08 March 2007

Hyper-Dead

You can find obituaries of Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) here and here. In The Guardian obit we learn that:

"Baudrillard, whose simulacrum departed at the age of 77, attracted widespread notoriety for predicting that the first Gulf war, of 1991, would not take place. During the war, he said it was not really taking place. After its conclusion, he announced, imperturbably, that it had not taken place. This prompted some to characterise him as yet another continental philosopher who revelled in a disreputable contempt for truth and reality.

Yet Baudrillard was pointing out that the war was conducted as a media spectacle. Rehearsed as a wargame or simulation, it was then enacted for the viewing public as a simulation: as a news event, with its paraphernalia of embedded journalists and missile's-eye-view video cameras, it was a videogame. The real violence was thoroughly overwritten by electronic narrative: by simulation."

I agree with Susan Sontag about very little, but I think her disparaging remarks on this sort of view toward the end of Regarding the Pain of Others (108-13) are pretty much right on point. Here is a brief passage:

“To speak of reality becoming a spectacle is a breathtaking provincialism. It universalizes the viewing habits of a small, educated population living in the rich part of the world, where news has been converted into entertainment ... It assumes that everyone is a spectator. It suggests, perversely, unseriously, that there is no real suffering in the world. ... There are hundreds of millions of television watchers who are far from inured to what they see on television. They do not have the luxury of patronizing reality.”

I suspect that most of us find it impossible to imagine being the man captured in this image. So, try instead, to imagine that you actually witness the scene depicted in this image from our "first" Iraq war, that you arrive soon after this Iraqi soldier was incinerated, that you can still feel the heat and smell his cooking flesh. Or imagine that you were riding in the vehicle next to him but managed to escape.

© Ken Jarecke, Contact Press Images, 1991

If you cannot imagine that, imagine being the photographer who made this image. You can find a story on him here. Or imagine that you are the family of this soldier and have no idea what became of him or of the horrible and excruciating way he died. Or imagine that you are any one of the millions of people in the Middle East who have seen or have yet to see this picture but will, and who do not have the privilege of patronizng reality since the same (at least a very similar) fate could easily be theirs on nearly any "normal" day. Hopefully you get the point.

After such exercises, even if you undertake them only half-heartedly, try to figure out why anyone paid any attention to Baudrillard.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why were the two comments here deleted? I have been seing that you have some problems with a rather rude opponent, but neither of these comments were of that kind. Especially the first one, that asked about how you argued against baudillard. I must admit that I found the criticism of your post rather plausible (though the second of those comments were rather silly I agree)

10 March, 2007 23:41  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Greg,

A fair enough question. I am deleting posts from my anonymous assailant because he simply does not know how to behave. On a comment he left on another post yesterday he was again flinging epithets at myself & other commentators. On the one he left here he announced he was "embarassed" by my post. (as though he has some actual stake in what I write?) I have no reason to tolerate such behavior. And, of course, this has been going on for a month or so; in the interim I've been quite clear with him and other readers that I intend to delete his interventions whwen they are inapprpriate as judged by teh keeper of the blog - me.

My aregument in the post seems quite stratightfowrad. B assumes that there is no reality for we in the media saturated north/west nor for those in the purportedly less media saturated developing countries. I simply sought to give an example of how reality is a quite pressing matter for individuals in both locations. And the Sontag passage basically suggests that B was committing a sort of implausible geo-centrism. None of that seems especially difficult to discern in what I wrote nor embarassing, I suppose.

11 March, 2007 10:35  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim,

I certainly understand why you would want to delete this persons comments, and I am sure you have considered the other options for dealing with comments as well. Anyhow, the current situation creates a problem, namely that you might delete comments that isn't written by the rude "interlocutor". Which is basically what I think happend with the first of the posts on Baud. So, anyways this us an issue you might want to consider.

Regarding the post itself: My concern isnt with the second of the comments of yesterday, but the first. So, no there is no issue of embarasement, just if your reading of Baud. is on the right track. However, it seems plausible to read Baud. as operating within a broadly understood Kantian problematic, and not as simply denying the existence of any reality (how could he? and what could possibly the practical consequences be? Certainly not the one Sontag seems to discern). So, in this light your post seems to miss the point. Baud. was not denying any reality, nor suffereing, but was rather in the business of understanding how experiences gets formed through media etc. (I.e. he seems close to your project in this blog). That would be the point of talking of how the real violence gets over-written by stimulation. So, straightforwardly he is not denying any reality, but he is denying that anything like reality is given for free independent of the political context, the type of media etc. This other piece from the Guadian makes a similar point:

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/julian_baggini/2007/03/the_shadow_of_his_former_self.html

11 March, 2007 12:59  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Greg,

I understand the difficulty that the anonymous heckler has created. I cannot be sure which anonymous comments are from him but I think both of those I erased here - as well as several others from yesterday were. Of course, I could be mistaken and I will try to take extra care. That said, the difficulty has been created by the heckler.

On the substantive point, I think B engages is a sort of rhetoric that makes it difficult to absolve him in the way you suggest. Irony is a useful mode of discourse, but it also has limits. B's rhetoric is overblown in ways I find silly. There are truly bounds to the charity we can expect of readers (esepcially, perhaps, in the more or less popular press), and B in my mind exceeds those bounds. One can worry about various media effects without stating repeatedly that this or that aspect of reality does not or has ceased to exist.

11 March, 2007 15:20  

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