[iDC] Some thoughts on Jean Baudrillard and cultural studies

Charles Esche charles.esche at vanabbe.nl
Wed Mar 14 05:41:04 EDT 2007

Dear all,

I've been a lurker all this time, fascinated by the discussions at  
times and always happy with the dynamism of the conversation. So,  
thank you to all. For the record, I am responsible for a middle sized  
museum in the Netherlands that I am trying to equip as a more  
politically and locally engaged institution and co-editor of Afterall  
Books that are quite widely distributed.

Trebor asked me to respond to Baudrillard, something I don't feel  
able to do in detail but this critical turn in the conversation is  
refreshing - we certainly do not need encomiums.

It seems to me that Baudrillard's influence is almost entirely  
negative on all forms of emancipatory thinking. If we are looking for  
a critique of economic conditions in the world, of representation, of  
simulation than we cannot find it here. Even if his basic position  
were as an engaged world citizen who did acknowledge the travails of  
people who are powerless to shield themselves from the consequences  
of a world of simulacra - as I am sure he was as a human. It is the  
use and effect of his work that has to be judged. Here his apparent  
resigned, cynical indifference to the fate of the world and its  
inhabitants permitted a use of his writeings that is largely  
unforgivable. His writings have given permission,certainly in the art  
world, for a similar cynicism and acceptance of the status quo as  
long as it works for one's personal benefit. I'm thinking for  
instance of his indirect but significant effect on the British  
Goldsmiths generation of the early 1990s. This elevation of personal  
interests and desires over collective or ideological concerns can be  
laid at his door, even if he only performed the role of convenient  
excuse for an always existing set of motivations. In is for his value  
as a legitimising agent that of the cynical new world order that I  
would reject him, not for his personal ethics, whatever they were.

I am showing an Allan Kaprow exhibition at the moment and the  
attempts by the estate (sadly) and the gallery (predictably) to  
aetheticise and depoliticise his work is at such a profound level  
that it beggars belief. I see the work of this significant artist  
during the long gone heyday of American experimentalism dying before  
my eyes. It is true that it has become a simulacrum but that  
knowledge does absolutely nothing for me...and nor does any of the  
rest of his thought.


> Dear Charlie, everyone -
> This is damn interesting for an outsider:
>> 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.
> I actually don't watch TV but I have noticed this kind of thing  
> quite a bit on the billboard advertisements here in France, and  
> also in American movies. A weird demand for theoretical  
> interpretation that's basically going to generate a lot of  
> lingering over the image in question. What's impressive is the way  
> the academic relation becomes a kind of social law, not in a hard  
> authoritarian sense, but as a kind of repetition compulsion that  
> adds another layer to the usual dreck. Honestly (I don't mean any  
> personal offense) despite what seemed like the great initial  
> promise I always really disliked the overall effect of cultural  
> studies, because it seemed to me it legitimated what I still  
> consider dreck, all the garbage on TV etc., actually stuff like the  
> Inman show you talk about in your post, which we were told was real  
> life after all, made by real people after all, and full of all  
> these nuances which, though of course compromised and needful of  
> interpretation, were still really our culture, the only one we  
> have, stuff that matters. So linger over it. Baudrillard was pretty  
> much the perfect capper to that kind of story, because he said,  
> well, if you take a very distant view, everyone is totally  
> hypnotized! With no possible escape! So you might as well get into it!
> I think commercial culture is a very effective ideology, and the  
> best thing one can do is turn it off and focus on more important  
> problems, and more intense pleasures too. I don't think we're all  
> hypnotized but I do think there's a lot of noxious effects from the  
> efforts of a gigantic advertising industry that deeply influences  
> most media production. It's actually one of the important problems!  
> I am curious whether a reflection like yours above is widespread  
> among your peers, whether there is maybe something new on the  
> horizon? Have people written about this loop you describe? Is there  
> a cure for this circular malady?
> all the best, Brian Holmes
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