Different Kind of Obscenity I Guess

I don’t really know how Baudrillard works. I probably never will, but I have been pretty much focusing on him since beginning this blog. Maybe I will move on to someone new in the near future. Not sure. However, I recently finished up The Procession of Simulacrum and just began reading Passwords, which looks like a coffee table book. I’m not sure why it’s formatted so weirdly, but that doesn’t really matter.

Either way Baudrillard picks up some key words that he dubs passwords and looks at their role in society. At least that is what I have picked from the third of the book I’ve read. Nonetheless Baudrillard tackles Obscenity in this book and ties it into communication and reality and all that jazz, but it isn’t the obscenity that I usually associate with the word. I think of curse words and racial slurs, but Baudrillard sees it as reality in some way. He starts out with a little talk on how we relate with “things” saying: We are no longer in a society which distances us from things…our curse is that we are brought up ultra-close against them, that everything is immediately realized, both things and ourselves. And this too-real world is obscene.

I can’t tell how so many of those words are being used. Things is too incredibly broad that I have no idea if he means objects or people or events. Maybe all of them. The other part is how he uses obscene in the last sentence. I’m guessing he just means it in the sense that it is used classically. That it is upsetting and it goes against the norm of society. But why not just say strange and abrasive? Why obscene? Something to ponder and look for in other Baudrillard writings I guess. To tackle the whole distance thing, I can’t agree or disagree. I think in the realm of media and advertising, yes, we are completely held up against the fuzzy screen until our minds melt a little bit like cheese on nachos. However, outside of that are we really that close to everything? People are definitely further apart than they were a few decades ago. Phones, facebook, twitter. All these things that are designed to bring people closer and closer together creates this mental distance between people that would be bridged [I think?] by face to face communication [FACE-OFF]. But that is the society that we live in and have little choice but to embrace and live within, which is completely fine [By reading this blog some people are actually getting closer to knowing me, so not all social media is bad]. However, this all does boil down to that meaning of “things,” which is getting me mind-bogglingly furious. Maybe it was a translation issue. Who knows.

Well back to obscenity. So after this short discourse on our close communication world Baudrillard goes back into the obscenity thing and states this: These are the two extremes: Obscenity and Seduction, as is shown by art, which is one of the terrains of seduction.

OK Baudrillard, what the fuck. This isn’t the obscenity that I grew up with, but I’ll try to roll with it. Obscenity is closer to the truth and seduction and its temptress art is there to come up and snag you into falsity. So I guess he does mean obscenity as jarring and going against accepted norms. Yeah, I guess that makes sense and fits and since it goes against my preconceived notions, it’s better to go with that one. And to be honest I can understand this idea that the obscene usually tends to be closer to the truth than that which is fanciful and distracting, ie art. But when obscenity wanders into the realm of art, where do we end up? Is it like what he states about realism art, that it is on the true side of seduction? I’m guessing so. Does obscenity wander into the art world in this sense though? I guess it must. Maybe that would be where propaganda lies on this little spectrum.

But this leaves me with the question where art really exists within society. Is it the world from They Live sans sunglasses [Rowdy Roddy Piper is my favorite man]? Art can be blinding I guess and I’m not really suggesting that Baudrillard believes seduction and obscenity (art and reality) to be mutually exclusive, but I where does it fit? Pure entertainment? No. Activism art puts that idea to bed, but there is supposed to be a part of activism art that is entertaining in a way I think. Is activism art a medium of seduction? Yet another question I can’t decide and will perpetuate this whole thinking thing. I hate the word thing.

So I’m sure this doesn’t help any of you understand anything since about 85% of the post is solely questions, but if it gets you thinking, we can have a face-off of questions and comments. As always, leave me a comment because it makes me feel better that people might actually be reading and liking this.


Current listening – Art Brut: Art Brut vs. Satan

If you haven’t checked out this album yet, do so. It’s angsty, but seems a bit more grown up. Love his voice. If you already know Art Brut and enjoy them, check out Everybody Was in the French Resistance Now which features the lead singer from that Brut. All wonderful things.



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4 responses to “Different Kind of Obscenity I Guess

  1. C.c.

    I haven’t read Passwords (though I did see it in Ada Books the other day and though about picking it up to play along with you), but I’m familiar with Baudrillard’s style. I’ve a copy of Screened Out lying around somewhere, another coffee table essay collection that’s simultaneously audacious, silly, and thought-provoking — which is Baudrillard in a nutshell. He’s an agent provocateur, and part of parsing him is figuring out what to take seriously (and what HE takes seriously) and what’s just playfulness or button-pushing.

    So. In absence of more than the single quotation I can’t tell you what he’s getting at specifically with the meaning of “things,” but I would speculate what he really means is “external objects.” Modern society enacted is an ongoing process of claustrophobic alienation. By “too-real” I think we can tie back to his idea of simulacra replacing the original product in the field of representation, viz. that the hyperreality promulgated by an existence that is almost exclusively extensional — that is, we extend ourselves through the tools we interact with, like social media, which supplants the “real.” Furthermore, that the heavily mediated nature of society (think all media, not merely the internet) both brings us up close to objects, events, people (“things”) with an impossible intimacy that is nonetheless alienating (“too-real”) and disconnects us from the “real,” in this sense real feelings, real emotions, the so-called “rough ground.” This is obscene.

    As for the seduction aspect, honestly there isn’t enough posted to understand what he means by the distinction between the two, though as stated it seems to threaten my ideas about obscenity above. Off-the-cuff, I would need to know how Baudrillard defines “art” in this case. Art as image? Art as commerce? Art as aesthetic? Some combination/separation thereof?

    There is a lot more to say about art and aesthetics, both as an overweening force and an engine for change/action/salvation/desecration, but it’s probably better left tabled for something meatier to bounce off of.

  2. I’m thinking of Debord’s image of the illusion of global connectivity as an extension of the spectacle’s ability to simultaneously connect and divide. The idea that although an ubiquitous (A ubiquitous??) multimedia skein on a trans-national scale would seem to link people to each other, it merely connects each person in drastic isolation to a further alienating center. The seductiveness of the idea of immediate and universal intimacy is subverted by the intermediary mediums that these promises of connectivity depend on. We’re drawn in by the lure of a “real” authentic connection, but what we get is simultaneously less of a true personal bond and more of a valid confrontation with the realities of a hyper-real society.

    Anyway your suspicions regarding translation are probably warranted to some degree. That’s a big problem with Barthes, which he talks about in some introduction to some book of his, for example “jouissance” doesn’t really have an effective counterpart in any English word. I have a feeling that its a problem with a lot of French thought, I don’t know.

    I don’t really know, I haven’t read either of those particular Baudrillard books. I just like your blog too much to quit talking at it.

    • I don’t really know how to describe my feelings on the proximity to things in the current age. Are we more readily cognizant of external events? Yes, I believe so. The media landscape has been conditioned to bring people as “close” as they can be to the physical event. While this does add a layer of simulacrum, does that not also add more distance between the viewer and the event? That is kind of what I was trying to get at in the article I wrote. It probably didn’t come out as smooth or clear as I had intended. Also, if this doesn’t seem as clear it is possible that is a side effect of writing drunk.

      As far as art and seduction goes, I’m sorry I didn’t explain anything further, I just didn’t have the stamina to do so here…I was also lacking the understanding. But definitely thanks for the hint on deciphering between what he takes seriously and what he’s just writing to be provocative. However, even if he’s just button pushing, I will still take it in and attempt to process. He’s difficult and either way, I’m just trying to get a clearer sense of what he is saying and what he isn’t really emphasizing.

      Thanks for reading. I love comments and dialog.

  3. Abby

    I pretty much agree with what’s happening up there, so I won’t bother to reiterate. However, I will say that I very much enjoy Art Brut V. Satan. It was in heavy rotation for me back in the fall for a few weeks.

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