Notes for Jean Baudrillard The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena

Key concepts: locus of vertiginousness, scintillation of being, vanishing point.

Related theorists: Ian Bogost, Gee, Graham Harman, Nick Montfort, Sherry Turkle, Zizek.


Quintessential postmodern response to intelligence machines; or we are busy with our own creating and need slaves to do the boring storage/retrieval maneuvers that past thinkers had slaves (grad assistants and secretaries) to do; see Irigaray on secretary. Nice link to studies years later such as Bush, Licklider, Engelbart and others who view computer as component rather than opponent or postmodern stooge.

(51) If men create intelligent machines, or fantasize about them, it is either because they secretly despair of their own intelligence or because they are in danger of succumbing to the weight of a monstrous and useless intelligence which they seek to exorcize by transferring it to machines, where they can play with it and make fun of it.

Same criticism of writing.

(51-52) It is not for nothing that they are described as 'virtual', for they put thought on hold indefinitely, tying its emergence to the achievement of a complete knowledge. The act of thinking itself is thus put off for ever. . . . Just as eyeglasses and contact lenses will arguably one day evolve into implanted prostheses for a species that has lost its sight, it is similarly to be feared that artificial intelligence and the hardware that supports it will become a mental prosthesis for a species without the capacity for thought.

When you think about A.rtificial I.ntelligence do you think about the creation of Thought from nothing, or do you think about thinking happening in some manufactured (non-you-like) entity? Well, should you be most often intending the latter, then for clarification we shall refer to that sort of [thing] as A.rtificially.I.ntelligent.D.asein. Many people, however, seem with this intention to be articulating the impossibility of the former exemplar of non-human thought. But this we can easily discover equates all non-human thinkers with God. Consequently a certain going-astray when seduced by the comments of, say, Baudrillard in his chapter "Xerox and Infinity," concerning the abysmally idiotic nature of any artificial thinker.

Intelligent machines do not deploy artifice, they resynthesize according to models, revealing tension between acknowledging embodiment and rampant biochauvanism in Baudrillard and Lyotard.

(52) Artificial intelligence is devoid of intelligence because it is devoid of artifice. True artifice is the artifice of the body in the throes of passion, the artifice of the sign in seduction, the artifice of ambivalence in gesture, the artifice of the pithy remark that completely alters meaning. So-called intelligent machines deploy artifice only in the feeblest sense of the word, breaking linguistic, sexual, or cognitive acts down into their simplest elements and digitizing them so that they can be resynthesized according to models. They can generate all the possibilities of a program or of a potential object. But artifice is in no way concerned with what generates, merely with what alters, reality.

Same criticism used by Zizek, a simply reflective not symbiotic comportment with technology.

(53)Nor do machines manifest that ironical surplus or excess functioning which contributes the pleasure, or suffering, thinks to which human beings transcend their determinations – and thus come closer to their raison d'etre. Alas for the machine, it can never transcend its own operation – which, perhaps, explains the profound melancholy of the computer. All machines are celibate.


(53-54) The celibacy of the machine entails the celibacy of Telecomputer Man. . . . The Other, the interlocutor, is never really involved: the screen works much like a mirror, for the screen itself as locus of the interface is the prime concern. . . . A new Plato's retreat whence to observe shadow-forms of bodily pleasure filing past. Why speak to one another, when it is so simple to communicate?


We feel long past the fixation with materiality that obsessed Baudrillard with otherness, we who in the post-postmodern period accept network ontology, enough to create its being would be the ultimate ontogenetic philosophical finesse.

The irredeemabiliy of the Object gets cashed out in computational simulacra.

(172) In the end, all figures of otherness boil down to just one: that of the Object. In the end, all that is left is the inexorability of the Object, the irredeemability of the Object.

And we are so stuck with ourselves that we nave no power.

Acknowledging distortion of instrumentation grounds strange attractor metaphor, which Zizek also touts.
(172-173) The subject tries desperately to follow it, even at the cost of abandoning rationality. The Object is an insoluble enigma, because it is not itself and does not know itself. . . . The Object's power and sovereignty derive from the fact that it is estranged from itself, whereas for us the exact opposite is true. Civilization's first gesture is to hold up a mirror to the Object, but the Object is only seemingly reflected therein; in fact it is the Object itself which is the mirror, and it is here that the subject is taken in by the illusion of himself.

Baudrillard legitimates SCOT, History and Philosophy of Science and other science studies as analysis of science to get a glimpse of the Object.

(173) The diabolical pursuit-race of the Object and the subject of science is an event worth following.

The subject is too well known, or known to be shaped by the objects, which become the new site of philosophical studies as vanishing points; the diagram of the post-postmodern period is the object as strange attractor turned inside out as software ontology.

(173) All that remains is the Object as strange attractor. The subject is no longer a strange attractor. We know the subject too well; the subject knows himself too well. It is the Object that is exciting, because the Object is my vanishing point.

Poles of disalienation and absolute exoticism both point toward interest in radical otherness, as evident by positions promoted by Harman, Bogost, Montfort, and others.

(173) Either disalienation and the reappropriation of oneself . . . Or the other extreme – the path of the absolute Other, of absolute exoticism. This alternative path leads to . . . what is more other than the Other, to radical otehrness.

Call it the turn to the vicissitudes of execution.

In seduction, sovereign otherness of the Other can lead to our death since we may be baring our phallus to be loved.

Or now otherness based on AI operations are the seductive draw of our attention and labor: Gee on the crossover training logic, Turkle for reminding us that technology gets what it wants.

(173-174) I have lost any trace of desire of my own. I answer only to something non-human – something inscribed not within me but solely in the objective and arbitrary vicissitudes of the world's signs. Just as what we deem fatal in catastrophes is the world's sovereign indifference to us, so what we deem fatal in seduction is the Other's sovereign otherness with respect to us.

Scintillation of being, which we know is related to the precession of simulacra, manifest by locus of vertiginousness that Baudrillard hardly dares utter everyday experience of shimmering signifiers: the concept Baudrillard struggles to present via terms of human seduction to otherness of objects better enshrined by arbitrary behaviors like writing and using computer user interfaces.

(174) Rather, this other is the locus of what escapes us, and the way whereby we escape from ourselves. The other here is not the locus of desire, not the locus of alienation, but the locus of vertiginousness, of eclipse, of appearing and disappearing – the locus, one might say (but we must not), of the scintillation of being.

Goal of interfaces becoming invisible that many philosophical programmers idealize is the same seduction Baudrillard deduces from the hold of objects on our attention, bound in the inexplicable secrecy of artifice, the fetishism of commodities, code and objects.

(174) Seduction knows that the other is never the end of desire, that the subject is mistaken when he focuses on what he loves, just as an utterance is mistaken when it focuses on what it says. Secrecy here is always the secrecy of artifice.

Possible escape from eternal orbit return of the same when we go, try to go, seeking the not-self asymptotic relation between subject and object, narcissism again?

Other as sustaining discourse so human does not have to repeat voice for ever strongly connects to Derrida archive and Kittler on recording media and his merciless roast of Lacan.

(174) The Other is what allows me not to repeat myself for ever.

Baudrillard, Jean. The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena. Trans. James Benedict. New York: Verso, 1993. Print.