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ISSN: 1705-6411

Volume 1, Number 2 (July 2004)


The Matrix Decoded: Le Nouvel Observateur Interview With Jean Baudrillard1
Translated by:
Dr. Gary Genosko (Canada Research Chair in Technoculture Studies, Lakehead University, Thunder
Bay, Ontario, Canada).
and
Adam Bryx (Graduate Student in English, Lakehead University).

The simulacrum hypothesis deserved better than to become a reality.2

Le Nouvel Observateur: Your reflections on reality and the virtual are some of the key
references used by the makers of The Matrix. The first episode explicitly referred to
you as the viewer clearly saw the cover of Simulacra and Simulation.3 Were you
surprised by this?
Jean Baudrillard: Certainly there have been misinterpretations, which is why I have
been hesitant until now to speak about The Matrix. The staff of the Wachowski
brothers contacted me at various times following the release of the first episode in
order to get me involved with the following ones, but this wasnt really conceivable
(laughter). Basically, a similar misunderstanding occurred in the 1980s when New
York-based Simulationist4 artists contacted me. They took the hypothesis of the virtual
for an irrefutable fact and transformed it into a visible phantasm. But it is precisely that
we can no longer employ categories of the real in order to discuss the characteristics
of the virtual.
Nouvel Observateur: The connection between the film and the vision you develop, for
example, in The Perfect Crime, is, however, quite striking. In evoking a desert of the
real, these totally virtualized spectral humans, who are no more than the energetic
reserve of thinking objects .
Baudrillard: Yes, but already there have been other films that treat the growing
indistinction between the real and the virtual: The Truman Show, Minority Report, or

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indistinction between the real and the virtual: The Truman Show, Minority Report, or
even Mulholland Drive, the masterpiece of David Lynch. The Matrixs value is chiefly
as a synthesis of all that. But there the set-up is cruder and does not truly evoke the
problem. The actors are in the matrix, that is, in the digitized system of things; or, they
are radically outside it, such as in Zion, the city of resistors. But what would be
interesting is to show what happens when these two worlds collide. The most
embarrassing part of the film is that the new problem posed by simulation is confused
with its classical, Platonic treatment. This is a serious flaw. The radical illusion of the
world is a problem faced by all great cultures, which they have solved through art and
symbolization. What we have invented, in order to support this suffering, is a simulated
real, which henceforth supplants the real and is its final solution, a virtual universe from
which everything dangerous and negative has been expelled. And The Matrix is
undeniably part of that. Everything belonging to the order of dream, utopia and
phantasm is given expression, realized. We are in the uncut transparency. The Matrix
is surely the kind of film about the matrix that the matrix would have been able to
produce.
Nouvel Observateur: It is also a film that purports to denounce technicist alienation
and, at the same time, plays entirely on the fascination exercised by the digital universe
and computer-generated images.
Baudrillard: What is notable about Matrix Reloaded is the absence of a glimmer of
irony that would allow viewers to turn this gigantic special effect on its head. There is no
sequence which would be the punctum about which Roland Barthes wrote, this striking
mark that brings you face-to-face with a true image. Moreover, this is what makes the
film an instructive symptom, and the actual fetish of this universe of technologies of the
screen in which there is no longer a distinction between the real and the imaginary.
The Matrix is considered to be an extravagant object, at once candid and perverse,
where there is neither a here nor a there. The pseudo-Freud who speaks at the films
conclusion puts it well: at a certain moment, we reprogrammed the matrix in order to
integrate anomalies into the equation. And you, the resistors, comprise a part of it.
Thus we are, it seems, within a total virtual circuit without an exterior. Here again I am in
theoretical disagreement (laughter). The Matrix paints the picture of a monopolistic
superpower, like we see today, and then collaborates in its refraction. Basically, its
dissemination on a world scale is complicit with the film itself. On this point it is worth
recalling Marshall McLuhan: the medium is the message. The message of The Matrix
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recalling Marshall McLuhan: the medium is the message. The message of The Matrix
is its own diffusion by an uncontrollable and proliferating contamination.
Nouvel Observateur: It is rather shocking to see that, henceforth, all American
marketing successes, from The Matrix to Madonnas new album, are presented as
critiques of the system which massively promotes them.
Baudrillard: That is exactly what makes our times so oppressive. The system
produces a negativity in trompe-loeil, which is integrated into products of the
spectacle just as obsolescence is built into industrial products. It is the most efficient
way of incorporating all genuine alternatives. There are no longer external Omega
points or any antagonistic means available in order to analyze the world; there is
nothing more than a fascinated adhesion. One must understand, however, that the
more a system nears perfection, the more it approaches the total accident. It is a form
of objective irony stipulating that nothing ever happened. September 11th participated
in this. Terrorism is not an alternative power, it is nothing except the metaphor of this
almost suicidal return of Western power on itself. That is what I said at the time, and it
was not widely accepted. But it is not about being nihilistic or pessimistic in the face of
all that. The system, the virtual, the matrix all of these will perhaps return to the dustbin
of history. For reversibility, challenge and seduction are indestructible.5

Endnotes
1 Jean Baudrillard was interviewed for Le Nouvel Observateur (19-25 June 2003) by Aude Lancelin. The
Editors of IJBS are grateful to Ruth Valentini and Le Nouvel Observateur for permission to translate and
publish this interview in English http://www.nouvelobs.com. Aude Lancelin conducted the original
interview for Le Nouvel Observateur.
2 Jean Baudrillard. Cool Memories IV. New York: Verso, 2003:92.
3 Upon opening the book during the Follow Instructions scene in Neos apartment, the hollowed out
text reveals the first page of the short essay On Nihilism.
4 It was perhaps Peter Halley more than any other American Simulationist painter who triumphed
Baudrillards conceptualization of hyperreality in relation to day-glo colours. And, as he wryly notes,
Baudrillard dashed the hopes of Halley by distancing himself from claims on him. But it wasnt only
Simulationist painters who received a cold critical shoulder. As Paul Hegarty heard in a recent interview
with Baudrillard (April 2003; in his book Jean Baudrillard: Live Theory, London: Continuum, 2004), the
last ones were those symbiotic artists. They kept pestering me, saying, but you must love what were
doing. I said, hang on, this is not acceptable.
5 Gerry Coulter's essay in this volume examines this aspect of Baudrillard's writing over the past thirty
years. See Gerry Coulter. "Reversibility: Baudrillard's One's Great Thought"
http://www.ubishops.ca/baudrillardstudies/vol1_2/reversib.htm.

International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2004)


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