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Jean Baudrillard, RIP

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Thursday, Mar 8, 2007

I was saddened to see that Baudrillard had succumbed to the most fatal strategy of them all: death. He argued that most experience in capitalist culture consists of simulacra and simulation; death presumably is exempted from this—the one authentic experience not subject to amplification through media representation or manufacture. Though he’s mainly remembered for his media criticism, his ideas about pseudoevents and which always runs the danger of being oversimplified or sensationalized (or turned into a Keanu Reeves movie), his early work on consumerism shouldn’t be neglected; I’ve certainly got a lot of mileage out of For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, which grounds his ideas about hyperreality, consuming on the symbolic level and signs supplanting what they signify in Marxist terms, remaining far more systematic than the later works, which tend to follow a free-associational logic. It seemed to be the case that it had become fashionable to dismiss Baudrillard as a philosopher clown and his works as stunts—he was more interested in coming across outrageously and incomprehensibly than in formulating clear and convincing analyses; but now perhaps his death will restore some dignity to it and let us go back to it and read it with attention that’s sure to be repaid in insight. But it’s sad that he’ll say no more to complicate whatever understanding we struggle to come to of what’s he already written.

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