A Misreading Gone too Far

It is widely known that Jean Baudrillard, in Simulacres et simulation, acknowledges Philip K. Dick as one of the first to reflect, albeit fictionally, on the concept of “simulacrum”. However, a more detailed analysis of how dickian are Baudrillard’s concepts and theories remains to be done. That is the goal of this article, a task we undertake by distinguishing, on the one hand, the concepts proposed in L’échange symbolique et la mort and Simulacres et simulation, and, on the other, the radical turn inaugurated in Le crime parfait.

É sabido que Jean Baudrillard, em Simulacres et simulation, reconhece Philip K. Dick como sendo um dos primeiros a reflectir, ainda que através da ficção, sobre o conceito de “simulacro”. Contudo, uma análise mais pormenorizada a quão dickianos são os conceitos e as teorias de Baudrillard é algo ainda por fazer. É esse o objectivo deste artigo, tarefa a que nos propomos traçando uma distinção entre, por um lado, os conceitos propostos em L’échange symbolique et la mort e Simulacres et simulation, e, por outro, a viragem radical inaugurada em Le crime parfait.

Baudrillard meets Philip K. Dick*


«Say: This is real, the world is real, the world 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.»

(Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime,  95)


In the Shadow of Baudrillard.

The first chapter of one of Baudrillard’s most disquieting books, Le crime parfait (1995) [The Perfect Crime (1996)], opens with:

«Were it not for appearances, the world would be a
perfect crime, that is, a crime without a criminal, without a victim and without a motive. And the truth would forever have withdrawn from it and its secret would never be revealed, for want of any clues [traces] being left behind.» (p. 1)

Baudrillard’s grandiloquent style should not distract us from the gist of the message. «Were it not for appearances» the world would be void; it would be its own crime. But it is a crime without a victim and without a perpetrator, because neither could be allowed to exist, and even if they could, they would coincide in the same entity. If we are playing with words, why not declare — as Baudrillard does not, at least not in that chapter — that the crime is not a murder, but rather a suicide?

On the other hand, why should we maintain that there has been a crime at all? That hypothesis would be congruent with Baudrillard’s argument that «If the crime were perfect, this book would have to be perfect, too, since it claims to be the reconstruction of the crime» (p. 6), but he does not pursue it. Indeed, the whole book would be accomplished in that one paragraph. The book’s perfection would be accomplished by not having existed at all!

Baudrillard’s boutades, however, are not ends in themselves; they have a purpose, which is to account for a «disappearance of reality», an assertion that stands — as it becomes clear as the book unfolds, just as in a crime novel — on very precise historical and social grounds. Let me then commit the heresy of going directly to the solution of that crime novel and reveal that the key clue is hidden in the expression «Were it not for appearances». Appearance, states Baudrillard, is what remains after reality is taken away. Appearance is also what remains — like all evidence in a crime scene — as a sign of what has been taken away. Now we have nothing left but those signs, however, the fossils of reality, which means that in Le crime parfait Baudrillard must accept (with uneasiness, even anxiety) the fate that appearance must be saved, as there is nothing else left:

«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?”» (p. 2)

Instead of pondering that loss and the subsequent enthroning of appearance, let us focus on the fact that Baudrillard’s discourse about it has a history of its own, a history that begins long before Le crime parfait. As early as L’échange symbolique et la mort (1976) [Symbolic Exchange and Death (1993)], Baudrillard articulates the «skeleton» of his most renowned concept, the simulacrum:

«There are three orders of simulacra, running parallel to the
successive mutations of the law of value since the Renaissance:

—The counterfeit is the dominant schema in the “classical” period, from the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution.

Production is the dominant schema in the industrial era.

—Simulation is the dominant schema in the current code-governed phase.

The first order simulacrum operates on the natural law of value, the second order simulacrum on the market law of value, and the third order simulacrum on the structural law of value.» (Symbolic Exchange 50)

Drawing from his earlier expansion of Marxist theory in Pour une critique de l’économie politique du signe (1972) [For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1981)], Baudrillard’s orders of simulacra match the categories of value outlined in that book1. For each period in history, there is a dominant form of value: before the Industrial Revolution, (natural) usage value and the corresponding mode of the «counterfeit»; attending that revolution, exchange (or market) value and the mode of «production»; and finally, in «post-industrial» societies, sign-value (or structural value) and the «simulacrum» in the proper, strict sense.

Each epoch possesses its own way of falsifying reality and needs to cope with a different concern. At first, with the Renaissance, it is a matter of discriminating what is real from what is counterfeit:

«The modern sign then finds its value as the simulacrum of a
“nature.” This problematic of the “natural” and the metaphysics of reality was, for the bourgeoisie since the Renaissance, the mirror of both the bourgeois and the classical sign.… It is with the Renaissance, then, that the forgery is born along with the natural, ranging from the deceptive finery on people’s backs to the prosthetic fork, from the stucco interiors to Baroque theatrical scenery.» (51)

Nature is, however, still the arch-referent that warrants the ontological primacy of «Reality»2. With the Industrial Revolution, the ascendancy of exchange value — the ability to reduce everything to that common denominator that is money — replaces faith in Nature with a new faith in production (and in serial reproduction). What matters (and what has a market value) is now the utilitarian achievement of a goal, not the plain (and useless) imitation of an appearance. The automaton gives way to the robot3:

«A world separates these two artificial beings. One is the theatrical, mechanical and clockwork counterfeit of man where the technique is to submit everything to analogy […]. The other is dominated by a technical principle where the machine has the upper-hand, and where, with the machine, equivalence is established. […] [A]s for the robot, as its name implies, it works; end of the theatre, beginning of human mechanics.» (53)

A certain faith in Reality remains, nevertheless: first order simulacra want to imitate every object to the minutest detail, disregarding its usage value; second order simulacra want to reproduce only its relevant features, i. e., its functionality. But, as mass production «inflates» reality, a third order arises, discarding the former as a butterfly discards its chrysalis. Or, in a Marxist and Hegelian fashion, each period carries the seeds of its own demise:

«the stage of serial reproduction […] is ephemeral. As soon as dead labour gains the upper hand over living labour (that is to say, since the end of primitive accumulation), serial production gives way to generation through models. In this case it is a matter of a reversal of origin and end, since all forms change from the moment that they are no longer mechanically reproduced, but conceived according to their very reproducibility […]. We are dealing with third-order simulacra here.» (56; emphasis in original)

These third order simulacra are the true simulacra in the strict and proper sense. Their rise and triumphal enthronement was, according to Baudrillard, irresistible. In other words, the swift and uncontainable reproduction of “Reality” has caused it to implode to a (formerly unthinkable) subsidiary status; given that the new simulacra are generated by a model, by an algorithm or code, a new kind of reality — hyperreality, in Baudrillard’s wording — emerges and takes over. The realm of information, i. e., of the immaterial, is now the source of materiality itself, no longer its imperfect copy.

Authenticity, formerly a crucial issue, is now obsolete4.

The Fatal Connections: Baudrillard meets Dick. Or did he really?

Between L’échange symbolique et la mort and Le crime parfait, Baudrillard explored exhaustively all corollaries of that conceptual framework, which was articulated in its most renowned form in Simulacres et simulation (1981) [Simulacra and Simulation (1994)]. Almost every essay he published in the 1980s and the early 1990s may thus be considered a footnote or case study corroborating that framework — and for that matter, even Simulacres et simulation lacks the true originality one can find in L’échange symbolique. This, of course, does not mean that his position remained unchanged throughout that period; however, slight nuances were the rule, until the more substantial revision performed in Le crime parfait.

But we should not rush. Although there are no deep theoretical innovations between 1976 and 1981, we must take a closer look at Simulacres et simulation before proceeding to Le crime parfait. A peculiar (but noticeable) detail makes its appearance in the former book: there, Baudrillard acknowledges that an SF author had not only already reflected on simulacra, but had also used that very same word in some of his novels. That author is Philip K. Dick5.

Philip K. Dick is quoted four times in Simulacres et simulation, although in two of those instances — in the original French edition — he is improperly referred as «K. Philip Dick», a peculiar mistake that raises the suspicion, as we will argue in a moment, of a hasty and superficial reading of his novels, a reading that may have resulted from a recommendation by someone who had a deeper acquaintance with Dick’s material6 and had noticed the similarities between those scenarios and the concept proposed by the French sociologist in L’échange symbolique (1975) [Symbolic Exchange and Death (1993)].

Let us look closely at those four references to Dick. The first, in the chapter «L’effet Beaubourg: implosion et dissuasion» [«The Beaubourg Effect: Implosion and Deterrence»], is momentary, but leaves the reader with the expectation that there may be more to come:

«An experimentation with all the different processes of representation: defraction [sic; it should be “diffraction”], implosion, slow motion, aleatory representation — a bit like at the Exploratorium in San Francisco or in the novels of Philip K. Dick — in short a culture of simulation and of fascination, and not always [sic; “anymore” is more faithful to the original] one of production and meaning […].» (Simulacra and Simulation 65; emphasis added)

A few pages later, in a chapter about the advertising industry, that expectation is confirmed with a reference to Dick’s The Simulacra (1964), the most obvious choice to illustrate the homonymous concept. It seems, however, that Baudrillard mistakenly took the papoola, a Martian creature (or its simulacrum!) for the annoying Nitz commercials — both have, in the novel, a similar function of persuading the incautious. This is, in the original edition, also one of the instances where Dick’s name is incorrect7:

«the anticipatory illustration of this transformation was Philip K. Dick’s papula [sic] — that transistorized advertising implant, a sort of broadcasting leech, an electronic parasite that attached itself to the body and that is very hard to get rid of. But the papula is still an intermediary form; it is already a kind of incorporated prosthesis, but it still incessantly repeats advertising messages.» (89)8

Another revealing mistake occurs in the chapter appetizingly entitled «Simulacres et science-fiction». The entire segment alludes to We Can Build You (1972), but Baudrillard, without a reasonable explanation, attributes that plot to The Simulacra9:

«Perhaps science fiction from the cybernetic and hyperreal era can only exhaust itself, in its artificial resurrection of “historical” worlds, can only try to reconstruct in vitro, down to the smallest details, the perimeters of a prior world, the events, the people, the ideologies of the past, emptied of meaning, of their original process, but hallucinatory with retrospective truth. Thus in Simulacra by Philip K. Dick, the war of Secession [sic]. Gigantic hologram in three dimensions, in which fiction will never again be a mirror held toward the future, but a desperate rehallucination of the past.» (123)

A few pages later comes the last and lengthiest appreciation of Philip K. Dick’s novels, but again his name is inverted10:

«Where would the works be that would meet, here and now, this situational inversion, this situational reversion? Obviously the short stories [sic; maybe ‘short novels’] of Philip K. Dick “gravitate” in this space, if one can use that word (but that is precisely what one can’t really do any more, because this new universe is “antigravitational”, or if it still gravitates, it is around the hole of the real, around the hole of the imaginary). One does not see an alternative cosmos, a cosmic folklore or exoticism, or a galactic prowess there — one is from the start in a total simulation, without origin, immanent, without a past, without a future, a diffusion of all coordinates (mental, temporal, spatial, signaletic) — it is not about a parallel universe, a double universe, or even a possible universe — neither possible, impossible, neither real nor unreal: hyperreal — it
is a universe of simulation, which is something else altogether. And not because Dick speaks specifically of simulacra — science fiction has always done so, but it played on the double, on doubling and redoubling, either artificial or imaginary, whereas here the double has disappeared, there is no longer a double, one is always already in the other world, which is no longer an other, without a mirror, a projection, or a utopia that can reflect it — simulation is insuperable, unsurpassable, dull and flat, without exteriority — we will no longer even pass through to “the other side of the mirror,” that was still the golden age of transcendence.» (124-25) 11

This is clearly the most relevant reference to Philip K. Dick, where the connection between his novels and Baudrillard’s concept of the simulacrum is most fully developed. Cross-referencing the information in the articles by Daniel Fondanèche and Roger Bozzetto for SFS (see Works Cited below) with the Bibliothèque Nationale’s online database, we know that Dick’s most significant novels published to date had been translated into French (e. g., Now Wait for Last Year [1966], Counter-Clock World [1967], Dr. Bloodmoney [1965], The Man in the High Castle [1962], Ubik [1969], The Simulacra, and Solar Lottery [1955]), but Baudrillard’s references amount only (disregarding the misattribution noted above) to The Simulacra and We Can Build You. This is even more perplexing if we take into account the fact that other novels, such as Ubik and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), could have served as finer illustrations for his expression «the hole of the real» («trou du réel»).

Baudrillard and Dick: A Pact of Lucidity?

No matter what might be said of this somewhat sloppy reading, the pertinence of finding a link between Dick’s novels12 and the Baudrillardian concepts of the simulacrum and the hyperreal remains, and, as a corollary, the pertinence of Philip K. Dick as an interpreter of our contemporary condition. Dick, taking shelter in being an sf writer, even if meddling with some of the genre’s protocols, rejects naïvely realist conceptions of «Reality», while insinuating that it may be nothing but an inter-subjective agreement (and we are lucky if such an agreement, the koinos kosmos, is achieved at all!). Baudrillard depicts that collapse as a historical process. In Philip K. Dick’s novels, the explanation of the phenomenon oscillates between psychological and ontological grounds13. For Baudrillard (at least the Baudrillard who wrote L’échange symbolique and Simulacres et simulation), the roots are sociological and historical: «Reality» is not a void, it became a void as a consequence of that slow development, from the faking of reality to reality as a fake.

Hence the three orders — or periods — of the simulacra. At first the attempt to falsify what exists; then the reproduction of a functionality; and finally, when barely anything is left to emulate from the original reality, the generation of a new one from models where all combinatory possibilities are explored — even if later filtered by an artificial selection. The map becomes the territory, as there is no territory left to be mapped. Perhaps the most canonical illustration of the pinnacle of this process is Disneyland. Taking the risk of repeating for the thousandth time the passage where that example is given, here is how Baudrillard describes it:

«Disneyland exists in order to hide that it is the “real” country, all of “real” America that is Disneyland (a bit like prisons are there to hide that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, that is carceral). Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, whereas all of Los Angeles and the America that surrounds it are no longer real, but belong to the hyperreal order and to the order of simulation.» (12)

Just like Disneyland, Baudrillard continues, everything else «is neither true nor false: it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate the fiction of the real in the opposite camp» (13)14.

There is a simple reason for our preference for that particular example: Philip K. Dick also mentioned Disneyland in his essay «How to Build a Universe that Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days later»15. Right at the beginning, we read:

«First, before I begin to bore you with the usual sort of things science fiction writers say in speeches, let me bring you official greetings from Disneyland. I consider myself a spokesperson for Disneyland because I live just a few miles from it — and, as if that
were not enough, I once had the honor of being interviewed there by Paris TV…. We also discussed Watergate, but we did that on the deck of Captain Hook’s pirate ship.» (259)16

Not an auspicious start, in spite of the allusion to Watergate. But Disneyland returns later in the essay, and on that second occasion the ontological repercussions are unambiguously stated:

«Fake realities will create fake humans. Or, fake humans will generate fake realities and then sell them to other humans, turning them, eventually, into forgeries of themselves. So we wind up with fake humans inventing fake realities and then peddling them to other fake humans. It is just a very large version of Disneyland.
You can have the Pirate Ride or the Lincoln Simulacrum or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride — you can have all of them, but none is true.» (263-64; emphasis added)

The similarity between what Philip K. Dick affirms in this essay and the concept of «simulacrum» as stated in Simulacres et simulation, published less than half a decade later, is striking. Such a coincidence may, of course, be devalued by the mystical context that was omnipresent in everything that Dick wrote after 1974. In that same essay, Disneyland also appears under a
theological — if not apocalyptic — framework. First it appears as a counterpoint to the desired rationality:

«I know perfectly well that the date is 1978 and that Jimmy Carter is president and that I live in Santa Ana, California, in the United States. I even know how to get from my apartment to Disneyland, a fact I can’t seem to forget. And surely no Disneyland existed back at the time of St. Paul.

So if I force myself to be very rational and reasonable, […] I must admit that the existence of Disneyland (which I know is real) proves that we are not living in Judaea in A. D. 50. The idea of St. Paul whirling around in the giant teacups while composing First Corinthians, as Paris TV films him with a telephoto lens — that just can’t be. St. Paul would never go near Disneyland. Only children, tourists, and visiting Soviet high officials ever go to Disneyland. Saints do not.» (270; emphasis in original)

Then, closing the essay, Dick concedes that, after all, we may be living in an artificial reality that is bound to be exposed (by God?) as a fake:

«Perhaps time is not only speeding up; perhaps, in addition, it is going to end. And if it does, the rides at Disneyland are never going to be the same again. Because when time ends, the birds and hippos and lions and deer at Disneyland will no longer be simulations, and, for the first time, a real bird will sing.» (279-280; emphasis added)

Even when we are not reading one of his novels, Dick’s proposals appear much more radical than Baudrillard’s notion of the simulacra, at least when compared with what the French author states in L’échange symbolique and Simulacres et simulation. In those books, the dialectical grounds for his theory allow for an interpretation according to which there could have been some kind of «Golden Age» before the dawn of the simulacra (i. e., before the
Industrial Revolution, if not before the Renaissance) when «Reality» still had the chance to be «real». The whole structure of his theory would in this case be, in a good old-fashioned way, «epochal», even if the dialectic’s rule of thumb states that contradiction, the seed of change, has to be already presupposed in the original «thesis». Dick’s assumptions for his approach diverge, particularly as he assumed the «theological» interpretation that shaped his later works: while maintaining that the threading of fake realities may be a human and therefore political act (cf. the posthumous Radio Free Albemuth [1985]), he suspects that, apart from that one and divinely endorsed «Reality» that awaits to be unveiled — which is the proper meaning of the word «apocalypse» — all others, no matter how they came to be, may
be fakes. Either there was a time when «Reality» could be trusted (and, if so, we need desperately to be rescued from the Black Iron Prison that leads us to believe «we are not living in Judaea in A. D. 50» and prevents us from getting in touch with the «real birds») or fakery is all we can count on. The former option leads to some form of «expectation»17, the latter to that active form of nihilism that stands out in some earlier novels, particularly those written in the 1960s (cf. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Ubik, or A Maze of Death), in which characters must keep on coping with what they perceive to be reality, even as they are overwhelmed by mistrust of their own perceptions.

At the time that Simulacres et simulation was published, then, Baudrillard’s concept of the simulacrum paled next to the audacity — not to say insanity18 — of Dick’s. A clearer picture of the differences between Baudrillard and Dick can be seen by looking at the distinct framing of their (at first sight similar) stances towards technology. For Dick, more technology means more and better ways to produce «fake fakes» (androids, drugs, coldpacs, etc.), and thus less «Reality», until some kind of redemption restores it, which may or may not be aided by technology19. For Baudrillard, who absorbed McLuhan’s peculiar interpretation of technodeterminism (even if only to fracture it from the inside), the role of technology — particularly when it becomes a «logotechnology» ruled by the supremacy of code20 — can only be to move us further away from any chance to bring back «Reality». Nevertheless, a refusal or some kind of subversion of technology may still be within our reach, just as, in Pour une critique de l’économie politique du signe, the true gift was something that, given its gratuity, defeated the semio-economic value-system — or Mai 68’s writings on the wall, that were then, for Baudrillard, the sole alternatives to the logic of the mass media.

In Le crime parfait, however, Baudrillard’s cynicism overcomes not only his previous position, but also Dick’s (who at least was at times hopeful of divine intervention). The book authorizes two slightly variant interpretations. According to the «weaker» one (which is also the most compatible with Baudrillard’s other, earlier, works), we may now be at the dawn of a fourth order of simulacra: no longer committed to the need to produce reality, the production of appearances would suffice for these newest simulacra. Yet, according to the «stronger» one, the whole book may be read as a denial of everything Baudrillard had previously stated, a renunciation of the residue of optimism entailed by the belief in a «Reality» preceding — at least ontologically, if not chronologically — all simulacra. Halfway between these two interpretations — in medio stat virtus, after all, no matter how much a book such as Le crime parfait seems to evade any definite reading — is the possibility of there having been a «Reality» (or a «reality effect», in his words), but only for a short while:

Reality and the real world will have lasted only for a certain time, then. Just as long as it took for our species to pass them through the filter of the material abstraction of the code and calculation. Having been real for a while, the world was not destined to remain so for long. It will have taken only a few centuries to traverse the orbit of the real, and be very rapidly lost beyond it.

In purely physical terms, we may say that the reality effect exists only in a system of relative speed and continuity. In slower societies — primitive ones, for example — reality does not exist; it does not «crystallize», for want of a sufficient critical mass. […] In societies which are over-rapid, like our own, the reality effect becomes hazy: acceleration brings a jostling of causes and effects, linearity gets lost in turbulence, and reality, in its relative continuity, no longer has time to happen. (The Perfect Crime 45; emphasis added)

No matter how we read him, a trace of historicism remains. But that is now a minor detail when confronted with the new “ontoloclasty” that, perhaps unintentionally, surpasses all Dickian reveries. Reminding us again of McLuhan’s arguments, technology is the key:

The key concept of this Virtuality is High Definition. That of the image, but also of time (Real time), of music (High fidelity), of sex (pornography), of thought (Artificial Intelligence), of language (digital languages), of the body (the genetic code and the genome). Everywhere, High Definition marks the transition — beyond any natural determination — to an operational formula […] the transition to a world where referential substance is becoming increasingly rare. (Le crime parfait 29-30)

Though passages like this still evoke the constellation of Baudrillard’s books that orbit Simulacres et simulation, we must note the fundamental difference that pervades Le crime parfait: in the latter, the fact that there may be no «Reality» outside the one that is technically produced is no longer a misfortune to cry about, but rather something unavoidable that merely needs to be acknowledged:

We labour under the illusion that it is the real we lack the most, but actually, reality is at its height. By our technical exploits, we have reached such a degree of reality and objectivity that we might even speak of an excess of reality, which leaves us far more anxious and disconcerted than the lack of it. That we could at least make up for with utopianism and imagination, whereas there is neither compensation for — nor any alternative to — the excess of reality. (64)

In L’échange symbolique and Simulacres, the advent of the hyperreal was something to grieve over. In Le crime parfait, the confrontation between real and hyperreal is no longer an issue, as if Baudrillard is conceding, at last, that both coincide, after all, and there is nothing we can do about it21. Can someone end up being more «Dickian» than Dick himself, who still believed in «fake fakes»22?

It is not, then, the real which is the opposite of simulation — the real is merely a particular case of that simulation — but illusion. And there is no crisis of reality. Far from it. There will always be more reality, because it is produced and reproduced by simulation, and is itself merely a model of simulation. The proliferation of reality, its spreading like an animal species whose natural predators have been eliminated, is our true catastrophe. (Perfect Crime 16; emphasis added)

Works cited

Baudrillard, Jean

Pour une critique de l’économie politique du signe. 1972. Trans. by Charles Levin as For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. St. Louis: Telos, 1981.

Le crime parfait. 1995. Trans. by Chris Turner as The Perfect Crime. New York: Verso, 1996.

Simulacres et simulation. 1981. Trans. by Shiela Faria Glaser as Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor,  MI: U of Michigan P, 1994.

L’échange symbolique de la mort. 1975. Trans. by Iain Hamilton Grant as  Symbolic Exchange and Death. London: Sage,  1993.

Bozzetto, Roger

“Dick in France: A Love Story.” Trans. Danièle Chatelain and George Slusser. SFS 15.2 (July 1988): 131-40.

Dick, Philip K.

“How to Build a Universe that Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later.” The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings. Ed. Lawrence Sutin. New York: Vintage, 1995. 259-80.

Easterbrook, Neil

“Dianoia/Paranoia: Dick’s Double ‘Impostor.’” Philip K. Dick: Contemporary Critical Interpretations. Ed. Samuel J. Umland. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995. 19-42.

Eizykman, Boris

Science-fiction et capitalisme: Critique de la position de désir de la science. Paris: Maison Mame, 1973.

Fondanèche, Daniel

“Dick, the Libertarian Prophet.” Trans. Danièle Chatelain and George Slusser. SFS 15.2 (July 1988). 141-51.

Huntington, John

“Philip K. Dick: Authenticity and Insincerity.”SFS 15.2 (July 1988): 152-160.

Kreuziger, Frederick A.

Apocalypse and Science Fiction: A Dialectic of Religious and Secular Soteriologies. Chico, CA: Scholars, 1982.

Lessig, Lawrence

Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

Rabkin, Eric S.

“Irrational Expectations; or How Economics and the Post-Industrial World Failed Philip K. Dick.” SFS 15.2 (July 1988). 161-72.

Sutin, Lawrence, ed.

Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2005.



* I am grateful to Elvira Callapez, at the University of California at Berkeley, for allowing me access to the English translations of Baudrillard’s works.

1 Pour une critique de l’économie politique du signe and La société de consommation (1970) [The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures (1998)] explore the economic and semiotic dimensions of the theory; from L’échange symbolique et la mort onwards, as is already the case of Simulacres et simulation, the ontological dimensions come to the fore.

2 When required by the argument, «Real» or «Reality» (with an initial capital) stand here for any (supposedly natural) reality existing before — in both the logical and the chronological sense — some kind of simulacrum.

3 Frankenstein (1818) and R.U.R. (1921) may then, by Baudrillard’s standards, be the literary emblems of two distinct stages of the Industrial Revolution. Mary Shelley’s book suggests an incipient industry where the outer appearances count as much as the inside (the “parts” that are used by Victor Frankenstein for his creation are the remains of corpses, not something produced ex novo). In R.U.R., only the function needs to be reproduced; human appearance is secondary — and in spite of that, surprisingly, self-awareness also emerges in Čapek’s robots.

4 Although I cannot elaborate on the subject, I believe that a close reading of «Authenticity and Insincerity» by John Huntington could also be used to illuminate (or to challenge) Baudrillard’s concept of the simulacrum.

5 For this analysis, we may disregard the fact that for Dick «simulacrum» stands for android, a synonym that is only used in novels written in the first half of the 1960s, as in the case of We Can Build You (1972). While in the previous decade he had occasionally (in «Second Variety» [1953], for example) also used the term «machine», in the late 1960s — Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) is the illustration that first comes to the mind — Dick returns to the more canonical word «android». In these and other cases, however, there is also an underlying reality that could be described, in Baudrillardian terms, as «simulacral» or «hyperreal», which, at least in this stage of our analysis, legitimates the agglutination of both dimensions of Dick’s work under a single concept.

6 No matter how Baudrillard came across Philip K. Dick’s work, one thing is certain: there is no mention of this sf author in L’échange symbolique. But, as we read in two articles for SFS (Roger Bozzetto’s «Dick in France: A Love Story» and Daniel Fondanèche’s «Dick, the Libertarian Prophet»), Dick was by that time a well-known author in France, and he had also already been mentioned in the academic milieu, namely in Boris Eizykman’s Science-fiction
et capitalisme
(1973). Can Eizykman be the missing link between Dick and Baudrillard?

7 Here is the original excerpt: «L’illustration anticipatrice de cette
transformation était le papoula de K. Ph. Dick [sic], cet implant publicitaire transistorisé, espèce de ventouse émettrice, de parasite électronique qui se fixe au corps et dont il est très difficile de se débarrasser [sic]. Mais le papoula est encore une forme intermédiaire: c’est déjà une sorte de prothèse incorporée, mais il serine encore des messages publicitaires.» (Baudrillard, Simulacres et simulation 136-137).

8 Apparently, not all British or American editions of Baudrillard’s books were careful enough to double-check some titles and concepts that were originally in English. Such is the case with «papoola», which becomes “papoula” in Simulacres and then «papula» in this translation; such is the case with Stand on Zanzibar (1968) (see note 14, below), which becomes Everyone to Zanzibar due to the French title of John Brunner’s novel; and returning to Dick, it is also the case with We Can Build You, that appears in Seduction (original title De la séduction) as The Schizos’ Ball Le
Bal des Schizos
was the French title.

9 Both novels (and many others) were available in French editions. A quick search of the online catalog of the Bibliothèque Nationale (http://catalogue.bnf.fr/) reveals that We Can Build You was published in 1975 by Éditions Champ-Libre as Le bal des schizos, and The Simulacra as Simulacres, in 1973 by Calmann-Lévy and in 1975 by J’ai Lu.

10 «Où seraient les oeuvres qui répondraient d’ores et déjà à cette inversion, à cette réversion de situation? Visiblement les nouvelles de K. Philip Dick [sic] ‘gravitent’ si on peut dire (mais on ne peut plus tellement le dire, car précisément ce nouvel univers est ‘antigravitationnel’, ou s’il gravite encore, c’est autour du trou du réel, autour du trou de l’imaginaire) dans ce nouvel espace. On n’y vise pas un cosmos alternatif, un folklore ou un exotisme cosmique ni des prouesses galactiques — on est d’emblée dans une simulation totale, sans origine, immanente, sans passé, sans avenir, une flottaison de toutes les coordonnées (mentales, de temps, d’espace, de signes) — il ne s’agit pas d’un univers parallèle, d’un univers double, ou même d’un univers possible — ni possible, ni impossible, ni réel ni irréel: hyperréel — c’est un univers de simulation, ce qui est tout autre chose. Et ceci non pas parce que Dick parle expressément de simulacres (la science-fiction l’a toujours fait, mais elle jouait sur le double, sur la doublure ou de dédoublement artificiel ou imaginaire, alors qu’ici le double a disparu, il n’y a plus de double, on est toujours déjà dans l’autre monde, qui en est plus un autre, sans miroir ni projection ni utopie que puisse le réfléchir — la simulation est infranchissable, indépassable, mate, sans extériorité — nous ne passerons même plus ‘de l’autre côté du miroir’, ceci était encore l’age d’or de la transcendance.» (Simulacres et Simulation, 184-185) It should be noted that the opening parenthesis in the last sentence does not close in the original (nor in the Portuguese edition, which I have also consulted).

11 Another minor (but theoretical) reproach: although Baudrillard denies the relevance of the double in that particular novel («here the double has disappeared, there is no longer a double»), some Philip K. Dick scholars present a very solid claim that that was one of his most ubiquitous obsessions — cf. Easterbrook.

12 Or other sf novels, as Simulacres et simulation is prodigal with references to the whole genre. J. G. Ballard’s Crash (1973), to which he dedicates a whole section (111-119), may not be a good illustration in terms of a strict definition of genre sf, but Norman Spinrad’s Bug Jack Barron (1969) and Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar are clearly within it (126-127).

13 That there is a relation between both explanations, even when one seems to be the dominant or exclusive (as in We Can Build You, apparently owing nothing to ontology), is a subject that goes beyond the purposes of this paper.

14 Mark Poster’s translation of the excerpt, available online, is more accurate: «it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate in
the fiction of the real». (http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/Baudrillard/Baudrillard_Simulacra.html; emphasis added).

15 Presented — yet another «French connection» — in the French city of Metz in September 1977, and first published in July 1978 in the magazine L’Année 1977-78 de la S.-F. et du Fantastique (cf. Sutin 250-251).

16 Yet another wild hypothesis on how Baudrillard came across P. K. Dick’s novels: through the interview for French television, which occurs halfway between the publication of L’échange symbolique and Simulacres et simulation.

17 Maybe the one that Frederick Kreuziger called «disjunctive expectation» in his Apocalypse and Science Fiction (163ff), but that is a subject we prefer not to elaborate upon in these pages.

18 Cf. Rabkin’s «Irrational Expectations».

19 Aided by technology: VALIS (1981); unaided by technology, accepting its presence but refusing it as ultimately redemptive: Rick Deckard’s epiphany in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

20 A most stimulating reflection on the concept of code and its role on the shaping of contemporary technologies is Lessig.

21 Unlike other works in which the term hyperreal was ever-present, it almost disappears in Le crime parfait. The only instance I could spot is in a reference to Duchamp’s ready-mades: «The bottle-rack, exscribed from its context, purpose and function, became more real than reality (hyperreal) […] (26).

22 Fleetingly, capitulating to an unexpected return to the topoi of sf (and also evoking Sade), Baudrillard speculates on the feasibility of parallel realities, a theme that Dick also explored: «Why might there not be as many real worlds as imaginary ones? Why a single real world? Why such an exception? Truth to tell, the real world, among all the other possible ones, is unthinkable, except as dangerous superstition. We must break with it as critical thought once broke (in the name of the real!) with religious superstition. Thinkers, one more effort!» (97).

© Jorge Martins Rosa


Texto: Jun/07

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