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Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors

Thawing Of The East

Jean Baudrillard

Hurray! History has been resuscitated! The end or final outcome for the turn of the century is on the march. Everyone gets a breather from the idea that history, which was momentarily choked under the grip of totalitarian ideology, can assume its more charming side now that the barrier has been lifted on the countries of Eastern Europe. The realm of history is finally reopened to an unforeseen movement of people and to their thirst for freedom. Contrary to the depressive mythology that generally accompanies the turns of the century, this particular one seems to have inaugurated a bright, fresh new start of the final process, a novel hope and a fresh kickstart to go and place our bets. In the background though, all the portentous omens of the end of history still loom. How could one possibly question this bright reality and vitality when so many relevant events have been happening right under our nose?

On a closer look however, the event is a bit more mysterious because of its much closer affinity to a nonidentifiable "historical" object. What an extraordinary episode, this thawing of the countries of the East, this thawing of freedom! But what becomes of freedom once it is thawed out? A dangerous operation that may produce some rather ambiguous results (besides the fact that one cannot deepfreeze again what has been thawed out). The USSR and the nations of the East compartmentalized in deepfreeze were the testing ground, an experimental milieu for freedom since they were sequestered or confined and placed under extreme pressure. The West is but a guardian patrolling the depot for freedom and Human Rights. If ultra deepfreeze was the distinctive negative mark of the East, the ultrafluidity of our western world poses an even greater risk since under the pressure of freeing up and liberalizing all morals and opinions, the issue of freedom simply can no longer be raised. It is virtually resolved. In the West, freedom or the Idea of Freedom died a beautiful death: we all had a chance to take a good look at it in all the recent festivities performed in its name. In the East it was assassinated, but no crime is ever perfect. It will be very interesting to observe, experimentally, as the remains of freedom resurface, how they will be resuscitated now that all of freedom's signs have been effaced. We will see whether it can jumpstart the process of reanimation, of a rehabilitation post mortem. Thawed freedom may not be the most gainly sight. Might it turn out that all it has left is a haste to feverishly negotiate (the purchase and sales of) cars and electric appliances, indeed to turn psychotropic and pornographic, in other words, transform itself immediately into western fluidity or, in yet other terms, to reverberate from one end of a history of deepfreeze to a history of ultrafluidity and circulation at its polar extreme? What is fascinating in the events of the East is certainly not to see them rallying in a docile manner in support of a convalescing democracy and thereby providing it with renewed energy (and new markets), rather it is the telescopic portrayal of two particular modalities of the end of history: one with a frozen outcome in concentration camps, the other where, to the contrary, the end is accomplished in a total and centrifugal expansion of communication. A final solution in both cases. It is also possible that the thawing of Human Rights may be the socialist equivalent of the "depressurization of the West": a simple loss of energies in the western void, impounded to the East over a half century.

The intensity of the events may be misleading: if the zeal of the countries of the East merely aimed at deideologization and was driven by an eagerness to imitate liberal countries where all freedoms have long been traded for the technical comforts of life, then we would certainly know the value of this freedom and may well never be found a second time. History never gives a second serving. On the contrary, — and this is the unforeseen aspect for us in the West (the Good too has to go once the Evil empire collapses!) — this thawing of the East could prove to be harmful in the long run and, like carbon gases in the higher layers of the atmosphere, may create a political greenhouse effect, a rewarming of human relations on the planet through the melting down of Communist ice fields and thereby flood the shores of the West. It is rather bizarre that while we certainly doubt the possibility of a catastrophe in climate that would melt the ice fields, democratically we download all our power into aspirations at the political level.

If, at that time, the USSR had thrown its stock of gold on the world market, it would have completely destabilized the market. If the countries of the East begin to circulate the incredible stock of their refrigerated freedom, they too would destabilize the feeble metabolism of western values which no longer desire that freedom take on the form of action, instead they configure it as a virtual and consensual form of interaction, not as drama but as the universal psychodrama of liberalism. A sudden shot or injection of freedom as a live relation, as violent and active transcendence, as >Idea< would be devastating to our climatized redistribution of values. Yet this is what we require of them: the idea of freedom in exchange for its material tokens. A perfectly diabolical contract where some risk losing their soul, other their comfort.

The masked (Communist) societies are unmasked. What is their face like? As for us, where the mask has been lifted quite some time ago, we have found rather ironically that now that we no longer have masks, we have no faces either. We are also without memory. We look for it in water where there is no trace, hoping (that Benveniste doesn't hold it against me) that there is something left even though traces of the molecules have disappeared. As for our freedom: we would have a tough time coming up with some kind of a sign for it and have postulated it in an infinitesimal (inappreciable), impalpable, undetectable existence — in such a highly diluted milieu (of programming and operationalizing) that only its spectre is able to loom in our memory.

The resources of freedom have run so dry in the West (an example would be the commemoration of the Revolution) that we have to hope with all our might in the aftermath of the East which is now opened up and uncovered. However, once this stock of freedom is freed up (the Idea of freedom having become as rare as natural resources), what else could one expect if not that the superficial energy of exchange will intensify on all markets, precipitated by collapse of differential energies and values.

What does Glasnost signify if not an accelerated and secondhanded retroactive transparency of all the signs of modernity (which is nearly a postmodern remake of our original version of modernity) — of all the confounded positive and negative signs, i.e. not only with respect to Human Rights but also of crimes, catastrophes, accidents of which there is a joyous upsurge in the ex- USSR since the liberalization of the regime. Indeed, what had always come under censorship is now being rediscovered as the reappearance and celebration of pornography and extraterrestrials and of everything else taking place. Voila the experimental dimension of this global thawing: what we see is that crime, atomic or natural catastrophes, earlier repressed, now take their place at the table of Human Rights, (religion and fashion, too, no exceptions) — as we are given a good lesson in democratics. As a matter of fact, what we see reappearing is all that we are — all banners and emblems extolling their carriers as universally human and resurging in a kind of hallucinatory ideal, in the return of the repressed, bringing with them the worst, the most banal of a western "culture" worn thin and which, henceforth, will no longer be contained by boundaries or frontiers of any kind. Consequently, it is the hour of justice for this culture, as it was for savage cultures around the world and it is difficult to say we have learned from their example. The irony in the way things stand today is that we might be the ones who one day will be forced to relish the memory of Stalinism now that the countries of the East no longer remember it. We should keep the memory of this tyrant in deepfreeze under whom the movement of history froze stiff since this icy age also takes place under the auspices of a universal patrimony.

These events are quite remarkable in another sense. They compel us to ponder and ask ourselves questions at this bend or turning point in history, questions pertaining not to its end or outcome (which is still part of the fantasy of a linear history), but to its turning back on itself, its systematic termination or effacement. We are in the process of obliterating the whole twentieth century. We are steadily deleting, one by one, all the marks of the cold war, maybe even the evidence of the Second World War as well as those concerning all the political and ideological revolutions of the twentieth century. The reunification of Germany and numerous other events are inevitable, not just in terms of jump starting history ahead of time, but with respect to a rewriting of the whole twentieth century which we will be largely engaged in during the last ten years of the end of the century. On the course that we are moving, we will shortly return to the Germanic Holy Roman Empire which is perhaps the illuminating point of this end of the century, the real meaning of this controversial formula called 'the end of history'. The process we are presently caught up in is a kind of enthusiastic mourning to facelift all the pivotal events of the century, to whitewash or bleach everything as if all that has taken place in it (the revolutions, the division of the world, the genocide, the violent transnationality of the States, the nuclear tension) — a brief history in its modern phase — was none other than an imbroglio without an exit or a curtain to go down on it as everyone was put to the task of dismantling this history with the same eagerness and excitement with which it was set in motion. Restoration, regression, rehabilitation, reactivation of old borders, of old differences, of particularities, of religions, resipiscence (repentance, recognition of errors and return to a sound state of mind) affecting even the level of morals — it seems that all the hallmarks of an acquired freedom over a century are beginning to subside and may end in fading away, one by one: we are in the midst of a gigantic process of revisionism, not an ideological revisionism but a revision of history itself and are in haste to get there before the turn of the century — perhaps swayed by the secret hope that with the new millennium we may be able to get a crack at starting anew, from point zero?! Only if we could restore everything to its initial state! How far and where will this resorption, this facelifting take us? It may happen very, very fast (as the events of the East show us) precisely because what we are dealing with isn't just any kind of construction but a massive deconstruction of history which itself, in turn, takes on a viral and epidemic design or form.


Originally published in French as part of Jean Baudrillard, L'Illusion de la fin: ou La greve des evenements, Galilee: Paris, 1992. Translated by Charles Dudas, York University, Canada
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