Wednesday, March 07, 2007

academics in virtual mourning

I just found out that the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard died Tuesday. Is it a real death or a hyper death?

I have mixed feelings about Baudrillard. Baudrillard wrote a book about America in the 80s called (strangely enough) America, and I had to deal with it intently in the diss/soon-to-be book...and it was tremendously helpful and insightful. I used to love his takes on things before I studied him in-depth for a directed readings course. After reading a ton of his stuff, however, the joke got old very quickly.

Through his all-encompassing reliance on hyperreality, Baudrillard inspired a thousand dime-store postmodernists who turned the philosophy into a self-reflexive parody. And while this is primarily a criticism about his followers, his own writing (done in that playful, hard to follow French academic style) often lent itself to their misinterpretations, thus encouraging the moron brigade. Some of the disciples of postmodern in general and him in particular ended up focusing on the warpings of reality via representation rather than the reality itself.

Yes, we are living in a world where representation often plays a tremendous role, and yes, often people reference the image more closely than the reality, but there is still reality, authority, and all that in spite of hyper-representation...and by denying (or at least obscuring) this real power, he turned academics into a huge game for some of his followers.

Yes, he advanced thought, but he also allowed, through his writings, a reductive strain of postmodernism, and this strain opened the whole field up to ridicule, at least in the eyes of his critics. Ultimately, in spite of his very real advances, he might've done more harm than good.

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