What is life and what a dream and what is what it is when things are not as they seem? This week on The Red Lodge Podcast we discuss Baudrillard's essay on simulacra and sci-fi and life in the hyper-real (as well as Star Trek, Blade Runner, and much more!). Already in 1991 -- before the web's social networks and reality TV -- Baudrillard found it impossible to distinguish between the real and fake, models and matter. But does it even matter?
The image associated with this post, for example, is of a painted paper paste-up flower about five feet wide and on the side of a factory building in Bushwick Brooklyn. Ceci n'est pas une pipe as Magritte would say. There was no Bushwick Botanical so I pasted a paper garden and people responded to it with all their glory and gory, some admiring the new view and others being dicks by painting dicks on it, indicating it elicited real feelings at least. Wasn't the fake garden a real something?
Baudrillard says it is ever harder to tell. He also declares imagination is dead. In a world without depth or imagination, there is room for innovation only in what already is. Working within the confines of reality and creating an imaginative work about the true world is as close to keeping it real as science fiction can get.
The greats in this realm -- Ballard and Phillip K. Dick -- write about a world barely distinguishable from our own because it is our world. No more does the true sci-fi writer travel to space, per Baudrillard, because when we put a man on the moon that was the end of imaginary planetary travel tales.
When all the territories are mapped, the terrain of the writer is life in the hyper-real, a meta-technological world. Like Ballard, the postmodern storyteller describes the feedback loop between real and fake that is life today. Protagonists are situated on traffic islands and in our neighborhoods, not on Saturn or Mars. Or in the case of my speculative fiction, Too Long Don't Read (TLDR), the story is set in Silicon, just temporally out of reach and a little off kilter because a farcical description gets to a truth that a factual one cannot.
For Baudrillard what must be mapped now is an absurd impossibility of ever reaching truth. We are all trapped in this loop, looking at ourselves looking at ourselves looking at ourselves in the image of the images we are always being fed by our very own Borg Collective, the interwebs, the press, etc.
You will not find the real in the fake world of the hive mind but maybe you need not distinguish either. When the imitations of life become an integral part of our lives, there is no real difference between these things. What is interesting about Baudrillard's postmodernism is that it looks an awful lot like the Tao Te Ching, which also asks, between yay and nay what difference?
The same can be said for real and fake.