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Book Review of Jean Baudrillard’s Pataphysics

Book Review of Jean Baudrillard’s Pataphysics

Reviewed by Joseph Nechvatal
at The International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (IJBS)

Jean Baudrillard Pataphysics
14pp., 15 x 30.5 cm., deckle-edged handmade paper wrappers, Pédale 133
letterpress-printed on handmade paper. Translated by Simon Watson Taylor. 177 numbered copies.
44 numbered copies, signed by the author, unavailable
111 copies, numbered 45 to 155, £9.99
ISBN 1 900565 27 7

There is for me an evidence in the realm of flesh which has nothing to do with the evidence of reason.
-Antonin Artaud, Manifesto In Clear Language

For Pataphysics all phenomena are totally gaseous.
-Jean Baudrillard, Pataphysics

Eadem mutata resurgo
I arise again the same though changed
-Motto of The Collège de Pataphysique

We are nothing more than a state of virtual fart…
-Jean Baudrillard, Pataphysics

There is no deal to be made with death.
-Jean Baudrillard, Pataphysics

Unsurprisingly, the first remarkable thing about Jean Baudrillard’s limited edition text Pataphysics is its passé, handmade, deckle-edged, luxury cover. I say remarkable in that I still tend to identify Baudrillard with the small, slick black covers in which Semiotext(e) introduced him to America; covers which implied more of a techno aesthetic than this solemn neo-gothic one.

The second remarkable thing about this book is its slim size: it is only 14 pages long.

Thus I was immediately struck by the nonsensical pairing of a distinguished looking façade that supposedly signified some kind of venerable “authenticity” with an interior teensy-weensy substantive content. But as I gleefully plunged past the books sign-value packaging and into the distinguished Simon Watson Taylor’s English translation (his final) of this circa-1950 text (ostensibly on the subject of Pataphysics, which Baudrillard here defines as “the philosophy of gaseous states”, as “tautology” (the use of redundant language that adds no information) (p. 8) and as “the mind’s loftiest temptation” (p. 7)) this pairing made a peculiarly drôle sense, as immediately I started reading about “fake” “stucco” “self-infatuation” and “vast flatulence” (p. 7), followed soon after by talk of “fake universes” (p. 8).

I had first encountered this slim but fascinating text, which Baudrillard wrote at the tender age 21, when it appeared unexpectedly in Baudrillard’s collection of art-related essays which Sylvère Lotringer’s Semiotext(e) released in 2005 called The Conspiracy of Art (it is a different translation, however). But lacking the kind of provocative packaging Atlas (in association with The London Institute of Pataphysics) has given this version, it made a rather minor impact on me at the time. But this new stucco-coated version, with the what one might be tempted to say is rather pretentious outside packaging, has focused my mind sympatheticly by actualizing some of the significant pataphysical concepts raised within the text itself. And for that its idiosyncratic design intelligence must be appreciated.

Of course this style choice is internally consistent with Baudrillard’s notion that systems of signification and meaning are only understandable in terms of their ambivalent interrelationships. How better to reinforce his iconic concepts of viral seduction, simulation, and hyperreality than this paradoxical presentation of the blatantly conservative with the imaginative far-out?

One might first be tempted to point to the traditionalist signifiers being played with here as substantive affirmation of what some of his readers have identified as Baudrillard’s rather thinly veiled conservative longing for a lost originality in face of digital virtuality; an impulse which verges on the nauseating nostalgic. Indeed this impression is enhanced when reading in the prelude that the publisher pulled out the old rare book ploy here. There are only 177 numbered copies of this letterpress-printed book and 44 numbered copies signed by the hand of Baudrillard himself. What a rare and valuable commodity - if one dances to that sort of consensus trance.

Undeniably, such a comic example of self-imposed rarity in the age of virtuality can be infuriating - but that would be taking this project way too seriously. Assuredly Baudrillard here puts forth that “Pataphysics is not serious” but that it possesses a silliness that perhaps “constitutes precisely its seriousness”. (p. 10) Better to just scan it and pass it around up on the internet. Better still to just concentrate on its intangible pleasures.

First off, there is the pleasure to be found in examining Baudrillard backwards (so to speak) in terms of hyperreal nonsense. (*1) Backwards in that we already know considerably well his mid-career and recent oeuvre, but poorly, if at all, such early formative texts. And following this backwards flip, we may examine him circularly and hence self-pataphysicly in that Baudrillard also defines Pataphysics as that which “revolves around itself”. (p. 8) So we can now regressively time trip and spin-view retrospectively his various observations, theories and analyses of technological communication through a young and delirious metaphysics deeply inspired by French and German poetry, the pataphysical anti-concepts developed by Alfred Jarry and the brilliant ravings of Antonin Artaud. These last two associations are explicit, as the reader is clued into these two contextual references in the text’s prelude, most importantly the text’s lapidary reaction to the publishing of key Artaud texts and the formation of the Parisian Collège de Pataphysique. (p. 5)

By way of the understanding Artaud’s impact on the young Baudrillard, it may be valuable to recall Artaud's proposal in Le Théâtre et Son Double (The Theatre and its Double) that art (in his case drama) must be a means of influencing the human organism and directly altering consciousness by engaging the audience in a ritualistic-like trance. Even though in his essay The Theatre of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation Jacques Derrida describes how Artaud's theory may be seen as impossible in terms of the established structure of Western thought (*2), this is precisely why Baurillard’s youthful creative text can be placed in position to Artaud's hypothesis and well within the Collège de Pataphysique. Indeed Baudrillard writes here that “Artaud demands a re-evaluation of creation, of coming into the world”. (p. 10)

The Collège de Pataphysique was founded on May 11th, 1948 by an anarchic group of artists and writers interested in the philosophy of Pataphysics. These zealots devoted their time to perpetuating (and often distorting) Jarry's philosophical pranks. In 1959 Marcel Duchamp agreed to be a satrap in the Collège de Pataphysique (*3) and there have been numerous links established with the Oulipo literary movement - specifically through the participation in both groups by the poet Raymond Queneau. The fabulous wordsmith Jean Genet has described himself as following in the pataphysical tradition, and so Baudrillard seems now retrospectively like a fitting young candidate for the Collège (he evidently became a transcendent satrap there) as he, like Jarry and Genet both, obsessively circumnavigate around absurd mocked-up topographies.

For anyone who may not know, Pataphysics is the absurdist pseudo-philosophy/ideology devised by Alfred Jarry. The term first appeared in print in Jarry's article Guignol in the April 28th (1893) issue of L'Écho de Paris littéraire illustré. It is a form of conceptual flatulent hot air that hinges on the idea of utter nonsense. A practitioner of Pataphysics is a pataphysician or a pataphysicist.

For Jarry, Pataphysics is the anti-scientific realm beyond metaphysics that examines the laws which preside over exceptions - an attempt to elucidate an imaginary cosmos. Jarry specifically defined Pataphysics as the “science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments”. (*4)

So we recognize here some rhizomatic roots that may have nurtured Baudrillard's hyperbolic and jaded view of an incongruous virtual-reality drenched world. In Jarry we already relish an artificial Baudrillardian simulated world created by an hallucinatory social structure where shimmering objects decree in odd ways what people can and cannot do within the vast void of virtuality. Indeed, like Jarry, Baudrillard mostly arrives at this social examination without demonstrating any sustained systematic analysis. Poof! Voila: a gaseous bon délire: an airy imaginary solution. But in Pataphysics, every occurrence in the universe is established to be an extraordinary event. No simulation possible.

Of course this aim of creating an inorganic world ex nihilo and luxuriating in its rarefied artificiality was not unique to Jarry. Indeed it was perfectly articulated in 1884 with the publication of Joris-Karl Huysmans's décadent novel A Rebours (Against Nature), a story of a recluse art worshiper who yearns for new sensations and perverse pleasures within a transcendental artificial ideal. Recall that Décadent French theory, which is almost equivalent to Fin-de-Siècle Symbolist theory, aspired to set art free from the materialistic preoccupations of industrial society.

But what struck me as most exact to the young Baudrillard text’s bizarre propositions was its deep reflection (one might even say brooding) on the theme of ignobility, and this shoddily shifted something in my appreciation of Baudrillard’s total word production. Notably, already evident is Baudrillard’s display of a mordantly witty obsession with language, a flatulent smoky language that tests the limits of form and stretches the bounds of meaning by recasting our experiences of encountering wildly disjunctive ideas into the sumptuously physicality of total negation.

This reality-rejecting text delivers an airy irrational punch of nonsensical negation by tying together methods of insouciant informality with a visceral camp irony: at turns hip and flamboyant, then turning towards the morally outrageous. At times the text simulates the disappearing ephemeral we associate with electronically provided information today on the internet, and the flickering of its translucent form. Still the reader is expected to work devotedly to solve the absurd flatulent conundrums supplied here, to supply mental transitions between the diverse and massive assortment of irrational elements which supply the text its pataphysical hooks. One must fabricate a complicated forensic fairy-tale out of this flatulent mélange, which keeps slipping in and out of idiosyncratic narration. And that recitation keeps turning back into one about stinking death, that strange, incurable and deeply irrational affliction. Baudrillard in fact defines here the rules of the pataphysical game as narcissism of death, a lethal eccentricity”. (p. 8) Yes, I read this text as a meditation on humiliating death in all its undifferentiated fabulousness, by which I mean its essentially nasty comedy. So this is a young man’s text about funny, difficult death then, which while pulling down our pants and revealing our soiled undies, keeps everyone laughing (or at least gurgling) till the bitter end.

According to Baudrillard, in Pataphysics “all things become artificial, poisonous, resulting in a schizophrenia induced by pink stucco angels…”. (p. 11) But also there is here an awareness of impertinent splendor in the tranquility of flatulent decomposition, which makes it all seem faintly heroic in face of death’s inexorability. Thus this irrational text implies an antiphilosopher’s knowledge of dumb death’s putrid ignobility - but Baudrillard will not give in to that parody either. And this is what gives the work its extraordinary sense of dignity, a dignity which asserts life’s primacy over death because death is beyond narration and words.

So this text’s irrational gaseous hypothesis is actually fine absurdist Ubu art. (*5) But an Ubu art which does not merely help us pass the time away; it enlivens time if we surrender to its fearful pataphysical difficulty. A vertigo intricacy of which Baudrillard says is “anaemic” (p. 11) and “impossible” (p. 10) as its “procedure is a vicious circle within”. (p. 11)

So Baudrillard’s work here provides the chance to do the counter-fearful thing then, to look at what we fear so that such an effort will help release us from fear’s irrational grip. Then we can pataphysically expand into the airy void and see beneath the stucco surface of Maya (*6) and so enjoy absurd life all the more. So that the ignobility of death can be ignored and nonsensical dignity restored – for the fleeting moment.

Joseph Nechvatal
Paris, Fall

(*1) Sokal, A. and J. Bricmont (1998) "Jean Baudrillard" in Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science New York: Picador. pp. 147-153

(*2) Derrida, Jacques (1978) "The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation" In Derrida, J. 1978. Writing and Difference. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 232-250

(*3) Sanouillet, Michel (1973) "Marcel Duchamp and the French Intellectual Tradition," in Marcel Duchamp, Philadelphia: The Museum of Modern Art and Philadelphia Museum of Art

(*4) Jarry, Alfred (1963) "What is Pataphysics?," Evergreen Review , no. 13: pp. 131-151, p. 131

(*5) Ubu is defined by Baudrillard in this Pataphysics text as “the gaseous and caricatural state…” (p. 7) (among other things). Baudrillard builds here on Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi, a play that created a famous scandal when it was first performed at the Theatre de lOeuvre in Paris in 1896. It is an important precursor of Dada. Through a language of shocking lad hilarity, Ubu Roi tells the farcical story of Père Ubu, an officer of the King of Poland who is a grotesque figure who epitomizes the mediocrity and idiocy of middle-class officialdom. Baudrillard makes swift reference to him in Pataphysics on page 7. It was through writing Ubu Roi that Jarry became the creator of the science of Pataphysics, his absurd a-logic which defined the science of imaginary solutions as enshrined since 1948 in the Collège de Pataphysique.

(*6) The concept of Maya in Indian philosophy refers to the purely phenomenal, insubstantial character of the everyday world.

The Spirit of Jean Baudrillard :: In Memoriam: 1929-2007

The Spirit of Jean Baudrillard :: In Memoriam: 1929-2007
by ~Arthur Kroker~

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.



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Gone, but still breathing new life into his field.

This is by John Armitage:

Gone, but still breathing new life into his field.

The work of Jean Baudrillard will continue to disturb the tranquil
waters of modern sociology, says John Armitage.

"He who knows how to breathe the air of my writings knows that it is
an air of the heights, a robust air". So wrote German philosopher
Friedrich Nietzsche.

Similarly, one has to be suited to the atmosphere of the writings of
Jean Baudrillard, the radical French sociologist and intellectual
successor to Nietzsche, who died last week. If one can "breathe his
air", one can gain remarkable insights in Baudrillard's work on
postmodernity and hyperreality, social and media theories and, indeed,
on Nietzsche himself.

Or else, as many modern sociologists have discovered when faced with
his major works such as Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976), Simulacra
and Simulations (1981) and, most recently, The Intelligence of Evil
Or The Lucidity Pact (2005), there is serious danger of an apoplectic

Baudrillard is notorious for his trenchant political critiques of the
writings of Michel Foucault on power and the feminist activities of
the late Susan Sontag. Likewise, his development of the concepts of
simulation and hyperreality and his remarks on the mass media world of
The Matrix, on technology and postmodern science have been subjected
to rigorous analysis and debate. Most infamous of all, perhaps, was
his observation that the Persian Gulf War did not take place.

Yet I would argue that it was his assault on modern sociology that
really hits the mark and where, in fact, he had a singular and
sometimes terrifying capacity to disturb its supposedly tranquil
waters. For Baudrillard, the outsider, managed to expose everything
from Marxist sociology and the near-pointlessness of political
engagement to the foundations of contemporary social thought. How
liberally one breathes the air when encouraged by him to confront the
disappointments of the postmodern social system, depends upon how
one responds to his sometimes-difficult works. Postmodern sociology,
as Baudrillard appreciated and lived it, was a constant deliberation
undertaken through the writing of highly provocative and stylised
texts that are frequently rejected tout-court by the high priests of
modern social theory.

Baudrillard was a seeker after all things extraordinary who questioned
the utilitarian foundation of both Adam Smith's classical and Karl
Marx's radical social and economic thought by concentrating on
the life and nature of commodities - the object - in contemporary
consumer society. Any consideration of consumption had previously
been expelled by contemporary Smithian and Marxist sociology obsessed
with production and accumulation. From the understanding provided by
his long, itinerant meanderings in the more or less prohibited social
theory of Georges Bataille, Baudrillard learnt to observe the starting
point of the economic and the object from a perspective very different
from that of modern sociology.

In fact, what Baudrillard revived and expanded on was the covert
history of Bataille's "notion of expenditure", a radical theory that
saw as deficient the writings of Smith and Marx, those sociological
grandees associated with the introduction of concepts such as use
value and exchange value. However, the reality of his insights were
too much for modern sociology to swallow, particularly when he argued
that in the postmodern society people are increasingly exchanging
visual signs with one another. Value is no longer tied to an object's
use value or exchange value, but instead to its sign value.

Baudrillard demonstrated his true strength through his argument that
the machinery of conspicuous consumption continues to be affected by
symbolic values. These became for him increasingly the real gauge of
social values because symbolic values are fundamentally linked to
pre-capitalist forms of organisation that contemporary society likes
to pretend that it has transcended.

For Baudrillard, the failure of modern sociology was not necessarily
its faith in its ideal type, the perfect society or even its blindness
concerning symbolic exchange. Rather, its breakdown was and is
its powerlessness in the face of the demise of both semiotics
and the material world. In other words, each significant move in
Baudrillard's writings, indeed, every stride he made away from
semiotics and materialism and towards an understanding of the symbolic
order was a kind of resistance to our sign-dominated contemporary
society. Yet he did not automatically contest postmodern social
principles. Instead, he was prepared to challenge their symbolic
presence and characteristics, to set his analytical sights on the
forbidden features of enchantment and seduction, brutality and abrupt
reversibility that lie at the core of contemporary consumption and
expenditure. In this sense, Baudrillard's postmodern sociology
continues to provide a much-needed critique of semiotic society.
For what had been outlawed more or less in principle up until his
arrival on the modern sociological scene was the fact that the age of
restricted production and accumulation was over and that the era of
limitless consumption and expenditure had begun.

John Armitage teaches media and communication at Northumbria
University. He is the founder and co-editor, with Ryan Bishop and
Douglas Kellner, of the journal Cultural Politics.

Irony and Sadness–After Jean Baudrillard

Irony and Sadness–After Jean Baudrillard
Email exchange between Ken Wark and Geert Lovink
Held during the week after Jean Baudrillard passed away.

KW: You ask: what is radical sadness? That’s an
excellent question, and Jean poses it to us, so it’s a
good place to start. I have certainly felt a sadness
since I heard Jean had died, but it is not yet a
radical sadness. Maybe if I work on it I can
radicalize it. With Jean dead, an era seems to end. I
have lost, not exactly a ‘father’ but a crazy adopted
uncle. He showed me what to do when you were no longer
a militant. That theory should be ‘radical’ or not at
all. How not to be a bureaucrat of thought.

But radical sadness? That is another thing. Perhaps it
begins with the claim that disappointment isn’t
personal. It is the world that has let us down. And we
have the right not to just give in and accept
‘reality’. Hurling oneself against that world in the
name of another one may be futile, but one does not
just accept one’s sorry lot. There are other paths.

The path Jean himself took is not necessarily the one
to follow. It’s a Nietzschian thing. “My followers are
not my followers.” But he opens up a whole family of
tactics. But perhaps it begins and ends with affect.
It is the real itself that failed us.

GL: Maybe I am searching for an alternative style, to
avoid the official obituaries that focus on his
all-too-obvious career highlights and post-correct
opinions such a la “The Gulf War didn’t happen”. What
happens when one of your teachers that most influences
your thinking dies? In my Baudrillard, is one of three
sources of inspiration that I encountered
simultaneously in 1983 and that have stayed with me
ever since (the other two are Virilio and Theweleit).

In 1986-1987 our group ADILKNO intensely studied The
Fatal Strategies that had just came in out in a Dutch
translation. We even gave weekly courses for
interested members of autonomous movements and
produced a small dictionary to explain the unique
terminology that comes with this book. I guess it is
obvious that Baudrillard played a formative role for
an entire generation of media theorists that grew up
during the 1980s and early 1990s.

The urgency of his work somehow faded, at least for
me, in the second part of the 1990s, but then it
bounced back with the latest Cool Memories and The
Conspiracy of Art. It was always interesting to see,
as you say, how one struggles with the process of
identifying with an author who so clearly cannot be
turned into an (academic) school, as happened with
Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze.

What is important here, at this moment, is to
distinguish between the beauty of ideas and not to
treat them as lifestyle guides. Ideas alienate,
disrupt, cool down and should not be elevated into a
belief system. Baudrillard’s struggle against his
illness is a story of warmth and humanness. To project
some of notions onto one’s life, his life for that
matter, luckily doesn’t work. What we see here is a
sabotage of life against death, an element that we
find throughout the work of Elias Canetti, who, as we
know, strongly influenced Baudrillard.

Radical sadness in this respect is an attempt to
circumvent the conventions of the everyday. There is
the revolt again death and an ironical play with it.
Baudrillard did not want to surrender. If we want to
talk the language of theory, it is not the task of
subject to take over the role of the object and all
its (passionate) indifference. Theory should not end
up in the self-help section. Death can spread
disillusion or reinstate illusion (to reformulate what
he once said).

How do read his book The Symbolic Exchange and Death
and related remarks on the death revolt at the moment
when the author himself passes on?

KW: For Baudrillard, our faith in the real is one of
the elementary forms of religious life. While there
are plenty of ‘realist’ philosophers, particularly in
America, none bother to question the reality of the
real itself. Baudrillard’s thought was not an
unmasking of the unreal but rather took place outside
of the procedure of falsification. For him theory was
closer to poetry, an operation that made nothingness
out of the power of the sign. Everything he wrote was
marked by a radical sadness and yet invariably
expressed in the happiest of forms. After the
foreclosure of so many seemingly ‘radical’ projects,
he pursued the last one left to him, a symbolic
exchange outside of the endless proliferation of
indeterminate signs. He returned the world to itself
exactly as it was given, as an enigma. But always at
least as a far more elegant and astonishing one.

GL: What strikes me most, going through my German,
Dutch and English collection of his writings is his
amazing ability to integrate news events into his
theories, and to see news events themselves as major
theory. Still one would never think of him as a
commentator, let alone a journalist. It’s something we
find in Zizek’s writings as well.

KW: When Baudrillard’s writing started showing up in
Australia in the 80s, a lot of took them to be a kind
of ‘journalism’. They were not theories so much as
descriptions. It was a time when theory was the news.

Part of it was the way he used an anecdote, from the
news, or from literature or anthropology. Like Zizek
he had a way of transforming the anecdote into theory.
But where Zizek has a standard dialectical two-step he
uses every time, with Baudrillard it was different.
The anecdote would usually seem to show how some
aspect of life has been falsified. But then he takes
the anecdote to the next level, by showing how the
means by which one could discern what has been
falsified is itself what has been falsified. In short
it’s the enigma of the anecdote rather than its
concreteness that he wants to draw out.

It’s interesting to me that it seems like the Adilkno
approach to Baudrillard has a bit in common with the
Australian approach. We did not want to do
‘Baudrillard studies’. We wanted new ways of writing
about what had happened to us. The response was more
diffuse, perhaps. Journals like On the Beach, Art and
Text, Intervention all published him and opened space
for writing in his wake. Meaghan Morris wrote the
first good essay about him. Paul Patton and Paul Foss
translated him. Adrian Martin, Catharine Lumby, Rex
Butler, Ted Colless all wrote under his spell. The
zine Frogger nurtured an Australo-Baudrillardian
style. Artists like Peter Callas and Robyn Stacey
absorbed him.

Then there was the Canadian scene, around the Krokers,
which began C-Theory. I imagine there were others.
Sometimes there was too much imitation, and too much
‘anxiety of influence’. Then maybe we took ‘forget
Baudrillard’ a bit too much to heart. So my question
to you is: how do you work after him? What does this
engagement with him allow us to do?

GL: If the Master refuses his pupils there can be two
responses. We could read it as an arrogant gesture
(which I would never do in the case of Baudrillard).
And we see as a vote of confidence. Those who want to
send their concepts on a far and uncertain journey,
instead of stay close to the Source, will find in
Baudrillard an tremendous source of (positive) energy.
The problem we face in theory production today is the
balance between radical and original thinking and the
recognition that we are many, that there are no
‘authentic’ thoughts. Baudrillard has resolved this
dilemma always in a magnificent way. He was in
dialogue with authors that influenced them but never
in an academic manner that was sanctioned by the
Institutions. It was enough to mention a book title, a
name or include a short quote. The reader could do the
rest but didn’t have to. It is fun to study the Laws
of Manu, an essential source for the Baudrillard of
Fatal Strategies, but not necessary. It is funny that
you mention Forget Baudrillard. It could be a book
title, of course, and reminds me of an Amsterdam
graffiti text of the early 1980s: “Do Not Become Like
Us” (”Word niet zoals wij”). This phrase always
intrigued me because of its ambiguity.  What theory
can do is to open spaces of possibilities. Baudrillard
did that to me, and he was fairly explicit about such
a methodology. If you create other spheres of
perception  you also have to take into account that
the reader will ether not follow you or indeed find
alternative routes that you as an author had not even
thought about. This way of mind traveling is different
from the hermeneutic approach in which you dig deeper
and deeper into texts and meanings. Baudrillard
liberated generations of theorists from exégesis. We
cannot use the term freedom here, as he didn’t use the
overdetermined concept, but I do: Baudrillard regained
the freedom to radical thinking in a time of an
abundance of interpretation.

KW: Yes, theory is not literary criticism. For me
theory generally has some relation to some key texts,
it circles back and cites itself, but it is about
inventing new relations to those texts. Or perhaps:
reinventing its own archive in the present, as legible
in the present. A Baudrillard example might be the way
he reads Marcel Mauss against Karl Marx, and both
together with anecdotes from the news, or – same thing
– anecdotes from Borges, Ballard or Philip K. Dick.

I wonder if the dispersal of theory has to do with the
collapse of Marxist dogma and its parties. The thing
theory marked its distance from is not there any more
as a common negative measure. One needs a different
way of navigating between theories. The American
practice is now a sort of ‘compare and contrast’
thing. Zizek says A about X, Badiou says B about Z,
but Agamben says C about X. At its height this style
that of Jameson, who can juggle twenty proper names on
a page. Now, I’m happy that this theory-scholarship
exists, but I wonder if it is now the new negative
model. How not to do theory. How can we teach a
different practice? One that is more heterogeneous.
Not the pure plane of equivalence where all theories
are cut off from forming other kinds of relation and
considered together. Rather one where theory is a way
of thinking mixed series, flows of news, of tools, of
gestures, of events, of moods.

GL: And do not forget the collapse of the Freud dogma
as well. We all know that it is not hard to trace back
all of Baudrillard’s concepts to earlier writers.
That’s just a matter of having enough time to research
the sources.  This kind of academism is the best way
to kill thinking and end conversations.  Theory is not
religion, it is not helping us through the day. It is
not academic either, it is pre- or post-scientific if
you like, which is not to say that theory is
irrational or a myth. What theory does is to confuse
and question. It poses a mystery by creating a void in
the existing meaning structures. Theory breaks through
the routine and cannot be repeated. Theory remains a
crystal even when a book worm fully dismantles its
inner structure. Baudrillard was such a free thinker
because he was never concerned with the question:
where do I fit in? This attitude wasn’t beneficial in
his academic career, but he wasn’t all that concerned
about that—at least not in his writings.  As you
indicate, it is exactly this aspect of his oeuvre that
is so attractive to his readers, the literary style
without having to revert to literature, which some
academics envy. What I stress is outward-looking, the
seductive aspect of this writings. When you read his
works of 20, 30 years ago it nonetheless strikes you
how post-modern he was in that he was obsessed (too
much?)  with the end of phenomena. The end of
politics, truth, reality and all that. I guess we all
got numbed so much that this is no longer shocking. It
is hard to re-instate the cool irony of those early
1980s. What still challenges are his remarks about the
indifference of the objects. You can easily get used
to hyperreality but remain puzzled about strategies
that he set out.

KW: Yes, seduction is key, firstly the seduction of
readers, but more generally, also, the seduction of
the world. In a certain sense his writing is adequate
to the world, adequate to its enigma. Here symbolic
exchange becomes a practice of writing. Once his more
obvious moves wear out, its tempting to consign him to
the dustbin of history, but that would be to resist
the siren call of some of his more elusive

Yes, theory can pose a mystery by creating a void in
the existing meaning structures. I think that’s a good
formulation. But I would also like to say: who knows
what theory can do? We haven’t seen anything yet. It
works on different tempos at once. It can be quick
witted but it can also be very slow, but I think best
when it works in several times at once. In the 90s the
instant-Baudrillard started to bore us, perhaps, but
there’s other tempos he was working on. Maybe some
things there in the texts are waiting for us still.
This is where I would want to think a bit differently
to you perhaps. I think all of the theory-heroes are
in the present, its just that different aspects of
their multiple temporality are touching the times.
There’s a different side to Marx or Baudrillard or
even Plato that comes to light at a given time.

Which is also a way of thinking about the relation of
different attempts to make theory after Baudrillard.
Sometimes we are in time with each other and sometimes
not. But there is always somebody to play along with.

GL: The issue is indeed where to start. I have great
confidence in my contemporaries, but also see that
we’re not up to the job when it comes to High Theory.
The output from the academic factories has to stay
close to the 20th century canon. When we look into
literature there is not all that much (except maybe
from non-Western regions). Theory therefore has to
grow out of the documentary genre, the non-fiction
that is so close to the (virtual) everyday that it
flips into the hyperreal. Fiction is not up to this
task, maybe because our world is too weird, too many
layers that one has to be at least a James Joyce clone
in order to be credible.  After Baudrillard theory
will no longer present itself as such. If theory
disconnects itself from the Future Project and
dedicates itself to The Complex Now, it will first of
all have to confront itself with the Speed Divide.
Theory at the moment is too slow. Not even blogs help.
During his lifetime Baudrillard accelerated himself.
We are living at a top speed and this is a main
challenge if you want to build a more or less coherent
system of concepts (or memes) that will be capable to
override society. This is where we enter Virilio’s
universe. Let’s hope he will be with us for some time,
as he is one of the Last of the Mohicans.

Baudrillard/Lascaux/Post Modernism


I read your interesting article "Jean Baudrillard and a Counter-Mannerist Art of Latent Excess" at - and it brought to mind several things...

Post-modern society is, to me, characterized to a great extent by a kind of skepticism of the (technological, political, and media) powers that be. I can present an example that will, I think, be telling. My father, in the 60's, had a reel-to-reel tape recorder. He purchased tapes to listen to and record on. My family loved that tape recorder and I listened to it often as my mother played Donovan, Simon & Garfunkle, Mary Hopkins, etc. But this recording device was treated with utmost respect.

Fast forward: We're floating today in the junk of decades of listening devices: hi-fi stereos, turntables, cassette players, 8-tracks, walkmans, cd players of all sorts, now iPods and Zunes... Any yard sale can provide numerous cheap-to-acquire examples. Is it the overwhelming flood of technological devices that contributes to the post modernist zeal for using this technology in personal ways to create art?  

My dad would never have thought about jacking the reel-to-reel technology to create something unique. I can't even ever remember him playing a tape on fast speed just to hear the chipmunk voices! He respected the technology too much, there was a sense of wonderment about it. But examples abound in the music underground of tech-hijacking to create sounds used to compose: tape loops, turntable scratching, glitching cd's, cassette orchestras and so on. (see Cascone's "The Aesthetics Of Failure")

Now, cheap flash animation/video editing programs can be used to string together images that undermine the mainstream media hierarchy. (the remixed George Bush State Of The Union Address:

The post modernist propensity for always "getting around" the stated purpose, the status quo- it comes, partially, from a sense of skepticism brought on by that flood of television/media images, street signs, wires across the landscape, cell phone ring-tones, personal listening devices, just a huge overload of junk culture we've been exposed to since our childhoods. We've paid over and over for the devices that bring us sensory pleasure and the result is, knowing that this generation of tech-toys is due for the scrap heap in about 10 years(or less), there's not the same kind of respect for it.

And the post-modern art that's being created, it's not even being done by self-proclaimed "artists", it's being done by thousands of individuals on social network sites such as MySpace. But this is a great thing to me, I'm not criticizing it at all. I said many years ago: "The myth of musical elitism must be destroyed. Noise is the answer. Each one is a creator. Make music now." I felt that the idea of "noise", since anybody can make noise, was destructive to the institutions of music that demanded "talent" or "education" in order to create music(or art). That those institutions were exclusive by design and therefore left most of society out of the loop of creative expression.(I'm interested in Joseph Beuys' ideas of "social sculpture" and personal creativity for every individual)

But, again, for me the question is- how long will it be allowed to exist if the movement of post modern aesthetic deviation continues to advance to the point where it brings about utter confusion between what is being hijacked and what the powers-that-be want to put out there as the general consensus? Once the flood of images/sounds becomes so mixed up that the messages are not clear, will that be perceived by these institutions as threat? Somebody does indeed own the internet and if it were shut down today, that would be the end of our digital revolution- or would it? The flip side to this is that these powerful institutions, government and corporate, perhaps don't care either way as long as we amuse ourselves enough not to uprise. Keeping the enemy confused (or asleep) is good in any attack.

It seems clear that the propensity for creating art through the use of on-hand tools, even as expressed in Lascaux-man, is a human predilection that seems to be, again, based in a kind of human skepticism/inquiry and mechanics of thought(present also in the post-modern context and thereby linking the two- how fascinating!). At what point was it made clear to the inquisitive early human mind that chunks of coal, or clay(i.e. scrap/junk) could be used for personal artistic expression?

And/But at that early point was the process already taking on the air of mystification (i.e. elitism)?

Maybe the only viable answer is: "This personal explanation for the dark excess of the Apse cannot be proven, nor, I think, disproven and thus remains fascinating and unknowable. Though obviously imbued with meaning, we unfortunately are unlikely ever to know the true meaning or function of the image-space of the Apse..."
Thanks again for your insight.

Phillip Klingler
PBK Official Site: