Saturday, March 31, 2007

Jean Baudrillard is Dead: Reflections

Jean Baudrillard, the often incomprehensible, but sometimes oracular, French sociologist is dead at age 77. I first encountered his work in 1994 when I happened upon The Transparency of Evil, which, at times, was thrilling in its insights into the vicissitudes and perplexities of media culture. This thoughts on hyperrealities are arresting and useful for media analysis. These are roughly images with no concrete references. Think of video game characters. I quoted him a few times in Truth Decay, to good effect, I hope.

Through the years, I read several of this books, but recently decided to read no more. The signal to noise ratio was not high enough on the side of signal. The noise could be deafening. As a recent and merciless obituary in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Carlin Romano put it, Baudrillard was a member of the French "Master of Thought" school, where opacity is taken for profundity, thus excusing all manner of esoteric bombast. Derrida was a more celebrated, but equally obfuscating, member.

As an analytic philosopher (of sorts), I typically have little patience for such stultifying stunts, but with Baudrillard, the pearls amidst swine were sometimes worth the hunt through BS (in Harry Frankfurt's sense of the term). I often quote his line from America, "In America, the laugh track is always running" Quite so. We laugh when we should blush or weep or sit silently.

Baudrillard was called (by some) the French McLuhan. Perhaps at times that would fit, but McLuhan, even at his most obscure, was more clear that Baudrillard at his most clear. Nevertheless, reading McLuhan's Media: The Extensions of Man and Baudrillard's, The Transparency of Evil is recommended for those who desire some insights into the culture of electronic media. They will not give you a Christian critique. Baudrillard was a nihilist; McLuhan was a Catholic who tried to keep his theology out of his theorizing, but not entirely successfully (to our benefit in some cases). But they provide fodder for reflection in developing an understanding to the thought forms and cultural matrix in which we live.


Jonathan Erdman said...

Ok, Doug. So, if you found some value in a postmodern theorist then how can you condemn the whole lot of them!

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

As a philosophy of life, postmodernism has nothing to offer. However, selected pomos come up with good insights now and then. I believe I quote positively Baudrillard a few times in The "Soul in Cyberspace."