‘Self-immolation by technology’: Jean Baudrillard and the posthuman in film and television

Baldwin, Jon (2015) ‘Self-immolation by technology’: Jean Baudrillard and the posthuman in film and television. In: The Palgrave handbook of Posthumanism in film and television. Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 19-27. ISBN 9781137430311


The ‘decentring of the human’ by its imbrication in technical, medical, informatic and economic networks ‘is increasingly impossible to ignore’ (Wolfe 2010, 121). In simple terms, and in recent times, ‘it has become increasingly difficult to separate the human from the technological’ (Bukatman 1993, 2). In this context, the posthuman ‘refers to the experience of the subject in the age of digital media’ (Scheer 2012, 25). For Jean Baudrillard this presents a problem. He was apprehensive about the technological excitement around the digital, cloning, virtual reality, virtual bodies and so on. The human, in this posthuman scenario, becomes a prosthesis to technology and information systems. Baudrillard is critical of the ever-improving operational efficiency of technological systems such that the human becomes irrelevant to the process. In digital reduction we witness the supersession, in Baudrillard’s terms, of the symbolic, alterity and singularity of the human by the semiotic, simulation and technological. The posthuman here becomes the inhuman. This resonates with the familiar poststructuralist concentration and concern with the heterogeneous over the homogeneous. For Baudrillard, the universe of simulation aims at ‘a virtual universe from which everything dangerous and negative has been expelled’ (Baudrillard 2005, 202). In this case, alterity, synonymous with otherness, difference and negativity in their radical forms, will be its victim. Especially with the onslaught of virtual reality, the human may be likened, in Lyotard’s words, to a ‘poor binarized ghost’ (Lyotard 1991, 17).

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