1000 Days of Theory
Like his intellectual predecessors — Nietzsche, Artaud, and Bataille — Jean Baudrillard was that rarity of a cultural philosopher, a thinker whose reflections, refusing to be simply culturally mimetic, actually became a complex sign of the social reality of the postmodern century. In his thought there was always something simultaneously futuristic and ancient: futuristic because his theorization of the culture of simulation ran parallel to the great scientific discoveries of our time, specifically the radical transformation of culture and society under the impact of the speed of light-time and light-space; and ancient because Baudrillard was haunted by the enigma of pataphysics, namely the magical ascent of the reality-principle itself into the language of artifice, seduction and terror.
Not since Nietzsche’s The Gay Science has the secret of reality itself been so fully exposed. Neither referent nor signifier, social reality from Baudrillard’s perspective always had about it the hint of a “referential illusion,” a “fatal strategy,” a “mirror of production,” a “spirit of terrorism,” a “desert of the real.” Refusing the political closures of political economy as much as the social strictures of sociology, Baudrillard made of his thought a theatre of the medieval artistic practice of anamorphosis. Here, the desert of the real would be spun all the more wildly in order to draw out in reverse image the trace of its always hidden qualities of seduction and terror.
Neither a skeptic nor an apologist, Baudrillard the theorist, Baudrillard the artist, approached the delirium of contemporary reality with the delirious methods of art, with the always topological language of perspectival illusion. Which is why Baudrillard’s thought was always fated to tease out the furies of Nietzsche’s “last man.” To read his thought was to enter directly into the complexity and indeterminacy of reality as a game of anamorphic perspective. While the last man would always prefer to take his comforts in the solidity of the reality-principle, Baudrillard actually completed Nietzsche by so clearly demonstrating in a life of the mind that thought as a “dancing star” was still possible, that in his practice of Arendt’s “life of the mind” thought could once again rise to a greater fealty, namely to make of the referential illusion at the disappearing centre of everything — sex, consciousness, culture, economy, bodies, terror — a sure and certain sign of the indeterminacy that haunts life itself.
If we now mourn the death of Jean Baudrillard, it is also with the knowledge that his intellectual presence in the world always was in the way of an early announcement that the twenty-first century will surely unwind precisely in the way he envisioned — a political conflagration of mutually antagonistic, equally fascinating, reality-principles. When reality is exposed as simulation, theory as artifice, the sign as terror, and bodies as only apparent perspectives, then we can finally know that Baudrillard’s thought had about it that certain pataphysical quality of always descending to the heights of the void, always, as Virilio would say, “falling upwards” into the desert of the real.
In thought as in life, it is only the slow passage of great historical events which permits the spectacle of fiction which is social reality to be fully experienced. Our likely fate is to live out the premises of Baudrillard’s Seduction and Symbolic Exchange and Death with all their abiding melancholy and brilliant fascination less as literature than as the theoretical storm-centers of twenty-first century politics, society, and culture.
An intellectual friend, a pathway, a theorist who made of thought itself a faithful illusion of the sorcery of hyperreality, I mourn his death on this sad day by honoring the spirit of Jean Baudrillard.