Rollfilm

The Writing Of Light – Jean Baudrillard is dead

Posted in Photography, Theory of Photography by Rollfilm on March 8, 2007

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The French critic and provocateur Jean Baudrillard, whose theories about consumer culture and the manufactured nature of reality were intensely discussed both in rarefied philosophical circles and in blockbuster movies like “The Matrix,” died yesterday in Paris. He was 77.Michel Delorme, director of Galilee, Mr. Baudrillard’s publisher, announced his death, which he said followed a long illness.

Mr. Baudrillard, the first in his family to attend a university, became a member of a small caste of celebrated and influential French intellectuals who achieved international fame despite the density and difficulty of their work.

The author of more than 50 books and an accomplished photographer, Mr. Baudrillard ranged across different subjects, from race and gender to literature and art to 9/11. His comments often sparked controversy, as when he said in 1991 that the gulf war “did not take place” — arguing that it was more of a media event than a war.

Mr. Baudrillard was once considered a postmodern guru, but his analyses of modern life were too original and idiosyncratic to fit any partisan or theoretical category. “He was one of a kind,” François Busnel, the editor in chief of the monthly literary magazine Lire, said yesterday. “He did not choose sides, he was very independent.”

With a round face and big, thick glasses, Mr. Baudrillard was known for his witty aphorisms and black humor. He described the sensory flood of the modern media culture as “the ecstasy of communication.”

One of his better known theories postulates that we live in a world where simulated feelings and experiences have replaced the real thing. This seductive “hyperreality,” where shopping malls, amusement parks and mass-produced images from the news, television shows and films dominate, is drained of authenticity and meaning. Since illusion reigns, he counseled people to give up the search for reality.

“All of our values are simulated,” he told The New York Times in 2005. “What is freedom? We have a choice between buying one car or buying another car? It’s a simulation of freedom.”

This idea was picked up by the American filmmakers Andy and Larry Wachowski, who included subtle references to Mr. Baudrillard in their “Matrix” trilogy. In the first movie of the series, “The Matrix” (1999), the computer hacker hero Neo opens Mr. Baudrillard’s book “Simulacra and Simulation,” which turns out to be only a simulation of a book, hollowed out to hold computer disks. Mr. Baudrillard later told The Times that the movie references to his work “stemmed mostly from misunderstandings.”

He was also a fierce critic of consumer culture in which people bought objects not out of genuine need but because of the status and meaning they bestowed.

Born in 1929 in Reims, Mr. Baudrillard later attended university in Paris, earning a doctorate in sociology while teaching German to high school students. He published his first book, “The Object System,” in 1968.

In 1986 he published a kind of travelogue called “America,” in which he wrote, “America is the original version of modernity,” referring to what he considered the almost complete blurring of reality and unreality. To his French readers, he said: “We are a copy with subtitles.”

He retired in 1987 from the University of Paris X, Nanterre, and then devoted himself to writing caustic commentaries and developing his philosophical theories. Although he shunned most media, he frequently wrote for newspapers.

“The Spirit of Terrorism: And Requiem for the Twin Towers” was published just a year after 9/11. In it, he argued that Islamic fundamentalists tried to create their own reality; the resulting media spectacle would give the impression that the West was constantly under threat of terrorist attack.

The current American invasion of Iraq is an effort to “put the rest of the world into simulation, so all the world becomes total artifice and then we are all-powerful,” he told The Times. “It’s a game.”

Like other postmodernists with whom he was often associated (despite their differences), he was frequently criticized as obscure. “If the texts seem incomprehensible, it is for the excellent reason that they mean precisely nothing,” Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont wrote in their 1998 book “Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science.”

Mr. Baudrillard was not unaware of the problem. “What I’m going to write will have less and less chance of being understood,” he said, “but that’s my problem.”

[New York Times]

Jean Baudrillard – Photography, Or The Writing Of Light (Translated by Francois Debrix)

[…]

Photography […] enables a technical perfection of the gaze (through the lens) which can protect the object from aesthetic transfiguration. The photographic gaze has a sort of nonchalance which nonintrusively captures the apparition of objects. It does not seek to probe or analyze reality. Instead, the photographic gaze is “literally” applied on the surface of things to illustrate their apparition as fragments. It is a very brief revelation, immediately followed by the disappearance of the objects.

But no matter which photographic technique is used, there is always one thing, and one thing only, that remains: the light. Photo-graphy: The writing of light. The light of photography remains proper to the image. Photographic light is not “realistic” or “natural.” It is not artificial either. Rather, this light is the very imagination of the image, its own thought. It does not emanate from one single source, but from two different, dual ones: the object and the gaze. “The image stands at the junction of a light which comes from the object and another which comes from the gaze” (Plato).
[…]

Read the complete essay on egs.edu

“The most delicate of operations”: Baudrillard’s Photographic Abreactions

 

[…]

Abreaction is a work of anamnesis which is designed to assist in the integration of experiences into a subject’s memory and then perhaps only in order to, eventually, help them forget. Perhaps, after all, Baudrillard’s abreactions are performed to help us forget the trauma of the death of photography. A death which, as he says, “enfolds the image” as in this series of images assembled around a nothing, a punctum, a death which survives in the work of the photograph. For Baudrillard, post-photographic practices enact the death of the punctum itself, which is the poignant nothing at the centre of the image, but lost to both time and the viewer. It is this death of the death at the heart of the photograph which haunts him and which he fears will be “lost in the automatic proliferation of images”. And it is this to which these images respond. Abreacting death, the culmination of all abreactions and one of the more visible modalities of the impossible is “certainly the most delicate of operations”. These images finally remind us of what lies ahead: “And we must struggle against the possibility that we will not die”.

[extract of the essay “The most delicate of operations”: Baudrillard’s Photographic Abreactions by Dr. E. Scheer. Some of Baudrillard’s own photographs can be seen there as well.]

 

 

Appendix:

An in-depth review of the life, work and writing of Baudrillard can be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

A link collection to several of Baudrillard’s essay can be found on mtsu.edu

4 Responses

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  1. colombo said, on March 8, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    “It’s a simulation of freedom.”

    I didn’t know he was a photographer too. It makes sense.

  2. Pete Dunn said, on March 8, 2007 at 9:37 pm

    Nice site. Thanks for enlightening me.

  3. rhwinter said, on March 8, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    Nice to see some of his photographs. The other day, when I read he was also a photographer, I wondered what they looked like. Thanks for posting these.

  4. marius said, on March 16, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    its so sad. wrote about him in my blog as well the day he died.

    great blog btw.


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