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The end

end of
of the
the millennium
millennium
The
or the
the countdown
countdown
or
Jean Baudrillard
Jean
(translated by Chris Turner)

Abstract
Abstract

millennia1I countdown
countdo\$n the time remaining is already
alread!- past, and the maximal
In the millennia
gi\es way to the minimal utopia of
of survi\-al.
sur\-i\-al.This is the paradox of the
utopia of life gives
achieved utopia which puts an end to the utopian dimension.
dimension. It creates
creates an impossible

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ir exhausts historical
historical possibilities.
possibilities.
situation, in the sense that it
h!-perspace; extreme phenomena.
Keywords: time;
time; history; utopia; hyperspace;
Keywords:
jump over
01-er our shadows when we no longer have any?
any? How can we
How can we jump
of the century (not to speak of
of the millennium) if
if \I-e
u p our
pass out of
we do not make up
of mourning
minds to put an end to it, engaged as \I-e
we are in an indefinite work of
for all the incidents, ideologies and violence which
n-hich have marked
marked it?
it? The
'The remorse
- more or less hypocritical
h!-pocritical - commemorations
commemorations
that has been expressed and the -

el-ents of
of the
and recantations give the impression that we are trying to run the events
century
memor!; not
not in
in order
order to
to find
find aa meaning
meaning for
for them
them
century back through
through the
the filter
filter of
of memory,
- they have clearly los
lostt tthat
- but in order to whitewash them, to
to launder
ha t en
ell route -

this.fin
them. Laundering is the prime activity of
of this
them.
jill

IZr Slide
siicle - the laundering of
of a
de

of corrupt consciousnesses, of
of the polluted
polluted planet
history, of
of dirty money, of
dirty history,
- the
the cleansing
cleansing of
of memory
memor!- being indissolubly
indissolubly linked
linked to
to the
the - hygienic
hygienic - cleans­
cleans- racial and ethnic - cleansing of
of populations.
populations.
of the environment or to the ing of

We arc
'in progress',
progress', with none of
of the problems it poses
are turning away from history 'in

resol\-ed, and plunging into a regressive
regressil-e history, in the nostalgic hope
having been resolved,
of
it.And
-4nd in
in this
this retrospective,
retrospective, necrospec­
necrospecof making
making aa politically
politically correct
correct one
one out
out of
of it.
tive
term. This
tive obsession,
obsession, we are
are losing
losing any
any chance
chance of
of things
things coming
coming to
to their
their term.
This is
is

wh>simpllwhy I advanced the idea that the Year 2000 would not take place: quite simply
because the history of
of this century has already come to an end, because n-e
we are
metaphoricall!- speaking, we
we shall
reliving it interminably and because, therefore, metaphorically
never pass on into the future.
we are, all the sa'Tle,
- for ~5-e
same, on
future. Our millenarianism
millenarianism - is a millenarianism
millenarianism with no tomorrow.
tomorrow. Whereas
of a millenarian
millenarian dateline the eve of
vVhereas
Econom,]~
irnd So(iely
Sociri)~
hlumt, 26 iI/umber
2'umbrr -I4 Soc'em/Jer
.Voi.cfi~hrr1997:
1997: -1-17--/.';,)
447-4.7.7
Economy
and
viJlume

0Routledge
Routledge 199i
1997
1[')

0308-5 147
030k-Sl+i

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448
448

Jean
Jean Baudrillard
Baudrillard

the
the coming
coming of
of the
theYear
Year 1000,
1000, even
even though
though itit was
was experienced
experienced with
with dread,
dread, was
was aa

prelude to
to parousia
parousiu and
and to
to the
the advent
advent of
of the
the Kingdom
Kingdom of
of God,
God, and
and hence
hence the
the
prelude
prelude to
to an
an infinite
infinite promise,
promise, the
the point
point of
of reckoning
reckoning which
which stands
standsbefore
before us
us isis aa
prelude
closed,
closed, involuted
involuted one.
one. All
All we
we have
have left
left of
of the
the millenarian
millenarian dateline
dateline isis the
the count­
count-

which can
can do
do nothing
nothing more
more than
than count
count the
the seconds
seconds
downto
to it.
it. For
For this
this century
century --which
down
separatingitit from
from its
its end
end without
without either
either being
being able,
able,or
or really
really wanting,
wanting, to
to measure
measure
separating
up
the digital
digital clock
clock on
on the
the Beaubourg
Beaubourg Centre
Centre showing
showing the
the count­
countup to
to that
that end
end -- the
down
down in
in millions
millions of
of seconds
secondsisis the
the perfect
perfect symbol.
symbol. It
It illustrates
illustratesthe
the reversal
reversal of
of the
the

whole of
of our
our modernity's
modernity's relation
relation to
to time.
time. Time
Time isis no
no longer
longer counted
counted progres­
progreswhole
sively,
sively,by
by addition,
addition, starting
starting from
from an
an origin,
origin, but
but by
by subtraction,
subtraction, starting
starting from
from the
the

end. This
This isis what
what happens
happens with
with rocket
rocket launches
launches or
or time
time bombs.
bombs. And
And that
that end
end isis
end.
no longer
longer the
the symbolic
symbolic endpoint
endpoint of
of aa history,
history, but
but the
the mark
mark of
of aa zero
zero sum,
sum, of
of aa
no
by the
the exhausting
exhausting of
of all
all
potential exhaustion.
exhaustion.This
This isis aa perspective
perspective of
of entropy
entropy --by
potential

...

Weare
areno
no longer
longer
possibilities--the
perspective of
of aacounting
counting down
down to
to infinity
infinity.....We
possibilities
the perspective
in
in the
the finalistic,
finalistic,historical
historical or
or providential
providential vision,
vision, which
which was
was the
the vision
vision of
of aa world
world

of progress
progress and
and production.
production. The
The final
final illusion
illusion of
of history,
history, the
the final
final utopia
utopia of
of time
time
of
no
no longer
longer exists,
exists, since
since itit isis already
already registered
registered there
there as
as something
something potentially
potentially
accounted
accountedfor,
for,in
in digital
digital time,
time, just
just as
asmankind's
mankind's finalities
finalitiescease
ceaseto
to exist
existat
at the
the point
point

where they
they come
come to
to be
be registered
registered in
in aa genetic
genetic capital
capital and
and solely
solely in
in the
the biological
biological
where
perspective
perspective of
of the
the exploitation
exploitation of
of the
the genome.
genome. When
When you
you count
count the
the seconds
seconds

separating you
you from
from the
the end,
end, the
the fact
fact isis that
that everything
everything isis already
already at
at an
an end;
end; we
we
separating
are already
already beyond
beyond the
the end.
end.
are
In
In the
the countdown,
countdown, the
the time
time remaining
remaining isis already
already past,
past, and
and the
the maximal
maximal utopia
utopia
of
of life
lifegives
gives way
way to
to the
the minimal
minimal utopia
utopia of
of survival.
survival. We
We are
are experiencing
experiencing time
time and
and

history in
in aa kind
kind of
of deep
deep coma.
coma. This
This isis the
the hysteresis
hysteresis of
of the
the millennium,
millennium, which
which
history
expresses
expresses itself
itself in
in interminable
interminable crisis.
crisis. It
It isis no
no longer
longer the
the future
future which
which lies
liesbefore
before

the impossibility
impossibility of
of being
being finished
finished and,
and, at
at the
the
us, but
but an
an anorexic
anorexic dimension
dimension -- the
us,
same time,
time, the
the impossibility
impossibility of
of seeing
seeing beyond.
beyond. Prediction,
Prediction, foresight
foresight being
being the
the
same
memory of
of the
the future,
future, itit diminishes
diminishes in
in exact
exact proportion
proportion to
to the
the memory
memory of
of the
the
memory
beJ)reseen
any more.
more. What
What isis
past. When
When everything
everything can
can be
be seen,
seen, nothing
nothing can
can be
ji!reseen any
past.
there
there beyond
beyond the
the end?
end?Beyond
Beyond the
the end
end extends
extends virtual
virtual reality,
reality, the
the horizon
horizon of
of aa

memory, emotions,
emotions,
programmed reality
reality in
in which
which all
all our
our known
known functions
functions -- memory,
programmed
sexuality,
become progressively
progressively useless.
useless.Beyond
Beyond the
the end,
end,in
in the
the era
era
sexuality,intelligence
intelligence --become
of
of the
the transpolitical,
transpolitical, the
the trans-sexual,
trans-sexual, the
the transaesthetic,
transaesthetic, all
all our
our desiring
desiring
machines
machines become
become little
little spectacle
spectacle machines,
machines, then
then quite
quite simply
simply bachelor
bachelor
machines,
machines, before
before dying
dying away
away into
into the
the countdown
countdown of
of the
the species.
species.The
Thecountdown
countdown

isthe
the code
code of
of the
theautomatic
automatic disappearance
disappearanceof
of the
the world,
world, and
and all
allour
our little
littlehumani­
humaniis
the
tarian machines,
machines, by
by way
way of
of which
which we
we anticipate
anticipate that
that disappearance
disappearance -- the
tarian
are merely
merely the
the pro­
proTelethons,' Sidathons2
Sidathons2and
and all
all the
the rest
rest of
of the
the Thanatons
Thanatons -- are
Telethons,l
t h i sfin
jn
motional Sales
Sales Event
Event for
for the
the misery
misery of
of this
motional

de Slide.
sie'cle.But
But -- and
and this
this is
is even
even
de

what are
are we
we to
to do
do when
when nothing
nothing really
really comes
comes to
to an
an end
end any
any
more paradoxical
paradoxical --what
more
more, that
that isis to
to say,
say, when
when nothing
nothing ever
ever really
really takes
takes place,
place, since
since everything
everything isis
more,
already
already calculated,
calculated, accounted
accounted for,
for, expired
expired and
and realized
realized in
in advance
advance (the
(the simu­
simulacrum
lacrum taking
taking precedence
precedence over
over the
the real,
real, information
information taking
taking precedence
precedence over
over the
the
event,
)? Our
event, etc.
etc.)?
Ourproblem
problem isis no
no longer:
longer: what
what are
are we
we to
to make
make of
of real
real events,
events, of
of real
real

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4+9
end c!f'tlze
o{the mzllennzum
millennium oror the
the cozlnt~lomi~
coulltdowll 449
The etzd
violence, but
but what
what are we to make of events n-hich
which do not take place? Not: what
what
\-iolence,
are we to do after the orgy? But: what
what are we
we to do when
when the orgy no longer takes
takes
place - the orgy of histor!;
history, the orgy of revolution
revolution and
and liberation, the orgy of
modernity?
modernity? Little byby little, as the hands of the clock move around
around (though, sadly,
digital clocks no longer even have hands), we
we tell ourselves
ourselves that,
that, taking
taking ever!.every­
- taking everything into a 'count-down'
'count-down' - modernity
modernity has
thing into account never happened. There has never
never reall!really been
been any modernity, riel-er
never any real
real
progress,
never
any
assured
liberation.
The
linear
tension
of
modernity
and
progress,
assured
T h e linear tension
modernity and
been broken, the thread
thread of history has become
become entangled and the
progress has been
'historic' event - the fall of the Berlin Wall - signified
signified more an immense
last great 'historic'
repentance on
on the
the part
part of
of history
history which,
which, rather
rather than
than heading
heading off
off towards
towards fresh
fresh
repentance
scattered fragments and reactireacti­
perspectives, seems rather to be splintering into scattered
had thought
thought long gone.
vating phases of events and conflicts we had
believed past and finished, left behind
behind by the inexorable march
march of
All that we believed
universal progress, is not dead at all, but seems rather to be returning to strike
ultra-vulnerable systems. It is a bit like
at the heart of our ultra-sophisticated, ultra-vulnerable
like
Park in
of Jurassic Pork
in which the modern (artificially cloned) dinosaurs
the last scene
scene of31~r-ussic
havoc on their fossilized
fossilized ancestors preserved
preserved
burst into
into the museum and wreak havoc
Today, we are ourselves, as the human
human
there, before being destroyed
destroyed in
in their turn. Toda?;
species,
clones.
species, trapped
trapped in
in this same
same way between our fossils
fossils and our clones.
So, the countdown extends in both directions: not only does it put an end to
revival of the
time in the future,
future, but it also exhausts itself in the obsessional re\-ival
events of the past.
past. A reverse recapitulation, which is the opposite of a living
living
rehabilitations, cultural
fanatical memorization, commemorations, rehabilitations,
memory - fanatical
memory, extolling of heritage. In fact
sys­
fact this sysmuseification, listing of sites
sites of memor!;
tematic
tematic obsession
obsession with re-living
re-living and
and reviving
reviving everything,
everything, this
this obsessional
obsessional neu­
neurosis,
memor!- is
is equivalent
equivalent to
to aa non-occurrence
non-occurrence of
of memory
memory rosis, this
this forcing
forcing of
of memory
equivalent
equivalent to
to aa non-occurrence
non-occurrence of
of current
current history,
histor!; of
of the
the non-occurrence
non-occurrence of
of the
the
event
event in
in the
the information
information space.
space. This
This amounts
amounts to
to making
making the
the past
past itself
itself aa clone,
clone,
an
never actu­
actuan artificial
artificialdouble,
double, and
and to
to freezing
freezing it
it in
in aa sham
sham exactitude,
exactitude, which will never
ally
have nothing
nothing else
else now
now but
but objects
objects in
in which
ally do
do it
it justice.
justice. But
Rut it
it is
is because
because we have
not
not to
to believe,
believe, nothing
nothing but
but fossilized
fossilized hopes,
hopes, that
that we are
are forced
forced to
to go
go down
down this
this
road:
everything to
to the
the status
status of
of aa museum
museum piece,
piece, an
an item
item of
of heritage.
heritage.
road: to
to elevate
elevate eterything
Here
again, time
Here again,
time reverses:
reverses: instead
instead of
of things
things first
first passing
passing through
through history
history before
before
becoming
now pass
pass directly
directly into
into the
the heritage.
heritage. Instead
Instead
becoming part
part of
of the
the heritage,
heritage, they
they now
of
now go
go straight
straight into
into the
the museum.
museum. Instead
Instead of
of being
being
of first
first existing,
existing, ,yorks
n-orks of
of art
art now
born
the!- are
are born
born as
as virtual
virtual fossils.
fossils. Collective
Collective neurosis.
neurosis. As
-4s aa result,
result,
born and
and dying,
dying, they
the
memor!- becomes
becomes frayed;
frayed; the
the hole
hole through
through
the ozone
ozone layer
layer that
that was
was protecting
protecting memory
which
which memories
memories and
and time
time are
arc leaking
leaking out
out into
into space
space expands,
expands, prefiguring
prefiguring the
the
great
...
great migration
migration of
of the
the void
void to
to the
the periphery
periphery-.....
Closing
Closing down,
dou-n, closing
closing down!
down! It's
It's the
the end-of-century
end-of-century sale.
sale. Everything
Everything must
must go!
go!
Modernity
Modernity is
is over
over (without
(without ever
ever having
having happened),
happened), the
the orgy
orgy is
is over,
over, the
the party
party is
is
over
- the
the sales
sales are
are starting.
starting. It's
It's the
the great
great end-of-the-century
end-of-the-century sale.
sale. But
But the
the sales
sales
over do
an!- longer;
longer; nowadays,
nowadays, the
the sales
sales start
start first,
first,
do not
not come
come after
after the
the festive
festive seasons
seasons any
last
themsel\-es are
are sold
sold off
off everywhere.
everywhere. The
The
last the
the whole
whole year
year long
long and
and the
the festivals
festivals themselves
-

-

450

Jean
Jean Baudrillard

stocks
stocks have
have to
to be
be used
used up,
up, time-capital
time-capital has
has to
to be
be used
used up,
up, life-capital
life-capital has
has to
to be
be
used
used up.
up. Everywhere,
Everywhere, we have
have the
the countdown;
countdown; what
what we are
are living
living through
through in
in this
this

symbolic end of the millennium is the prescribed
prescribed term, whether it be that of the
planet's
planet's resources or of AIDS, which has become the collective
collective symptom of the
prescribed
prescribed term of death.
death. It is all these things which hover over us in the shadow
of
of the
the Year
Year

2000, together
together with the
the delicious,
delicious, yet
yet terrifying enjoyment
enjoyment of
of the
the

theyear
place?
period
Year 2000 will not take place?
period of time left to us.
us. But, ultimately,
ultimately, perhaps the
Perhaps,
amnesty?
Perhaps, on
on the
the occasion
occasion of
of the
the Year
Year 2000, we shall
shall be
be granted
granted aa general
general amnesty?
There is no finer parable to describe this countdown than Arthur C.
C. Clarke's
story, 'The nine billion names of God'.
God'. A community of Tibetan monks has been
engaged
engaged from
from time
time immemorial
immemorial in
in listing
listing and
and copying
copying out
out the
the names
names of
of God,
God, of
of
billion. At
which there
there are
are nine
nine billion.
At the
the end
end of
of this,
this, the
the world will end.
end. So
So runs
runs the
the

prophecy. But the monks are tired
tired and, in order to hasten the work, they call in
prophecy.
job in
the experts at IBM, who come along with their computers and finish the job
a month.
month. It is as though the operation of the virtual dimension were to bring the
history of the world to an end in an instant.
instant. Unfortunately, this also means the
disappearance
disappearance of
of the
the world in
in real time, since the promise
promise of
of the
the end of
of the world

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associated
associated with this
this exhaustive
exhaustive counting
counting of
of the
the names
names of
of God
God is
is fulfilled,
fulfilled, and,
and, as
as

they go back down into the valley, the technicians,
technicians, who did not actually believe
in
in the
the prophecy,
prophecy, see
see the
the stars
stars going
going out
out in
in the
the firmament,
firmament, one
one by
by one.
one.
This
This parable
parable depicts
depicts our
our modern
modern situation
situation well: we have
have called
called in
in the
the IBM
IBM
technicians and they have triggered the code of the world's
world's automatic dis­
disappearance.
appearance. As
As aa result
result of
of the
the intervention
intervention of
of all
all the
the digital,
digital, computing
computing and
and
virtual-reality
virtual-reality technologies,
technologies, we are
are already
already beyond
beyond reality;
reality; things
things have
have already
already
passed
passed beyond
beyond their
their own
own ends.
ends. They
They cannot,
cannot, therefore,
therefore, come
come to
to an
an end
end any
any
longer, and they sink into the interminable
interminable (interminable history, interminable
interminable
politics,
politics, interminable
interminable crisis).
crisis).
This is the fulfilment
fulfilment of Canetti's vision that:
as of a certain point, history was no longer real.
real. Without noticing it, all
mankind
mankind suddenly
suddenly left
left reality;
reality; everything
everything happening
happening since
since then
then might
might well not
not

...

have
didn't
As long
long as we didn't
have been
been true;
true; but
but we could
could not
not be
be aware of
of that
that .. .As
[find] .
. .. .. that point, we would be forced to abide in our present
present destruction.
destruction.
And,
And, in
in effect,
effect, we persevere,
persevere, on
on the
the pretext
pretext of
of an
an increasingly
increasingly sophisticated
sophisticated

deconstruction of a world and of a history unable
technology, in the interminable deconstruction
itself. Everything is free
now to secrete anything by way of which it can abolish itself
to
to go
go on
on infinitely.
infinitely. We
We no
no longer
longer have
have the
the means
means to
to end
end processes.
processes. They
They unfold
unfold

without us now, beyond reality, so to speak, in an endless speculation, an ex­
exponential acceleration.
acceleration. But,
But, as
as aa result, they
they do
do so
so in
in an
an indifference
indifference which is
is also
exponential.
exponential. Endless
Endless is
is also
also desireless, tension-less,
tension-less, passionless,
passionless, without any
any real
events.
events. An
An anorexic
anorexic history,
history, no
no longer fuelled by
by real
real incidents,
incidents, and exhausting
impos­
itself
itself in
in the
the countdown.
countdown. Exactly
Exactly the
the opposite
opposite of
of the
the end
end of
of history,
history, then:
then: the imposoffinishing with history. If
If history
history can
can no
no longer
longer reach
reach its
its end,
end, then
then it
it is
is no
no
sibility ofjnishing
longer properly speaking a history.
history. We have lost history and have also, as a result,
lost
lost the
the end
end of
of history.
history. We
We are
are labouring
labouring under
under the
the illusion
illusion of
of the
the end,
end, under
under the
the

coutztdown
The end of
of tlze
the rnzlletztziunz
millennium or the countdown

451
45 1

posthumous illusion of the end.
end. And this is serious, for the end signifies that
posthumous
something has really taken place.
place. Whereas we, at the height
height of reality - and with
something
- no longer know whether anything has taken place or not.
not.
information at its peak -

history, if we can actually conceive such a thing, is merely
Perhaps the end of history,
ironic? Perhaps it is merely an effect of the ruse of history,
history, which consists in
ironic?
it. So
having concealed its end from us, in having ended without our noticing it.
that it is merely the end of history that is being fuelled, whereas we believe we

\Ve are still awaiting its end, whereas that end has, in
continuing to make it.
it. We
are continuing
place. History's
History's ruse was to make us believe in its end, when
fact, already taken place.
it has, in fact, already set off back in the opposite direction.
direction.
W
hether we speak of the end of history, the end of the political
Whether
political or the end of

the politi­
the
the social,
social, what we are
are clearly dealing with here
here is
is the
the end
end of
of the
the scene ofof thepoliti-

cal, the end of the scene of
of the social, the end of the scene of
ofhistorj~.
history. In other words,
obscenit)~.
obscenity.
proliferation of the
Obscenity may be characterized as the endless, unbridled proliferation
social, of the political, of information, of the economic, of the aesthetic, not to
sexual. Obesity is another of the figures of obscenity.
mention, of course, the sexual.
obscenity. As
endless,
endless, unbridled
unbridled proliferation,
proliferation, as
as the
the saturation
saturation of
of aa limitless
limitless space,
space, obesity
obesity may
may
stand as a universal metaphor for our systems of information, communication,
production and memory.
memory. Obesity and obscenity are the contrapuntal figure of all
production
our systems, which have been seized by something of an Ubuesque distension.
distension.
All our structures end up swelling like red giants which absorb everything in their
expansion. Thus the social sphere, as it expands, absorbs all the political sphere
expansion.
on
on its
its way. But
But the
the political
political sphere
sphere itself
itself is
is obese
obese and
and obscene,
obscene, while at
at the
the same
same
increasingly transparent: the more it distends, the more it virtutime becoming increasingly
virtu­
ally
ally ceases
ceases to
to exist.
exist. When eyerything
everything is
is political,
political, that
that is
is the
the end
end of
of politics
politics as
as
destiny; it is the beginning of politics as culture and the instant poverty of that
cultural politics.
politics. It is the same with the economic or the sexual spheres:
spheres: as they
dilate,
dilate, all
all structures
structures infiltrate
infiltrate and
and submerge
submerge all
all the
the others.
others. Such
Such are
are the
the extreme
extreme
terminis). They
phenomena:
= ex terminis).
They
phenomena: those
those which occur
occur beyond the
the end
end (extreme
(extreme =
indicate
indicate that
that we have
have passed
passed from
from growth to
to excrescence,
excrescence, from
from movement
movement and
and
change
stasis, ek-stasis
ek-stasis and
and metastasis.
metastasis. They
They countersign
countersign the
the end
end with excess,
excess,
change to
to stasis,
with hypertrophy,
hypertrophy, with proliferation,
proliferation, with chain
chain reaction, with an
an overstepping
overstepping
of
mark. Not
of the
the mark.
Not with lack, but
but with precisely
precisely the
the opposite.
opposite.

Downloaded By: [University of California Berkeley] At: 21:08 20 August 2008

spheres, we are speaking of the advent of a specific era of
in all these spheres,

Ecstasy
Ecstasy of
of the
the social: the
the masses.
masses. The
T h e more
more social
social than
than social.
social.
Ecstasy
Ecstasy of
of the
the body:
body: obesity.
obesity. The
T h e fatter
fatter than
than fat.
fat.
Ecstasy
Ecstasy of
of information:
information: simulation.
simulation. Truer
Truer than
than true.
true.

instantaneity. More present
present than the present.
present.
Ecstasy of time: real time, instantaneity.
Ecstasy
Ecstasy of
of the
the real:
real: the
the hyperreal.
hyperreal. More
More real
real than
than the
the real.
real.

sex: porn.
porn. More sexual than the sexual.
sexual.
Ecstasy of sex:
Ecstasy
Ecstasy of
of violence:
violence: terror.
terror. More
More violent
violent than
than the
the violent
violent
etc.
etc.
All this, by a kind of potentiation, a kind of raising to the second power, of

pushing to the limit, describes a state of unconditional
unconditional realization, of total
pushing

452

Jean Baudrillard

positivity (every negative sign raised to the second power produces a positive),
from
from which all
all utopia,
utopia, all
all death,
death, all
all negativity
negativity has
has been
been expunged.
expunged. Hence
Hence also
also aa
state
state of
of the
the extermination, the
the cleansing
cleansing of
of the
the negative,
negative, which is
is aa corollary
corollary to
to
all
all the
the other forms of
of purification
purification or
or cleansing.
cleansing. Thus,
Thus, freedom
freedom has
has been obliter­
obliterated, liquidated by liberation; truth has given way to verification; community has
been
been liquidated
liquidated and
and absorbed
absorbed by
by communication;
communication; form
form gives
gives way to
to information
information
and performance.
where we see a paradoxical logic which puts an end to
performance. Every
Everywhere
an
an idea
idea by
by its
its very
very realization,
realization, its
its excessiveness.
excessiveness. And
And in
in this
this way history
history itself
itself
comes
comes to
to an
an end,
end, finds
finds itself
itself obliterated
obliterated by
by the
the instantaneity
instantaneity and
and omnipresence
omnipresence
of
of the
the event.
event.
This kind of acceleration by inertia, this exponentiality of extreme phenom­
phenomena,
ena, produces
produces aa new
new kind
kind of
of event:
event: strange,
strange, random
random and
and chaotic
chaotic events
events which

Historical Reason
Reason no
no longer recognizes as
as its
its own.
own. Even
Even if,
if, by
by analogy with past
past
events,
events, we think
think we recognize
recognize them,
them, they
they no
no longer
longer have
have the
the same
same meaning.
meaning. For
For
the
the reason
reason that
that the
the same
same incidents
incidents (wars, ethnic
ethnic conflicts,
conflicts, nationalisms,
nationalisms, the
the
building
building of
of Europe)
Europe) do
do not
not have
have the
the same
same meaning
meaning depending
depending on
on whether they
they
arise as part of a history in progress or as part of a declining history.
history. Now, we

Downloaded By: [University of California Berkeley] At: 21:08 20 August 2008

are
- this
this is
is why
why they
they appear
appear ghostly
ghostly to
to us.
us.
are in
in aa history
history which is
is declining
declining But is a declining history still a history?
history?
We have not only lost utopia as an ideal end, but historical time itself in its
continuity
continuity and
and its
its unfolding.
unfolding. Something
Something like
like aa short-circuit
short-circuit has
has occurred, aa

switching of
of temporal dimensions
dimensions

- effects
effects preceding
preceding causes,
causes, ends
ends preceding
preceding

origins - and this has led to this paradox of achieved utopia.
utopia. Now, achieved
utopia puts an end to the utopian dimension.
dimension. It creates an impossible situation,
in
in the
the sense
sense that
that it
it exhausts
exhausts the
the possibilities.
possibilities. From this
this point
point on,
on, the
the problem
problem in
in
hand is not one of changing how life is lived, which was the maximal utopia, but
one
one of
of survival,
survival, which is
is aa kind
kind of
of minimal
minimal utopia.
utopia.
So
belief.But,
So today,
today, with the
the loss
loss of
of utopias
utopias and
and ideologies,
ideologies, we lack
lack objects
objects of
of belief.
even
even more
more perhaps,
perhaps, we lack
lack

objects in which not to believe. For
For it
it is
is vital
vital - doubt­
doubt-

less even more vital than to believe
believc - to have things in which not to believe.
believe. Ironic
objects,
objects, so
so to
to speak,
speak, detached
detached perspectives,
perspectives, ideas
ideas in
in which one
one can
can believe
believe and
and
not
not believe,
believe, totally
totally freely.
freely. Ideologies
Ideologies performed
performed this
this ambiguous
ambiguous function
function pretty
pretty
well.All this is now jeopardized,
well.
jeopardized, vanishing
vanishing progressively into extreme reality and
operationality.
extreme operationality.
Other
Other things
things are emerging:
emerging: retrospective
retrospective utopias,
utopias, the
the revival
revival of
of all
all earlier
earlier or
archaic forms in what is, in a sense, a retrospective or necrospective
necrospective history.
history. For
the
the disappearance
disappearance of
of avant-gardes,
avant-gardes, those
those emblems
emblems of
of modernity,
modernity, has
has not
not brought
brought
about
about the
the disappearance
disappearance of
of the
the rearguards.
rearguards. O!Iite
Quite the
the opposite.
opposite. In
In this
this process
process of
of
general retroversion (has history perhaps gone down with a retrovirus?),
retrovirus?), the
rearguards find themselves once again in pole position.
position.
We are familiar with the parodic, palinodic event, the event Marx analysed
I11 as
as aa grotesque
grotesque stand-in
stand-in for
for Napoleon
Napoleon L
I. In
In this
this
when he
he depicted
depicted Napoleon
Napoleon III
second
-a
a debased
debased avatar
avatar of
of the
the original
original -a
a form
form of
of dilution, of
of historical
historical
second event
event entropy
entropy set
set in.
in. History
History presented
presented itself
itself as
as though
though it
it were advancing
advancing and
and con­
concollapsing. The current period
period offers numerous
tinuing, whereas it was actually collapsing.

Tlzc end
end orthe
of'tlze mi//cnnium
rnzllennzllrrz or
or the
the countdoll'n
~ozlntrlo~i~n453
The
433

examples of
of this
this debased,
debased, extenuated
extenuated form
form of
of the
the primary
primary events
events of
of modernity.
modernity.
examples
Ghost-el-ents,
~~espensterereignisse
- cloned
cloned events,
el-ents, farcical
farcical events,
events, phantom
phantom
Ghost
-events, GespensterereiKnisse
little bit
hit like
like phantom
phantom limbs,
limbs, those
those phantom
phantom extremities
extremities which hurt
hurt
events -- aa little
cvents
of communism
communism in
in particular.
particular.
even when
when they
they are
are no
no longer
longer there.
there. Spectrality
Spectrality -- of
even
Events which
which are
are more
more or
or less
less ephemeral
ephemeral because
because they
they no
no longer
longer have
have any
any
Events
\t-hich we
we speak
speak of
of the
the resolution
resolution
resolution except
except in
in the
the media
media (in
(in the
the sense
sense in
in which
resolution
We have,
have, in
in aa sense,
sense, aa history
history
of an
an image);
image); they
they have
have no
no political
political resolution.
resolution. We
of
which is
is no
no longer
longer in
in the
the making,
making, but
but remains
remains at
at the
the virtual
virtual acting-out
acting-out stage,
stage, and
and
which
~leri-rzi.
Sarajevo is
is aa fine
fine example
example of
of this
this unreal
unreal history,
history,
retains aa spectral
spectral air
air of
of dejli-l'
retains
u. Sarajevo
in which
which all
all the
the participants
participants have
ha\-e impotent
impotent walk-on
\talk-on parts.
parts. It
It is
is no
no longer
longer even
even
in
virtuan event,
event, but
but the
the sy
symbol
of an
an impotence
impotence specific
specific to
to history.
history. Every
Ever!-where,
an
mbol of
where, virtu­
that of
of the
the media
media hyperspace
hyperspace and
and the
the hyperspace
h!-perspace of
of discourses
discourses -- deyel­
dewalitJ--- that
ality
ops in
in aa way
wa!- diametrically
diametrically opposed
opposed to
to what one
one might
might call,
call, ifif itit still
still existed,
existed, the
the
ops
real movement
movement of
of history.
history
real
actualit!. as
as its
its end,
end, its
its destination.
destination. Today,
Today, it
it is
is the
the
In the
the past,
past, the
the virtual
virtual had
had actuality
In
reality In
In the
the absence
absence of
of real
real
function of
of the
the virtual
virtual to
to proscribe
proscribe the
the actual
actual reality.
function
histor?; virtual
virtual history
history is
is here,
here, and
and provides
provides the
the sanction,
sanction, in
in the
the guise
guise of
of infor­
inforhistory,
Downloaded By: [University of California Berkeley] At: 21:08 20 August 2008

mation, for
for the
the definitive
definitive absence
absence of
of that
that real
real history.
history Hence
Hence the
the absence
absence of
of
mation,
both individual and
and collective
collecti\-e-- filr
for the
the consequences, since
since we
we
responsibility -- both
responsibility
are
\irtue of
of information,
information, beyond
beyond the
the event,
event, which
which has
has not
not taken
taken
are already,
already, by
by virtue

place.
place.
We
of aa kind
kind of
of 'event
'event strike',
strike', to
to use
use Macedonio
Macedonio Fernandez's
We might
might speak
speak here
here of

expression. What does
does this
this mean?
mean? That
That the
the work of
of history
history has
has ceased to
to func­
funcexpression.
tion.
stem is
work of
of mourning
mourning is
is beginning.
beginning. That
That the
the information sy
system
is
tion. That
That the
the work

e\-entin
in the
the same
same
taking over
over the
the baton
baton from
from History
History and
and starting
starting to
to produce
produce the
the event
taking
way
way that
that Capital
Capital is
is starting
starting to
to produce
produce Work,
Work, so
so that
that labour
labour no
no longer
longer has
has any
any

own, just
just as
as the
the event
event produced
produced by
b ~information
information
has no
no his­
hissignificance of
of its
its own,
significance
has
torical
own.
torical meaning
meaning of
of its
its own.
This
This is
is the
the point
point where we
N-eenter
enter the
the transhistorical
transhistorical or
or the
the transpolitical,
transpolitical, that
that
is
sa!; the
the sphere
sphere where events
events do
do not
not really
reall! take
take place
place precisely
precisely because
because they
the!is to
to say,
are
are produced
produced and
and broadcast
broadcast 'in
'in real
real time',
time', where they
they have
have no
no meaning
meaning because
because
they
the!- can
can have
have all
all possible
possible meanings.
meanings. We
We ha\T,
have, therefore,
therefore, to
to grasp
grasp them
them now
now not
not

say, at
nt the
tlle point lI'here
inhere they
thy),become
become lost
lost in
in
politically, but
but transpolitically,
transpoliticall!; that
that is
is to
to say,
politically,
Ihe
in/ormation. The
[he void
roid or
c!f'in/hrination.
'I'he sphere
sphere of
of information
information is
is like
like aa space
space where,
where, after
after

emptying
u-here,
emptying events
events of
of their
their meaning,
meaning, an
an artificial
artificial gravity
gravity is
is created
created for
for them;
them; where,
after
after deep-freezing
deep-freezing them
them politically
politically and
and historically,
historically, they
they are
are re-staged
re-staged trans­
transpolitically,
politicall!; in
in real -- that
that is
is to say,
say, perfectly
perfectly virtual -- time.
time. We
\Ye might
might speak
speak in the
same
way of the
the transeconomic
transeconomic sphere,
sphere, that
that is to
to say,
sa!; the
the sphere
sphere where
N-hereclassical
classical
same way

cconomics gets
gets lost
lost in
in the
the void
w i d of speculation,
speculation, just as
as History
History gets
gets lost
lost in
in the
the void
economics
information.
of infilrmation.
in the
the end,
end, perhaps
perhaps we have
have to
to pose
pose all these problems
problems in terms other
But, in
than
hackne!-ed ones
ones of
of alienation
alienation and
and the
the unhappy
unhappy fate
fate of
of the
the subject.
subject. And
And
than the
the hackneyed
there
s technological
precisel!. the
the Ubuesque side
side of thi·
thi,s
technological excrescence,
excrescence, of this
this
there is
is precisely

obscenit!- and obesity,
obesity, of this
this unbridled
unbridled virtuality
virtuality and viralit)
viralit!
proliferating obscenity
proliferating
invites us to
to do
do so.
so. Our situation
situation is
is aa wholly
wholl>-pataphy
pataphj-sical
one; that is to
which invites
sical one;

454

Jean Baudrillard
Baudrillard
Jean

say,
say, everything
everything around
around us
us has
has passed
passed beyond
beyond its
its own
own limits,
limits, has
has moved
moved beyond
beyond

Downloaded By: [University of California Berkeley] At: 21:08 20 August 2008

the laws of physics and metaphysics.
metaphysics. Now, pataphysics is ironic, and the hypoth­
hypothesis which suggests itself here is that, at the same time as things have reached a
state oj
of paroxysm, they have also reached a state oj
of parody.
Might
Might we advance
advance the
the hypothesis
hypothesis - beyond
beyond the
the heroic
heroic stage,
stage, beyond
beyond the
the criti­
critical
- of
of an
an ironic
ironic stage
stage of
of technology,
technology, an
an ironic
ironic stage
stage of
of history,
history, an
an ironic
ironic
cal stage
stage stage of value?
value? This would at last free us from the Heideggerian vision of tech­
technology as the effectuation and final stage of metaphysics; it would free us from
all retrospective nostalgia for being, and we would have, rather, a gigantic objec­
objectively ironic 'take'
'take' on all this scientific and technological process which would
Japanese snob­
snobnot be far removed from the radical snobbery, the post-historical,
post-historical,Japanese
bery
Kojtve spoke
spoke of.
of.
bery Kojeve
An ironic reversal of technology, similar to the irony of the media sphere.
sphere. The
common
common illusion
illusion about
about the
the media
media is
is that
that they
they are
are used
used by
by those
those in
in power
power to
to
manipulate, seduce
interpretation. The
T h e more
seduce and alienate the masses.
masses. A naive interpretation.
subtle
subtle version,
version, the
the ironic
ironic version
version is
is precisely
precisely the
the opposite.
opposite. It
It is
is that,
that, through
through the
the
themmedia, it is the masses who manipulate those in power (or those who see them­
selves
selves in
in such
such terms).
terms). It
It is
is precisely
precisely at
at the
the point
point where the
the political
political power
power thinks
thinks
it has them where it wants them that the masses impose their clandestine strat­
strategy
egy of
of neutralization,
neutralization, of
of destabilization
destabilization of
of aa power
power that
that has
has become
become paraplegic.
paraplegic.
At the very least, let us agree that matters are undecidable here; that both
hypotheses
hypotheses are
are valid;
valid; and
and that,
that, at
at any
any event,
event, any
any interpretation
interpretation regarding
regarding the
the
media is reversible.
reversible. It is precisely in this reversibility
reversibility that the objective irony lies.
lies.
Let
- of
of
Let us
us advance
advance the
the same
same hypothesis
hypothesis with regard
regard to
to the
the object
object of
of science
science the
the most
most sophisticated
sophisticated of
of current
current sciences.
sciences. Through
Through the
the most
most subtle
subtle procedures
procedures
we deploy
deploy to
to pin
pin it
it down,
down, is
is not
not the
the scientific
scientific object
object itself
itself toying
toying with us,
us, pre­
presenting
senting itself
itself as
as an
an object
object and
and mocking
mocking our
our objective
objective pretension
pretension to
to analyse
analyse it?
it?
Scientists
Scientists are
are not
not far
far from
from admitting
admitting such
such aa thing
thing today,
today, and
and this
this irony
irony of
of the
the
object
object is
is the
the very
very form
form of
of aa radical
radical illusoriness
illusoriness of
of the
the world, an
an illusion
illusion which
is
is no
no longer
longer physical
physical (of
(of the
the senses)
senses) or
or metaphysical
metaphysical (mental
(mental or
or philosophical),
philosophical),
but
but pataphysical,
pataphysical, to
to use
use the
the term
term Jarry
Jarry applied
applied to
to the
the 'science
'science of
of imaginary
imaginary solu­
solutions'
tions'..
Let us extend the hypothesis to all our technologies, to the technical universe
in general, which is becoming the ironic instrument of a world which we believe
- the
the object
object - imposes
imposes and
and asserts
asserts
we transform
transform and
and dominate
dominate whereas in
in fact
fact it
it itself
itself through
through all
all the
the interposed
interposed technologies,
technologies, which we merely
merely operate.
operate. Such
Such is,
is,
here
illusion. Not
here again,
again, the
the form
form of
of the
the illusion.
Not the
the illusion of
of error
error (we are
are not
not wrong
- there is no sense perpetually reviving that unfounded accu­
accutechnology about technology
sation), but the illusion of a game rules.
- it is simply that we do not know the rules.
The
transcendental or
- that
that of
of aa transcendental
or technical
technical irony
irony - being
being by
by
The ironic
ironic hypothesis
hypothesis definition
definition unverifiable,
unverifiable, let
let us
us content
content ourselves with the
the undecidable,
undecidable, with the
the
mere
possibility of
which is
subtle and
exciting
mere possibility
of that
that hypothesis,
hypothesis, which
is in
in itself
itself more
more subtle
and exciting
than all the others.
others. We are faced in the end with two irreconcilable hypotheses:
that of the perfect crime or, in other words, of the extermination by technology
and
- and
and equally
equally of
of the
the illusion
illusion of
of the
the world - or
or that
that of
of
and virtuality
virtuality of
of all
all reality
reality -

end of
oftlze
the rn~llennzurn
millennium or the coztntdown
countdown
The end

4455
55

of technolog!;
technology, of
of an ironic destiny
destiny of
of all science and
and all knowledge
knowledge
the ironic play of
which the world
world - and
and the illusion
illusion of
of the world
world - are perpetuated. Let
Let us
us
by which
content ourselves
ourselves with
with these
these two
two irreconcilable
irreconcilable and
and simultaneous1~simultaneously 'true'
'true' perper­
content
spectives.There
There is
is nothing
nothing that
that allo~\-s
allows us
us to
to decide
decide between
between them.
them. As
As WittgenWittgen­
spectives.
'the 11-orld
world is everything
everything which
which is the case'.
case'.
stein says, 'the

Notes
was given at the ICA, 8 Ma!May 1997,
1997, as part
part of
of the Big Thinkers series.
series.
This lecture \vas

Downloaded By: [University of California Berkeley] At: 21:08 20 August 2008

equivalent of
of 'Children
'Children in Need'
�eed'.
11 The French equnalent
event for \\orld
'\"orld Alds
Aids Da!.
Day.
2 TV ekent