Daniel Barnes

The Reality that Forgot Itself
On Baudrillard and Art
Barnes Philosophy Club, 08 January 2014

​​​​​ On the one hand, philosophers have said, there is the world of appearance, and on the other there are the things in themselves. Some version of this distinction has been promoted throughout the history of philosophy from Plato to Kant to Locke, and has been used to explain how we gain knowledge of the world. This talk explores how modern and contemporary artists deal with the tension between appearance and reality. It investigates Jean Baudrillard’s idea that reality – the conceptual core of our world of experience – has been obliterated by the proliferation of information through mass-media imagery. Baudrillard claims that all we have left is a mere simulation of reality which is sustained by the precession of simulacra – copies which have no originals. It is argued that modern and contemporary artists have, sometimes tacitly and sometimes explicitly, employed this theoretical position to explore the human condition in the age of information and capitalism. Ultimately, we shall see that, much to our utter dismay, in art there is often nothing behind the world of appearance except an aching, violent emptiness. This realisation prompts the question of how we might restore reality to the appearances of art. It is tentatively suggested that the answer may lie in the philosophical position known as Speculative Realism: through a novel reading of Heidegger by Graham Harman, we may be able to anchor reality while still maintaining the profusion of appearance by arguing that the world of things does, after all, have an independent reality.