|Region Western Philosophy|
Name Jean Baudrillard
Education University of Paris
|Born 27 July 1929 (1929-07-27) Reims, France|
Era 20th- / 21st-century philosophy
School Western Marxism · Post-Marxism · Post-Structuralism
Main interests Mass media · Postmodernity
Notable ideas Hyperreality · Sign value · Simulacra
Died March 6, 2007, Paris, France
Influenced by Michel Foucault, Karl Marx, Roland Barthes
Books Simulacra and Simulation, The system of objects, The Consumer Society, Symbolic exchange and death, The Mirror of Production
Similar People Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Roland Barthes, Jean‑Francois Lyotard
Philosophy religion jean baudrillard
Jean Baudrillard (; [ʒɑ̃ bodʁijaʁ]; 27 July 1929 – 6 March 2007) was a French sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer. 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. Among his best known works are Simulacra and Simulation (1981), America (1986), and The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (1991). His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and specifically post-structuralism.
- Philosophy religion jean baudrillard
- Jean baudrillard violence of the image 2004
- Core ideas
- The object value system
- Simulacra and Simulation
- The end of history and meaning
- On the Gulf War
- On the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001
- In popular culture
Jean baudrillard violence of the image 2004
Baudrillard was born in Reims, northeastern France, on 27 July 1929. His grandparents were peasant farm workers and his father a policeman. During high school (at the Lycée at Reims), he became aware of pataphysics (via philosophy professor Emmanuel Peillet), which is said to be crucial for understanding Baudrillard's later thought. He became the first of his family to attend university when he moved to Paris to attend the Sorbonne. There he studied German language and literature, which led him to begin teaching the subject at several different lycées, both Parisian and provincial, from 1960 until 1966. While teaching, Baudrillard began to publish reviews of literature and translated the works of such authors as Peter Weiss, Bertolt Brecht, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Wilhelm Emil Mühlmann.
While teaching German, Baudrillard began to transfer to sociology, eventually completing and publishing in 1968 his doctoral thesis Le Système des objets (The System of Objects) under the dissertation committee of Henri Lefebvre, Roland Barthes, and Pierre Bourdieu. 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 1968. During this time, Baudrillard worked closely with Philosopher Humphrey De Battenburge, who described Baudrillard as a "visionary". At Nanterre he took up a position as Maître Assistant (Assistant Professor), then Maître de Conférences (Associate Professor), eventually becoming a professor after completing his accreditation, L'Autre par lui-même (The Other by Himself).
In 1970, Baudrillard made the first of his many trips to the United States (Aspen, Colorado), and in 1973, the first of several trips to Kyoto, Japan. He was given his first camera in 1981 in Japan, which led to his becoming a photographer.
In 1986 he moved to IRIS (Institut de Recherche et d'Information Socio-Économique) at the Université de Paris-IX Dauphine, where he spent the latter part of his teaching career. 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 1980s and 1990s 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. He nonetheless continued supporting the Institut de Recherche sur l'Innovation Sociale at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and was Satrap at the Collège de Pataphysique. 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 2004 until his death. In 1999–2000, his photographs were exhibited at the Maison européenne de la photographie in Paris. In 2004, Baudrillard attended the major conference on his work, "Baudrillard and the Arts", at the Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Baudrillard's published work emerged as part of a generation of French thinkers including Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan who all shared an interest in semiotics, and he is often seen as a part of the post-structuralist philosophical school. In common with many post-structuralists, his arguments consistently draw upon the notion that signification and meaning are both only understandable in terms of how particular words or "signs" interrelate. 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 comprehensively societies begin to bring reality together into one supposedly coherent picture, the more insecure and unstable it looks and the more fearful societies become. Reality, in this sense, "dies out".
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 attacks against the United States and its military and economic establishment.
The object value system
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:
- The first is the functional value of an object; its instrumental purpose (use value). A pen, for instance, writes; a refrigerator cools.
- The second is the exchange value of an object; its economic value. One pen may be worth three pencils; and one refrigerator may be worth the salary earned by three months of work.
- The third is the symbolic value of an object; a value that a subject assigns to an object in relation to another subject (i.e., between a giver and receiver). A pen might symbolize a student's school graduation gift or a commencement speaker's gift; or a diamond may be a symbol of publicly declared marital love.
- The last is the sign value of an object; its value within a system of objects. A particular pen may, while having no added functional benefit, signify prestige relative to another pen; a diamond ring may have no function at all, but may suggest particular social values, such as taste or class.
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. Later, Baudrillard rejected Marxism totally (The Mirror of Production and Symbolic Exchange and Death). 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.
Simulacra and Simulation
As he developed his work throughout the 1980s, 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. Progressing historically from the Renaissance, in which the dominant simulacrum was in the form of the counterfeit—mostly people or objects appearing to stand for a real referent (for instance, royalty, nobility, holiness, etc.) that does not exist, in other words, in the spirit of pretense, in dissimulating others that a person or a thing does not really "have it"—to the Industrial Revolution, in which the dominant simulacrum is the product, the series, which can be propagated on an endless production line; and finally to current times, in which the dominant simulacrum is the model, which by its nature already stands for endless reproducibility, and is itself already reproduced.
The end of history and meaning
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, 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.
Within a society subject to and ruled by fast-paced electronic communication and global information networks the collapse of this façade was always going to be, he thought, inevitable. 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".
In making this argument Baudrillard found some affinity with the postmodern philosophy of Jean-François Lyotard, who famously argued that in the late 20th century there was no longer any room for "metanarratives". (The triumph of a coming communism being one such metanarrative.) But, in addition to simply lamenting this collapse of history, Baudrillard also went beyond Lyotard and attempted to analyse how the idea of forward 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). "In the Enlightenment, universalization was viewed as unlimited growth and forward progress. Today, by contrast, universalization is expressed as a forward escape." This involves the notion of "escape velocity" as outlined in The Vital Illusion (2000), which in turn, results in the postmodern fallacy of escape velocity on which the postmodern mind and critical view cannot, by definition, ever truly break free from the all-encompassing "self-referential" sphere of discourse.
On the Gulf War
Baudrillard's provocative 1991 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". Accordingly, Saddam Hussein was not fighting the Coalition, but using the lives of his soldiers as a form of sacrifice to preserve his power (p. 72, 2004 edition). The Coalition fighting the Iraqi military was merely dropping 10,000 tonnes of bombs daily, as if proving to themselves that there was an enemy to fight (p. 61). So, too, were the Western media complicit, presenting the war in real time, by recycling images of war to propagate the notion that the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi government were actually fighting, but, such was not the case. Saddam Hussein did not use his military capacity (the Iraqi Air Force). His power was not weakened, evinced by his easy suppression of the 1991 internal uprisings that followed afterwards. Overall, little had changed. Saddam remained undefeated, the "victors" were not victorious, and thus there was no war—i.e., the Gulf War did not occur.
The book was originally a series of articles in the British newspaper The Guardian and the French newspaper Libération. These were published in three parts: "The Gulf War Will Not Take Place", published during the American military and rhetorical buildup; "The Gulf War Is Not Taking Place", published during military action; and "The Gulf War Did Not Take Place", published afterwards.
Some critics accused Baudrillard of instant revisionism; a denial of the physical action of the conflict (which was related to his denial of reality in general). 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". Merrin viewed the accusations of amorality as redundant and based on a misreading. In Baudrillard's own words (pp. 71–72):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 ... Even ... the 100,000 dead will only have been the final decoy that Saddam will have sacrificed, the blood money paid in forfeit according to a calculated equivalence, in order to preserve his power. 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 hoax ...
On the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001
In contrast to the "non-event" of the Gulf War, in the essay The Spirit of Terrorism he characterised the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City as the "absolute event". 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. Richard Wolin (in The Seduction of Unreason) forcefully accused Baudrillard and Slavoj Žižek of all but celebrating the terrorist attacks, essentially claiming that the United States received what it deserved. Žižek, however, countered that accusation to Wolin's analysis as a form of intellectual barbarism in the journal Critical Inquiry, saying that Wolin failed to see the difference between fantasising about an event and stating that one is deserving of that event. 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". In Latour's view, this was because Baudrillard conceived only of society in terms of a symbolic and semiotic dualism.
Denis Dutton, founder of Philosophy & 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. Your place is simply to buy his books, adopt his jargon, and drop his name wherever possible.
However, only one of the two major confrontational books on Baudrillard's thought—Christopher Norris's Uncritical Theory: Postmodernism, Intellectuals and the Gulf War (ISBN 0-87023-817-5)—seeks to reject his media theory and position on "the real" out of hand. The other—Douglas Kellner's Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond (ISBN 0-8047-1757-5)—seeks rather to analyse Baudrillard's relation to postmodernism (a concept with which Baudrillard has had a continued, if uneasy and rarely explicit, relationship) and to present a Marxist counter. Regarding the former, William Merrin (discussed above) published more than one denunciation of Norris's position. The latter Baudrillard himself characterised as reductive (in Nicholas Zurbrugg's Jean Baudrillard: Art and Artefact).
Willam Merrin's work has presented a more sympathetic account, which attempts to "place Baudrillard in opposition to himself". Thereby Merrin has argued that Baudrillard's position on semiotic analysis of meaning denies himself his own position on symbolic exchange. Merrin thus alludes to the common criticism of structuralist and post-structuralist work (a criticism not dissimilar in either Baudrillard, Foucault, or Deleuze) that emphasising interrelation as the basis for subjectivity denies the human agency from which social structures necessarily arise. (Alain Badiou and Michel de Certeau have made this point generally, and Barry Sandywell has argued as much in Baudrillard's specific case.)
Finally, Mark Poster, until his death in 2012 was Baudrillard's editor and one of a number of academics who argued for his contemporary relevance; he remarked (p. 8 of Poster's 2nd ed. of Selected Writings):Baudrillard's writing up to the mid-1980s is open to several criticisms. He fails to define key terms, such as the code; his writing style is hyperbolic and declarative, often lacking sustained, systematic analysis when it is appropriate; he totalizes his insights, refusing to qualify or delimit his claims. He writes about particular experiences, television images, as if nothing else in society mattered, extrapolating a bleak view of the world from that limited base. He ignores contradictory evidence such as the many benefits afforded by the new media
Nonetheless Poster is keen to refute the most extreme of Baudrillard's critics, the likes of Alan Sokal and Norris who see him as a purveyor of a form of reality-denying irrationalism (ibid p. 7):Baudrillard is not disputing the trivial issue that reason remains operative in some actions, that if I want to arrive at the next block, for example, I can assume a Newtonian universe (common sense), plan a course of action (to walk straight for X meters), carry out the action, and finally fulfill my goal by arriving at the point in question. What is in doubt is that this sort of thinking enables a historically informed grasp of the present in general. According to Baudrillard, it does not. The concurrent spread of the hyperreal through the media and the collapse of liberal and Marxist politics as the master narratives, deprives the rational subject of its privileged access to truth. In an important sense individuals are no longer citizens, eager to maximise their civil rights, nor proletarians, anticipating the onset of communism. They are rather consumers, and hence the prey of objects as defined by the code.