Jean Baudrillard: Wikis


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Jean Baudrillard
Full name Jean Baudrillard
Born 27 July 1929(1929-07-27)
Reims, France
Died 6 March 2007 (aged 77)
Paris, France
Era 20th / 21st-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Post-Structuralism · Marxism · Post-Marxism
Main interests Postmodernity · Mass Media
Notable ideas Hyperreality · Simulacra · Sign value

Jean Baudrillard (27 July 1929 – 6 March 2007) (IPA: [ʒɑ̃ bo.dʁi.jaʁ])[2] was a French sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer. His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and post-structuralism.



Baudrillard was born in Reims, north-eastern France, on July 27, 1929. He told interviewers that his grandparents were peasants and his parents were civil servants. He became the first of his family to attend university when he moved to Paris to attend Sorbonne University.[3]. There he studied German, which led to him to begin teaching the subject at a provincial lycée, where he remained from 1958 until his departure in 1966. While teaching, Baudrillard began to publish reviews of literature and translated the works of such authors as Peter Weiss, Bertolt Brecht and Wilhelm Mühlmann[4]

Toward the end of his time as a German teacher, Baudrillard began to transfer to sociology, eventually completing his doctoral thesis Le Système des objets (The System of Objects) under the tutelage of Henri Lefebvre. Subsequently, he began teaching the subject at the Université de Paris-X Nanterre, at the time a politically radical institution which would become heavily involved in the events of May 1968.[5] At Nanterre he took up a position as Maître Assistant (Assistant Professor), then Maître de Conférences (Associate Professor), eventually becoming a professor after completing his accreditation, L'Autre par lui-même (The Other, by himself).

In 1986 he moved to IRIS (Institut de Recherche et d'Information Socio-Économique) at the Université 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 (particularly in its "classical" form), and, after ceasing to teach full time, he rarely identified himself with any particular discipline, although he remained linked to the academic world. During the 1980s and 1990s his books had gained a wide audience, and in his last years he became, to an extent, an intellectual celebrity,[6] being published often in the French- and English-speaking popular press. He nonetheless continued supporting the Institut de Recherche sur l'Innovation Sociale at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and was Satrap at the Collège de Pataphysique. He also collaborated at the Canadian philosophical review Ctheory, where he was abundantly cited.

Introduction to his work

preceded by Modernism

Postmodern architecture
Postmodern art
Postmodern Christianity
Postmodern dance
Postmodern feminism
Postmodern fusion
Postmodern literature
Postmodern music
Postmodern picture book
Postmodern philosophy
Postmodern social construction of nature
Postmodern theater
Postmodernism in political science
Postmodernist anthropology
Postmodernist film
Postmodernist school

Baudrillard was a social theorist and critic who is best known for his analyses of the modes of mediation and of technological communication. His writing, although consistently interested in the way technological progress affects social change, covers diverse subjects  — from consumerism to gender relations to the social understanding of history to journalistic commentaries about AIDS, cloning, the Rushdie affair, the first Gulf War and the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.

His published work emerged as part of a generation of French thinkers including Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan who all shared an interest in semiotics, and he is often seen as a part of the poststructuralist philosophical school.[7] In common with many poststructuralists, his arguments consistently draw upon the notion that signification and meaning are both only understandable in terms of how particular words or "signs" interrelate. Baudrillard thought, as many post-structuralists did, that meaning is brought about through systems of signs working together. Following on from the structuralist linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, Baudrillard argued that meaning is based upon an absence (so "dog" means "dog" not because of what the word says, as such, but because of what it does not say: "cat", "goat", "tree" etc.). In fact, he viewed meaning as near enough self-referential: objects, images of objects, words and signs are situated in a web of meaning; one object's meaning is only understandable through its relation to the meaning of other objects, in other words, one thing's prestige relates to another's mundanity.

From this starting point Baudrillard constructed broad theories of human society based upon this kind of self-referentiality. His pictures of society portray societies always searching for a sense of meaning  — or a "total" understanding of the world  — that remains consistently elusive. In contrast to poststructuralists such as Foucault, for whom the formations of knowledge emerge only as the result of relations of power, Baudrillard developed theories in which the excessive, fruitless search for total knowledge lead almost inevitably to a kind of delusion. In Baudrillard's view, the (human) subject may try to understand the (non-human) object, but because the object can only be understood according to what it signifies (and because the process of signification immediately involves a web of other signs from which it is distinguished) this never produces the desired results. The subject, rather, becomes seduced (in the original Latin sense, seducere, to lead away) by the object. He therefore argued that, in the last analysis, a complete understanding of the minutiae of human life is impossible, and when people are seduced into thinking otherwise they become drawn toward a "simulated" version of reality, or, to use one of his neologisms, a state of "hyperreality." This is not to say that the world becomes unreal, but rather that the faster and more comprehensively societies begin to bring reality together into one supposedly coherent picture, the more insecure and unstable it looks and the more fearful societies become.[8] Reality, in this sense, "dies out."[9]

Accordingly, Baudrillard argued that the excess of signs and of meaning in late 20th century "global" society had caused (quite paradoxically) an effacement of reality. In this world neither liberal nor Marxist utopias are any longer believed in. We live, he argued, not in a "global village," to use Marshall McLuhan's phrase, but rather in a world that is ever more easily petrified by even the smallest event. Because the "global" world operates at the level of the exchange of signs and commodities, it becomes ever more blind to symbolic acts such as, for example, terrorism. In Baudrillard's work the symbolic realm (which he develops a perspective on through the anthropological work of Marcel Mauss and Georges Bataille) is seen as quite distinct from that of signs and signification. Signs can be exchanged like commodities; symbols, on the other hand, operate quite differently: they are exchanged, like gifts, sometimes violently as a form of potlatch. Baudrillard, particularly in his later work, saw the "global" society as without this "symbolic" element, and therefore symbolically (if not militarily) defenceless against acts such as the Rushdie Fatwa[10] or, indeed, the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States and its military establishment (see below).

In 2004, the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies was launched.

The object value system

In his early books, such as The System of Objects, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, and The Consumer Society, Baudrillard's main focus is upon consumerism, and how different objects are consumed in different ways. At this time Baudrillard's political outlook was loosely associated with Marxism (and situationism), but in these books he differed from Marx in one significant way. For Baudrillard, it was consumption, rather than production, which was the main drive in capitalist society.

Baudrillard came to this conclusion by criticising Marx's concept of "use-value." Baudrillard thought that both Marx's and Adam Smith's economic thought accepted the idea of genuine needs relating to genuine uses too easily and too simply. He argued, drawing from Georges Bataille, that needs are constructed, rather than innate. Whereas Marx believed in objects of necessary use-value distinct to those of pure "commodity fetishism", Baudrillard thought that all purchases, because they always signify something socially, have their fetishistic side. Objects always, drawing from Roland Barthes, "say something" about their users. And this was, for him, why consumption was and remains more important than production: because the "ideological genesis of needs"[11] precedes the production of goods to meet those needs.

He wrote that there are four ways of an object obtaining value. The four value-making processes are as follows:[12]

  1. The first is the functional value of an object; its instrumental purpose. A pen, for instance, writes; and a refrigerator cools. Marx's "use-value" is very similar to this first type of value.
  2. The second is the exchange value of an object; its economic value. One pen may be worth three pencils; and one refrigerator may be worth the salary earned by three months of work.
  3. The third is the symbolic value of an object; a value that a subject assigns to an object in relation to another subject. A pen might symbolize a student's school graduation gift or a commencement speaker's gift; or a diamond may be a symbol of publicly declared marital love.
  4. The last is the sign value of an object; its value within a system of objects. A particular pen may, whilst having no added functional benefit, signify prestige relative to another pen; a diamond ring may have no function at all, but may suggest particular social values, such as taste or class.

Baudrillard's earlier books were attempts to argue that the first two of these values are not simply associated, but are disrupted by the third and, particularly, the fourth. Later, Baudrillard rejected Marxism totally (The Mirror of Production and Symbolic Exchange and Death). But the focus on the difference between sign value (which relates to commodity exchange) and symbolic value (which relates to Maussian gift exchange) remained in his work up until his death. Indeed it came to play a more and more important role, particularly in his writings on world events.

Simulacra and Simulation

As he developed his work throughout the 1980s, he moved from economically-based theory to the consideration of mediation and mass communications. Although retaining his interest in Saussurean semiotics and the logic of symbolic exchange (as influenced by anthropologist Marcel Mauss) Baudrillard turned his attention to Marshall McLuhan, developing ideas about how the nature of social relations is determined by the forms of communication that a society employs. In so doing, Baudrillard progressed beyond both Saussure's and Roland Barthes' formal semiology to consider the implications of a historically-understood (and thus formless) version of structural semiology. The concept of Simulacra also involves a negation of the concept of reality as we usually understand it. Baudrillard argues that today there is no such thing as reality.

The end of history and meaning

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, one of Baudrillard's most common themes was historicity, or, more specifically, how present day societies utilise the notions of progress and modernity in their political choices. He argued, much like the political theorist Francis Fukuyama, that history had ended or "vanished" with the spread of globalization; but, unlike Fukuyama, Baudrillard averred that this end should not be understood as the culmination of history's progress, but as the collapse of the very idea of historical progress. For Baudrillard, the end of the Cold War was not caused by one ideology's victory over the other, but the disappearance of the utopian visions that both the political Right and Left shared. Giving further evidence of his opposition toward Marxist visions of global communism and liberal visions of global civil society, Baudrillard contended that the ends they hoped for had always been illusions; indeed, as his book The Illusion of the End argued, he thought the idea of an end itself was nothing more than a misguided dream:

The end of history is, alas, also the end of the dustbins of history. There are no longer any dustbins for disposing of old ideologies, old regimes, old values. Where are we going to throw Marxism, which actually invented the dustbins of history? (Yet there is some justice here since the very people who invented them have fallen in.) Conclusion: if there are no more dustbins of history, this is because History itself has become a dustbin. It has become its own dustbin, just as the planet itself is becoming its own dustbin.[13]

Within a society subject to and ruled by fast-paced electronic communication and global information networks the collapse of this façade was always going to be, he thought, inevitable. Employing a quasi-scientific vocabulary that attracted the ire of the physicist Alan Sokal, Baudrillard wrote that the speed society moved at had destabilized the linearity of history: "we have the particle accelerator that has smashed the referential orbit of things once and for all."[14]

In making this argument Baudrillard found some affinity with the postmodern philosophy of Jean-François Lyotard, who famously argued that in the late Twentieth Century there was no longer any room for "metanarratives." (The triumph of a coming communism being one such metanarrative.) But, in addition to simply lamenting this collapse of history, Baudrillard also went beyond Lyotard and attempted to analyse how the idea of forward progress was being employed in spite of the notion's declining validity. Baudrillard argued that although genuine belief in a universal endpoint of history, wherein all conflicts would find their resolution, had been deemed redundant, universality was still a notion utilised in world politics as an excuse for actions. Universal values which, according to him, no one any longer believed universal were and are still rhetorically employed to justify otherwise unjustifiable choices. The means, he wrote, are there even though the ends are no longer believed in, and are employed in order to hide the present's harsh realities (or, as he would have put it, unrealities). "In the Enlightenment, universalization was viewed as unlimited growth and forward progress. Today, by contrast, universalization is expressed as a forward escape."[15]

On the Gulf War

Part of Baudrillard's public profile, as both an academic and a political commentator, comes from his 1991 book, titled for its provocative main thesis, "The Gulf War Did Not Take Place." His argument described the first Gulf War as the inverse of the Clausewitzian formula: it was not "the continuation of politics by other means", but "the continuation of the absence of politics by other means". Accordingly, Saddam Hussein was not fighting the Allied Forces, but using the lives of his soldiers as a form of sacrifice to preserve his power (p. 72, 2004 edition). The Allied Forces fighting the Iraqi military forces were merely dropping 10,000 tonnes of bombs daily, as if proving to themselves that there was an enemy to fight (p. 61). So, too, were the Western media complicit, presenting the war in real time, by recycling images of war to propagate the notion that the two enemies, the US (and allies) were actually fighting the Iraqi Army, but, such was not the case: Saddam Hussein did not use his military capacity (the Iraqi Air Force), his politico-military power was not weakened (he suppressed the Kurdish insurgency against Iraq at war's end), so, concluding that politically little had changed in Iraq: the enemy went undefeated, the victors were not victorious, therefore, there was no war: the Gulf War did not occur.

Much of the repute that Baudrillard found as a result of the book  — originally a series of articles in the British newspaper The Guardian and the French newspaper Libération in three parts: During the American military and rhetorical buildup as "The Gulf War Will not take Place"; during military action as "The Gulf War is not Taking Place", and after action was over, "The Gulf War Did Not Take Place"  — was based on his critique that the Gulf War was not ineffectual, as Baudrillard portrayed it: People died, the political map was altered, and Saddam Hussein's regime was harmed. Some critics accuse Baudrillard of instant revisionism; a denial of the physical action of the conflict (part of his denial of reality, in general). Consequently, Baudrillard was accused of lazy amoralism, encompassing cynical scepticism, and Berkelian idealism. Sympathetic commentators (such as William Merrin, in his book Baudrillard and the Media) have argued that Baudrillard was more concerned with the West's technological and political dominance and the globalization of its commercial interests, and what it means for the present possibility of war. Merrin has asserted that Baudrillard did not deny that something happened, but merely questioned that that something was a war; rather it was "an atrocity masquerading as a war". Merrin's book viewed the accusations of amorality as redundant and based upon misreading; Baudrillard's own position was more nuanced. In Baudrillard's own words (p. 71-72):

Saddam liquidates the communists, Moscow flirts even more with him; he gases the Kurds, it is not held against him; he eliminates the religious cadres, the whole of Islam makes peace with him ... Even ... the 100,000 dead will only have been the final decoy that Saddam will have sacrificed, the blood money paid in forfeit according to a calculated equivalence, in order to conserve his power. What is worse is that these dead still serve as an alibi for those who do not want to have been excited for nothing: at least these dead will prove this war was indeed a war and not a shameful and pointless hoax ...

On the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks

In contrast to the "non-event" of the Gulf War, in the essay The Spirit of Terrorism he characterised the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City as the "absolute event." Seeking to understand them as an (ab)reaction to the technological and political expansion of capitalist globalization, rather than as a war of religiously-based or civilization-based warfare, he termed the absolute event and its consequences as follows (p. 11 in the 2002 version):

This is not a clash of civilisations or religions, and it reaches far beyond Islam and America, on which efforts are being made to focus the conflict in order to create the delusion of a visible confrontation and a solution based upon force. There is indeed a fundamental antagonism here, but one that points past the spectre of America (which is perhaps the epicentre, but in no sense the sole embodiment, of globalisation) and the spectre of Islam (which is not the embodiment of terrorism either) to triumphant globalisation battling against itself.

Baudrillard thus placed the attacks  — as accords with his theory of society  — in context as a symbolic reaction to the continued expansion of a world based solely upon commodity exchange. This stance was criticised on two counts. Richard Wolin (in The Seduction of Unreason) forcefully accused Baudrillard and Slavoj Zizek of all but celebrating the terrorist attacks, essentially claiming that the United States of America received what it deserved. Zizek, however, countered that accusation to Wolin's analysis as a form of intellectual barbarism in the journal Critical Inquiry, saying that Wolin fails to see the difference between fantasising about an event and stating that one is deserving of that event. Merrin (in Baudrillard and the Media) argued that Baudrillard's position affords the terrorists a type of moral superiority. In the journal Economy and Society, Merrin further noted that Baudrillard gives the symbolic facets of society unfair privilege above semiotic concerns. Second, authors questioned whether the attacks were unavoidable. Bruno Latour, in Critical Inquiry argued that Baudrillard believed that their destruction was forced by the society that created them, alluding the Towers were "brought down by their own weight". In Latour's view, this was because Baudrillard conceived only of society in terms of a symbolic and semiotic dualism.

Critiques of Baudrillard

Baudrillard's writing, and his uncompromising positions, has led to his being criticised fiercely by many. For example Denis Dutton, founder of Philosophy & Literature's "Bad Writing Contest" — which listed examples of the kind of willfully obscurantist prose for which Baudrillard was frequently criticised — had the following to say:

Some writers in their manner and stance intentionally provoke challenge and criticism from their readers. Others just invite you to think. Baudrillard's hyperprose demands only that you grunt wide-eyed or bewildered assent. He yearns to have intellectual influence, but must fend off any serious analysis of his own writing, remaining free to leap from one bombastic assertion to the next, no matter how brazen. Your place is simply to buy his books, adopt his jargon, and drop his name wherever possible.[16]

However only one of the two major confrontational books on Baudrillard's thought — Christopher Norris's Uncritical Theory: Postmodernism, Intellectuals and the Gulf War (ISBN 0-87023-817-5) — seeks to reject his media theory and position on "the real" out of hand. The other — Douglas Kellner's Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond (ISBN 0-8047-1757-5) — seeks rather to analyse Baudrillard's relation to postmodernism (a concept with which Baudrillard has had a continued, if uneasy and rarely explicit, relationship) and to present a Marxist counter. Regarding the former, William Merrin (as discussed above) has published more than one denunciation of Norris's position. The latter Baudrillard himself characterised as reductive (in Nicholas Zurbrugg's Jean Baudrillard: Art and Artefact).

Willam Merrin's work has presented a more sympathetic account, which attempts to "place Baudrillard in opposition to himself." Thereby Merrin has argued that Baudrillard's position on semiotic analysis of meaning denies himself his own position on symbolic exchange. Merrin thus alludes to the common criticism of post-structuralist work (a criticism not dissimilar in either Baudrillard, Foucault or Deleuze) that emphasising interrelation as the basis for subjectivity denies the human agency from which social structures necessarily arise. (Alain Badiou and Michel de Certeau have made this point generally, and Barry Sandywell has argued as much in Baudrillard's specific case).

Finally, Mark Poster, Baudrillard's editor and one of a number of present day academics who argue for his contemporary relevance, has remarked (p. 8 of Poster's 2nd ed. of Selected Writings):

Baudrillard's writing up to the mid-1980s is open to several criticisms. He fails to define key terms, such as the code; his writing style is hyperbolic and declarative, often lacking sustained, systematic analysis when it is appropriate; he totalizes his insights, refusing to qualify or delimit his claims. He writes about particular experiences, television images, as if nothing else in society mattered, extrapolating a bleak view of the world from that limited base. He ignores contradictory evidence such as the many benefits afforded by the new media ...

Nonetheless Poster is keen to refute the most extreme of Baudrillard's critics, the likes of Alan Sokal and Norris who see him as a purveyor of a form of reality-denying irrationalism (ibid p. 7):

Baudrillard is not disputing the trivial issue that reason remains operative in some actions, that if I want to arrive at the next block, for example, I can assume a Newtonian universe (common sense), plan a course of action (to walk straight for X meters, carry out the action, and finally fulfil my goal by arriving at the point in question). What is in doubt is that this sort of thinking enables a historically informed grasp of the present in general. According to Baudrillard, it does not. The concurrent spread of the hyperreal through the media and the collapse of liberal and Marxist politics as the master narratives, deprives the rational subject of its privileged access to truth. In an important sense individuals are no longer citizens, eager to maximise their civil rights, nor proletarians, anticipating the onset of communism. They are rather consumers, and hence the prey of objects as defined by the code.

Representations of and references to Baudrillard

  • Native American (Anishinaabe) writer Gerald Vizenor, who has made extensive use of Baudrillard's concepts of simulation in his critical work,[17] features Baudrillard as a character in a "debwe heart dance" in his 1996 novel Hotline Healers.[18]
  • The Matrix, a (1999) film by the Wachowski brothers, purports to be influenced by Baudrillard's thought, and Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation makes a 'cameo' as an easter egg. One critic went so far as to claim that if "Baudrillard... has not yet embraced the film it may be because he is thinking of suing for a screen credit.[19] Baudrillard himself stated in interviews that The Matrix has nothing to do with his work, and is at best a misreading of his ideas. It has been suggested that Baudrillard never saw the film.[2]
  • The Economist of London published a kind and humorous obituary on 15 March 2007.[20] It referred to his description of the U.S.A. as the "last primitive society" and readers commented further in the style of Baudrillard on 29 March.
  • Newcastle based band Maxïmo Park wrote a song about Baudrillard which featured as a b-side to "Karaoke Plays" from their 2007 album Our Earthly Pleasures.
  • Baudrillard's Blender, a reciprocating, no-frills, low-brow design, self-writing-montage-machine for Symbolically Exchanging the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election TV Coverage - by Cultural Farming.



  • The System of Objects (1968)
  • The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures (1970)
  • For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1972)
  • The Mirror of Production (1973)
  • Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976)
  • Forget Foucault (1977)
  • Seduction (1979)
  • Simulacra and Simulation (1981)
  • In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities (1982)
  • Fatal Strategies (1983)
  • Simulations (1983)
  • America (1986)
  • Cool Memories (1987)
  • The Ecstasy of Communication (1987)
  • The Transparency of Evil (1990)
  • The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (1991)
  • The Illusion of the End (1992)
  • Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews (Edited by Mike Gane) (1993)
  • The Perfect Crime (1995)
  • Paroxysm: Interviews with Philippe Petit (1998)
  • Impossible Exchange (1999)
  • Passwords (2000)
  • The Singular Objects of Architecture (2000)
  • The Vital Illusion (2000)
  • Au royaume des aveugles (2002)
  • The Spirit of Terrorism: And Requiem for the Twin Towers (2002)
  • Fragments (interviews with François L'Yvonnet) (2003)
  • The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact (2005)
  • The Conspiracy of Art (2005)
  • Les exilés du dialogue, Jean Baudrillard and Enrique Valiente Noailles (2005)
  • Utopia Deferred: Writings for Utopie (1967-1978) (2006)
  • 'Pataphysics (2007)


  • “The Spirit of Terrorism”. Telos No. 121 (Fall 2001). New York: Telos Press.
  • "Divine Europe". Telos No. 131 (Summer 2005). New York: Telos Press.


  • Die Illusion des Endes  — Das Ende der Illusion (Jean Baudrillard & Boris Groys), 58 minutes + booklet. Cologne: supposé 1997. ISBN 3-932513-01-0
  • Die Macht der Verführung, 55 minutes. Cologne: supposé 2006. ISBN 978-3-932513-67-1


  1. ^ The world of Jean Baudrillard
  2. ^ See How to pronounce Jean Baudrillard.
  3. ^ Guardian Obituary
  4. ^ Chris Turner's introduction to The Intelligence of Evil, Berg (2005), p. 1
  5. ^ Chris Turner's introduction to The Intelligence of Evil, Berg (2005), p. 2
  6. ^ cf. Barry Sandywell's article "Forget Baudrillard", in Theory, Culture and Society (1995, issue 12)
  7. ^ Peter Pericles Trifonas, Barthes and the Empire of Signs, Icon (2001)
  8. ^ see here Baudrillard's final major publication in English, The Intelligence of Evil, where he discussed the political fallout of what he calls "Integral Reality"
  9. ^ as he argued in the book The Perfect Crime, Verso (1995) for instance
  10. ^ see here The Transparency of Evil, Verso (1993)
  11. ^ p. 63 in For a Critique ... (1983)
  12. ^ as set out in For a Critique ... (1983)
  13. ^ The Illusion of the End, or Selected Writings, p. 263.
  14. ^ The Illusion of the End, p. 2.
  15. ^ taken from the essay The Violence of the Global, in the journal Critical Theory
  16. ^ Dutton, Denis, "Jean Baudrillard", Philosophy and Literature 14 (1990) 234-38.
  17. ^ Review of Postindian Conversations by Gerald Vizenor and A. Robert Lee
  18. ^ Gerald Vizenor, Hotline Healers (1996), Chapter 5.
  19. ^ Adam Gopnik, "The Unreal Thing", The New Yorker 19 May 2003 [1]
  20. ^ Jean Baudrillard

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Jean Baudrillard (1929-06-202007-03-06) was a cultural theorist and philosopher. His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and post-structuralism.



Simulations (1983)

New York:Semiotext

  • The real is not only what can be reproduced, but that which is already reproduced, the hyper-real. (p. 146)

America (1986)

Trans. Chris Turner, 1988, New York: Verso, ISBN 0-860-91978-1

  • Driving is a spectacular form of amnesia. Everything is to be discovered, everything to be obliterated. Admittedly, there is the primal shock of the deserts and the dazzle of California, but when this is gone, the secondary brilliance of the journey begins, that of the excessive, pitiless distance, the infinity of anonymous faces and distances, or of certain miraculous geological formations, which ultimately testify to no human will, while keeping intact an image of upheaval. This form of travel admits of no exceptions: when it runs up against a known face, a familiar landscape, or some decipherable message, the spell is broken: the amnesic, ascetic, asymptotic charm of disappearance succumbs to affect and worldly semiology.
    • Vanishing Point (pp. 9-10)
  • Sadder than the beggar is the man who eats alone in public.
    • New York (p. 15)

The Ecstasy of Communication (1987)

L'autre par lui-même (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1987); trans. Bernard and Caroline Schutze, New York:Semiotext(e)

  • The need to speak, even if one has nothing to say, becomes more pressing when one has nothing to say, just as the will to live becomes more urgent when life has lost its meaning. (p. 30)
  • Picturing others and everything which brings you closer to them is futile from the instant that ‘communication’ can make their presence immediate. (p. 42)
  • The close-up of a face is as obscene as a sexual organ seen from up close. It is a sexual organ. The promiscuity of the detail, the zoom-in, takes on a sexual value. (p. 43)
  • Challenge, and not desire, lies at the heart of seduction. (p. 57)
  • Seduction is the world’s elementary dynamic… All this has changed significantly for us, at least in appearance. For what has happened to good and evil? Seduction hurls them against one another, and unites them beyond meaning, in a paroxysm [sudden outbreak of emotion] of intensity and charm. (p. 59)
  • Distinctive signs, full signs, never seduce us. (p. 59)
  • THERE IS NEVER ANYTHING TO PRO-DUCE. In spite of all its materialist efforts, production remains a utopia. We can wear ourselves out in materializing things, in rendering them visible, but we will never cancel the secret. (p. 65)
  • And so one can imagine that in amorous seduction the other is the locus of your secret — the other unknowingly holds that which you will never have the chance to know. (p. 65)
  • Take provocation, for instance, which is the opposite and the caricature of seduction. It says: "I know that you want to be seduced, and I will seduce you." Nothing could be worse than betraying this secret rule. Nothing could be less seductive than a provocative smile or inciteful behaviour, since both presuppose that one cannot be seduced naturally and that one needs to be blackmailed into it, or through a declaration of intent: "Let me seduce you" (p. 67)
  • The discourse of truth is quite simply impossible. It eludes itself. Everything eludes itself, everything scoffs at its own truth, seduction renders everything elusive. The fury to unveil the truth, to get at the naked truth, the one which haunts all discourses of interpretation, the obscene rage to uncover the secret, is proportionate to the impossibility of ever achieving this. …But this rage, this fury, only bears witness to the eternity of seduction and to the impossibility of mastering it. (p. 73)

Simulacra and Simulations (1988)

From Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed, M. Poster, Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp.166-184.

  • For it is with the same imperialism that present-day simulators try to make the real, all the real, coincide with their simulation models.
  • One has never said better how much "humanism", "normality", "quality of life" were nothing but the vicissitudes of profitability.

The Illusion of the End (1992)

(L'Illision de la Fin) Tr. Chris Turner, 1994, Stanford University Press, ISBN 0804725012
  • The end of history is, alas, also the end of the dustbins of history. There are no longer any dustbins for disposing of old ideologies, old regimes, old values. Where are we going to throw Marxism, which actually invented the dustbins of history? (Yet there is some justice here since the very people who invented them have fallen in.) Conclusion: if there are no more dustbins of history, this is because History itself has become a dustbin. It has become its own dustbin, just as the planet itself is becoming its own dustbin.
    • "The Event Strike", p. 26

The Perfect Crime (1995)

  • Nothing is wholly obvious without becoming enigmatic. Reality itself is too obvious to be true.
  • We will never know if an advertisement or opinion poll has had a real influence on individual or collective wills, but we will never know either what would have happened if there had been no opinion poll or advertisement.

The Vital Illusion (2000)

Wellek Library Lectures given May 1999 at the University of California, Irvine
  • To challenge and to cope with this paradoxical state of things, we need a paradoxical way of thinking; since the world drifts into delirium, we must adopt a delirious point of view. We must no longer assume any principle of truth, of causality, or any discursive norm. Instead, we must grant both the poetic singularity of events and the radical uncertainty of events. It is not easy. We usually think that holding to the protocols of experimentation and verification is the most difficult thing. But in fact the most difficult thing is to renounce the truth and the possibility of verification, to remain as long as possible on the enigmatic, ambivalent, and reversible side of thought.
    • "The Murder of the Real"

Photography, or the Writing of Light (2000)

European Graduate School

  • There are only a few images that are not forced to provide meaning, or have to go through the filter of a specific idea.
  • So-called "realist" photography does not capture the "what is." Instead, it is preoccupied with what should not be, like the reality of suffering for example.
  • It is perhaps not a surprise that photography developed as a technological medium in the industrial age, when reality started to disappear. It is even perhaps the disappearance of reality that triggered this technical form. Reality found a way to mutate into an image.

The Violence of the Image (2003)

European Graduate School

  • Particularly in the case of all professional of press-images which testify of the real events. In making reality, even the most violent, emerge to the visible, it makes the real substance disappear. It is like the Myth of Eurydice : when Orpheus turns around to look at her, she vanishes and returns to hell. That is why, the more exponential the marketing of images is growing the more fantastically grows the indifference towards the real world. Finally, the real world becomes a useless function, a collection of phantom shapes and ghost events. We are not far from the silhouettes on the walls of the cave of Plato.
  • This realistic image, however, does not catch at all what really is, but what should not be - death and misery - what should not exist, from our moral and humanistic point of view. And at the same time making an aesthetic and commercial, perfectly immoral use and abuse of this misery. Images that actually testify, behind their pretended "objectivity", of a deep denial of the real, and of an equal denial of the image - assigned to present what does not even want to be represented, assigned to the rape of the real by burglary.


  • Boredom is like a pitiless zooming in on the epidermis of time. Every instant is dilated and magnified like the pores of the face.
  • For nothing can be greater than seduction itself, not even the order that destroys it.
  • Marxism is therefore only a limited petit bourgeois critique, one more step in the banalization of life toward the "good use" of the social!
  • The only thing worse than being bored is being boring.
  • One day, we shall stand up and our backsides will remain attached to our seats.
  • Today's terrorism is not the product of a traditional history of anarchism, nihilism, or fanaticism. It is instead the contemporary partner of globalization.
  • One may dream of a culture where everyone bursts into laughter when someone says: this is true, this is real. ( essay -"Radical Thought")
  • If the thought enunciates an object as a truth, it is only as a challenge to this object's own self-fulfillment. ( essay -"Radical Thought")
  • Not only does reality resist those who still criticize it, but it also abandons those who defend it. Maybe it is a way for reality to get its revenge from those who claim to believe in it for the sole purpose of eventually transforming it: sending back its supporters to their own desires. ( essay -"Radical Thought")
  • The simulacrum now hides, not the truth, but the fact that there is none, that is to say, the continuation of Nothingness.( essay -"Radical Thought")
  • Dying is nothing. You have to know how to disappear. Dying comes down to a biological chance and that is of no consequence. Disappearing is of a far higher order of necessity. You must not leave it to biology to decide when you will disappear. To disappear is to pass into an enigmatic state which is neither life nor death. Some animals know how to do this, as do savages, who withdraw while still alive, from the sight of their own people.
  • There is no aphrodisiac like innocence.

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