CF: In the system of circulating signs that you describe, death is extremely present.
JB: I tried to make of it a stake at the basis of an indefinite game. Another thing that I was trying to say is that an enormous energy can come from the disappearance itself. Take Nietzsche: he could still write a genealogy of morals and find in the death of God a mythical vision beyond this death. For us, God is not dead; he has disappeared, that’s all. The act of disappearance is often an intense one, and I see the ’60s and the ’70s as this strong point during which, out of the consciousness of disappearance, people took all the energy they could. We witnessed the disappearance of a great number of concepts, of forms, of ancient myths. Now, we no longer even have the work of mourning to go through; all that remains is a state of melancholia. This high point
of the disappearance was studied between Nietzsche and the 1920-30s. People like Canetti or Benjamin lived through both the high point of culture and the high point of its decline. Today we see the result of this process of decline and everyone is wondering how to make a drama out of that. Personally, the only rebound that I found is America. Through a sort of displacement, I succeeded in seeing the phenomenon of the disappearance of our culture in a more grandiose, intense and spectacular version. That is something like what de Toqueville noticed. He had witnessed in France the disappearance of aristocratic values and the set up of a revolution — restoration which half failed. However, he thought that over there in America, where these values had never
existed, they had at least disappeared from the beginning, and that fact could perhaps
produce more impressive results than what he had seen in France. As a matter of fact,
through a transference, America offered me the possibility of grasping the loss of our
bourgeois values and of our culture. Everything which has disappeared here as a rather
exceptional event. A spontaneous, general desire exists as though there were still some
culture, some common values, etc. This is easy to observe in politics: a whole political
class acts as if there were still a political ideology. Can this culture of sorts, this trompe
l’oeil, be maintained much longer? Does the regeneration of sentimental and affective
values, even in politics with the Rights of Man, with SOS this and that, have any real
foundation? In my opinion, this is no more than a completely formalistic sort of solidarity
meant to produce the illusion of a social link, of the participation of everyone for the same objective. Even Coluche, the French comedian and social critic, has participated in this effort. But, it is impossible to ignore that, behind all, there is not a great deal.
So perhaps the only alternative is to negotiate one’s indifference as art does, as art has been negotiating its disappearance for half a century. People, artists, are not just dying in their corner; they are making their disappearance an object of exchange.
CF: You speak of indifference toward cultural values. But aren't historical exhibitions in
museums, for example, a sign of non-indifference, of interest, even a passion for the past?
JB: If it is, it’s a posthumous passion! This passion for the past is for me something like
redemption rather then predestination. The past is not fatal, it does not oblige us to do
anything. This spiritual dramatization of our memory goes along with the new technology which can only be used to stock information, which blots out memory. ‘Memories’ are what work best nowadays! But computers do not produce a new vision of the world; the system is only a vast machine which allows for the development of compilation. Indifference: that’s an ambiguous word. It has a negative connotation for us; however, when the Stoics used it, it was dynamic. The indifference of nature produced a sort of challenge to the world. They did not experience indifference as a flat encephalogram, but rather as a tragic condition to which one must reply with an indifference at least as great. All sorts of things ca n happen around the category of indifference; seduction, for example, because the game of seduction always includes a moment of interaction with desire. I usually speak ironically about desire. Indifference implies for me that ‘something is involved.’ In my opinion, we must make of indifference a stake, a strategy: dramatize it. Why not consider indifference as the “accursed share”? Be that as it may, I do not believe that we can go to the past in search of lost values. Postmodernism registers the present situation, the loss of meaning and of
desire, the mosaic-like aspect of things, but it does not make of decadence a grandiose event. To do that, one would need to be a mediator, in writing perhaps: an object which will be provocative in its very indifference.
CF: In the realm of today’s arts, the objective is often to create modulators of the environment. When it leaves meaning behind, art tends sometimes to approach the decorative.
JB: Is it worthwhile trying to find the meaning of the setting? For the dramatization of what? Who will the new playwrights and new actors be? Everyone seems to be saying, “I am setting up a new stage, but in this space, in this new light, no one will ever move, there will be no play.” That is rather the way I see the environment of Buren at the Palais Royal: a stage set in another set. That always seems to me to be a part of the aesthetics of ruins. The actors have disappeared; only the backstage and parts of the
Jean Baudrillard was born in Reims, France, in 1929. He died in Paris on March 6, 2007.
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