Friday, March 09, 2007

Baudrillard Exits This Hyperreality of Tears

Jeez, I really wish I'd have thought of that Onion headline, Derrida "Dies"...

One should try to avoid speaking too ill of the recently dead. But, seriously, sectors of academia are in a sorry state indeed if they take Baudrillard seriously. I'm sure he was a nice man, but a great thinker he was not.

Baudrillard was famous primarily for his book The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. It's not worth reading, but you can understand a bit about postmodernism/poststructuralism by attending for a second to what he meant. The title of the book is hyperbolic and misleading. He apparently didn't think that the war was a hoax--like, ya, know, the "moon landing"...but, rather, held a variety of other very loosely-related quasi-semantic positions. For example: he was apparently asserting that the Gulf War was not a war. (Why? Well, apparently in part because it wasn't like previous wars, so it doesn't count as a war; and also because there was so much media coverage that...mumble mumble the media coverage was mumble mumble more important than the real war, so mumble mumble, the "Gulf War" wasn't a war...hey, your shoe's untied...)

Here's the PoMo modus operandi: say a bunch of stuff. Make sure some of it is preposterous, and some of it is obvious. When speaking to other PoMo types, or trying to prove how innovative you are, emphasize the preposterous stuff. When pushed to defend your position by obdurate, retrograde, logocentricists--like actual philosophers or scientists--fall back to the obvious stuff and pretend that that's all you ever meant, that only a fool would interpret all that preposterous stuff at face value. The academic bait-and-switch.

Tragic waste of the human spirit, that stuff.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

While PoMo bashing is fun, I think that a quick glance at B's work America will quickly impress upon you how (his method of expression aside) flippin' smart he was about the direction of pop culture.

It was written before we had Paris and NYC in Las Vegas, before American Idol, before the Iraq war, before the Clinton impeachment, etc. In short, his idea of hyperreality and the image being more important (i.e., more real) than substance is born out every day in so many ways. It is presumptuous, pompous, and overblown, yes, but it's pretty damn informative and forward-looking.

Not to mention blogs...

Combine it with Sontag's "On Photography" and you have yourself a simple but useful tool kit for looking at our culture's image obsession and how simulations (Vegas, Disneyland, Mall of Americas, etc.) are replacing and often considered more authentic than the originals.

Alsco check out "Variations on a Theme Park" for a collection of interesting essays. In short, the PoMos have plenty to offer when it comes to understanding what is going on and what direction our culture is going.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

You know, I almost never take pop culture--or analyses thereof--seriously.

That might very well be a mistake, huh?

8:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I'm not sure I take it is usually entertaining, and I found that exploring the topic offers some "right on!" moments.

That said, I used the word understanding instead of explaining. I don't understand pop culture or what drives our obsessions, but it is quite amazing how important "authenticity" is, while treating those things that merely represent or reproduce reality as being the real deal.

Sontag has a great discussion of how photographs of the Grand Canyon are more meaningful and "real" than actually visiting the site (cue American Vacation). Also, the "Variations on a Theme Park" text is old at this point (collection of essays), but its discussion of Disneyland is jaw-dropping in terms of how things are done to cater to its customers. One example: the garbage cans empty into underground tunnels where they can be emptied...having actual people empty trash cans was deemed to be undesirable.

There's a lot more...I find the whole topic rather fascinating, as so much of our culture and workforce are devoted to creating a world wherein nothing "foreign" interferes with our expectations. Expectations that would be deluded and insane except for the fact that the world works to satisfy them at every turn. Wishing for the moon is silly...until corporate America makes it priority number one to provide you the moon.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I also did some digging on Mr. B and agree with the folks above about the representational vs. the real.

On the other hand, don't we in the modern west admire the abstact thinker, the philosopher, the seeker of underlying truth?

Let me answer my own question---no, we don't. We're still back with the Iliad and the Greeks. Heroes like Achilles and Marilyn Monroe and whoever wins American Idol go to heaven; philosophers like Plato and Baudrillard can go to hell.

1:33 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Hard for me to see Plato and Baudrillard categorized together...

But I'm sympathetic to the view that abstractions--philosophical and scientific--have less of a grip on people than some of the relatively more concrete stuff in myths and literature--esp. heroic characters.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Is that good or bad? Mythmanship seems to be part of human nature, too, certainly less rare than genuine philosophy. Logic and science have their limits as they are mute in man's search for meaning; art, and the human imagination, do not.

Why is that, one is obliged to ask theirself.

11:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see why you'd say that logic and science are mute in man's search for meaning.

What's that all about?

5:29 PM  

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