Insomnia | Essays

The "Blowback" of Duality

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".


Our entire system, both technical and mental, tends towards oneness, identity and totality, at the cost of an extraordinary simplification. And the whole of our metaphysics and all our neuroses chart the evils and confusions that ensue from that simplification.
   But duality is indefectible.
   It is totality that falters in the more or less long term.

Any political, economic, moral or mental system that achieves this even virtual totalization, that achieves this kind of perfection, either automatically fractures or duplicates itself to infinity in a simulacrum of itself. Everything that comes close to its definitive formula or its absolute potency can only repeat itself indefinitely or produce a monstrous double -- whether it be terrorism or clones.
   There is never any equilibrium state or state of completion that cannot suddenly be destabilized by a process of automatic reversion.

Everything which offends against duality, which is the fundamental rule, everything which aims to be integral, leads to disintegration through the violent resurgence of duality -- or in conformity with the principle of evil, whichever you prefer.
   It is duality and reversibility which everywhere govern the principle of evil. It is duality, liquidated everywhere, conjured away by all possible means, that restores an absence and an emptiness that are generally submerged by a total presence. It is duality that fractures Integral Reality, that smashes every unitary or totalitarian system by emptiness, crashes, viruses or terrorism.

A reversibility that can be seen even in natural catastrophes which intervene in the course of the world with consummate indifference, which explains why they exert a profound fascination. This is also the charm of the weather; insofar as it is unpredictable, it continues to terrify, and to fuel, the imagination.
   So it is with the smallest earthquake, the least accident, some terrorist act or other: these are all equivalent in the emergence of evil, in evil showing through like an inalienable dimension, irreducible to the rational order.

There is no point deploring this -- nor exalting it for that matter. These are quite simply the rules of the game. Everything that seeks to infringe these rules, to restore a universal order, is a fraud.
   Our moral law is one of universal rationalization, of retotalization of the universe according to the law. But the moral law can do nothing against the rules of the game and the order of evil, which takes its revenge come what may.
   Everything turns around. And the virtual completion of the world, the perfect crime, the fantastic attempt to bring into being an integral world -- that phantasm of total information paradoxically allows us to glimpse an even more fundamental form: that of its radical incompletion.

In the same way, Integral Reality brings the spectacle of radical illusion into view, or back into view.
   The height of obscenity brings the re-emergence of the pattern of seduction: "What are you doing after the orgy?"
   So it is that Artificial Intelligence opens on to the radical exercise of thought. So it is that the paroxysm of technology opens on to the constellation of the mystery (Heidegger).
   There is a kind of predestination in this.
   This reversibility means that the object and the subject are in a sense predestined. So it is with the feminine and the masculine in seduction: they become each other's destiny instead of remaining face to face in the mirror of alienation.
   There is no equivalent in terms of which they could be exchanged, short of taking sex, sexuality, as a kind of general equivalent, which we do, in fact, do today in reducing masculine and feminine to their "difference".

Similarly, we reduce life and death to the opposition between them, reduce them to opposing terms or, in other words, to their "objective" reality. Now, neither life nor death can be exchanged for anything.
   There is no equivalence in the name of which they could be exchanged.
   They alternate and that is all there is to it. Like the seasons, like the elements that change into one another -- fire, water, earth and air. Like colours: neither red nor blue can be exchanged; they are exchanged only in terms of wavelength. Otherwise, they are incomparable qualities.
   Or, rather, there is a duel between them: death toys with life, life toys with death.
   Which of the two succumbs?
   Stanislaw Lec reverses the terms here: it is not we who defend ourselves against death, it is death that defends itself against us: "Death resists us, but it gives in in the end."
   Nothing else so stunning as this has ever been said about death.

Needless to say, this dual relationship has nothing to do with interactivity, which is a parody of it. There is nothing interactive in the antagonistic process of reversibility and becoming.
   The feminine and the masculine are not "interactive": that is ridiculous.
   Life and the world are not interactive -- life isn't a question-and-answer session or a video game.
   There is nothing interactive in words when they are articulated in language.
   Interactivity is a gigantic mythology, a mythology of integrated systems or of systems craving integration, a mythology in which otherness is lost in feedback, interlocution and interface -- a kind of generalized echography.
   Nor is there any interface between gods and men.
   The only rule, as everywhere else, is the dual rule of gift and counter-gift.
   According to Bataille, we live on the immense free gift of solar energy, on that natural excess and unreciprocated prodigality. But there is no natural excess and the sun does not dispense its energy free of charge. The Aztecs knew this, they who made it function by performing human sacrifices. Solar energy itself is the product of a dual, sacrificial exchange, a real potlatch. You sacrifice to the gods and they sacrifice in return to make the light exist and with it the stars and living creatures. Or the gods sacrifice themselves first and human beings reciprocate: the dual form plays in both directions.
   What would humans be if the sun afforded them its light with nothing in return? If they are not able to give anything back, they are nothing. Conversely, if the gods did not respond to human sacrifice with their blessings they would be nothing. They would not even exist.
   Nothing has existence in itself. Nothing exists except in dual, antagonistic exchange.

We have put an end to this dual relation with the sun.
   With nuclear power and the bomb, says Canetti in a superb image, we have annexed the sun; we have dashed it down on to the earth, without any possibility of surrendering it, and its light then is a light of death.
   Reversibility is still there, but it takes the form of vengeance.