Tag Archives: Hyperreality

Language and Memory

One’s being as a collective whole is intended to grant clarity and understanding of one’s reality and yet simultaneously obfuscates the truth due to memory and the way we as humans perceive time. When I as a being perceive something, I do not perceive it in essence; that is to say, what I perceive is a construct of my mind which in turn enables me to understand it and deal with it on a level I am able to handle (hyperreality). My thoughts are drawn to the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, who prominently featured beings known as ‘eldritch abominations’ in his stories, or beings whose very existence or form was so alien to the human mind that it would drive a person insane. These things which seemed to violate the laws of nature were simply incompatible with our current state of mental evolution. In lieu of this we as a species have developed in such a way that we are keen to put labels on everything in order to allow us to maintain an (illusory) understanding of our reality. There are two principle factors that allow us to enter into a state of hyperreality: language and memory.

Language is necessary as the medium through which we as humans label things. Take color, for example. Though there may be an infinite number of shades of color that can exist, there is no shade of color we would say we do not have a name for. Sure we allow for ‘light’ or ‘dark’ blues, for example, and there are more exotic shades with names such as azure or magenta or the like, but for all intents and purposes we see a limited number of namable colors. Through labeling in such a way as this we actually negatively impact the number of different colors we see; in other words, it is difficult to see very slight variations in a color to the point of the different shades looking exactly the same. This principle, wherein having a finite number of words to describe something of infinite possible qualities limits one’s ability to perceive (or indeed accept) differences in qualities, applies across the board, not only to colors. While language is doubtlessly something of importance in the evolution of any species that desires to achieve a state of self-awareness, it is also limiting and should not be seen as a be-all end-all, as it limits our ability to perceive reality as it truly is.

Memory is the second key way in which we label things, and in many cases is far more likely to obscure an accurate understanding of reality than the limitations of language; for language, insofar as it is understood at an equal level by a group of people, is universal, which is to say that a word is accepted as having specific meanings unique to itself. While limiting, there is also a clarity in language that is not found in memory. Unlike language, memory is not universal, but is rather unique to each individual and their life experiences. While we use words in order to describe things, in the absence of memory we would not know the words to describe anything regardless. Through our collected memories we form a sense of self and an understanding of the world around us; however, because we are unable to perceive reality as it truly is, all our memories are thus constructed on a faulty premise; then, because our subsequent understanding of the world is being built on top of these earlier memories, our conception of reality becomes ever more twisted and perverted away from the true reality. As such, our perceived reality becomes ever more hyperreal, as we view things less and less on their own as a unique quantity and more and more in a relative sense beholden to our preconceptions.

Now this is not to say that memory and language and the like are not important; indeed, we cannot imagine an existence without them. This is precisely the reason we should not allow ourselves to become enslaved to them. One of my favorite words is ‘ineffable’, which essentially means unable to be put into words. Indeed, I see it as my purview as a poet to attempt to capture the ineffable in words. However, it is also worthwhile to understand that this is but the practice of taking something and putting a label on it so that we as humans may understand it. This does not constitute true understanding, and to think that words could ever define the real essence of something is folly. Neither memory nor language are things that are going anywhere soon, yet the inexorable movement of evolution demands that at some point we free ourselves from their respective shackles in order to move towards a more accurate and complete understanding of the world around us.

Hyperreality and You

“Hyperreality?” you say. “What the hell is that?” Then you hear it’s a postmodern concept and that we are in fact living not in modern but in postmodern times, which seems to indicate we are living literally in the future, and you decide to crawl back to watching reality TV for solace.

But wait.

Come on back here. It’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s worse. My goal is to try and help you better understand this concept in just a short five minutes. Then you can go off and tell your friends how hyperreal they are, and everybody’s happy.

So, what is hyperreality? Here are two definitions from postmodern theorists,

  • “A real without origin or reality” – Jean Baudrillard
  • “The authentic fake.” – Umberto Eco

Baudrillard

Wait, that doesn’t clear things up? Well, let me continue on then.

Hyperreality bears similarity with the literary concepts of metonymy and synecdoche, if that means anything. Basically, it is when something takes on a meaning that it wouldn’t naturally have, blends the new fictional meaning with the old real meaning, and the blended meaning or idea becomes “real”. Let’s go back to reality TV. Does reality TV actually depict reality? If you answered yes, you are a victim of hyperreality.

Reality TV depicts a fantasy played off as reality. However, many people will come to accept this false reality as true reality, and then try to model their own lives after it. Reality TV is a simulation, a mixing of reality and fiction until one can’t tell the difference. This can have negative effects due to that fact that there’s probably a good reason the hyperreal isn’t real.

Seemingly opposite from reality TV would be movies that employ large amounts of CGI. However, these are (you guessed it) hyperreal as well. The use of CGI depicts things that are impossible in “real” reality, but that viewers may come to believe can actually be done.

“But what about the people in these movies and shows? Surely they’re real, right?” Wrong. Celebrity worship completes the hyperreal picture. Celebrities are often held up as some impossible ideal. Daniel Boorstin probably said it best: “We come dangerously close to depriving ourselves of all real models. We lose sight of the men and women who do not simply seem great because they are famous but who are famous because they are great”. (*cough* Kardashians *cough*)

Hyperreality isn’t only a postmodern thing either. One example is a king’s crown. Rather than being seen as just some metal with some jewels possibly in it, the crown represents power, authority, mornartchy etc. The crown is now a simulacrum, “an image without resemblance” as Gilles Deleuze put it. It is fair to say, however, that hyperreality has become more prevalent as time has gone on.

“Alright, so now I kinda sorta get this hyperreality thing. But I’d really just like to get back to “real” reality. If you could direct me that way it’d be great, thanks.” Well, that’s not really going to be possible, not if you want to live within the bounds of (post)modern society. You see, at this point in our consumerist culture, pretty much everything is hyperreal in some way. I mean, I guess if you emigrated to, say, Antarctica, you could get pretty far away from hyperreality (although your preconceptions of things will stay with you of course).

So no. Basically, you live, not in reality, but in hyperreality, and you might as well accept it. Alright, you can go take your headache medicine now.