As a watermark of unexpected, but also in view of other unforeseen events, the idea was conceived at the dawn of the nineties among a few friends to set up an Agency that would be invisible, anonymous and clandestine, Stealthy Agency, equally labelled as:
Seeking to hunt down unreal events with which to disinform the public, it itself has remained unreal. In this sense, it perfectly fulfilled its role, as it managed to escape all radar detection to become a unique formula that is never virtual.
What this implied is that there were no longer ideas that had anything to do with facts — this was the “utopia” of the sixties and seventies — that there were no longer any actors involved in events, no intellectuals occupied with meaning. Instead, there was an insignificant upheaval of events, lacking real actors and authorized interpreters: action [l’actio] simultaneously disappeared with the auction [l’auctoritas]. All that remains are “current events”, a kind of cinematographic “action”, an “auction”, i.e., the price-tagging of the event in an overbid of information. The event is taken up not only in action but in speculation and, eventually, in a chain reaction that links facticity to extremes in such a manner that no interpretation can be rejoined to it.
Simulation is precisely this irresistible unfolding, this linkage of things as if they had a meaning, so that they are no longer controlled or regulated except by artificial montage and non-sense. It is the putting up for auction of the event through radical disinformation, the price-tagging of the event instead of gambling with it, instead of investing in the stakes of history. If, on the other hand, should there be a stake in this, it remains occult, enigmatic, and resolved in events that have never really taken place. And I am not talking about ordinary events, but of the events of the East [Eastern Europe], of the Gulf War, etc. What the Agency otherwise specifically aimed at was to oppose this simulation with a radical dissimulation, to lift the veil from this non-happening of events. It has also occultized and enigmatized itself in their image in order to open up and clear to the way to a particular void, to a certain non-sense — unlike the media which remains relentlessly bent on filling up all interstices. Its aim was to manoeuvre itself in the void of events like Chuang-Tzu’s butcher proceeds in the interstitial void of the body. This surreptitious, sly intervention in the meaning of the void against grotesque infatuation with information and the political scene, evidently could not amount to more than a dream and because of its assumed occult and enigmatic nature, it ended up not taking place like the events themselves. It fell into the same black hole, into the same virtual space as the non-events which it should have addressed (secretly however, and without anyone knowing, it remained operational in the image of these new events which were either mediatized or not). An apparently insolvable paradox. The idea, though, is not dead.
Stealthy Agency responded to the strike of events, to the strike of history. Like history, it, too, subscribed to absent events, looking for a way to furnish the most exact non-information on the absence of events; on this illimited strike with respect to the occupation of history; on void space over which the phantoms of Power still hover, similar to the empty space of Work strikers occupy in a factory, over which the phantom of Capital continues to hover.
It is as if the events had adopted the vocabulary of the order of strike. Step by step, everything forsook and defected from its time reconfiguring itself into a present/current void where only a visual psychodrama of information was left lingering behind. And this strike of events brings with it the lock-out of history. The fact that events no longer generate information [rather, it is the other way round], prompts incalculable consequences. All the negative work disappears on the horizon of the media precisely in the way that labour disappears on the horizon of capital. There too, relations become inverted: it is no longer labour that serves the reproduction of capital, it is capital that produces and reproduces labour. An enormous parody of the relations of production.
This deregulation of effects and causes no longer raises or incites critical consciousness, only singular objective irony. The Agency therefore had to withstand not only the temptation of information with respect to events on strike, it also had to abstain from offering a critical discourse so that it could capture the originality of this non-event which is that of objective irony. The radical irony of our history is that things no longer happen, everything has an air about it — contrary to the traditional cunning of history that made sure essential changes were produced without any air about them.
One only has to contemplate how the events of Eastern Europe had been taken at face or cash value, with their weight-in-gold freedom and “democratic values”, or how the Gulf War spawned its weight-in-gold of human Rights and the New World Order. How, in fact, these events were priced beyond their value, at the scene of which history became similar to that of an art auction or bazaar today. In opposition to this speculative inflation which leaves everyone enervated, overexcited and indifferent, tetanic [convulsive] as well as apathetic, with respect to the gidouille of events, worthy of the name The Great Gidouille1 of History, one had to come up with a form of ironic deregulation of information, a form of idle writing in response to the idling facticity of our times while at the same time with a subtly catastrophic form that would correspond to the reckoning or redemptive nature of the end of the century. One had to recover amidst the strike of events the filigree or watermark of dissuasion, the deceptive form that guides the nullity of our times.
Dissuasion is a rather particular form of action: it is that which causes something not to happen. This governs the period we presently live in, which is not so much interested in producing events as it is to ensure they do not take place, and all this performed with an air or under the auspices of an historical event. Or, it could be that certain things took place instead of others which did not. Dissuasion also touches on war, history, the real, the passions. It allows for (!) strange events which do not in any way advance history, instead play it backwards by wedding an inverse, unintelligible curvature to our sense of history (i.e., that one cannot have any sense of history unless one falls in line with what is being forwarded as historical sense); one that no longer discloses any negative power (progressive, critical, revolutionary), consequently their only negativity would be the fact that they would not have happened. Disturbing.
The realm of dissuasion extends over the past as well. It can obliviate all certainty of facts and testimonies. It is able to destabilize memory just as well as it can destabilize all foresight. This is a diabolic power intent on burning passage to the real act of the event or, if it is allowed to take place, if, in fact, it did take place, would destroy its credibility.
Maybe this curvature implying that things have neither meaning nor a linear end is nothing but a depression in the meterological sense of the term — the void we feel may not be due to defection in meaning or memory but would perhaps be retraceable to a strange attraction that had come upon us from somewhere. Could it be that this lifelessness or catatonia that we are living is to be interpreted inversely, not in the sense of a void abandoned by the ebb of past events, but as a void owing its effect to aspiration, to the suctional pull of a future event, to the proximity of a factual mass which, through anticipation draws to itself all the oxygen that we breathe, brutally depressurizing thereby the social, political, cultural and mental sphere?
Pataphysic hypothesis, that of anti-gravity, of anti-density, of a science of imaginary solutions that arise beyond physics and metaphysics. In Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll, Jarry had already described the profile of this strange attraction that stems from the reversal of the principles of physics: “Science today founds itself on the principle of induction: most people have most often seen this phenomenon preceded or followed by that one, and conclude that that’s the way it will be forever … But instead of declaring the law of falling bodies towards a centre why wouldn’t one prefer that of the rise of the void towards the periphery, the void conceived of as unity of non-density, a hypothesis much less arbitrary than the one that opts for a concrete unity of positive density”.
An inverse attraction of the void, instead of the full attracting the full. This is perhaps what would give our events this particular colour, this taste or, rather, this vapidity. At the moment of their arrival they have already become vanishing events with little meaning, if any, as they already come to align themselves with the void. In opposition to the old physics of meaning: a new gravitation, the true and only attraction of the void — undoubtedly the most fundamental natural law.
This would certainly explain the anomalies, including the mental universe and the field of “psychology”. Our forms of action therefore, instead of being bearers of positive pulsion, are much more conveyors of expulsion and repulsion, i.e., the centrifugal mobility of particles that seek their liberation from density — to rejoin what? A mysterious periphery of space, an anti-gravity. Would this be the way to escape the heavy form, the gravity of “desire” conceived of as positive attraction, i.e., through a much more subtle eccentricity of seduction which would be, to take up the old cosmogonies that never lacked in charm, elusive beauty, out-of-body, much lighter molecules that only know of one way out, that of the void (like poetic language where every particle finds its resolution in anagrammatic resonance).
As for the new events, one could say that they plough a void in front of themselves as they go along, wherein they also get swallowed up. It seems that everything jostles ahead in a haste to be forgotten. These events leave no place for interpretation, if not for all interpretations simultaneously, and where they skirt all the intent of meaning and the heavy/weighty attraction of a continued history as they enter on the light orbit of a discontinued history. They arrive faster than their shadow — unforeseen for the most part — however, do not have any consequences. Meteoric events that bank on the same chaotic inconsequence as do the formation of clouds. With respect to the events of Eastern Europe therefore, one gets the impression of a long and sustained negative accumulation accompanied by a sudden resolution as the obvious and instantaneous conclusion of operations that are beyond our grasp. Under these conditions and with respect to events that are nevertheless significant, there is a strange taste left in the mouth of a deja- arrive, a retrospective development where one cannot see anything worthwhile with respect to its future. Our only astonishment is not to have foreseen it; our only regret — the inability to draw consequences from it. The screen of history changes with the same excessive and untimely rhythm as do natural phenomena.
One gets the impression that events are hurled headlong in isolation, all on their own as they abruptly and unforeseen get diverted to the point of their flight, i.e., to the peripheral void of the media. Just like physicists are no longer in the possession of the particle except for a vision of its trajectory on a screen, neither are we any longer in possession of pulsating events, except for a cardiogram, nor of representation or memory, except for an (unimaginative) encephalogram, nor of desire or jouissance, except for psychodrama and a cathodic vision.
This is somewhat like procreation in vitro: the embryo of a real event is transported into the artificial uterus of information where many orphan, fatherless and motherless, foetuses are delivered. The event is entitled to the same procreative practices as birth, to the same euthanasic practices as death.
We are unquestionably indebted to this physically pleasing sensation: the sentiment that collective or individual events are plunged into a hole of memory. This debility, no doubt, is due to a movement in reverse, to this parabolic curve interjected into the space of history. For the past cannot represent itself, it cannot be reflected upon unless it prods us in another sense, i.e., with respect to some sort of future or other. Retrospective is solidary with prospective that allows for something to be depicted as surpassed, as stolen and therefore as having taken place. If, by way of a strange revolution, we set out on the course of inverted meaning and get involuted in this dimension of the past, we will no longer be able to represent ourselves. The extension of memory would curve or bend and make a black hole out of every event. We live through this subjectively in the sudden loss of our memories, through the rupture in the continuity of names, faces and familiar forms. With respect to this kind of catastrophe of memory, we are not talking about natural forgetting nor of unconscious repression. Focus is on an inversion of this field of temporal gravitation which no longer allows signs of the past to be bearers of a specific mass, of a nuclear mass necessary for their retention, nor of a mirror of the present in which they could be reflected. The holes in memory are a bit like what has become of the ozone layer, where our protective screen breaks down or disintegrates. Or maybe they are simply not big enough to be engulfed in a way that it could start swirling to unfetter the light particles from the heavy ones, enlarging and deepening the black hole from where dead bodies would release or free up their aerial substance as in the case of Dante and Giordano Bruno. It is in an absolute void that the absolute event takes place. The void therefore can only be relative in view of the fact that death has remained virtual.
1. This is a reference to Alfred Jarry’s Almanach illustre du pere Ubu (1901) (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1972), vol. 1, 568, 597.
Jean Baudrillard (1929 – 2007) was a French social theorist and philosopher. His books include Simulacra and Simulation, In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, Symbolic Exchange and Death, Seduction, The Perfect Crime and America.
Originally published in French as part of Jean Baudrillard, L’Illusion de la fin: ou La greve des evenements (Paris: Galilee, 1992). The essay was published by CTheory on September 6, 1994 with the permission of Jean Baudrillard. Translated by Charles Dudas, York University.