THE 20TH CENTURY HAS OBSERVED a striking reduction in the notion of the imagination. What was once the shaping power of thought, the purveyor of meaning, has become a kind of cybernetic machine, its overloaded circuits programmed to spew out scintillating visual forms. “Sheer” images, “pure” surfaces emanate from the image mechanism, only to slither in the glamor of the void that constitutes consumer society, their external enchantments compensating for the loss of substantive matter. These seductive, inherently spectacular forms are not, as before, glosses of meaning; they do not hint at inner depths, silhouetting intent. As phantasmatic phenomena, dispersed throughout contemporary culture and defining its allures, they suggest similarities to the shimmering masks of absence that go by the name of simulacra.
From their conceptual origins, simulacra were instruments of illusion. Although
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