Insomnia | Essays

The World Without Women

By Jean Baudrillard / Translated by Chris Turner

This essay was originally published as part of Jean Baudrillard's "Le crime parfait" (1995), translated into English in 1996 as "The Perfect Crime".

The World Without Women (Il Mondo senza Donne, 1935) by Virgilio Martini describes the ravages of a mysterious illness (eventually named "fallopitis") which decimates all childbearing women between puberty and the menopause. The symptoms of the illness irresistibly evoke those of AIDS some fifty years later. By an amazing coincidence, it begins in Haiti and spreads throughout the world and, by another paradoxical coincidence, it is eventually discovered that this illness, which science is powerless to control (exactly as with AIDS), originated in a plot hatched by homosexuals to exterminate the female of the species! The epidemic runs its course, all adolescent girls and young women disappear, and the human race is soon threatened with extinction. The rest of the book, full of dramatic twists and turns, carries on rather like a thriller. But the central idea is that of an extermination of femaleness -- a terrifying allegory of the extermination of all otherness, for which the feminine is the metaphor and, perhaps, more than the metaphor.

What we ourselves have fallen victim to -- and by no means allegorically -- is a virus destructive of otherness. And we may predict that -- even more than in the case of AIDS -- no science will be able to protect us from this viral pathology which, by dint of antibodies and immune strategies, aims at the extinction, pure and simple, of the other. Though, for the moment, this virus does not affect the biological reproduction of the species, it affects an even more fundamental function, that of the symbolic reproduction of the other, favouring, rather, a cloned, asexual reproduction of the species-less individual. For to be deprived of the other is to be deprived of sex, and to be deprived of sex is to be deprived of symbolic belonging to any species whatsoever.

On its appearance in Italy (in 1953 -- it was left unpublished for twenty years, as no publisher would take it) the book was condemned and withdrawn from circulation on grounds of obscenity, though in point of fact there is nothing less pornographic than a world without women. But that was merely an alibi to conceal, under cover of a destruction of femaleness, the panic idea of a yet more monstrous destruction -- the idea of a world given over entirely to the selfsame [le Même].
   This is the literal end of alienation. There is no one on the other side any more. In the past we would have seen this as the ideal goal of the subject -- total appropriation of and control over oneself. Today we can see that alienation protected us from something worse: from the definitive loss of the other, from the expropriation of the other by the same.

In German, there are two apparently synonymous terms with a very significant distinction between them. "Verfremdung" means becoming other, becoming estranged from oneself -- alienation in the literal sense. "Entfremdung", by contrast, means to be dispossessed of the other, to lose all otherness. Now, it is much more serious to be dispossessed of the other than of oneself. Being deprived of the other is worse than alienation: a lethal change, by liquidation of the dialectical opposition itself. An irrevocable destabilization, that of the subject without object, of the same without other -- definitive stasis and metastasis of the Same. A tragic destiny for individuals and for our -- self-programming and self-referential -- systems: no more adversaries, no more hostile environments -- no environment at all any longer, no more exteriority. This is like wresting a species away from its natural predators. No longer threatened by them, it cannot but destroy itself (by "depredation", as it were). Death being the great natural predator, a species we attempt at all costs to immortalize and wrest away from death -- as we do with all our replacement technologies for the body's organs -- is doomed to disappear. The best strategy for bringing about someone's ruin is to eliminate everything which threatens him, thus causing him to lose all his defences, and it is this strategy we are applying to ourselves. By eliminating the other in all its forms (illness, death, negativity, violence, strangeness), not to mention racial and linguistic differences, by eliminating all singularities in order to radiate total positivity, we are eliminating ourselves.
   We have fought negativity and death, rooting out evil in all its forms. By eliminating the work of the negative, we have unleashed positivity, and that is what has become lethal today. By setting off the chain reaction of the positive, we have at the same time -- by a perverse, but perfectly coherent effect -- released an intense viral pathology. For a virus, far from being negative, is the product, rather, of an ultrapositivity of which it is the lethal embodiment. This had escaped us, as had the metamorphoses of evil which follow the advances of reason about like a shadow.

This paradigm of the subject without object, of the subject without other, can be seen in all that has lost its shadow and become transparent to itself. Even in devitalized substances: in sugar without calories, salt without sodium, life without spice, effects without causes, wars without enemy, passions without object, time without memory, masters without slaves, or the slaves without masters we have become.
   What becomes of a master without a slave? He ends up terrorizing himself. And of a slave without a master? He ends up exploiting himself. The two are conjoined today in the modern form of voluntary servitude: enslavement to data systems and calculation systems -- total efficiency, total performance. We have become masters -- at least virtual masters -- of this world, but the object of that mastery, the finality of that mastery, have disappeared.