpret these days, nor even hearts or facial expressions; it is, quite
simply, the brain. We want to expose to view its billions of connections and
watch it operating like a video-game. All this cerebral, electronic snobbery
is hugely affected - far from being the sign of a superior knowledge of
humanity, it is merely the mark of a simplified theory, since the human
being is here reduced to the terminal excrescence of his or her spinal
chord. But we should not worry too much about this: it is all much less
scientific, less functional than is ordinarily thought. All that fascinates
us is the spectacle of the brain and its workings. What we are wanting here
is to see our thoughts unfolding before us - and this itself is a

Hence, the academic grappling with his computer, ceaselessly correcting,
reworking, and complexifying, turning the exercise into a kind of
interminable psychoanalysis, memorizing everything in an effort to escape
the final outcome, to delay the day of reckoning of death, and that other -
fatal - moment of reckoning that is writing, by forming an endless feed-back
loop with the machine. This is a marvellous instrument of exoteric magic. In
fact all these interactions come down in the end to endless exchanges with a
machine. Just look at the child sitting in front of his computer at school;
do you think he has been made interactive, opened up to the world? Child and
machine have merely been joined together in an integrated circuit. As for
the intellectual, he has at last found the equivalent of what the teenager
gets from his stereo and his walkman: a spectacular desublimation of
thought, his concepts as images on a screen.

When Baudrillard wrote this, Tim Berners-Lee and co. were writing the first
pages of the WWW in Switzerland. Does the subsequent emergence of the web,
the first popular networked computing medium, trump Baudrillard's prophecy
of rarified self-absorption or does this "superstition" of wanting "to see
our thoughts unfolding before us," this "interminable psychoanalysis,"
simply widen into a group exercise? An obsession with being hooked into a
collective brain...

I kind of felt the latter last month seeing the little phenomenon that grew
up around Michael Wesch's weirdly alluring "Web 2.0...The Machine is Us/isng
(now over
1.7 million views on YouTube). The viral transmission of that clip, and the
various (mostly inane) video
elicited, ended up feeling more like cyber-wankery than any sort of
collective revelation. Then again, the form itself was interesting -- a new
kind of expository essay -- which itself prompted some worthwhile

I think the only honest answer is that it's both. The web both connects and
insulates us, breaks down walls and provides elaborate mechanisms for
self-confirmation. Change is ambiguous, and was even before we had a network
connecting our machines -- something that Baudrillard's pessimism misses.

Ben Vershbow
Institute for the Future of the Book
ben at futureofthebook.org
(917) 670-9550

On 3/12/07, _alejood <alejo.duque at europeangraduateschool.net> wrote:
> On Mar 12, 2007, at 5:02 PM, idc-request at mailman.thing.net wrote:
> > baudrillard's terror (Daniel A Perlin)
> hi daniel,
> i just uploaded last week by sad coincidence this short clip from one
> of the lectures baudrillard gave at the place i study, what he was
> saying relates with the quote you shared on this list.
> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-_ITSVzkrk
> /a
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