Baudrillard, Jean 1929-2007

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Baudrillard, Jean 1929-2007


See index for CA sketch: Born July 29, 1929, in Reims, France; died of cancer, March 6, 2007, in Paris, France. Philosopher, educator, and author. A postmodernist social theorist, Baudrillard was a regular commentator on the increasingly blurred line between reality and imagination in the modern, media-dominated world. During his early career, he was a translator of German works and a high school teacher. He then attended the University of Paris's Nanterre campus during the 1960s. Here, he was influenced by the radical leftist movement at the time and completed his doctorate in 1966. While a professor at the University of Paris, where he taught until 1987, Baudrillard published books that revealed his early socialist beliefs. Among these are Le systeme des objets (1968; translated as The System of Objects in 1996) and La societé des consommation: ses mythes, ses structures (1969; translated as The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures in 1998). In these works, Baudrillard criticized the hollowness of the consumer society that places the acquisition of things above finding a genuinely satisfying life. Rejecting Marxism as no longer relevant in Le miroir de la production; ou, L'illusion critique du materialisme historique (1973; translated as The Mirror of Production in 1975), the author later drew outrage from his fellow Frenchmen for criticising philosopher Michel Foucault in 1977's Oublier Foucault. Though he continued to teach in Paris, Baudrillard was increasingly drawn to the United States, where his works were becoming popular. Fascinated by American culture, he criticized it, as well, but it was his writings about imagination versus reality that really gained him a following in the United States. He constantly questioned what was real and what was not, challenging people to distinguish the two and even making remarkable assertions such as his denial that the 1991 Gulf War actually occurred; he insisted it was simply a media event. Many were outraged, too, when after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks Baudrillard declared that they were, in essence, conceived by the American "terrorist imagination." Television, of course, became a common topic for him, with its "reality" shows that do not portray reality; he was also fascinated by films and such other fantasy retreats as the Disney amusement parks. Baudrillard coined the term "hyperreality," which essentially means a conceived reality that makes people believe the "real world" is actually real; he also used the word simulacrum to indicate a duplicate that is actually better than the original. To say his arguments were confusing is an understatement, and Baudrillard's critics maintained that his complex writings, in the end, make no sense and thus mean nothing. Baudrillard, on the other hand, felt that his critics were too preoccupied with the past and that their writings were not relevant to contemporary society. After leaving teaching at the University of Paris, Baudrillard spent his time traveling and lecturing. He drew an increasingly large following, which expanded even more when his philosophy helped inspire the popular Matrix science fiction movies. Among his other writings available in English are Simulations (1983), The Illusion of the End (1994), The Vital Illusion (2000), and The Spirit of Terrorism; and, Requiem for the Twin Towers (2002).



Chicago Tribune, March 8, 2007, Section 3, p. 7.

Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2007, p. B15.

Times (London, England), March 8, 2007, p. 60.

Washington Post, March 9, 2007, p. B7.

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Baudrillard, Jean 1929-2007

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