from American writers and artists (for Le Nouvel Observateur)
What can one say of Baudrillard? His strange and striking apercus captured the moment, and his predictive powers, as a man who saw early on the rise of the media state, were unique. When I made my own science fiction virtual reality film, “Strange Days,” Baudrillard exerted a strong influence on my thinking. His prescient notion of hyper-reality – of a world in which the image feels more real than the original – was a constant inspiration, like a developer’s wash, coloring every frame, informing the film. His passing creates a vacuum, from which the media-centric world will not escape.
Kathryn Bigelow is a Hollywood filmmaker. She directed Blue Steel, 1990; Point Break, 1991;Strange Days, 1995; The Weight of Water, 2000; K-19: The Widowmaker, 2002. She lives in Los Angeles.
Maybe things are easier to see from the beginning, or just before the beginning when it’s as if you’re making it up rather than describing it. It’s easier but it requires a weird kind of modesty combined with delirium in the pursuit. When your books were first coming out in the United States they were great to me because you were articulating things that were there but there was no concept for them. Or your statement of it was the best because it wasn’t prescriptive and it wasn’t a lament even though you spoke of a huge desolation that was already in place! but your writings always seemed to be there and not there, they seemed to matter and to not matter—
We’re in it. We grew up in this nothing. We recognize it, and We are it. You’re describing us. It’s funny to be described. That’s our part of the dialectic. To misunderstand you. It’s our right. Forgive us for being excited. For taking the ball and running with it—the wrong way! Maybe to be understood is actually not that great, it’s overrated.
When I wanted to think about you more I went into the Labyrinth Bookstore and bought 5 books: theQur’an with a gold cover for twenty dollars; Plato’s Republic an improved translation for fifteen; theSymposium, the best version of the many they had, for thirteen; Actors and Singers by Richard Wagner for $4.98; and your Symbolic Exchange and Death, in paperback, which was not in the philosophy section but in the cultural studies section, for—and this amazed me, I thought it was a mistake—55 dollars. On my way home on the train I bought a copy of the New York Post. It was the day Imus got fired. I was reading all the headlines (for instance “Fatal Biz Trip,”) and got off at 96th to wait for the express, accidentally leaving all the books on the departing local under my seat in a white bag. Some tears came up to my eyes. Only now do I realize I could have possibly overtaken the local with the express and maybe recovered the books!
Jim Fletcher, poet and writer, is the co-author of Reena Spaulings. He works mostly as a performer with the New York City Players, Elevator Repair Service, and the Wooster Group. He lives in New York.
“I never read Baudrillard,” Richard Prince once said in response to an interviewer asking the artist to recall media theorists who might have been relevant to his practice during the ’80s. The statement is rather suspect, of course, but perhaps also apt for that very reason: Baudrillard’s real influence on the art world has long seemed to reside in his very obscurity—in his simultaneous presence and absence, in his existing as a name or an idea, or perhaps better (and to use the fraught parlance of today’s United States), as a “known unknown.” When he first appeared in the United States with his Simulations of 1983, the seeds of Baudrillard’s subject—the increasingly pervasive logic whereby all aspects of society are distilled into networked information; public and private become indistinct; and the notion of criticality is rendered problematic—would find very fertile ground among artists seeking to address the workings of commodity culture and its vast circulation of images in reproduction. And yet the theorist’s work offered at best a provocative parallel to their own, placing a dynamic blind spot on the mirror they held up to society and its operations. Consider his essay “What Are You Doing After the Orgy?,” published in Artforum only a few months after the publication of Simulations: By turns allegorical and poetic (shifting the very definition of obscenity), the text looks away from art, never seeking to explain it, seeming as much fictional as analytical, comprising both fog and light, presenting a cool opacity rivaling that of, say, Prince. The irony is that such a pose and its success in artistic circles—its viral proliferation by virtue of some performed resistance to definition—provided less a way to consider art than to set in relief the broader conventions of art’s presentation. And this quality perhaps makes Baudrillard even more relevant to art now, since his subsequent derision of art’s “conspiracy” seems a perfect rejoinder to the emergence of criticality as a self-legitimating style within a field of contemporary art that is proliferating—and which is the object of financial speculation—as never before. His declaration of its “nullity” allows again for some potential—around art, and in language in and around art—where otherwise there is too often none.
Tim Griffin, poet and writer, is editor-in-chief of Artforum International. He published a volume of essays, Contamination, 2002, in collaboration with artist Peter Halley and On Commitment, 2007, Lukas & Sternberg, Berlin. He lives in New York City.
Baudrillard’s death was a shock, since his work was haunted by death. Simulation seemed in essence a sophisticated mechanism designed for the negation of mortality. His writing stood at the apotheosis of twentieth-century linguistic theory, defining language as “exchanging in itself,” as something hermetic, autonomous, and all-powerful.
Baudrillard abandoned the political engagement of French philosophy that held sway since Sartre. Embracing the Americanism of Disney and Warhol, he rejected the existentialism of Heidegger. In his system of simulation, language is finally untethered from referents and signifieds: it is freed from the constraining forces of the real world. Baudrillard was an alchemist, a magician whose technique was language. Not content with poetics or interpretation, Baudrillard gave language the means to rewrite the world. He swept away the realities of power, work, politics, – and death –- through his mystical craft.
Peter Halley is an artist and art critic in New York City. During the 1980s, he wrote a series of essays that employed Baudrillard’s ideas to examine issues in contemporary art. Halley is also the director of graduate studies in Painting at the Yale University School of Art.
If I could make Baudrillard laugh in his grave, I’d begin by saying that he was “a real original.” The thinker who could see through the artifice behind every artiface showed us the sameness of difference with hilariously distressing sang-froid: his brilliance consists of the revelation that any revelation is designed to conceal its complicity with that which is revealed. We are “acted upon” by illusory binaries, in the belief that we are taking action by choosing between options that persist precisely because each secretly supports the other, reinforces the other, and acts on the other’s behalf. Therefore the Left performs the work of the Right, the Right the work of the Left, in a game of endlessly reconfigured appearances that have nothing behind them.
Baudrillard’s writings on America comprise the most astute and clear-sighted view of the United States since de Tocqueville’s. To paraphrase a later writer, this is indeed a country that craves more than anything a tragedy with a happy ending. Baudrillard recognized that for America, tragedy is the happy ending, and the happy ending is the tragedy. And all the world today is America, a land of shadows that are cast by other shadows rather than the occupants of Plato’s cave. Today’s equivalent of Plato’s cave, as Baudrillard made clear, is Disneyland: everything outside it is the amusement park, and everything within is a concentration camp. But in fact there is no reality in either place and they are identical locations. The insidious genius of capitalism is its ability to make a concentration camp the same thing as an amusement park.
Marcuse coined the term “totalitarian democracies” in the course of a 1970 lecture “Obsolescence of the Freudian Concept of Man.” Baudrillard’s task encompassed a breathing definition of this phrase, and much more. In a famous and now-forgotten exchange, Marcuse replied to a polemic by Norman O. Brown that “an airplane may be a phallic symbol, but it also gets you from Vienna to Paris in three hours.” Baudrillard substantiated and simultaneously nullified the argument. Your phallic symbol may fly you from Vienna to Paris in even less than three hours today, but you are literally going nowhere, merely exchanging one cardboard theater set for another: the stage remains empty of actors and crowded with shadows enslaved to capital.
Gary Indiana is a novelist and cultural critic who has also worked extensively in film, video, theater, and photography. His most recent books are Schwarzenegger Syndrome, an account of California’s political history and the “special election” that made Arnold Schwarzengger governor of the state, andDo Everything in the Dark, a novel. He writes regularly for Le Purple Journal in Paris. His novels Perverse Indifference and Trois mois de fièvre are published by Editions de l’Aube and Phebus, respectively. He currently lives in New York City.
Baudrillard has never been as influential in France as in the English-speaking world and elsewhere. He is an example of the “global popular,” a thinker who has followers and readers throughout the world, though, so far, no Baudrillardian school has emerged. His influence has been largely at the margins of a various disciplines ranging from social theory to philosophy to art history. Thus it is difficult to gauge his impact on any specific academic discipline. He is perhaps most important as part of the postmodern turn against modernity.
At the same time that his work was becoming extremely popular, Baudrillard’s own writing became increasingly difficult and occasionally hermetic. His new metaphysical speculations are evident in Fatal Strategies (1983), but it is a specific type of metaphysics deeply inspired by pataphysics. Like Jarry’s, Baudrillard’s universe is ruled by surprise, reversal, hallucination, blasphemy, obscenity, and a desire to shock and outrage. In this bizarre metaphysical scenario, the objects triumph over subjects within the “obscene” proliferation of an object world so completely out of control that it surpasses all attempts to understand, conceptualize and control it. In the final analysis, Baudrillard appears as a completely idiosyncratic thinker who went his own way and developed his own mode of writing and thought. He is perhaps more useful as a provocateur. He had a good, long run, and we will miss his acerbic irony, provocations, and challenges to contemporary thought and discourse.
Douglas Kellner is professor in the Philosophy of Education at UCLA in Los Angeles, He is author ofCamera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film; Critical Theory, Marxism, and Modernity; Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond; Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations; Media Spectacle and the Crisis of Democracy
At The Chance Event at Whiskey Pete’s Casino in Primm, Nevada, November 1996, 400 people lay on the floor at 2 in the morning to hear Jean Baudrillard deliver a lecture on the Demise of the Real. Because of the drugs, the lateness of hour, Jean’s heavy French accent, the bad last-minute translation and the fact that few of us were trained as philosophers, the people assembled at best heard every fifth word. The response was ecstatic. Jean was wearing a gold lame Liberace suit, and though he was a reluctant guru, he was willing to accept what the audience gave him: a pure, undiluted unconditional love. Think, Johnny Cash performing at Folsom Prison. (We were prisoners of our highly evolved senses of irony.) The Santa Claus factor. Baudrillard was – like William S. Burroughs at the end of his life – one of those rare public figures whose presence conveys a promise of happiness beyond any literal content, beyond any hype. His books were written in aphorisms — the kind of texts where every page is marked with a Post-It, every sentence is underlined. For his last public appearances in New York in November, 2005, hundreds of young people lined up in the streets outside his venues. It was clear that they’d come not just to hear his (breathtaking) lecture on Abu Ghraib, but to be able to say years later: they’d been there, they’d heard Jean Baudrillard. Modest, independent, and devastatingly humorous, Jean’s work transmitted the lost urbanity of the mid-20th century while speaking of and into the future. His writings described the present with breathtaking accuracy without ever becoming programmatic. No wonder fans gathered around him. Cheerfully nihilistic, Baudrillard’s work gave us ways our own vague perceptions could become something larger, systemic and totally crystalline.
Chris Kraus, ecrivain, vit a Los Angeles et enseigne un atelier d’ecriture a l’Universite de California a San Diego. Elle a publie deux romans I Love Dick et Torpor, et deux essais, Aliens and Anorexia etVideogreen: Los Angeles and the Triumph of Nothingness. Co-editrice des editions Semiotext(e), elle a organize l’evenement sur la “Chance” dans le desert en 1996 en hommage a Jean Baudrillard. Elle vit a Los Angeles.
The counterfactual, a strategic conundrum posed in relation to historical events, asks us to speculate on the “what if?”—for example, what if a given writer’s work had never been published, or, what if the victors of a given war had actually lost it? In the case of Jean Baudrillard, art historians and critics might reflect on that period called Postmodernism, and wonder, “what if Baudrillard’s thoughts on thesimulacrum and the“fetishism of the signifier,” also termed by him the “object as sign,” had never been known? The centrality of this theoretical work meant that his essay “The Precession of Simulacra” was considered essential to the anthology Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation (Brian Wallis, ed. New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1984).
Among the artists whose practice is unthinkable without such a contribution to the discourse are Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, or Robert Rauschenberg.
Modernism abandoned representation in favor of an assertion of the material substance that could be demonstrated as the origin of a given painting or sculpture, the pictorial or plastic surfaces made to redouble that physical origin in abstract terms. The simulacrum, which might be defined as a copy without an original, provokes Baudrillard to refer to the fable by Borges about the map that completely covers the territory it is supposed to represent to the point where the double could be confused with the real thing. “Simulation,” he writes, “is no longer that of 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 survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory.” The copy without an original was exploited by postmodernist artists to void the idea of the human subject as originator of his or her actions, thoughts, expressions. If Cindy Sherman’s subjects are to be read as a congeries of all the movies, advertisements, slogans . . . . that precede the very existence of the subject, such subjects are asserted as simulacra. The same presentation of consciousness as simulacral is to be found in both Rauchenberg’s combines and Warhol’s portraits.
Another example of Baudrillard’s “precession of simulacra” is postmodern architecture which overthrows the Bauhaus-based notion that “form follows function” such that a building’s exterior will exhibit its internal structures, the columns (called pilotis) lifting the base of the building off its platform on the ground, in order to manifest its structural supports, or the floors of the building extending out past these columns—a horizontal plane called “cantilever”—as the evidence of the hidden steel beams that form the internal latticework of structures meant to withstand both gravity and lateral stress.
Postmodernists, such as Michael Graves or Robert Venturi (or the late work of Philip Johnson) abandoned this doctrine in favor of a decorative cladding that represents classical columns or rococo embellishments, thereby adopting Baudrillard’s radical idea of “the object as sign.” Baudrillard, himself, declared the historical threshold of this reconception when he wrote, “The transition from signs which dissimulate something to signs which dissimulate that there is nothing marks the decisive turning point. The first implies a theology of truth and secrecy (to which the notion of ideology still belongs). The second inaugurates an age of simulacra and simulation.”
Rosalind Krauss, art critic and theorist is University professor at Columbia University in New York. She is the author of Explosante-fixe : photographie et surrealisme, 1985 ; Le Photographique, 1990 ;L’Originalite de l’avant-garde et autres mythes modernistes, 1993; Cindy Sherman, 1993 ; The Optical Unconscious, 1994 ; The Picasso Papers, 1998. She curated L’Informe at the Centre georges Pompidou.
NORMAN M. KLEIN
While his early books were admired in the US, particularly The Mirror of Production, Jean Baudrillard became a prophet among American critics and artists mostly during the 1980’s, after his essay on the “Precession of the Simulacrum” was translated in Semiotext(e). For decades afterward, he remained a canonical figure here. His ironic jeremiads tracked the growing omnipotence of the entertainment economy, in war, “post-urban” culture, media.
Most of all, he offered permissions for American writers, though frankly, they were generally not used. He suggested, quite magnificently, that all systems of literary objectivity were now a construction, fiction posing as fact. He even playfully wrote Roussel-like journeys through an imaginary America, in a voice that turned memoir into philosophical picaresque.
Clearly too often, he was revered in the US as canon– an ontological proof of God, almost a gnostic cult. Many American scholars and critics quoted from Baudrillard as if he were the Newest Testament, quite the reverse of what he intended. Clearly he knew better, very much better.
Baudrillard’s writing taught me that the sign was layered, duplicitous; and that the growth of the entertainment economy was replacing dialectical forms of culture with tourism high and low. Often when I think of Baudrillard, I laugh, imagining him listening to the dull hum of ten billion jelly beans being polished.
Too often, Baudrillard was misunderstood in the US as a prophet who made entertainment imperialism look exotic. I see a very, very different figure, though truthfully, I often wondered if he was entirely comfortable shedding the logic of his earlier arguments, tracing simulation into the nineties and afterward.
Indeed what did happen to the 1981 version of simulacra after the Cold War? We repeat: In 1981, in Baudrillard’s Paris at least, the simulacrum might be described as a copy that did not need an original. By 1991, much changed: The simulacrum was simply the original itself. It had emerged as the glowing center of all global branding. This upgraded simulacrum was by no means a cracked or crazy nocturne, not a “matrix.” It was simply the mood that sold anything.
Thus, Baudrillard is also a primary source for the historian. He clarified very powerfully how simulation evolved. Even his anxieties after 1989 reveals how the next stage adapted. Thus, to his enduring credit, he becomes precisely what he thought was impossible— an historical figure of commanding and ironic importance, an anti-sage, a structuralist. He leaves us to keep tracking the cruel phantom that he followed so brilliantly for so long.
Norman Klein is a critic, historian and novelist in Los Angeles. He is the author of The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory, The Vatican to Vegas: The History of Special Effects, Freud in Coney Island and Other Tales and The Imaginary Twentieth Century“, 2007, a database novel,
The Asymmetrical Philosopher
It would be paradoxical to call Jean Baudrillard « a real original,» which he really was, since he denied that we live in a world where originality is still possible. Baudrillard broke the news in Simulations,which I first published in the U.S. in 1983 and remains by far his most influential essay. It made him instantly famous among the New York art world, far more so than he ever managed to be in France. Few American artists at the time realized that he was proclaiming in earnest the end of the principle of reality, consumed by the spiraling abstraction of capital. What they took for a smart conceit seductively packaged, was in fact the end-point of a huge vision spanning the entire history of humanity, societies surging and tumbling down, the wisest imploding in slow-motion, others, like ours, rushing at full speed into oblivion. It was the beginning of a cordial misunderstanding that lasted until his death. He did little to dissipate it, except for occasional outbursts, like his brutal attack on Le Complot de l’artwhich didn’t shake the art world as much as it should have, actually vindicating his main argument. Baudrillard really meant business, and foresaw early on that the art world would mean it too. His warnings now sound mild compared to the global explosion that finally engulfed it, polluting the world with « art. » Simulation itself, picked up by The Matrix, eventually became a blockbuster, turning Baudrillard into an international superstar. If America didn’t exist, Baudrillard would have invented it. And I sometimes suspect that he did.
As a superstar he didn’t quite fit the part, although once, near Las Vegas, he reluctantly accepted to wear a golden-lame jacket to address his fans, and actually enjoyed it. As a person, he was in fact spectacularly uncharismatic and unimpressive, everything but the dandy or the eccentric personality most people assumed he was. Just like William Burroughs, to whom he could be compared, he was « El Hombre Invisible, » and all the more visible for that. Actually Baudrillard didn’t mind the cool image that belied his appearance. He even tried to inhabit it himself, calling his diaries Cool Memories. And he certainly was cool and detached in his writing, using a healthy mix of caustic humor and cynicism to chronicle the last throws of a civilization carelessly shedding its most vital values, death included, and deserving its fate.
The most forceful theorist of the electronic media with Marshall McLuhan and Paul Virilio, Baudrillard never used a computer and hardly ever watched television, having once and for all broken its code. He kept instead moving silently behind the screen, like the masses he generously credited with his own stubborn resistance to the media. Baudrillard always made sure, like the child in the bubble, that he wouldn’t be contaminated by our mediatized culture. He despised it with such a cold passion that he eventually became its most insightful analyst. In a world where differences were becoming an endangered species, he was always careful to preserve his own indifference, cultivating the void in the hope of seeing real events emerge from it. That was his way of thinking, and he was a powerful thinker, one of the most lucid political minds in our time, and the most contemptuous of what currently passes for politics. When events suddenly erupted – like May ’68, or the September 11 attacks – he proved to be the only one equipped to acknowledge them for what they were, having carved for them an empty space in his theory. His stunning « Requiem for the Twin Towers » managed to answer the event in kind, extending its power even further, while everyone else was busy piling up explanations to bury it. Instead he let the unprecedented attacks absorb all events past and future like a bomb. It certainly takes an asymmetrical philosopher to understand asymmetrical strategies of that kind.
Baudrillard was not an academic philosopher, but he was more of a philosopher than most, being an artist in thought, a prophet of the present, capable of anticipating with a hallucinating precision what shape our world would take in years or decades to come. Contrary to what most believed, he was by far the most realist thinker in our time.
Sylvere Lotringer, ecrivain et philosophe, est professeur a l’Universite de Columbia a New York. Il dirige la revue/maison d’editions Semiotext(e) qui a introduit la “French Theory” aux Etats-Unis. Il a edite French Theory in America, (Routledge, 2001), Hatred of Capitalism (Semiotext(e), 2002, with Chris Kraus) et publiue Pure War (Semiotext(e), 1983 with Paul Virilio), Oublier Artaud (2005, avec Jean Baudrillard) et Fous d’Artaud (Editions Sens et Tonka, 2003) ainsi qu’A Satiete (Editions Desordres, 2006).
PAUL D. MILLER aka Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid
Baudrillard: A Remembrance of Things Unpassed
I first met Jean Baudrillard at a conference Chris Kraus and Sylvere Lotringer of Semiotext(e) organized in Las Vegas several years ago. The idea of the conference was about chance processes. Needless to say, with the Whiskey Casino as the backdrop for the conference, and randomness as the main motif of the situation, the soundtrack of the constant churning of slot machine wheels and pulleys, and the continuous movement of the attendees between speeches and gambling, it all seemed totally appropriate. Baudrillard gave his speech dressed in a gold suit in simulation of Elvis, and I ran my speech through various software processes to turn it into the sound of water. When I look back at the moment, it seems crystal clear that we were at the edge of an aesthetic and philosophical ocean turn in how people put ideas together in the era of hyper media. Since that time, simple things like wireless networks, the ubiquity of the Ipod, global media events like 9/11 or the SARS virus, have all brought home how prescient his thought was. The world knows Baudrillard as the philosopher who gave us a cautionary tale about simulation, and if the events of today – the war in Iraq, the economics of globalization, Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans – have told us that in no uncertain terms, we live in a world with a more and more tenuous grasp of the “reality” underpinning the myths of the present day. In a world where bleak man made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social and environmental developments cannot be denied, his words were a beacon of how we can reason through the myriad ways that we humans have displaced the natural world. For me as a just graduating student in the early mid 90’s, Baudrillard seemed like a figure who cut through the haze of post-everything American cultural malaise. I studied French literature at a time when it seemed that America was enthralled by the end of the Cold War – my studies were populated with people like Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Althusser, Lacan, bounded by Badiou. Kristeva, Cixous, Irigaray, Wittig… The list goes on but you get the point: these figures are part of a pantheon where, perhaps, one of the common themes is a simple cry for new ways to perceive how the mass media-landscape inadvertently invades and splinters the private mind of the individual.
What Baudrillard did for me was make the world safe for doubt: doubt about the intentions of governments, corporations, ideologies, and yes, people. Like J.G. Ballard or Bruce Sterling, his work hovered between descriptions of the world in present tense and the strange and uncanny networks that hold together “the real.” For him, like the ‘simulacrum’ following DeBord’s ‘spectacle’ where ‘revolution’ became synonymous with hyperconsumerism and something everyone did against the name of ‘freedom,’ but that’s freedom of choice, of course. I don’t mean to say anything here, I wonder about the doubting that once swayed the world.
Today, I wrote this piece traveling on a flight between Tokyo and Istanbul, and as I sit here and use a wireless network in the coffee lounge of the Hotel Buyuk Londra, I re-read him as doubting everything – it’s as if Baudrillard says never model a thought about anything unless you can say it to yourself. The thought lingers, and links to a meta critique: it posits modern thought as withdrawn, proffered as kind of a peripheral speech. At the birth of the 21st century, at the birth of the new New World, of suicide bombers, insane Presidents, multi-media equipped private armies and fundamentalist militas, his words bear reviewing: Baudrillard – a voice that says the seductions of reality are what we now hold dear.We speak the world. Reform, remix, re-engineer the consent of the Western world. We need this analysis more than ever. Vietnam is now long gone. Flip the script and think: for us children of the late 20th century, memory is a scarce resource. In the rear view mirror – May 68 was almost forty years ago and most of us young people have never thought of burning monks, Chariman Mao, Stalin, or the origins of half of today’s problems. I think back to an almost innocent moment in the mid 1990’s when Baudrillard with a gold suit, made people remember that the chance processes of the world are what give us joy. With a simple flourish, I think that he set the tone for many young artists, writers, and musicians, to remember a simple thing: that another world is possible.
Paul D. Miller is a writer, artist, and musician based in New York City. His first book “Rhythm Science” (2004) focused on contemporary art and dj culture. His artwork has appeared in venues like The Whitney Biennial, The Venice Biennial, and his first film “Rebirth of a Nation,” a remix of D.W. Griffith’s infamous 1915 film “Birth of a Nation” comes out mid-2007.
Jean Baudrillard’s reception by Marxists in the United States was very mixed. The leading American Marxist theorist, Fredric Jameson, was close to Jean in the 1970s when he taught in San Diego, where Jean visited often. Jameson’s celebrated and influential essay on postmodern culture from 1984 betrays a strong influence of Baudrillard’s work. Others, such as Douglas Kellner, an adept of the Frankfurt School especially interested in the work of Herbert Marcuse, were less favorable. These writers worried about Jean’s apparent lack of attention to the labor process, worrying that he deflected attention from an analysis of the mode of production. Other Marxists who wrote on problems directly associated with Jean’s work, like Stuart Ewen in Captains of Consciousness – a work on advertising that achieved considerable recognition – either ignored Jean’s work completely or were highly critical of it. Jean’s compelling analyses of contemporary culture seems to have repelled or even frightened some American Marxists.
Yet Jean’s work did reach a large audience, by American academic standards. His work on the hyperreal and the simulacrum have been read by tens of thousands of scholars and students in the U.S. His insights into and complaints about media culture have inspired countless writers and have strongly influenced the direction of American critical thinking about popular culture. Disneyland, for instance, cannot be studied without mention of brief but highly influential remarks about it. In fact, Baudrillard, together with Michel de Certeau, have been, in my estimate, more important to the study of contemporary mediated culture than the American derivation of the Birmingham School cultural studies movement.
Mark Poster is professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Irvine. His recent book is: Information Please: Culture and Politics in a Digital Age (2006). He also translated Jean Baudrillard’s Le Miroir de la production and edited Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings.
Jean Baudrillard opened a dossier that appeared to many of us to take the Nietzschean insurrection seriously, beyond the well-marked stages of modernity. He disinhibited a whole area of thought. Jean uprooted what bore the burden of a certain historical monumentalism and had stagnated. He was among the first to take a medial turn, pointing out the fictive edges and deluded systems, the many dispositions of dissimulation and referential unrest, on which our discursive tendencies relied. He didn’t replace a depleted authority with a new authority but indicated the complications of an often concealed sense and scene of the political unconscious. Moreover, we were struck by the often refreshing and always astonishing capacity for aggression that his work was capable of displaying–against Foucault, for example. He introduced a new tonality, brisk and acute, without pathos, into the relations one thought one had with lofty and often untouchable predecessors.
Avital Ronell, philosophe, professeur a Berkeley, puis New York University, dirige le programme des Etudes sur le Traumatisme et la Violence. Elle a publie Telephone Book (Bayard), Stupidite (Stock ) etAmerican Philo (Stock).
“Of all the French thinkers who influenced their American counterparts in the 1970s and 1980s, Baudrillard captured best the mix of attraction and repulsion that Europeans felt for American culture at that time. After his too cute analysis of the first Gulf War (that “it had not happened”) he was more easily dismissed as a dilettante, and his cult reputation never recovered.”
Andrew Ross is professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. He is the author of many books, most recently, Fast Boat to China: Corporate Flight and the Consequences of Free Trade.
“When I read Baudrillard’s Simulations in its first American Semiotexte edition, I was startled by its ability to excavate a buried memory.
When I was 10 years old, in 1962, my mother worked for a corporation called Simulmatics. Their US government-supported project: to build a computer simulation of a Vietnamese village and determine the content of the most effective propaganda pamphlet to encourage Vietcong defection to “our” side.
This “top secret” project has never been reported in the American press. Baudrillard’s book had the gift to explicate a well-guarded secret. Baudrilllard’s facility was to process information and use his results to generate the feeling of the present as it detonates into the future. His work as the immediacy of fact and the resonance of science fiction.”
Michael Silverblatt, dubbed “the best reader in America” by Norman Mailer is host and producer of public radio’s premier literary talk-show Bookworm. He lives in Los Angeles.
Sophie Calle was in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s, taking photographs of the angels of the city of angels, and someone introduced us, and she came to my house and took pictures of some simple unpainted inexpensive plaster angels my wife and I kept on a wall in the living room, all the memorial we could tolerate after two miscarriages. In the way the conversations turn, I told her that I was reading Baudrillard, and a few years later, without an introduction, Baudrillard called me while he was in Los Angeles.
I took him on the Universal City Studios Tour. Is this place known outside America? It’s impossible to set all the context without an encyclopedia. After Disneyland, this is the largest tourist attraction in California, or imagine “Movieland” as a zone of Disneyland alongside Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The centerpiece of the tour is a tram ride through the real Universal Studios, between the sound stages and through the backlot. Millions take the tour every year. To make things perfectly Baudrillardian, the tour passes through fake sets designed to look like real sets. Passing a plantation mansion house that was all front, with nothing behind it, the guide explained, “This is a façade. Does anyone on the bus know what ‘façade’ means?”
Baudrillard didn’t answer.
I wrote my second novel, Among The Dead (“Accidents Des Parcours” in France), after reading two of his essays, neither of which I can find this morning. The first described a plane crash in France and the fresh desecration to the bodies as they were collected and reassembled. The second was his essay that begins with the question, “Why are there two World Trade Center towers?” It’s a shame that so many of the American acolytes of French theory are demented perverts destroyed by their own chic confusion, for whom misunderstanding takes the place of pornography, but I don’t think it’s Baudrillard’s fault. I didn’t know him well, but he was clear when he spoke, with a good sense of humor. I keep this thought, from “The Perfect Crime,” near me:
“The absolute rule is to give back more than you were given. Never less, always more. The absolute rule of thought is to give back the world as it was given to us – unintelligible. And, if possible, to render it a little more unintelligible.”
Two of Michael Tolkin’s four novels have been translated into French, The Player, and Among The Dead (Accidents de Parcours\). He also wrote the screenplay for “The Player,” which was directed by Robert Altman. His most recent novel is The Return Of The Player. He has written and directed two films. He lives in Los Angeles.
For Baudrillard, our faith in the real is one of the elementary forms of religious life. While there are plenty of ‘realist’ philosophers, particularly in America, none bother to question the reality of the real itself. Baudrillard’s thought was not an unmasking of the unreal but rather took place outside of the procedure of falsification. For him theory was closer to poetry, an operation that made nothingness out of the power of the sign. Everything he wrote was marked by a radical sadness and yet invariably expressed in the happiest of forms. After the foreclosure of so many seemingly ‘radical’ projects, he pursued the last one left to him, a symbolic exchange outside of the endless proliferation of indeterminate signs. He returned the world to itself exactly as it was given, as an enigma. But always at least as a far more elegant and astonishing one. McKenzie Wark is associate professor of sociology at the New School for Social Research in New York. He is the author of A Hacker Manifesto (Harvard University Press), published in French as Un Manifest Hacker (Critical Secret).