Saturday, March 17, 2007

Jean Baudrillard: March 7, 2007

French postmodernist Jean Baudrillard, who among other achievements extended McLuhan's critique of media as a controller of perception, died March 7, 2007. Buried deep in evaluating final projects and giving exams at Columbus State, I wasn't able to pay tribute to him at the time of his passing.

I was and continue to be an admirer of his thought, although I found his actual writing to be almost impenetrable. In the mid-80s, a graduate student friend at Ohio State, very up-to-date in postmodern theory, lent me his translation of Baudrillard’s 1972 work For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. I did my best to get through it, but found myself frustrated enough at one point to throw the book against a wall, so it could share my pain.

His 1988 work The Ecstasy of Communication brought me similar grief. But I understand enough in the abstract to recognize the importance of his thoughts on the seductive power of media to substitute a modeled hyperreality for physical reality.

Baudrillard used the term "simulacra," from Plato, to describe an historical progression of how art and media have created different types of "copies" or nature or reality: from representations of things, to idealizations; then on to mass-produced mechanical reproductions, ending in our time of electronic, digital simulations of things. This is the age of hyperreality, virtual reality creating what he called a "desert of the real."

A challenging, controversial figure. I have a dream of someday returning to his work, when I'm older and much more patient, when I have time to savor his depths and the intricacy of his style. That won't be any time soon, though.

For an excellent overview of Baudrillard's work, check this site from the University of Western Ontario.

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