Is that Ecclesiastes/Baudrillard quote accurate?
November 10, 2008 2:07 PM   Subscribe

The epigram to Simulation and Simulacra (Baudrillard) is: "The simulacrum is never what hides the truth-- it is truth that hides the fact that there is none. The simulacrum is true," and it is attributed to Ecclesiastes. However, I can't find any evidence that the quote is actually in there. Is it?

I want to use the quote as an introduction to the section in my dissertation on my mathematical model (hah), so I quoted it, and then, since I am deep in fact-checking and referencing, I tried to find the original reference in Ecclesiastes. (Baudrillard doesn't give more of a citation in the quote.)

I am not very religion/bible literate, so it's possible I am missing something. Googling finds me one thousand people who use the quote only by referencing Baudrillard- not the "original".

Is anyone familiar with Ecclesiastes who recognizes that quote? Did he just make it up? I'm fine with that-- I just want to get my facts straight.
posted by hybridvigor to Religion & Philosophy (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Here is the King James translation of Ecclesiastes, and nothing like that quote appears to my cursory reading.
posted by Justinian at 2:26 PM on November 10, 2008

The Simulacrum doesn't sound very Scriptural a concept. A possible passage—on the futility of wisdom—might be Ecclesiastes 2:14-15:
The wise have their eyes open, the fool walks in the dark. No doubt! But I know, too, that one fate awaits them both.
'Since the fool's fate', I thought to myself, 'will be my fate too, what is the point of my having been wise?' I realised that this too is futile.
This may not be a very helpful thought, however, for the good of your dissertation.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:26 PM on November 10, 2008

I've read Ecclesiastes a couple times and I don't recognize it. But it's been a while. If you haven't already, you might just read the thing through—it's not very long.

Another possibility is that Baudrillard meant Ecclesiasticus, which is different, and the French-English translator screwed it up. Ecclesiasticus, I've never read. You'll need a Catholic or Orthodox Bible to find it.
posted by eritain at 2:31 PM on November 10, 2008

There are a few layers here...

Of course, if it were a quote from Ecclesiastes, it would be a translation from the Hebrew. So the answer to this question needs to take into account the problems of translation. Is it possible to make an argument that this is Baudrillard's own, highly idiosyncratic, translation of one verse or another from Ecclesiastes? Maybe. But it would be a pretty tenuous argument. I think any usual standard of "accuracy" would lead you to conclude that this quote is not a reliable rendering of any of the text from Ecclesiastes.

That said, it echos some of the spirit of Ecclesiastes, which is about the ephemeral, transitory, and ultimately illusory nature of the human experience.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:33 PM on November 10, 2008

The book opens on a quote from Ecclesiastes asserting flatly that "the simulacrum is true." It was certainly true in Baudrillard's book, but otherwise apocryphal. -- Amazon Product Description of Philosophy of Technology

There is a real irony in Baudrillard’s focus on simulation. When I first opened S&S and saw the epigraph attributed to Ecclesiastes, I smelled a rat, and a few minute’s investigation confirmed my suspicion that the attribution was false. Then as I read on, I presumed that Baudrillard was trying to give a concrete example of simulation. But I remain puzzled. On the one hand, it seems a remarkably poor attempt at simulation—no one even remotely familiar with Ecclesiastes would be taken in by it. But on the other hand, to judge from the plethora of Baudrillard pages on the World Wide Web, many of Baudrillard’s readers seem either to be fooled by the false attribution, or else not to care one way or the other. And maybe that’s Baudrillard’s point: that to the “masses,” Ecclesiastes is no more and no less than the author of the epigraph. More on this presently. -- Simulacra and Simulation: Baudrillard and The Matrix
posted by dhartung at 2:36 PM on November 10, 2008

Eric S. Christianson says that "Baudrillard uses Ecclesiastes, but in a way that simply cannot chime with modern exigesis."
posted by Knappster at 2:36 PM on November 10, 2008

Eh. Searching Ecclesiasticus for 'truth' hasn't turned up anything like that either. Sorry, I got nothing.
posted by eritain at 2:37 PM on November 10, 2008

Best answer: From the footnotes on this page:
Jean Baudrillard. Simulations. New York: Semiotext(e), 1983:1. Baudrillard attributes this quote to Ecclesiastes. However, the quote is a fabrication (see Jean Baudrillard. Cool Memories III, 1991-95. London: Verso, 1997). Editor’s note: In Fragments: Conversations With François L’Yvonnet. New York: Routledge, 2004:11, Baudrillard acknowledges this “Borges-like” fabrication.
Google Books has the relevant text here (page 11).
posted by jedicus at 2:42 PM on November 10, 2008

Here is Ecclesiasticus. I don't see anything that could be that quote, even taking into account liberal translational differences, but there are some resonances.

Maybe it's like that whole "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" that is often attributed to Voltaire but isn't actually a quote? It's Evelyn Beatrice Hall's paraphrase of the sort of thing Voltaire might have said. Perhaps Baudrillard was portraying the kind of idea he felt could be read into Ecclesiastes. 'Cause I don't see any way that quote came out of the text.
posted by Justinian at 2:43 PM on November 10, 2008

Well, there you have it.
posted by Justinian at 2:44 PM on November 10, 2008

Response by poster: Hah! I love that he made it up. I didn't think it sounded very biblical.

I also love that so many people use the quote in their books, without ever checking to see if it's true. Thanks for the references on the fabrication, and good sleuthing.
posted by hybridvigor at 2:48 PM on November 10, 2008

OK, that's hysterical. I was going to post, "Come on. It's a book about illusions, simulations and things that aren't real. He probably made this up."

And I thought, "Nahh. That's too easy. Too glib."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:05 PM on November 10, 2008

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