The work of Art in the age of matter duplication

Still on Azuma’s Otakus . . .

To better understand Baudrillard’s Simulations, one has to take a detour between Walter Benjamin and the vertigo of democratized narrative consumption and exchange. Believe it or not, we will have to deal with radar tubes, a rather odd little space opera and some canibals.

George O Smith helped develop military radar during WWII. After that he wrote rather typical american sci-fi for J.W.Campbell’s Astounding, the premiere organ of American scientific romance, a form of vernacular modernism.
(Heinlein once called Marxism science fiction – it is only polite to return the compliment.)
Arthur C Clarke is credited with inventing the idea of the communication satellite, but Smith went further, setting his stories on a power transfer space station/ satellite in equilateral orbit with Venus. (

Most of these tales are ripping good J.W.Campbell mentored yarns, with no sociology or deeper message at all. Then something goes awry. The author digs up a long lost ancient piece of magical tech in the sands of Mars, and our heroes get a working matter duplicator. Hijinx and world economic collapse ensue. Suddenly everyone is ramming food, money, diamonds and the Mona Lisa through their magic thingy and nothing is worth anything any more, but everyone has too much stuff. Did I mention the plot for world domination by Dr. Evil and his two sidekicks “Wally” and “Benji”?

Naw… couldn’t have, no way… 1945. . . Lets just say the idea was in the air.

The point of Walter Benjamin’s original short essay was essentially:


Everything else is mass produced and reproduced. Why the archaic fetish surrounding the original wotk of art? Benjamin was a modernist and a marxian. He liked narratives of development and progress. I’ve read Bejamin’s Origins of German tragic Drama – whew.. what a slog! Quick recap: Cervantes and Shakespear make like John the baptist and announce the coming of the modern realistic character in fiction, thus prefiguring the modern individual bourgeois identity. Charles Taylor and Jean Baudrillard could have had a fine night’s drinking over this and never come to blows. The signifier always floats free, a wealthy bourgeois society with nifty tech just speeds the plow. Whats next? A
post-modern treatise on the lack of originality in pop music?

Did you know that Shakespear had a late play – now lost but noted by contemporaries – that featured a cameo by Don Quixote? And that Milton’s description of Paradise was lifted chapter and verse from Montaigne’s description of the idillic state of nature supposedly enjoyed by the aboriginal (non-pants-wearing) population of the east coast of America before the Virginia colonists messed things up? Dig out your copy of “The Canibals” and then read Milton, and maybe even Koj√®ve. Why do I mention this?

The whole becoming animal thing trotted out in Azuma is a cultural artifact born out of vernacular euroethnic christianity facing the other in the guise of mythical new world savage; Garden of Eden, noble savage, Arial or Caliban; all so many recycled goth – loli character tropes in maid outfits and cat-ears. Eden meant a whole different thing to Euro-peasants before 1492.

PS.. If a certain Wrong-headed prof at the University of South Western Ontario – who trashed my research on this, later pinched this little find, all I can say is phtttttttttt! Said clown exclaimed to a class full of impressionable undergraduates that Montaigne was a racist. Irony? Sarcasm? the drye mocke? Duh!

On the subject of petty tyranies, there is another explanation for strategies of cynical reading mentioned by Azuma; one that Zizek grew up with. Opression is still a reality in human existence. The great fallen marxist project is often taken as a dead grand narrative, but the story behind it, and the story behind western capitalist democracies –
That we are more than self-reproducing farm equipment!
– remains a work in progress. Free individuals have the right to their respective dreams, and that right extends to playing mix-n-match with them, individually, or as part of a community of play. And if the State, power, wealth and capital seek to stifle your life, play can be a vehicle for all manner of subversions.


Research notes: About Montaigne’s Canibals and Milton – the passage about Eden pops up in Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism, but the link is never mentioned.
At the time, I assumed this is a well-know minor “easter egg” in classical studies, but perhaps not.
Also, I don’t know enough early Japanese literature to venture a definite statement on this, but I feel that as in europe, times of peace and economic surplus invariably lead to satyrical, mix-n-match, fantastic works that poke fun at power. Anyone out there an expert in Tokugawa vs Edo period shunga? Was it all naughty bits, or were there political/ class subversions in the texts?

Still with Azuma . . .

Next up… one or several Lupins…