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M.W. Smith's Reading Simulacra: Fatal Theories for Postmodernity


Reading Simulacra: Fatal Theories for Postmodernity

Smith, M. W. Albany: SUNY Press, 2001. 142 pgs, trade paper, $16.95. ISBN: 0791450643.

In Reading Simulacra, M. W. Smith revisits the fatalism of postmodern theories centering on concepts of simulacra, hyperreality, technology, seduction and rupture to trace meaning from the contemporary situation. The book builds a structural framework by which to analyze contemporary texts that include Reese Williams' Pair of Eyes, Kathy Acker's Don Quixote and Blood and Guts in High School, Clarence Major's My Amputations, Jean Baudrillard's America, the O. J. Simpson trial and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. The analysis of these texts is based on the inter-stitching of the seminal theories of Baudrillard, Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Arthur Kroker, and Friedrich Nietzsche that comprises the first half of the book.

Reading Simulacra begins with an attempt to understand Baudrillard's fatalism of representation by tracing the evolution of a poststructuralist critique by Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida since Nietzsche, and relates the association between Nietzsche and Baudrillard that Kroker has developed. Smith correlates the relationship between Baudrillard and Deleuze and Guattari to claim that it is possible to read simulacra as a fatal strategy that erases differences in the production of desire and in the processing of cultural texts for consumption (6). Reading simulacra as such a fatal strategy, the book discusses how Williams collapses the production of historical and cultural codes, how Acker's work neutralizes phallocentric desire, how Major equates the simulacrum of identity with death, and challenges the notion of an authentic racial experience. The text finishes with discussions of how Baudrillard posits America as the penultimate postmodern text/object, and the media's commodification of lived experience.

While maintaining the stereotype that the French are really boring, Smith addresses pressing sociopolitical issues pertaining to identity and reality constructions and adeptly elaborates the most important postmodern theoretical works, relating them via textual analysis to contemporary texts. According to the author, the goal of the book is not merely to establish a philosophical framework by which to examine the legitimation for the discourses that consume the individual, but to evaluate the fissures and folds that open up new spaces for experience (17). Thus, where do discourses of subjectification and simulacra fail to encapsulate the individual and how does humanity escape a collapsing sign/power system? In the end, Smith unfortunately seems to only identify and evaluate ruptures of simulacra and does little to evaluate the space created in the wake of its implosion.

Although Reading Simulacra is painfully dry at times, it is a valuable synthesis of PoMo theory, that when distilled reads: in our search for rationality we have discovered that nothing was real to begin with, hence as Baudrillard says, illusion is no longer possible. And the ability to read is of vital importance.

Chad E. Stose