[iDC] Jean Baudrillard

rherbst at journalofaestheticsandprotest.org rherbst at journalofaestheticsandprotest.org
Tue Mar 13 22:14:15 EDT 2007

Perhaps it is precisely Baudrillard's insistant focus on the symbolic and
semiotic that is the source of frustration and 
"misreading" of his work. As Baudrillard (historically) was a popular and
cynical antithesis of McLuhan’s liberatory 
and idealistic global-village precisely at the moment of digital media’s
felt expansion into the totality of our lives, as 
opposed to an other philosopher, he probably get’s PROJECTED upon
negatively by a lot of folks (myself included), 
as opposed to just ignored as simply irrelevant to our interests.
Personally I have always been interested in ways to 
escape or expand, subvert or eclipse the symbolic order beyond current
linguistic readings of the spectacle- as 
Marcuse or Hakim Bey might. However, to contrast Baudrillard with Bey’s
writing about the simulacra (or what have 
you), Bey’s is explicitly interested in strategies of escape-an impossible
yet tantalizing project for art/media makers/
activists wishing to explore well beyond the project of an analysis of the
symbolic order of control- of how screwed 
we are. I would like to contrast Bey’s/Lamborn Wilson’s liberatory idea of
piracy with Baudrillards tortured notions of 
terrorism, a difficult and long fought paen of the shallow remainder of
something. To quote Baudrillard from 
“Simulacra and Simulations”, in the section, “On Nihilism”:

-“If being a nihilist, is carrying, to the unbearable limit of hegemonic
systems, this radical trait of derision and of 
violence, this challenge that the system is summoned to answer through its
own death, then I am a terrorist and 
nihilist in theory as the others are with their weapons. Theoretical
violence, not truth, is the only resource left us.
But such a sentiment is Utopian. Because it would be beautiful to be a
nihilist, if there
were still a radicality - as it would be nice to be a terrorist, if death,
including that of the
terrorist, still had meaning.

-But it is at this point that things become insoluble. Because to this
active nihilism of
radicality, the system opposes its own, the nihilism of neutralization. The
system is itself
also nihilistic, in the sense that it has the power to pour everything,
including what denies
it, into indifference.

-But it is at this point that things become insoluble. Because to this
active nihilism of
radicality, the system opposes its own, the nihilism of neutralization. The
system is itself
also nihilistic, in the sense that it has the power to pour everything,
including what denies
it, into indifference.

-In this system, death itself shines by virtue of its absence. (The Bologna
train station, the
Oktoberfest in Munich: the dead are annulled by indifference, that is where
terrorism is
the involuntary accomplice of the whole system, not politically, but in the
form of indifference that it contributes to imposing.) Death no longer has
a stage, neither
phantasmatic nor political, on which to represent itself, to play itself
out, either a
ceremonial or a violent one. And this is the victory of the other nihilism,
of the other
terrorism, that of the system.

-There is no longer a stage, not even the minimal illusion that makes
events capable of
adopting the force of reality-no more stage either of mental or political
solidarity: what
do Chile, Biafra, the boat people, Bologna, or Poland matter? All of that
comes to be
annihilated on the television screen. We are in the era of events without
(and of theories without consequences).

-There is no more hope for meaning. And without a doubt this is a good
thing: meaning is
mortal. But that on which it has imposed its ephemeral reign, what it hoped
to liquidate in
order to impose the reign of the Enlightenment, that is, appearances, they,
are immortal,
invulnerable to the nihilism of meaning or of non-meaning itself.
This is where seduction begins.

Similarly where Bey/Wilson sees nomadology as a tactic of pleasurable game
play, Baudrillard in “Simulacra and 
Simulations” sees it as a ghost like curse for the oppositional. "

In my earlier posting I made explicit that I was not interested in arguing
about Baudrillard’s text, but only my 
understandings of the repercussions of those texts, as I am admittedly not
a Baudrillard scholar only someone who 
recognizes the impact of Baudrillard, and it is a fools argument to take on
the recently decessed or somebody who 
has written the book. So I will conclude by returning to my initial tone
about the repercussions of Baudrillard. As 
Baudrillard was popular understood to be about the dominance of the
simulacra, his thinking and his tone came to 
be read upon an art of particular scope (Barbara Krugers self reflective
meditations on control come to mind in a 
consciously politicized format, the big paintings of David Salle invoke a
more formal reading of his thinking)- one 
which in my point of view was resigned to walk the earth as a cipher of
distant dreams, rather than an active 
participant in  dreaming an alternative. 

Original Message:
From: Merrin W. W.Merrin at swansea.ac.uk
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2007 20:20:27 -0000
To: idc at mailman.thing.net
Subject: [iDC] Jean Baudrillard

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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