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Jean Baudrillard

Baudrillard was keen on the pseudo-scientific philosophical school called 'Pataphysics. Invented by the French writer Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), 'Pataphysics is often described as a parody of science that offers imaginary definitions and solutions. Baudrillard discovered 'Pataphysics as a young adult and continued to be involved with that stream of thinking.

At the core of Pataphysical thinking is that there really are no wrong answers!

Baudrillard was married twice and had two children from his first marriage. Baudrillard was diagnosed with cancer in 2005. He died at the age of 77 in 2007.

Baudrillard: postmodernism

Baudrillard belonged to a generation of French philosophers like Michel Foucault (1926–1984) and Gilles Deleuze (1925–1995), whose ideas shaped modern thinking. Jean Baudrillard published his first book Le Système des objets in 1968. The date of publishing coincided with political protests in France led by workers and students. Baudrillard's writing was, at times, radical and experimental and sought innovation in thinking.

Baudrillard once quipped that he had nothing to do with postmodernism and actively distanced himself from the term. Yet Baudrillard is regarded as one of the key theorists of postmodernism, and his works contain themes that align with postmodern thinking.

Baudrillard's theories explore culture, visual media, and sociopolitical developments in the postmodern world. He also engaged with structuralism, especially the concept of 'sign' in semiotics and cultural theory.

Sign

In semiotics (the study of signs), a sign is anything that communicates meaning. It could be verbal or non-verbal.

Structuralism is an intellectual movement and school of thought based on the theories of Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913). Saussure argued that language is a system of signs that generate meaning. The sign is made of a signifier (sound-image) and a signified (concept). The relationship between the signifier and the signifier is arbitrary.

Jean Baudrillard: theory

As a cultural theorist, Baudrillard critiqued many aspects of Western civilisation, like capitalism, consumerism, and language. Although Baudrillard's writings cover a wide range of unrelated concepts, we can trace a consistent course in Baudrillard's philosophical positions and their evolution over time.

Capitalism is an economic system based on private ownership of property and goods, and free markets based on demand and supply.

The most popular among Baudrillard's ideas are hyperreality and simulacra. Like all theories, Baudrillard's ideas had both defenders and detractors.

Baudrillard regarded himself as widely misunderstood. Baudrillard's idea of simulation is mistakenly thought of as suggesting that postmodernism itself is a false reality, like in The Matrix films. In contrast, the theory is a nuanced discussion on the relationship between reality and illusion.

Jean Baudrillard: simulacra and simulation

In the book Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard presents the concept of simulation. There are three orders of simulation.

Simulacrum: a representation or copy of a thing; (plural: simulacra).

Simulation is a representation of something bigger. It imitates the way something works and therefore, has the potential to conceal the real or be mistaken for the real.

Orders of the simulacra

The first-order of simulacra is where the representation of the real, e.g., a novel, a film, a painting, or a map, is clearly just an artificial representation. The second-order simulacra, however, blur the boundaries between reality and representation. Baudrillard uses Jorge Luis Borges's (1899–1986) one-paragraph fable 'Of Exactitude in Science' (1946) as an example. In the short story, the cartographers of an empire draw up a map so well that the map becomes big enough to cover the entire territory. As a result, the map and reality can no longer be differentiated from each other, and the map becomes as real as the real territory.
In the third order, the simulacra go beyond the previous orders to produce a 'hyperreal', where models of reality that lack an origin or connection to the actual reality are generated.

Hyperreality

In third-order simulation, there is a reversal of order in which the model precedes the real. This is commonly misunderstood as suggesting a blurring of the boundaries between reality and representation. Instead, Baudrillard suggests that there is a detachment between the two to the point that it becomes irrelevant that the representation gains preference over reality. While in the first and second orders of simulation, the copy is still somewhat measured against the real. This is not the case in the third order. This creates a hyperreal.

Hyperreal is the representation that is not created based on the real, i.e., a copy without the original.

When it is not based on an original, it becomes free from the rules of representation or the need to be faithful to the original. This creates a hyperreality—a world without a real to compare. Eventually, hyperreality becomes the dominant way we experience and perceive the world.

Baudrillard was also interested in the way media contributes to creating hyperreality. He once commented that the Gulf War of 1990-19911 did not take place. Although this invited controversy, it was not him subscribing to a conspiracy theory or denying reality. Instead, Baudrillard was talking about how the media presented a version of the actual war, tailored to become a spectacle, almost like a war game.

Jean Baudrillard: America summary

In 1986, Baudrillard published a quasi-travelogue titled America. Even though Baudrillard talks about the time he spent in America in the book, it differs from the conventional style and format of travel writing. While the reader may find verbal descriptions of American cities like New York and Los Angeles, Baudrillard interweaves different aspects of American society with complex philosophical ideas and expressions typically found in his works. Instead of the landmarks and famous historical places, Baudrillard keenly explored the country through its deserts and spaces and establishments in search of what he calls 'astral America'.

America, according to Baudrillard, is 'the primal society of the future' characterised by cultural hybridity, complexity, and intermingling, but primitive because of its relatively short past.3

You can add 'quasi-' to a word to describe something that is almost or seemingly the same but not exactly the same.

Jean Baudrillard: quotes

Baudrillard was interested in the semiotic concept of the 'sign', first discussed by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913). As opposed to Saussure, for Baudrillard, the relationship between an object and the sign (sound/word/image) that represents it is not merely arbitrary but undecidable.

In the age of hyper-reality, signifiers are not tied down to meaning. Therefore, words and images are free to pursue new paths and create new meanings.

We think we advance by way of ideas – that is doubtless the fantasy of every theorist, every philosopher – but it is also words themselves which generate or regenerate ideas, which act as "shifters".

Passwords (2000)

In the chapter' Requiem for the Media', in For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1981), Baudrillard discusses how walls and hand-painted notices became an alternate and powerful form of media during the political unrest of May 1968 in France disrupting the one-way transmission of information.

The street is, in this sense, the alternative and subversive form of the mass media, since it isn't, like the latter, an objectified support for answerless messages, a transmission system at a distance.

For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1981)

Baudrillard's first book Le Système des objets (The System of Objects), was published in 1968. It is an expanded version of Baudrillard's doctoral thesis under the dissertation committee of Henri Lefebvre (1901–1991), Roland Barthes (1915–1980), and Pierre Bourdieu (1930 –2002). In The Systems of Objects, Baudrillard examines technology, asserting that human beings design technology based on their fantasies and desires.

Man, for his part, by automating his objects and rendering them multi-functional instead of striving to structure his practices in a fluid and open-ended manner, reveals in a way what part he himself plays in a technical society: that of the most beautiful all-purpose object, that of an instrumental object.

The System of Objects (1968)

Jean Baudrillard - Key takeaways

  • Jean Baudrillard was a French sociologist, cultural theorist, and philosopher.
  • He studied German literature and later sociology in Paris.
  • Baudrillard started his career teaching the German language and literature and sociology in France.
  • He has published works on cultural studies, art, film and music.
  • Baudrillard's widely discussed ideas include hyperreality and simulacra.

References

  1. The Wachowskis, The Matrix, 1999
  2. Jean Baudrillard, America, 1988
  3. Fig. 1 en:User:Europeangraduateschool, CC BY-SA 2.5 , via Wikimedia Commons

Frequently Asked Questions about Jean Baudrillard

Baudrillard is well-known for his ideas of simulation and hyper-reality.

Simulacra and Simulation and the concept of hyper-reality. He invited controversy with his discussion of the Gulf War of 1990-91. 

Jean Baudrillard was a French sociologist and philosopher. He is considered one of the most important postmodern thinkers. 

Disneyland and prison are some of the examples Baudrillard gives for simulacra and simulation. 

Hyper-reality where the copy of the real precedes the real, and the representation no longer needs to be faithful to the reality it is meant to represent. 

Final Jean Baudrillard Quiz

Question

Who was Jean Baudrillard?

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Answer

Jean Baudrillard was a French sociologist, cultural theorist, and philosopher.

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When and where was Jean Baudrillard born?

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Answer

Baudrillard was born in 1929 in Reims, France.

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Where did Jean Baudrillard study?

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Baudrillard attended the Sorbonne (University of Paris).

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Where did Jean Baudrillard begin his career?

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Answer

Baudrillard started teaching German language and literature in schools in France. 

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How is Jean Baudrillard connected to May 1968?

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Baudrillard started teaching sociology at Paris X Nanterre. The campus later became involved in the events of May 1968.

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What did Baudrillard write about?

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Baudrillard wrote a impressive range of topics, from language to economics. 

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What was Baudrillard's hobby?

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Baudrillard was an avid photographer.

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What are Jean Baudrillard's theories?

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Answer

Baudrillard's theory of simulation and hyperreality is widely discussed. 

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Name a few of Baudrillard's books.

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Answer

Simulacra and Simulation (1981)

America (1986)

The System of Objects (1968)

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Was Jean Baudrillard a postmodernist?

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Answer

Baudrillard is considered a postmodern thinker even though he disavowed the term. 

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