This is not a pipe…or is it

this is not a pipe

Rene Magritte painted a simple image of a pipe. However, as the inscription states, it is NOT a pipe. The image of the pipe is separate of a true pipe, which can be filled and smoked. The irony is that no description of the painting is true without defining it as a pipe. This will make sense by the end of the post…(hopefully)

Baudrillard claims we live in a hyper-reality, where ‘true’ basic reality has evolved into a convoluted world of life-like simulations. In this hyper-reality, representations of reality have surpassed and therefore, canceled out, the ‘true,’ once objective basic reality. He outlines 4 steps of an image(basic truth) evolving into hyper-real simulations.

1 It is the reflection of a basic reality.

2 It masks and perverts a basic reality.

3 It masks the absence of a basic reality.

4 It bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum.

Baudrillard walks us through these steps using a simple example-religious iconography.

1. Man seeks to portray God’s divinity by creating a physical representation…a statue

2. By symbolizing God, these statues become icons, embodying God’s divinity.

3. The physical statue, with its implied celestial properties, therefore refutes God’s abstractness

4. The statues’ physical manifestation transcend a metaphysical being, thereby invalidating the very divine, supernatural nature man sought to recognize.

In the 21st century, we live in an era so ensconced by simulacra, that our reality is framed by these simulated truths. With these  notions of diluted reality manipulating our environments, our perspective is only based off this distorted hyper-reality. We can never remove ourselves from this hyper-reality. The simulacra have evolved and transformed into reality, even though they have abandoned the original, basic essence

Having understood Baudrillard’s hyper-reality, can we understand Magritte, and put his theory into context?

1. He painted a picture of a pipe, a perfect representation of a real object in front of him.

2. However real the pipe appears, the image cannot be smoked.

3.  Looking at the image, all we see is a pipe. We do not see the original model.  We do not see the original function.

4. Having only seen the painting, the only definition of a pipe comprehensible is of the image. Therefore, a pipe can only be an image on a canvass. Anything else is just an adaptation of this simulacrum.

This is an interesting take on hyper-reality. Having lost our original model, the only reference to a pipe we have is the image.  We have a reached a hyper-reality where a tangible pipe and the simulacra are, as Foucault said “more or less like one another without any of them being able to claim the privileged status of model for the rest.”

No, it is not a pipe in a conventional sense, but Magritte’s painting can always be referenced as a pipe, and can never be discounted as such.

Questions to think about:

Does acknowledging hyper-reality make it any less distorted?

Is it ever possible to abandon hyper-reality? To base your reality off of a previous truth?

Can you point to one instance when the culture industry transformed a basic reality into a simulcrum?


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