Baudrillard "weighs" in

From: Doug Henwood (
Date: Fri Nov 09 2001 - 12:44:44 EST


Jean Baudrillard," The Spirit of Terror"
(excerpts, translated courtesy of Brian Holmes)

"...All the discourses and commentaries betray a gigantic suturing of
the event itself, and of the fascination it commands. The moral
condemnation, the holy alliance against terrorism are on the scale of
the prodigious jubilation at seeing this world superpower destroyed,
or better, seeing it somehow destroy itself, in a beautiful suicide.
Because with its unbearable power it has fomented this violence
pervading the world, along with the terrorist imagination that
inhabits all of us, without our knowing.

That we dreamed of this event, that everyone without exception
dreamed of it, because no one can fail to dream of the destruction of
any power become so hegemonic - that is unacceptable for the Western
moral conscience. And yet it's a fact, which can be measured by the
pathetic violence of all the discourses that want to cover it up.

To put it in the most extreme terms, they did it, but we wanted it.
If that's not taken into account, the event loses all its symbolic
dimension, it's a pure accident, a purely arbitrary act, the deadly
phantasmagoria of a few fanatics, who can then just be eliminated.
But we all know that's not the way it is. Hence the delirous
counter-phobia of the exorcism of evil: it's because the evil is
there, everywhere, like an obscure object of desire. Without this
deep complicity, the event would not have the resonance that it does,
and in their symbolic strategy, the terrorists undoubtedly knew they
could count on this inadmissible complicity.

It goes way beyond hatred of the dominant world power by the
dispossessed and the exploited, those who have ended up on the wrong
side of the world order. This satanic desire is in the hearts even of
those who share in the profits. The allergy to any definitive order,
to any definitive power, is fortunately universal, and the two towers
of the World Trade Center, the perfect twins, precisely embodied such
a definitive order.

No need for the explanations of a death drive or destructive impulse,
nor even for an effect of perversity. It is logical and inexorable
that the rise of power to the heights of power exacerbates the will
to destroy it. And that power is complicit with its own destruction.
When the two towers fell, you had the feeling that they were
answering the suicide of the suicide-planes with their own suicide....

...In a sense, it is the entire system whose internal fragility lends
a hand to the initial action. The more the system concetrates on a
world scale, finally constituting a single network, the more it
becomes vulnerable at a single point (already a single little
Philippino hacker had succeeded, from the depths of his PC, in
launching the I Love You virus that circled the world, devastating
entire networks). Here, eighteen kamikazees, with the absolute weapon
of death multiplied by technological effectiveness, have triggered
off a process of global catastrophe.

When the situation is so monopolised by the world power, when you're
dealing with this formidable condensation of all the functions of
technocratic machinery and one-way thinking, what other path remains
open but a terrorist transfer of the situation? The system itself
created the objective conditions of this brutal turnabout. By putting
all the cards in its own hand, it forces the Other to change the
rules of the game. And the new rules are savage, because the stakes
are savage. To answer a system whose very excess of power raises an
insoluble challenge, the terrorists produce a definitive act whose
exchange is also impossible. Terrorism is the act that restores an
irreducible singularity at the heart of a system of generalized
exchange. All the singularities (the species, the individuals, the
cultures) that have paid with their death for the installation of a
world circulation are taking revenge today through this terrorist
transfer of the situation.

....The fundamental event is that the terrorists have ceased to
commit suicide at a total loss, that they now bring their own death
into play in an effective, offensive way, according to a strategic
intuition which is simply that of the immense fragility of the
adversary, that of a system which has reached near-perfection, and is
therefore vulnerable to the slightest spark. They have succeeded in
making their own deaths into an absolute weapon against a system that
lives on the exclusion of death, whose ideal is that of zero
casualties. Every system of zero casualties is a zero-sum game. And
all the means of dissuasion and destruction can do nothing against an
enemy who has already made his death into a counter-offensive weapon:
"What difference do the American bombings make! Our men have just as
much desire to die as the Americans to live!" Hence the
non-equivalence of 7,000 deaths inflicted in a single blow to a
zero-casualty system.

...Suicidal terrorism was a terrorism of the poor, this is a
terrorism of the rich. And that's what makes us so afraid: that they
have become rich (that have all the resources of wealth), without
ceasing to want to do us in. Of course, according to our value
system, they're cheating: bringing your own death into play is not in
the rules. But they don't care, and the new rules of the games are no
longer ours.

... Everything is in the challenge and the duel, in a dual, personal
relation with the adverse power. It is what has humiliated you, it is
what must be humiliated. And not simply exterminated. You have to
make it lose face. And you never achieve that by pure force and the
elimination of the other. He must be targeted and wounded amidst
adversity. Beyond the pact that links the terrorists with each other,
there is something like a dual pact with the adversary. So it's
exactly the contrary of the cowardice they are accused of, and it's
exactly the contrary of what the Americans did in the Gulf War, for
example (and what they're doing again in Afghanistan): invisible
target, operational liquidation.

...The collapse of the World Trade Center is unimaginable, but that
doesn't suffice to make it a real event. A surplus of violence does
not suffice to open up reality. Because reality is a principle, and
that principle is what's lost. Reality and fiction are inextricable,
and the fascination of the attack is first that of the image (the
jubilatory and catastrophic consequences are themselves largely

In this case, then, the real is added to the image as a plus of
terror, as an extra frisson. Not only is it terrifying, but what's
more, it's real.... So this terrorist violence is not a return of
reality's flame, nor of history's. This terrorist violence is not
"real." It's worse, in a sense: it's symbolic. Violence in itself can
be banal and inoffensive. Only symbolic violence generates
singularity. And in this singular event, in this Manhattan disaster
film, the two elements of twentieth-century mass fascination meet:
the white magic of cinema and the black magic of terrorism. The white
light of cinema, and the black light of terrorism.

...There's no solution to this extreme situation, above all not war,
which only offers a situation of déja-vu, with the same deluge of
military forces, phantom information, useless pummeling, devious and
pathetic discourse, technological deployment and intoxication. In
short, like the Gulf war, a non-event, an event that doesn't really
take place.

And that's its raison d'etre: replacing a true and formidable, unique
and unpredictable event, with a repetitive, deja-vu pseudo-event. The
terrorist attack was a precession of the event over all the modes of
interpretation, whereas this stupidly military war is, inversely, a
precession of the model over the event, a fake wager that doesn't
take place. War as the continuation of the absence of politics by
other means."

Jean Baudrillard

Full French text at:,5987,239354, ml

See also "Jean Baudrillard Prophesies the Twin Towers" at 06/1624202"

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.2 : Sun Nov 11 2001 - 03:00:07 EST