Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Simulacrum, simulacra and Valentine's Day

Photographer and model: me

I titled this blog in homage to Baudrillard and his theory of the hyperreal - "the real does not efface itself in favour of the imaginary; it effaces itself in favour of the more real than the real: the hyperreal".

In another post I returned to this idea in connection with reproductions of an original photo and briefly referenced Walter Benjamin and his famous The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.

Today I would like to dwell a little on the concept of simulacrum, Baudrillard's take on reality.We do live in a culture of simulation and hyperrealism.

The simulacrum is a copy of reality that becomes a truth of its own (the hyperreal) - God is a simulacrum, according to Baudrillard. There is a degree of negativity and even a sense of loss in this idea of the simulacrum as viewed by Baudrillard and other philosophers before him, including Plato. In unrequited love, the love object becomes a simulacrum, a presence that is no longer grounded in reality, a representation of the loved one as perceived by the lover, which has taken leave of reality and yet has a melancholic truth all of its own. So there is also a link between simulacrum and melancholia, which Julia Kristeva has explored in her Black Sun: depression and melancholia, when she talks of "the hypersign around and with the depressive word".

But for me it is Deleuze that has the final word, as he invests the simulacrum with a positive meaning.

"The simulacrum is not a degraded copy. It harbours a positive power which denies the original and the copy, the model and the reproduction. At least two divergent series are internalized in the simulacrum— neither can be assigned as the original, neither as the copy.... There is no longer any privileged point of view except that of the object common to all points of view. There is no possible hierarchy, no second, no third.... The same and the similar no longer have an essence except as simulated, that is as expressing the functioning of the simulacrum"

You can see how significant this is in art and in photography. Think here of Frida Kahlo's self portraits. Cindy Sherman's photographic self portraits have been described as 'simulacra of the feminine'. Photorealism - or painting from a photograph i.e. a copy of a copy of the real is also a good example of simulacrum. And of course caricatures, as satires, are simulacra - they do have a truth of their own, independent from their 'model', with real traits conflating with imaginary and exaggerated ones.

Photographer: Neil Huxtable

As a model, I see my images as simulacra. I also have a few of me in which I can be seen as a doppelganger (mirror image). Generally they are images WITHOUT an original - think about it, there is no original. For that is what photography is: the representation is a simulacrum because the referent is lost as soon as the photograph is taken - pace all those who ardently believe that photography faithfully reproduces an external reality and a truth outside themselves.

This blog too is a simulacrum, in terms of my self identity and how it relates to my own sense of self. Hence the title The Real Does Not Efface Itself.

Happy Valentine's Day: another simulacrum.

(All photos modelled by Alex B)

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