Saturday, December 16, 2006

My Thoughts and Wonders Followed by Reading about Postmodernism

* I tried to write a rather proper paper on the concept of postmodernism based on the readings for the class and I ended up feeling very lost and empty in my thoughts. After having tried a few times, I decided to only think out loud about what we learned on the topic of postmodernism and to write down my scattered thoughts. In this response paper I am basically intending to share with you an overview of the way I am thinking about some of these fundamental and rather complex topics.

The fist thing that came to my mind after reading Baurillard’s article about the concepts of postmodernism was Internet:

Two nights ago I was sitting at a table with a few of my friends in the Feve(the bar close to where I live). I had brought my friend, Ben, who had come to visit me in Oberlin. While Ben was talking about his experiences and his background, my friend, Dan, whispered in my ear in Spanish, knowing that Ben did not speak Spanish, “Azi, tu amigo es muy extraño. ¿Cómo conoces a él?” (Azi, your friend is very strange. How do you know him?) I told him that he apparently used to read my weblog on a regular basis and that is how we became friend. “Cyber friends”, I said to him. Dan looked at me and whispered again, “Tengo miedo de las amistades que vienen del Internet. Me parece que no son cosas reales y que no existen en la realidad”. (I am scared of those online friendships. They are not real and don’t exist in our reality.) I looked across the table. I saw Ben talking with another friend of mine. He was clearly real to me. He was physically sitting there. His origin for me, however, was I guess a non-existing (physically) world named the Internet. More or less, though, his tone resembled what he used to write in response to the posts on my blog. And his face, too, seemed pretty similar to his picture online. What made him a strange being to me was his actual presence. I was so used to perceiving him through the lens of the internet and cyber media that I could not fully accept his existence outside that world.
Later on that night, when I was surfing the internet aimlessly, I encountered the following video clip on YouTube called Hyperreality by a person whose unsername in the network is Halosixx ( This video is on the subject of hyperreality, and how life is becoming more virtual and less real. In this video there is an internet window frame around every individual’s head next to which there their short profile: name, gender, age, location and etc. Watching this video along with the way I was already feeling about having seen a cyber friend in real life and what Dan had told me had all made me paranoid of the reality in which I live.
I listened. Ben was in the lounge of my house talking with my friends. His voice was very strange to me. His words only were familiar if they were in the format of an email. His voice started to turn into the clicking sound of the keys of my keyboard.

My Hyperreal World of Postmodernity

Among the articles I have recently been readings, what I read about the concept of the real has really occupied my thoughts. It is very striking to me how such a simple concept could turn into a very a complex and determining point in terms of the postmodernist movement. While what Baudrillard is describing in his article is very interesting, I still am having a hard time comprehending his concept of the hyeperreal(1).
Some of the examples that I read in Baudriallard’s article made me think more about my own life and the concept of the real in my surroundings. In the process of trying to understand Baudriallard’s definition of the hyperreal and simulacra, I often find myself conscious of the way the real is defined in my surroundings. And such consciousness, of course, leaves me with a series of cyclical thoughts. These thoughts eventually lead me to something that my professor mentioned in class: The more you try to get to real and escape the commodifications, the more you are under their control!

Seriously What Does Baudrillard’s Simulacra Theory Mean?
Buadrillard uses the concept of simulacra to describe the conditions of postmodernism. Simulacra are different from simulations in the sense that even though they imply the reproduction of things, it does not recognize the notion of the origin from which things are being reproduced. In other words, there is no origin and source of the real anymore. By defining the concept of simulacra Baudrillard establishes a different medium for defining what we call the real:
"No more mirror of being and appearances, of the real and its concept; no more imaginary coexistensivity: rather, genetic miniaturization is the dimension of simulation. The real is produced from miniaturized units, from matrices, memory banks and command models- and with these it can be reproduced an indefinite number of time"(2)

What strikes me about this theory is the way it becomes in a way mathematical in defining what we would call the real and the origin in modernism. Interestingly, however, even though it becomes more mathematical-sounding than other theories we have read in our class, it actually denies the rationale behind the concept of simulacra(3).
Since I, like many other individuals my age, spent many hours of my days and nights online and I basically consider myself paralyzed without access to the internet, the first postmodern phenomena that immediately comes to my mind is undoubtedly ‘the Internet’. I find it fascinating that often time it is accepted that Baudrillard’s simulacra theory defines the phenomena of the internet. This is while his theories are mostly presented in the context of literary theory and sociology and not strictly through mathematical models.
An article that I read online from 1995 about Baudriallard’s theory in defining cyberspace of the internet says, “In comparison to the modern conception of the map, and its relation to the unrepresentable totality of the world, Internet as postmodern map becomes the totality itself, superseding the world”(4). Nunes explains further that such conversion is the moment that Baudrillard explains as the “precession of simulacra”(5) which is the disappearance of the differences(6) of the model and the globe(7).
Therefore, if I could understand correctly this model (the internet) in its constant simulacra of the globe has exceeded its globe (which presumably is the real(in a modernist sense) in which we live. In other words, this model loses dependency to its origin (that well in postmodernism is not even acknowledged) and it could repeat indefinite times. So then based on what I am understanding from the postmodern concept, my friend’s(Ben) presence in the virtual world of Internet and now his presence in my house do not contradict one another and they could exist independent of each other and they lose meaning as the model and the origin….


1- “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models fo a real without origin or reality: hyperreal ” (Baudriallard, 166). Therefore it seems to me that hyppreal is a phenomena in which one cannot tell the difference between the real and reproduction of the real.
2- Baudriallard, 167
3- “It is no longer has to be rational, since it is no longer measured against some ideal or negative instances. It is nothing more than operational”(Bauriallard, 167)
4- Nunes, Mark. Baudrillard in Cyberspace: Internet, Virtuality, and Postmodernity. <>
5- “ Simulation is characterized by a precession of the model, of all models around the merest fact-the models come first, and their orbital(like the bomb) circulation constitutes the genuine magnetic field of events. Facts no longer have any trajectory of their own…This anticipation, this precession, this short-circuit, this confusion of the fact with its model(no more divergence of meaning, no more dialectical polarity….) is what each time allows for all the possible interpretations, even the most contradictory-all are true in the sense that their truth is exchangeable…” (Baudrillard, 175)
6- Simulacrum
7-I used the terms globe/model from the article by Nunes, Marks

Friday, December 15, 2006

My Reflections on Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog

Country of My Skull is a 1998 nonfiction book by Antjie Krog primarily about the findings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The book is, in reality, an intersectional, interdisciplinary analysis of the Commission's potential and realized effects on post-Apartheid South Africa.

The book can be understood as having three main elements: First, it is a collection of accounts from the TRC hearings - direct testimony of the terrible human rights violations on all sides of the struggle against Apartheid. Second, it is an exploration and analysis of political and moral philosophy relevant to, inspired by, and grounded in the TRC (see President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu). Third, it is biographical, in terms of the author being extremely honest, open, and self-analytical about her own position and experience relative to the TRC - racially as a white Afrikaner, professionally as a radio journalist, emotionally as someone grappiling with her nation's bloody past, and personally as her experiences covering the TRC affect her intimate life.

Country of My Skull is written as an amalgamation of journalism, prose, personal narrative, and poetry - all of which Krog has been celebrated for - with the goal of capturing the overwhelming moral, emotional, and historical complexity of the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa.

In 2004, a film based on the book, called In My Country starring Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche was made.

My Thoughts:

I just finished Country of Skull. This book is just a rather ‘odd’ book. I don’t think I have ever read a book before this diverse: straight-forward report of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s sessions, Krog’s own narrative and analysis embedded throughout the book, first-hand quotes and narratives of the survivors and family members of the victims of the apartheid and poetry. This book is just full of very many voices and unbearable anecdotes in the form of quotes. Honesty, while I was reading County of my Skull, I got to a point where even seeing the quotation marks or the italicized texts. These first hand narratives really made me as a reader (as a person who is voluntarily exposing herself to the experience) shiver and feel overwhelmed. The imagery is brutally real and it is as if the text does not give you any alternative other than imagining what you are reading. (i.e. “They held me…they said, ‘Please don’t go in there…’ I just skipped through their legs and went in…I found Bheki…he was in pieces…he was hanging on pieces…He was all over…pieces of him and brain was scattered all around….that was the end of Bheki” (39) ). What is really interesting and at sometimes annoying to me, is that these real anecdotes of violent death and disappearances last only a few lines. Before your eyes even get used to the name Bheki, you have to read about some other character’s (they don’t seem like characters, just names) tragic and traumatizing. Krog never ceases to bombard with the voices involved in the TRC: survivors, commissionaires, perpetuators, psychologists, reporters, herself…
After I finished the book and thought about my experience as a whole, I started to think she claims authority in the way in which she confronts us with a very diverse image of the TRC. In a way the book is to a certain extent recreation of the dynamics of the TRC: an opportunity for many survivors during which they could speak out and talk and get it all out...but this opportunity was limited…instead of names, victims became a few lines or pages of violent death stories….only a step further than names…still very unsatisfying and even anonymous…
Krog writes, “If the TRC is regarded as an effort to create a forum for victims to bring some form of balance to the political ideal of amnest, then the commission succeeded in a most remarkable way. The experiences of the victims did indeed become part of the national psyche and part of our country’s acknowledged history for very fist time. But in terms of repairing and healing the trauma of the victims, the TRC itself was the first to declare that this was, singularly, its biggest failure” (285)
I read some reviews of the book and it seems like most critiques say that Krog’s book is an attempt to bring out the stories of the survivors in a collection of such and to make them heard by her readers. While I agree with these critiques, I also think that her narrative is somewhat restricted and unsatisfying and that she has done that intentionally. The intention, it seems to me, is to transfer the feeling of sitting through those long, rather judicial and formal and extremely emotional of the TRC. She also succeeds in demonstrating the restrictions that the survivors went through for even telling their horrifying stories. There were too many of them. They had no way to not lose their individual voice and story and to become a collective past experience and voice both in the TRC and in the book.

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