Insomnia | Essays

Integral Reality

By Jean Baudrillard / Translated by Chris Turner

This essay was originally published as part of Jean Baudrillard's "Le Pacte de lucidité ou l'intelligence du Mal" (2004), translated into English in 2005 as "The Intelligence of Evil or The Lucidity Pact".

What I call Integral Reality is the perpetrating on the world of an unlimited operational project whereby everything becomes real, everything becomes visible and transparent, everything is "liberated", everything comes to fruition and has a meaning (whereas it is in the nature of meaning that not everything has it).
   Whereby there is no longer anything on which there is nothing to say.

The disappearance of God has left us facing reality and the ideal prospect of transforming this real world. And we have found ourselves confronted with the undertaking of realizing the world, of making it become technically, integrally real.
   Now, the world, even freed from all illusion, does not lend itself at all to reality. The more we advance in this undertaking, the more ambiguous it becomes, the more it loses sight of itself. Reality has barely had time to exist and already it is disappearing...

The reality that has invented itself over recent centuries and which we have elevated into a principle is now dying out. To wish to revive it at all costs as a reference or a moral value is a mistake, since the principle is dead. What we see now, behind the eclipse of the "objective" real, is the rise of Integral Reality, of a Virtual Reality that rests on the deregulation of the very reality principle.
   We shall never get back beyond that blind spot, that unlocatable point where the real ceased to be real.

That which is real exists; that is all we can say (but existence isn't everything -- it is, even, the least of things).
   Let us be clear about this: when we say reality has disappeared, the point is not that it has disappeared physically, but that it has disappeared metaphysically. Reality continues to exist; it is its principle that is dead.
   Now, reality without its principle is no longer the same at all. If, for many different reasons, the principle of representation, which alone gives it a meaning, falters, then the whole of the real falters. Or, rather, it exceeds its own principle and enters upon an unrestrained expansion no longer governed by any rule.
   Objective reality -- reality related to meaning and representation -- gives way to "Integral Reality", a reality without limits in which everything is realized and technically materialized without reference to any principle or final purpose [destination] whatever.

"Integral Reality" involves, then, the murder of the real, the loss of any imagination of the real.
   The imaginary, which we happily associated with the real as its friendly shadow, vanishes in the same process. "Integral Reality" has no imaginary.
   Just as liberation no longer has anything to do with the play of freedom -- the freedom of a subject wrestling with himself, which implies, among other things, that one remains free to be free (which is not the case in the present circumstances of unconditional liberation); just as verification puts an end to the workings of truth (for truth, if it exists, is something to be fought over, whereas verification transforms it into a fait accompli), so we have moved from reality as principle and as concept to the technical realization of the real and its performance.

And yet there are no proofs of this reality's existence -- and there never will be -- any more than there are proofs of the existence of God. It is, like God, a matter of faith.
   And when you begin to believe in it, this is because it is already disappearing.
   It is when one is no longer sure of the existence of God, or when one has lost the naïve faith in a self-evident reality, that it becomes absolutely necessary to believe in it.
   We invested reality with the whole of our imaginary, but it is this imaginary that is vanishing, since we no longer have the energy to believe in it.
   Even the will has gone out of it.
   The passion for reality and the passion for truth have gone.
   All that remains is a duty of reality, a duty of truth.
   Henceforth we must believe in it. As doubt sets in everywhere, as a product of the failure of the systems of representation, reality becomes an absolute imperative; it becomes the foundation of a moral order. But neither things nor people obey a reality principle or a moral imperative.

It is the excess of reality that makes us stop believing in it.
   The saturation of the world, the technical saturation of life, the excess of possibilities, of actualization of needs and desires. How are we to believe in reality once its production has become automatic?
   The real is suffocated by its own accumulation. There is no way now for the dream to be an expression of a desire since its virtual accomplishment is already present.
   Deprivation of dreams, deprivation of desire. And we know what mental disorder sleep deprivation induces.

Deep down, the problem is the same as with the "accursed share": the problem of the surplus -- not the lack, but the excess of reality -- of which we no longer know how to rid ourselves.
   There is no longer any symbolic resolution, by sacrifice, of the surplus, except in accidents or by the irruption of an anomic violence, which, whatever its social or political determinations, is always a challenge to this irresistible objective constraint of a normalized world.

Effectuating, materializing, realizing, producing -- it seems to be the ideal destination of everything to pass from the stage of possibility to that of reality in a movement of simultaneous progress and internal necessity.
   All needs, all desires, all potentialities, tend towards this objective sanction, this litmus test. It is the same path that seems to doom appearances and illusion to vanish in the face of the truth.
   Perhaps this reality is a dream; in that case, the real is part of our imaginary. And realizing everything is part of a universal fulfilment of desire.

But today we are living through a turnabout that makes this universal fulfilment appear like a negative destiny -- a catastrophic truth test. The excess of reality in all its forms, the extension of all possibilities, is becoming unbearable. Nothing is left now to the contingency of a destiny or to the non-satisfaction of desire.
   Is this turn, this catastrophic inversion of effects, itself a perverse effect? Does it come under the heading of catastrophe theory? Or is it part of a universal acting-out, an inflexible logic of world-processing, the outcome of which it is impossible to predict: acceptance of a definitive reality or the collapse of that same reality, doomed to destruction by its very excess and perfection?

The eclipse of God left us up against reality.
   Where will the eclipse of reality leave us?

Do we have here a negative destiny or quite simply the absence of destiny: the coming of a relentless banality, linked to the integral calculus of reality?
   Destiny has not pronounced its last word.
   It can be felt at the very heart of this integral realization, at the heart of this power, in that internal convulsion that follows out its logic and hastens its effects, in that maleficent reversal of the structure itself that transforms a positive destination into a murderous finality: this is where the very principle of evil lies and where the intelligence of evil must come into play.

Let us suppose two antagonistic trends:
   Integral Reality: the irreversible movement towards the totalization of the world.
   The Dual Form: the reversibility internal to the irreversible movement of the real.

It seems evolution (or involution) towards an integral universe is irresistible. But it seems, at the same time, that the dual form is indestructible.
   There is no way for us to guess how this contradictory double movement will work itself out. We are faced with a confrontation between a dual form and total integration that cannot be resolved.
   But only in appearance is there no solution, since this confrontation is constantly prey to a secret disintegration, to the dissent working away at it from the inside. It is the global violence immanent in the world-system itself which, from within, sets the purest symbolic form of the challenge against it.
   There is no way to see a reconciliation here and, in all lucidity, there is nothing to tell us which force is the likely winner. Not from impartiality, since secretly we have already taken sides, but out of an awareness of the inevitability of this eternal divergence, this insuperable antagonism.

The integral drive and the dual drive: this is the Great Game.
   The very idea of completion, of Integral Reality, is unbearable, but the dual form, the form that denies any final reconciliation, any definitive accomplishment, is also very difficult -- and perhaps even impossible -- to conceive in its radicalism.
   And yet it is in this lucid vision of an endless reversion, in this denial of any objective solution, that the intelligence of evil, if it exists, is grounded.

Any questioning of reality, of its obviousness and its principle, is deemed unacceptable and condemned as negationist.
   The charge against you: what do you make of the reality of misery, suffering and death?
   Now, it isn't about taking sides on material violence or on the violence of misfortune -- it is about a line you are forbidden to cross, the line marking a taboo on reality, a taboo also on even the slightest attempt at interfering with a clear division between good and evil, on pain of being regarded as a scoundrel and an imposter.
   The affirmation or contestation of reality, of the reality principle, is, then, a political choice, and almost a religious one, in that any infringement of this principle is sacrilegious -- the very hypothesis of simulation being perceived, deep down, as diabolical (it takes up where heresy left off in the archaeology of the thinking of evil).

The reality-fundamentalists equip themselves with a form of magical thinking that confuses message and messenger: if you speak of the simulacrum, then you are a simulator; if you speak of the virtuality of war, then you are in league with it and have no regard for the hundreds of thousands of dead.
   Any analysis other than the moral is condemned as deluded or irresponsible.
   Now, if reality is a question of belief and all the signs that attested to it have lost their credibility, if the real has fallen into fundamental discredit and its principle is everywhere reeling, it is not we, the messengers of the simulacrum, who have plunged things into this discredit, it is the system itself that has fomented this uncertainty that affects everything today -- even the sense of existence.

What looms on the horizon with the advent of globalization is the constitution of an integral power, of an Integral Reality of power and equally integral and automatic disintegration and failure of that power.
   A dramatic form of reversibility.
   A sort of turnabout, revenge and devastating irony, a kind of negative reaction on the part of the world itself against globalization.
   All the forces denied and expelled by this very process, which thereby become the forces of evil, rebel. Power itself fights against becoming total: it passes the buck; it disinvests itself; in the end it works secretly against itself.

To speak evil is to describe the growing hegemony of the powers of good and, at the same time, their inner faltering, their suicidal crumbling, their reversion, their outgrowth and separation into parallel universes once the dividing line of the Universal has been crossed.