Chapter 20: “The Illusion of the End” by Jean Baudrillard
Remember when you were a small child and you went to see a magician? If so then you know of how great the tricks seemed, how you appeared in utter disbelief when he was able to perform seemingly impossible stunts. The thing about childhood though is that it is fleeting; you grow older, the world takes its heavy toll, and you become jaded at how you could ever have been taken in by those blasé illusions. Believe it or not the same process exists in the adult world- it’s called politics. Case in point: Jean Baudrillard is pissed. Not at the magician who made him feel like a fool but at the intellectual community for ‘pulling one over’ on the entire temporal-historical foundation.
Taken from his 1994 book, Baudrillard’s essay “The Illusion of the End” is furious at postmodern historicism. He is upset at the “curving back of history which causes it to retrace its own steps and obliterate its own tracks. (273)” A kind of artificial immortality, in other words. He says that an escape is possible yet only if humanity “break[s] with this recession and obsession… [and] to leapfrog our shadows, leapfrog the shadow of the century, to take an elliptical short-cut and pass beyond the end, not allowing it to take place.” The obvious desire is to preserve history instead of “subjecting it to agonizing revision” abstracting concrete meaning from the abstract procession of human history. Rather, the goal should be a definite understanding of the past as opposed to incessant face-lifts.
This is the “hysteresis” which he talks about. Baudrillard action here is to combat the postmodern attempt to develop a “retroactive” understanding of history where events occur and then are subject to countless revisions from a wide bertha of perspectives. He is not against progress, as in revealing facts about historical events from a perspective other than the privileged majority, but is against the efforts done here specifically by the postmodernists because he views it as counter-productive; “progress and democracy” are selling off alternative future for the sake of plurality, of an assortment of understandings, with no actualized meaning outside of re-interoperation. This is what he calls “a state of total illusion… If the effect is in the cause or the beginning in the end, then the catastrophe is behind us” which also marks such an occurrence as an epochal privilege which “liberates us from any future catastrophe and any responsibility [.] (277)” In the end this is a manifestation of linearity versus loops and inversions, of finding that middle ground between “beyond history” and the specter of something more.
It is enough to say that Baudrillard is against “ends”. The end of ideology, of history, of communism, of scholarship… and so on. His efforts lie more in skeptical pragmatism. He assuages the reader’s sense of dread at indefinite flux’s masquerading as ends, though hesitant to call themselves as much. So in this sense he is a truth seeker: someone who snuffs out hypocrisy and seeks to replace it with his own brand of ideology, riddled with enough chutzpa to call itself as much.