Baudrillard and the matrix

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Baudrillard and the matrix

  1. 1. THE MATRIX BAUDRILLARD: THE MIND BEHIND THE MATRIX
  2. 2. • The marriage of art and idea is an old one in western culture. From the dominance of theological motifs over medieval creative production to the influence of psychoanalytic theory upon early 20th century art and literature, the western aesthetic has consistently taken direction in both form and theme from abstract theoretical frameworks. The late 20th century saw this relationship become increasingly self-conscious as postmodern theory became a dominant paradigm. The Matrix Trilogy works specifically within a paradigm derived in part from the postmodern theory of Jean Baudrillard, whose Simulacra and Simulation makes its appearance in The Matrix in the "Follow Instructions" scene. Thomas Anderson (a.k.a. Neo, played by Keanu Reeves) opens a copy of Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation to a chapter entitled "On Nihilism." The hardcover book is hollow, serving as Neo's hiding place for black market software. He opens the book at the halfway point; the opening page of the final chapter, "On Nihilism," lies to the left while the right half is a hollowed out storage area.
  3. 3. • First note that the opening page of the chapter was displaced to the left side of the book when it would normally be found on the right. Add to this the fact that "On Nihilism" is the book's last chapter, not a middle chapter, and it appears that the directors have deliberately placed this chapter in the shot to direct viewers to a specific referential point for the film. Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation, in fact, is so intricately woven into the narrative structure that the movie can be described as a conscious validation of Baudrillard's theory. Simulacra and Simulation was so important to the directors that it was required reading for cast members (Nichols 26). This, however, was the only Baudrillard appropriated by the film. As such, The Matrix Trilogy is a snapshot of Baudrillard rather than a representation of his thought over time.
  4. 4. • Baudrillard's "On Nihilism" goes on to describe the destruction of meaning via postmodernism once meaning has been destroyed by appearances, but once both meaning and appearance has been destroyed, what is left? In the midst of a theoretically destructed and deconstructed society no images, signs, or sign systems are available for the act of construction that seems so inevitable to human thinking. The Wachowski brothers' appropriation of religious imagery to meet this need is telling. It is quite possible that The Matrix Trilogy not only points to the past and present future of science fiction, but to the past and present future of religion; it seems that their film series asserts that the dialectic of enlightenment governing the early 21st century is a dialectic engaging both instrumental reason and mystical religious experience. This question can only begin to be answered, however, via an analysis of the films in the light of Baudrillard.
  5. 5. • Additionally, Baudrillard's "The Precession of Simulacra," asserts that simulation "is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal" (1). His word for this model of a real "without origin or reality" is "simulacrum": a copy without an original. By the "desert of the real" (quoted above) he means that the simulacrum, the imitation, now has more vitality and integrity than the original, which is fraying beneath the edges of the imitation, decaying, "rotting like a carcass" (Baudrillard 1). This construct moves beyond imitation, it works by substituting the signs of the real for the real, that is to say of an operation of deterring every real process via its operational double, a programmatic, metastable, perfectly descriptive machine that offers all the signs of the real and short circuits all its vicissitudes. Never again will the real have a chance to produce itself.
  6. 6. • As in Baudrillard, the simulacra of simulation that is the Matrix is a device whose aim is total control, a device seeking to reduce human existence to no purpose but the guarantee of the continued survival of the system. People are not unlike cattle whose defecation fertilizes the ground from which they feed, who exist only to feed their owners, kept within set bounds they are never allowed to transgress. This is the Wachowski Brothers' commentary on late 20th century society and our participation in it: that we have been reduced to the status of drones feeding the system upon which we are dependent, and the system works hard to keep us from this knowledge.
  7. 7. EXAMPLES: • In on scene, Neo escapes from the matrix and enters the "real world." How exactly this happens, we are unsure. But we do see that it does involve a mirror: • While this is happening, Morpheus asks Neo "Have you ever had a dream Neo that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?" The dream world is that of the matrix, or, for Baudrillard, the simulacrum. The use of a mirror in this scene is not an accident. in Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard notes that "abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept" and later that "truth ...is no longer the reflexive truth of the mirror". One website points out that "the mirror is no longer a reversed echo of reality but one that exists independently, and through that very existence, renders the original reality unreal ...The simulation that was once the mirror's image has become a simulacrum, based not on the reality it reflects, but on pure fantasy that appears to be more real. This is what Baudrillard calls 'Hyperreality'"
  8. 8. EXAMPLES • The next scene, when Neo meets the oracle is important as well. Although the oracle is an ordinary looking woman, she clearly has the ability to see the future. She says "I know, you're Neo ...I'd ask you to sit down, but you're not going to anyway. And don't worry about the vase." Just as she predicted only seconds before, as Neo looks around and asks "What vase?," he knocks a vase off a shelf: • Neo apologizes for breaking her vase, she says "I said don't worry about it," and Neo asks "how did you know?" Instead of answering his question, the oracle replies, "What's really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn't said anything?" This is a good demonstration of Baudrillard's principle of simulation preceding reality. The answer to the oracle's question is no, Neo wouldn't have broken the vase had she not said anything. It was her comment that made him turn and look in the first place, leading to him hitting the vase and knocking it off. Her prediction of reality came first, then reality was formed by that prediction. This is directly in-line with Baudrillard's simulacra - the real is shaped by simulations. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Z7KejUahOo

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