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March 19, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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R.I.P. Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007)

“Dying is pointless. You have to know how to disappear.”

The body of Jean Baudrillard died the other day, and now it rots away. But if this philosopher taught us anything, it is that the world is not made up primarily of fleshy things which produce ideas. For the more we make copies of things – written records, photographs, computer simulations – the more our world is a frantic recreation of itself: the ideas themselves make the fleshy things. And since Baudrillard’s books will continue to be photocopied in varsity libraries for yonks, Baudrillard is still with us.

Twenty years ago postmodernism was hip. Students would name-drop Baudrillard to score some intellectual poon. But whenever something has been cool for a while, it subsequently becomes the in thing to do to mock it. So if you want to get laid you’re better off making fun of how Baudrillard doesn’t make sense. Which is rubbish, and just goes to show how lame some uni students are.

Baudrillard’s hyperreality, the idea that representations can take over reality, is nothing new. In the sixteenth century Montaigne said “I have no more made my book than my book hath made me”. So Po’ Mo’ dates back to the Renaissance, at least. What Baudrillard did was use hyperreality to describe modern technology. Case in point: I have a friend who refuses to go to parties because he prefers his World Of Warcraft friends, with whom he can shoot monsters with fireballs from his hands, instead of standing about uncomfortably, drinking pretentious drinks and trying to act cool.

Baudrillard also described the current world order as hyperreal, most notoriously in The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, where he argued that a wholly one-sided massacre packaged for CNN, in which the enemy was nevertheless not conquered, does not count as a war: “America, Saddam Hussein and the Gulf powers are fighting over the corpse of war.” If anything, the 2003 attack on Iraq confirms his thesis that war has become a video game.

Rolling Stone correspondent Evan Wright, embedded in a group of marines who led the charge through the desert, recorded the response of one young gunner after a firefight: “I was just thinking one thing when we drove into that ambush…Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I felt like I was living it when I seen the flames coming out of the windows, the blown-up car in the street, guys crawling around shooting at us. It was fucking cool.”

Yet the men, women and children this marine killed were real. Their tears and suffering are real. And yes, Baudrillard really died. His lungs stopped heaving, his heart gave up pumping blood to his flesh and his brain decayed. There is still a harsh world of cruelty under the hyperreal, and so Baudrillard is dead. That is all.

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About the Author ()

Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

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