Imperfections (Part 2: Anthropo-Reality, Simulation and the Symbolic)
“The faith in the categories of reason is the cause of nihilism. We have measured the value of the world according to categories that refer to a purely fictitious world. Final Conclusion: All the values by means of which we have tried so far to render the world esteemable for ourselves and which then proved themselves inapplicable and therefore devalued the world – all these values are, psychologically considered, the results of certain perspectives of utility, designed to maintain and increase human constructs of domination – and they have been falsely projected into the essence of things. What we find here is the hyperbolic naivete of man: positing himself as the meaning and measure of the value of things” Nietzsche, Will to Power
Simulation and ‘the Death of the Thing’: At first it was assumed that cyberspace (and all the associated technologies of virtual reality etc…) was an Imaginary space to act out fantasies prohibited in Real life. But cyberspace has increasingly become not a secondary, Imaginary, world but very much a way of experiencing and ordering our own Real world. Social media tools such as Google Earth and Twitter do not transport the user to an alternative world, but rather tell the user more about Real individuals and Real locales. Yes, many do use online spaces for entertainments such as World of Warcraft, but online spaces are definitely not exclusively places of fantasy.
So no, I do not think the danger of cyberspace (and its associated technologies of simulation) lies in the transformation of the Real into the Imaginary. Rather, the danger lies in the transformation of the Real into a Hyper-Real. Experiencing the world through online technologies is a thoroughly human endeavor, it belongs, in Nietzsche’s words to the ‘positing of man himself as the meaning and measure of the value of things’. So perhaps Hyper-Reality is misleading, rather we ought to use the term Anthropo-Reality (or, in a Lacanian parlance, the Real filtered through the Symbolic, Symbolic-Reality).
Lacan himself once echoed the Nietzschean ‘will-to-truth’ in a comment that “the symbol first manifests itself as the killing of the thing…” Upon emerging the Symbolic order, we no longer engage with the object-itself but with the object-as-symbol. It is no longer, for example, a spool that Freud’s nephew seeks in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, but a spool that has become, insofar as it is a linguistic object, structured by a system of language. It is rendered understandable. (But as is recognized by Lacan, there is in language an inherent logic of presence and absence. Thus, the making present of something implies some sort of absence, or in the Sausurrean ‘synchronic’ sense, the recognition that a term must, in order to ‘mean’, resemble an infinite synchronic system of differences.) Thus, what has replaced the physical spool is now a rapidly fluctuating string of floating signifiers, none of which has any signified, and as such is only synchronically linked to other signifiers. The spool has, for Lacan, been annihilated in favor of an unceasing abstraction of signifiers that relate only to one another.
The world as we know it is a “radical illusion” insofar as it is only endowed with meaning with our entrance into the Symbolic. The world that emerges, the one applicable to the Laws of positivism and science have, quoting Thomas Kuhn, been “given the force of reality, ma[de] to exist and signify at all costs”. This action, Baudrillard claims, “take(s) from [the Real’s] secret, arbitrary, accidental character, rid(s) it of appearances and extract[s] its meaning, divert(s) it from all predestination and restore(s) it to its end and its maximum efficacy, [and] wrest[s] it from its form to deliver it up to its formula.” “The sign and reality” in Baudrillard’s words, come to “share a single shroud”. “…in simulation, in this giant dispositif of meaning, calculation and efficiency that encompasses our technical devices, including current virtual reality, the illusion of the sign is lost, and only its operation remains.”
Perhaps the rapid turn to simulation (and virtuality) represents the encroachment of the Symbolic into the terrains of the Imaginary and the Real. We are confronted with the Law of the Unchanging Binary Code, subject only to 1s and 0s. Perhaps it is not the risk of an overbearing Imaginary we have to fear, but that of weakening before an overbearing Symbolic.
“This gigantic enterprise of disillusionment – of, literally, putting the illusion of the world to death, to leave an absolutely real world in its stead – is what is properly meant by simulation” – Jean Baudrillard