Esther’s Space- journey through my life

April 15, 2007

Baudrillard’s postmodern bend

Filed under: THEORY 330 — estherspace @ 9:07 pm


I need to begin by thanking Al Gore for inventing the Internet. I began Baudrillard, and immediately had the problem that I had no idea what simulacra was. Lucky for me, I had the internet available. (we will disregard the existence of dictionaries for this example) Now it all can make sense, because simulacrum is: slight, unreal, or superficial likeness or semblance.

So, continuing on…

Though I enjoy reading and mentally sparring with Baudrillard’s stuff, we have a problem. I am Russian Orthodox, which is a very, very close sibling (sister, brother, you tell me) with Greek Orthodoxy, and we have those icons that he puts forth as an example of simulacra.

baudrillard.jpg christ.jpg

So, here we are, with representations of Jean and Jesus. “Thus perhaps at stake has always been the murderous capacity of images, murderers of the real, murderers of their own model as the Byzantine icons could murder the divine identity.” (1735) My toes are bruised. As I understand it, Baudrillard argues that in the creation of images, we have replaced the genuine meaning of the individual with this representative, metonymically reproduced symbol or sign of the original, except that this is postmodernism, so there really is no original. Damn, that made perfect sense in my head.

So, we are then given the “successive phases of the image”n(1736)

  • reflection of a basic reality
  • masks and perverts a basic reality
  • masks the absence of a basic reality
  • bears no relation to any reality whatever; it is its own pure simulacrum

I understand the argument, and it is well constructed. However, I disagree. Both of the renderings above are reflections of some reality. At what point do they become these masks? How can this transition be recognized? Baudrillard writes, “the transition from signs which dissimulate something to signs which dissimulate that there is nothing, marks the decisive turning point.” (1736) I want the proof, Jean, not the rhetoric. These icons, similar to if we made copies of your picture on a machine, are reproduced using the original, and with no intent of altering or skewing the image. Is it then that the ‘meaning’ of the image changes? What represents that shifted meaning, then, because I see a representation of Christ when I look at the icon, hence the name, ‘icon’. The way Baudrillard describes the ‘successive phases of the image,’ I imagine some evolution, but I don’t see it. Perhaps I’m not looking….I’m going to go do a little magic schoolbus of the internet, I’ll brb.

Presenting: St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane & the African Orthodox Church:


he musical ministry is delivered through the “Ministers of Sound” also known as the church ensemble: Ohnedaruth. Many of the members of this ministry are ordained clergy who are dedicated to spreading Coltrane Consciousness.[…] With all music dedicated to God, to whom all praise is due, Ohnedaruth has played virtually every night club and Jazz venue in the bay area, including Kimball’s East, Yoshi’s, Bimbo’s, and the San Jose Jazz Festival.” (from the official St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church Website Okay, I take some of it back. This is enough to give the ‘real’ Orthodox churches an apoplexy twenty-seven times over.

I must revise my argument, though Baudrillard is against the idea of any original from which messed-up reproductions are made, isn’t it necessary in order to have some model for the new, and to compare it to? I can only compare St. John Coltrane’s icon to older icons because it was styled after it and in the same tradition. So, my weak and pathetic argument as I take my foot out of my mouth: while images and representations tend to reproduce simulacrarily and metonymically, not all necessarily at the same rate, and while the reproductions may be increasingly lacking with greater reproductions (copy of a copy), the original remains fresh and unadulterated, or at least more so than the 40th copy. And, no matter how many distortions are made to an image, it does retain it’s basic reality for a very long time. Jesus is still Christ in the pictures, even if he looks slightly different, and Jean is still Baudrillard. The ‘basic reality’ is the hardest to shake.



  1. I saw the picture of John Coltrane and I had to laugh a little. I saw the same icon in a soup kitchen in Washington D.C. and I thought it was a joke. You know, like whoever created this image was like, here’s a big middle finger to the ubiquitous icons depicting millenia-old white men. (That didn’t sound so sacriligious in my head, I swear.) I didn’t take the image seriously because I was pretty sure he wasn’t actually canonized by the Church. But, not to digress into Fanon territory, I figured that the Church of Ohnedaruth has the right to appoint its own saints. Why should there only be one set of criteria?

    Anyway, I think Baudrillard should have clarified himself on the icon issue (I feel like I’m accusing the poor man of this same crime lately). I think I understood what he was trying to say, but it came out a little too black-and-white. Icons represent a spiritual concept of God, of Christ, of the goodness of holy people which we try to emulate. It helps to have images of them, since it makes it easier to relate to such a crucial figure such as Christ, but the icon fail to serve this purpose once its viewer mistakes the icon for the actual concept itself. Baudrillard, to my knowledge, never made this distinction.

    Comment by kelliem — April 16, 2007 @ 6:32 pm

  2. Of course, Coltrane was a fucking saint. Right along with Jimi Hendrix. The real thing!

    Comment by Benjamín Dos Agilas — October 3, 2012 @ 12:42 am

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