The Structuration of a Rigid and Jealous World

Catching up on my email recently, I came across a kind of panel discussion on the perils of Facebook. I was reminded of an essay Webb recommended to me years ago (Or was it Potter?). And I know how much JOB enjoys French philosophers, so I thought I’d post the last few paragraphs of Jean Baudrillard’s Ecstacy of Communication (1987):

In any case, we will have to suffer this new state of things, this forced extroversion of all interiority, this forced injection of all exteriority that the categorical imperative of communication literally signifies. There also, one can perhaps make use of the old metaphors of pathology. If hysteria was the pathology of the exacerbated staging of the subject, a pathology of expression, of the body’s theatrical and operatic conversion; and if paranoia was the pathology of organization, of the structuration of a rigid and jealous world; then with communication and information, with the immanent promiscuity of all these networks, with their continual connections, we are now in a new form of schizophrenia. No more hysteria, no more projective paranoia, properly speaking, but this state of terror proper to the schizophrenic: too great a proximity of everything, the unclean promiscuity of everything which touches, invests and penetrates without resistance, with no halo of private protection, not even his own body, to protect him anymore.

The schizophrenic is bereft of every scene, open to everything in spite of himself, living in the greatest confusion. He is himself obscene, the obscene prey of the world’s obscenity. What characterizes him is less the loss of the real, the light years of estrangement from the real, the pathos of distance and radical separation, as is commonly said: but, very much to the contrary, the absolute proximity, the total instantaneity of things, the feeling of no defense, no retreat. It is the end of interiority and intimacy, the overexposure and transparence of the world that traverses him without obstacle. He can no longer produce the limits of his own being, can no longer play nor stage himself, can no longer produce himself as mirror. He is now only a pure screen, a switching center for all the networks of influence.

I’m not sure being unable to play or stage myself is such a bad thing, but I’m pretty sure schizophrenia isn’t a good thing, even for a French philosopher.


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    Pretty eloquent. Really very eloquent. I happen to be reading Marcel today and he’s talking about how modern man is reduced to function without mystery. Schizophrenia seems like the likely end result come to think of it. Thanks Quin. Outstanding stuff.

  2. Churchill says

    It perhaps captures something about schizophrenia, but in horrible language. ‘Categorical imperative’ is used inappropriately, I think.

    A colleague is having to write an essay about culture, and I asked to look at what he was reading and it appeared completely inpenetrable, again using language from philosophy, such as ‘epistemologies’, at best unnecessarily. The whole thing looked horrible, and I felt sorry for him having to struggle with it.

    I suppose this is the language of postmodernism?

    And why does everyone love schizophrenia?

  3. Churchill says

    Perhaps he hasn’t misused categorical imperative, but I still don’t like the language in which it is written and won’t read him.

  4. Jonathan Potter says

    I sort of agree with you about the language, Churchill. It’s awfully densely packed. On the other hand I sort of agree with Webb that it’s eloquent, too. I can tip both ways.

  5. Yeah, I’m with all of you. I went with “structuration” in the title because I it sounds like a made up word. But aren’t all words made up? It sounds like the past participle of a verb “to structure”, which might be a synonym for “to build”, except what happens without intention, as in “the structuration of stalagmites and stalactites in a limestone cave” … but Baudrillard’s is metaphysical, I think.

    And even if this is a defensible use of “categorical imperative,” it is one that has to be defended … likewise with a lot of the other jargon: with “pathologies” and “schizophrenia” it seems as if he’s expropriating (polysyllabilism is contagious!) medical terminology in order to establish his authority. On the other hand, the title “Ecstacy of Communication” does, communicate something of the, uh, hypersynapsical coma so many of us now occupy for several hourse a day.

    And that image of the person him or herself as screen is pretty powerful.

  6. I think a lot of this postmodern havering with polysyllabic words is seeping deeper into everyday language. Today I heard someone refer to traffic cones as “delineators,” and I thought, well, ok, good thing I’ve got my college degree to drive this here bus.

  7. Jonathan Webb says

    I think they’re called delineators because they aren’t conic and sometimes they have signs attached (I’m guessing). Although, in your defense (Potter isn’t the only one who can go both ways), One gets a spell check alert when it’s used in a Word document.

    In any event it’s doubleplusgood.

  8. The terribleness of French post-mod philsophy is laid bare in its self evident terribleness of this quote. It’s not impenetrable, but it acts as if it wants to be.

    Here’s the Southern Agrarians saying pretty much the same thing in fewer and clearer words:

    Religion can hardly expect to flouish in an industrial society. Religion is our submission to the general intention of a nature that is fairly inscrutable; it is the sense of our role as creature within it. But nature inudstrialized, transformed into cities and artificial habitations, manufactured into commodities, is no longer nautre but a highly simplified picture of nature. We receive the illusion of having power over nature, and lose the sense of nature as something mysterious and contingent. The God of nature under these conditions is merely an admirable expression, a superfluity, and hte philosophical understanding ordinarily carried in hte religious expereince is not there for us to have.

    – from “Introduction,” I’ll Take My Stand: the South and the Agrarian Tradition

Speak Your Mind