[iDC] Some thoughts on Jean Baudrillard

Alan Clinton reconstruction.submissions at gmail.com
Mon Mar 12 22:58:51 EDT 2007

Reading Simon's and Charlie's respective meditations/mediations on
Jean/John, I'm struck by the fact that they have used a very Derridean
strategy (the research pun) to open up a conceptual space which hadn't
before existed.  They were both struck intellectually by the mystification
of two very public John's/Jean's dying so closely together, temporally
speaking.  Given their (our) methods, I'm not sure we should be so quick to
dismiss thinkers as gnomic, empirically unsupportable, etc.  For one thing,
this list itself is empirically unsupportable.  It works on the level
of tossing ideas back and forth which may or may not lead to more sustained
research projects, but that is the gamble we make in pursuing such types of

And, should thinkers always be deliverers of unambiguous information?  Is
that what really spurs more research, or does such a view of
knowledge reiterate the sort of consumerist ideologies that we (at
least American professors) deplore in our students' learning tendencies?

I'm reminded of a statement from Lacan's seminar on Poe that addresses such

"We find ourselves before this singular contradiction--I don't know if it
should be called dialectical--that the less you understand the better you
listen.  For I often say to you very difficult things, and I see you hanging
on my every word, and I learn later that you did not understand.  On the
other hand, when one tells you simple things, almost too familiar, you are
less attentive.  I just make this remark in passing, which has its interest
like any concrete observation.  I leave it for your meditation."

Mystification has a role in creating a learning disposition, as does
celebrity, as does the inchoate theory.

Alan Clinton

On 3/12/07, Gere, Charlie <c.gere at lancaster.ac.uk> wrote:
> One of the more depressing aspects of teaching cultural studies is the
> degree to which it becomes increasingly self-referential. Theory is used
> to teach students how to analyse media products and advertising. The
> choice of which such products and advertising are chosen to be analysed
> rests almost entirely on the degree to which they seem fit for such
> analysis. The same students then go and work in advertising and media,
> producing exactly the kind of products that can be, and in fact are
> designed to be analysed using the same theoretical techniques they
> themselves learnt as students. This produces a kind of closed circuit in
> which media and advertising seems increasingly designed to be analysed.
> Much advertising, films such as The Matrix or virtual environments such
> as Second Life seem almost to come with instructions about how they
> should be analysed, like some oven-ready pre-prepared meal, complete
> with serving suggestion. This is one of the reasons why I think much of
> the discussion about Second Life is often somewhat pointless. Second
> Life isn't really a virtual environment and it's not really a viable
> means to make meaningful communities or cultures. It is, rather, a
> little machine that can produce its own auto-referential discourse and
> legitimise certain kinds of theoretical thinking. What it can tell you
> about life or allow you to experience beyond what it has been programmed
> to reveal, I am not sure. As they say in computing 'garbage in, garbage
> out'.
> I fear that Jean Baudrillard, who died a few days ago, must take some of
> the blame for this. I think he was often brilliant, never less than
> highly provocative and frequently misunderstood. But his gnomic,
> oracular style, and his deadpan pronouncements on contemporary phenomena
> meant that people often failed to see the joke and to treat his
> pronouncements far more seriously than they should have been or than he
> must have intended. Thus beguiling, but ultimately fairly dubious,
> totalising and empirically unsupportable, or at least highly reductive
> notions about 'simulacra' and 'simulation' were not only taken far too
> seriously, but helped to produce and support cultural phenomena which
> were then taken as evidence of the rightness of Baudrillard's ideas.
> On the day of Baudrillard's death, an English comic actor called John
> Inman also died. Inman was most famous for being in an absolutely
> atrocious English sitcom called 'Are You Being Served' in the 1970s and
> 80s, which was surprisingly popular abroad. It was set in a department
> store and featured a number of stereotyped characters, including a
> stuffy ex-Army Colonel shopwalker, a sexually-frustrated older woman, a
> dolly bird, a randy young man and so on. Inman's character, Mr
> Humphreys, was a very camp and clearly very gay menswear assistant. His
> catchphrase, spoken with sibilant glee, was 'I'm Free', ostensibly to
> indicate his ability to serve a customer, but clearly an encoded
> reference to male gay sexuality at a time when such things were barely
> discussed let alone represented on television.
> Even towards the end of the programme's run Inman's character was being
> strongly criticised by gay activists for its stereotypical effeminacy,
> and the programme is now almost unwatchable. Yet, thinking about the
> respective deaths of Inman and Baudrillard, I wondered whether Inman's
> gay character didn't have a lot more interesting things to say about
> simulation and simulacra. For all the now-unacceptable stereotyping of
> Inman's character he did also manage to suggest the complex ways in
> which his character lived in relation to the contradictory demands of
> our embodied, lives, our sexuality and our being with others.
> Charlie Gere
> Reader in New Media Research
> Director of Research
> Institute for Cultural Research
> Lancaster University Lancaster LA1 4YL UK
> Tel: +44 (0) 1524 594446
> E-mail: c.gere at lancaster.ac.uk
> http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/cultres/staff/gere.php
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