Friday, 9 December 2005

The Professor of Absurdity

If it were true that “[t]he belief in truth is part of the elementary forms of religious life . . . [and] is a weakness of understanding, of common-sense” [1], and one believed it to be true, then necessarily one would be weak of understanding and common-sense. This is of course an absurdity, than which in the sophistication of modern life it is hard to find a more salient example. In consideration of the works of Jean Baudrillard, however, from which the quoted words are drawn, such absurdities are neither rare nor hidden.
.....It has been said that Jean Baudrillard is “a symptom, a sign, a charm, and above all, a password into the next universe” [2], which hagiographic hogwash nevertheless leads me rather to the opinion that we should take our chances with the reality of this universe. But Prof. Baudrillard, for whom “[r]eality, in general, is too evident to be true” [3], would like to make it known that he has boldly gone where nobody can go. At least, if it is from the evidence of real life that he believes that “nobody . . . believe[s] in the evidence of real life” [4], then I presume he must be that nobody of whom he speaks and who boldly goes.
.....Such silliness has provoked ridicule of Prof. Baudrillard, and it has obviously caused him some hurt, which he hopes can be soothed by more silliness:
Say: I am real, this is real, the world is real, and nobody laughs. But say: this is a simulacrum, you are only a simulacrum, this war is a simulacrum, and everybody bursts out laughing. With a condescending and yellow laughter, or perhaps a convulsive one, as if it was a childish joke or an obscene invitation. . . . Truth is what should be laughed at. One may dream of a culture where everyone bursts into laughter when someone says: this is true, this is real. [5]
The vehicle by which Baudrillard believes we may travel beyond truth and reality is that which he terms “radical thought”, which “is in no way different from radical usage of language. . . . [and] is therefore alien to any resolution of the world which would take the direction of an objective reality and of its deciphering.” [6] Furthermore,
This thought wants to be illusion, restituting non-veracity to the facts, non-signification to the world, and formulating the reverse hypothesis that there may be nothing rather than something, tracking down this nothingness which runs under the apparent continuation of meaning. [7]
The efforts of many an intellectual to implement this “radical thought” are humble in comparison to those of such a master-absurdling as Prof. Baudrillard, who is in “the next universe”, as it were. It takes a special kind of dedication, for instance, to produce such pretentious drivel as “Photography also questions ‘pure reality.’ It asks questions to the Other. But it does not expect an answer” [8] or “[O]nly in our sleep, our unconscious, and our death are we identical to ourselves.” [9] Nevertheless, our academicians are coming along nicely, and our journalists and politicians have made sterling efforts at “restituting non-veracity to the facts”. This must fill him with hope.
.....It would be wrong to say that reading through the works of Jean Baudrillard is always a chore; for one may find relief in questions that require of the reasonable man only short answers: “Couldn’t we transpose onto social and historical phenomena language games like the anagram, acrostic, spoonerism, rhyme, strophe or stanza and catastrophe?” [10] or “Does architecture still exist beyond its own reality . . . ?”. [11] The short answers are: “No” and “No”. (If you require the long answers, then there is little hope for you.) Moreover, we owe him a debt of thanks for expressing what could stand as the confession of the modern ideologue: “Consequences and effects interest me less than devaluing” [12].
.....Indeed, it is to Jean Baudrillard that we owe one of the clearest formulations yet written of the creed of pseudo-philosophic obfuscation: “The absolute rule of thought is to return the world as we received it: unintelligible. And if it is possible, to return it a little bit more unintelligible.” [13]
[1] Jean Baudrillard, “La Pensee Radicale”, in Collection Morsure, ed., Sens & Tonka, (Paris, 1994); tr., F. Debrix, “Radical Thought”, online at The European Graduate School.
[2] Arthur Kroker & Charles Levin, "Baudrillard's Challenge," The Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, vol 8:1-2 (1984), 5-16. p. 5.
[3] Jean Baudrillard, “La Pensee Radicale”.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Jean Baudrillard, “La Photographie ou l'Ecriture de la Lumiere: Litteralite de l'Image,” in L'Echange Impossible, (Paris: Galilee, 1999), pp. 175-184. Translated by Francois Debrix as “Photography, Or The Writing Of Light”, online at the European Graduate School.
[9] Jean Baudrillard, “La Pensee Radicale”.
[10] Jean Baudrillard, Hystericizing the Millennium. (L'Illusion de la fin: ou La greve des evenements (Paris: Galilee, 1992.)) Excepted and Translated online by Charles Dudas at The European Graduate School.
[11] (“Existiert die Architektur noch jenseits ihrer eigenen Realität . . . ?”) Jean Baudrillard, “Architektur: Wahrheit oder Radikalität?” At The European Graduate School.
[12] (“Mich interessieren weniger die Konsequenzen und Auswirkungen als das Entwertende”), Jean Baudrillard. (Interview) “Demokratie, Menschenrechte, Markt, Liberalismus.” Frankfurter Rundschau, 28th November 2002.
[13] Jean Baudrillard, “La Pensee Radicale


Akaky said...

Does architecture exist beyond its own reality? A question posed by a man who obviously has never had to fix a leaky roof.

Anonymous said...

The man is a mountebank and a shyster. As a connoisseur of the footnote, I thank you for providing many of them. Am I right in thinking that that budding taurocoprologists have only to point browser at the European Graduate School to find a stablefull of the stuff? By the way, "European Graduate School" sounds suspicious. Is it real? Will we soon have to endure Antarctica Graduate School? Eurasia Graduate School? Afro-Caribbean-Pacific Graduate School?

Anonymous said...

Dammit, sir! I will not allow you to imply that these continental Johnies can outdo our British chaps in intellectual drivel:

"In 1958 I wrote the following:
'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense..." (1)

See? Perfect gobbledy-gook and not so much as a multi-coloured snigger, let alone any of that foreign "yellow laughter" rubbish.

(1) Just for the foot-note fetishist, the opening of Harold (the Obscure) Pinter's acceptance speech for the Nobel prize for lunacy, sorry, sorry, literature, of course.

Deogolwulf said...

Akaky, quite right.

Mr Cossins, indeed he is. The European Graduate School has plenty of material for the taurocoprologist to study.

Mr Duff, those absurd words have been on Mr Pinter's website for quite some time now. I posted something about them months ago. I was glad to see he used them in his speech.

dearieme said...

It is No Coincidence that Pensee is pronounce poncey.

Anonymous said...

Mr Duff, you are right that British chaps can often equal the continentals in intellectual drivel. Yet, the British tend to write plain, prosaic, legible drivel, whereas the continentals dress it up in the fancy rhetoric of esoteric language, neologisms, and the like. At that, they are unbeatable. It takes the forensic skill of a Deogolwulf to penetrate their impostures. But anyone with an ounce of common sense can spot the follies of a Pinter.