The Transparency of Evil. by Jean Baudrillard.

Reading Jean Baudrillard’s book “The Transparency of Evil”, I have found a theoretical framework to continue my research. The “Theorem of the Accursed Share” is a concept coined by Georges Bataille about world economics, that Baudrillard reformulates to elaborate his theories about the current negation of Evil in a hyperpositive society.

Here are some notes I took while reading the book.

About transaesthetics.

There are two markets today. One is still regulated by a hierarchy of values, even if these are already of a speculative kind. The other resembles nothing so much as floating and uncontrollable capital in the financial market: it is pure speculation,

There are two markets today. One is still regulated by a hierarchy of values, even if these are already of a speculative kind. The other resembles nothing so much as floating and uncontrollable capital in the financial market: it is pure speculation, movement for movement’s sake, with no apparent purpose other than to defy the law of value. This second art market has much hyperspace of value. Should we be scandalised? No. There is nothing immoral here. Just as present-day art is beyond beautiful and ugly, the market, for its part, is beyond good and evil. (p.19)

The “look” is a sort of minimal low-definition image, like a video image – or what McLuhan would call a tactile image, an image which draws neither attention or admiration – as fashion still does- but is no more than a special effect, with no particular significance. The look is no longer a function of fashion – it is a form of fashion that has been overtaken. It no longer even appeals to a logic of distinction, it is no longer founded on an interplay of differences: it plays at difference without believing in it. It is, in fact, indifference. Being oneself has become a transient performance with no sequel, a disabused mannerism in a world without manners. (p. 23 & 24)

That I how we became transsexuals – just as we became transpoliticals: in other words, politically indifferent and undifferentiated beings, androgynous and hermaphroditic – for by this time we have embraced, digested and rejected the most contradictory ideologies, and were left wearing only their masks: we had become, in our own heads – and perhaps unbeknownst to ourselves – transvestites of the political realm. (p.25)

To epidemic, contagion, chain reactions and proliferation we owe at once the worst and the best. The worst is metastasis in cancer, fanaticism in politics, virulence in the biological sphere, and rumour in the sphere of information. Fundamentally, though, all these also partake of the best, for the process of chain reaction in an immoral process, beyond good and evil, and hence reversible. It must be said, moreover, that we greet both worst and best with the same fascination.

That should be possible for certain processes – economic, political, linguistic, cultural, sexual, even theoretical and scientific – to set aside the limitations of meaning and proceed by immediate contagion, according to the laws of the pure reciprocal immanencies of things among themselves rather than the laws of their transcendence or their referentiality – that this is possible poses an enigma to reason while offering a marvelous alternative to imagination. (p. 69)


Drives and repulsions. (On Disgust)

Power itself is founded largely on disgust. The whole of advertising, the whole of political discourse, is a public insult to intelligence, to reason – but an insult in which we collaborate, abjectly subscribing to a silent interaction. The day of hidden persuasion is over: those who govern us now resort unapologetically to arm-twisting pure and simple. […] In point of fact it was a prophetic commercial, full of intimations of the future shape of social relationships, because it operated, precisely, in terms of disgust, avidity and rape. […] The same kind of crassness has triumphed in the realm of art., whose mounds of trivia may be reduced to a single pronouncement of the type, “What we want from you is stupidity and bad taste”. And the fact is that we succumb to this mass extortion, with its subtle infusion of guilt. (p.73)


The mirror of terrorism

There is another logic at work here, too, the logic of attempted role reversal: spectators (English –football- fans, in this case) turn themselves into actors; usurping the role of protagonists (players), under the gaze of the media, they invent their own spectacle (which – we may as well admit it- is somewhat more fascinating than the official one). Now is this not precisely what is expected of the modern spectator? Is he not supposed to abandon his spectatorish inertia and interfere in the spectacle itself? Surely this is the leitmotiv of the entire culture of participation? Curiously, it is in events of this kind that modern hypersociality of participatory variety is actualized –its own best efforts notwithstanding.  […] “Good” participation ends where signs of participation begin. (p76 , p77)


Whatever happened to Evil?

Terrorism in all its forms is the transpolitical mirror of evil. For the real problem, the only problem, is: where did Evil go? And the answer is: everywhere – because the anamorphosis of modern forms of Evil knows no bounds. In a society which seeks – by prophylactic measures, but annihilating its own natural referents, by whitewashing violence, by exterminating all germs and all of the accursed share, by performing cosmetic surgery on the negative – to concern itself solely with quantified management and with the discourse of the Good, in a society where it is no longer possible to speak Evil, Evil has metamorphosed into all viral and terroristic forms that obsess us. (p81)

Today… there exists no opposition able or willing to designate power as Evil. We have become very weak in terms of Satanic, ironic, polemical and antagonistic energy; our societies have become fanatically soft – or softly fanatical. By hunting down all accursed share in ourselves and allowing only positive values free rein, we have made ourselves dramatically vulnerable to even the mildest of viral attacks.   (P82)

The fate of energy.

[…] the inseparability of good and evil and hence the impossibility of mobilising the one without the other. This is, properly speaking, the theorem of the accursed share. There is no point whatsoever in wondering whether this ought to be thus: they simply are thus. And to fails to acknowledge it is to fall utterly prey to illusion. None of this invalidates whatever may be possible in the ethical, ecological or economic sphere of our life – but it does totally relativize the impact of such efforts upon the symbolic level, which is the level of destiny. (p105)


The Theorem of the Accursed Share.

The uninterrupted production of positivity has a terrifying consequence. Whereas negativity engenders crisis and critique, hyperbolic positivity for its parts engenders catastrophe, for it is incapable of distilling crisis and criticism in homoeopathic doses. Any structure that hunts down, expels or exorcises its negative elements risks a catastrophe caused by a thoroughgoing backlash, just as any organism that hunts down and eliminates its germs, bacteria, parasites or other biological antagonists risks metastasis and cancer – in other words, it is threatened by a voracious positivity of its own cells, or, in the viral context, by the prospect of being devoured by its own – now unemployed- antibodies.

Anything that purges the accursed share in itself signs its own death warrant. This is the theorem of the accursed share.

The energy of the accursed share, and its violence, are expressions of the Principle of Evil. Beneath the transparency of the consensus lies the opacity of evil – the tenacity, obsessiveness and irreducibility of the evil whose contrary energy is at work everywhere: in the malfunctioning of things, in viral attacks, in the acceleration of processes and in their wildly chaotic effects, in the overriding of causes, in excess and paradox, in radical foreignness, in strange attractors, in linkless chains of events. P106

All kinds of events are out there, impossible to predict. They have already occurred, or are just about to heave into view. All we can do is train our searchlight, as it were, and keep our telescopic lens on this virtual world in the hope that some of those events will be obliging enough to allow themselves to be captured. Theory can be no more than this: a trap set in the hope that reality will be naïve enough to fall into it.

The essential thing is to point the searchlight in the right way. Unfortunately, we don’t know which way that is. We only comb the sky. In most instances the events are so far away, metaphysically speaking, that they merely cause a slight phosphorescence on the screen. They have to be developed and enlarged, like photographs. Not in order to discover their meaning, however: they are not logograms, but holograms. They can no more be explained than the fixed spectrum of a star or the variations of red.

To capture such strange events, theory itself must be remade as something strange: as a perfect crime, or as a strange attractor.


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