Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Post-Modernism: RIP

Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, for it tolls for post-modernism! And possibly critical theory. Let's take a look at our Important Post-Modernist Life & Death List, shall we? (*=Critical Theorist)

Ludwig Wittgenstein d. April 29, 1951
Theodor Adorno d. August 6, 1969
Martin Heidegger d. May 26, 1976
Roland Barthes d. March 28, 1980
Jacques-Marie-Emile Lacan d. September 9, 1981
Michel Foucault d. June 25, 1984
Louis Althusser* d. October 23, 1990
Jean-François Lyotard d. April 21, 1998
Pierre Bourdieu* d. January 23, 2002
Jacques Derrida d. October 8, 2004
Jean Baudrillard d. March 6, 2007

Jürgen Habermas*, beware! You're nearing your 88th birthday. And Noam Chomsky*... You just turned 88!

I was surprised that no one but the BBC covered the fact that Baudrillard died yesterday. Maybe they will today, but I doubt it. As important as he is to my field - or any qualitatively-oriented social science - I'd be surprised if enough people recognize his name to warrant any kind of televised obituary. I remember when Derrida died, endless seminars, tributes, discussion groups and other homages popped up all over campus. You would have though the French department had lost one of their own faculty! I can't imagine what they're doing for Baudrillard; maybe nothing, maybe they had a department-imposed day of mourning, I can't say.

If you don't know Baudrillard's work, you should totally check him out. His most famous work, Simulacra and Simulation (1981) is a little hard to read (and understand...) but I've heard his more recent stuff is much more accessible, if Crazy Liberal Propaganda (my favorite kind! ::squeal::). His book, America (1986), got pretty mediocre reviews - people thought he was stretching - but that would have been a hard time to be a post-modernist. His most recent stuff has been about how the Gulf War was really a simulacra - that the abstract reality of the war was entirely invented by public discourse and was not real (he does not dispute that it happened or anything like that). He has another book about how the same thing happened with 9/11. As you can imagine, he was not very popular in some quarters...

Anyway, I think it is strange to realize that Post-Modernism may have died yesterday along with M. Baudrillard. Sure, there are probably scholars who call themselves Post-Modernists out there. But who are they? What clout do they have? Do they represent an era of intellectual critique and epistemological change?

Also, if I left anyone off that list, let me know. Or don't, if this whole exercise has been too depressing. Just go read some Foucault and think happily about a time decontextualisation was a crazy new idea.


SonicLlama said...

Think of it this way:
When post-modernism first came about, it was something apart from most disciplines. It was outside of philosophy, sociology, politics, etc., and looking in and deconstructing it from outside.
But, now post-modernism has been pretty much integrated into the disciplines that it was initially critiquing. When I was at the UofO, we read Foucault and Du Bord in class as part of the normal curriculum. So, post-modernism is now really just the most recent addition to academia.
And not just academia, but culture, media, and discourse in general. Just think of how omnipresent self-referential humor is. Post-modernism isn't dead, it's so alive that it's hard to see.
Besides, do you think that those dead post-modernists would really want us to stick with just their line of thinking? Of course not. Something comes after post-modernism, something that grows out of it, critiques, responds to it, uses it. I have no idea what that is, but I hold too much stock in the evolution of ideas to believe otherwise.
So, relax- there will be never be another Baudrillard, true. But somewhere at a university, his descendents are busily conceptializing away, just as they are mourning him.

Joseph said...

I actually did hear about M. Baudrillard's passing, although only through a Slate article. I didn't really know anything about him, though, other than his enduring contribution to pop philosophy as foisted upon us by The Matrix. So I wasn't too sad. Does that make me a bad person?

Sydney said...

No, it doesn't make you a bad person. And don't worry about his influence on "The Matrix." I have a feeling that after stealing the idea whole, they used Baudrillard to make it sound more authentically theirs. ;) He was a cool guy, and I think a lot of what he wrote about the way modern culture makes a philosophical mountain out of an experiential mole hill is pretty right on. He does get blown out of proportion by those irritating girls in social science classes who think that not shaving her armpits is some kind of social statement and having Benneton Ad friends makes her a better person. "This is, like, not even real! It's like, just all culture and we just have to learn to accept that. GAWD! Why can't you all just accept that?!" So, um, stay away from those girls and you may actually enjoy some of the crazy crap he has to say!

Eric said...

Joseph, I too only heard about this through that Slate article. But I'm not sure I even shrugged. Your mindless philosophy will only land you in a deeper circle of hell. Of course, many have argued that String Theory is just mindless philosophy for physicists, so who knows where I'm headed. At least we occasionally toss in some equations.