Month: February 2015

Notational, No. 14

When the real is no longer what it was, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a plethora of myths of origin and of signs of reality—a plethora of truth, of secondary objectivity, and authenticity. Escalation of the true, of lived experience, resurrection of the figurative where the object and substance have disappeared. Panic-stricken production of the real and of the referential, parallel to and greater than the panic of material production: this is how simulation appears in the phase that concerns us—a strategy of the real, of the neoreal and the hyperreal that everywhere is the double of a strategy of deterrence.

♦ Jean Baudrillard, “The Precession of Simulacra”

There is an essence of nostalgia that haunts even the most immediate experience in this vast projection, what constitutes reality. Even as it is happening, life calls out for its own recall; to the moment that we are self-consciously viewing in the moment; to the experience directly analogous to a mediated representation; and the proof is we are not satisfied. We mourn the lost event. It announces a hollow promise, and there is doubt even in the heart of it—if it has a heart—a suspicion that what we have is not true, that we are divorced from, and sold on, a facsimile.

A great panic infuses the search for authenticity that drives a modern lifestyle. We seem to know that what we are up to is superimposed onto the surface of something real, an unmediated interaction that thrums with unknown pleasures and traumas, sealed away by corporate projects of standard production, of expiation engineering, the commodification of the genteel. But Baudrillard wonders if there really is something that actually remains below the simulated. We have perhaps gone too far beyond the originary creation that spawned our faculties of projection. We long for the return of the real every time we are told that we get it, and it feels like a cheap, marketed mediation between what you identify as yourself and the overwrought narratives that bombard that identity. How is life supposed to happen in the hyperreal?

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Notational, No. 13

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. . . . There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

♦ Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

I do not study biology; but I do study the modern world, and Darwin’s frequently eloquent treatise has remained, arguably, the second great punctuation mark of modernity. The first, of course, was Copernicus’ solar system; but this second blow to our anthropocentric reality came at a time when change must have felt almost inevitable. Something, or someone, had to liberate a new paradigm for the human race to inhabit. We had to be integrated with the world that we had come to feel so apart from. To be re-encircled by the forces that move and shape all life must have seemed a momentous thing. I suppose it still does.

The awe and respect that Darwin articulated so clearly in his conclusion of his most famous project did little to mitigate the wild resentment of the contemporary conservative. Still, now, contemporary conservatives manage to unselfconsciously refute an elegant system that, though refined over the past 155 years or so, still remains predominantly intact as the most plausible mechanism to account for the development of life on earth. It seems some of us are still growing into the concept.

Or flat out denying it. Such avowals of theistic reasoning are atavistic. I know that we try and play nice, show each other a good time, and do our best to avoid making anyone feel stupid or maligned, but there’s a sequence to this. Auguste Comte wrote it down: theology gives way to metaphysics, which is in turn supplanted by positivism. Not to subscribe to a specific, preordained teleology, but this is a process of enlightenment. The move to reject the positivist becomes progressively more absurd the further we get from the epiphany that it really isn’t all about us; any one of us, or even as a group; but there is all the room in the universe to make something valuable out of what it is that we’ve got.

Darwin in this age should be read like a celebration.