Hyper-Reality, Challenge, Ritual and the Negative Exchange

  1. “Production only accumulates, without deviating from its end. It replaces all illusions with just one, its own, which becomes the reality principle.” (Baudrillard, 2001, p. 84)

    Hyper-reality: In his essay Simulacra and Science Fiction, Baudrillard plots the diminishing distance between the imaginary and the real to their eventual absorption into simulation and the model.[1] What he shows is that at a certain point, the imaginary was the pretext for the production of the real – that is, a perceptual gaze was cultivated that posited a domain of the imaginary in order to better establish a positive domain of the real. Alluding to Freud, he ironically calls this The Reality Principle, where reality becomes an actual principle applied as a perceptual instrument in order to organise an unknown world. As the ‘realizing gaze’ exorcises from the world the imaginary, what we end up with ultimately is hyper-reality – a real ‘more real than the real’, i.e. a real without illusion dominated by models, which, unlike the imaginary, can never surpass reality. In hyper-reality, the imaginary is eventually absorbed into the real through its models (Baudrillard, 1994, p.121).

    In exactly the same way as the imaginary was the pretext for the real’s deployment, the real now serves as the pretext for the model. From these observations and for our purposes, we can identify a ‘realizing gaze’ – that gaze which would strip experience of all its illusions in order to better visualise a state or critique as ‘real’. Secondly, an ‘engineer’s gaze’, which is that gaze that would produce and apply models to states in order to give the impression of better understanding them and define a criteria through which their management can be legitimized and undertaken. We can see the engineer’s gaze as being applied, not just to the material and physical world, but society, culture, the body, the psyche, weather and so on. One important feature of the realizing and enginerr’s gaze is that the world must be seen to be commensurable – that there can be no room for non-sense within the model, and that we can correctly quantify areas of the negative and the positive.

  2. The Challenge: Previously, I’ve written on the Negative Exchange, and Baudrillard’s notion of the challenge appears to provide a perfect mechanism for how such a reciprocal negative cycle may operate. The challenge does not function in a linear fashion (that of the order of production or reason), but is more closely related to seduction. It is cyclical in that it engenders an irresistible demand for a response: a dizzying spiral of action and counter-action, (Baudrillard, 2001, p. 83) that is potentially destructive or self-destructive. Distinguishing it from the productive, linear order, he writes:

    “It is never an investment but a risk; never a contract but a pact; never individual but duel; never psychological but ritual; never natural but artificial.” (Baudrillard, 2001, p.83)

    The challenge is a ritual logic, not an economic or productive logic. Unlike relations of communication or contract, it inaugurates an insane-relation that demands the abolition of any contract (Baudrillard, 2001, p. 82). In fact, for there to be any seduction at all, contractual relations must disappear altogether. An example he gives of seduction’s insane-relation is that of a line by Philip K. Dick where one character says to another: “Take me to your room and fuck me”. The line is too stark to be true or seductive in the conventional sense, and yet there is something to the line. It is anti-seduction that here provides the seductive value, not the opportunity of ‘pleasure’ or ‘romance’ or ‘sex’ (Baudrillard, 2001, p. 42-43). The effect is born of the relationship between signs and not anything that can be quantified in particular. Any sex would be conditioned by the unquantifiable illusions of this initiation. Sex is not for-itself or in-itself, but beyond sex is something else, which is seduction.

    As the challenge involves the participants in its spiral of games, it also challenges the world (and the participants) to reply, and thereby exist meaningfully.[2] In this, every challenge summons its own opposition. For the realizing gaze and social engineer ‘power’ may serve as the term through which we can quantify and qualify appropriate sexual and social relations, yet in the non-sense of seduction and the ultimate unreality of ‘power’,[3] they begin to summon their own oppositional forms and terms. For in the end, what is this frigid application of sense but hyper-reality’s oppression of all non-sense? A polite exorcism of every unstable alternative? Sense inhibits and demands the neutralization of every possibility of a non-sensical reply. Regarding this Baudrillard writes:

    “Against this there stands opposed a properly contemporary form of violence. More subtle than the violence of aggression: a violence of deterrence, pacification, neutralization, control — a violence of quiet extermination, a genetic, communicational violence — the violence of the consensus and conviviality which tends to abolish — through drugs, disease prevention, psychical and media regulation — the very roots of evil and hence of all radicality. The violence of a system which roots out any form of negativity and singularity (including the ultimate form of singularity — death itself)… A violence which, in a way, puts an end to violence itself. A violence which can be met by no equal and opposite violence. Only hate . (Baudrillard, 2002, also here)

  3. The ritual vs. the social: Sociality is of a contractual, productive, economic order. It is essentially functional and serves to relate individuals in sense. The social endeavors to exorcise and manage all negativity, death, uncertainty and instability within its systems, identifying and emphasizing a domain of positive, universal values. A ritualistic order however is one of seduction and insane relations. It does not exorcise the negative, but involves us in it as with the positive. Rituals are not based on laws, Universal values or Rights, but rules within games of symbolic-exchange. The rules of ritual or challenge[4] need not be universal, nor are they particular to an individual; they may change within the game even as it is played. Any explicit expression of a game-relation may collapse the game and its seduction. By contrast, in sociality, the relation is contractually stated, managed, regulated – the rights and duties are held to be universal, trans-contextual and constant. Baudrillard writes:

    “Generally speaking, ‘rituality’ is, as a form, superior to “sociality”. The latter is only a recent, and not very seductive form of organization and exchange, one invented by humans for humans. Rituality is a much larger system, encompassing the living and the dead, humans and animals, as well as a “nature” whose periodic movements, recurrences and catastrophes serve, seemingly spontaneously, as ritual signs. By comparison, sociality appears rather impoverished: under the sign of the Law it is capable of bringing together only one species (and even then . . .). By contrast, rituality succeeds in maintaining – not by laws, but by rules and their infinite play of analogies – a form of cyclical order and universal exchange of which the Law and the social are quite incapable.” (Baudrillard, 2001, p. 90)


[1] He does this by plotting the transition of science fiction literature through 3 stages: Utopian SF, Classical SF and an emerging SF of hyper-reality and the model. Utopian SF reveals the widest distance between the imaginary and the real, presenting a world that is entirely distinct from the real world. Classical SF is of production and the reality principle, closing the gap between the real and imaginary. In Classical SF, we see productive forces being harnessed and the liberational and diversifying energies of technology being applied. The imaginary here becomes constrained to the limits of the real and the possibilities of production – space/time travel, alien worlds/invasions and so on. Finally, with the real and imaginary merging, imagination no longer transcends the real. Baudrillard uses Ballard’s Crash to exemplify the first proper novel of simulacra.

[2] Whatever the designator – be it ‘identity’, ‘power’, ‘desire’ or ‘challenge’ – all seem to collect at some common juncture and assert some force which is compatible with existential meaning. By such a reckoning, ‘equality’ itself may become a mask for the more seductive cycles of challenge.

[3] Seen from the perspective of seductive challenge-cycles, power disappears, having no clear objectives or effects, but presents only as a holistic force dissipated across the entire experience. Its positive and negative effects are in no way discernible and it is only by applying the prism of sense that one can begin to force this fugue to speak clearly and perceptibly, forgetting the whole of its actual content.

[4] Ritual and challenge are related, but not identical. In ritual, the rules tend to be rigorously expressed in order to involve participants in a totalizing, seductive experience. In challenge, the rules are unpredictable and unstable. They shift according to signs and gestures and involve participants in their own insane logic.


Baudrillard, J. (1994), Simulacra and Simulation,The University of Michigan Press.

Baudrillard, J. (2001), Seduction, CTeory Books

Baudrillard, J. (2002), Screened Out, ‘Hate’
(May also be found here. Last visited: 8 January 2016).

Baudrillard, J. (2003). CTheory, ‘The Violence of the Global’, http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=385, (Last Visited: 8 January 2016).

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