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Introduction White Magic: Baudrillard and Cinema

Introduction White Magic: Baudrillard and Cinema

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Published by Paul Miers
Film-Philosophy, Vol 14, No 2 (2010)
An introduction to the special issue on Baudrillard with an overview of the articles included.
Film-Philosophy, Vol 14, No 2 (2010)
An introduction to the special issue on Baudrillard with an overview of the articles included.

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Published by: Paul Miers on Oct 27, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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14.2 2010
| ISSN: 1466-4615
IntroductionWhite Magic: Baudrillard and Cinema
 Jon Baldwin
London Metropolitan University
The greatest magician would be the one who would cast over himself a spell so complete that he would take his own phantasmagorias asautonomous appearances. Would not this be our case?
 -Jorge Luis Borges, 'Avatars of the Tortoise'Curiously perhaps, for an influential thinker whose work was so concernedwith issues of the image, illusion, the sign, spectacle, and representation, thisis the first collection of essays on Jean Baudrillard and cinema. Whendiscussions have been made of Baudrillard and film the orientation haspredominantly been around notions of simulation and postmodernity.Necessary corrections and additions now begin to outnumber the early andpopular conception of Baudrillard. Whilst there certainly is something to besaid regarding simulation and film, this can result in an imbalance. What isoften missing is the flip side of the core duality in Baudrillard's thought andconsideration of that which antagonises simulation: namely symbolicexchange, seduction, and radical alterity. Seduction is diversion from one'spath, a taking aside: Doel speaks of the ‘almost absolute proximity of the“play” of seduction in Baudrillard and the “play” of 
anddissemination in Derrida’ (Doel 2010, 187). The virtue of investigating thisdimension of Baudrillard’s philosophy is evident in, for instance, HunterVaughan's contribution. Here he claims that the ‘unique and unexplored
14.2 2010
| ISSN: 1466-4615
insight’ offered by the notion of seduction can be core to ‘the centralarguments of film-philosophy for what cinematic form may provide forrenewing our conceptualization of the world and our experience of it.’ Theambition of the collection can be summarised in the words of David B.Clarke: ‘a more sophisticated appreciation of Baudrillard’s thought onsimulation and its relation to seduction carries significant, untapped potentialfor film theory.’ These essays share this concern despite their disparatesubject matter (such as
Das Leben der Anderen
 , The Student of Prague
 , Zelig 
 , Once Upon a Time in the West 
 , Vertigo
 , Home of the Brave
 , The Wizard of Oz
 , Bram Stoker’sDracula
and other theorists employed (Deleuze, Derrida, Lacan,Levinas, Rancière,
ek).Gerry Coulter produces a refined appreciation of simulation andfocuses on technology, realism, and history. In so doing he provides a vastoverview of Baudrillard’s fascination with cinema. Mediated technologies of virtualization and the ‘obscene’ pursuit of realism are problematic to thequality of the cinematic image. Baudrillard mourns the loss of cinema’smythic qualities, the loss of its ‘magic appeal’ (Baudrillard 1993, 33), and themovement from ‘the most fantastic or mythical to the realistic andhyperrealistic’ (Baudrillard 1987, 33). The mocking of Nietzsche'sZarathustra is appropriate here: ‘For thus you speak: ‘We are completerealists, and without belief or superstition’: thus you thump your chests –alas, even without having chests!’ (Nietzsche 1969, 143) Coulter makesapparent Baudrillard’s suspicion of technology and through a discussion of the ‘good’ Stasi officer from
Das Leben der Anderen
explores the role thatfilm is playing in the collective understanding of history.David B. Clarke considers the relative scarcity of comprehensiveBaudrillardian studies of cinema and explores his mobilisation as arepresentative of postmodernism in readings of films such as
Blade Runner
The Matrix
. There are certain limitations to such literature and Clarkeprovides a fuller account of Baudrillard’s conception of cinema by movingfrom simulation to seduction. Consideration is given to Baudrillard's use of 
14.2 2010
| ISSN: 1466-4615
the 1926 German silent film,
The Student of Prague
: 'a remarkableillustration of the processes of alienation'. The move to seduction andillusion dissuades the dismissive assessment of film
simulation. Clarkeconcludes with discussion of Baudrillard’s notion of disappearance and thedistinctiveness of photography.A fuller appreciation of seduction is also considered necessary byHunter Vaughan who claims that in most theoretical assessments of Baudrillard’s work ‘there is little mention of 
’. Vaughan suggeststhat this text offers an insight into the dichotomous and contradictory natureof cinema ‘which as an instrument of popular culture acts according to themodern logic of production, but as a form owes more to the transformativeand playful semiology of the pre-modern.’ Vaughan follows the lamentationsof theorists such as Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Rancière in his focus on thebetrayal of cinema by its industrial and commercial preference for traditionalregimes of representation despite film's sensory capacity to move away fromthese. Following a reading of 
Once Upon a Time in the West,
,Vaughan concludes that the subversive nature of seduction can be used notjust to critique visual culture, ‘but instead to encourage the diverse andradical employment of its abilities.’Baudrillard considered the two elements of mass fascination in thetwentieth century to be the white magic of cinema and the black magic of terrorism (Baudrillard 2002, 29-30). These themes come together in thepaper by Kim Toffoletti and Victoria Grace. When cinema and terrorism areemptied of their symbolic qualities the result is a certain indifference.Toffoletti and Grace focus on recent big-budget films which respond toterrorism and the ‘war’ in Iraq such as
Home of the Brave
In theValley of Elah
(2007) and
(2008). The returned soldiers in
Homeof the Brave
come to realise that America values have become a ‘Starbucksand SUV’ lifestyle. The reason for the commercial failure of these films isexplored considering the trauma and abjection depicted, and by utilisingBaudrillard’s notion of indifference. This is at the heart of western cultureand fundamentally implicated in the dynamics of the Iraq ‘war’. The films

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