The greatest challenge is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Jean Baudrillard: Philosopher

Audio recording of a 1999 lecture given at Wellek Library of University of California, Irvine.

Jean Baudrillard

Nothing is wholly obvious without becoming enigmatic. Reality itself is too obvious to be true.

Jean Baudrillard (20 June 1929 – 6 March 2007) was a cultural theorist and philosopher. His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and post-structuralism.

French sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer.

French theorist Jean Baudrillard was one of the foremost intellectual figures of the present age whose work combines philosophy, social theory, and an idiosyncratic cultural metaphysics that reflects on key events of phenomena of the epoch.

A sharp critic of contemporary society, culture, and thought, Baudrillard is often seen as a major guru of French postmodern theory, although he can also be read as a thinker who combines social theory and philosophy in original and provocative ways and a writer who has developed his own style and forms of writing.

He was an extremely prolific author who has published over thirty books and commented on some of the most salient cultural and sociological phenomena of the contemporary era, including the erasure of the distinctions of gender, race, and class that structured modern societies in a new postmodern consumer, media, and high tech society; the mutating roles of art and aesthetics; fundamental changes in politics, culture, and human beings; and the impact of new media, information, and cybernetic technologies in the creation of a qualitatively different social order, providing fundamental mutations of human and social life.

For some years a cult figure of postmodern theory, Baudrillard moved beyond the postmodern discourse from the early 1980s to the present, and has developed a highly idiosyncratic mode of philosophical and cultural analysis.

This entry focuses on the development of Baudrillard's unique modes of thought and how he moved from social theory to postmodern theory to a provocative type of philosophical analysis.

In retrospect, Baudrillard can be seen a theorist who has traced in original ways the life of signs and impact of technology on social life, and who has systematically criticized major modes of modern thought, while developing his own philosophical perspectives.


"What people are contemplating on their word-processor screens is the operation of their own brains. It is not entrails that we try to interpret these days, nor even hearts or facial expressions; it is, quite simply, the brain."

"All this cerebral, electronic snobbery is hugely affected - far from being the sign of a superior knowledge of humanity, it is merely the mark of a simplified theory, since the human being is here reduced to the terminal excrescence of his or her spinal chord."

"All that fascinates us is the spectacle of the brain and its workings. What we are wanting here is to see our thoughts unfolding before us - and this itself is a superstition."

-Jean Baudrillard, America (1986)

The need to speak, even if one has nothing to say, becomes more pressing when one has nothing to say, just as the will to live becomes more urgent when life has lost its meaning. (p. 30)

Picturing others and everything which brings you closer to them is futile from the instant that ‘communication’ can make their presence immediate. (p. 42)

The close-up of a face is as obscene as a sexual organ seen from up close. It is a sexual organ. The promiscuity of the detail, the zoom-in, takes on a sexual value. (p. 43)

Challenge, and not desire, lies at the heart of seduction. (p. 57)

Seduction is the world’s elementary dynamic… All this has changed significantly for us, at least in appearance. For what has happened to good and evil? Seduction hurls them against one another, and unites them beyond meaning, in a paroxysm [sudden outbreak of emotion] of intensity and charm. (p. 59)

Distinctive signs, full signs, never seduce us. (p. 59)

THERE IS NEVER ANYTHING TO PRO-DUCE. In spite of all its materialist efforts, production remains a utopia. We can wear ourselves out in materializing things, in rendering them visible, but we will never cancel the secret. (p. 65)

And so one can imagine that in amorous seduction the other is the locus of your secret — the other unknowingly holds that which you will never have the chance to know. (p. 65)

Take provocation, for instance, which is the opposite and the caricature of seduction. It says: "I know that you want to be seduced, and I will seduce you." Nothing could be worse than betraying this secret rule. Nothing could be less seductive than a provocative smile or inciteful behaviour, since both presuppose that one cannot be seduced naturally and that one needs to be blackmailed into it, or through a declaration of intent: "Let me seduce you" (p. 67)

The discourse of truth is quite simply impossible. It eludes itself. Everything eludes itself, everything scoffs at its own truth, seduction renders everything elusive. The fury to unveil the truth, to get at the naked truth, the one which haunts all discourses of interpretation, the obscene rage to uncover the secret, is proportionate to the impossibility of ever achieving this. …But this rage, this fury, only bears witness to the eternity of seduction and to the impossibility of mastering it. (p. 73)

The Marxist critique is only a critique of capital, a critique coming from the heart of the middle and petit bourgeois classes, for which Marxism has served for a century as a latent ideology…. The Marxist seeks a good use of economy. Marxism is therefore only a limited petit bourgeois critique, one more step in the banalization of life toward the "good use" of the social!
- Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory 15 (1987) "When Bataille Attacked the Metaphysical Principle of Economy"

Today's terrorism is not the product of a traditional history of anarchism, nihilism, or fanaticism. It is instead the contemporary partner of globalization.
- The Spirit of Terrorism (2003) "The Violence of the Global"

Nothing is wholly obvious without becoming enigmatic. Reality itself is too obvious to be true.