Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Simulation and hyperreality, or, getting Baudrillard wrong repeatedly.  §

The first inkling I had that many, many academics in the arts and letters weren’t all they were cracked up to be was when I heard some Very Serious People at a Very Serious Institution that I attended getting readings of some big theorists very, very wrong. During my second stint at grad school, this happened again.

The most obvious incorrect reading is that of Jean Baudrillard and the concept of simulation. This is almost universally fucked up by people. Again I read tonight on a very prominent website, on which someone is trying to explain something to a popular audience using Baudrillard, that simulation is an “amazingly realistic copy” and that hyperreality is a “world in which the copies are more real than the original.”

Over and over again I hear this stuff, since my first stint at grad school in 2003.


Simulation is the direct production of a non-original without any original. Rather than being “made” as an original thing is, a thing is instead “simulated” into existence.

Hyperreality is a world in which there are no originals or copies, only simulations. That is the entire point of the theoretical framework. There are no copies. It is not about copies. This is not about the fidelity of copies, the fantasticness of copies, the multiplicity of copies, the modernism of copies, the acceptance of copies, or anything else involving copies.

That is the point. To oversimplify too much (but it seems necessary), there are no copies in hyperreality, nor are there originals. There are only simulations.

It is not a framework about fake realities, imperfect realities, secondary realities, derivative realities, regrettable realities, or anything else of the sort. It is not a critique of social media implying that we’d all be better off talking face-to-face. It is not a critique of mass-produced consumer goods implying that we’d all be better of with hand-crafted goods instead.

Jean Baudrillard was not agreeing, prior to the fact, with your Luddism. It is an account of a particular mode of production that is perfectly informational and cheaply and infinitely informational, and in which notions of originality and reproduction thus no longer apply because the parsimoniously identifying characteristics of the “original” and of the “copy” in previous modes of production no longer aply.

For some reason, after all these years, there is nothing that makes me more ill than the naive, simply incorrect, account of Baudrillard that is used everywhere to (darkly and incorrectly) illuminate just about everything.