Film-Philosophy

Journal | Salon | Portal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 6 No. 44, November 2002

 

 

Erik Marshall

 

Fatal Strategies and Film Studies

 

 

Jean Baudrillard

_Fatal Strategies_

Translated by Philip Beitchman and W. G. J. Niesluchowski

Edited by Jim Fleming

London: Pluto Press, 1999

ISBN 0-7453-1453-8

191 pp.

 

The back cover of this edition of _Fatal Strategies_ [1] accurately describes it as 'Baudrillard's writing at its most aggressive, its most extreme, and its most exciting'. In fact, several of the chapters and subsections have been translated and published separately ('The Crystal Revenge' and 'The Ecstasy of Communication' among them). This volume continues some of Baudrillard's earlier work, as well as anticipating future writings, presenting an argument against practices and philosophies of subjectivity, including psychoanalysis, in favor of the 'fatal strategy' of surrendering to the object, by submitting to the power of seduction. Baudrillard uses his characteristically bombastic style to present a world where objects have taken over, through strategies of seduction, drawing subjects to them. The power of the object is manifested most extremely in the case of catastrophes, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, showing that, contrary to popular philosophical belief, the will of the subject is powerless. The only way the subject can defeat this is by taking the side of the object, and adopting its strategies of seduction, and by taking everything past its limit. For example, just as pornography is more sex than sex (the ecstatic form of sex), obesity represents a hypercorporeality, as the body grows beyond its original use. Through this strategy of metastasis, the body is negated, and becomes pure object (27-33). Similarly, the model is truer than true (8), illusion and appearance falser than false (7), and terror is the ecstatic form of violence (41). Through this strategy of extremes, Baudrillard proposes a way to avoid dialectics, as objects have, 'by proliferating indefinitely, increasing their potential, outbidding themselves in an ascension to the limit' (7).

 

In 'The Crystal Revenge', Baudrillard writes: 'What makes you exist is not the force of your desire (wholly a nineteenth-century imaginary of energy and economy), but the play of the world and seduction; it is the passion of playing and being played, it is the passion of illusion and appearance, it is that which comes from elsewhere' (139). As we move away from the economy of desire of psychoanalysis, and toward a strategy of seduction, where the object attracts the subject, we begin to see that the magic of illusion is always in effect, and strategies of 'realistic' representation become overrepresentation, hollowed out of any real meaning, becoming all sign with no referent, making information dominant, at the expense of communication. Baudrillard advocates a return to illusion, stating 'that which is no longer illusion is dead and inspires terror' (51).

 

Film and media scholars might be interested in this book insofar as it addresses issues of media, illusion, and simulation. Near the end of the book, Baudrillard proposes that art, theatre, and language preserve illusion in ways ceremony used to, but no longer does: they 'maintain the tiny distance that makes the real play with its own reality' (173). We may certainly include film and other moving image technologies in these categories. Perhaps the following quote can be applied to _Fight Club_'s imaginary character, Tyler Durden: 'one should by no means attribute to matter this inertia and passivity, but instead a genie, even an evil one, able to undo all attempts to subjugate him' (84). It is this evil genie in the object (Durden) which prevents it from being observed, which lets it seduce. It is not the subject's desire which motivates action, but surrender to the seduction of the object, which rules the subject.

 

This work will have a different appeal to film scholars, and those interested in television and media in general, for when Baudrillard talks about media, he differentiates between television and film. 'Electronic surfaces . . . are without illusion; they offer only the inconclusive' (87), he says about television. The images on the television monitor are created from inside, not reflected from anything.

 

'We used to be able to say about something, in order to unmask its rhetoric: 'It's only literature'; to reveal its artificiality: 'It's only theater!'; to denounce its mystification: 'It's only a movie!' But we can't say 'It's only TV!' Because there is no longer a universe of reference. Because illusion is dead or because it is total' (87).

 

Television scholars may take interest when he examines the relationship between the image on the television monitor, and the event being reproduced, observing that this is not a transparent representation. Television causes events, he says -- they may not exist without it (85). His assertion that the media distance us from things with 'overrepresentation' hints at the role of simulacra as a new order of the sign, 'since images in the media are made to be seen but not really looked at' (65). This line of thinking is useful in considering the role of television as manufacturer of opinion, and, combined with his thoughts on terrorism, serves as a useful lens through which to view the media's role in representing, and creating, events. 'It is said that without the media there would be no terrorism. And it is true that terrorism does not exist in itself as an original political act: it is the hostage of the media, just as they are hostage to it' (44).

 

As digital technology becomes more sophisticated and ubiquitous, Baudrillard's assertions about television may also seem true of film. In any case, his analysis of simulacra comes into play in such films as _Final Fantasy_ and Disney's Pixar films, where digital characters become more and more realistic. As digital technologists begin to imitate more closely hair and fur, flesh tones, and natural human and animal movements, the link between the moving image and an independently existing real becomes tenuous. When the characters on the screen are not photographically reproduced images, and the difference between the two is obliterated, cinema will achieve television's status of manufacturer, not reproducer, of events and objects. This type of analysis could apply equally to films such as _The Matrix_, and a slew of other recent films which portray an illusionary real. In films such as these, illusion is an important factor in challenging the viewer, and transforming our notion of the real, of representation, of film's mimetic capabilities, and, finally, of our relationship to the media and to the (moving) image.

 

Overall, _Fatal Strategies_ may well be Baudrillard's first work that begins to theorize the moving image, but some of his later work is more developed and may be better suited to the film scholar. In fact, many of the subjects he treats here are also found in his other works. The 'fatal strategy' of taking everything to the extreme can be seen in _Symbolic Exchange and Death_, and other places, as can the supremacy of the sign, and the reversibility of laws. The idea that information and media have overtaken communication through processes of simulation recurs in works such as _Simulations_. The theme of seduction, and the focus on the object pervades much of his work. While the previously cited examples serve as possible entry points for this work into film studies, Baudrillard's interpretations of media here are incidental to his main argument, most of which does not bring much to bear on moving image technology itself, but instead on proliferation of information, making it more suited to television and media scholars.

 

Wayne State University

Detroit, Michigan, USA

 

 

Footnote

 

1. The original text, _Les Strategies fatales_, was published in 1983 by Editions Grasset, Paris, and this particular translation was originally published in 1990 by Semiotext(e).

 

 

Copyright © _Film-Philosophy_ 2002

 

Erik Marshall, 'Fatal Strategies and Film Studies', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 6 no. 44, November 2002 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol6-2002/n44marshall>.

 

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