[Hermia/Helena – Demetrius/Lysander] and the cloning of culture according to Jean Baudrillard

I came across the following quote from Jean Baudrillard and it figures directly into my thinking about this piece so I’m sharing it here.

Non-Occidental cultures do not discriminate between the human and the inhuman. We invented the distinction, and we are in the process of erasing it. Not by crossing the line and reconciling the two; rather, the erasure operates in absentia, through technological undifferentiation.

Again: the final solution, the vertigo of the final solution.

It might be argued that whatever the genetic destination of the clone may be, it will never be exactly the same as the original. (Well, of course not, as the clone will have had an Original, which cannot be said of the original itself.) But the main argument is that there is nothing to fear from biogenetically engineered cloning, because whatever happens, culture will continue to differentiate us. Salvation lies in our acquirements: culture alone will preserve us from the hell of the Same.

In fact, exactly the reverse is true. It is culture that clones us, and mental cloning anticipates any biological cloning. It is the matrix of acquired traits that, today, clones us culturally under the sign of monothought-and it is all the innate differences that are annulled, inexorably, by ideas, by ways of life, by the cultural context. Through school systems, media, culture, and mass information, singular beings become identical copies of one another. It is this kind of cloning-social cloning, the industrial reproduction of things and people-that makes possible the biological conception of the genome and of genetic cloning, which only further sanctions the cloning of human conduct and human cognition.

— Jean Baudrillard, The Vital Illusion, pp. 24-25.

I’ve been thinking of Lysander and Demetrius as cultural clones of each other. Can we cast twins? Hermia and Helena become, in the end, cultural clones of Hippolyta. We want to begin the exploration of this part of the story in our use of costume. We want to tell this part of the story in terms of what Baudrillard refers to as “cloning of human conduct and human cognition.” Personalities (i.e. behavioral patterns), like fashion choices, can be downloaded and easily installed into one’s operating system. This metaphor works on a couple of levels. One’s operating system, these days, can itself be downloaded and installed onto one’s hardware, even swapped out for a freeware system posted in cyberspace not by the corporate megaliths like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, but by radically democratic, benevolent, anarchists intent on egalitarianism at all costs. There are still only five or so operating systems in wide use on the planet (looking at our young people, I wonder if there are even as many personalities available for download). And yet we identify with our operating system as though it were our most pure self… until we download another. I don’t mean to categorize this as bad news. I simply think it’s how we function though we completely disavow the process.

Most interesting to me in the quote above than all the stuff about cloning (for our purposes anyhow), is the use of the idea of “the final solution.” The book’s title The Vital Illusion is a fantastic pun here which I just realized. If we look at Hitler’s infamous “final solution” as dispassionately as possible we may see an attempt on the part of the members of the master race to identify the inherent antagonism within society, personify the antagonism, and eradicate that (ultimately ineradicable) antagonism. “Make us all the same!” could have been the battle cry of the SS. It is the battle cry of Egeus at the start of the play. He’s identified the radical and wants her to conform or die. Hermia is willing to die for her freedom. Hippolyta is not and we know this at the start. Hippolyta transforms from warrior queen into doting bride. Is not this the path also taken by Hermia and Helena in the end? They’re mute for the final act of the play. I keep coming back to this as it’s the most perplexing thing I’ve found in the piece.

What does Shakespeare seem to be saying about “dying most gallant for love”? He portrays love as a kind of sickness here. This sickness is as antithetical to the patriarchal society of Athens as Titania’s woman’s intuition is to Oberon’s vision of how things will go from now on in fairy land. Love is a drug-induced hallucination that infects the brain reconfiguring its chemistry in such a way that the user of the machine believes that the hallucination comes from deep within the self – that the self is born with such a love within and simply searches to find the right vessel into which it may be poured. Shakespeare also seems to say that switching the vessel out for another is not at all as hard as it’s cracked up to be. A little fear, a little lust, a little glimmer in the eye of the right person (even if that person is an ass), and we throw over the one we were willing to die for. Then, after we’ve been through hell and we return to the place of comfort becoming forever knit to our one true love in the end, how can we forget our desire for that magical other who so moved us against all reason?

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One response to “[Hermia/Helena – Demetrius/Lysander] and the cloning of culture according to Jean Baudrillard

  1. Pingback: “Cultural / Mental Cloning” and A Midsummer Night’s Dream Costumes « Hermia's Dream

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