Sunday, March 25, 2012

The following sentence is false. The previous sentence is true.

Just to allay the professors' fears I would just like to first testify that the outline is well underway. Having put a good portion of it onto the page I can see a great deal that needs to be whittled away. Those moments when I'm having a hard time with the outline I defer to working on the annotated bibliography, and literature review. I'm posting a portion of that just to show that work is in progress.

Naturally, I've started with staples, big-picture texts, ones that I often turn to for insight into daily experiences, ones that I've read repeatedly and can summarize and cite more or less from memory most of the time. There is one quote that I looked up though. Just for the record, don't expect the rest of the annotations to be quite as long as these. I hope you don't expect that anyway.

Baudrillard , Jean. Passwords. London: Verso, 2003. Print.
            The best place to begin understanding Baudrillard’s sociological analyses of symbolic regimes is with his glossary of terms. Passwords is exactly that, published into a book. Each chapter defines his specific use of a single word or term, and indoctrinates readers into his language paradigm. Consequently, for each term defined in Passwords, there is a corresponding book. I doubt that the fact that many of the actual books were written decades before Passwords renders it any less relevant as a starting point. Marxism, Post-structuralism, Freudian psycholanaysis, Derridian and Lacanian theories of linguistics are some of Baudrillard’s more prominent themes, but his heavy overlay of tech language, his fondness for Calculus metaphors, and references to Gödelian feedback loops, lends his famously poetic syntax a very contemporary voice. Since I will be analyzing the psychological and sociological implications of industries that deal directly within prominent symbolic systems, along with my own participation in them, I plan to rely heavily on Baudrillard throughout the piece.

Baudrillard, Jean. Seduction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979. Print
            Based on Baudrillard’s recurring analysis, which appears in more than one of his other works, the worlds of advertising, marketing, and any related mass communications media that have a persuasive objective, depend specifically on a game of seduction. While a more vulgar concept might place seduction somewhere between equivocation, and manipulation by means of flattery, Baudrillard’s definition apprehends a much deeper affect. Baudrillard’s seduction is a game involving what he calls the universal reversibility of signs, and symbols, which he argues advertising takes even further, not so much to a logical conclusion (because such a term radically contradicts the psychological impact of advertising), but to what he termed “The lowest form of energy of the sign. Degree zero of meaning. The triumph of entropy over all possible tropes.”
The world in which I found myself accidentally immersed was one in which advertising had shrugged off its role as a specific power. It no longer mediated any exchange between inter-social agencies. Indeed it was a world in which the entire social enterprise had collapsed into the simplified, yet agitated language of advertising, where marketing and advertising were proffered as goods and services, in and of themselves, while ordinary objects were sold as either marketing solutions or vectors for derivative social values. And there I was, seduced by it all, frantically trying to assimilate myself into it.

Baudrillard, Jean. The System of Objects. London: Verso, 1996. Print
            The System of Objects is professor Baudrillard’s in-depth, analytical critique of the contemporary state of commodity fetishism.  In Passwords he explains his fascination with objects as originating from their apparent ability to break free of functional purposes and become signifiers capable of establishing syntax with each other and ultimately execute a form of revenge on the subject. The object’s revenge is a heady concept that involves objects coding the behavior of their human subjects with reductive signification, and symbolic values that they bear—as a form of highly simplified language. Once freed from their use value, Baudrillard explains, objects as derivatives or bearers of derivative value—sign value, historical value, ideological connotations, sexual identity themes, and so on, integrate into a discourse of their own, in which human subjects play by rules that arise more or less organically from the conditions. As he explains, these derivatives, when combined according the simplified language of advertising reduce the human experience to a sort of gaming. Integral-Reality he calls it. The final conclusion to this game isn't meaning, or enrichment, or fulfillment. It's status, nothing more.
                  While Baudrillard concedes that objects probably always signified subjects, at least in some way, he argues that prior to the pervasive circulation of advertising through media, objects signified in ways parallel to real human experience. Now however, He believed humanity to have fallen to a state in which advertising is our one and only moral code in this game of status. Even to escape it, he explains, “in a private sense, cannot prevent us from participating every day in its collective development. Not believing in it still means believing sufficiently in other people’s belief in it to develop a skeptical stance. Even actions intended as resistance to it must be defined in terms of a society that conforms to it (213).”
                  Now imagine being an outsider in the environment he describes, in which politics, economics, livelihood, religion, and any subordinate cultural discourses are moderated, on the personal level, by the language of advertising. "What are you doing after the orgy?" Baudrillards famous last words still ring true. But here’s the real kick in the gut. That last quote, and this last paragraph up to here, both reveal the same identity themes I’ve asserted in my earlier posts—artist type, DIY ethics, Billy the Kid, Odysseus lost at sea, penchant for subversive behavior and the like. Cinderella scrubbing the floors of the palace, the underdog, the rebel, these all show up as motifs in advertising at least as much as any others, and I have clearly bought into them. And I’m afraid I would be lying to myself if I said my central identity themes predate my exposure to advertising culture. So maybe when I get to my Jaques Lacan citations I’ll find some redemption for myself, some way to blame it on my mom perhaps. Until then, I’m stuck in this weird paradox. And here is my worst fear—what if characters and themes designed to appear resistant are exactly what give the system of objects, as such, its equilibrium. What if it is resistance and revolution that prevent corrupt social systems from reaching a tipping point. If that's true then I was never as much an outsider as I am a rube. And that makes me feel like Neo, whose role is to fight valiantly, miraculously even, and lose anyway. And I've just been punched in the junk by Mr. Smith. 

Occupy Wall Street anyone?


  1. Jared,

    Seeing all the lovely Baudrillard in your drawer of staples, I do wonder what a really portmanteau thesis of yours might look like. That is, one part thesis (documentation, scholarship, carefully reasoned arguments), one part simulacra (something closer to the free-wheeling phantasmagoria of an academic argument that your blog and, I feel, your textual self, aspires to).

    This is bad advice, but irresistible to me, as I enjoy the creative side of your postings. The previous sentence is not.

  2. As long as the first sentence is true, I am fine with the second as well (contradictions are no problem in this day and age).
    I am glad to see these sources here, because a creatively written and insightfully poetic thesis is very welcome, as long as its backbone is there as well. So thanks for these. I enjoy the way you explicate them (we will hope for a few more authors as well).
    I also enjoy your (and Baudrillard's) points about the commodification of everything as symbol. Objects become mere words in the language of consumption. Analytic though I am, I think I'm getting some of your previous sentences.