Reality is Dead:
Long Live Reality!

Sofija Pavlovska

#neoliberalism, #philosophy, #baudrillard, #virtual, #modernity

According to Baudrillard, in a world that is modeled and mapped, it is completely impossible to grasp reality. His epistemological pessimism continues to be the ultimate sublimation of the post-structuralist era.In the subsequent stages of modernism and postmodernism, what begins as a world representation in traditional culture, starts to lose its meaning and is transformed into a false appearance that masks what is real. In such a world, everyday life is a farce from which we cannot escape due to the endless, rapidly growing images that serve as an illusion of the reality that once was. Opposing the objective existence, the world of hallucinations described in Simulacra and Simulation follows the ultimate phase that has to be accepted so that the truth can be liberated again.
           The world of the apparent has lost its control. Culture is trapped in the shackles of replicator reality, and the apparent flow is lost in the meaningless appearance created by hyperreal combinatory models in the spirit of the new era that emits a naive atmosphere. What is, has long been pushed and captured in the unconsciousness and a projected illusion has been served. What was once a transcendental archetype of the real existing has passed into its second phase - an image of reality, so that it can experience its transformation and become part of the great canvas that takes over our conceptual reality, capturing it in an infinite illusion of simulacra that occupy our cognitive, sensory world, leading us into a mimetic theater from which we learn about the ideality of things through their replicas with a misplaced essential intelligibility.
           Using this premise, I will analyze Baudrillard's death of the real and try to figure out how, in a world based on information and signs governed by models and cybernetics, in defiance of the codes that erode the differences between the matrix and the real, the path to truth is found. Additionally, I will examine the interconnectedness and influence of Baudrillard's theory in today's world, with a focus on the inter-weaving of narratives, which play the most significant role in the cultural delineation of symbols today.

In the postmodern era, every attempt to search for meaning in and of itself is doomed to fail, and every sign that seemingly promises essential meaning is embedded in a different context, conditioning us to use even more signs in an endless search for essence. On the journey to find meaning, the subject is immersed in a sea of rapidly growing, constant information and interlaced references. Postmodernism does not come as an antidote to meaning but is only a trace that leads back to the constant, semantically loaded contexts. Meaning is lost in interlinked forms surrounded by already existing things, and the approach to the origin always leads back to a sign that is alienating to us. In the search for oneself, the idea ends where it begins - in the infinite spectrum of postmodernity. The way out of postmodernism is not just a strong search for meaning by introducing new forms and looking towards their exact origins.
           Postmodernity embodies the subject in an artistic context. In the eyes of the object, the subject is a holistic incarnation, a reduced image of the authentic appearance that once was. With doubts, skepticism and irony towards the great narratives, ideologies, and universal explanations, it brings an era of diversity, subjectivity, and irrelevance, opposing a linear thought-world. In such a place, reality is a social construct, and therefore, no objective and external truth can exist independently of human perception. What is real for us is simulated by the cultural, social, and historical context of the time in which we live. The language, meanings, and symbols we use change the context of the phenomenon, which does not allow the existence of a single, universal definition and meaning of reality as existing and comprehensive. The truth is transient, changeable, diverse, and enveloped in multiple layers, with different individuals and groups creating their versions of what is real.
           In Baudrillard's theory, postmodern society is characterized by rapidly growing images, where reality is no longer what it used to be, but a reflection of its simulation. The idea of a single, objective reality is replaced by a social construct, where different individuals and groups create their versions of what is real, built on their experiences and interpretations. The line between reality and simulation is blurred. The simulation of reality becomes more important than reality itself, creating a hyperreality that produces signs, symbols, and meanings that no longer correspond to anything real.

The simulation does not refer to the territory, nor is it a representation of a referential being. It is the production of the hyperreal, which originates from the simulacra that deceive us. The territory outlives the map and becomes a new part of reality. This recalls Plato's epistemology, with a simulated layer of models covering the real, not giving it space to exist in its essence and value of truth. The real is suppressed by simulated farce, so the leftover remnants of the territory slowly accumulate on the surface of the map, simulating the last bits of the real, emphasizing the imaginary, and not giving us space to distinguish what is due to the procession of repetitive models that artificially create the differences between ontological (un)truths.
           The world around us is a fiction created by countless miniature cells that can be reproduced in an infinite arabesque, and the status of the real loses any connection to the reasonable, as it is devoid of the ability to be measured with the ideal, but only serves as an operational calculation with identical nomenclature. The death of the imaginary deprives any existence of reality and offers a synthesis of combinatorial models. Hence, he claims that the use of signs and symbols has bombarded culture so much that reality itself, as something separated from the signs and taken out of the context (flooded with information in the contemporary world dominated by the media), does not exist. Photography, mass production, television, and advertisements shape and distort authentic experience to such an extent that reality is only recognized as a part of the simulation. Reality and truth are interpreted at different levels, so in culture, we cannot make a distinction between reality and fantasy. He calls this experience hyperreality, blurring the line between the real and the imaginary, as a new layer in which one floats through false signs and information, submerged in the inauthentic experience of the world, without the possibility of perceiving the truth that is deeply embedded in the references that precede it. Simulation becomes a reality, fetishizing the lost object: it is no longer an object of representation, but an ecstasy of denial and its ritual of eradication: the hyperreal.
           According to him, the process of simulation begins with the perfection of the simulacrum, in which the image or representation precedes the original. In the world around us, this is evident in the way that media and cultural narratives influence our perception and behavior. As the simulation progresses, it reaches a point of hyperreality in which the distinction between reality and representation is completely lost.

This critique of Baudrillard's metaphysics aims at the main flaw in his theory and leads to a return to the modernist method of interpreting and analyzing the things around us. Despite our selective inability to recognize the connection between ideas, in an apathetic world drowning in references to something that may never have existed, our ability to conceptualize, name, and organize is present, which is the liberating factor in his thesis.
           The real world has not disappeared, but what has changed is our understanding of it and our ability to communicate the changes that have occurred. Our descriptions of the world in the postmodern era are always mediated by linguistic and cultural practices, and hence there is no such thing as direct access
to reality.

The original version of an object has no true, essential meaning and value in the hyperreal world. It belongs to another realm and has no referential value. Hence, the implication is that the reality we see is only a presentation of fast-paced images that are imperfect and faded. In this sense, reality dies, and according to Baudrillard's definition, hyperreality follows as a precise copy of reality, often through another medium, such as photography. The same thing happens in consumer culture - the image of things is more important than the things themselves; the original context in which they were created and embodied becomes unimportant. Thus, with the great number of signs and meanings in the late 20th century, according to him, the global society has erased reality.
           Although in a softened context, this thesis is the subject of many discussions that are active and relevant in the new century. In the documentary film HyperNormalisation, Adam Curtis refers to a world that is extremely alienated from reality, leading to societies composed of confused and powerless individuals. Similarly, within simulacra, images are the main form of information that we receive and according to which we understand the world and build memories that have lost any authentic meaning. What they have in common is that, according to both of them, the world is broadcast and simulated, led by fictional narratives that are easy to consume but not to understand. However, despite this comparison, it is important to mention that there is a necessary difference between how the two perspectives portray the ability to resist simulation as an individual. What Curtis sees as the loss of meaning, ideation, and collective closeness is not smothered with nihilistic connotations, nor are the problems presented as something impossible to withstand.

Metamodernism gained epochal significance towards the end of the past decade, as a new intellectual reflection and means of articulating events in contemporary, popular culture, which marked a significant step beyond postmodernism in the late 20th century. Encountering countless crises and changes over the past two decades - climate change, economic collapse, escalation of global conflicts, pandemic - we witness a new movement that focuses on an essential, collective and tangible desire for change, something that completely goes beyond the framework of the prematurely proclaimed end of history and end of art.
           The main characteristic of postmodernism is the deconstruction of form, irony, relativism, nihilism and the rejection of grand global narratives, while the discourse of the new era is based on a revival of sincerity, hope, romanticism, and the potential for the birth of universal truth that was lost in the past century. Instead of simple signaling towards the return of modernist ideological positions, metamodernism is characterized by an oscillation between aspects of modernism and postmodernism, an act of informed naivete, pragmatic idealism, and moderate fanaticism that oscillates between sincerity and irony, deconstruction and construction, apathy and passion, as an attempt to reach a certain transcendent position.
           Without further regard for defining it as a new epoch, metamodernism arises as a synthesis of the past. If postmodernism was the new rococo in the era of modern baroque style with grand ideas, narratives, and ornamentation, a new wave is emerging that embraces the context, time, existence, and the complex essence of our nature. With a willingness to embrace our contradictions and complexities, wrapped up in playfulness and experimentation, the metamodern playground covers the territory between what we know and the blind spots of what remains to be discovered. With the goal of transcending time as a category and grasping the essence of the world that surrounds us, metamodern aesthetics sublimates the previous form. It transgresses the urge for unification and clarity among the stages of irony and critique. Hence, instead of solely focusing on breaking down and questioning, metamodernism seeks to create a new synthesis by bringing together different ideas and perspectives.
           It is precisely in this position that the defiance towards Baudrillard's simulacrum is contained. Even though the return to meaning is impossible in his world, we encounter such a notion in these reflections; a return to the meaning that once was, to grasp it in its essence, and to bring an authentic imprint.

The absence of objective reality in Baudrillard's world of simulacra implies a search for truth that is doomed to failure before it begins. The world is a theater of simulated appearances that do not allow us to see the factual reality, as we are blinded by the symbols and signs that occupy the cultural ether. If we disregard the nihilistic force that dominates the conclusion of his thesis, most of the premises that are mentioned are accurate and clear in the world that surrounds us. The idea of space in the digital era, is that of a canvas for disseminating information in which the individual is alienated from the collective, as well as from oneself, craving an illusory product of a time that will never be.
           We synthesize information from our environment, as concrete objects using combinations of different sensory signals, so that we can insert them into categories of things that we already recognize. The apparent world is not something given to us as a whole.
           Additionally, if we try to interpret it through a modernist methodological prism, ignoring the semantically charged global context, we could describe the post-truth world in which we live today, given the impact that digital media has on our daily lives. However, what distinguishes the world that surrounds us from Baudrillard's conclusion is the possibility of seeing beyond the procession, seeking a truth that exists outside of us, which has been and will continue to be an authentic part of the world, existing and giving meaning in and of itself. The defiance towards Baudrillard's simulacrum, even though he deems it impossible, lies precisely in the search for a path towards the understanding of the essence, returning to the world's forms that once were, allowing us to find a path to truth. Perhaps the forms have been worn out, and it is necessary for the world to cyclically repeat, but there is an essential gap through which, by returning, the world moves towards authentic thought.