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ISSN: 1705-6411

Volume 4, Number 3 (October, 2007).

Special Issue: Remembering Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard and The Desert of the Real1


The Masticator Website


            “Americans may have no identity, but they do have wonderful teeth.” Baudrillard said more profound things, but I like that quote. He died this week at the age of 77. He was known lately as an inspiration for the Wachowski brothers' movie The Matrix, which Baudrillard said misread his ideas. Before The Matrix, he was notorious for his essay “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place” (1993), in which he argued that the first Iraq war was so mechanized and computerized that it was unlike any war before.
            The London Times summed up his legacy in the sub-head of the obituary: "Postmodernist provocateur and cultural theorist who blamed consumerism for destroying reality." Baudrillard was fascinated with America, and fancied himself a sort of postmodern Tocqueville. In an essay called "Utopia Achieved" (1986), he wrote:

Here in the U.S., culture is not that delicious panacea which we Europeans consume in a sacramental mental space and which has its own special columns in the newspapers – and in people’s minds. Culture is space, speed, cinema, technology. This culture is authentic, if anything can be said to be authentic.


I think that to Baudrillard, America was an experimental culture so obsessed with its identity – or the lack of one – that it made one up.
            Every culture has its folklore and creation myths; what makes America different? For one, we have very self-conscious witnesses to America's birth cataloging it. For another, what other culture is so pre-occupied with recreating itself through pageantry? We have the Disney World/Land miniature idealizations, Civil War re-enactors, Colonial Williamsburg, and reality TV. On that note, Baudrillard's most interesting ideas came from his 1981 essay collection Simulacra and Simulation. In the first essay, "The Precession of Simulacra," Baudrillard invokes Jorge Luis Borges' story in which map makers create a map so detailed that it duplicates its subject exactly. This, Baudrillard wrote, is "the most beautiful allegory of simulation." He continues:

Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – that engenders the territory, and if one must return to the fable, today it is the territory whose shreds slowly rot across the extent of the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges persist here and there in the deserts that are no longer those of the Empire, but ours. The desert of the real itself.



© themasticator.blogspot.com


1 A longer version of this article originally appeared on The Masticator Website on March 07, 2007: http://themasticator.blogspot.com/2007/03/quote-of-dayobituary-jean-baudrillard.html



© International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2007)

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