A real breakthrough. Baudrillard himself is gone but his later works, considered perhaps excessive and faux-oracular, are becoming only richer guides for present becomings. Marcus, University of California, Irvine. In Baudrillard Now , he extends his thinking to renew Baudrillard's insistent value for a new generation of intellectuals and makers of culture. In a time of rampant messianism and apocalyptic visionaries, Bishop does the world a service in giving us a Baudrillard who warns us there can be apocalyptic visions neither induced nor comforted by revelation. The home of independent thinking.
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He is best known for his analyses of media, contemporary culture, and technological communication, as well as his formulation of concepts such as simulation and hyperreality. He wrote about diverse subjects, including consumerism , gender relations , economics, social history , art, Western foreign policy , and popular culture. His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and specifically post-structuralism.
Baudrillard was born in Reims , northeastern France, on 27 July His grandparents were peasant farm workers and his father a gendarme. Subsequently, he began teaching Sociology at the Paris X Nanterre , a university campus just outside Paris which would become heavily involved in the events of May In , Baudrillard made the first of his many trips to the United States Aspen , Colorado , and in , the first of several trips to Kyoto , Japan.
He was given his first camera in in Japan, which led to his becoming a photographer. During this time he had begun to move away from sociology as a discipline particularly in its "classical" form , and, after ceasing to teach full-time, he rarely identified himself with any particular discipline, although he remained linked to academia.
During the s and s his books had gained a wide audience, and in his last years he became, to an extent, an intellectual celebrity,  being published often in the French- and English-speaking popular press. Baudrillard taught at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee , Switzerland ,  and collaborated at the Canadian theory, culture, and technology review Ctheory , where he was abundantly cited.
He also participated in the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies from its inception in until his death. Baudrillard thought, as do many post-structuralists, that meaning is brought about through systems of signs working together. Following on from the structuralist linguist Ferdinand de Saussure , Baudrillard argued that meaning value is created through difference—through what something is not so "dog" means "dog" because it is not-"cat", not-"goat", not-"tree", etc.
In fact, he viewed meaning as near enough self-referential: objects, images of objects, words and signs are situated in a web of meaning; one object's meaning is only understandable through its relation to the meaning of other objects; for instance, one thing's prestige relates to another's mundanity.
From this starting point Baudrillard theorized broadly about human society based upon this kind of self-referentiality. His writing portrays societies always searching for a sense of meaning—or a "total" understanding of the world—that remains consistently elusive. In contrast to Post-structuralism such as Michel Foucault , for whom the formations of knowledge emerge only as the result of relations of power, Baudrillard developed theories in which the excessive, fruitless search for total knowledge leads almost inevitably to a kind of delusion.
In Baudrillard's view, the human subject may try to understand the non-human object, but because the object can only be understood according to what it signifies and because the process of signification immediately involves a web of other signs from which it is distinguished this never produces the desired results.
The subject is, rather, seduced in the original Latin sense, seducere , 'to lead away' by the object. He argued therefore that, in final analysis, a complete understanding of the minutiae of human life is impossible, and when people are seduced into thinking otherwise they become drawn toward a "simulated" version of reality, or, to use one of his neologisms , a state of "hyperreality".
This is not to say that the world becomes unreal, but rather that the faster and more comprehensive societies begin to bring reality together into one supposedly coherent picture, the more insecure and unstable it looks and the more fearful societies become.
Accordingly, Baudrillard argued that the excess of signs and of meaning in late 20th century "global" society had caused quite paradoxically an effacement of reality. In this world neither liberal nor Marxist utopias are any longer believed in. We live, he argued, not in a " global village ", to use Marshall McLuhan 's phrase, but rather in a world that is ever more easily petrified by even the smallest event.
Because the "global" world operates at the level of the exchange of signs and commodities, it becomes ever more blind to symbolic acts such as, for example, terrorism.
In Baudrillard's work the symbolic realm which he develops a perspective on through the anthropological work of Marcel Mauss and Georges Bataille is seen as quite distinct from that of signs and signification. Signs can be exchanged like commodities; symbols, on the other hand, operate quite differently: they are exchanged, like gifts, sometimes violently as a form of potlatch.
Baudrillard, particularly in his later work, saw the "global" society as without this "symbolic" element, and therefore symbolically if not militarily defenseless against acts such as the Rushdie Fatwa  or, indeed, the September 11 terrorist attack s against the United States and its military and economic establishment. In his early books, such as The System of Objects , For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign , and The Consumer Society , Baudrillard's main focus is upon consumerism, and how different objects are consumed in different ways.
At this time Baudrillard's political outlook was loosely associated with Marxism and Situationism , but in these books he differed from Karl Marx in one significant way.
For Baudrillard, as for the situationists, it was consumption rather than production that was the main driver of capitalist society. Baudrillard came to this conclusion by criticising Marx's concept of "use-value".
Baudrillard thought that both Marx's and Adam Smith 's economic thought accepted the idea of genuine needs relating to genuine uses too easily and too simply.
Baudrillard argued, drawing from Georges Bataille , that needs are constructed, rather than innate. He stressed that all purchases, because they always signify something socially , have their fetishistic side.
Objects always, drawing from Roland Barthes , "say something" about their users. And this was, for him, why consumption was and remains more important than production: because the "ideological genesis of needs" precedes the production of goods to meet those needs. He wrote that there are four ways of an object obtaining value.
The four value-making processes are: . Baudrillard's earlier books were attempts to argue that the first two of these values are not simply associated, but are disrupted by the third and, particularly, the fourth. But the focus on the difference between sign value which relates to commodity exchange and symbolic value which relates to Maussian gift exchange remained in his work up until his death. Indeed, it came to play a more and more important role, particularly in his writings on world events.
As Baudrillard developed his work throughout the s, he moved from economic theory to mediation and mass communication. Although retaining his interest in Saussurean semiotics and the logic of symbolic exchange as influenced by anthropologist Marcel Mauss , Baudrillard turned his attention to the work of Marshall McLuhan , developing ideas about how the nature of social relations is determined by the forms of communication that a society employs.
In so doing, Baudrillard progressed beyond both Saussure's and Roland Barthes 's formal semiology to consider the implications of a historically understood version of structural semiology. Simulation, Baudrillard claims, is the current stage of the simulacrum: all is composed of references with no referents, a hyperreality.
Throughout the s and s, one of Baudrillard's most common themes was historicity , or, more specifically, how present-day societies utilise the notions of progress and modernity in their political choices. He argued, much like the political theorist Francis Fukuyama , that history had ended or "vanished" with the spread of globalization ; but, unlike Fukuyama, Baudrillard averred that this end should not be understood as the culmination of history's progress, but as the collapse of the very idea of historical progress.
For Baudrillard, the end of the Cold War did not represent an ideological victory; rather, it signaled the disappearance of utopian visions shared between both the political Right and Left.
Giving further evidence of his opposition toward Marxist visions of global communism and liberal visions of global civil society, Baudrillard contended that the ends they hoped for had always been illusions; indeed, as The Illusion of the End argues, he thought the idea of an end itself was nothing more than a misguided dream:.
The end of history is, alas, also the end of the dustbins of history. There are no longer any dustbins for disposing of old ideologies, old regimes, old values. Where are we going to throw Marxism, which actually invented the dustbins of history? Yet there is some justice here since the very people who invented them have fallen in.
Conclusion: if there are no more dustbins of history, this is because History itself has become a dustbin. It has become its own dustbin, just as the planet itself is becoming its own dustbin. Employing a quasi-scientific vocabulary that attracted the ire of the physicist Alan Sokal , Baudrillard wrote that the speed society moved at had destabilized the linearity of history: "we have the particle accelerator that has smashed the referential orbit of things once and for all".
But, in addition to simply lamenting this collapse of history, Baudrillard also went beyond Lyotard and attempted to analyse how the idea of positive progress was being employed in spite of the notion's declining validity. Baudrillard argued that although genuine belief in a universal endpoint of history, wherein all conflicts would find their resolution, had been deemed redundant, universality was still a notion utilised in world politics as an excuse for actions.
Universal values which, according to him, no one any longer believed universal were and are still rhetorically employed to justify otherwise unjustifiable choices. The means, he wrote, are there even though the ends are no longer believed in, and are employed in order to hide the present's harsh realities or, as he would have put it, unrealities. Today, by contrast, universalization is expressed as a forward escape.
More specifically, he expressed his view on Europe's unwillingness to respond to "aggression and genocide in Bosnia", in which "New Europe" revealed itself to be a "sham. He was determined in his columns to openly name the perpetrators, Serbs, and call their actions in Bosnia aggression and genocide. Baudrillard's provocative book The Gulf War Did Not Take Place  raised his public profile as an academic and political commentator.
He argued that the first Gulf War was the inverse of the Clausewitzian formula: not "the continuation of politics by other means," but "the continuation of the absence of politics by other means. Saddam Hussein did not use his military capacity the Iraqi Air Force. His power was not weakened, evinced by his easy suppression of the internal uprisings that followed afterwards. Over all, little had changed. Saddam remained undefeated, the "victors" were not victorious, and thus there was no war—i.
Some critics [ who? Consequently, Baudrillard was accused of lazy amoralism, cynical scepticism, and Berkelian idealism. Sympathetic commentators such as William Merrin, in his book Baudrillard and the Media , have argued that Baudrillard was more concerned with the West's technological and political dominance and the globalization of its commercial interests, and what that means for the present possibility of war.
Merrin argued that Baudrillard was not denying that something had happened, but merely questioning whether that something was in fact war or a bilateral "atrocity masquerading as a war.
In Baudrillard's own words:  : 71—2. Saddam liquidates the communists, Moscow flirts even more with him; he gases the Kurds, it is not held against him; he eliminates the religious cadres, the whole of Islam makes peace with him. What is worse is that these dead still serve as an alibi for those who do not want to have been excited for nothing: at least these dead will prove this war was indeed a war and not a shameful and pointless.
Seeking to understand them as a reaction to the technological and political expansion of capitalist globalization, rather than as a war of religiously based or civilization-based warfare, he described the absolute event and its consequences as follows:. This is not a clash of civilisations or religions, and it reaches far beyond Islam and America, on which efforts are being made to focus the conflict in order to create the delusion of a visible confrontation and a solution based upon force.
There is indeed a fundamental antagonism here, but one that points past the spectre of America which is perhaps the epicentre, but in no sense the sole embodiment, of globalisation and the spectre of Islam which is not the embodiment of terrorism either to triumphant globalisation battling against itself. In accordance with his theory of society, Baudrillard portrayed the attacks as a symbolic reaction to the inexorable rise of a world based on commodity exchange.
This stance was criticised on two counts. Merrin in Baudrillard and the Media argued that Baudrillard's position affords the terrorists a type of moral superiority. In the journal Economy and Society , Merrin further noted that Baudrillard gives the symbolic facets of society unfair privilege above semiotic concerns. Second, authors questioned whether the attacks were unavoidable.
Bruno Latour , in Critical Inquiry, argued that Baudrillard believed that their destruction was forced by the society that created them, alluding to the notion that the Towers were "brought down by their own weight. During , Baudrillard wrote three short pieces and gave a brief magazine interview, all treating similar ideas; following his death in , the four pieces were collected and published posthumously as The Agony of Power , a polemic against power itself.
Baudrillard decried the "cynicism" with which contemporary businesses openly state their business models. For example, he cited French television channel TF1 executive Patrick Le Lay who stated that his business' job was "to help Coca-Cola sell its products.
He steals our denunciation. The latter pieces included further analysis of the September 11 terrorist attacks, using the metaphor of the Native American potlatch to describe both American and Muslim societies, specifically the American state versus the hijackers. In the pieces' context, "potlatch" referred not to the gift-giving aspect of the ritual, but rather its wealth-destroying aspect: "The terrorists' potlatch against the West is their own death.
Our potlatch is indignity, immodesty, obscenity, degradation and abjection. Denis Dutton , founder of Philosophy and Literature ' s "Bad Writing Contest"—which listed examples of the kind of willfully obscurantist prose for which Baudrillard was frequently criticised—had the following to say: .
Some writers in their manner and stance intentionally provoke challenge and criticism from their readers. Others just invite you to think. Baudrillard's hyperprose demands only that you grunt wide-eyed or bewildered assent.
He yearns to have intellectual influence, but must fend off any serious analysis of his own writing, remaining free to leap from one bombastic assertion to the next, no matter how brazen.
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Baudrillard: A Critical Reader
View Larger Image. Tight, clean text. Epstein and Margarete J. Bookseller Inventory Synopsis: Self-described "intellectual terrorist" Jean Baudrillard is one of the most important and provocative writers of the contemporary era. Widely acclaimed as the prophet to postmodernity, he has famously announced the disappearance of the subject, political economy, meaning, truth, the social, and the real in contemporary social formations.
Jean Baudrillard : From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond
The author argues that through today, Baudrillard is celebrated as one of the most innovative thinkers in the discourses of poststructuralism and postmodernism, his reception has been remarkably uncritical and ahistorical. There has been little analysis of his complex intellectual trajectory, of his involvement in a series of debates within the French post-May intellectual scene, and of his dramatic transformations in thinking and writing in the 's and 's. In this book, the author begins the process of mapping out, contextualizing, and critically appraising Baudrillard's trajectory. He deals first with Baudrillard's early writings, notably The System of Objects and the Consumer Society, which form the original matrix of his thought.