Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Post-modernist narratives as simulacra

The end of WWII may be regarded as a watershed in the political and cultural history of the West. The devastated European hinterland, the hecatombs of the Holocaust, the radioactive emptiness of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, demonstrated adequately enough that there were no limits to what human beings can do when it came to war and systematic killing. History, the narrative of human affairs marked by the recurrent outburst of butchery, came to a sudden halt. What caused the halt were the horrors of WWII.
Since then war, and therefore history (the description of wars), became sublimated, in a pseudo-Nietzschenean sense. This pseudo-sublimation is in fact a simulation. Thus, the US and the Soviet Union, instead of continuing after WWII with a nuclear war, they went into “Cold War”, i.e. a non-war, a sublimation of war, a simulated war, a televised war (in Korea, Vietnam, etc.). History became a simulation of history.
The biggest victim of this pseudo-sublimation was the collective rejection of reality, evident in culture and politics. Culture became a simulation of culture and politics a simulation of politics.
By the word simulation I mean the representation of reality in an iconic form, in order to control it. Examples are the edifices of gods or the orthodox icons: the object becomes with time an object of worship, it “attains” a holiness of its own, it becomes a “superobject”.
Naturally, as the simulation becomes better and better it begins to control its creators. The one who worships the icon gets furious at someone who does not – in this case the iconoclast receives the wrath of the icon-worshiper. Another example is simulated war games. The “adversaries” act as if they are truly fighting inside a computer-simulated environment of a war theatre. Very soon, however, the war becomes “real” in the sense that the adversaries “forget” that this is just a simulation and become emotionally involved in the process. They actually “feel” pain. Of course, they do not die when shot at, but the “die” in every other sense; and in a simulation this is just as good as dying for real.
History is simulated not through some supercomputer of course. We are not plugged into some kind of “Matrix”. I will argue, on the definition of the New Narrative that I already have given, that this simulation is the New Narrative. What do I mean by that? The New Narrative began before WWII, but it became the dominant expression of culture soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Derrida has declared “Il n’y a pas des ‘hors texte’”. I understand the sense of the « texte » as the New Narrative, the main characteristics of which are the ubiquity of television, and the impact of advertising on the collective consciousness. Of course, literature, the visual arts and cinema, are also part of the New Narrative. But I believe that it is television and advertising that support the pseudo-sublimation of the animal instincts in us that in any other case would have used nuclear weapons without second thought. Of course, in order for the simulation to work violence must be there too, which explains why there is so much violence in TV, video games, etc.
It is very interesting here to draw a parallel with the Edo period in feudal Japan, following centuries of bloody interstrife. During the Edo period, war was all but outlawed. The sogun kept in Kyoto the heads of the lord families, thereby securing their obedience. The samurai, the warrior class, suddenly out of a business (or way of life), developed the martial arts as a “way of the mind”, incorporating elements of Zen. At the same time the arts flourished, but as a detached approach to life. Zen, is the ultimate simulation. It is nothingness. In the beginning of the 21st century western culture (and with it the rest of the world too), adheres daily to Zen-fascist slogans of the type “Just do it!” (of Nike shoes). It lives for the moment. The future is constructed through computer models that simulate climate change, orbits of threatening meteorites, spreads of epidemics – in other words threats to survival that do not exist in the NOW. Why is that? Why is the world so afraid, when the world environment has never been more secure? Again, the reason is that history is simulated so that we retain the existence of fear, so important in order to feel anything at all, whilst at the same time we inherently trust the system to secure us from “real” mutual obliteration.
I will explore further the results of this phenomenon. Suffice to say for the time being, that post-humanism is the logical consequence of simulated history. Neuro-prostheses, moral relativism and refusal of external realities (ie. the “sinking” of minds into minds) construe the new social reality, ever more distanced from the real. The problem of course with this is that the simulation has created such an environment that it is virtually impossible to distinguish what is real and what is not. The image was fused with the object.

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