Our reality has become experimental. Without destiny,
modern man is left with an endless experimentation of himself. Let's
take two recent examples. The first one, the ~Loft Story~ show,
is a media illusion of live reality. The second one, the case of Catherine
Millet's book, is a phantasmatic illusion of live sex.
The ~Loft~ show has become a universal concept: a
human amusement park combined with a ghetto, solitary confinement
(huis-clos), and an Angel of Death. The idea is to use voluntary seclusion
as a laboratory for synthetic conviviality, for a telegenetically
In this space, where everything is meant to be seen
(as in "Big Brother", other reality-TV shows, etc.), we
realize that there is nothing left to see. It becomes a mirror of
dullness, of nothingness, on which the disappearance of the other
is blatantly reflected (even though the show alleges different objectives).
It also reveals the possibility that human beings are fundamentally
not social. This space becomes the equivalent of a "ready-made"
just-as-is (telle quelle) transposition of an "everyday life"
that has already been
trumped by all dominant models. It is a synthetic banality,
fabricated in closed circuits and supervised by a monitoring screen.
In this sense, the artificial microcosm of the ~Loft
similar to Disneyland which gives the illusion of a real world, a
world out-there, whereas both Disney's world and the world outside
of it are mirror images of one another. All of the United States is
(in) Disneyland. And we, in France, are all inside the ~Loft~. No
need to enter reality's virtual reproduction. We are already in it.
The televisual universe is merely a holographic detail of the global
reality. Even in our most mundane activities we are deep into experimental
reality. And this explains our fascination with immersion and spontaneous
interactivity. Does it mean that it is all pornographic voyeurism?
Not at all.
Sex is everywhere else to be found, but that's not
what people want. What people deeply desire is a spectacle of banality.
This spectacle of banality is today's true pornography and obscenity.
It is the obscene spectacle of nullity (nullite), insignificance,
and platitude. This stands as the complete opposite of the theater
of cruelty. But perhaps there is still a form of cruelty, at least
a virtual one, attached to such a banality. At a time when television
and the media in general are less and less capable of accounting for
(rendre compte) the world's (unbearable) events, they rediscover daily
life. They discover existential banality as the deadliest event, as
the most violent piece of information: the very location of the perfect
crime. Existential banality ~is~ the perfect crime. And people are
fascinated (but terrified at the same time) by this indifferent "nothing-to-say"
or "nothing-to-do," by the indifference of their own lives.
Contemplating the Perfect Crime --banality as the
latest form of fatality-- has become a genuine Olympic contest, the
latest version of extreme sports.
What makes it worse is the fact that the public is
mobilized as the judge of all this. The public has become Big Brother.
We are well beyond panopticism, beyond visibility as a source of power
and control. It is no longer a matter of making things visible to
the external eye. It is rather a question of making things transparent
to themselves, through the diffusion of control into the masses, a
of control which by the same token erases the marks of the system.
Thus, the audience is involved in a gigantic exercise of negative
counter-transference (contre-transfert), and this is once again where
the dizzying attraction of this kind of spectacle comes from.
In fact, all this corresponds to the inalienable right
or desire to be nothing and to be regarded as such. There are two
ways to disappear. Either you demand not to be seen (the current issue
with image rights); or you turn to the maddening exhibitionist display
of your insignificance. You make yourself insignificant in order to
be seen as such. This is the ultimate protection against the need
to exist and the duty to be oneself.
But this situation also creates the contradictory
simultaneously not be seen and to be perpetually visible. Everyone
must have it both ways. No ethic or law can solve this dilemma. There
is no possibility to adjudicate between the unconditional right to
see and the unconditional right not to be seen. Complete information
is a basic human rights requirement. And this necessity brings with
it the idea of forced visibility, including the right to be over-exposed
by the media.
Foucault used to refer to self-expression as the ultimate
form of confession. Keeping no secret. Speaking, talking, endlessly
communicating. This is a form of violence which targets the singular
being and his secrecy. It is also a form of violence against language.
In this mode of communicability, language loses its originality. Language
simply becomes a medium, an operator of visibility. It has lost its
symbolic and ironic qualities, those which make language more important
than what it conveys.
The worst part of this obscene and indecent visibility
is the forced enrollment, the automatic complicity of the spectator
who has been blackmailed into participating. The obvious goal of this
kind of operation is to enslave the victims. But the victims are quite
willing. They are rejoicing at the pain and the shame they suffer.
Everybody must abide by society's fundamental logic: interactive exclusion.
Interactive exclusion, what could be better! Let's all agree on it
and practice it with enthusiasm! 
If everything ends with visibility (which, similar
to the concept of heat in the theory of energy, is the most degraded
form of existence), the point is still to make such a loss of symbolic
space and such an extreme disenchantment with life an object of contemplation,
of sidereal observation (sideration), and of perverse desire. "While
humanity was once according to Homer an object of contemplation for
the Gods, it has now become a contemplation of itself. Its own alienation
has reached such a degree that humanity's
own destruction becomes a first rate aesthetic sensation" (Walter
Everywhere the experimental takes over the real and the imaginary.
Everywhere, principles of scientific evidence and verification are
introduced. Under the scalpel of the camera, and without recourse
to any symbolic language or context, we are vivisecting and dissecting
social relations. The case of Catherine Millet is another example
of experimental reality, another type of vivi-sexion. In her book,
the sexual imaginary is blown away. All that's left is a principle
unlimited verification of sexual operations. It is a mechanism which
is no longer sexual.
A double misinterpretation is taking place. The idea
of sexuality is turned into the ultimate reference. Whether it is
repressed or it is displayed, sexuality is at best nothing more than
a hypothesis. It is incorrect to take a hypothesis for a truth or
a solid reference. It may well be that the sexual hypothesis is nothing
more than a fantasy. In any case, it is through its repression that
sexuality has gained such a strange power of attraction. Once it is
sexuality loses its postulated quality. Hence, it is absurd and
misplaced to act it out and to systematically call for sexual
"liberation." One never liberates a hypothesis. And how
sad is the idea of demonstrating sexuality through the sexual act!
As if displacements, deviations, transfers, and metaphors had nothing
to do with sex. Everything is in the filter of seduction, in ~~detournement~.
Not the seduction in sex and desire, but the seduction of playing
with sex and desire (le jeu avec the sexe et le desir). This is exactly
what makes impossible the idea of "live sex."
The concepts of live death or live news are just as naively
naturalist. They are all linked to the pretentious claim that
everything can happen in the real world, that everything craves to
find its place inside an all encompassing reality. After all, this
is the essence of power too: "The corruption of power is to inscribe
into reality what was only found in dreams."
The key to the problem is provided by Jacques Henric's
understanding of photography and the image. For Henric, our curiosity
with the visual is always sexual. There's no escaping it. What we
always look for in an image is sex, particularly the female sex. This
is not only the Origin of the World (Courbet) but also the origin
of the visual.
So, why not go there directly? Let's take pictures of sex! Let's surrender
fully to the scopic drive! This is a "Real Erotic" principle,
and Catherine Millet's perpetual coital "acting out" is
the equivalent of this principle at the level of the body. Since everyone
dreams of a limitless sexual use of the body, let's go for it!
No more seduction, no more desire, no more ~jouissance~
even. All we have is an endless repetition, a general accumulation
which marks the superiority of quantity over quality. Out with seduction!
There is only one question left, whispered by a man in a woman's ear:
"What are you doing after the orgy?" But this question is
useless. She can
no longer think past the orgy. She is beyond the end. She has reached
the point where all processes have gone exponential and can only reproduce
themselves ad infinitum. This is what Alfred Jarry predicted in his
~Overmale (Surmale)~. Once you have reached a critical point, you
can endlessly make love. You have become a sexual machine. When sex
is nothing more than a matter of sex-processing,
then it has reached its exponential, transfinite (transfini) degree.
But this does not mean that it has fulfilled its objective: to exhaust
sex, to go to the end of its process. This is impossible. And this
last impossibility is what is left of seduction and its revengem (sexuality's
own revenge). It's all sexuality has to turn against its unscrupulous
users, unscrupulous about themselves, their desires, and their pleasure.
"To think like a woman undresses," Bataille
used to say. Perhaps, but Catherine Millet's naivete is to think that
people undress in order to get naked, to reach the naked truth about
sex and about the world. People take off their clothes to be revealed
(pour apparaitre). But not to be revealed in their nakedness like
truth (can anyone still
believe that truth remains when its veil of secrecy is lifted?) but
to join the realm of appearances, of seduction. That's totally different.
The modern, disenchanted interpretation of the body
as something which cannot wait to be undressed and of sexuality as
a desire which wants to be acted out and find pleasure is misconstrued.
Cultures which privilege masks, veils, adornments affirm the opposite:
the body is a metaphor. The genuine objects of desire and pleasure
the marks and signs that pull the body away from its nakedness, its
naturalness, its "truth," and the entire reality of its
physical presence. Everywhere seduction pulls objects away from their
truths (including the truth about sexual value). When thought lifts
its veil, it is not in order to be seen naked or to reveal a secret
buried for a long time. Thought lifts its veil to reveal the body
as a definite enigma, as a secret, a pure object whose mystery will
never be solved and has no need to be discovered.
Under these conditions, an Afghan woman hidden behind
a moucharabieh window or another woman covered with a metallic
net on the cover of ~Elle~ present contrasting alternatives to the
image of Catherine Millet's wild virgin. It is the opposition between
an excess of secrecy and an excess of indecency.
In a sense, this kind of indecency, this radical obscenity
found in ~~Loft Story~, is yet another veil. It is a final, unremovable
veil which remains after all previous covers have been lifted. We
want to reach the extreme, attain the paroxysm of exhibition, achieve
total nudity, find absolute reality, consume live and raw violence
(au direct et a l'ecorche vif). We'll never succeed. It's impossible!
fortress of obscenity cannot be brought down. But, paradoxically,
such a lost quest helps to resurrect the basic rule of the game: the
rule of the sublime, the rule of secrecy, of seduction (always tracked
down through the endless lifting of covers).
So, why not propose a reverse hypothesis (opposed
to the idea of voyeurism and collective stupidity)? Why not suggest
that what people want, what we all want in our quest which inevitably
stops in front of the fortress of obscenity, is precisely to gain
the sense (pressentir) that there is nothing to see, that we'll never
find the final clue? What we want is to verify (by negation) the ultimate
power of seduction. This is a desperate search, but experimental reality
is always desperate. What ~Loft Story~ claims to prove is that human
beings are indeed social beings... but nothing is so sure. What Catherine
Millet claims to demonstrate is that she is a sexual being... which
is not a sure thing at all. What these experiments confirm is merely
the presence of the conditions for the experiment
(simply pushed to their limit). The system is perhaps best decoded
through its excesses, but it is the same system everywhere. Cruelty
is the same everywhere. Going back to Duchamp, we can sum it all up
as a case of "dust breeding."
1. A translation of "L'Elevage de Poussiere,"
~Liberation~, May 29, 2001. The title is borrowed from one of Marcel
Duchamp's works (1920). "Dust Breeding" is also the title
of one of Man Ray's photographs.
2. ~Loft Story~ is the latest reality-TV sensation
in France. The premise of this "Big Brother" like real-time
game show on the M6 network is to lock 11 young French adults (in
their early twenties; there are 6 men and 5 women) for ten weeks in
an apartment with 26 round-the-clock surveillance cameras. They are
constantly being filmed, and on the day the show airs on M6, viewers
vote to eject one of the tenants (similar to the "Big Brother"
show on US and British
television). The idea is to end up with two participants, a male and
a female, who will win a $407,000 house, but only if they can stay
together for another 6 months under the 24 hour a day surveillance
of the live-cams (Translator's note).
3. Catherine Millet is an art critic and art philosophy
scholar who recently published ~La Vie Sexuelle de Catherine M.~ (The
Sexual Life of Catherine M.) (Paris: Seuil, 2001), a pornographic
autobiography. In this book, the narrative is nothing but a succession
of extremely graphic sexual acts. The book presents itself as an unmediated
pornographic scene where the sexual imagery is privileged over
narrative coherence (Translator's note).
4. The French sentence reads: "L 'exclusion interactice,
c'est le comble! Decidee en commun, consommee avec enthousiasme."
5. Baudrillard's play on vivisection and sex.
6. Moucharabiehs are the thick wooden windows found in
Middle Eastern countries. They allow outside light to filter into the
room while preventing outsiders from seeing inside.