By Rachid Abdelmouman
By Rachid Abdelmouman
Morocco World News
Ifran, Morocco, August 4, 2012
Vision- pondered long-
So plausible becomes
That I esteem the fiction- real-
The real- fictitious seems-
I remember that when Prophet Joseph’s movie serial was delivered via TV in Ramadan in 2009, it was on an Iranian TV station. At that time I was eminently surprised to see Joseph, may peace be upon him, impersonated by an actor who seemingly succeeded in playing his role. I was surprised simply because it is forbidden in Sunni Muslim countries to represent prophets at all. Maybe I thought we share the same ethos with Shia Muslim countries, which is not true. No Arabic TV is authorized to produce or broadcast such movies.
The first person who began this movie genre was the Syrian American film producer and director Moustafa Akkad who directed Mohammed, Messenger of God (1976). However, unfortunately the movie cost Akkad and his thirty-four year old daughter their lives. Joseph’ s serial and The Message were totally different because they were attacked by different currents; Akkad was bombarded by a Muslim extremist who belongs to Al-Qaida, whereas Joseph’s serial was chastised by the dominant religious Sunni discourses in Arab countries. Unlike Christianity, Islam rejects a visible theology incarnated in images. This is not to say that Christianity has not experienced such severe attacks against images which represent divinity. Does the image then threaten religious truth?
Muslim iconoclasts are haunted by the fact that religious signs are threatened by media, and that these transcendent signs may gradually lose their holiness and divinity. Iconoclasts, unlike iconolaters, believe that a sign must refer to a deep meaning, and the only guarantee for this exchange for them is God. But what if God himself is represented by concrete signs? In this case we could no longer speak of a de Saussurean duality of signifier/signified and of exchange. Last year immediately after the Tunisian ‘revolution’, Tunisian TV showed a movie in which God is represented point blank.
It seems to me that Tunisia not only revolted against Ben Ali but also aspired to rebel against God himself. The attempt was considered blasphemous and heretic. A Foucauldian or Althusserian analysis of this conundrum is unsatisfactory and incomplete. To speak about exclusive discourses or hidden ideologies beyond these reflections is admittedly illuminating but rather outdated. In our era, an era of simulation, the real and the divine become a matter of production and representation. I think that we have gone too far to be able to return to authenticity and simplicity. Truth turns into an everyday process in what Walter Benjamin called ‘Mechanical Reproduction’, and the ‘aura’ of signs into illusion.
It is widely believed that ethnology, archeology and anthropology live on demystifying mysteries and exploring civilizations. Nevertheless, things are not always as they commonly seem to be. In 1971 ethnology thrived on the death of its object rather than on its life; the Philippines government returned Tasady to primitive, isolated from colonists, tourists and ethnologists. The paradox was that it was the anthropologists themselves who urged the Philippines government to do so. They saw Tasady decomposes immediately on contact, like a mummy in the open air. To save its reality and existence, ethnology must sacrifice its object.
Along the history of imperialism, as Edward Said argues in his Orientalism, Empire’s faithful scientists and artists always worked to distance themselves and their works from what they imagined to be their object, the ‘Other’. In fact, Orientalism burgeons when its object dies. Cartographers draw maps in abstracto, anatomists created strange body structures and artists portrayed Orients as savage and bizarre creatures. The museum is the glass coffin which may guarantee Orientalism’s survival after the death of Empire. It is the real world for Orientalism, archeology, anthropology, ethnology, etc.
My last point in this essay is about Facebook, seen as an imaginary wonderland of a polychromatic friendship. Like Disneyland, as depicted by the French postmodernist Jean Baudrillard in his Simulacra and Simulations (1983), Facebook is a perfect epitome of a world of simulations. It may be considered as a microcosm of what friendship, love and other social relations may signify in this era, a brand new signification. Again my concern here is not about the ideological agenda of Facebook, but about Facebook as a hyperreal or a simulacrum.
Facebook is a play of illusions and phantasms. Lot of its users spend most of their time inside this digital world to an extent that they become gradually addicted to it. Within this simulated world, it is almost impossible to distinguish between ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’, between ‘true’ and ‘false’. People can use pseudonyms, fake pictures and false information, and thus pretend to be whoever they claim. The quagmire is that you cannot tell the difference. You should not ask about any difference lest you violate the ritual and order of Facebook. In a world of simulation it is meaningless and hopeless to ask about identity.
To put it in a nutshell, in this age we come to live in a world where modern distinctions between the real and the unreal, art and reality have lost their boundaries and been sucked into an abyss. This is the hyperreality in which we are overloaded by images and information. Baudrillard called the collapse of these boundaries between media and reality ‘implosion’. This leads media to become the world. Television or Internet does not represent the world; rather they create their own simulacrum. With these technologies, the seeing of objects transfers into mere camera pictures conceived by modern man.
This type of seeing carries with it a rendering of a higher realism rather than mere illusions. Through technology (the magic lamp), “thought gets corporealized and released into lifelike three-dimensional reality, then one’s own thoughts are also experienced as material and alive”. As Marjorie Levinson put it “in daydream, one experiences neither a loss of self (as in primary narcissism) nor a state of mature self-possession, but a twilight in-between. Daydreaming is not a state of delusion; you know you are dreaming and can even carry on commerce with the outside world, but you also lose awareness of yourself as the dreamer–something like knowing you are at the movies but not being aware of yourself watching the film“.
 A group of people ‘discovered’ in 1971 living in the rain forest in the Philippines for eight years undisturbed by the rest of mankind. By the mid-1980s many anthropologists were convinced that the whole episode was a hoax perpetrated by the Philippine government. Opinion remains divided about the ‘authenticity’ of Tasaday.
 Marjorie Levinson, “Object-Loss and Object-Bondage: Economies of Representation in Hardy’s Poetry”. ELH 73.2 (Summer 2006): p549-580.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved