Postmodernism. Absence Theory by Jean Baudrillard


Opposing schools of thoughts pervade in the dichotomy of arguments and most get recycled, bundled up and re-emerge. Many are formed as single-standing theories that were consistent throughout the ages, and some are out to question the existence and validity of earlier thoughts that prevailed.

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This paper will try to write a component and engage theorist Jean Baudrillard and a visual representation of something absent and yet a reality. It will try to frame in relation to specific elements why I find his recycling ideas and absence of reality interesting, consider what this means, and discuss what it is that Jean Baudrillard is critiquing or trying to prove.

The second component of this essay will try to convey this engagement and critique in a visual representation of an abstract “Classic Hits” by an unknown artist. I consider them both as creative pieces interwoven, the abstraction of ideas in different mediums – first was Baudrillard’s theory and reality in an absence, and “Classic Hits” all-gold mixed media. I will try to explain why I have chosen the visual representation and how it relates to the idea of a reality and absence. It is a visual collage where the absence of other colors and sense provide thoughts of a reality that which is there and cannot be seen.


Jean Baudrillard was a French theorist considered a post modern and post-structuralist philosopher, photographer, sociologist and political commentator. His writings encompass diverse subjects that include effect of technological progress on social changes, consumerism to gender relations and even terrorism (Trifonas, 2001). He consistently argued that significance and meaning can be understood on how words or signs interrelate brought about by systems. Meanings can be based on an absence which objects, words, images of objects and signs belong in a web of meanings and interdependent. He believes that in the continuous search for meaning and total knowledge, delusion is the result. Baudrillard theorized that the faster society comprehends it perceives reality into a perceived coherent picture, the more it is submerged into an insecure, fearful and unstable society and “reality” dies out.

Baudrillard on Theory and Reality

Many philosophers such as Nietzsche believe that the philosopher must decipher action and actively evaluate all forces confronting society but Baudrillard promoted “end of social” (Foreign Agents Series, 1983) pointing out the complexity in an abstraction. In proposing that social is the depletion of an empty form, Baudrillard further explained that “If social ever existed, it’s not a representation of society, nor in any positive sense; rather as a challenge to the realty of things, as a virulent myth,” (Lotringer, 1986, p 140).

Theory itself is perceived by Baudrillard to occupy a place such as a dialectical position of which may be exchanged with reality at some point. He said that reality and theory has point of contact and that one can transform the world as theory may although generally, theory challenges that which is real. “I hold no position on reality. The real doesn’t exist. It is the insurmountable limit of theory,” Baudrillard said (Lotringer, 1986, p 141). For him reality is not an objective status of things but a point at which theory cannot do any thing. Reality challenges the theoretical edifice and theory becomes the event per se so that what becomes questionable is the objectivity of things.

Events for Baudrillard are shifting movements that provoke very powerful and raw events, result of skidding or fractual zones and that reality and theory merge as one. For him, nothing remains but a sense of dizziness where “pleasure in writing or in theorizing” exist (Lotringer, 1986, p 142). Consequently, as Baudrillard acknowledge the presence of real and social practices, he believes he was launched in a trajectory increasingly divergent and asymptotic. For him, tracking down and getting hold of a zigzagging line of reality is an error so that one only has to leave it running all the way to the end. Objections to the relation of reality are waylaid bringing the human subject to a completely arbitrary situation which itself is an internal and undeniable necessity.

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When pressed on the skidding theory of which it follows its own logic and rounds itself up to disappear, Baudrillard supposed this was true. It becomes a utopian and metaphorical representation of an event, a destiny of theory of which Baudrillard make ideas appear and hasten to make them disappear. Lotringer (1986) asked if “Theory as the pleasure of disappearing… Isn’t that a little bit suicidal?” (p 142) and Baudrillard said it was suicidal in a good way where the art of disappearing becomes a modulation and emergence as a state of grace.

Lotringer (1986) proposed the imploding of theory seconded by Baudrillard as absorbing its own meaning and effect its own disappearance. Human subject choke back on the meanings they produce though it was not easy to create absence of which is surrounded by catastrophe. Baudrillard asked, “Can we implode in the real without going all the way to suicide?” and he proceeded to note the continuing effort of an individual to disappear and challenge the other person to make him reappear, a game of seduction as opposed to expansion and conquest but an “implosive process of the game,” (p 142). For Baudrillard, truth is hidden in gambling where money does not exist. One cannot confront truth but only play with what he called a provocative logic. Truth is a space that cannot be occupied and yet, human subject must work around it so as not to get caught in it. He admitted to enjoyed provoking revulsion that relied on deception, of which, Baudrillard nothing to be had from.

In Valente’s (1985) review of Jean Baudrillard’s 1975 The Mirror of Production and the 1981 Towards a Political Economy of the Sign, it was proposed that the mise en scene occupied a conceptual space between pure mimesis and dialectical illumination, in the midst of repetition and progress, where “the horizon expands ad infinitum, the prospects remains unchanged,” (p 54). This postulation refer to the deconstruction of Marxism of which Baudrillard shows how ad why Marxism replicated the contradictions it exposes in bourgeois political economy and furthering the social structure it is about to change.

Here, Baudrillard was acknowledged to provide a critical semiology of parallel set of foolish wants and contradictions continually repeated at a higher level. In a more pronounced manner, Valente (1985) claimed that Marx needs to be addressed less but a channel of communication “between the politics of economy, with its focus on material production, and the economy of politics, with its focus on the manipulation of signs,” (p 55).

In Towards a Political Economy of the Sign, Baudrillard wrote, “Contrary to the anthropological illusion that claims to exhaust he idea of utility in the simple relation to a useful property in the object, use value is very much a social relation. Just as, in terms of exchange value, the producer does not appear as a creator but as abstract social labor power, so in the the system of use-value, the consumer never appears as desire or enjoyment, but as abstract social need power,” (TPES p 32; quoted from Valente, 1985, p 56).

Visual Representation of Absence, Reality and Theory

Classic Hits
“Classic Hits” by GypsyPunk (008)

“Classic Hits” is a 2008 collage of mixed media. “Classic Hits” the phrase may refer to pop culture’s best or top sellers, that which occupy top of the charts, from radio to ratings, surveys, and gross sales. It is contemporary, light, and very common. This representation cannot be seen on the visual collage of mainly toy guns, fighting tools, and dolls dismembered. It is painted in gold, and placed on top of a red background. Easily, there is the absence indicated. It is almost a monotone, quite boring at a glance. This collection of toy parts are not very popular or well-bought, but the main thing that these represent: war and everything that goes with it, although also absent in a sense, is present in its title as “classic hit.” It may be a play of words, but as Baudrillard claimed, there is connection of absence and reality to form a theory. One object relies its meaning on another, and absent at that. Clearly, war is not depicted in this visual representation. Far from it, it is almost pacific. But the dismembered toy parts do. Its color of gold shows it paid. That war paid. It brings both sad and triumphant thoughts of winning economically, and losing. The sad part of it is losing lives.


To conlclude, Baudrillard seem to be unclear at most, going to rhetorics, almost cyclical, but in the end, pointing to a reality quite difficult to present at once. As acknowledged, he presents reality on that which is absent, and goes around in circles, catching and not catching. He questions those which had been applauded as new, interesting and probably useful, such as Marxism, or socialism in general. And efficiently, he pointed a reality not easily seen, of economics as ways to control or politics as tools to control.

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Together with “Classic Hits”, I hoped to have conveyed same thoughts, of the use of objects which are there and which are not there to present a complete thought, a theory. The philosopher points a social reality quite difficult to grasp about objects and their use or people and their use. The same is said of the mixed media presented: using a single color (with a red background) to present a stark, dark reality, made light by the parts of toys and dolls, almost mundane, without value. But if one thinks twice, we can see another reality which is absent, but still, represented.

That while made abstract or even mundane, war is real, it is economic, and it has two sides. Probably more as Baudrillard may deep fit, and necessary as a reality.


Foreign Agents Series (1983). “The End of the Social” from the In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities (New York).

Lotringer, Sylvere and Jean Baudrillard (1986). “Forgetting Baudrillard.” Social Text, No. 15, pp. 140-144.

Peter Pericles Trifonas, Barthes and the Empire of Signs, Icon (2001).

Jean Baudrillard (1995). The Perfect Crime, Verso.

Valente, Joseph (1985). “Review: Hall of Mirrors: Baudrillard on Marx.” Reviewed work(s): The Mirror of Production by Jean Baudrillard Towards a Political Economy of the Sign by Jean Baudrillard. Diacritics, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 54-65

Gypsypunk. (2008). “Mix Me: Classic Hits.” From Hired, Web.

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