Bataillean Semiotics and a Materialist Theory of Semiocapitalism: An Essay on Bifo and Death
[NOTE: On the 15th of July, 2021, I finished this essay and delivered it as a lecture to those whom I had been sporadically lecturing on Bataille for the past few months. I only publish it now because of its vital importance for innovation within theoretics relating to Bataille, as, to my knowledge, no one has written about Bataille’s relation to semiocapitalism except me. You can find the other lecture given before this one here]
In a footnote on Pierre Klossowski’s reading of Georges Bataille, Julian Pefanis, in Heterology and the Postmodern, speaks of “Bataille’s concept of the simulacrum”. This got me thinking about the possibility of a Bataillean theory of semiotics.
So Many Questions
In their dissertation titled Collecting Intensities: The Arrival of French Theory in America, 1970s, Jason Demers coughs up the words “Bataille’s semiotics”.
Demers’s words allow us to see the field of semiotics as a restricted economy. Demers specifically makes a reference to Ferdinand de Saussure and says that Saussurean semiotics constitute a sort of restricted economy, or “the restricted economy of the Saussurean sign”.
Demers calls Bataille’s semiotics “an erotics of signification, the accursed share”. Now this is interesting because of his words “the accursed share”. Could we view signs or simulacra as waste or that which exceeds the object it signifies? Are they the excess of the object, the object’s accursed share? Hopefully we will know the answer to these questions and more by the end of this essay.
Demers says that “Bataille’s semiotics” are “fundamentally about exceeding limits”. But what kind of limits? We aren’t left with any answers nor directions to go look for these answers. So, even with nothing to work with, I must continue.
A Bataillean Theory of the Sign
As was demonstrated in our essay about Baudrillard (and minorly Bifo) above, signs can have use-values due to signification, due to the signified. Bataille does not reject the classical schema of Signifier/Signified rather he just recognizes a new sign, which disrupts our contemporary semio-capitalism, this is the sign without the sign, or rather, the sign which does not signify, that sign which is nowhere. Expenditure does not signify. The potlatch of signs which Derrida speaks of, is a potlatch of signs which do not signify. What is signified in expenditure is NOTHING! It is a sign which corrodes other signs. It infects them like a disease, and causes them to die of sickness. It causes the composition of the sign, Signifier/Signified, to decompose. It is the base matter which the hyperreal sign stands upon, which is the real, but Baudrillard is wrong to argue the real is dead, as this would violate the logic of base materialism. The real isn’t dead, it hasn’t been murdered; the real is death, it has been sacrificed. The sign is the signifier and signified, but what signifies isn’t base matter. Base matter doesn’t signify. What signifies is not informe but form. What is to be argued later on in this essay is that what is signified in expenditure is NOTHING, that is to say, what is signified in expenditure is that base sign which doesn’t signify but corrodes other signs. Thus, what will be argued is that expenditure is the only thing which can contest immaterial power, as Bifo would say, or hyperreality, as Baudrillard would say, or as I would say, expenditure is the only thing that can contest semiocapitalism.
How could a sign which is nowhere signify? It would be impossible… the impossible…
A Bataillean Theory of the Simulacrum and the Notion
Pefanis says that, for Bataille, the simulacrum “is an avatar of the sign, an incommunicable moment of the sign that represents the totality of an experience which can neither be communicated nor determined”.
Pierre Klossowski, in Of the Simulacrum in Georges Bataille’s Communication, further explains that the simulacrum is what “constitutes the sign of an instantaneous state” and that it cannot be exchanged “between one mind and another,” it cannot make “the passage from one thought to another”.
One cannot communicate the simulacrum, but one can communicate “the residue” of the simulacrum “which one claims to communicate” but never actually does. This residue of the simulacrum which is communicated is called the notion. Pefanis calls the notion the “waste product” of the simulacrum.
Let’s look at this in a different way. When one has an experience, that experience signifies. What is signified to us is the simulacrum; “[t]he simulacrum is all that we know of an experience”. Still looking at these concepts in this way, the notion is the “residue” of the experience that calls forth other experiences, that calls “forth other residues,” other notions. Klossowski’s articulation of the concept of the simulacrum sounds so similar to Lyotard’s concept of the event. The simulacrum is like the event in that “[t]o speak of it will not in any way account for what has thus happened”.
In light of what has just been said, one can say that the simulacrum “is” an inner experience because Klossowski says that what “experiences” the simulacrum is “consciousness without instrument,” consciousness without a subject, consciousness beyond the subject. This idea that the simulacrum is inner experience is furthered when Klossowski says that “consciousness without instrument” is the “vacancy of self,” the vacancy of God, that is what is put forward when one speaks about atheology. As we know, the atheological moment is the moment of inner experience. Is it not thus true that the simulacrum is the moment of inner experience? Therefore, it is also true that the notion is of the self, or rather is what is communicated by the experience of the self if that makes sense. I mean, even Klossowski says that “[t]he notion and notional language presuppose what Bataille calls closed beings”. So, when Klossowski asks the question “[w]hat does it mean to open notions beyond themselves?” we can answer it means inner experience, the simulacrum, which is the self (the notion) going beyond itself. It is the flight of being beyond itself. It is “the flight of being outside of existence”. It is the flight of being into Being. These inner experiences such as laughter, ecstasy, anguish, etc. are simulacra.
It is interesting to note that Klossowski describes ecstasy, in the form of the little death (la petite mort), as “a simulacrum of death”.
Lastly, and this may be the most important thing to note, the whole reason we know of the simulacrum, inner experience, is the notion which is the residue of ‘the event’, in the Lyotardian sense.
A Note on Bifo, Finance Capitalism, and Debt
It is pertinent to talk about Franco Bifo Berardi once more before we look at semiocapitalism, because we left something unaddressed in our essay on Baudrillard’s relation to Bataille (see above). What we have left unaddressed is what Bifo calls ‘financial capitalism’. Financial capitalism is a “form” of semiocapitalism, it is specifically the form of semiocapitalism we live in today,* and it therefore has the utmost and highest importance.
Bifo starts to explain financial capitalism when he says, “Financial capitalism is essentially based on the loss of relation between time and value”. We will return back to Bifo’s explanation in a moment.
The reason financial capitalism is something left unaddressed and something which must be addressed is because of the fact that “[i]n the world of financial capitalism, accumulation no longer passes through the production of goods, but goes straight to its monetary goal, extracting value from the pure circulation of money, from the virtualization of life and intelligence”. Financial capitalism entails financial abstraction which “leads to the separation of the circulation of money from the production process of value itself”. Bifo says this in other words, he says, “we then have a third level of abstraction, which is financial abstraction. Finance means that the process of valorization no longer passes through the stage of use value, or even the production of goods (physical or semiotic)”. Hopefully you can see why a Bataillean analysis of this is needed. If you can’t see why financial capitalism needs a Batailean analysis, I will say it explicitly: does Bifo’s casting of financial capitalism not remove production and utility from restricted economy, thus making restricted economy not restricted economy? The answer is decisively “no”. But to know why the answer is no, we must do a very close reading of Bifo’s casting of financial capitalism.
Financial capitalism is “based on the loss of relation between time and value”.
For Bifo, Marx sees value as time. Time “becomes” commodities that have value. By ‘time,’ Marx means “the average social time that is needed to produce a certain good”.
Now, Bifo does not reject Marx’s labor theory of value. Marx was right. But we must put emphasis on the ‘was’. Bifo affirms that in the industrial capitalism which Marx analyzed, the labor theory of value held true, but “[t]hen things changed: all of a sudden, something new happened in the organization of work, and in production technology, in the relation between time, work, and value. Suddenly, work is no longer the physical, muscular work of industrial production. There are no longer material things, but signs; no longer the production of things which are tangible visible materials, but the production of something that is essentially semiotic”.
One can calculate how long it takes to produce a material object… but how can one calculate how long it takes to produce an idea, a sign, etc.? Bifo answers, “Well, you see that when the process of production becomes semiotic, the relationship between labor-time and value suddenly evaporates, dissolves into thin air”.
Is financial capitalism not therefore predicated on (semiotic) production, if it is based on the loss of relation between time and value, which is predicated on the accession from commodity production to sign production?
Later in The Uprising, Bifo says, “Financial capitalism is based on the autonomization of the dynamics of money, but more deeply on the autonomization of value production from the physical interaction of things”. But he says earlier, “Monetary value produces more monetary value without first being realized through the material production of goods”.
Is production not therefore a dynamic of money? Production must be a part of the dynamics of money because “[f]inancial signs have led to a parthenogenesis of value, creating money through money without the generative intervention of physical matter and muscular work”. Does money not produce itself due to the fact that we are living in financial capitalism and its accompanying financial signs? We will come back to this later.
Bifo says, “the financialization of the capitalist economy implies a growing abstraction of work from its useful function”. This begs the question of “what is abstraction?”. Firstly, it is important to note that “[f]inancial power is based on the exploitation of precarious, cognitive labor”. It is important to note this because we can now recognize that financial capitalism is still a system of labor, of work that is. Secondly, what is abstraction?
For Bifo, there are three levels of abstraction. The first level is with Marx. Bifo says, “[by abstraction,] Marx means the abstraction of value from usefulness (use value), and the abstraction of productive work from concrete forms of human activity”. Bifo then references Marx’s term ‘abstract labor’ and says, “When Marx talks about abstract labor, he is referring to the separation of a worker’s activity from concrete usefulness”. The second level is with the development of semiocapitalism. Bifo says, “In the late-modern phase of capitalism, digital abstraction adds a second layer to capitalist abstraction: transformation and production no longer happen in the field of bodies, and material manipulation, but in the field of interoperativity between informational machines”. The third level of abstraction is with semiocapitalism. Bifo says, “We then have a third level of abstraction, which is financial abstraction”. Like we have said before, with financial abstraction, the process of valorization, which is the process of the valorization of capital that is the process of generating value, is no longer going through the stages of use-value and production. What is currently taking place is “the so-called financial crisis, which is not a crisis at all”. Within financial capital, profit comes from the circulation of money. Abstraction on the level of value and its accumulation are “made possible through the subjection of human beings to debt”. So, this third level of abstraction isn’t actually as removed from production as it may seem. Like we have said before, production is within the dynamics of money… but what about the other part of financial capitalism, that is, what about debt? Debt necessarily is a system of enslavement. But why is this so?
There have been murmurs of a general economy of debt (See Nathan Gorelick’s The Real (of) Debt: Notes Toward an Ethics of Trash). But why? All these murmurs are predicated on a fundamental misunderstanding. The murmurers think that the capitalism of the present-day, which is a debt economy, is a general economy which expends violence and waste upon the Earth, particularly ecosystems and the global periphery. Nothing could be more wrong. Nothing today is actually expended on a macro-level, that is, on the level of the system itself (e.g., the bourgeois class’ private expenditure within classical capitalism (though the status of what the bourgeoisie did in terms of expenditure, is still up for determination in that I have only seen people who have written on Bataille argue that the bourgeoisie didn’t actually expend)). At best, there is expenditure on a micro-level, that is, on the level of those entities which comprise the composition that is the system (e.g., the subject expending itself). Trash isn’t really trash anymore. Everything is being recycled, entered back into the system, like profit is entered back into the means of production from which it came. As for climate change, it is not of general economy. It is, as Pawlett has suggested, of the right-pole of the sacred.
Kevin Kennedy notes, “The capitalist money system is fundamentally based on debt and thus by implication on a temporal structure, which posits the ‘predominance of the past over the future’”. It is in this way that there is no general economy of debt but rather there is a restricted economy of debt which causes subjects to accumulate and produce. This can be seen as restricted economy “adjusting itself”. This is to say, with the advent of financial capitalism, restricted economy ceased “to deal with the production of [physical] things” and began “to evoke the world from the circulation of money, the hypertrophic growth of the debt [which] becomes inevitable”. Debt opens the space for accumulation and production. This is all to say, restricted economy maintains its object as production. The system of money, as well as its dynamics, depends on the restricted economy of debt. The physical realm which relates to money may have lost its area of production, though we have argued that it hasn’t. But ultimately, the object is still there, a new area or rather a new zone of production is opened up. The restricted economy remains intact.
It is financial capitalism which we must come back to. To argue that semiotic goods are no longer produced by cognitive labor is ridiculous, and Bifo doesn’t argue this. This is to say, that, as we noted above, financial capitalism is still a system of labor, though this is cognitive labor. In this sense, financial capitalism is still a system of production. One may even say that it is a system of semiotic overproduction.
How to Contest Semiocapitalism
When I say ‘semiocapitalism,’ I mean most every conceptualization of it whether that be Bifo’s (though we will go more in depth on financial capitalism in a moment), Baudrillard’s, or someone else’s.
Semiocapitalism is dependent on signs and “sign systems,” that is, the immaterial plane for Bifo, the hyperreal for Baudrillard, etc. One could argue that it is in the destruction of the semiotic plane that we could return to the “material” plane and have a possibility of revolutionary politics once more. But this seems an unlikely possibility. What we should be looking at right now is something that can fight against semiocapitalism, that is, fight signs. But all things signify, no? No. Expenditure does not signify. The expenditure of signs (not in the sense of spending but in the sense of unproductive consumption) is nothing more than a sacrifice of signs which, by definition, cannot produce signs. The expenditure of signs is unproductive consumption. The expenditure of the signs does not produce a waste matter, instead, it expends a waste matter and this is the disease that is the sign that does not signify. Land unknowingly talks about what I have just outlined, the sign which does not signify, but is not how I ran into it as well? The difference between Land and I is that I identify it, but at the same time I don’t.
In The Thirst for Annihilation, Land recognizes that systems of semiotic control, which are all semiotic systems (this includes semiocapitalism), is a “signifying system … [which extrinsically organizes] base flows, in the manner of Wittfogel’s hydraulic bureaucracies”. Wittfogel theorized of ‘hydraulic empires’ (also dubbed by Wittfogel as ‘hydraulic civilizations’) wherein the state manages the waterworks and their flows. But semiocapitalism is predicated on death just like political economy is. This is because systems of semiotic control are predicated on the blockage of the base flow that is death, or at least, the diverting of the flow. Land says, “it is rather that death is blocked by civilization in such a way that it is (merely) represented as an impossible signification or as an impossibility of signification”. Thus, what we are talking about is death. Death is that sign which does not signify. But is a sign not a composition? Yes. Death is not a composition though. Think of it like this laughter is a decomposing composition, this is the sign that does not signify in a way. I think we actually should not keep using this term ‘sign which does not signify,’ because it is like death but it is not death, so it isn’t completely analogous to the sign which does not signify. It is rather the sign without sign (signifier and signified) which would mean death is nowhere.
Death is the expenditure of signs, it is the lifting of the veil of Maya, that is, of representation. “Death has no representatives”. The signifier is the object which has its representation as the signified. Thus, if death were a signifier, which it isn’t, NOTHING would be signifed because it would like trying to look directly at the Sun.
What we must recognize is that the crisis of semiocapitalism is present within its theorization, that is to say, the immaterial sign as the high and the material as the low. Like I said before with Baudrillard’s theory of hyperreality, these theories have the fault of being too totalizing, for not every instance of expenditure has been erased, more on this later. Nevertheless, all compositions, that is, all systems will inevitably fall due to the corroding base matter which is at its base. But what does this mean? It means that the system of semiocapitalism is never going to become completely autonomous and that there is always a chance to contest it. It will collapse…
But how can we contest semiocapitalism? Simple, we can contest it through expenditure because all expenditure is the expenditure of signs. But as we noted earlier, semiotic systems, such as semiocapitalism, necessarily block the base flow of death, or that is death. Now again, we will cover how our contemporary semiocapitalism is trying to become the totalizing vision of theorists such as Baudrillard in just a moment. It is through those moments that we lose ourselves that the system of semiocapitalism loses us as well, and this is a rupture, a hole, that cannot be patched, sealed, etc.
How to Contest Financial Capitalism
Bifo has claimed, in Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide, that “[n]owadays, the bourgeoisie has disappeared”. But I much prefer his claim, in The Uprising, that “[t]he bourgeoisie is dead”. The reason the bourgeoisie is dead is because of the new financial class. In other words, “[t]he relation between capital and society is deterritorialized, as economic power is no longer based on the property of physical things”. But it is very hard to say that the financial class is alive either, though we know they aren’t dead, because there is no enemy. Bifo explains this better than I could, he says, “Finance is the transversal function of immaterialization, and the performative action of indexicality. Statistics, figures, indexes, fears, and expectations are not linguistic representations of some economic referent that can be found somewhere in the physical world, signifiers referring to a signified. They are performing indexicals, acts of speech that produce immediate effects in the very instant of their enunciation. This is why, when you go looking for the financial class, you cannot locate someone to talk to, or negotiate with, or an enemy to fight against. There are no enemies or people to negotiate with, but only mathematical implications, automatic social concatenations that you cannot dismantle or avoid”. Thus, “the new financial class has a virtual existence: fragmented, dispersed, impersonal”. This is important because expenditure does not take place on a macro-level, that is, on the level of the current system. Let me explain by going through the Marxian historical schema.
To start, in primitive communism, expenditure is at its most base form so far, that is to say, in primitive communism, the macro-level expenditure which took place, e.g., potlatch and sacrifice, are closest to the Sun in terms of its unproductiveness and its violent intensity.
Then in the slave, or ancient, mode of production (think Rome, think ancient empires), expenditure happened, on a macro-level, not only in war (we will talk about its intensity when we talk about Feudalism) but also in building and crafting useless cultural objects and structures (temples, theatres, etc.).
Within the Feudal mode of production (feudalism), expenditure, on a macro-level, took place within war, but at an arguably higher intensity than the war of the slave mode of production. The building and crafting of useless cultural objects and structures that happened within Feudalism was also greater in its extent and luxurious grandeur than what was present in the slave mode of production.
The capitalist mode of production (capitalism) is to then be divided into two parts: 1. The industrial capitalism Marx critiqued. This is also called classical capitalism. 2. Semiocapitalism, as well as the development within semiocapitalism that is financial capitalism.
Within industrial capitalism, expenditure, on a macro-level, was almost nowhere present, and if it was present, it was present only in private bourgeois functions for example. Expenditure became private, not in the sense of privatization, or private property, but private in terms of secrecy. Arguably though, there is still some expenditure present in capitalism, though I can’t seem to find it.
Within semiocapitalism and financial capitalism, the bourgeois class disappeared, they have died, and because of this expenditure, on a macro-level, can’t really seem to be found. One could argue that there still exists private expenditure within those who “were” the bourgeoisie, but this seems unlikely, because they no longer have structural power. What is present in semiocapitalism and its respective developments (e.g., financial capitalism), is nothing more than the total attempt at erasing micro-level expenditure.
Everything signifies, everything is a sign, everything has a use-value, everything (except the accursed share for the exchange of the accursed share is the impossible exchange Baudrillard speaks of) has an exchange-value. Work begins to take up more and more space. All time becomes productive. Sleep is only for you to rest, so you can work again. Financial capitalism is working towards, though it can never achieve this, the abolition of silence, of the Night. Now, of course, financial capitalism can’t abolish these sacred things but it can and does actively try to block them from appearing, that is to say, financial capitalism is a system of semiotic control which blocks the pipes from spewing out the liquid flow of death.
It is interesting that Bifo brings up poetry as a way of resisting financial capitalism. Because poetry is a form of expenditure, because out of its hatred for itself, it is like God, it goes beyond itself. Bifo speaks of poetry as “language’s excess” [emphasis mine]. He says, indirectly elaborating on his latter words, “Poetry is the language of nonexchangeability, the return of infinite hermeneutics, and the return of the sensuous body of language. I’m talking about poetry here as an excess of language, a hidden resource which enables us to shift from one paradigm to another” [emphasis mine]. Later on in The Uprising, he says, “Poetry is language’s excess: poetry is what in language cannot be reduced to information, and is not exchangeable, but gives way to a new common ground of understanding, of shared meaning: the creation of a new world” [emphasis mine]. Poetry is that incommunicable experience, that simulacrum, in the Klossowskian/Bataillean sense. Poetry gives way to community, maybe not in the Bataillean sense of ontological fusion (and the subsequent explosion), but at least in the way Acéphale was a community. For Bifo, “Poetry is the reopening of the indefinite, the ironic act of exceeding the established meaning of words” [emphasis mine]. To conclude that Bifo sees poetry as that sign which does not signify is a fair considering Bifo said, “Poetry is language’s excess, the signifier disentangled from the limits of the signified” [emphasis mine].
Thus, expenditure is how one contests financial capital.
The answer to the problems of our present-day is dépense.
The Status of the Subject Under Semiocapitalism
Many theorists of semiocapitalism, such as Baudrillard, have seen that the subject is being eroded, fragmented, replaced by the object, etc. Dépense cannot be reduced to a fatal strategy. Now, of course, the subject is reified as an object, and the object is raised to the level of the subject, but this does not fragment or replace the subject. At most, it causes subject and object to be “equals” which is kinda how Schelling sees it, that is, subject equals object. But still, the subject becoming a thing, that is, becoming an object does not in any way compromise its composition. In fact, it only strengthens, like how a wall can be reinforced, or strengthened, with steel, the composition that is the subject. This is semiocapitalism: a system of subjects, and that is, of cognitive labor, of immaterial action, of negativity, of semio-production. It is a system of subjects circulating within the restricted economy of the sign. It is the attempt at the constant interpellation of subjectivity, that is, the attempt at trying to reach the point where identity is no longer eroded by the erotic.
A Materialist Theory of Semiocapitalism
[NOTE: The day before I gave this lecture, I gave one on Bataille’s relation to Jean Baudrillard, so I employ these symbols assuming you have heard the lecture, which most of your reading have not. So, here is a KEY: UV=Use-value; EcEV=Economic Exchange-Value; SgEV=Sign Exchange-value]
We have gone over, in my essay on Baudrillard as well as this essay, how semiocapitalism functions, but we haven’t gone over how it comes to be. Bifo never really tells us, he just says that it suddenly arises. How did it do this though?
What we do know is that semiocapitalism is fundamentally predicated on industrial capitalism.
The circuit of political economy is this:
UV — EcEV — — EcEV — UV
This is simple enough.
The circuit of semiocapitalism is a little more complicated.
Firstly, if a circuit were to be built, it may be built using two sub-circuits:
UV — SgEV — — SgEV — UV
EcEV — SgEV — — SgEV — EcEV
What is happening here is simple.
UV — SgEV: Utility is being lost in the conversion. Or rather, utility is being “destroyed”. What is taking place is conspicuous consumption. One is buying “useless” but high status objects for social prestige, and nothing else (it is “useless” in this sense). It is this process which produces signs due to the fact the high status object becomes a sign value when it is socially presented.
EcEV — SgEV: We have the commodity form in all its might, this is what is represented by EcEV. This is where the commodity form becomes the sign form. This conversion is where industrial capitalism turns into semiocapitalism, but we must understand why.
What is actually held within EcEV — SgEV is EcEV — UV and UV — SgEV. Thus, EcEV — UV — — UV — SgEV. Within EcEV — UV, the commodity form becomes the object form, that is, it loses its status as an exchangeable object as it has been taken off the market through purchase and has instead become an object waiting to be used. This is the useless object of conspicuous consumption, we talked about just a minute ago. Thus, conspicuous consumption allows semiocapitalism to arise. But does this not presuppose that all productive consumption (even though the objects of conspicuous consumption are “useless,” they still serve utility, like Potlatch does, that is, it still has the utility of raising one’s social status) within contemporary capitalism has become conspicuous consumption?
So is all consumption (note I have used the term ‘consumption’ in this section of this essay not in the Bataillean sense of expenditure, that is to say, whenever I use the term in this section ‘consumption,’ I mean productive consumption in the Bataillean sense) conspicuous consumption? Is there a ‘restricted economy of consumption’ present in contemporary capitalism (we are not presupposing that contemporary capitalism is semiocapitalism here)? We are not here to argue that the only form of consumption we have today is conspicuous consumption because we don’t just have conspicuous consumption. Consumption when it is social, which it usually is, is conspicuous. But, I do not deny that there is the possibility of non-conspicuous consumption. When we speak of this question of the status of conspicuous consumption, we are really asking a question of volition. This is to say, do consumers volitionally, this is to say, self-consciously do conspicuous consumption or do they unconsciously do conspicuous consumption? I am to argue for the former which is actually arguing for the latter. This is to say, society is a restricted economy. Society is form contra informe. Subjects under the regime of restricted economy, which is every subject, perform social functions like that of consumerist purchase and sign-object presentation. This has manifested itself in the present-day with hypebeasts, flexing clothing and other items, “drip” (drip is a slang term for having high status objects “upon” oneself in the form of jewelry, clothing, etc.), etc. Conspicuous consumption is nothing more than restricted economy trying to restrict expenditure, and due to the fact it is actively trying to abolish every form, level, etc. of expenditure in the present-day, it must create a seductive replacement which is an artificial and plastic satisfaction to our will-to-self-loss, our will-to-expenditure, our will-to discontinuity, our will-to-death… But death cannot be fooled in the end, and semiocapitalism will fall to death, more on this in a moment.
Thus, we have constructed a (base) materialist theory of semiocapitalism. Hyperreality, in the way Baudrillard theorizes it, does not currently, and can never, exist. Semiocapitalism, the system, the code, whatever you want to call it, cannot become completely autonomous from the base matter on which it depends. Hyperreality depends on the real, like the high depends on the low. When we speak of the real, we are talking about that realm which the map lays itself upon as an ideal representation. So, when I say that hyperreality is dependent on the real, what do I mean? I mean nothing more and nothing less than the logic of base materialism.
But let us expand on this notion of ‘the-real-as-death’. In Simulacra and Simulation, Jean Baudrillard says, “Birth is residual … Death is residual if it is not resolved in mourning … Value is residual … Sexuality is residual … the social itself is residual … All of the real is residual” [emphasis mine]. Death cannot be resolved, and thus death must assuredly stay with the real, if not be the real. But Baudrillard doesn’t stop his implicit analogization of death and the real there. Later in Simulacra and Simulation, he says, talking about the supposed hyperreal system we currently live in, “In this system, death itself shines by virtue of its absence … Death no longer has a stage, neither phantasmatic nor political, on which to represent itself, to play itself out, either a ceremonial or a violent one” [emphasis mine]. Not only is Baudrillard’s latter claim problematic due to the fact that the real is also absent and has lost its stage, but it is also problematic because Baudrillard is actually erasing death completely from his theoretical vision. I say this because of the fact that death cannot be resolved, therefore preventing it from not being residual. Now, what about the fact that death is residual problematizes Baudrillard’s latter claim? Well it is very simple: “everything that is residual is destined to repeat itself indefinitely in phantasms” [emphasis mine]. Thus, if death can no longer be phantasmic, as Baudrillard says, but can only present itself phantasmically, as Baudrillard also says, then hyperreality causes the expulsion of death to the realm of a radical absence wherein death is trapped (note that death cannot be trapped), it does with the real as well. This is another glaring issue with hyperreality. The system, the code, hyperreality, etc. tries to use death, a function which cannot be done. There is no death function like Noys talks about, death is not functional, as Baudrillard says. Hyperreality is like what I described earlier: it is that system of semiotic control which is hydraulic in its composition, trying to block the flow of death. This attempt at blocking death does nothing but cause the provocation of laughter. The hydraulics of hyperreality, of the code, of the system, etc. reveal the basis for a materialist, in the Landian sense,* theory of hyperreality as well as all the aforementioned analogous concepts. Let us move towards Baudrillard’s work titled The Perfect Crime for a moment. In The Perfect Crime, Baudrillard says, “[Thought] has to be more hyperreal than the real, more virtual than virtual reality”. But he says earlier in the same book, “In a real world, death too becomes real, and secretes a commensurate horror … Whereas in a virtual world we dispense with death”. Thus, hyperreality tries to dispense with death, which causes the pipes to burst. Death overflows the hyperreal, destroying the system. I think it has been established that death is the real base of hyperreality, that is not to say that death is more real than real because then it would be hyperreal. Rather, death is the real. The real secretes the commensurate horror which is that overflowing of base flows. This is why we have a materialist theory of semiocapitalism, of hyperreality, etc.: Hyperreality, semiocapitalism, etc. can and does exist but it cannot exist autonomously. This is to say, semiocapitalism is not all encompassing, it is not occupying the totality of that which is, as many of the theorists of semiocapitalism try to paint it. To further elaborate on what I mean, I will say that semiocapitalism is dependent on its base matter like everything else which composes itself upon the base scales. Now, this is to say, signs are compositions dependent on the scales. The base matter sacrifices signs in expenditure which starts the whole circuit again, preventing the restricted economy of the sign that is semiocapitalism, hyperreal capitalism, financial capitalism, etc. from completely erasing the real. This is to say, the heart, the kernel, of the circuit of political economy, that is, industrial capitalism today is the circuit of semiocapitalism. Semiocapitalism is dependent on the base matter which constitutes political economy (industrial capitalism). Therefore, semiocapitalism or financial capitalism or the political economy of the sign is the high, and classical capitalism or industrial capitalism or the political economy is the low, and death, as always, is (the) base.
Thus, this is the circuit which is the result of our materialist theory of semiocapitalism:
UV — EcEV — — EcEV — UV — — UV — SgEV — — SgEV — EcEV — — EcEV — UV
Semiocapitalism is a system of production. Thus, can semiocapitalism really be post-bourgeois? This is to say, production is the bourgeois attitude, because the bourgeois attitude is a hatred of expenditure.
Baudrillard, Jean. The Perfect Crime. Translated by Chris Turner. New York, NY: Verso, 1996.
— — — . Simulacra and Simulation. Translated by Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1994. PDF.
Beardi, Franco Bifo. Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide. Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 2015. PDF.
— — — . The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2012.
Demers, Jason. “Collecting Intensities: The Arrival of French Theory in America, 1970s,” 2009.
Kennedy, Kevin. Towards an Aesthetic Sovereignty: Georges Bataille’s Theory of Art and Literature. Palo Alto, CA: Academia Press, LLC., 2014.
Klossowski, Pierre. “Of the Simulacrum in Georges Bataille’s Communication.” Essay. In On Bataille: Critical Essays, edited by Leslie Anne Boldt-Irons, 147–55. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995.
Land, Nick. The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism (an Essay in Atheistic Religion). London, UK: Routledge, 1992.
Pefanis, Julian. Heterology and the Postmodern: Bataille, Baudrillard, and Lyotard. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991.
: Julian Pefanis, Heterology and the Postmodern: Bataille, Baudrillard, and Lyotard (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), 138.
: Jason Demers, “Collecting Intensities: The Arrival of French Theory in America, 1970s” (dissertation, 2009), 273.
: Julian Pefanis, Heterology and the Postmodern: Bataille, Baudrillard, and Lyotard (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), 140.
: Pierre Klossowski, “Of the Simulacrum in Georges Bataille’s Communication,” in On Bataille: Critical Essays, ed. Leslie Anne Boldt-Irons (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995), pp. 147–155, 148.
: Julian Pefanis, Heterology and the Postmodern: Bataille, Baudrillard, and Lyotard (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), 140.
: Pierre Klossowski, “Of the Simulacrum in Georges Bataille’s Communication,” in On Bataille: Critical Essays, ed. Leslie Anne Boldt-Irons (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995), pp. 147–155, 148.
: Ibid., 147.
: Ibid., 149.
: Ibid., 150.
: Ibid., 154.
: Ibid., 153.
: *(Though note that our analysis of semiocapitalism done in our previous essay is not dependent on the fact that we currently have financial capitalism, but rather is an analysis that applies to all forms of semiocapitalism.)
: Franco Bifo Berardi, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2012), 86.
: Ibid., 23–24.
: Ibid., 106.
: Ibid., 103.
: Ibid., 86.
: Ibid., 87.
: Ibid., 135.
: Ibid., 18.
: Ibid., 19.
: Ibid., 8.
: Ibid., 103.
: Ibid., 104.
: Ibid., 105.
: Ibid., 104–105.
: Kevin Kennedy, Towards an Aesthetic Sovereignty: Georges Bataille’s Theory of Art and Literature, (Palo Alto, CA: Academia Press, LLC., 2014), 34–35.
: Franco Bifo Berardi, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2012), 31.
: Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism (an Essay in Atheistic Religion) (London, UK: Routledge, 1992), 128.
: Ibid., 176.
: Ibid., xxii.
: Franco Bifo Berardi, Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide (Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 2015), PDF.
: Franco Bifo Berardi, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2012), 51.
: Ibid., 79–80.
: Ibid., 51.
: Ibid., 36.
: Ibid., 139–140.
: Ibid., 147.
: Ibid., 158.
: Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1994), PDF.
: *(When I say in the Landian sense, I mean the way Land speaks of creating a materialist theory of desire, culture, etc. in The Thirst for Annihilation, as well as the way Land speaks of materialism in his essay “Shamanistic Nietzsche” found in the collection of his essays titled Fanged Noumena.)
: Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime, trans. Chris Turner (New York, NY: Verso, 1996), 66.
: Ibid., 37.