07 March 2007

Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard died in Paris yesterday. He was 77.

Jean Baudrillard, 77, Critic and Theorist of Hyperreality, Dies
The New York Times
March 7, 2007

One of his better known theories postulates that we live in a world where simulated feelings and experiences have replaced the real thing. This seductive “hyperreality,” where shopping malls, amusement parks and mass-produced images from the news, television shows and films dominate, is drained of authenticity and meaning. Since illusion reigns, he counseled people to give up the search for reality.

“All of our values are simulated,” he told The New York Times in 2005. “What is freedom? We have a choice between buying one car or buying another car? It’s a simulation of freedom.”

This idea was picked up by the American filmmakers Andy and Larry Wachowski, who included subtle references to Mr. Baudrillard in their “Matrix” trilogy. In the first movie of the series, “The Matrix” (1999), the computer hacker hero Neo opens Mr. Baudrillard’s book “Simulacra and Simulation,” which turns out to be only a simulation of a book, hollowed out to hold computer disks. Mr. Baudrillard later told The Times that the movie references to his work “stemmed mostly from misunderstandings.”

I couldn't call myself a fan, as what I know of Baudrillard is largely drawn from second-hand accounts -- though I did once spend an afternoon with Simulacra and Simulation many years ago, while an undergrad. And even though I regularly teach parts of The Matrix in introductory philosophy classes (less for its allusions to Baudrillard, and principally for its evocative depiction of thought experiments initially introduced in Descartes's First Meditation), still, I am disposed to regard as prima facie plausible the charges of intellectual irresponsibility raised by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont in their Impostures Intellectuelles (1997).

Additional obituaries: Le Monde, The Guardian, and the International Herald Tribune.

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