of His Former Self1
Guardian Newspaper, UK: http://www.guardian.co.uk)
Jean Baudrillard, the French philosopher who told us that
everything is mere simulacrum, is dead. But his ideas have a life of their own.
of the death of Jean Baudrillard provokes mischievous and possibly
disrespectful thoughts about how he would have reported his own passing.
"It never happened" would be the obvious choice. For those of us who
didn't know him personally, the "death of Baudrillard" is an entirely
media event, one which we only observe through the filter of news, the internet
and television. To believe otherwise is to fail to recognize the nature of our
"hyperreal" society, in which we are no longer able to distinguish
between reality itself and its simulation.
readers who have learned to dismiss anything that has the vague whiff of
postmodernism about it will probably be snorting at the absurdity of all this.
But it actually makes quite a bit of sense to me. Not complete sense, but then
that's probably because, like almost everyone whose training in philosophy took
place in a British university, I've never seriously studied Baudrillard. That
sort of stuff isn't considered bona fide by most of our team, which is why a
group of Cambridge academics tried to stop their university awarding Jacques
Derrida an honorary degree in 1992.
certainly true that France is a philosophically foreign country: they do things
differently there. You could say they adopt a different style, but that would
be to imply that Anglo-American philosophy has any style at all, when most of
its arid writing is actually the literary equivalent to Alan Partridge's
sports-causal fashion collection. What our breed of philosophy has is a method,
and with it supposed rigour.
French, in contrast, have, if anything, too much style. The grand rhetorical
sweep of many of Baudrillard's pronouncements – the Gulf war never happened;
history has become its own dustbin; the west, in a sense, wanted 9/11 – sound
to our commonsensical ears like absurd exaggerations.
if you get past the hyperbolic flourishes, thinkers like Baudrillard are
actually saying things that have more resonance and relevance to contemporary
society than the majority of what is written by more sober Brits and Americans.
That's why, although shunned by philosophers, the likes of Baudrillard have
been taken up by other social sciences and humanities.
recurring theme of Baudrillard’s work is that we live in a world in which
representation and simulation have come to dominate over what was once thought
of as reality, to the extent that our reality now often is our simulation of
it. That's why it is now not only possible to be "famous for being
famous", but it's what many young people actively have as an ambition.
Because of thinkers like Baudrillard, we have come to think better and deeper
about such issues, which is why we should be more prepared to forgive him for
his many excesses.
is some irony in the fact that many of those quickest to dismiss Baudrillard
don't actually have any knowledge of his philosophy at all, but only secondhand
representations of it. Perhaps the oft-derided Baudrillard got the last laugh,
© The Guardian