A Communication from the Dead

Paul Dixon
Missoula, Montana

Once upon a time "a specter was haunting Europe." More recently someone had the good sense to simulate this statement and this truth./1/ That was a nice piece of work--both the first and the last. But there are other "specters" haunting the spectral world of capital circulation and infinite accumulation. There is now, in fact, an entire world of ghosts out there. I am a ghost. And I now wish to communicate with you from the world of shades.

Which world is "real"? If the real world is "hyper-real," what is one to say about the old realm of shadows? Is this nothing but the second order simulacrum,/2/ simulacrum that is "the real"? Is this nothing but the remnants of the old splitting system, the system which ran on the ideal-real distinction? To be sure, it is at the very least this. But, then, the "second order simulacrum" was itself "second order." So it, too, is just a remnant of another, even older, simulation machine. Dare we say "first order"? First order from the standpoint of "the third"?--or just "first order"? At any rate, in the "first-order system," the first-order machine ran by making ghosts, finding ghosts, and marking the communication between ghosts. In the first-order machine, it is the communication between "spirits"--ghosts and specters, by the names given in other systems--that is "the code."

In the second-order system, as in the system of Marx, "commodities speak among one another."/3/ In the third-order system, this attempt to make them speak, in the plain language of "enlightened critique," is subjugated to another code. In the third-order system "real speech" turns itself inside out and vanishes into the semiotic system of "signifiers communicating with other signifiers."/4/ Here language, and especially coded writing, reestablishes itself as the new kingdom of the living dead.

Commodities were, in a certain sense, a lively group of "dead things," which fascinated an entire order of necrophiliacs, while redefining a world. And I suppose one could even remark that from these moving "dead things"--things circulating capital, mediating between something called money become something called capital on both sides of an unbalanced "equation" (C-M-C gone over to M-C-M)/5/--the kingdom of "lively dead signs" took off and reasserted itself. But whence the power of these systems? Whence all power? Whence "dead power"?/6/ Is it not the case that "all power" belongs to the notion and field of "dead power," by reference to a signified? Signifiers "speak" to one another. But what do they talk about? Do they not talk about their ancestors? Are they not telling tales about me and my friends--about the shades, the honorable dead, the world of ghosts and specters, daemons and saints, daimones and theoi, potnia thea and theos? In what place does one arrive when one "listens in on the garbled communications" of the epigonoi? Make no mistake. It is the dead who have power, for only the dead are free.

Culture--the machine--runs on transcendence. But transcendence runs on the circulation of "the dead." For the longest time, and still today, cultures have only maintained themselves by processing the dead. They also only maintain themselves by "creating more dead." The Western culture--a particularly virulent and particularly important variant on this more universal system of culture in general--runs through death to infinity. This, its "Christian truth," it reveals daily. The road to life-everlasting--here I won't say "whose road" or "whats road," but only--the road to power is death. But again, what do the old honored dead, indeed, the dead who know, as the dead have always known, "all things," have to say amongst themselves? Aren't you even curious? But then, how are you to communicate with the dead?

Listen carefully. There is a certain whisper all around you, a real babble of tongues. Of course, it sounds like a babble to you, because you can only speak your own language, at the most, only a few of the languages of "your times." But even if you lay hands on a "dead language," it seems curiously hard to "talk with these honored dead." I wonder why? But, then, I always have to remember, remember that you think you are alive. I even have to remember who I am trying to communicate with: "Americans." These are the people who fear death with a passion beyond all other passions. These are the people who create heaps of dead in their attempts to live as they are forever. In this passion, however, they, perhaps even you, have piled up a virtual Roman legion, cohort upon cohort, of deadly dead at their/your very doorstep(s). But, again, communicating with those who think they are only alive is such tedious business. Even the dead get tired of trying such as this. There is, after all, so much more of greater interest than communicating with the dead who think they are living. I can always go speak with Plato, or Antigone, or Hegel, or Marx. I can drop in on an argument between Wollstonecraft and Rousseau. So why bother to speak with you? And how am I to convince you that I am dead? There, you see, is the problem. You have such a bizarrely inadequate notion of especially the dead.

There are, as I just said, virtual--is that real?--cohorts of dead, walking amongst you right now. They swing out in formation, cutting this way and that. And these cohorts measure off and take the measure of the cohorts of the living dead, who think they are alive. But even in the realm of the dead there is difference. Again, here your Christianized sentiments, belonging to your most Christian and most catholic world, that world of infinite and infinitely invasive power, blocks all access to such as these or such as me for you. You have no ear for such as us. "All equal in the eyes of God." All equal save God. God, who, by any other name is princeps, "first among equals." Or to translate again: "All equal under Roman Law." Your "difference" is the identity of indiscernibles. Your "communities" a community of insult. You have no ear and no feel for the old virtues. Equal--yes, but in what? Aias equal to and surpassing Achilles, for a time and in an act, with respect to a virtue called courage. Odysseus equal to and surpassing Agamemnon, for a time in an activity and with respect to a virtue called "cunning." Medea, like Clytemnestra, frighteningly equal to but surpassing all others, for a time and in action with respect to a virtue called "rage"--rage, which in the hands of another of the equally unequal dead, one Plato, marks off the seat of that, which in this its first fateful presentation, is what you will call "free will"./7/ So all equal and unequal together, these dead disport with one another. And as to wisdom, well, there's the rub for you again: for some are equal but surpass all others in this as well, even amongst the dead. And all you know is reduction--reduction to yourselves, to a nothing surpassing nothing. Yours is the world of absolute injustice: the rule of better by worse. And all of this in the name of God-given "equality."

The dead are a frightful lot for the living-dead who think they are living. But, again, I shall not convince you or anyone like you of even this. For you I will remain a ghost, a mere specter, something glimpsed but never seen, save, of course, as a glimpse, from the corner of your eye. Or to let old Mr. Nietzsche speak, "something to be forgotten on the instant," but since, once glimpsed, it cannot be forgotten, "something to be reactively repressed."/8/ For you, I have in fact been receding in the course of even this discourse. There is much too much "I-You" here for you. But, again, be reminded that in the German, whence even your American English, one always speaks with gods, God, ghosts, animals and children in the "Du-Ihr" forms, that is, in the familiar. Strange, is it not, that English, which, unlike the new German, has no "Sie," no formal third person plural made singular, cannot tolerate the "you" in print. You have so little knowledge of yourselves, you who think you are alive.

But, of course, a few of "you" may still want to know what it is that I am talking about; perhaps, even more precisely, more particularly, what particular message I bring to you from the realm of shades, shadows, hobbgobblins, and saints. In five pages you want "some useful information." But there you go again, thinking in the order of the living-dead who think they are living. You are thinking in the mode of the machine, the culture, the self-perpetuation device, altered now by western civilization, so as to run on to an infinity of perpetuating by producing and intensifying all worses from and over all betters. Here, then, is a coded message from the dead, coded and fitted to your five and ten page discourse form: "Ethos--ethizo." To translate poorly: "field of habituation and the becoming accustomed," then "habituating," "to be or become accustomed or used to." Here is another: "God" spelled backwards--"god" as half-reflexive anagram, hence lamed or enigmatically reflexive palindrome--is "dog."

And here is something for the code-breakers, the would-be hackers, who think they know how to hack because they play with computers, but know nothing of real hacking in the first-order simulation system where there are no "simulacra," in the old system of "analogies" that cut and slice, the world of double-axes. "Dog" is "kyõn." But "kyõn" is both "ho" and "he," "he" and "ho," that is, heho, woman/man dog, man-dog and woman-dog. Dog is confusing. And dog, "the Dog," is what old dead Socrates swore by. Real cynics--like Diogenes--are dogs capable of biting the hand that feeds. "Get out of my sunlight, Alexander!" Dogs also mate indiscriminately: Sons and Mothers, Brothers and Sisters, Daughters and Fathers, all manner of Offspring with their Ancestors--Grandpa and Grandma; they'll even try it Mother to Daughter, Daughter to Mother, and Father to Son, and Son to Father. They'll even go further and take "human lovers." And lo and behold, "dog," that is "kyõn," even seems to cross major language divides. "Kyõn" somehow mutated itself within the transformation of Mexican-Indian and Spanish. Somehow we got from "Nahuatl" to "coyotl." But we, nice English-German speakers that we are, don't even say "coyote." We say, "kyote." And so you see, even you are speaking some Greek without knowing it, while the old dead Greeks were speaking some Greek, while knowing that they were speaking in part the language of their old dead ancestors. And speaking Greek, you are speaking the language of one old dead Socrates, one old dead Plato, in which language "dog" is "kyõn--kyote," and "kyõn--kyote," like the coyote, is "a tricky little devil," a real "eirõn," whence, by lengthy motions obscuring in the end nothing important, irony: a very interesting mode of "pretense."

But time is short and space dearly precious in your world of print. So you, with ears to hear and hands to touch--even noses to smell a stench where there is one--will have to complete the coding-decoding procedures. Ethos--ethizõ. Read the "wolf-dog," the kyon/kyote/coyote, as the "--". For you it has always only been read "one way" and to "infinity," always read out in advance by the machine made "Christian," that is, as "God." Read in the "--" all means gone to ends in themselves: counselled/in council choosing, gone to "free-choice," whence "freewill," whence "freedom"; and this, with the help of the means as end called money, gone to "infinite Power." Read to the origins that aren't supposed to be there any more, but are, are and are in the keeping of the dead. Read and then learn to read, as once it was written by the dead, "boustrophedon." Plow the field, turning the ox, and so back and forth you go, reading as once inscribed, backwards and forwards, forwards and backwards. Read your heart and soul out. Read against your world, against your "texts," and against your "publishing houses." And when you are done reading, and when you try "to write," then perhaps you, too, will find yourself to be as dead as me: you, too, will know what power is, what "ethos--ethizõ" has to do with it. You, too, will come to know that even means have a substratum. And you, too, will know why you are now to me walking shades, amidst a host of others who have become as permeable now as light itself. Then you will know that only other "ghosts" have any real weight or opacity. And you will have learned to measure greatness of soul and of deed by just this opacity, an opacity to which you must "speak," speaking always to something like unto yourself, but different. But then, as I just said, you, too, will be dead to the other living-dead, who think they are living. And then, we can talk.

By a Dead Man, called Dixon
Missoula, Montana, August 1991

Notes from the Living and the Dead

  1. Jean Baudrillard, The Mirror of Production, trans. by Mark Poster (St. Louis: Telos Press, 1975), 17: "A specter haunts the revolutionary imagination: the phantom of production. "A Specter is haunting Europe--the specter of Communism"--the first lines of the Manifesto of the Communist Party. And now that "communism is dead," it too has entered the world of the dead.[Back]

  2. See Baudrillard, "Symbolic Exchange and Death" (excerpts from L'Echange symbolique et la mort, trans. by Jacque Mourrain) in Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford University Press, 1988), esp. 135-141.[Back]

  3. Karl Marx, Das Kapital, I, I, I, 4. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 1, Book I. The Process of Capitalist Production, trans. (from the 3rd German Edition) by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, ed. by Frederick Engels (New York: International Publishers, 1967), "The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof," esp. 83.[Back]

  4. The point here may be read out of the previous passage from Marx. There the commodities say the following: "Our use-value may be a thing that interests men. It is no part of us as objects. What, however, does belong to us as objects, is our value. Our natural intercourse as commodities proves it. In the eyes of each other we are nothing but exchange-values."--Ibid. It is this "system of exchange"--circulating, by way of defining, meaning, instead of capital--that constitutes semiotic theory. This recognition then dislodges the priority of "the signified" in favor of the process of signification. And the process of signification is only a matter of signs referring to (speaking with) other signs, or so the theory goes. Here, one need only look at a "dictionary" to understand the point: everything is defined only in terms of everything else, thus words defining words, and within this, a la Saussure, phonemic units, butting up against other phonemic units, constituting words. Splitting the linguistic "atom" was then the work of Derrida in "Differance."--See Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. by Alan Bass (University of Chicago Press, 1982), 1ff.--But there may be other kinds of signifieds than merely those constructed by linguistic signification systems. Sense would be one such field, hence, the body. And "dead bodies"--that is, the world of ghosts--might then be conceived as that which communicates between systems.[Back]

  5. Here "C" is "Commodity," M" is "Money." The form of "money" that is defined more specifically by the circulation through "commodities" is then "capital." But "capital" does not appear here in the abbreviations, because the entire system is what defines "capital." In other words capital is not locatable as a "thing," even to the extent that "money" in the older monetary systems of the mercantile era, systems which viewed money as a "third thing" or medium of exchange, could be viewed as a thing, such as coin, gold or silver, etc. In such systems one could still attempt to accumulate wealth by hoarding money. In the capital system, this would become counterproductive to the accumulation of wealth. There are, of course, other aspects to the capital system in its full appearance as a system--investment and industrialization. And in a certain sense Marx is already aware that in investment capitalism, money itself has become something of a commodity. But for the "simple formulae" presented here, see Marx, Capital, op. cit. 147, and the prior analysis in Part 1, Chapter III, "Money, or the circulation of Commodities."

    Problems arise within the Marxist analysis, because Marx ties the capital system directly to industrialization, hence production. His entire "social theory" depends on this; and such industrialization was the predominant movement of his time. It is then this tie to production (with its ideological baggage of "use" and "need"--the entire system of second order simulacra) which Baudrillard critiques. But even historically one can see, for instance, in the Dutch commercial empire of the 17th century, that the system of production and the system of investment are not linked to the extent or in the manner that Marx would maintain. Or what is perhaps more fascinating, even if the links are there, still the investment system appears on the scene early on as the condition for industrialization and maintains itself throughout the "Industrial Revolution," in such a way that it could reemerge as the super-system--the system surrounding the industrial-productive system. The entire problem thus becomes one of "necessary linkage," or in the language of Enlightenment philosophy, "necessary connection" or "causality." The capital system does not appear to be "necessitated by," nor "necessarily connected to" the production system. Instead it appears as a kind of "transcendental condition of the possibility for" such industrialization. And being more of the order of a Kantian "transcendental condition," renders it subject to the old logic of such "transcendental systems." All such systems are hyberbolic, hence "hyper-real." Their structures are never reducible to "real events," etc., because they define the framework of "real events." And the chief analogue for such systems is, and has for a long time been recognized to be, language. Human communities, human communities become societies, are not possible without language, yet language is more than merely "condition for," it is also the field for the "hyperbolic extension of" the "real." And in this way the capital system appears in the very position of the Greek logos; and as hypostatized, it appears as the step taken beyond Plato, when the Christians "granted being" to the idea of the Good, thus appearing as well in the position of the Christian God.

    From the above, it should become apparent that Baudrillard, among others working in such a framework of analysis, is not merely describing advanced capitalism and the social configurations belonging to it. He is, rather, analyzing and critiquing--opening us to view--the very field of power-configurations, belonging most especially to Western civilization. Here, for instance, we find out that "God," hence, as well, the basis of language conceived under the aegis of the Christian use of the logos (the "word"), is an empty signified, a hollow center or "black-(w)hole," around which spins an entire universe. This "nothingness" at the center of signification thus turns out to be a supreme organizing principle for all systems of power, the power of naming and the power of social-systems and governments that rest on the "investiture" of the signified. Strangely, however, "investment" divests itself in the end of this "investiture." The "orbital-system" of money moving around the globe at the speed of light (communications-linked stock exchanges) absolutely mobilizes and thus actualizes the principle of the hollow center. And thus one finds out that the "nothingness" at the center actually had quite a bit of "weight," of "mass." "Real nothingness" then becomes an actual phenomenon--or what is the same thing, reality becomes overdetermined as real, hence "hyperreal." This is like asserting that the existentialist stage, the barren stage, the stage of the absurd, was in no way absurd; but when the full absurdity actually appears, it does so as the absurdly overdetermined and repetitious order of materiality--the surfeit of the surface. It is thus the overstuffed, overdetermined world of consumer society that gives full expression to the absurd, and this then reactivates any number of reactionary attempts to "return to a simpler order"--thus to the old system of the "real," the myth of the real. Power, governments and capital establishments, then attempt to retain power in the same way, thus, by invoking the old signification system and the old signified. But such systems engage a contradiction in that they are themselves engaged in the disintegration-actualization of that which is invoked. But at this level problems of other remnants recur as well. So, for instance, "use-value" and "need" do not wholly disappear along with their ideological frameworks. In fact, nothing old disappears. And thus everything old and older than old must be reanalyzed, reanalyzed in the "absence of," thus in the "full presence of," the real, the real become hyper-real.

    Here one does not follow the path of rejection, but rather the path of possible uses. Still, how does one "use" the "capital system," without being used by it? The uses are obviously there: For instance, no absolute capitalist cares anything about "private property" at the level of capital production and accumulation. Capital liquidates all notions of "property," these becoming useful only as a screen for litigation. And so Marx's predictions become truer than true, but in a form that no one knows how to use, and few even recognize. But, then, many things are missing from this system of recognition. There is, for instance, no adequate analysis of the meaning of the political as different from "the social," or "the corporate." And it is these meanings that now haunt the world and the world of theory. And for knowledge of these meanings one needs to "talk with the dead." For whether in theory or fact, other worlds have had other meanings than merely those meanings which have led to our world, even other meanings for the very institutional occurrences which produced our world. And finally, again, all of these worlds, tribal, civil, and even our hyper-real, uncivilized civil, have all been based on transcendence, the movement through death, and the movement which always uses "the dead," or at the very least, redefines "the dead" as the "dead flesh," matter and matrix, hence woman. Cf. Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes, the section on "Die sittliche Welt. Das menschliche und gottliche Gesetz, der Mann und das Weib"; then Luce Irigaray, on Hegel's section, in Speculum of the Other Woman (Speculum de l'autre femme, Les Edition de Minuit, 1914), trans. Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), "The Eternal Irony of the Community "; finally, one could then attempt to find the aspect of "death" and the play of "the dead," in Baudrillard's response, utilizing transvestitism, to Irigaray's section on Hegel's section, by the same name as Irigaray's section, in De la seduction (Paris: Editions Galilée, 1979).[Back]

  6. For a good summation of the field and meaning of "dead power," see Arthur Kroker, The Postmodern Scene: Excremental Culture and HyperAesthetics (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986), 95ff. References are generally to Baudrillard ("Forgetting Foucault") and Roland Barthes, with a host of others coming into play: Bataille, Benjamin, Kafka, Irigaray, Lyotard, Debord, Deleuze, Guattari, Cixous, et. al., and always Foucault, who is being anything but "forgotten."[Back]

  7. Plato, Politeia (Republic), in the discussion of the parts of the city/parts of the soul, book IV, where he discusses the "raging blood soul," the "thymos."[Back]

  8. Here I combine Nietzsche's virtue of animals with Nietzsche's view of the chief vice of humans--that is, the field of ressentiment, which yields finally the vice of "pity."[Back]

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