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Virtual - Page 19

ceases to be critically relevant. But if the technology itself is a bit tardy, the notion of the virtual will serve, quite accurately, for at least a few more moments, to blur yet another useless distinction: that between fantasy and reality, between the ideal and the material. Once upon a time the academy gave itself over to "thinking" the simulacrum, the general text, language as truth (hedged with all the necessary skepticism). Now, after this bad bout of theorizing, a kind of stupid empiricism is all the rage. This history should by itself be adequate proof that both fact and theory are on shaky ground. The passing fashion for a theory of the simulacrum--one could say, for a simulacrum of theory itself--is hardly improved on by the new materialism, the new historicism, the new cognitive psychologism, etc., none of which ever quite answer the charge that they too are entirely virtual. Cultural criticism, for all its showy documentation, is the latest unwanted and generally unnoticed proof that the critical itself is fantasmatic; at the same time, the now nearly universal claim that what once seemed material (sex as biology, for instance) is entirely a cultural construct, virtually guarantees that, in a few years' time, the material (biological, etc.) claim will return, with a vengeance, as the newest salience of the critical. Empiricism is just another fantasy and our fantasies are utterly material. Each is the necessary model for, proxy, and antithesis of the other. We cannot protect a single one of our views from either charge; the empirical and the hypothetical are reduced to economic forces that collide and cancel each other in a general and quite material economy of surrogation.

[16] The stupid underground further complicates this sickening bind. It is a double surrogate, a mirror- and hence reverse- image of the cultural maps it proposes to leave behind, and a sort of pre-simulation, a virtual model of the revolutionary new world it hopes to achieve, but which it thereby eclipses, displaces, at times actively debases, and always renders surrogate in advance. We might call it a theatrical space--a second world, if you will, but one that already begins to disorient any exit to the world offstage, making it rather theatrical as well, curiously fulfilling the avant-garde ambition of bridging the gap between art and life in an unexpected register. Contra Benjamin: to aestheticize politics and to politicize aesthetics have turned out to be, if not exactly the same

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