Surrealpolitik: The Perfect Crime

Author: Jean Baudrillard

London: Verso (2008, first published in 1996)

Quick Summary

The perfect crime is the murder of reality. Perfect because no victim, no murderer, no evidence. It is a crime that has simply "always-already" been accomplished. It cannot be traced back to the original crime (down to the bottom tortoise so to speak). This book represents a sort of Baudrillardian take on the Dialectic of Enlightenment, in which the excessive rationality takes the form of Virtual Reality, everything documented and represented and accounted for until it achieves totality and original reality disappears. He describes illusions arising from rationality rather than deception, but it is the former that enables the latter, i.e., faith in and deferment to official specialists and offices makes us sitting ducks for false official narratives (and prevents the Big Other from being in on well-kept state secrets). For Baudrillard, simulation is not the opposite of real but its replacement, i.e., simulation becomes real, and is opposed to illusion, since illusion is things "presenting themselves for what they are when they are not actually there at all". In other words, as in the conundrums of reality and perception (observer changing observed, quantum-level puzzles, etc.), ultimately we are left in reality with no reality, only our perceptions, which are Baudrillard's illusions. The terrifying arbitrariness and meaninglessness of this is what leads us to construct the real through rationality, which becomes the bottom layer of simulation, upon which we build other simulacra until the simulated real exists no more than the real real.


There are 33 quotes currently associated with this book.

[T]he crime is never perfect, for the world betrays itself by appearances, which are the clues to its non-existence, the traces of the continuity of the nothing. For the nothing itself -- the continuity of the nothing -- leaves traces. And that is the way the world betrays its secret. That is the way it allows itself to be sensed, while at the same time hiding away behind appearances. (page 1)
Tags: [Simulacra/Illusion]
The great philosophical question used to be 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' Today, the real question is: 'Why is there nothing rather than something?' (page 2)
Tags: [Simulacra/Illusion]
Reality is a bitch. And that is hardly surprising, since it is the product of stupidity's fornication with the spirit of calculation -- the dregs of the sacred illusion offered up to the jackals of science. (page 3)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Simulacra/Illusion, Lead Quote Candidate]
What we have forgotten in modernity, by dint of constantly accumulating, adding, going for more, is that force comes from subtraction, power from absence. Because we are no longer capable today of coping with the symbolic mastery of absence, we are immersed in the opposite illusion, the disenchanted illusion of the proliferation of screens and images. Now the image can no longer imagine the real, because it is the real. It can no longer dream it, since it is its virtual reality. It is as though things had swallowed their own mirrors... (page 4)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Simulacra/Illusion, Dreams]
A dizzying hypothesis: rationality, culminating in technical virtuality, might be the last of the ruses of unreason, of that will to illusion of which, as Nietzsche says, the will to truth is merely a derivative and an avatar. (page 5)
Tags: [Simulacra/Illusion, Rationality]
[God] was not dead; he had disappeared. That is to say, the problem no longer even arose. It was resolved by simulation. This is what we do with the problem of the truth of reality of this world: we have resolved it by technical simulation, and by creating a profusion of images in which there is nothing to see. (page 5)
Tags: [Simulacra/Illusion]
Not to be sensitive to this degree of unreality and play, this degree of malice and ironic wit on the part of language and the world is, in effect, to be incapable of living. Intelligence is precisely this sensing of the universal illusion, even in amorous passion -- though without the natural course of that passion being impaired. There is something stronger than passion: illusion. There is something stronger than sex or happiness: the passion for illusion. (page 6)
Tags: [Simulacra/Illusion]
[I]f there is anything worse than being subject to the law of others, it is surely being subject to one's own law. The real is something we must not consent to. It has been given to us as simulacrum, and the worst thing is to believe in it for want of anything else. (page 12)
Tags: [Simulacra/Illusion]
Is there anything but a discourse of the real and the rational? (page 14)
Tags: [Rationality]
So the world, then, is a radical illusion. That is, at least, one hypothesis. At all events, it is an unbearable one. And to keep it at bay, we have to realize the world, give it force of reality, make it exist and signify at all costs, take from it its secret, arbitrary, accidental character, rid it of appearances and extract its meaning, divert it from all predestination and restore it to tis end and its maximum efficacy, wrest it from its form to deliver it up to its formula. 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. It is not, then, the real which is the opposite of simulation -- the real is merely a particular case of that simulation -- but illusion. (page 17)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Simulacra/Illusion]
We have to restore the potency and the radical meaning of illusion, which is...the way things have of presenting themselves for what they are when they are not actually there at all. (page 17)
Tags: [Simulacra/Illusion]
In appearance [me: i.e. illusion], things are what they give themselves out to be...They signal to us, but are not susceptible of decipherment. On the other hand, in simulation, in this giant disposition of meaning, calculation and efficiency that encompasses all our technical devices, including current virtual reality, the illusion of the sign is lost, and only its operation remains. The happy non-distinction between true and false, between real and unreal [me: in illusion], gives way to the simulacrum, which consecrates the unhappy non-distinction between true and false, between the real and its signs, the unhappy, necessarily unhappy, destiny of meaning in our culture. (page 18)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Simulacra/Illusion]
What within truth is merely truth falls foul of illusion. What within truth exceeds truth is of the order of a higher illusion. Only what exceeds reality can go beyond the illusion of reality. [Me: to fall foul of illusion is to become simulacrum (rational with limited and decipherable truth); truth within but exceeding its "container" (simulacrum) truth gets *back* to illusion, which is larger and slipperier and more frightening, closer to real reality or at least our unmediated perceptions of it; exceeding reality is to fuse the rational and the irrational and become the existential true human...maybe?] (page 20)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Simulacra/Illusion]
The objectivity of these [historical] relics is beyond doubt. The problem is their status as reality and, therefore, as evidence, as their status as objects suddenly rendered incredible by the very intensity of their itemization and the methods of analysis applied to them. These traces pass into hyperreality, as does any 'material' pursued down to the tiniest detail, all 'scientific' exploration ending up exterminating its real object. (page 23)
Tags: [Truth & Real]
There is always a hidden camera somewhere. You can be filmed without knowing it. You can be called to act it all out again for any of the TV channels. You think you exist in the original-language version, without realizing that this is now merely a special case of dubbing, an exceptional version for the 'happy few'. Any of your acts can be instantly broadcast on any station. There was a time when we would have considered this a form of police surveillance. Today, we regard it as advertising. (page 28)
Tags: [Fascism, Culture]
In any case, the virtual camera is in our heads. No need of a medium to reflect our problems in real time: every existence is telepresent to itself. (page 28)
Tags: [Fascism, Culture]
Virtuality is different from the spectacle, which still left room for a critical consciousness and demystification. The abstraction of the 'spectacle' was never irrevocable, even for the Situationists. Whereas unconditional realization is irrevocable, since we are no longer either alienated or dispossessed: we are in possession of all the information. We are no longer spectators, but actors in the performance, and actors increasingly integrated into the course of that performance. Whereas we could face up to the unreality of the world as spectacle, we are defenceless before the extreme reality of this world, before this virtual perfection...This is the new form of terror... (page 29)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Fascism]
This whole virtual technology media circus, this perpetual 'reality show', has an ancestor: the ready-made. Those who are plucked from their real lives to come and act out the psychodrama of their AIDS or their marital problems on TV have an ancestor in Duchamp's bottle-rack which that artist similarly plucked from the real world to confer on it elsewhere -- in a field we still agree to call art -- an undefinable hyperreality. (page 30)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Culture, Simulacra/Illusion, Dada]
Art today is simply this paradoxical confusion of the two [art and reality], and the aesthetic intoxication which ensues. Similarly, information is simply the paradoxical confusion of the event and the medium, and the political uncertainty which ensues. So, we have all become ready-mades...And just as Duchamp's acting-out opens on to the (generalized) zero degree of aesthetics, where any old item of rubbish can be taken as a work of art (which also means that any old work of art can be taken for rubbish), so this media acting-out opens on to a generalized virtuality which puts an end to the real by its promotion of every single instant. (page 31)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Simulacra/Illusion, Dada]
Already, in moving from the silents to the talkies, then to colour and 3-D and the current range of special effects, the cinematographic illusion faded as the technical prowess increased. No empty space any more, no ellipsis, no silence. The more we move towards that perfect definition, that useless perfection, the more the power of the illusion is lost. (page 32)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Simulacra/Illusion]
To the tragic illusion of destiny we prefer the metaphysical illusion of subject and object, the true and the false, good and evil, the real and the imaginary; but, in a final phase, we prefer the virtual illusion even more -- that of the neither true nor false, of the neither good nor evil, of a lack of distinction between the real and the referential, of an artificial reconstruction of the world where, at the cost of total disenchantment, we would enjoy a total immunity. (page 43)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Simulacra/Illusion]
It isn't just in physics that it's impossible to calculate the momentum and the position of a particle simultaneously. It's the same where the possibility of calculating both the reality and the meaning of an event in news coverage is concerned, the imputation of causes and effects in a particular complex process, the relationship between terrorist and hostage, between virus and cell...Uncertainty has filtered into all areas of life...And this is not an effect of the complexity of the parameters...It is a radical uncertainty, because it is linked to the extreme character of phenomena an snot just to their complexity. (page 57)
Tags: [Culture, Terror, Rationality]
Since we cannot grasp both the genesis and the singularity of the event, the appearance of things and their meaning, we are faced with an alternative: either we master their meaning, and appearances elude us, or the meaning eludes us, and appearances are saved. Since most of the time the meaning escapes us, this makes it certain that the secret, the illusion which binds us under the seal of secrecy, will never be unmasked. This is not something mystical but something that arises from an active strategy of the world towards us -- a strategy of absence and relinquishment, as a result of which, by the very play of appearances, things stray further and further from their meaning, and doubtless further and further from each other also, the world accentuating its flight into strangeness and the void. (page 58)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Simulacra/Illusion]
The present world exceeds the grasp of criticism in that it is caught up in a perpetual movement of disillusion and dissolution, the very movement which is pushing it towards order and towards an absurd conformism, the excess of which creates much greater disorganization than the opposite excess of disorder. Having reached this point, the real (if we may call it that) now responds only to a kind of objective irony and pataphysical description. Pataphysics is the imaginary science of our world, the imaginary science of excess, of excessive, parodic, paroxystic effects -- particularly the excess of emptiness and insignificance. The existence which believes in its own existence is an infatuation, a ridiculous flatulence. Pataphysical irony is aimed at this presumptuousness on the part of beings sustained by the fierce illusion of their existence. For that existence is merely an inflatable structure, similar to Ubu's belly, which distends into the void and ends up exploding like the Palotins. (page 71)
Tags: [Surrealism, Truth & Real]
At the peak of our technological performance, the irresistible impression remains that something eludes us -- not because we seem to have lost it (the real?), but because we are no longer in a position to see it: that, in effect, it is not we who are winning out over the world, but the world which is winning out over us. It is no longer we who think the object, but the object which thinks us. (page 73)
Tags: [Truth & Real]
The critical function of the subject has given way to the ironic function of the object...No longer any need to confront objects with the absurdity of their functions, in a poetic unreality, as the Surrealists did: things move to shed an ironic light on themselves all on their own; they discard their meanings effortlessly. (page 75)
Tags: [Surrealism, Truth & Real, Postmodernism]
Fetishes communicate with each other by the omnipotence of thought and with the rapidity of dreams. Whereas there is a deferred relationship between signs, there is an immediate chain reaction between fetishes because they are made of an indifferent mental substance. We see this in fashion items, where the transmission is unreal and instantaneous because they do not have meaning. Ideas, too, can have this mode of transmission: they just have to be fetishized. (page 81)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Propaganda, Simulacra/Illusion]
Say: This is real, the world is real, the real exists (I have met it) -- no one laughs. Say: This is a simulacrum, you are merely a simulacrum, this war is a simulacrum -- everyone bursts out laughing. With forced, condescending laughter, or uncontrollable mirth, as though at a childish joke or an obscene proposition. Everything to do with the simulacrum is taboo or obscene, as is everything related to sex or death. Yet it is much rather reality and obviousness which are obscene. It is the truth we should laugh at. You can imagine a culture where everyone laughs spontaneously when someone says: 'This is true', 'This is real'. (page 97)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Simulacra/Illusion, Lead Quote Candidate]
Unlike the discourse of the real, which gambles on the fact of there being something rather than nothing, and aspires to being founded on the guarantee of an objective and decipherable world, radical thought, for its part, wagers on the illusion of the world. It aspires to the status of illusion, restoring the non-veracity of facts, the non-signification of the world, proposing the opposite hypothesis that there is nothing rather than something, and going in pursuit of that nothing which runs beneath the apparent continuity of meaning. (page 98)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Simulacra/Illusion]
Contrary to what is said about it (the real is what resists, what all hypotheses run up against), reality is not very solid and seems predisposed, rather, to retreat in disorder. Whole swathes of reality are collapsing, as in the collapse of Baliverna (Buzzati), where the slightest flaw produces a chain reaction. (page 101)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Simulacra/Illusion]
So, for example, you put forward the idea of simulacrum, without really believing in it, even hoping that the real will refute it...Alas, only the fanatical supporters of reality react; reality, for its part, does not seem to wish to prove you wrong. Quite to the contrary, every kind of simulacrum parades around in it. And reality, filching the idea, henceforth adorns itself with all the rhetoric of simulation. It is the simulacrum which ensures the continuity of the real today, the simulacrum which now conceals not the truth, but the fact that there isn't any -- that is to say, the continuity of the nothing...No longer is it theories which adapt to events, but the reverse. (page 102)
Tags: [Simulacra/Illusion]
Promote a clandestine trade in ideas, of all inadmissible ideas, of unassailable ideas, as the liquor trade had to be promoted in the 1930s. For we are already in a state of full-scale prohibition. Thought has become an extremely rare commodity, prohibited and prohibitive, which has to be cultivated in secret places following esoteric rules. (page 106)
Tags: [Rationality, Lead Quote Candidate]
'Verfremdung' means becoming other, becoming estranged from oneself -- alienation in the literal sense. 'Entfremdung', by contrast, means to be dispossessed of the other, to lose all otherness. (page 112)
Tags: [The Other]