09 March 2007

Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007)

Jean Baudrillard departed this world on Tuesday.

He was perhaps the least uninteresting of the poststructuralists. Although his claim that the Gulf War "did not happen" was widely mocked, there was something thought-provoking (though less profound than he pretended, and probably false as applied by him) in the idea that modern wars could become virtual, and that it might become more difficult to determine who had won.

I doubt that whoever replaces him in the firmament of intellectual stars will be better rather than worse. B-H Lévy is a bit interesting, but does his stuff really constitute philosophy?

No, for the future of celebrity philosophers we must probably look to the mind-numbing banality of someone like Slavoj Zizek (hat tip to Mr Anonymous).

Very occasionally I find a Guardian online comment interesting, even if I don't agree with everything it says. I quite liked this one, on a Baudrillard eulogy, from RameshN (mildly edited):

The only empty symbol on display here is the discipline of philosophy. Notice the merry-go-round of descriptors : Baudrillard was most often described as a 'philosopher'. How does Footman describe him? As a 'cultural theorist' and then, as 'thinker'.

People may have heard of the 'Sokal Hoax', where a hilarious article full of pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo was published in the journal 'Social Text' as a worthy contribution to the quantum mechanics of social relativism! Sokal later co-authored a book on the intellectual pretensions of numerous philosophers/ cultural theorists/ nonspecific thinkers, who peppered their work with ludicrous scientific appropriations.

The reason I mention this is that while many branches of philosophy do coexist very well with modern science, the burgeoning scientific flavour of modern living has marginalised the humanities into a perceived corner of irrelevance.

Moreover, most people in the media have overwhelmingly come from the arts streams at school, and know bugger-all science. Hence, a literature graduate, whom in the past might be thought to know a little about the complexities of human behaviour, finds that all their years of study has reaped very little insight into the human condition, as opposed to, say, study in the biological sciences.

This has led to two phenomena. Firstly, the wholesale appropriation of pseudoscientific and quasi-technological jargon by many humanists, including Baudrillard. This jargon is not there to illuminate so much as confer a spurious sense of legitimacy, or more often, a semblance of profundity in what is, in reality, a banal but true insight. Secondly, the dissemination of this cranky but lapidary postmodern prose has had the willing accomplices of the scientifically-challenged media. Can one expect literary op-ed writers to distinguish between high-quality thought and its simulcram which filches scientific expressions as its sartorial fig-leaf?

What Baudrillard has written about surface and reality in an audiovisual environment is no different to what I was reading in the scientific and technological press in the late 1980s. Even 'Wired' magazine had many writers which had the same insights as Baudrillard et al, except the prose in the pop-science journals was far more accessible.

3 comments:

Mister Anonymous : The Laughing Gnome said...

"Jean Baudrillard departed this world on Tuesday."

He was always on another planet anyway.

Hmmm.

Once I heard a friend describe his eventual death as "leaving this planet".

Me and my sister agreed that the death of grandma wasn't really death; she had simply 'stopped working'.

Do you think it's fair to say that mental events really are independent of physical causation?

I write that last sentence because I'm only 30 pages through 'The Lost Cause' right now. Well I read it a bit and learnt in 20 mintues what could have taken a life time to figure out (Because I don't have an IQ of 180 and everything!). Even then, I don't feel the need to read the rest of the book.

What's the point?

500 years of philosophy and the ubiqitous humanism religion (what I call the Techno-Anthropos) has been turned upside down in 30 pages. Excellent!

Fabian Tassano said...

“Do you think it's fair to say that mental events really are independent of physical causation?”
Your question has too many undefined concepts in it which would need unpacking. I can’t really add much to what it says in The Lost Cause. I think a fair summary of it would be:

1) On the face of it, there is correlation between mental events and certain brain events (why those brain events? why not others?). 2) However, this in itself does not allow us to assign causal priority to physical events over mental events. 3) In any case, the notion of causal priority is (Green argues, and I agree) incoherent. Correlation may be all there really is, with apparent causal order being a feature which emerges (subjectively, not objectively) at the macroscopic level.

“Mister Anonymous: The Laughing Gnome”; "Mister Anonymous the First Emperor of Space"; etc.
Could you think about stabilising your screen name? It’s getting a tad confusing. Or are there lots of you?

Mister Anonymous said...

No there all pretty much the same.. It's just on the internet you talk to disembodied fragments of personalities - often making ludicrous claims, uncorroberated (have I spelt that right?) with real-life.

Here's a quote from a David Bowie biography :

"Bowie, not Al Gore, is the spiritual father of the Internet. The schizophrenic flitting down numerous threads like hallways in an asylum, closets full of MySpace identities and personæ, tenuous, spurious links from one conceptual framework to another. Bowie's crowning acheivement (or most toxic legacy if you prefer) is the centrality of the gif/jpg image. In a Bowie cosmology, consistency breeds only contempt. No address is comprehensive, nothing is sacred and most can be led anyplace when they have been unmoored from everything/hitched to nothing. If Lucifer exists, he owes Bowie much for working diligently to prepare such a fertile environment. It can only work to Lucifer's advantage. This would be my "Bowie as John the Baptist" theory, i.e. the Great Preparer, preparing for whom, the AntiChrist, Satan himself? "