Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Jean Baudrillard's Death Did Not Take Place

...Well, unfortunately for him, it actually did. All snarkery aside, I have actually experienced a twinge of Baudrillard appreciation recently, as the Sheriff will know (from our super-secret Marxist-theoretical correspondence). I read Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings by Mark Poster, and I found Baudrillard's earlier material, particularly the selections from The System of Objects, Consumer Society (where he addresses Galbraith!), For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, and The Mirror of Production, quite approachable and interesting. Judging from Poster's introduction, this seems to be the typical response from those who appreciate more traditional social theory but have reservations about postmodernism. Still, I think Baudrillard is an excellent case study of just that, i.e. the transition from Marxism to postmodernism for many late 20th century leftists. One can almost literally feel his growing disillusion with socialism in his post-'68 writings. The intrigue and nihilism presented by modern mass communication and the "new media" is palpable. From there it's a hop, skip, and a jump to saying there's no form of resistance left against "hyperreality." Anyone tracing the intellectual history of 20th century Europe will have to look to this man, for better or for worse.

7 Comments:

Blogger Robot said...

May he be released from the Matrix through his death.

5:15 PM  
Blogger kushakov said...

Absolutely a fair eulogy. Baudrillard was one of the first theorists I read (being an art history person, this sort of material was far from required reading), and so my nerdy heart is saddened by his now finite memory. The last time I picked up "Simulation and Simulacra" I was surprised to rediscover his proposal for what ought to go on in Paris' then-new Centre Pompidou: empty the building of art; install flashing lights and games; rattle the nerves of the public. It's an idea that I found myself sympathizing with; it also must rank as one of Baudrillard's few suggestions for how things ought actually to proceed.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Scantron said...

And I thought I was being clever with the name of the post: almost every newspaper, magazine, blog, and town crier is using it. (Or perhaps the truth is they all read Huffy Crew?)

3:54 PM  
Blogger kushakov said...

It is a sure sign of our (your) phraseological genius, scantron.

As soon as I heard (via our blog) of Baudrillard's death, I checked out the New York Times obit; and was dismayed to find it about as awful as its infamously well-known Derrida eulogy.

In general, the Times obit portrays Baudrillard as an eccentric media critic, mystifying writer, and dabbler in intellectual affairs. Nowhere is his importance for Marxism explained; nor are his ideas even presented as philosophical. Fine, I guess - it's hard to expect NY Times readers to know or care about tribulations in recent French philosophy. But is it really necessary to conclude a philosopher's obit by calling him a bad writer, and his writings meaningless? This is how the article ends:

"Like other postmodernists with whom he was often associated (despite their differences), he was frequently criticized as obscure. “If the texts seem incomprehensible, it is for the excellent reason that they mean precisely nothing,” Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont wrote in their 1998 book “Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science.”

Mr. Baudrillard was not unaware of the problem. “What I’m going to write will have less and less chance of being understood,” he said, “but that’s my problem.”

I think it's particularly offensive that the obit's writer cites "Fashionable Nonsense" as the authoritative intellectual opinion of his work. But coming from the biggest bourgeois rag around, I guess this isn't so scandalous.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Scantron said...

Yes, the NYT obit is terrible. Compare the Times Online version, which despite being a Murdoch-owned paper for a generally conservative audience devotes 2 extensive pages to B. and covers his works individually. The NYT calls his first book "The Object System," which is the only way I've ever seen "le systeme des objets" translated that way. A minor quibble, but where did the author find that formulation? The rightwing NY Sun is also better, if only for its cleverness.

7:36 PM  
Blogger The Sheriff said...

Fashionable Nonsense has managed, simply put, to become just that. If I have to hear one more rolling out of tired-old Sokal...It's unbelievable what passes for critique, not to mention the fact that it is given silver-bullet, "postmodernist" killing powers by fiat

4:00 AM  
Blogger Scantron said...

Jacques Ranciere says in an interview in Artforum: "I don't have any silver bullets. There aren't any, in any case."

2:21 AM  

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