Jean Baudrillard - Reception

Reception

Critics have criticized many of Baudrillard's writing, ideas, and positions.

Denis Dutton, founder of Philosophy & Literature's "Bad Writing Contest"—which listed examples of the kind of willfully obscurantist prose for which Baudrillard was frequently criticised—had the following to say:

Some writers in their manner and stance intentionally provoke challenge and criticism from their readers. Others just invite you to think. Baudrillard's hyperprose demands only that you grunt wide-eyed or bewildered assent. He yearns to have intellectual influence, but must fend off any serious analysis of his own writing, remaining free to leap from one bombastic assertion to the next, no matter how brazen. Your place is simply to buy his books, adopt his jargon, and drop his name wherever possible.

However only one of the two major confrontational books on Baudrillard's thought—Christopher Norris's Uncritical Theory: Postmodernism, Intellectuals and the Gulf War (ISBN 0-87023-817-5)—seeks to reject his media theory and position on "the real" out of hand. The other—Douglas Kellner's Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond (ISBN 0-8047-1757-5)—seeks rather to analyse Baudrillard's relation to postmodernism (a concept with which Baudrillard has had a continued, if uneasy and rarely explicit, relationship) and to present a Marxist counter. Regarding the former, William Merrin (as discussed above) has published more than one denunciation of Norris's position. The latter Baudrillard himself characterised as reductive (in Nicholas Zurbrugg's Jean Baudrillard: Art and Artefact).

Willam Merrin's work has presented a more sympathetic account, which attempts to "place Baudrillard in opposition to himself". Thereby Merrin has argued that Baudrillard's position on semiotic analysis of meaning denies himself his own position on symbolic exchange. Merrin thus alludes to the common criticism of Structuralist and Post-structuralist work (a criticism not dissimilar in either Baudrillard, Foucault or Deleuze) that emphasising interrelation as the basis for subjectivity denies the human agency from which social structures necessarily arise. (Alain Badiou and Michel de Certeau have made this point generally, and Barry Sandywell has argued as much in Baudrillard's specific case.)

Finally, Mark Poster, Baudrillard's editor and one of a number of present day academics who argue for his contemporary relevance, has remarked (p. 8 of Poster's 2nd ed. of Selected Writings):

Baudrillard's writing up to the mid-1980s is open to several criticisms. He fails to define key terms, such as the code; his writing style is hyperbolic and declarative, often lacking sustained, systematic analysis when it is appropriate; he totalizes his insights, refusing to qualify or delimit his claims. He writes about particular experiences, television images, as if nothing else in society mattered, extrapolating a bleak view of the world from that limited base. He ignores contradictory evidence such as the many benefits afforded by the new media ...

Nonetheless Poster is keen to refute the most extreme of Baudrillard's critics, the likes of Alan Sokal and Norris who see him as a purveyor of a form of reality-denying irrationalism (ibid p. 7):

Baudrillard is not disputing the trivial issue that reason remains operative in some actions, that if I want to arrive at the next block, for example, I can assume a Newtonian universe (common sense), plan a course of action (to walk straight for X meters, carry out the action, and finally fulfill my goal by arriving at the point in question). What is in doubt is that this sort of thinking enables a historically informed grasp of the present in general. According to Baudrillard, it does not. The concurrent spread of the hyperreal through the media and the collapse of liberal and Marxist politics as the master narratives, deprives the rational subject of its privileged access to truth. In an important sense individuals are no longer citizens, eager to maximise their civil rights, nor proletarians, anticipating the onset of communism. They are rather consumers, and hence the prey of objects as defined by the code.

Read more about this topic:  Jean Baudrillard

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