Jean is dead 15/40

March 7, 2007 at 8:50 am | Posted in Lent | 14 Comments
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Jean BaudrillardI think I have now finally arrived in the blogosphere. I learned about the death of Jean Baudrillard not through tagesschau.de (my channel for IMPORTANT news in the classic newsworthy sense, ever since I stopped reading newspapers in 2000) and certainly not through television (stopped watching TV in 1998), but through Jetsam’s blog. Who is left now of our befabled postmodern thinkers and French countrymen? The famous dead so far are:

Pierre Bourdieu died in 2002 (age: 72), but he’s not exactly postmodern (but I deeply adore him for having explained to me why I felt so alienated in certain circles).

For the time being, our hope rests on Paul Virilio (thanks to n00ne), born in 1932, meaning that he has already outlived everyone but Baudrillard agewise.

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EDIT: While my original Baudrillard post was secretly converted into a Günther Anders post, I’d like to give a slightly different note to it at the end of this day. I spoke with a number of people about Baudrillard today, I even promoted him to a colleague who works in the mechatronics department during our staff meeting.

The staff meeting was a disaster. For years now, the board of directors have been trying to get more control of the lecturers. They have introduced several measures already, one being an online system in which you have to enter your hours and specifiy what you have done and when.

The system doesn’t work (apart from the fact that such a system is irreconcilable with the nature of the work of a lecturer). I tended it accurately and then was summoned by HR to change a whole month’s entries because I had entered that I had been working “more than I was allowed to” and at times that I “wasn’t supposed to”. In other words: I was asked not to work less, but to enter figures that would correspond to the work regulations for office workers (I am not a secretary, I am lecturer).

The have “improved” the system now which was announced today, and I will now have to choose from 13 different categories (instead of the two of the first system) and assign them to all my hours worked (only the hours spent in class and with preparations will automatically be added). I am still not allowed to enter my actual hours if I work more or at times that I shouldn’t be working. I am actually happy to work more if the results I get improve by doing so and I normally wouldn’t demand to have every hour recognized. But if a system is forced upon me that seeks to control and record what I do, then I do of course want proper recognition.

What I tried to explain to my colleage was that we are forced to partake in a simulation of control (to please the patriarch – I didn’t say that bit in brackets). I am asked to create a digital simulacrum of myself, of me as a workforce, broken down into hours and up to 13 different tasks, which may not correspond to my actual work hours, but to the hours and pattern of work that are acknowledged by the system. This is farcical!

That experience made me think of Jean Baudrillard in a much more affectionate way. A colleague pointed me to an article in The Guardian which has already won my prize for my favourite quote from Baudrillard – a punch in the face of the people who think that The Matrix (the film) offers a demystification of the politics of the real:

“The most embarrassing part of the film is that the new problem posed by simulation is confused with its classical, Platonic treatment … The Matrix is surely the kind of film about the matrix that the matrix would have been able to produce.”

Thanks, uncle Jean!

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Continued: List of dead French philosophers.

Have I forgotten anybody? Who might still be alive? They are all so French and male… what this list also shows is that it seems less likely that you would live to be very old or die of age if your are a French, 20th century philosopher. Unlike Günther Anders who, by many outside of the German-speaking countries, is mainly known as a poet or the first husband of Hannah Arendt (which is why there is only a tiny stub about Anders in the English Wikipedia). Anders actually pre-empted Baudrillard’s theory of the simulacra, and in my view with even more verve and political concern, in his volume Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen: Über die Seele im Zeitalter der zweiten industriellen Revolution* with his description of the world as a phantom and a, uh, how to translate Matrize, (matrix? stencil?), in German Die Welt als Phantom und Matrize. If you read the chapter on television, in which he proposes a phenomenological analysis of TV, you’ll find that Adorno seems to have copied from him too in his own writing about the role of television within the culture industry.

But Anders never had his breakthrough in the philosophical arena, probably because he was a “too” serious philosopher. The atomic bomb plays an important role in his thinking, as the most atrocious example of a technology that has become too big and too cumbersome for us to understand, in particular to understand it morally. Instead of sucking up to the conference circuit, he consumed himself in the anti atomic energy movement.
With that stance, he could impossibly be welcomed by the later to be postmodern crowd, although he survived quite a number of them, dying on 17 Dezember 1992 at the age of 90, still giving interviews weeks before his death.

N.B.: The great anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss is still alive!!! He is 98 meanwhile… just another thing I learned through blogs today.

LentDaily Lent (Day 15): If you are looking for a suitable philosophic diet for Lent, then I’d definitely recommend reading Günther Anders, instead of mourning Jean Baudrillard for too long. It will give you moral strength and fuel you with the energy that you need to not succumb to postmodern relativism and laziness. I would quote a bit from his work here, hadn’t I lent (sic!) my copy of the Antiquiertheit to a student. I don’t even know to how many students I have already lent this book – I am probably a bit missionary about it (simply because I never thought it was fair that Baudrillard became the shooting star of pomo with his often incoherent, sensational writing, whereas somebody who really made difference and never shmoozed with anybody is hardly known to a greater academic public).

*: (1956, roughly: The Antiquatedness of mankind: About the soul in the age of the second industrial revolution, the second volume – About the destruction of life in the age of the third industrial revolution followed in 1980)

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