Jean Baudrillard wrote:
To love someone is to isolate him from the world, wipe out every trace of him, dispossess him of his shadow, drag him into a murderous future. It is to circle around the other like a dead star and absorb him into a black light.
Baudrillard (1929-2007) was a writer-philosopher concerned about what is and is not real, but what is he talking about here? His sixth word — isolate — I take as his attempt to describe focus, in other words to forget for the moment connections surrounding his love object. Then he gets more turgid and poetic, a poetry that does not clarify. Most of us know what it is to love someone: to care intensely, but how real was his use of "murderous... dead star... and black light"?
Jean Baudrillard is a different kind of thinker from those interested in describing things in clear language. His poetry allows him to describe America as "the only remaining primitive society." To grasp what he means by this phrase requires a complext context of thought. For expository philosophical writing I prefer phrases that represent immediate understanding, the kind of language found among scientists trying to describe their approximation of reality. I'm reminded of the historian Thucydides eschewing poetry for the clarity of prose.
Baudrillard began his scholarly life as a fairly traditional Marxist critic railing against the prevailing consumer culture in such works as The System of Objects (1968) and The Consumer Society (1970). But his later work, generally cultural critique focusing on mass media and pop culture, was what would make him notable — notorious, perhaps — within both academic and even mainstream culture.
Regarding Baudrillard, count me as a mainstream academic. Here is more of his poetry. Television — an electronic device that in reality entertains sometimes with crap and gives us both real and unreal information — he describes as follows:
Television knows no night. It is perpetual day. TV embodies our fear of the dark, of night, of the other side of things.
Baudrillard is described by Wikipedia as a French sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist and political commentator, and Wikipedia says 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. Hyperreality refers to an inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality.
How well does Baudrillard do in his own effort at differentiation?
Wikipedia describes Baudrillard portraying "societies always searching for a sense of meaning — or a "total" understanding of the world — that remains consistently elusive." And of Baudrillard, Wikipedia writes:
In the 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".
About Baudrillard's simulations and hyperreality, N. Katherine Hayles writes:
The Iowa farmer who has spent the day inspecting his seed corn, feeding his hogs, and spreading manure on his garden will not be easily persuaded that he lives in a world where it is no longer possible to distinguish between simulation and reality. The realm that [the fiction writer] Ballard sees beckoning to us from the margins, Baudrillard places at the center and inflates to consume the whole. The effect is exciting, stimulating, giddy—and also dangerous. One of my students described what it feels like to read Baudrillard for several hours straight. "No doubt about it," he remarked, "it gives you a rush, a high." For the insight these performative texts give into the meaning and dynamics of simulation, we are in their debt. But like any powerful drugs, they should be used with care. There is only one high that can last forever—the one that ends in death.
At Berkeley in the sixties and early seventies I looked for enhanced recognition of reality written by those under the influence of pot and didn't find it. My appreciation of good poetry, not lousy poety, and appreciation of sobriety in interpretation and Bertrand Russell over language run riot, as with Heidegger, remains. It seems to me that Baudrillard goes better with pot or wine and is likely to be appreciated more by those interested more in atmosphere and coffee houses than in meaning.
Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.