Baudrillard In Cyberspace

Yousuf Dhamee

Since Baudrillard conceived his ideas about simulation and the simulacrum long before the advent of Internet technology or cyberspace/cyborg culture, it is remarkable the degree to which his theories regarding the state of Western culture apply to cyberspace. "The real is produced from miniaturized cells, matrices, and memory banks, models of control-- and it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times from these. It no longer needs to be rational, because it no longer measures itself against an ideal." This passage from Simulacra and Simulation could serve as a definition for computer generated virtual reality.

Looking at a scene from Gibson's Mona Lisa Overdrive, one notes how Kumiko's mother (the "real" in terms of cyberspace) has been produced from data stored in a computer. In Neuromancer we can see how the rational becomes blurred and reference points become lost. As Heim asks, "Yet here, in Neuromancer, the protagonist Case makes love to a sexual body named Linda. Who is this Linda?" Inside the Net it is unclear whether or not this woman is real or computerized. This raises an even more troubling question: if Case cannot tell the two apart (real/constructed), then what is the difference between them? The simulation loses its dependence on the original, and virtual reality fulfills Baudrillard's final phase of the image where "it [the image/the simulation] has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum." In a sense cyber-reality functions in a similar manner as the imitation of the Lascaux caves: it renders both simulation and original artificial. Even if Case were to interact with the actual Linda, he would not ever be quite sure about her status as an original/reproduction. Furthermore, the fact that she can be duplicated so accurately serves to make the concept of originality unimportant.

In a sense cyberspace operates much like Baudrillard's Disneyland. It can help to distort or cover the fact that the outside world is just as unreal or constructed as its electronic simulation. As Novak points out, "Objective reality itself seems to be a construct of our mind, and thus becomes subjective." In Snowcrash the distinction between the worlds is in fact blurred, with interesting result. If one can become sick or die as a result of exposure to computer viruses in the Net the computer's reality is no longer "virtual." As the line between man and information space is narrowed Baudrillard's world is approximated to a frightening degree.

The ultimate linking of man and machine, the cyborg form, provides another example of a simulacra. As Haraway suggests, the cyborg can disrupt traditional binaries such as male/female. It exists as a simulation (as it is constructed from a human form) that has no original: the very definition of the simulacrum. If the human form can be altered and mutated at will the question that remains involves the very definition of what it is to be human. Haraway, rather than being traumatized by the possibility of this development, sees an opportunity for self-empowerment. She maintains a more ambivalent attitude towards the ideal of an absolute truth. Whereas Baudrillard anticipates the problems of a virtual world, Haraway recognizes its potential advantages. Already, the world of cyberspace offers a sort of simulacrum. Information can be reproduced infinitely. Copies are perfectly resemble their originals. The concept of depth is sacrifced to the edlessly sliding surface of images. The idea of the original has already been destroyed by the Web. It remains to be seen what will happen to the concept of the truth.

Critical Theory