I would like to know if there is a fundamental need for plagiarism in us, since the crime of misappropriation is so wide-spread that it appears to be much more than an epistemological shortcut.
When speaking of theory (in its original sense, I presume, which is that of looking at, of speculating), Baudrillard proposed something scandalous. Forget about reference, he says; forget about the need to cite a textual primordiality.
Because it's false, he suggests, to think that theory (call philosophy, call it writing) reflects reality. It does not. It is not some original, presumably clear, unambiguous, precedent that I have to discover at the moment of theorising/writing. What I really have to find is the incontestable rupture generated within reality itself when I take up the task of philosophy or that of writing. Since both writing and philosophy are engaged in this game of signification (which, because it's a game, cannot be said to be stable), it makes sense to imagine that what really happens in both cases is a form of struggle: the effort to put the mysterious and forever-impenetrable Real into prefabricated moulds that are irrelevant to it.
Circling about to find mere nonsense
What we say about reality is not about reality. It is about us.
Writing is not the writing down of reality but the writing down of writing itself, through its essentially simple (and therefore repeatable) affordances.
It's in things that transcend writing (as well as in things that transcend theory) that the referent should be sought for, since it's there that we should be able to locate the Real itself. But such an enterprise would be ridiculous, because there would be no access granted to us in places where signification has no access. The same with philosophy: who can get where thought is incapable to penetrate?
What we are in search for at the moment of our attempted access is a referent impossible to locate.
Therefore we are doomed to go round and round, in repetitive circles, saying things again and again; plagiarising, to be more specific. We plagiarise our impotence and the impotence of those who tried before and reached the same verdict.
|Sonja Hinrichsen, "Snow Circles." Source: Ufunk|
The certitude of this lack of reference forces us to look for meaning in what has already been said; because what has already been said has the advantage of having proven the existence of a (fabricated but apparently sufficient) reference.
Where there’s plagiarism there’s apparent certitude
Significance operates through tautology, because in order to signify one needs to establish a fundamental stability of the sign. One cannot speak of a valid sign unless one agrees that the given sign will have the same meaning when encountered again. This is where Michel Butor finds the resemblance between writing and nomadism: when a nomad finds a place with good water, he/she signposts it, leaves a mark on the ground, even if that sign is a mental calculation of coordinates. This signpost of the nomad is the mark on a page: a letter. This is why writing depends on a wandering hand, on a nomadic organ.
And so the origins of writing might be found at this curious moment when the nomad calculated his/her chances of finding good water based on the probability of coming this way again, in a foreseeable future.
Baidrillard, however, wants a system based on first encounters, when there were no certitudes, no signposts, no letters, no already-founds. And what’s more important, he doesn't want to go any further than this ontological search for the improbable referent. It's not the reference that needs to be sought after, but precisely this struggle to find it: the days and days of walking under a torrid sun, not knowing where the next source of fresh water may be. Not knowing if there is any water to be found in the foreseeable future. Not knowing if the nomad will live to reach it and to re-enact the pleasure of quenching their thirst.
This type of search, Baudrillard says, and rightfully so, is catastrophic to signification. It can only lead to nonsense, because it has originated from nonsense.
If we were to be honest about our significatory enterprises we would admit that there is, indeed, a permanent lack of reference at the bottom of everything. And because of this, every time we think we have acquired meaning, we discover that we have been taken by surprise. What we are surprised by is not our ability to make meaning but the fact that the world seems to fit into the categories we have created for it. But the world only seems to fit into those categories. It never does. It never did, it never will.
The only surplus that matters
When we signify, we appear to be taking something from the real and filter it through our well-crafted, seemingly efficient systems of signification. But that's not exactly what we are taking. If we started thinking along these lines, we would in fact develop the conviction that the world is indeed accessible, that it is preordained to fit into our categories; as if the categories existed before the world; as if we existed before existence.
If we do take something from the world, that can only be the confusion that the world itself yields to us. Confusion, i.e. lack of respect for categories. If we do think in these terms, then we should not be surprised to discover that our duty should be to preserve that confusion. To preserve it and, as Baudrillard suggests, to magnify it; to make the world even more impossible to penetrate.
"The absolute rule is to give back more than you were given. Never less, always more. The absolute rule of thought is to give back the world as it was given to us - unintelligible. And if possible, to render it a little more unintelligible."
Of course, Baudrillard circumvents here the crucial problem: the fact that this making-more-unintelligible can only be achieved by means of a certified system of intelligibility: language. That's why he doesn't want to desert philosophy. That's why I don't want to desert writing.
|SourceL Choose Your Metaphor|
But the major point to be brought to bear here is that we need to do things as if we were provoking these catastrophes of meaning. Since language cannot be avoided, we are doomed to get stuck in repetitions, in restatements of often identical traces. But turning against the outcomes of language (this syntax of representation that resides in words and sounds) makes room for the awareness of the real referent: the reality that exists beyond signs. This is a catastrophe in the midst of which repetition is itself a form of sabotage. Here, plagiarism is not a statement of weakness but one of strength. Here, repetition is a way of mocking the gullibility of the wrong belief that a sign can reach a state of self-satisfaction where it can be declared unique.