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March 08, 2007


Simulacrum, originally uploaded by Lynn Morag.

Thanks to all the readers who emailed me about the passing of French postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard.

I wish I had something insightful to say about Baudrillard, but I'm not familiar enough with his work to add much to the discussion.

So, I'm hoping that readers will offer their thoughts below. If you're  Baudrillard-blogging, please post links to your reminiscences and reflections.


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If you can't say anything nice... is ever the decent first choice when someone has died.

(Delurking.) Dabodius, someone should tell that to the NY Times obit section. At least their Baudrillard obit wasn't *quite* as smugly belittling as Derrida's.

Baudrillard was light weight compared to Derrida and others in the French thinkers spectrum. Because of their influence on the campus/academic left their contribution was to the culture wars in the U.S. In terms of philosophical depth not much there in my view.

I'm left only with cool memories.

I'm sad to hear of his passing, but I can't bring myself to say that I think he was a great philosopher or social thinker. Most of his work (including Simulacra and Simulation, the book in the picture above) failed to even reach the level of intelligibility. My opinion of post-modernism in general is that it is self-important mental masturbation, not intellectually serious thought.

Baudrillard made, in my opinion, extremely significant contributions to our understanding of how our culture uses media, and what this has done to our concept of reality. He wasn't so much a philosopher (even an epistemological one) as a sociologist.

His thinking has been extremely oversimplified. He was definitely not a nihilist, nor a moral relativist, and while the film the Matrix is often said to be based on his work, he disavowed this, and claimed that Mulholland Drive was a much better encapsulation of his theory of the Simulacrum.

His writing enriched me and I recommend it to all.

Hi Tyler, while yours is a not-uncommon opinion, I think you're making a mistake by saying "post-modernism in general." "pomo" is just not a good category for contemporary French philosophy, because it lumps together people as diverse as Levinas, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, Irigaray, Kristeva, Lyotard and so on. Not all those thinkers have entries in the online Stanford Encyclopedia, but enough do to show that they don't have enough in common to make a judgment about them as a group. No one denies there are barriers to immediate understanding of these guys on first reading, but there are barriers to reading Plato and Aristotle too, or if you'd prefer other names, Quine, Putnam, and Rorty. If you'd like other sources that try to overcome those barriers and present guides to understanding Baudrillard and the others I mention, I'd immodestly suggest two projects I've been involved in: The Edinburgh Encyclopedia of Continental Philosophy (Edinburgh UP, 1999), where I was editor of the section on "post-structuralism" (a better, but not ideal name), and A Dictionary of Continental Philosophy (Yale UP, 2005), which I edited.

John Protevi writes;
No one denies there are barriers to immediate understanding of these guys on first reading, but there are barriers to reading Plato and Aristotle too, or if you'd prefer other names, Quine, Putnam, and Rorty.

I think the fading away of Post Structuralism in the U.S. has a lot to do with a rise in a computing 'say everything' (a phrase invented by Emily Nussbaum) culture supplanting what Post Structuralism claimed.

The social software of community building is raising up a counter intellectual movement to the understanding in Post Structuralism. The counter being between Derrida's deconstruction of TEXT and the community conversation building a network of relationships. Text based criticism went so convoluted and unhappily married to pop culture media it couldn't anticipate a massive cultural change happening with social networks. The integrative impulse of social networks against the disintegrative theory of fragmentation in culture.

John Protevi,

I agree that post-modernism is a broad category, but there are several currents that I see in most POMO that I find objectionable. My main beef with them is the same beef I have with philosophers generally regarded as analytic, such as Rorty and Kuhn. Namely, I find a lot of implicit and explicit (where post-modernists can actually be said to be the latter) epistemological anti-realism, which often translates into a view of science as determined by social and political factors rather than empirical observation. As far as my own philosophy goes, I'm probably closest to A.J. Ayer.

Hi Tyler, you may then be interested in Manuel DeLanda's realist reading of Deleuze in DeLanda's _Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy_ (Continuum, 2002). I agree with DeLanda's reading, and also agree with Christopher Norris that realism vs anti-realism is a much more interesting way of drawing the philosophy map than continental (often used wrongly as synonymous with pomo) vs analytic, because you'll find analytic anti-realists as well as continental realists.

I don't really claim to understand Baudrillard. I've read enough of his work to get an idea of his themes, which I think are very significant for the present state that we all find ourselves in these days. But I thought that I'd comment to recommend this essay"
"RELIGION AND SECRECY IN THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION: The Gentleman, the Prince, and the Simulacrum" by Hugh Urban.
It looks at Bush through the lense of Machiveli's Prince, Straus' Gentleman and Baudrillard's simulacrum. Very good for trying to chart the meta-aspects of terrifyingly interesting times.

I don't know much about Baudrillard, but I think this is really funny in a way.

You should read The spirit of terrorism, which is what Baudrillard wrote after 9/11, in wake of the U.S. mental breakdown:

We have had many global events from Diana's death to the World Cup, or even violent and real events from wars to genocides. But not one global symbolic event, that is an event not only with global repercussions, but one that questions the very process of globalization. All through the stagnant 90s, there has been "la greve des evenements" (literally "an events strike", translated from a phrase of the Argentino writer Macedonio Fernandez). Well, the strike is off. We are even facing, with the World Trade Center & New York hits, the absolute event, the "mother" of events, the pure event which is the essence of all the events that never happened.

Not only are all history and power plays disrupted, but so are the conditions of analysis. One must take one's time. For as long as events were at a standstill, one had to anticipate and overcome them. But when they speed up, one must slow down; without getting lost under a mass of discourses and the shadow of war ("nuage de la guerre": literally clouds announcing war), and while keeping undiminished the unforgettable flash of images.

All the speeches and commentaries betray a gigantic abreaction to the event itself and to the fascination that it exerts. Moral condemnation and the sacred union against terrorism are equal to the prodigious jubilation engendered by witnessing this global superpower being destroyed; better, by seeing it more or less self-destroying, even suiciding spectacularly. Though it is (this superpower) that has, through its unbearable power, engendered all that violence brewing around the world, and therefore this terrorist imagination which -- unknowingly -- inhabits us all.

Doyle - You say poststructuralism has had its historical moment and is now being supplanted by a web-based culture of radical self-disclosure. But aren't you comparing very different things? Poststructuralism was an intellectual movement which achieved significant status in the universities and minor public notoriety, whereas the practice of keeping a public diary in cyberspace is part of a new popular sensibility. To say there's a connection, you'll either have to expand poststructuralism into a zeitgeist, or find an actual philosophical tendency somewhere in 2.0 culture with enough substance and specificity to be a new ism.

One of the annoying things about this weblog is Ms. Beyerstein's rather self-important subtitle for it, "analytical philosophy and liberal politics." Since I see little if any comment from her about "analytical philosophy," only this sole acknowledgment that some semi-important modern french philosopher recently died, I can only assume the "analytical philosophy and" part of her self-decription of her blog is exclusively about posing as a serious thinker as well as a not too well informed observer about what happens to be the story of the day in the mass media.

Mitchell Porter writes;
find an actual philosophical tendency somewhere in 2.0 culture with enough substance and specificity to be a new ism.

Hmmm, I take this as a serious question I haven't encountered before. I'll put some of my own components to the question, does Post Structuralism represent a zeit geist and why wouldn't that zeit geist transfer over to the present?

The roots of this period come from the long evolution of European Enlightenment thought through such schools as Anglo American analytical philosophy. A good example of that school is Noam Chomsky, and there are still a huge flourishing thinking community committed to that view.

Post Structuralism had many flavors, but the sense that the above zeit geist was coming to an end in a 'Post Modern' era was taken for granted. Modern being Enlightenment rationality as it persisted to the present.

The end game in analytical philosophy is the debate about the Cartesian mind body problem. People like Chomsky are deeply influenced by a barrier in thought between the mind and the body. The replacement philosophy starts out in the sense of embodiment of the 'mind'. Really taking the mind out of 'scientific' discourse.

Because Post Structuralism has such a focus on media and culture it really had nothing to say about embodiment, and can't say much about why computing 2.0 as you refer to it is 'disrupting' the culture. The embracing of Pop Culture by Post Modernist is an embracing of commodity culture fragmentation in which that is the only being, the only way to think. So a counter thinking process is elided.

Has the current period thrown up an obvious Wittgenstein? Someone who reprents the time of the zert geist in the sense say that Derrida is one of the giants of Post Structuralism? Not that I know of, but I can outline some of the features that are shaping this period.

Embodiment is an anti religion point of view, and one could say the vast upheaval in religions is the feeling of encroachment upon religious domains that shows the cultural zertgeist in formation. The current weakness of the embodiment zertgeist is typical of new periods emerging. The profundity has not spread beyond the edges of articulate few to a comprehensive mass or hivemind.

The argument about intellectual property rights is a central feature of embodiment zeit geist, as it deals with the network structure emerging in computing culture. The network structure supplants the mind as the Enlightenment supposed a mind was with a boundary 'free' (no mind body boundary) hivemind. I think this will suffice for the time being to answer your question.

I don't write as much about philosophy as I used to, unfortunately. When I started the blog, I envisioned it as an academic philosophy blog with a political bent. I'd recently graduated with an MA in philosophy and I was intending to do a PhD. Ours was an aggressively In the end, I decided I'd rather be a journalist than a professional philosopher and decided not to get a PhD.

I'm very pleased to announce that I'm giving a lecture epistemological issues in media at the University of Gettysburg at the end of the month! I hope I'll be able to post the audio on the blog.

Lindsay writes;I'm very pleased to announce that I'm giving a lecture epistemological issues in media at the University of Gettysburg at the end of the month! I hope I'll be able to post the audio on the blog.

Please do. I look forward to an epistemological discussion as it is a very hot topic in relation to a networked society.


Thank you for the link to Baudrillard's "The Spirit of Terrorism". It's the first writing I've seen (within my admittedly quite limited horizon) that gets beyond moralizing about 9/11 to address the radical collapse of discourse (and personal rights, among other things) that it has engendered. In a rough way it is analogous to the crash of '29 and the world economic order. The sociologist Talcott Parsons wrote about various "symbolic media" (power, influence, etc.) and how they were theoretically subject to "inflation" and "deflation"; 9/11 can be seen as an event that caused them to undergo a form of "collapse."

"I'm very pleased to announce that I'm giving a lecture epistemological issues in media at the University of Gettysburg at the end of the month!"

Is that like, uh, talking to some students at a fifth rate college taking a class in journalism about whether the media is,yh, accurate and stuff? Jeepers, you and Bob Harris stretch awfully hard to strike poses as "intellectuals." I always was amused at his self-description as "Noam Chomsky's younger brother."
So you were planning a really serious weblog about philosophy and all, but it eded up being just knee-jerk reactions to the day's news, but you concluded more accurately titling your product was not justified. I'm kinda glad I'm a tenth grade drop-out if you're an example of what a MA in philosophy does for you.

as it is, I am in Uzbekistan, have spent two months here and in Turkmenistan, gaining real insights into the nature of political process, social control, media freedom or lacsk thereof, and how and why people consent to authority. It's a lot more compelling that the nonsense you and Professor Harris write.

Mark, you certainly write like someone who wasn't burdened with an overabundance of schooling (bonus points to whoever gets the reference).

Mark Nuckols writes;
I'm kinda glad I'm a tenth grade drop-out if you're an example of what a MA in philosophy does for you.

I'm a 11th grade drop out myself. There is no barrier to being a superior intellectual by self education, but usually auto-didacts have spotty self education. Top rank universities like Berkeley are awful places for undergraduates to get an education. Fifth ranked schools can provide better more sound education.

I dropped out because of depression. But I had no money and have had to work most of my life. How come you are traveling? How do you have an income?

When I dropped out I used as inspiration, Eric Hoffer, the sometimes blind, drop out, philosopher post WWII who worked as a Long Shoreman part time to spend his time thinking and writing, as a measure of what to do with a thinking life. However my talents are in making pictures not writing. Lindsay is a nice person and a great thinker. You short her abilities, but I understand the underlying anger you feel. Being without credentials is a hard row to hoe.

Oh Hoffer was someone whose repuation as the werkin' man - philosophe was greater than his acomplishments. As for the proprietor of this weblog, I see a lot of silly posturing as a morally outraged intellectually daring social convention defying young woman. But I don't see any real insights offered here. But I read it because I have a fascination with an even more ludicrous poseur named Bob Harris, who is a "collaborator" with Ms. Beyerstein at the This Modern World weblog. Perkins himeself (TT) makes some noit unreasonable observations sometimes, and is even funny sometimes, but Beyerstein and Harris are just insufferably smug and more diligent about self-promotion than endeavoring to really understand what is going on in the world.

Anyway, I am a 10th grade drop-out, but I also have a JD from Georgetown and an MBA from Dartmouth. Second tier institutions, but these two trade diplomas are sufficient for my purposes. But I am now devoted to travelling, and my destinations, for example, Mazar e Sharif for the Navruz holiday, offer me opportunities to understand the world in ways these folks never will. But if they gave up pontificating so much, and instead read more broadly and opened their eyes, they could learn something valuable.

Mark, we all defer to your direct experience of Uzbeki / Turkmenian reality, though some of the rest us have been to Foreign Countries too.

But on the internet everyone is a winner, so we're giving you our Special Intellectual award!

If you have bad manners, formal education will leave you rude.

The classical philosophers thought they needed skholE, leisure, to inquire in. Now professors do philosophy as the part of their job that isn't teaching. If you a busy journalist-blogger, philosophizing isn't your work and you lack the leisure to do it in. Or, if you will, work does you in.

I look forward to hearing the recorded lecture, though I'd rather read a transcript.

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