We live in a mid-evil1 time - an age scholastic, conformist, nominalistic, authoritarian and in turns mendacious and mendicant, ruled above all under the rack. How else could a word as quintessentially medieval as simulacrum become so important to understanding contemporary culture? Close reading of Baudrillard suggests a careful effort to camouflage his fear of our new feudal system with an ironic detachment to its exterior sign the modern simulacrum. His semi-conscience ploy is not without good reason, for like a medieval chemist whose science can only safely discussed as riddles or obscure glosses, today all criticism much be indirect or risk that new age excumunicado... special rendition. The citation from bible Baudrillard uses is itself apocryphal. Who today would dare to j’accuse, to name names? Certainly not myself.
So where is this desert, the real? Is it mappable? Can we google the moment, then geotag it for future reference? That I, as an American with our casual indifference to geography, have difficulty finding the real doesn’t mean that the real is as unchartable as 11 Grimbauld Place or even that it is fiction. The world as we understand it and which we can directly measure - the world of atoms, light, matter, gravity, carbon-based lifeforms and all manner trivia pursuit questions (the technical term is Byonian matter) amounts to just 3 percent of the universe12. Yup everything, all our cosmology, derives from a data set so proportionally small, it would get a failing grade in high-school science project. No wonder we live in a demon-haunted world. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy - The rest of the currently understood universe can only be studied in inference. That other annoying 97 percent, Dark matter, is but alchemistic ether repackaged by Mammon15. While the jargon change seems to be a salva veritate substitution, it is more of a munge16.
It also instructively delineates the delicate position of those in the liberal arts/sciences in the new world order. The seven sisters must be circumspect. No sister more so than Dame Rhetoric. Experimental knowledge, even facts themselves, are increasingly heresy and must therefore be hermitically sealed in code or better yet coded images. Of course today we no longer encode the forbidden in animal riddles or poetry but JPEG. If we are particularly erudite we might use HD-video codex. This is natural. The urban peasant must for economic purposes be nearly universally literate, so it follows to remain a peasant it necessary he/she must be just as nearly universally visually illiterate. Just as in the middle ages rhetoric passed from oral to written form, rhetoric has further passed into the visual. This has the corollary of making most of professions and castes in the dwindling middle classes effectively peasants. Dubord’s bourgeoisie arrived deja déclassé as their whole social strata is drained of its traditional intellectual advantages even as it fêtes its hollow victory in an orgy of consumption. While Dame Rhetoric’s changing alliances account for both the visual arts preoccupation with language and the increasingly uneasy relationship between images and the written word, this new rhetorical supremacy has a cost, namely the free-floating hostility towards artists by society at large.
Society today is organized around an unspoken religion - a nameless jealous God who suffers no rivals. War can no longer be declared. The holy must remain at once untouchable and unspoken. Our new, dare I say true, simulacra, like its medieval counterpart, remains a virginal power than whose strength resides in its disengagement from direct contact with any experimentally verifiable existence. Violence itself is sacred and thus no longer subject to any restraining social or ethical regulation. Practice the true faith and be rewarded. They may get 72 virgins in the afterlife but our hero always get the girl now if the body count is high enough. One needn’t live in a Hollywood Matrix to be afraid, very much afraid; besides in the Matrix everyone is young, beautiful and knows kung fu, in our matrix we are outgunned, tired and badly in need of a teeth cleaning. The necessary tools for state monopoly on violence are now more lopsidedly the exclusive province of the elite than anytime since the martial dominance of warhorse. Besides all rebellion is part and parcel of this hyperreal, this spectacle, this simulacrum, this prison, this whatever you want to call it. Rebellion is the anomaly whose feedback controls an inherently unstable system. Like inverted Antony over an undead corpse, now even irony is useless to rouse the mob. Caesar can be praised but he sure as hell cannot be buried.
But that is not a problem because I come to praise Caesar and am entirely too fond of my skin to try to bury him. After all, has his machinations not dropped a jewel of great price unexpectedly into the artist’s studio? The imaginary and real, the poetry of the map and the charm of the territory are hiding in the plain site/sight from his terrible hyperwrath in our special domain of expertise. It is equally fortunate that artist’s studio no longer has walls to restrict the view of our psychogeography - a plein-aire landscape of a unique five billion humans + one observer global system. In the visual realm we are free to record the strange attractors of stringy tangled meaning as long as we do so without verbal explanation. So be it. A small price for so great a gift.
So I go seeking both the poetry and the charm. To step out of the hyperreal if only for a little while. In medias res. To project onto an imaginary schematic place real bits of paper. To find the songline in that one-to-one correspondence between the poetic curling of the netherworld around the axis munde and the charm of a unique postal address. To draw the map with literature and and sculpt the territory with shuffling feet and clicking hands. So I circumnavigate this real city of Firenze - as though I could find heaven, could sight-see hell, as though I could actually escape purgatory into the momentary münden of a half-literary half-literal city that exists for a singular vibration of a nuclear isotope, a data point of GPS, the click of a shutter and is gone.
- Aprille Best Glover