[iDC] Jean Baudrillard

Merrin W. W.Merrin at swansea.ac.uk
Tue Mar 13 16:20:27 EDT 2007

I'm still stunned by some of this discussion. I honestly thought that with the general availability of Baudrillard's work in translation these days that a better understanding of his work might exist. Again and again the same comments keep appearing -Baudrillard offered no hope, he had no programme for change, he saw no possibility of change, he ignored power/politics/the poor etc. so what do you expect? All we can do is smile at him and shrug ...


In fact Baudrillard's career is best understood as an attempt to develop both an escalating analysis of the operation of the western semiotic system and the forms of social control that produce and govern us today and a similarly escalating analysis of those symbolic forms that he argues shadow the system, irrupt within it or through it or arise from external sources - his names for these changed but included the symbolic, symbolic exchange, seduction, reversal, the fatal, evil, the singularity etc. Baudrillard never gives up hope (in fact that might be a better critique of his work - his tendency always to find that glimmer...), and he pursued his hope of something fighting the semiotic in the form of his work (in his own theoretical methodology - in his writing and its different strategies), in the content of his work (in his analysis of forms such as the masses, processes such as terrorism, and events such as the Gulf War or western globalisation etc.) as well as in practices he favoured (such as photography). He wasn't a Marxist and his rejection of the 'gold standard', referential real of the proletariat and their revolution means that a lot of critics didn't see what he was doing but he looked for and continually found modes and processes of reversal. A lot of the reason why many people miss this in him is because they don't realise it's there because they're too busy focusing upon the first part of his analysis - of simulation. Too few people have paid attention to the symbolic, its meaning in his work, its critical function and its practical efficacy. Just focusing on simulation means you mistake him for an apolitical, nihilistic celebrant. Marx described capitalism but it didn't make him a capitalist. Baudrillard may describe simulation ...


I also saw the earlier post which involved a critique of Baudrillard's book 'America'. It's not that important a book in his oeuvre but I do wonder if we've been reading the same book. All that stuff about  'Baudrillard in reality gives vent to the deep hostility he feels towards the common people. They simply do not exist in his book' etc. is hornswoggle. The entire critique advanced in the post is a typical product of its time - a petty and prett smug assault on what Baudrillard represents to the writer and their own feelings about his claimed postmodernism and European and intellectual status etc. rather than what he wrote in that book.The book itself bears little relation to what's being said about it. Just go to the chapter 'The End of US Power?' and you'll find a major discussion (see especially p. 112-13 of the verso translation) of the disenfranchisement of the poor with the turn to new right political and economic policies in the early 1980s. His critique of this systematic withdrawal of interest from entire sections of society is superb ('entire swathes of the population are falling into oblivion, being totally abandoned...') and his description of the process as an 'ex-communication' is spot on - reworking a religious concept in the light of what it means in a communications-based society to develop a powerful Durkheimian critique of the desocialisation of the poor and the withdrawal of even that simulation of participation he saw consumerism as offering when he wrote about it in 'The Mirror of Production'. Baudrillard didn't see the common people...? Nah, people don't see Baudrillard. 


On the day of his funeral, I'll defend him against all-comers.


William Merrin

Dept of Media and Communication Stuides

University of Wales, Swansea

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