Plastic Surgery for the Other

Starting with modernity, we have entered an era of production of the Other. It is no longer a question of killing, of devouring or seducing the Other, of facing him, of competing with him, of loving or hating the Other. It is first of all a matter of producing the Other. The Other is no longer an object of passion but an object of production. Maybe it is because the Other, in his radical otherness [alterite], or in his irreducible singularity, has become dangerous or unbearable. And so, we have to conjure up his seduction. Or perhaps, more simply, otherness and dual relationships gradually disappear with the rise of individual values and with the destruction of the symbolic ones. In any case, otherness [alterite] is lacking and, since we cannot experience otherness as destiny, one must produce the other as difference. And this is a concern just as much for the body as it is for sex, or for social relationships. In order to escape the world as destiny, the body as destiny, sex (and the other sex) as destiny, the production of the other as difference is invented. This is what happens with sexual difference. Each sex has its own anatomical and psychological characteristics, its own desire with all the insoluble events that emerge from that, including an ideology of sex and desire, and a utopia of sexual difference based on law and nature. None of this has any meaning [sens] whatsoever in seduction where it is not a question of desire but of a play [jeu] with desire, and where it is not a question of equality between different sexes or of an alienation of one by the other since this play [jeu] implies a perfect reciprocity of each partner (not difference or alienation, but alterity/otherness [alterite] or complicity). Seduction is nothing less than hysterical, since no sex projects its sexuality onto the other. Distances are set. And otherness [alterite] is left untouched. This is the very condition of this greater illusion, of this play with desire.

What is produced with the romantic turn, at the turn of the 19th century, is on the contrary the putting into play of a masculine hysteria and, with it, of a change in sexual paradigms that once again must be reinserted in the more general and universal context of a change in the paradigms of otherness.

During this hysterical phase, it is to a certain extent the femininity of men that is projected onto women and that shape them as ideal figures of likeness [ressemblance]. Romantic love is no longer about winning over a woman's heart, or about seducing her. It is rather a matter of creating her from inside [de l'interieur], of inventing her, either as a realized utopia (an idealized woman), or as a "femme fatale", a star, which is yet another hysterical and supernatural metaphor. This is the entire work of the romantic Eros: he is the one who has invented such an ideal harmony, such a love fusion, almost an incestuous form, between twin beings (woman as a projected resurrection of the same, and woman who takes her supernatural shape only as an ideal of the same), an artifact from now on destined to love, that is to say destined to a pathos of ideal likeness [ressemblance] of beings and sexes, a pathetic confusion that replaces the dual otherness [alterite] of seduction. The entire erotic machinery changes meaning/direction [sens] because the erotic attraction that once came from otherness [alterite], from the strangeness of the Other, now shifts to the side of the Same, to the side of similarity and likeness [ressemblance]. Auto-eroticism? Incest? No, but rather a hypostasis of the Same. Of the same that eyes the other, that invests and alienates himself in the other. But the other is never more than the ephemeral form of a difference that draws me closer to the I [me rapproche de moi]. It is also the reason why, with romantic love and all its current by-products, sexuality draws nearer to death: it is because sexuality is getting closer to incest and to its own destiny, even if it is banalized (for it is no longer a question of a mythical or tragic incest; with modern erotism we are only dealing with a diverted form of incest, that of the projection of the same into the image of the other, which is the same thing as a confusion and a corruption of all the images).

Finally, it is the invention of a femininity which renders women superfluous, the invention of a difference which is nothing more than a diverted copulation with one's double. In the final analysis [au fond], any encounter with otherness [alterite] is made impossible (by the way, it would be interesting to know whether there has ever been a hysterical counterpart to this phenomenon from the feminine side in the construction of virile and phallic mythologies. Feminism is in fact an example of hystericization of the masculine by women, a hysterical projection of their masculinity which follows exactly the hysterical projection by men of their femininity in the mythical image of a woman).

But there still remains a dissymmetry in this forced allocation to difference.

And this is why I was saying, in a paradoxical way, that men are more different from women than actually women are from men. This means that, in the context of sexual difference, men are above all different whereas there is some remnant of radical otherness within women, a radical otherness of women which precedes the degraded status of [masculine] difference.

In short, in this extrapolation process of the Same in the production of the Other, in this hysterical invention of the sexual other as a twin brother or sister (if the issue of twinning is so up-to-date, it is because it reflects this very mode of libidinal cloning), there is a progressive assimilation of the sexes which goes from difference to a lesser difference, and from there to a visual inversion and non-differentiation of the sexes which, in the last analysis, turns the sexual function into something totally useless. In the cloning process, useless sexual beings will be reproduced. They are useless since sexuality is no longer necessary to their reproduction.

The real woman seems to disappear in that hysterical invention of femininity (but she has many more ways to resist that), in that invention of sexual difference whereby the masculine side is from the beginning the privileged pole and through which all the ideological and feminist struggles will be doomed to reconstruct either that very privilege or that unreconciled difference. But, at the same, the so-called masculine desire also becomes, through the same invention, completely problematic since it is no longer able to project in an other its own image, and thus to become purely speculative. All this nonsense about the phallus and the sexual privilege of masculinity must also be re-examined. There is a sort of transcending justice in this process of sexual non-differentiation, a justice which drives both sexes to inexorably culminate in total non-differentiation where they lose their singularity and their otherness [alterite]. This is the era of Transsexualism where all the struggles linked to sexual Difference are perpetuated well after any real sexuality or any type of real otherness has disappeared.

This (successful?) merger of a masculinely projected hysteria onto femininity is renewed by every individual (man or woman) on their own bodies. An identification and an appropriation of the body as if it was a projection of the self, of a self no longer seen as otherness or destiny. In the facial traits, in sex, in illnesses, in death, identity is constantly "altered." There is nothing you can do about it: that's destiny. But it is precisely that which must be exorcized at any cost through an identification with the body, through an individual appropriation of the body, of your desire, of your look, of your image: plastic surgery all over the place. If the body is no longer a place of otherness [alterite], a dual relationship, but is rather a locus of identification, we then must reconcile to it, we must repair it, perfect it, make it an ideal object. Everyone uses their body like man uses woman in the projective mode of identification described before. The body is invested as a fetish, and is used as a fetish in a desperate attempt at identifying oneself. The body becomes the object of an autistic cult and of a quasi-incestuous manipulation. And it is the likeness [ressemblance] of the body with its model which then becomes a source of eroticism and of "white" [fake, virgin, neutral,...] self-seduction to the extent that this likeness virtually excludes the Other and is the best way to exclude a seduction which would emerge from somewhere else.

Many more things partake of that production of the Other, of that hysterical and speculative production: like racism, for instance, with its development throughout modernity and with its current outbursts. Logically, racism should have diminished thanks to Enlightenment's progress. But, the more we know that a genetic theory of race is unfounded, the more racism is reinforced. It is because racism is an artificial construction of the Other based on an erosion of cultural singularities (of their otherness between one another) and on an acceptance of a fetishistic system of difference. As long as there is otherness [alterite], strangeness, and dual relationships (event violent ones), there is properly speaking no such thing as racism. This was more or less the case until the 18th century, as anthropological reports indicate. Once such a "natural" relationship is lost, one enters an exponential relationship with an artificial Other. And nothing in our culture allows racism to be curbed since our entire cultural movement goes in the same direction [sens] which is that of a frenzied differential construction of the Other and of a perpetual extrapolation of the Same through the Other. An autistic culture which takes the shape of a fake altruism.

Everyone talks about alienation. But the worst alienation is not to be dispossessed by the other but to be dispossessed of the other, that is to say to have to produce the other in his absence, and thus to be continuously referred back to oneself and to one's image. If we are today condemned to our own image (condemned to cultivate our body, our look, our identity, and our desire), this is not because of an alienation, but because of the end of alienation and because of the virtual disappearance of the other, which is a much worse fatality. In fact, the paradoxical limit of alienation is to take oneself as a focal point [comme point de mire], as an object of care, of desire, of suffering, and of communication. This final short-circuiting of the other opens up an era of transparency. Plastic surgery [la chirurgie esthetique] becomes universal. That surgery of the faces and bodies is only the symptom of a more radical one: that of otherness and destiny.

What is the solution? Well, there is none to this erotic movement of an entire culture, none to such a fascination, to such an abyss of denial of the other, of denial of strangeness and negativity. There is none to that foreclosing of evil and to that reconciliation around the Same and his proliferated expressions: incest, autism, twinning, cloning. We can only remember that seduction lies in not reconciling with the Other and in salvaging the strangeness of the Other. We must not be reconciled with our own bodies or with our selves. We must not be reconciled with the Other. We must not be reconciled with nature. We must not be reconciled with femininity (and that goes for women too). The secret to a strange attraction lies here.

This article first appeared in Jean Baudrillard and Marc Guillaume, Figures de l'alterite. Paris: Descartes et Cie., 1994.

Translated by Francois Debrix. Francois Debrix is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Theory and International Relations at Purdue University.