Born in 1929 in Reims, Paris, Jean Baudrillard started his studies learning German language and later obtained a doctorate in sociology.
In 1966 he began teaching in the University de Paris X- Nanterre and subsequently joined the Institut de Recherche sur L’Innovation Sociale, part of the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique.
In 1986 he moved to IRIS (Institut de Recherche et D’Information Socio-Economique) at the Universitie de Paris-IX Dauphine, where he spent the latter part of his teaching career. During this time he had begun to move away from sociology as a discipline and, after ceasing to teach full-time, he rarely identified himself with any particular discipline, although he remained linked to the academic world.
His books gathered a wide audience during the 1980s and 1990s and in his last years, to an extent, he became an intellectual celebrity, published frequently in the English and French speaking popular press.
5. The Spirit of Terrorism: And Requim for the Twin Towers
1. Simulacra and Simulations. Jean Baudrillard, translated by Shela Faria Glaser.
Baudrillard’s work consisted of a book called Simulacra and Simulations, Simulation meaning that it is simulating a process, display or imitating something real, and simulacra meaning the representation of another thing, object, person and any static object. Baudrillard uses these meanings to explain that today’s reality is not real and that we all live in something called a hyper reality. Baudrillard’s definition of hyper reality is ‘The simulation of something that never really existed’. (Baudrillard).
Hyper reality is taking something real, that has an original and natural quality, then exaggerating it to make it look so perfect it could become a fantasy of the imagination. In today’s post-modern culture for example, we have a pine tree at Christmas, but no one wants one from the forest that has been weathered over the years, but a plastic one that has perfectly spread branches and comes in any colour to suit you interior at home. Another example that has become a large issue today is what we are exposed to in magazines, posters and pictures of what an Ideal woman is supposed to look like. A woman that has been touched up with a computer to make her look like the ultimate mans fantasy. Hyper reality is detaching us from any real emotions and we are choosing to make are selves feel happier with the simulation of today’s simulacrum.
Baudrillard explains in the book a connection of simulation with the Borges story. Jorge Luis Borges wrote a fictional story about the uses of a map that showed the reality of a city, but it slowly became decayed and ruined by simulation and the hyper real.
Borges story. ‘In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.’ (Jorge Luis Borges). Baudrillard uses this story to support his idea by the representation of the map, which is reality to perfection and represents the original, but it has slowly been made redundant because of simulation, hyper reality and the simulacra of today.
Baudrillard’s main arguments are fore phases. ‘One that reflects a basic reality; one that masks or perverts a basic reality; one that mask the absence of a basic reality; and one that bears no relation to any reality.’(Baudrillard).
2. Utopia Deferred: Writings from the Utopie. Jean Baudrillard, translated by Stuart Kendall.
Utopia deferred is a collection of articles for a journal that Baudrillard wrote in. The journal was that of the Utopie group, a group consisting of the sociologists Jean Baudrillard, Rene Lourau and Catherine Cot, and the architects Jean Aubert, Jean-Paul Jungman, Antoine Stinco and Isabelle Auricaste. They met at Henri Lefebvre’s house in the Pyrenees in 1966 and the following decade, where they studied architecture, urbanism and everyday life with a radical leftist critique.
The book interviews Baudrillard about what the Utopie group is. He says that it is not simply a dialogue between architects and intellectuals, but a fusion. Together they questioned architecture, and every formal and symbolic practise in terms of its historicity and radicality.
Baudrillard’s writings in the journal cover a range of topics, since it consists a range of articles published over several years.
The following topics are included in Baudrillard’s writings;
What is utopia? Baudrillard speculates on what he believes is the nature of utopia. He says that whenever an existing order is destroyed and replaced in a revolution by a utopia, the new utopia is no longer the ideal, and a new utopia is theorised and put into place. Utopia seems to be constantly chased after but never found.
The Ephemeral. Baudrillard looks at whether our future habitat is with mobile, variable and retractable structures, as opposed to durable structures which are less economic. He also looks at class, and whether durable stone structures belong to higher classes, as they did in the past, and suggests that now it is the opposite, and the upper classes have luxury of choosing to have more ephemeral possessions.
What is a revolutionary event? Baudrillard says that he believes a revolutionary event is an event in which the nature of society is revealed, and the workings of a regime can be seen. He takes for an example a metro conductors strike, and how it shows struggle in society.
Animals sick of surplus value ; Baudrillard looks at the psychology of animals in breeding factories, how some of them are frustrated, hysterical and malnourished, and how there is profit loss due to these conditions, and death is often a result. Baudrillard compares this to human organisation, and prison, and comments on how a level of freedom and responsibility helps people to cope and function normally.
Our theatre of cruelty ; Baudrillard looks at terrorism and the media. He says the media are terrorists in a sense, for it is they who truly release the violent fascination with the event. The media is a simulation of an event, a condensed narrative. It highlights the events which are the purest form of challenge to the political model.
3. The System of Objects. By Jean Baudrillard, translated by James Benedict
One of the key components to postmodernism is technology. Baudrillard analyses technology and explores the emerging consumer society. Technology has become non-functional, non-utilitarian and designed according to fantasy and desire. Objects become representational of fetishism and fashion. Hypermarkets become the new experiential spaces of technology and consumption, the new spaces of everyday life.
There has been a growth of objects, an ever-accelerating procession of generations of product, appliances, gadgets. This instability can be contrasted by the stability of mankind as a species. As civilisation’s needs multiply, everyday objects proliferate and production speeds up the life span of these objects.
In ordinary life we are practically unconscious of the technological reality of objects even though it is their most concrete aspect. Technological development is synonomous with structural development even though technological is essential whereas the aesthetic is technologically not.
How can there be a classification system for this amount of objects? There are almost as many criteria of classification as objects themselves. For example size, degree of functionality, objects relationship with its won function, degree of exclusiveness etc. No where is any system of meanings touched upon. This book is concerned with the process whereby people relate to objects and the systems of human behaviour and relationships that result therefrom; the thesis of a consumer society.
Consumption has become the chief basis of social order, where consumer objects structure behaviour through a linguistic sign function. Advertising now takes over any moral responsibility for society creating and almost hypercivilisation, that gives freedoms by the commodity system; ‘Free to be oneself now means free to project one’s desires onto produced goods’.
The purchasing of commodities is a preconditioned activity that takes into account 2 systems. The first is that of the individual, the disconnected system and the second it that in relation of products; this is a codified, integrated system.
‘ Needs’ are created by objects of consumption. Categories of object induce categories of person. Objects undertake social meanings and their significations are controlled. In a consumer society objects replace all other means of hierarchical societal division, for example race, class, gender. People are ranked by the commodities they own.
For example, a universal code of recognition tells us that the person with the Rolex watch is higher in terms of hiearchy. Consumption is a ‘systematic act of the manipulation of signs’ that signifies social status through difference. So back to the example, buying a Rolex means not buying a Seiko watch. The object itself is not consumed but rather the idea of a relation between objects.
A system of objects (unlike the linguistic system) cannot be described scientifically unless it is treated in the process as the result of the continual intrusion of a system of practices into a system of techniques.
4. Symbolic Exchange and Death. Jean Baudrillard, translated by Iain Hamilton Grant.
Symbolic exchange is one of Baudrillard’s key concepts and is derived from his accounts of so-called ‘primitive’ peoples. Symbolic exchange is a process whereby the status of the individuals involved changes as much as the status of the object.
Baudrillard’s work is essentially about the way in which in contemporary society the symbolic is replaced by the semiotic. Contemporary societies turn all objects into commodities, which, like signs, circulate endlessly. Objects lose the inherent value they once had and the types of value gained in the process; For example, in the gift of a hand-woven blanket.
The gift is the example of symbolic exchange. With the act of giving the object loses its ‘objectness’ and becomes instead part of the relations of exchange or the pact between the two people exchanging. The object does not have an economy of use-value (the gift itself may be totally useless) or exchange-value (the gift isn’t a commodity ). The gift does however acquire symbolic exchange value.
The concept of death must be set outside society, denied and repressed instead of being an integral part of societies’ beliefs. For primitives death is a social relation (and also sometimes birth) ,whereas in Western society death is conceived as a biological fact, whereby the dead are separate completely from the living. ‘The dead cease to exist’.
The need for Westerners to see the past to compare it with modern society leads to a fascination with ‘primitive’ societies.
This work has been called Baudrillard’s ‘Last Real book’ as it contains empirical analysis of the ‘real’ world, examining facts and truth.
5. The Spirit of Terrorism: And Requim for the Twin Towers
Simulation and Simulacra in relation to Disneyland, Watergate and a bank raid
Baudrillard uses the idea of Disneyland to show simulation and simulacra, he says that Disney land is a perfect model and example of American simulation. The imaginary world that Disney has created is an illusion, a future world and has no physical reality. This pretend world is what makes it so successful it’s a miniaturized real America. There is a huge contrast between being inside the fantasy park and the reality to get to and from it, which enhances the enjoyment you get from being in the hyper real. For example you make the long journey to get to park in you car, you have to queue to get into the car park, you have to park and then queue again to get inside. On the other end of the spectrum you get the atmosphere and affection from the crowd. The actual rides, shows and gadgets are there to maintain this feeling of having that many people together. Baudrillard goes on to say that Disneyland is somewhat a replica of the United States but miniaturized and almost an unreal version. He says that Disneyland is trying to show the American values , there way of life and that it is so good that it is like living in a fantasy, which then makes us believe that the rest of America is like living in the reality, but infact it is not because of the hyper real and simulation. Disneyland is so far from reality that it seems like it has just been created to mask the fact reality today is no longer real.
A movement associated with the theories of Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), who argued that the sign was made up of a ‘signifier’ (sound image) and ‘signified’ (concept). He thought that signs did not stand for things or objects and that the connection between a sign (example: the word cat) and the object in the world (the furry domestic animal) is arbitrary. Therefore the sign only functions because it is part of system of signs. The system generates the meaning (in the system we call language, it is a different sign form dog). Structuralism is interested in the way that the sign-system works and usually goes beyond the semiotic level of signs themselves to think about the ways these systems work in the world, in relation to philosophy and ideology.
The ‘science of signs’. Its approach has parallels with structuralism but essentially semiotics is the search for the logical rules or laws of signs and sign-systems, making it a more purist and formal approach.
With first and second order simulation, the real still exists, and we measure success of simulation against the real. Baudrillard’s worry with third order simulation is that it generates hyperreality, that is, a world with no real origin. So we no longer even have the real as part of the equation. Eventually, Baudrillard thought that hyperreality will become the dominant way of experiencing and understanding the world.
Postmoderninsm and America for Jean Baudrillard
America is the place of postmodernism for Baudrillard. His semiotic concept of the American desert enables us to understand how he theorizes the modernist and postmodernist city pace experiences. The postmodern city incorporates the organic and the evolutionary, while the modernist city rejects nature and is therefore a revolutionary space.
Baudrillard’s 4 logics of objects
Relation to other signs fashion Relation to subject Wedding ring What it is worth 2 butter = 1 gun What the Object does Fridge stores food Other objects sign Subject symbol Market commodity World Instrument Consumption difference Gift ambivalence Economic/commercial equivalence Functional Practical operations Sign Value Symbolic Exhange Exchange Value Use - Value
Arises from productive activity to construct something that fulfils a need, such as shoes or clothing.
An expression of the labour power necessary for the production of a commodity. The expression is abstract because it does not relate to the commodity itself, such as clothes or shoes, but relates to the cost of labour (with other things) needed to make the commodity.
Fatal Strategies - Potentialization
The world is sworn to extremes, not to equilibrium. Baudrillard presents the idea that the way to radicalize the world of simulation is to ‘fight obscenity with its own weapons’.
‘ To the truer than true we will oppose the falser than false’.
Potentialization: elevation to the nth power -’ it is no longer dialectics, but ecstasy that is in process.’
fashion - more beautiful than beautiful
simulation - more true than true
pornography - more sex than sex
obscenity - more visible than visible
terrorism - more violent than violent
obesity - more fat than fat
catastrophe - more eventful than eventful
hyperreality - more real than real
Baudrillard’s continual refernces to primitive societies must be closely examined. When he claims to be looking at primitve societies he is actually looking at Western myths and structures concerning the primitives. Baudrillard’s statements on primitive socities are based firmly upon the West.
SUMMARY OF INFLUENCES THAT IMPACTED ON THE WORK OF BAUDRILLARD
Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard
Jean Baudrillard has been named as his own simulation of Marshall McLuhan, as Baudrillard has been highly influenced by him and there theories are very similar over mass media culture. McLuhan main focus in his work is the telling of the effects of today’s technology, popular culture and how it has changed history of our day to day lives so drastically. Humankind has invented modern technology, which consists of things like automobiles and high speed computers, and we value these things as they make us happy and display a meaning and representation of wealth. Other things like coca cola and fashion dresses by Chanel, which are all just things made from print media, show a clear shift in culture and what is important today. McLuhan goes on to say that today’s advertising and market research has the control over the male and female psyche. For example magazines have created this market where they turn women into something to be desired by men and then sell the products to enable them to look how are supposed to look in the ideal male fantasy.
McLuhan said and I quote ‘To the mind of the modern girl, legs, like busts, are power points, which she has been taught to tailor, but as parts of the success kit rather than erotically or sensuously. She swings her legs from the hip . . . she knows that a "long-legged girl can go places." As such, her legs are not intimately associated with her taste or with her unique self but are merely display objects like the grille on a car. They are date-bated power levers for the management of the male audience.’
Women have always tried to look attractive for men and have been for years but Mcluhan is trying to say that the modern woman, polishes every part to perfection, from the way we look and present our selves. We have been taught through the bombardments of advertising that every thing can be enhanced to perfection.
Baudrillard Has taken what McLuhan has said and turned it into the facts of the hype reality of today, again using the example of how the female form is and how it should be, is one of the most common and problematic parts of life’s non real world and simulacrum.
In the early 1960s, while writing essays on literature for ‘Les temps modernes’, Baudrillard studied the work of Henri Lefebvre, and was impressed by his studies on everyday life.
In 1966 Baudrillard entered the university of Paris to study languages, philosophy and sociology. There he became Lefebvre’s assistant.
Baudrillard’s early works, such as ‘The System of Objects’ (1968), and ‘The Consumer Society’ (1970), were influenced by Lefebvre.
Jean-Paul Sartre and Jean Baudrillard
Sarte was one of the the most influential philosopher of post-war France and published work about existentialism; thinking through the implications of a life ruled by human choice rather than religion or destiny. He was an important influence in general for his reading of Marxism. Baudrillard was personally interested in German sociology and literature. Sartre influenced him to start thinking of a re-reading of Marxism that would not be heavily influenced by the ‘authorised’ Marxism of Sartre.
Marxism and Jean Baudrillard
Marxism theorises that economics is the determining factor in class struggle, and that Capitalism ultimately needs to be overthrown to liberate working classes, who are maintained in a position of dependency to the industrialized state. In Baudrillard’s early work, his description of the everyday experience of objects prefigures the critique of Marx, proposing a new theory of consumption. Baudrillard mapped out the contemporary world of consumerist objects using the logic of Marxism (especially use-value and sign value) but he then went on to realise that there are gaps in the Marxist theory.The main difference was that Baudrillard believed it was consumption rather than production which drove capitalist society. In his later work Baudrillard abandoned altogether Marxist theories.
BAUDRILLARD’S IDEAS IN THE CONTEXT OF PERFORMANCE/ SCENOGRAPHY/ SOCIETY/ THE BODY
Baudrillard’s ideas have been used across many critical fields.
Baudrillard is perhaps more useful as a provocateur who challenges and puts in question that tradition of classical philosophy and social theory than as someone who provides concepts and methods that can be applied in philosophical, social or cultural analyses.
Sociologists and geographers use Baudrillard’s theories to explore electronic landscapes (for example the internet). They are interested in the ways that people can become completely immersed in virtual reality. In general term we now live in a world dominated by the global hyperspace; virtually stateless enterprises operate worldwide accessing the media and infiltrate homes in almost every country. This world is theorized greatly by Baudrillard.
Baudrillard mixes theory with performance. He has turned his talks into multimedia events around the world. He also exhibits his own photography, which is a mix of hyperreal and authentic, next to essays by art theorists, historians and philosophers.