07 March 2007


Jean Baudrillard

We've lost another postmodern French philosopher.

Derrida was dense and witty; his magic word was “deconstruction,” looking so closely at a text that its meaning shatters into a million pieces. Foucault taught us to find the worm of internal contradiction in the apple of any process in society; his magic word was “Foucauldian,” finding the mirror that shows the funhouse reflection between the Self and the Other. Guy Debord led the Situationist critique; his magic word was “the spectacle,” the way that society has become and empty theatrical performance.

Baudrillard's magic word was “simulacrum,” the copy with no original, the map that blots out the territory, the legend that becomes the fact. His other word was “hyperreality,” the place where you live when everything is a simulacrum. Like Disneyland. Or America. And while you can find Derrida and Foucault lurking in the papers you wrote in college, and the shade of Debord stalks the temporary streets of Burning Man, only Baudrillard has the distinction of having his ideas (mis?)made into a series of blockbuster action movies: The Matrix.

The New Yorker reports that in 1999, M. Baudrillard was asked what I should say about him today.

“You’re Baudrillard, and you were able to fill a room. And what I want to know is: when someone dies, we read an obituary—like Derrida died last year, and is a great loss for all of us. What would you like to be said about you? In other words, who are you? I would like to know how old you are, if you’re married and if you have kids, and since you’ve spent a great deal of time writing a great many books, some of which I could not get through, is there something you want to say that can be summed up?”

“What I am, I don’t know,” Baudrillard said, with a Gallic twinkle in his eye. “I am the simulacrum of myself.”

He will be missed.

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