Baudrillard: “America”

Taking inventory of my summer reading. Here are some favorite passages from Jean Baudrillard‘s “America.” (Emphases mine.)


Driving 

This sort of travel creates its own peculiar type of even and innervation, so it also has its own special form of fatigue. Like a fibrillation of muscles, striated by the excess of heat and speed, by the excess of things seen or read, of places passed through and forgotten. The defibrillation of the body overloaded with empty signs, functional gestures, the blinding brilliance of the sky, and somnambulistic distances, is a very slow process. Things suddenly become lighter, as culture, our culture, becomes more rarefied. And this spectral form of civilization which the Americans have invented, an ephemeral form so close to vanishing point, suddenly seems the best adapted to the probability — the probability only — of the life that lies in store for us. The form that dominates the American West, and doubtless all of American culture, is a seismic form: a fractal, interstitial culture, born of a rift with the Old World, a tactile, fragile, mobile, superficial culture — you have to follow its own rules to grasp how it works: seismic shifting, soft technologies.


Exorcised by Speed

A miracle of obscenity that is genuinely American: a miracle of total availability, of the transparency of all functions in space, though this latter nonetheless remains unfathomable in its vastness and can only be exorcised by speed.


Los Angeles

There is nothing to match flying over Los Angeles by night. A sort of luminous, geometric, incandescent immensity, stretching as far as the eye can see, bursting out from the cracks in the clouds. Only Hieronymus Bosch‘s hell can match this inferno effect. The muted fluorescence of all the diagonals: Wilshire, Lincoln, Sunset, Santa Monica. Already, flying over San Fernando Valley, you come upon the horizontal infinite in every direction. But, once you are beyond the mountain, a city ten times larger hits you. You will never have encountered anything that stretches as far as this before. Even the sea cannot match it, since it is not divided up geometrically.

The irregular, scattered flickering of European cities does not produce the same parallel lines, the same vanishing points, the same aerial perspectives either. They are medieval cities. This one condenses by night the entire future geometry of the networks of human relations, gleaming in their abstraction, luminous in their extension, astral in their reproduction to infinity. Mulholland Drive by night is an extraterrestrial’s vantage-point on earth, or conversely, an earth-dweller’s vantage-point on the Galactic metropolis.


Minneapolis

Aeronautic missionary of the silent majorities, I jump with cat-like tread from one airport to the other. Now it’s the blazing woods of New Hampshire, casting a fleeting reflection in the mirror of New England. Yesterday, it was the steepling gentleness of skyscrapers. Tomorrow it will be Minneapolis with its sweet-sounding name, its gossamer string of vowels, half-Greek, half-Cheyenne, evoking a radiating geometric pattern at the edge of the ice-sheets, at the horizon of the inhabited world…Speaking of the silence of the masses and the end of history, and casting an eye over the immensity and radiance of the lake. A biting wind blows over it, away to the east where night is falling. Planes pass overhead, silent as the wind, behind the windowpanes of the hotel, and the first neon signs begin to roll slowly, above the city. What an amazing place America is! All around is Indian summer, its mildness presaging snow. But where are the ten thousand lakes, the utopian dream of a Hellenistic city on the edge of the Rockies? Minneapolis, Minneapolis! After the patrician elegance and feminine gentleness of the Indian summer in Wisconsin, Minneapolis is merely a rural agglomeration, simply waiting in darkness amid its silos and hunting grounds for the winter and the cold on which it prides itself.


Monument Valley, Dead Horse Point, Grand Canyon

Geological — and hence metaphysical — monumentality, by contrast with the physical altitude of ordinary landscapes. Upturned relief patterns, sculpted out by wind, water, and ice, dragging you down into the whirlpool of time, into the remorseless eternity of a slow-motion catastrophe. The very idea of the millions and hundreds of millions of years that were needed peacefully to ravage the surface of the earth here is a perverse one, since it brings with it an awareness of signs originating, long before man appeared, in a sort of pact of wear and erosion struck between the elements. Among this gigantic heap of signs — purely geological in essence — man will have had no significance.


New York

It is a world completely rotten with wealth, power, senility, indifference, puritanism and mental hygiene, poverty and waste, technological futility and aimless violence, and yet I cannot help but feel it has about it something of the dawning of the universe. Perhaps because the entire world continues to dream of New York, even as New York dominates and exploits it.


Speed Knows Nothing of the Violence of Love

The people in the plane are asleep. Speed knows nothing of the violence of love.  Between one night and the next, the one we came from and the one we shall land in, there will have been only four hours daylight. But the sublime voice, the voice of insomnia travels even more quickly. It moves through the freezing, trans-oceanic atmosphere, runs along the long lashes of the actress, along the horizon, violet where the sun is rising, as we fly along in our warm coffin of a jet, and finally fades away somewhere off the coast of Iceland.

The journey is over.


The Aesthetics of Disappearance

I went in search of astral America, not social and cultural America, but the America of the empty, absolute freedom of the freeways, not the deep America of mores and mentalities, but the America of desert speed, of motels and mineral surfaces. I looked for it in the speed of the screenplay, in the indifferent reflex of television, in the film of days and nights projected across an empty space, in the marvellously affectless succession of signs, images, faces, and ritual acts on the road; looked for what was nearest to the nuclear and enucleated universe, a universe which is virtually our own, right down to its European cottages.

I sought out the finished form of the future catastrophe of the social in geology, in that upturning of depth that can be seen in the straited spaces, the reliefs of salt and stone, the canyons where the fossil fiver flows down, the immemorial abyss of slowness that shows itself in erosion and geology. I even looked for it in the verticality of the great cities.

I knew all about this nuclear form, this future catastrophe when I was still in Paris, of course. But to understand it, you have to take to the road, to that travelling which achieves what Virilio calls the aesthetics of disappearance.


The Desert 

Desert: luminous, fossilized network of an inhuman intelligence, of a radical indifference — the indifference not merely of the sky, but of the geological undulations, where the meta-physical passions of space and time alone crystallize. Here the terms of desire are turned upside down each day, and night annihilates them. But wait for the dawn to rise, with the awakening of the fossil sounds, the animal silence.

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