Wednesday, May 9, 2007

This song is for the philosophers

In this section, then, I define and diagram the argumentative construction of simulation—and the ways in which simulational arguments persuade. First, I provide several definitions of simulation, highlighting the two major elements of simulation (represent-ability and performativity). Next, I discuss the advent and progression of simulation—as seen in Jean Baudrillard’s theoretical exploration of the concept. Finally, I investigate the ways in which the arguments of a Simulated History are constructed, presenting different examples of Simulated History and introducing my particular case study (Civil War reenactment).

“Simulations are controlled representations of reality.” Simulations are cinematic, “prosthetic experience[s] of collective power… [or] collective desire.” Simulation is similar to, but different than, reality; it consists of
images… [that] depict or re-present realities but are not themselves realities. We usually know the difference. If an
image depicts a place we have visited or reminds us of something that once happened to us, or something we could
imagine happening, we call it realistic But that is still not “real.”
Simulation is an experiential laboratory, a research method establishing the difference between textual investigation and experiential data—a way of “rediscovering data that had been lost from traditional written and iconographic resources.” “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation of models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal… It is… the precession of simulacra…” In each of the previous definitions of simulation, the differences (and intersections) between simulation and representation are shady theoretical places to dwell.

Each of the above definitions plays with the fine lines between “real,” the “representation,” and the results of such a representation. The first definition, that simulations are controlled—comes from an old article about the uses and abuses of simulation in educational situations. A more philsophical conception of simulation often links it with concepts of virtuality, as in the second two definitions—simulation as a kind of experiential prosthetic (an observation made by Susan Buck-Morss, when she discusses the various political ideologies represented in cinematic simulations of Soviet and American identity), and simulation as a collection of “realistic” images (a definition proposed by Todd Gitlin in a discussion of over-mediated contemporary culture). The fourth definition, taken from a book about living history, touches on the notion of experience, as well—echoing both Ochoa (the educator) and Buck-Morss (the political theorist), Jay Anderson describes simulation as a valuable and experiential learning tool.

The final definition is taken from Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation and is a more ontological description of simulation—placing simulation within the practices of culture, Baudrillard’s definition departs a bit from the others but still hits on the two main elements of simulation: represent-ability and performativity. Although there are many different definitions of simulation—across scientific, philosophical, and educational circles—a “notion that appears persistently is that simulations are representations of reality.” Another notion that appears in definitions and conceptions of simulation is ideas about performance and performativity. Simulation, then, is the performative process of re-presenting a real—when the real is some concept of “things as they are” or “things as they could be.” In these figures (things as they are or could be), the argumentative structure depends upon both the realistic power of representation—to demonstrate, realistically, some idea about the world being simulated. There must be a represent-ability to the real things being simulated, or the simulation will not convince. Second, simulation’s argumentative structure also depends upon the convincing power of performance—to experience, realistically, some idea about the world being simulated.

Simulation, a performative process of representing the real, gets used rhetorically in a variety of ways. As we see above, simulation is an educational tool—simulating controlled situations in the classroom is a classic pedagogical device used to place students in different environments. Simulation also works as a reasearch method—to fill in, as Anderson suggests, theoretical knowledge gaps with experiential information. These two uses of simulation demonstrate its persuasive, practical, performative power: simulation convinces (works) because it is practically and performatively applicable. The more theoretical definitions—exploring the cultural, cinematic, or technological reach of simulation—emphasize simulation’s representative power; in these definitions, simulation convinces (works) because it effectively re-presents the realistic and realist expectations of its audience. Whether the simulation occurs in a classroom environment (to teach students about the functioning of the stock market) or in a national identity (to teach citizens about the true purposes of democracy), simulations are persuasive.

Before I explore the argumentative dimensions of simulation, though, let’s investigate simulation as a cultural phenomenon. Jean Baudrillard, throughout his career, struggled to elucidate the connections between the cultural phases and philosophical facets of simulation. The basic definition of simulation, according to Jean Baudrillard, is that simulation was once the process of making a copy, a referential territory in which the symbol or thing being produced had some real relationship to that which it represented. Simulation has become, however, a symptom of the hyperreal: “the generation by models of a real without origin or reality… [a] map that precedes reality—precession of simulacra —that engenders the territory… It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges persist here and there.” This definition of simulation, then, is twofold. First, it is a process. And second, it is argumentatively powerful because it plays upon the concept of the real—which is a powerful postulate—and because it allows for (requires? Cannot be without?) a multiplicity of meaning. In "Symbolic Exchange and Death," he introduces the notion of simulation as a progression; each step proceeded, he argues, further and further from the actual reality it seeks to represent. The problem with simulation is that it creates its own reality—and once it has created that reality, simulation becomes a representation of only itself. Simulation becomes more real than, more exact than, more perfect than, the real, and, in so doing, simulation usurps the real it purports to represent.

Baudrillard’s discussion of simulation and its stages changed throughout his life. At the earliest, he descibed them in this way:
1) Simulation stands in for reality
2) Simulation hides the absence of reality
3) Simulation produces its own reality

In "Simulacra and Simulation," Baudrillard introduces a fourth stage, the stage in which we currently find ourselves—the viral or fractal or simulacral stage. This stage stems from the third stage—a metamorphosis into the simulacral form. The orders of simulation are really a kind of ontological precession of reality—in that each step causes a regression overwhelming the relationship between reality and its others in the previous stages. Each stage eats the previous stage; this is the hyperreal. This is where simulation is so endemic, so big, that it’s eaten all the real before, and there’s really no way of getting back to the real.

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