Sunday, April 2, 2017

Simulation, Icon, and Annunciation

We are living in the age of the image. Recent decades have seen an overwhelming proliferation of screens, digital representations, and media which saturate our daily lives. This omnipresent media environment frames and shapes our perception of the world.
In his book Simulacra and Simulation, the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard sees in this digital era of the image—which was still in its incipient television stage when he was writing in 1981—an epochal-metaphysical shift. For Baudrillard the ubiquity of 'simulation' obliterates the Real leaving only the simulacrum. The map is all, the territory is gone. Once upon a time the medium carried the message, then the medium became the message, and finally the medium destroyed any message leaving only itself: a web of images and appearances, symbols and signifiers with no referent.
In this postmodern account of our reality, Baudrillard looks for an ally in the iconoclasts of Byzantium.1 Citing them explicitly he posits that they feared icons would "substitute for the pure and intelligible Idea of God" and might thereby "efface God from the consciousness of man" or open a path for the idea that God never existed. This is far removed from the actual arguments and concerns of the iconoclasts, of course. His further claim that the iconoclasts "predicted" our late modern condition with its omnipresence of simulacra having "destroyed God"—referring to our media-saturated cultural consciousness and the decline of Christianity in the West—is also odd considering that the Church persisted another millennium or so after triumphing over iconoclasm without any resultant cultural atheism. Making his a rather fantastical account of historical causality.
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