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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  1. […] passing Baudrillard Is Dead losing another “abstruse” french theorist Jean is dead 15/40 Encountering the Real Jean Baudrillard’s Death Did Not Take […]

  2. You’re right–there are not a whole lot of the big French theorists left, with the exception of the one who is suiting up to become the biggest of them all: Alain Badiou. Oh, and I believe Balibar is still alive and kicking as well–at least I saw him riding his bike up a mountain in Ithaca three years ago and he looked healthier than me.

    Other than than it seems as though we are moving into the direction of Italy for the next dominant continental wave.

  3. Oh, and just to set your mind at ease, there are some women left =) (and I am including all women who publish in French):

    Luce Irigaray
    Chantal Mouffe
    Julia Kristeva
    Helene Cixous
    Monique Wittig

    I’m sure I am forgetting people.

    Oh, and Jean-Luc Nancy and Levi-Strauss are still alive as well. Guess there are some Frenchies left after all.

  4. I didn’t realise Deleuze had killed himself. Any particular reason? Mentally, I can relate to a lot of his written work. Scary thought!

  5. […] Reported by jetsam (who’s got me on her or his blogroll btw, must return favour soon!) and anaj. Note the list by anaj regarding the death of the author French thinkers. Maybe we should all digg […]

  6. Yep, Deleuze threw himself out of the window of his apartment. All of you who ever thought one would be safe from suicidal thoughts by the age of 70: You were wrong.

  7. Paul Virilio is still alive….

  8. Cool, Le Monde is linking to me today! Je suis une entre les sites basés en Finlande et en Allemagne qui se rapellent de Baudrillard (Allemagne, en mon cas, évidemment).

    http://www.lemonde.fr/web/article/0,1-0,36-880003,0.html

  9. hey, congratulations! le monde–not bad. you’re all digitally famous and whatnot. what has this done for your blog traffic for today? and: do they have to pay you royalties? nice matrix quote, by the way. had not heard that one yet, but i’ll be sure to include it from now on whenever i teach the film.

  10. They may not be quite the sorts of intellectuals you’re looking for, but Bruno Latour (actor-network theory, age 59), Bernard-Henri Lévy (New Philosophers, age 58), and Régis Debray (mediology, age 66) are still alive.

  11. @Jetsam: I thought you would be able to use this quote – would have mailed it to you hadn’t you found it. Traffic: Yes, the best result ever, although ‘only’ 21 more than my best result in the past: 187 (but I guess that is still fairly moderate, if you, for instance, look at the stats on Lenina’s blog)

    @Mark: Thanks for mentioning Latour, Lévy and Debray – one could also add Flichy and de Certeau – the list of French philosophers is incredibly long. Although I would indeed say that the ones just mentioned are probably not the same kind of luminaries mentioned above. I don’t even have a criterion, but it seems as if everbody pretty much knows who’d belong in that pantheon and who wouldn’t.

    Just liek Cayce Pollard would know which logo catches on and which wouldn’t – just started reading Pattern Recognition.

    Similarly (regarding Jetsam’s earlier mentioning of Cixous, Irigaray and Kristeva and also I’d like to like at it differently) I don’t think that any female writer (except maybe Simone de Beauvoir, but that is yet a different league) was ever granted a similar status – it would occur to me as if Cixous, Irigaray and Kristeva are only acknowledge be the few interested in (and not ridiculing) feminist theory.

  12. @Mark, Pt. 2: Get a blog!

  13. OOOOH you began reading _Pattern Recognition_ ! Fantastic! I just finished a 50-page section that mainly revolves around that novel and I am always so excited to talk to people about it. Sadly, however, most people end up disliking it. My students even tend to hate the actual writing-style and even me telling them that there is a point to it and that it is in fact frickin’ brilliant in its relation to increasingly digitalized human relationships does not help. I still think that PR is the best novel of the new millennium thus far and a brilliant representation of the “structures of feeling” regarding postmodern capitalism. Especially the description of the role of the subject in relation to guerilla and viral marketing is quite apt. (as is the wonderfully secondary, yet even more impressive engagement with post-9/11 US society). Cannot wait until August 7 when his new novel comes out: _Spook Country_. It is already pre-ordered on my part. In fact I should announce that on my blog now. =)
    Let me know how you like the book.

  14. Up to this point (chapter 1 or 2, the cigarette hole) I like it A LOT, even if for no better reason than over-idetification with the main character. Takes me back to the time when I was still working in a corporate environment with all those big earners (except me, because I hadn’t had experience in negotiating for money) with their expensive fashion gadgets around me – you know, the ones who went water skiing to stay fit and to the maledives on holiday. They also wore expensive clothes and brands and I always felt superior in my carefully selected second hand no-name clothes. Having a marketing allergy and for that reason knowing exactly how it works is another reason for me to sympathize with Cayce.

    Will keep you posted about my findings.


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