"The Real Vanishes Into The Concept"

What happens when the media fix their gaze on a subject? It quickly loses its intrigue and mystery; it somehow seems less real or alive. 

The earliest instants of an event -- the first seconds in which something is witnessed, seen, felt, or understood -- are lost to the collective imagination once they come under the glare of the broadcast machinery. The rapid circulation of meanings and identifying tags sucks the vitality out of an event. What remains is the whole parade of commentary, of audio-visual effects, of interpretations of interpretations, of faces and pictures winking on and off screens.

In Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared? (2009), one of his last works, Jean Baudrillard ponders this vanquishing of the real. He writes,

By representing things to ourselves, by naming them and conceptualizing them, human beings call them into existence and at the same time hasten their doom, subtly detach them from their brute reality. For example, the class struggle exists from the moment Marx names it. But it no doubt exists in its greatest intensity only before being named. Afterwards, it merely declines. The moment a thing is named, the moment representation and concepts take hold of it, is the moment when it begins to lose its energy -- with the risk that it will become a truth or impose itself as ideology. We may say the same of the Unconscious and its discovery by Freud. It is when a thing is beginning to disappear that the concept appears.

The owl, says Hegel, flies out at dusk.

Take globalization: if there is so much talk of it, as obvious fact, as indisputable reality, that is perhaps because it is already no longer at its height and we are already contending with something else.

Thus the real vanishes into the concept.

(February 1, 2010)

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