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The Age of Instagram Because Fuck


the Real Thats Why
Nov 29 by intherhizome

In this paper I will be looking at the smart phone application Instagram and the post-
modern symptom that is the precession of the simulacra. In particular, I will be
examining the notion of the real with specific reference to images, and the way that
Instagram makes no attempt at a faithful representation of what it depicts. Rather,
it immediately creates a sense of nostalgia and collapses indicators of the past by
using lens filters with an image of the present. Instagram is an instantaneous
rebellion against the modern idea of time (Boym, 2007, p. 8). However, rather than
representing a yearning for a lost, idyllic era, I argue that those using Instagram are
so aware of this post-modern condition that they have further collapsed nostalgia
into reality. That is to say, with reference to Jean Baudrillards Simulacra and
Simulation (1994), the nostalgic reality of Instagram has replaced reality itself. I will
be demonstrating the way viewers passively as opposed to actively synthesise
time with reference to Deleuze and Guattaris Difference and Repetition to show that
while Instagram is now the real, the real that it has replaced never existed in the
first place.

First I will unpack the idea of the precession of the simulacrum with reference to
Baudrillard and then explore the shortcoming of his argument. By then developing
an understanding of nostalgia, and showing the way in which it plays a significant
role in undermining Baudrillard, I will move on to the case study of Instagram. Here,
I will elicit the way in which the real is detached from any kind of true past;
however, I will argue, with reference to Massumi, Deleuze and Guattari, that if we
lament Instagrams loss of the real we fall into the same pitfall as Baudrillard.
Moreover, I will offer a way of understanding the modern perception of Instagram
images as real through Deleuzes notions of the syntheses of time. I will argue that
Instagram creates instant, passive and internalised nostalgia that is taken, without
question, for a present reality.

To begin with, we need to understand what the precession of the simulacra means in
the context of modernity or perhaps post-modernity. One of the defining works in
the area is Jean Baudrillards Simulacra and Simulation (1994). He explains that it is
a way of understanding signs and signifiers and the post-modern condition of
collapsing the two together. In this book he details the way in which the real is
replaced by images of the real, which then becomes hyper-real: or more real than
the real itself. That is to say, the image of the real supersedes what is perceived to
be the original and makes itself the new real. Baudrillard contends, the real is no
longer real (1994, p. 13), rather, the image of the real has become the defining
signifier and replaces what is signified. He explains, it is a question of substituting
the signs of the real, for the real never again will the real have the chance to
produce itself (Baudrillard, 1994, p. 2). Baudrillaids argument has had a profound
impact on the field of post-modernity as it attempts to explain the collapse of signs
and signifiers in a world still coming to terms with media, television, photography: in
many ways, the age of mechanical reproduction. An image of something is now the
thing itself to the extent even that it replaces the original.
However, as significant as Baudrillards
work is, it is not without flaws or critics. It has been lambasted as one long lament
(Massumi, 1987) for the loss of the real. In fact, the major point of criticism is that
Baudrillard fails to acknowledge his yearning for a lost real, which is in fact
embedded in simulacra itself. Massumi argues that:

Baudrillards framework can only be the result of a nostalgia for the old reality so
intense that it has difformed [sic] his vision of everything outside of it. He cannot
clearly see that all the things he says have crumbled were simulacra all along
(Massumi, 1987).

So while Beaudrillard suitably understands the way in which signs replace the real,
he fails to take into account the extent of this precession. That is to say, the real that
he laments the loss of never existed in the first place. Therefore, his lament is
conveniently situated within the paradigm of nostalgia.

I will now explore the term nostalgia. It is a yearning for a different time (Boym,
2007, p. 8). One where we seek the innocence of childhood, or where we let ourselves
be lulled back to memories of a simpler time. It is not anti-modern; there is no
delusion about the passing of time. Nor is it necessarily accurate; but rather, a
mythologised memory time out of time (Boym, 2007, p. 8). Here, the flaws in
Baudrillards arguments become apparent. The real that is being replaced an
action that he seems to mourn is in fact the product of his own nostalgia: a longing
to return to a concrete real that never truly existed in the first place. If we are to
assume his model, in the modern era reality has imploded into the undecidable
proximity of hyperreality it has become a hyperspace where signifiers slip
chaotically over each other (Massumi, 1987). However, I argue, and others support
(Massumi, 1987), that there simply never was a real in the first place at least not
in the way that Baudrillard contends.

Instagram provides a way for us to


understand the connection between nostalgia and the post-modern precession of the
simulacrum. It immediately collapses the present with a nostalgic past. After a photo
is taken, the user is able to choose from a number of different filters that distort the
image evoking photographs of the past. These filters range from time specific: 1977
which has a specifically 70s flair to place specific, Nashville which sharpens
the image with a magenta purple tint and puts on a boarder. Other effects include:
Toaster high exposure Inkwell black and white and Sutro sepia tones
with a focus on purple and yellow. The application posits that it is beautiful and
fast: time means nothing to Instagram, only producing aesthetically pleasing
images. There is no need to wait until the photo has distorted naturally over time. We
have become so used to or embedded in nostalgia that we have collapsed the past and
the present together. We can have the past right now. In fact, in relation to
Instagram, nostalgia has become the new real.

The immediacy and efficacy of Instagram means that what was once perceived to be
the real, a photographic image, is replaced by a nostalgic image. In the case of
Instagram, it is the new real. No longer is the basic image enough, it needs to be
filtered, there needs to be a time synthesis placed upon the photo immediately. There
is a fantasy of the past placed directly over the original image (Boym, 2007, p. 8). If
the simulacrum is a copy of a copy whose relation to the model has become so
attenuated that it can no longer properly be said to be a copy which means that it
stands on its own as a copy without a model then we can see the complexities with
Instagram. It is not, as Jameson (in Massumi), cites photorealism, but another step
away from the real. However, to lament this, is to fall in the same trap as
Baudrillard. The image was never real in the first place: the image was always just
that, an image. The only difference is that Instagram makes no attempt at
verisimilitude but rather embraces nostalgia. And in so doing breaks free from the
confines of time and space (Boym, 2007, p. 9). In this age, there is no pretence of
the real. The public are aware of previously new philosophies pertaining to the post-
modern condition. They now actively embrace products that are meta read self
referential and acknowledge the ubiquity of new technologies. There is no longer a
need for the images to bare veracity: they have become just as, if not more real than
the real.

Two critics of Baudrillard are Deleuze and Guattari. Throughout A Thousand


Plateau they create a framework for understanding signs and signifiers wherein
resemblance of the simulacrum is a means, not an end (Massumi, 1987). That is to
say, the real is constantly in a state of becoming. There is no finality or finite real to
become (or indeed to return to). Therefore, they reject Baudrillards conclusion and
instead take the argument to a different place. They begin with a similar definition
but they argue that the simulacrum is less a copy twice removed than a phenomenon
of a different nature altogether (Massumi, 1987). They contend that the model/copy
dichotomy is binding to a world of representation and reproduction. It becomes an
endless cycle of reality and illusion wherein the production and function of a
photograph has no relation to that of the object photographed (Massumi, 1987). If we
accept this definition of the simulacrum then there is no problem with Instagrams
rejection of the real, for there never was a real in the first place.

I will now demonstrate the way in which nostalgia and the present have been
collapsed together by using Deleuzes syntheses of time as argued in Difference and
Repetition (1968 & 1994). I will argue that contemporary perceptions of the images
created by Instagram are no longer in the realm of active synthesis, but are instead
passive. There are two forms of repetition at play here: the first is that of real images
the sheer number and accepted nature of photographs the second is again real
images, however, they are ones that have aged: that is to say, we are familiar with the
concept of an old photograph. They are the nostalgic images that we yearn for. In the
case of Instagram these two types of images have collapsed together and the new
image and the old image can exist simultaneously. This action takes place in the
mind and has only been made possible by the existence and repetition of the
nostalgic image in the first place.

Repetition changes nothing in the object repeated, but does change something in
the mind which complicates it (Deleuze, 1968 & 1994, p. 90) Deleuze draws on
Hume in beginning his discussion on repetition for itself. Taking it as axiomatic that
there is only one time the present: which contains both the past and the future
Deleuze explains complex repetition. This is the notion that the present does not
have to go outside itself in order to pass from past to future (Deleuze, 1968 & 1994,
p. 91). The passivity comes from the fact that it takes place in the mind rather that by
the mind. The repetition of images or sequences forms a synthesis of time in the
imagination. Passive synthesis is a matter of habit or routine: the action that was
done yesterday will be repeated in the future. Every sign is a sign of the present: a
scar is not a sign of a past wound, but of the present fact of being wounded (Deleuze,
1968 & 1994, p. 98).

On the other hand, the active synthesis of


time relies upon memory and understanding. This is then superimposed upon by
the passive synthesis of the imagination (Deleuze, 1968 & 1994, p. 92). Which is to
say, active synthesis refers to memory: the action that has been performed in the past
could be repeated, or artificial signs that refer to the past or future as distinct
dimensions of the present. Active synthesis is the move from spontaneous
imagination to the active faculties of reflexive representation, memory and
intelligence: it is derived from habit, and is the fundamental synthesis of the past
that constitutes the being of the past (Deleuze, 1968 & 1994, p. 99 & 101). It is in
some ways the starting place for nostalgia in the sense that an image becomes a
signifier for past events. More specifically, it is not the image itself but the way that
the image looks in itself that evokes these memories. That is to say, it is the effect of
time upon the image rather than what the image depicts that is significant.
Old images and photographs are grounded in memory, whereas Instagram is a
product of the now. It produces images in which the past and future are only
dimensions of the present itself (Deleuze, 1968 & 1994, p. 98). Therefore, I argue,
Instagram situates itself in the passive synthesis of time. There is no active
application of memory, nor is there a specific action of recollection; rather, there is
an immediate aesthetic that combines what once signified the past with an image of
the present. This creates something entirely new in the imagination of the viewer.
Old, antique, or nostalgic images are prevalent throughout society both in terms of
photographs that people physically have and representations of them in films and
television. Therefore, the signifiers of aged images are well known. Now, rather than
wait until the photographs become true signifiers of the past, they are able to
replicate that aesthetic immediately. Moreover, the reader does not believe that these
images are in fact images from the past, they recognise their depiction of the present.
Thence they exist in the passive synthesis of time.

The significance of identifying that the images of Instagram belong to the passive
synthesis of time reiterates the flaws in Baudrillards arguments and provides a way
of understanding the way in which nostalgia has been collapsed with the present.
This is through the complex repetition of signifiers superimposed onto what was, in
the recent past, considered a real image. We now accept the images of Instagram as,
if not real, then hyper-real in the context of the precession of the simulacra.
However, this also exemplifies the way in which there never was a real in the first
place. With Instagram making no attempt of being an accurate depiction of what is
real, and the images being accepted as, not the representation, but a representation
of reality, then we must concede that verisimilitude is not as important as it was once
thought. Moreover, the ubiquity of nostalgic images has induced a repetition to the
point that when artificially produced, there is no question of evoking memories from
the past, but an acknowledgment of the present. Nostalgia too therefore at least in
this context becomes passively synthesised by modern viewers.

I argue that the notion that we once understood modern nostalgia [as] a mourning
for the impossibility of mythical return, for the loss of an enchanted world with clear
borders and values its definition, at least in this context, must now brought into
question. Perhaps, somewhat poetically, that is what nostalgia once was. Now, it is an
internalised facet of post-modernity: one that is passively synthesised by the
imagination of the viewer onto images. Boym argues that there are two types of
nostalgia the reflective and the restorative. The signifiers of aged photographs fall
into the realm of reflective nostalgia: it looks backwards wistfully, ironically,
desperately (Boym, 2007, p. 13); whereas, restorative nostalgia attempts a
transhistorical reconstruction of the lost home (ibid). In the case of Instagram
however, I believe the images produced transcend both definitions. First, in the sense
that there is no longing in the viewer to return to the lost age from where the photos
were taken. Instagram users and viewers do not look at the images and wistfully
reflect upon a simpler time. Nor, I argue, do they any longer attempt to reconstruct
what has been lost. While the idea may have begun as recreation of an aged aesthetic,
I believe that users no longer think of it as restorative, but as something new. It is in
this sense that nostalgia and the real have collapsed together. Viewers acknowledge
that Instagram images are not real because they also accept that the real never
existed in the first place.
In this essay, I have used Instagram as a case study to demonstrate the way in which
viewers, in an era of ubiquitous post-modernity, accept images that are clearly not
real. Their acceptance of this stems from the understanding even if this is on an
unconscious level that the real never existed in the first place. By beginning with
Baudrillard and providing an understanding how he perceives the precession of the
simulacra, I have been able to show the problems with lamenting the loss of the real.
This is because, as Massumi, Deleueze and Guattari argue, the real never existed in
the first place. The embedded nostalgia in Baudrillard and Instagram provides an
important connection between the two. In understanding that it is nostalgia that
prevents Baudrillard from completing his argument we can see how the acceptance
of an internalised nostalgia, as nothing more than an aesthetic, enables modern
viewers to accept Instagram images as real, even though they clearly are not: the
modern viewer understands the problem of ever assuming that there was a real in
the first place. The collapse of nostalgia and the real, in the case of Instagram, is
best understood through Deleuzes work in Difference and Repetition, most
significantly the study of repetition in itself. Here Deleuze demonstrates the way that
people passively or actively synthesis time. The active synthesis situates the past as
separate from the present, imposing artificial signs onto images, whereas the passive
synthesis exists always in the present. The users of Instagram passively synthesise
time and the signs of nostalgia into the present to create the images of Instagram
in their imaginations not with their imagination. In so doing, the false image of the
real becomes hyper-real and replaces what was thought to be the real, because the
users recognise that there never was a real in the first place.
Bibliography
Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation. (S. F. Glaser, Trans.) Michigan:
Michigan University Press.

Boym, S. (2007). Nostalgia and Its Discontents. The Hedgehog Review , 7-18.

Deleuze, G. (1968 & 1994). Difference and Repetition . (P. Patton, Trans.) Paris &
London: Presses Universitaires de France & Continuum International Publishing
Group.

Massumi, B. (1987). Realer than Real: The Simulacrum according to Deleuze and
Guattari. Copyright .