I asked ChatGPT to explain Baudrillard’s concept of the precession of simulacra and it made it pretty accessible, so I’m reproducing here:
The “precession of simulacra” is a concept developed by French cultural theorist and philosopher Jean Baudrillard in his 1981 book “Simulacra and Simulation.” It refers to the process by which simulacra—copies or representations without an original—precede and determine the real, effectively reversing the traditional relationship between the original and the copy.
Baudrillard argues that, in postmodern society, the distinction between the real and the artificial has become blurred, resulting in the loss of the original or authentic. He describes three orders of simulacra that correspond to different historical periods:
- First-order simulacra: In this stage, representations or copies attempt to accurately reflect the original. The copy is seen as inferior to the original, and there is a clear distinction between reality and representation.
- Second-order simulacra: In this stage, copies are mass-produced and begin to distort or mask the original. The distinction between the real and the copy becomes blurred, and the copy is no longer seen as merely a reflection of the original.
- Third-order simulacra: In this stage, the copy no longer has any reference to the original and is detached from reality. The simulacrum becomes its own reality and precedes the real, effectively replacing it. The concept of an “original” loses its meaning, as representations exist independently of any supposed reality.
The precession of simulacra, according to Baudrillard, suggests that the simulacra are not just copies or reflections of reality; they actively shape and create reality itself. Baudrillard uses this concept to critique the hyperreal nature of contemporary society, where signs, symbols, and images increasingly dominate and mediate our perception of reality.
The idea of the precession of simulacra has been influential in cultural theory, media studies, and philosophy. It has also been used to analyze various aspects of contemporary culture, including consumerism, media, advertising, and technology. Baudrillard’s work has been both celebrated and criticized for its provocative and sometimes enigmatic exploration of the nature of reality and representation in a postmodern world.
I think the thing I was reaching for from the last post is in these terms probably the “third-order simulacra” where there is no corresponding referrent object/event/etc in actual reality…
Wikipedia proposes a fourth stage (which ChatGPT doesn’t seem to agree with):
The fourth stage is pure simulacrum, in which the simulacrum has no relationship to any reality whatsoever. Here, signs merely reflect other signs and any claim to reality on the part of images or signs is only of the order of other such claims. This is a regime of total equivalency, where cultural products need no longer even pretend to be real in a naïve sense, because the experiences of consumers’ lives are so predominantly artificial that even claims to reality are expected to be phrased in artificial, “hyperreal” terms.
I think these are interesting tools as concepts, but the truth is much more blended than any of these neat boxes.