Operating on Civil War readers

A dialog with Jean Baudrillard.

DR: I understand that a nonfiction book is an argument and I like argument. But there are Civil War histories that make me feel absolutely sleazy when I put them down - the author has tried to put the make on me, tried to recruit me into his little movement. Not directly but in an underhanded way - not through argument, which would be fine, but through literary tricks - attaching me to this one, alientating me from that one, manipulating my emotions.

JB: The point in advertising and propaganda is not to believe but to make people believe. "Participation" is not an active or spontaneous social form, because it is always induced by some sort of machinery or machination...

DR: Yes, I feel that much ACW reading is about getting me to participate viscerally in the controversies of the Civil War and involves authorial machinations that have nothing to do with reading or enjoying history.

JB: Everywhere the active verb has given way to the factitive, and actions themselves have less importance than the fact that they are produced, induced, solicited, media-ized, or technicized.

DR: Given that a manipulation like Civil War pop history is about driving emotional effects, the story lines become ridiculously broad, I think. They become sketchy like outlines or biblical archetypes. Lincoln finds a general, Yahweh finds a prophet. The content is in the emotion-producing material, not in historical matter...

JB: Violence is whitewashed, history is whitewashed, all as part of a vast enterprise of cosmetic surgery at whose completion nothing will be left ... We are under the sway of a surgical compulsion that seeks to excise negative characteristics and remodel things synthetically into ideal forms.

DR: But an ideal form can be inferred from historical detail or it can be crudely suggested by the author. Rich content poses a problem to pop authors - it can lead to unexpected conclusions. It can point to unexpected forms.

JB: In order for content to be conveyed as well and as quickly as possible, that content should come as close as possible to transparency and insignificance.

DR: Leaving space for identification games, induced sympathy, aroused antipathy. Operations.

JB: The thing that characterizes operation, as opposed to action, is precisely that operations are necessarily regulated in the way in which they occur - otherwise there would be no communication. Speaking - but no communication.

DR: Writing - but no communication.

JB: Communication is operational or it is nothing. Information is operational or it is nothing.

DR: Publishing success is operational or it is nothing.

JB: Thus good communication - the foundation, today, of a good society - implies the annihilation of its own content.

DR: Because content leaves entirely too much to the reader.

(From The Transparency of Evilby Baudrillard, New York, Verso, 1993. All JB quotes from the chapter "Operational Whitewash." Emphasis in the original.)