Jean Baudrillard, 78, dies

“We are only indistinguishable from ourselves in sleep, unconsciousness and death.”


People have some funny ideas about Baudrillard. He’s depressing, he’s inaccessible, he had something to do with The Matrix. All it takes it picking up one of the dozens of books he wrote—four in the last two years—to realize how much more there is to the man/writing that he was/is.


Whether he’s discussing Abu Ghraib (“power no longer knows what to do with itself and cannot stand itself, unless it engages in self-parody”) or reality (“It is not true that we need to believe in our own existence to live. It is not necessary”), Baudrillard was not just fascinated by thought, but deeply concerned by it. His ideas acknowledge the fragility of our thinking—the way DisneyWorld seduces us, the way a photograph of a naked man with a hood on changes everything, the way we cling to ourselves.


Yes, reading Baudrillard can be something of a mental exercise. He suffered from and aspired to the same skill as Marshall McLuhan: the ability to construct one-liners so powerful as to eclipse his entire point. But for both writers, thinking is the point. Both have sincere faith in the process of thought, an act Baudrillard referred to as “radical.” We exist in a dangerous place if thinking itself is considered elitist, inconsequential or, most tragically, ignorant.


When Baudrillard writes “we are the orphans of a reality that came too late,” he offers us companionship in that loneliness, not an explanation. He contradicts himself and challenges you to embrace the contradictions in your own thinking. But always he chooses the “happines of language” over the “misery of meaning.”


Writing an obituary for a man who referred to himself as “a simulation” of himself may seem like an absurd activity. And, of course, it is. But read a little Baudrillard, and maybe you’ll agree that he would approve.

Jean Baudrillard, French philosopher and social critic, died on March 6 at the age of 78.

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