Jean Baudrillard (1929-)
Key Figures in Literary Theory
Jean Baudrillard was born in Reims, France, and studied German at the Sorbonne University in Paris. He went on to teach German at the lycee level (1958-66) and later worked as a translator and critic while writing his doctoral dissertation, “The System of Objects,” which he published in 1968. Until 1987, he taught at the University of Paris X (Nanterre) at various levels. He then served as scientific director at the Institut de Recherche et d’Information Socio-Economique at the University of Paris IX (Dauphine). Since 2001, he has been associated with the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.
Baudrillard’s work emerges at the intersection of SEMIOLOGY and the post-Marxism of the French avant-garde. His first major work, The System of Objects, with its emphasis on collecting, advertising, and consumption, argues that objects structure social life by signifying status and position within a general system of objectified relations. Important works of this period include For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1972) and The Mirror of Production (1973). The former develops a system of semiology that corresponds to categories of value: use value, exchange value, symbolic value, and sign value. The latter critiques the Marxist conception of production and argues that radical politics must move beyond the conception of the worker as a “production machine”; it acknowledges the advent of a social system driven not by political economy but by signifying economies. In later works like Simulations (1981), which gained him academic acclaim and a certain degree of celebrity, Baudrillard defined Postmodern signifying economies in terms of “hyperreality” in which SIMULATIONS of the real displace reality. His most famous example is Disneyland, which exists in order to disguise the fact that it is itself the “real” America. His work in the 1990s continued this examination of Postmodern culture, especially in America. Perhaps his most controversial book is The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (1991), which argues that both sides of the conflict generated computer simulations that became the basis for “actual” events. Though much criticized for his “fatal” criticism, which some critics see as thinly disguised nostalgia for referentiality, Baudrillard's work has contributed to our understanding of the way signs and simulations function in media- saturated societies.
Baudrillard, Jean. Baudrillard: A Critical Reader. Ed. Douglas Kellner. Oxford and Cambridge MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1994.
---- . For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. 1972. Trans. Charles Levin. St. Louis: Telos Press, 1981.
---- . The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. 1991. Trans. Paul Patton. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press; Sydney: Power Publications, 1994.
---- . Simulations. Trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman. New York: Semiotext(e), 1983.