Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007)

Jean Baudrillard, the maddeningly-obscure, but prophetic, French philosopher died earlier this week at the age of 77.

Baudrillard wasn’t Jewish. But I am. And breaking my teeth on Simulacra and Simulation back in graduate school was one of my most frustrating and rewarding intellectual experiences.

Baudrillard is best known for his idea that we are living in an age in which reality has been vanquished. There is no real anymore, only simulation, only simulacra — copies without originals. Think this is just masturbatory French theory? Consider Bill O’Reilly on Steven Colbert’s show a few months back.

O’Reilly is already the hyper-real version of the news. He performs the news. Colbert is the simulacrum of O’Reilly, in a sense — the copy of the copy. And then O’Reilly (the character or the man?) shows up to be interviewed by a character copying him. This is our entertainment. For some people, this is news. Yet the entire conversation is taking place in a realm utterly divorced from the “real.” And then, to boot, Colbert acknowledges it all.

The clip is below, but basically it goes something like this.

O’Reilly: “I’m really effete…This is just an act.”
Colbert: “If you’re an act, then what am I?”

If you’re interested in even more Baudrillard. After the jump, I’ve pasted a relevant article I wrote about Don DeLillo’s White Noise for the Jerusalem Post a few year’s back.

Still Reverberating
By Daniel Septimus
from THE JERUSALEM POST (February 2005)

“It’s about fear, death, and technology. A comedy, of course.”

These are the words of Don Delillo, speaking in 1984 a few months before the publication of White Noise — for my money, the greatest American novel of the past quarter century. The quote is aptly descriptive, but it also captures the essential pathos of White Noise: its grandeur, its insight, its humor, and most subtly, its humanity.

Don Delillo was an important novelist before he published White Noise. His first novel Americana was released in 1971. In it, Delillo exhibited many of the characteristics that have made him one of the most important — if not most read — contemporary writers. Delillo’s subject, in this first novel and thereafter, is America with all its unique pathologies. Delillo’s books are genuinely dark, but they are also genuinely funny. He is smart—perhaps too smart sometimes — and his prescience is uncanny. Americana foreshadowed the rise of reality TV, while Mao II (1991) presaged the intricate relationship between terrorism and television.

Posted on March 9, 2007

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