Telemorphosis

Jean Baudrillard was a French philosopher, cultural theorist, and scholar. He is most associated with the postmodern movement, and specifically, post-structuralism in his destruction of the old forms of knowledge – to be replaced with a non-knowledge (parallel to Lyotard). He wrote an array of works through various topics throughout his career, anywhere from cultural and political critique to philosophy and photography theory. One of his last texts, Telemorphosis, was published in 2015, eight years after Baudrillard’s death. Its subject matter lies in the realm of the upcoming technological revolution and man’s place in it. For the sake of convenience, the book will be treated as one work – it is actually a collection of two essays, ‘Dust Breeding’ and ‘Telemorphosis’ – though both have subject matter in the same areas. In it, Baudrillard asserts that humans have finally achieved the destruction of the private sphere, “reality massively transfuses itself into the screen in order to become disembodied. Nothing any longer separates them. The osmosis, the telemorphosis, is total [italics mine].”[1]

Because the destruction of old systems of knowledge pervades Baudrillard’s works, he gives frequent discussion to the problem of meaninglessness and how it is we have reached it. This meaninglessness finds its foundation in the fact that the sexual, the real and the social are mere hypotheses – “the limbo of an existence in a vacuum and stripped of all meaning.”[2] What exactly is meant by ‘hypotheses’ in this context, though? He mainly uses the sexual as the explanation and base (he says later that if there was truth, it would be that of sex) – all the enjoyment of sex comes not from the act itself, but to the moments leading up to it. Afterwards, and even during, it is a question of ‘what next?’ All enjoyment lies in the seduction, “the true gastronome makes sure to eat before getting to the pleasure of sitting at the table, hunger should not burden her.”[3] If we are stuck in a world of endless mean and no ends, how can there be any meaning (which is a question that Kant himself wrestled with, with the rise of utilitarianism and chains endless means)? These three phenomena are always mere hypotheses’ “forever unverifiable – the secret will never be uncovered.”[4]

The destruction of meaning is parallel to the destruction of the private.

We’ve become individuated beings: non-divisible with others or ourselves. This individuation, which we are so proud of, has nothing to do with personal liberty; on the contrary it is general promiscuity. It is not necessarily a promiscuity of bodies in space – but of screens from one end of the world to the other. And it is probably screen promiscuity that is the real promiscuity: the indivisibility of every human particle at a distance of tens of thousands of kilometers – like millions of twins who are incapable of separating from their double. Umbilicus limbo.[5]

 

The destruction of this Private sphere then brings us to the spectacle that is ourselves, used in the medium of modern television and social media.

The point of the essays is to give an account of this totality, our immersion in the mirrored spectacle, but also to describe the shift that television and social media have brought to society. Everything is public now – “what we profoundly desire is a spectacle of banality.”[6] The meaninglessness of our lives, the nothingness that is inherent. This brings us to the paradox of it all, of “not being seen but being perpetually visible.”[7] We as a society are obsessed with the terror of the banality of everydayness, we showcase our own lives but at the same time are terrified of seeing this nothingness broadcasted to everyone. The problem with all of this, with publicity to Baudrillard, is that once we have our pretensions to make everything public, it is the destruction of ‘live’ everything – news events, sex, even death. The events are too naturalistic to be depicted in the public sphere – they become exaggerated and alienated at once when they are broadcasted.

Loft Story (the French version of Big Brother) is both the mirror and the disaster of an entire society caught up in the race toward meaninglessness and swooning in front of its own banality [parentheses mine].”[8] In that, we see in reality shows like Loft Story a ‘democratic nihilism’ that adds to our hopelessness of the social. There is no connection between merit and public recognition, which is the original promise of democracy – work hard, the glory is yours. The actors on the show receive everything for nothing, it is showing an indifference to recognition wherein everyone by chance, arbitrarily, can have any amount of recognition – it is like a game.

As Baudrillard says, the telemorphosis is total. It is irrevocable. Life is meaningless and full of hypotheses that will never end or attain Truth – that is a fact of life. The digital age, universal communication, ‘speak, speak, speak’ have exhibited our meaninglessness and we cannot escape seeing it everywhere we turn – now more than ever, even only ten years since Baudrillard’s death the Internet growth has been exponential. The sense of exhibition has driven society to hopelessness. The essays are somber in tone – there does not seem to be any hope. Ask yourself what you have lost with the rise of technology. Disconnect for a while, see how good it feels, and try to eventually keep it that way. As Proust says, no one needs endless news stories – all they attempt to do is keep you interested in things that you are not interested in. There are only three to four books that you will read that will profoundly change your life in your lifetime – find those instead of sitting in front of a Facebook feed.

Sexes (sexués), certainly we all are – and Catherine Millet as well, but sexual? This is the question.

Socialized, we are (and often by force) but social beings? That remains to be seen.

Realized, yes – but real? Nothing is less certain.[9]

[1] Telemorphosis, Jean Baudrillard (trans. by Drew Burk), 49

[2] Ibid. 45

[3] Ibid. 43

[4] Ibid. 52

[5] Ibid. 30

[6] Ibid. 6

[7] Ibid. 8

[8] Ibid. 28

[9] Ibid. 41

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