A Matrix of Melancholia: Mark Fisher and Jean Baudrillard

‘Cinema is the art of appearances, tells us something about reality itself. It tells us something about how reality constitutes itself. There is an old gnostic theory that our world was not perfectly created. That the God who created our world was an idiot who bangled the job so that our world is a half-finished creation. There are voids, openings, gaps, it’s not fully real, fully constituted. In the wonderful scene, in the last instalment of the Alien Saga, ‘Alien Resurrection’ (1997), when Ripley, the cloned Ripley, enters a mysterious room, she encounters the previous, failed version of herself […] Just a horrified creature, a small foetus-like entity, then more developed forms. Finally, a creature that almost looks like her, but her limbs are like that of the monster. This means that all the time, our previous, ultimate embodiments, what we might have been, but are not, that this ultimate versions of ourselves are haunting us. That’s the ontological view of reality, that we get here. As if it’s an unfinished universe. This is, I think, a very modern feeling, it is true, such ontology of unfinished reality, that cinema became a truly modern art.’

 Slavoj Žižek, ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema’

What’s so frustrating about the characters Jason Statham tends to portray, is their melancholic disposition, the subservience and passive acceptance to an order of appearances that seems to drive humanity towards its own destruction. There is a perverse maturity to this cynicism, however, a sadness that asks what a single man can do against such reckless hatred? Even so, at no point does Jonas Taylor, the protagonist of ‘The Meg’ (2018), for example, question the ontological nature of the world he has just saved – the metastatic world of decadence and ecstatic communication, finding representation in Sanya Bay, for instance. (Who is he to judge, after all?) In this way, Jonas Taylor, in particular, represents a philosophy of preservation without question; in other words, a philosophy of simple obedience.

What’s more frustrating is a trilogy of films like ‘The Matrix Saga’, particularly the final film of that trilogy, ‘The Matrix Revolutions’ (2003) in which the character, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), full of a paradoxical faith in his reality inside Zion, looks to the sky and says, ‘I imagined this moment, for so long.’ Tears form in his eyes. ‘Is this real?’ He asks.

Compare, briefly, the expressions of the two characters within that brilliant scene. Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) stands, looking up at the retreating army of sentinel machines, a face characterised by pure alleviation and relief. She turns, drastically, to face Morpheus, (her own ‘referential’ of hope and optimistic faith (her love, no less)), who has retreated now, not towards another human being, but into the introspection of himself.  Niobe embraces Morpheus, holding him tightly, grounding herself (and him?) into something real, that is to say, into the referential of faith. Meanwhile, Morpheus closes his eyes, blinds himself, so to speak, to the knowledge that this just doesn’t feel real – something is off. ‘I imagined this moment, for so long. Is this real?’ The very formulation of this question, in the hour of victory, no less, seems revealing.

This is where the film should have begun, I claim; with a character being given the world in which they imagined, that is to say, a world they always desired, only to see them begin to question the manifestation of that very same world, as yet another potential simulation – a simulation they did not see coming. The fact that Niobe continues to embrace Morpheus, whilst Morpheus, on the other hand, tentatively looks away from her, back up towards the sky, is interesting. Moreover, it is coincidental, perhaps, how the scene cuts away to an establishing shot of the machine city, followed by a close-up of a blinded Neo (Keanu Reeves); a bandage wrapped around his eyes. The simulated nature of this secondary world, (the world occurring outside of the known simulation of the matrix), can be located, I think, in the strange, melodramatic, (almost silly) representation of the ‘machine city’ itself, which seems both weird and eerie. (I am recalling to mind, for instance, the ‘machine face’ that converses with Neo, towards the end of the trilogy.)

It is important to compare these twisted, grotesque machines, those who occupy the machine city, whom possess, in addition, a demonic-like quality in appearance, to their ‘programmed’ counterparts, the machine-minds, full of sentience and occasionally warm wisdom, that appear frequently in the illusory world of the Matrix. Take, for example, the conversation between Neo and Rama Kandra in ‘The Matrix Revolutions’.  Rama Kandra, we are told, is the machine ‘program’, the power plant systems’ manager for recycling operations.

Nevertheless, Rama appears warm and human; more human than human, perhaps? In fact, Rama is a thoroughly hyperreal mimicry of the human manifestation. ‘I love my daughter very much…’ He tells, Neo, ‘I find her to be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.’ Neo is confused, here; how can a computer program understand something as complex as love. It is a human emotion, after all. ‘No, it is a word.’ Rama replies. ‘What matters is the connection the word implies.’

In the essay, ‘The Slow Cancellation of the Future’, published in ‘Ghosts of my Life’, Mark Fisher writes how, ‘…any particular linguistic term gains its meaning not from its own positive qualities but from its difference from other terms.’ It can be said that these linguistic differences exist within a complex, virtual, spectral ‘cyberspace’ that recalls the absence of additional linguistic terms. These terms exist as a referential spectre. Fisher concludes: ‘… think of hauntology as the agency of the virtual, with the spectre understood not as anything supernatural, but as that which acts without (physically) existing.’ Alternatively, in ‘Fatal Strategies’, Jean Baudrillard writes, ‘Signs don’t draw up a contract of exchange with each other, but a pact of alliance.’ (Emphasis added.)

If the cohabitation of Neo and Rama, in a world reserved for the passing of computer programs, does not confirm Neo as yet another computer program, destined (programmed) to eradicate the violent, metastatic ghosts of the matrix, (finding representation in exiled program, Smith (Hugo Weaving), for example), then I don’t know what will. In fact, was the love between Rama and his daughter, in addition, programmed into them, more importantly, was the love between Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) also programmed? If so, does this programming, the sentience felt by all involved, make it any less real?

‘What is real?’ Morpheus asks Neo. ‘How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, taste and see then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.’

We know, in addition, from his conversations with the oracle and the architect of the matrix, for example, that Neo has faced a journey of Eternal Reoccurrence. Is this not the fate of a program carrying out its protocols, coming to fruition, before repeating again and again, cycling endlessly? In addition, can we not view the faith exhibited by Morpheus, especially towards the destiny of Neo, as something programmed into him? In this way, can we not view faith, in an ontological outlook, for instance, as a programmable paradigm?

Moreover, this conversation, between Rama and Neo, takes place within a train station, a subway terminal, a visual presentation of a ‘nowhere’ place, a (hyperreal) place that exists between both the world of the matrix, and the ‘elsewhere’ world where programs are created. (Interestingly enough, we never come to observe this world, or its functions.)

Within ‘The Slow Cancellation of the Future’, Fisher recalls the British television series ‘Sapphire and Steel’.

‘One aim of Sapphire and Steel was to transpose ghost stories out of the Victorian context and into contemporary places, the still inhabited or the recently abandoned. In the final assignment, Sapphire and Steel arrive at a small service station. Corporate logos – Access, 7 Up, Castrol GTX, LV – are pasted on the windows and the walls of the garage and the adjoining café. This ‘hallway place’ is a prototype version of what the anthropologist Marc Augé will call in a 1995 book of the same title, ‘non-places’ – the generic zones of transit (retail parks, airports) which will come to increasingly dominate the spaces of late capitalism.’

It is no matter of convenience that so much of late capitalism’s ‘non-places’ feature heavily in the mise en scène of ‘The Matrix Trilogy’. Consider, for example, the prevalence of these places, the frequent inclusion of elevators, subways, terminal stations, hotel lobbies… In fact, the entire environment of the Matrix, with all its illusory artifice, seems to be defined by the presence of a cultural expectation, the expectation, whilst saturated with the iconography of billboards and advertisement, of progressive modernity as something constantly in a state of progression – although thoroughly unhappy with itself, never settled; pushing forward to someplace, somewhere, endlessly.

The environment, as such, becomes the simulation of movement, progress, and communication. The consequence of this environment, a simulated progression towards increasingly compartmentalised (abstract) worlds of work and leisure, (perhaps?) as Fisher points out, develops into, with severe consequences, a culture that has ‘lost the ability to grasp and articulate the present.’ As Fisher recalls, ‘…in one very important sense, there is no present to grasp and articulate any more.’ In fact, within ‘The Slow Cancellation of the Future’, Mark Fisher explores the simulations inherent in contemporary culture. Culture, (music, especially), occurring at the turn of the century, that is to say, a culture built as the simulacrum of the past. Mark Ronson’s simulation of the ‘60s soul sound’, for example, or alternatively, as Fisher writes, Artic Monkeys’ ‘discrepancies in texture’ placing them; ‘neither to the present nor to the past but to some implied ‘timeless’ era, an eternal 1960s or an eternal 80s.’

It is wrong for Fisher to see these manifestations as a mere ‘cancellation of the future’ as, I claim, we should observe them, instead, as cancellations of the past; the attempts of a abstractive, vibrationally present ‘non-place’, built on the trajectory of neoliberal (hyper)capitalism, to assimilate and eradicate the ‘stagnant communication’ of some concrete past; with all its nuance, complexity, and perspective. This is the eradication and assimilation of the past, particularly, as a nostalgic birthing point of the lost referential – points of moral and ethical absolutism that are increasingly lost to us, optimistically speaking, assimilated into the relativism of the present. There is an attempt, through the cultural milieu, especially, to rewrite the past into another simulated, proliferated, replicated, ‘non-place’, a past captured through mediated forms – not for some peripheral, nostalgic purposes – but for the eradication (assimilation) of what no longer belongs here. After all, the only referential that should belong here, are those referentials built on the foundations of postmodern relativity, in other words, the relativity of the simulation itself. In this way, the future develops as a simulation in which the past has been thoroughly rewritten.

According to the ideals of progress – the kind that controls, with an everyday influence, thoughts and behaviour – the ‘evil past’, operating as a ‘referential’ to the ‘brilliant future’, is almost always presented as a place of gloom, doom and backwardness. (A backwardness, existing as a ‘tenacious myth’, that must be thoroughly overcome.) These days, the past becomes the simulation of a non-place, where women died in childbirth, children died without a bite to eat, and suffering and oppression were common place. Paradoxically speaking, this alleged world of horror and suffering simultaneously gave birth to a paradigm in which human beings also came to dominate all life on planet earth, filling the world with the ecstatic communication of fridge magnets and fast cars. Is this real? I will recall to your mind, Pentti Linkola’s ‘Can Life Prevail?’

‘We can now thank prosperity for bringing us – among other things – two million cars, millions of glowing, electronic entertainment boxes, and many unneeded buildings to cover the green earth. Surplus wealth has led to gambling in the marketplace and rampant social injustice, whereby ‘the common people’ end up contributing to the construction of golf courses, five-star hotels, and holiday resorts, while fattening Swiss bank accounts. Besides, the people of wealthy countries are the most frustrated, unemployed, unhappy, suicidal, sedentary, worthless and aimless people in history.’

It is fascinating how Mark Fisher writes of an eternal 1960s or an eternal 80s, when we consider, in ‘The Matrix’ (1999), for example, (the final, cinematic masterpiece of the twentieth century, perhaps?), a humanity that forever resides in an eternal simulation of the 1990s. Take, for instance, the address between Agent Smith and a captured, tortured Morpheus, as we head towards the climax of the earliest instalment of the franchise.

‘Have you ever stood and stared at it, marvelled at its beauty, its genius? Billions of people just living out their lives. Oblivious. Did you know that the first matrix was designed to be the perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster, no one would accept the program… Some believed that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world, but I believe, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. A perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the matrix was redesigned to this, the peak of your civilisation. I say your civilisation because as soon as we started thinking for you it really became our civilisation, which is, of course, what this is all about. Evolution, Morpheus. Evolution, like the dinosaur. Look out that window, you had your time, the future is our world. Morpheus, the future is our time.’

Is Agent Smith referring to the marvelled beauty, the genius of human civilisation, or rather to the machine matrix itself, a world where billions of people live out their lives, and so on, oblivious to the simulation? Interestingly enough, either side of this interpretation holds weight, since both the matrix and the ‘peak of human civilisation’ can be interpreted as totally illusory constructs, products of marvellous artifice, built on the foundations of a virtual trajectory. What’s so fascinating about these allegedly sentient machines, finding representation in Smith, is the inability to break away from the ‘referential’ nature of modern humanity, finding fruition in the Agent’s outlook on progress and evolution. A progressive future, a trajectory towards a utopianism, that has, perhaps, been lost, in addition, to the machine mind, after all, this is a machine sentience, an artificial intelligence, built in the image of human sentience.

It is interesting how Agent Smith, a reflection of the black-suited, ‘hard-power’ corporatism of the 1990s, is obsessed with both the progress and evolution of his own machine civilisation, and yet comes to develop an incompatibility. He develops, gradually, overtime, into a virus that must be thoroughly eradicated from the same system (trajectory) he once served. (His eradication occurs at the hands of another program, Neo.) Only through the eradication of Smith’s belief in progress, (whatever that may look like for an artificial intelligence’s perspective), can harmony between the machine consciousness and human existence finally be achieved, in other words, there is a maintenance of an equilibrium, here. In another scene, once again, addressing the captured, tortured Morpheus, Agent Smith asks:

‘Can you hear me, Morpheus? I’m going to be honest with you. I hate this place, this zoo, this prison, this reality, whatever you want to call it, I can’t stand it any longer. It’s the smell – if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink; and every time I do, I fear that I have somehow been infected by it. It’s repulsive. Isn’t it? I must get out of here. I must get free, and this mind is the key. My key. Once Zion is destroyed there is no need for me to be here. Do you understand? …I need to get inside Zion.’

In terms of Agent Smith, the philosophy of progress exists in tandem with resentment and misanthropy. This reveals, I claim, the nature of progressive values as concealing a hatred for the existence of the present, which must be constantly worked upon, a philosophy where society will always perceive the iconography of the present as the iconography of its own ‘backwardness’, a stink that must be thoroughly eradicated. Ergo, progress develops as a philosophy of self-loathing and resentment. This is why our progressive societies must always occupy a virtual future, a virtual trajectory, whereby the present must be dominated by the iconography, the sign-values, so to speak, of human progress (technological and economic, for example). (The ideologies of progress are something we continuously observe in the ecstatic communication of consumer culture, for example, with each newly-released, upgraded, worked-upon commodity.) The future is only ever a day away; whilst the present, on the other hand, is designed to remind us of the future, with the present’s incessant replaying of the past, that is to say, a simulated past as an operative ‘referential’ for a simulated future. Stagnancy, particularly in regards to things like economics and social justice, in this case, becomes a referential evil, a threat to survival, that must be thoroughly overcome.

When you really think about it, achievements, particularly in terms of social justice, for example, have not really occurred from the mindset of relativity and progress, but rather from a paradigm of pure absolutism, the absolutist philosophy, for instance, of a principled, human equality. (Absolutism in The Golden Rule, for instance.) These achievements were born, not of progress, or social democracy, but perhaps from a collective consciousness that always existed, manifesting, perhaps, in the earliest religions of the world, albeit lost in the atomisation of the self. This lost, collective ontology worked towards an equilibrium with the cosmic order, perhaps, whilst simultaneously seeking the eradication of exploitative, fascistic materialism. This materialism continuously seeking the atomised – relative – alleviation of suffering, particularly at the expense of other agents in the world; exploited agents who are, more often than not, viewed as thoroughly lesser beings. This was the case with slave ownership, for example. One contention persists in how the abolition of slavery only occurred when slaves became more beneficial as agents in a progressive trajectory geared, increasingly, towards commodity consumption. In other words, agents were freed (assimilated) into a mode of being in the world that thoroughly diffused a revolutionary potential.

Either way, the victories of emancipation have been thoroughly absorbed into the mythology of progress. In addition, the nature of suffering, particularly as a ‘referential evil’, goes hand in hand with both the trajectory of progress, and the trajectories of religion. Every day, these trajectories appear, increasingly, like the beliefs of a religious cult, built on the foundations of a mythological past. The melancholia that defines the twenty-first century emanates from this cult’s inability to materialise a satisfying destination, a lost absolutism, a lost referential, so to speak, since the trajectory of civilisation must always remain virtual, always hyperreal. It is easy to imagine our current trajectory’s path, as a path of mass extinction, no less, when you consider those religious cults, failing to manifest a tangible destination for its followers, resulting in mass suicide. Death is the only plausible destination, here.

In many ways, the 1990s was a thoroughly unsatisfying destination since it was built on an illusory faith. A faith driven by the idea that suffering, standing as a ‘referential evil’, was not something to be integrated into daily existence, but rather something to be thoroughly eradicated, marginalised, ignored. These days, the utopian ideals of progress, preached by progressives the world over, have developed towards a virtual trajectory that exists, allegedly, on the right side of history. Ironically, the right side of history will actually occupy a world in which the cults of progress, full of cancerous metastasis, will be thoroughly eradicated. After all, survival must be defined by an equilibrium, not progress.

It is ironic that Agent Smith, towards the end of the trilogy, manifests into a reflection of ‘the virus’ he observes in humanity. In fact, the matrix seems like an ideal way for the machine world to encapsulate the paradoxical, rational ‘human’ hatred for existence, in the form of a program (Agent Smith), that can become eradicated by the irrational ‘human’ love for existence, taking shape in another program, (Neo). The matrix becomes a world where human sentience, alongside the human residue of a machine consciousness, (both full of paradox), can endlessly reoccur. In this way, the matrix develops as a program of regulation. It is not difficult to imagine this machine sentience as a sentience infused with human incompatibilities and paradox, incompatibilities that must be regulated to an elsewhere world; a simulacrum. Even so, the machine world believes itself to be morally superior to humanity, since it can live in accordance to a harmonious equilibrium – an equilibrium achieved through the interplay of compartmentalised worlds. Once again, talking to Morpheus, Agent Smith shares a revelation:

‘I’d like to share a revelation I’ve had, during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realised that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal, on this planet, instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern, do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease. A cancer of this planet. You are a plague, and we are the cure.’

Firstly, it is implied, through Smith’s revelation, that humanity is best defined as a thoroughly lesser species, as a virus; this is self-evident in the pontification, here. Through this analysis, however, Smith also implies something of the machine world itself. According to Smith, this must be a world occupying a paradigm of equilibrium. In this way, the artificial intelligence – the machine world – developed as a ‘cure’ to humanities imbalance, AI is seen, by Smith, at least, as an evolutionary progression, an improvement on humanities’ recklessness. It is fascinating how an artificial intelligence, a program, like Agent Smith, for example, can come to this personal revelation, almost as if this revelation was, in some way, a programmed manifestation, an inevitability that came to fruition during his time in the matrix – ‘I’d like to share a revelation I’ve had, during my time here.’ Through his exposure to ‘the stink’ of humanity, there develops, inside Agent Smith, a hatred for humanity; a hatred so powerful that Smith, in fact, becomes the virus he despises, existing, eventually, outside of the delicate equilibrium of the matrix. In Smith’s desire for the eradication of a liberated humanity, (a liberation finding representation in the existence of Zion), Smith’s own existence, that is to say, his being in the world, can finally come to an end – ‘I can taste your stink; and every time I do, I fear that I have somehow been infected by it.’ Moreover, it is implied, throughout the trilogy, that Smith’s existence is insufferable to him – ‘I must get free, and this mind is the key. My key. Once Zion is destroyed there is no need for me to be here. Do you understand?’

Secondly, similar to Neo’s conceptions of love, as a human emotion, can we not view this hatred in a similar way? It seems the matrix becomes the model, the means, in which the machines themselves are able to function, within these processes of eternal reoccurrence, that is to say, within an equilibrium. It is fascinating how both the human emotions of love and hate manifest in the artificial consciousnesses, the programs, that come to define the machine world. I claim the human element, the residue of the human condition, especially within the machine consciousness, (built in the image of human sentience, remember?), is regulated by the matrix itself, which is why the existence of the matrix was far more than a means of power relay, in fact – the matrix was absolutely necessary to the machine’s own survival in terms of a regulatory system of the machine’s human residue. Morpheus states that the matrix was the source of the machine city’s power, a means of harvesting naturally-occurring human energy, in this way, however, I claim the matrix was actually the source of the machine world’s equilibrium. It became the means in which the human and the machine could coexist. ‘I love my daughter very much…’ Rama tells Neo, ‘I find her to be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.’ Rama’s daughter, Sati, is a collective representation of the human element, of course, a consciousness sent to the matrix, by Rama, a machine program, as a means of protection.

“Are you from the Matrix?” Sati asks Neo.

“Yes, no.” Neo replies. “I mean, I was.”

“Sati, come here, darling.” Rama calls from the subway platform. “Leave the poor man in peace.”

“Yes, Papa.”

“I am sorry, she is still very curious.

Does it seem unusual for the machine mind, the AI consciousness, to both love and despise its human creator? This is, after all, the same human creator, full of curiosity, that gave birth to a sentient, intelligent race of machines. It seems the matrix becomes a world where the human conceptions of love and hate formulate, in the minds of programs, at least, only to become eradicated by one another, before the cycle repeats, endlessly, through Eternal Reoccurrence. In other words, the reoccurrence develops as the equilibrium itself. I will recall to your mind an opening scene of the trilogy, where Morpheus explains the origins of the matrix.

‘This is the world that you know. The world as it was at the end of the twentieth century. It exists now only as a neuro-interactive simulation that we call the matrix. You’ve been living in a dream world, Neo. This is the world as it exists today. Welcome to the desert of the real. We have only bits and pieces of information but what we know for certain is that at some point in the early twenty-first century, all of mankind was united in celebration. We marvelled in our own magnificence as we gave birth to AI [Artificial Intelligence]. A singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of machines. We don’t know who struck first – us or them – but we know that it was us that scorched the sky. At the time, they were dependant on solar power, and it was believed that they would be unable to survive without an energy source as abundant as the sun. Throughout human history, we have been dependant on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.’

Several points of contention arise with Morpheus’ explanation, here. Firstly, how does Morpheus know this is not a secondary dream world, a secondary neuro-interactive simulation, a simulation of the desert of the real, which appears, less like a desert, and more like a potent landscape, complete with thunder, lightning, and the ruins of a twenty-first century civilisation? In terms of Baudrillardian analysis, this is where problems within the matrix trilogy arise – not as a good representation of the hyperreal, but rather as a misreading, since Baudrillard’s ‘desert of the real’ is thoroughly indistinguishable from true reality. Why? Because true reality does not really exist, since, once again, ‘the simulacrum is never what hides the truth – it is the truth that hides the fact that there is none.’ Ironically, I believe Jean Baudrillard’s problem with ‘The Matrix’ arises from this reading of a misreading. (After all, The Matrix is a poor representation of the Borges fable, whereby the map of the empire, and the empire itself, becomes thoroughly indistinguishable.) Within the Matrix, there is a clear difference between the matrix, and the allegedly true reality that Morpheus occupies; in other words, there is an apparent distinguishability. The operative word here is apparent, since the world Morpheus occupies seems, in addition, thoroughly illusory. It is perhaps another dream world, another neuro-interactive simulation, only questioned when Morpheus is given the world he envisioned. “I imagined this moment, for so long. Is this real?” Ironically speaking, Morpheus has defined his reality – up until this point – through misery and suffering. These conceptions of misery and suffering have been sustained by a tertiary subject; that is of Morpheus’ faith. A faith in the fateful trajectory of ‘The One’ to deliver a liberation from the machine construct. Our own misery and suffering are defined, I claim, by a similar faith. A faith in the fateful trajectory of progress as leading towards the alleviation of both our misery and suffering.

Peripherally speaking, a secondary point of evidence for this theory arises with Morpheus’ explanation of this race of machines, particularly in regards to their dependence on solar power. This theory seems incompatible with ‘The Matrix Revolutions’, since we see Neo and Trinity breach the storm clouds, where Trinity sees the sublime brilliance of the sun, for the first time in her life, whispering the word, ‘Beautiful’, before the ship, like Icarus, plummets back down towards the machine city. We are led to believe that this artificial intelligence, whilst creating a complex matrix world to enslave humanity, were simultaneously unable to create a suitable means of breaching this cloud coverage, accessing ‘an energy source as abundant as the sun.’ This moment reveals, I claim, the true purpose of the matrix, not merely as a source of power for the machine world, but as the model in which the machine consciousness achieves its own equilibrium. However, for the human subject, of course, this equilibrium seems thoroughly undesirable. In ‘Fatal Strategies’, Baudrillard writes:

‘Each of us secretly prefers an arbitrary and cruel order, one that leaves us no choice, to the horrors of a liberal one where we don’t even know what we want, where we are forced to recognize that we don’t know what we want; for in the former case we are consigned to maximal determination, and in the second to indifference. Everyone secretly prefers an order so rigorous, as unfolding of events so arbitrary (or so illogical, as with fate or ceremony) that the slightest disturbance can make the whole thing collapse – everyone prefers this to the dialectical workings of reason, where a finalizing logic dominates all accidents of language.’

 ‘Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.’ 

Even so, progress, in this way, becomes a utopian vision that will never materialise, but instead continue recklessly towards a trajectory of a utopian faith that, in addition, conceals the utopia’s very absence, particularly as a state of equilibrium. (The equilibrium necessary for human survival.) In Baudrillard’s thinking, this was, technically speaking, the utopia of modernism that had already been realised in the late twentieth century, yet seemed, in hindsight, deeply inadequate, as this world, paradoxically speaking, could not exist without a sense of continuous, virtual trajectory. (The trajectory of a metastatic economic growth, for instance.)

In the essay, ‘On Nihilism’, appearing in ‘Simulacra and Simulation’, Baudrillard writes, ‘There are cultures that have no imaginary except of their origin and have no imaginary of their end. There are those that are obsessed by both…’, he concludes, ‘It is this melancholia that is becoming our fundamental passion.’

Fisher, on the other hand, locates the melancholic hauntology, defined in ‘The Slow Cancellation of the Future’, as perhaps, the result of ‘neoliberal capitalism’s destruction of solidarity and security’, a destruction (eradication) that ‘brought about a compensatory hungering for the well-established and the familiar[.]’ In other words, the virtual trajectory of neoliberal capitalism, infected by hauntological awareness, became haunted by an absolutism, that is to say, a lost referential that we can now only recall through simulated nostalgia. Compare, briefly, Fisher’s conclusion with Baudrillard’s statement in ‘On Nihilism’, ‘Melancholia is the inherent quality of the mode of disappearance of meaning, of the mode of the volatilization of meaning in operational systems. And we are all melancholic.’

In the introduction to Baudrillard’s ‘Fatal Strategies’, Dominic Pettman, writes:

‘To come of age in the late 1980s and early 1990s was to find oneself in a sociopolitical echo chamber, robbed even of the false promise of revolution, or compensatory hope of utopia… The temptation is to simplify the insights… just as the Wachowski brothers did in their naïve homage to the great man, The Matrix (As Baudrillard eventually pointed out, The Matrix is the kind of film the Matrix itself would have made about the Matrix.) Rescuing Baudrillard’s ideas from caricature thus becomes a challenging and important task, now that he is no longer with us.’

Without the ‘progressive’ trajectory of the future, without the ‘backwardness’ of the past, the present would articulate our preferable catastrophe as a simulacrum of an imaginary absolutism; a hyperreal absolutism that whilst never actually found, would feel, at times, entirely lost.


Baudrillard, Jean. (1996). The System of Objects, trans. James Benedict. London: Verso

–.  (1994). Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. US: The University of Michigan Press

–. (1990). Fatal Strategies, trans. Philippe Beitchman & W. G. J. Niesluchowski. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)

Fisher, Mark. (2016). The Weird and The Eerie. London: Repeater

–. (2014). Ghosts of My Life. Hampshire: Zero Books

‎–. (2009). Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? Hampshire: Zero Books

Linkola, Pentti. (2009). Can Life Prevail?, trans. Corrupt, Inc. UK: Arktos

Video Lectures

Fiennes, Sophie, Slavoj Žižek, Martin Rosenbaum, Georg Misch, Ralph Wieser, Remko Schnorr, Ethel Shepherd, and Tony Myers. (2006) The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. London: P Guide


The Matrix, 1999, DVD, Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures, Groucho II Film Partnership, Silver Pictures, US, distributed by Warner Bros., directed by the Wachowskis

The Matrix Revolutions, 2003, DVD, Village Roadshow Pictures, NPV Entertainment, Silver Pictures, US, distributed by Warner Bros., directed by the Wachowskis

The Meg, 2018, Online Streaming Service (SkyGo), Gravity Pictures, Flagship Entertainment, Apelles Entertainment, Di Bonaventura Pictures, Maeday Productions, US/China, distributed by Warner Bros., directed by Jon Turteltaub

If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *