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Jean Forgotten

by Charlie Finch
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The philosopher Jean Baudrillard has been dead for almost four years and his thought has been just about completely forgotten in advanced culture. It is hard to believe that Baudrillard was the centerpiece of a famous art world dinner at Columbia University in the late 1980s, a time when his debunking of "reality" eclipsed even Foucault and Lacan in the minds of artists.

Part of the eclipse stemmed from attacks on Baudrillard late in life: the left condemning him for his construct that the first Gulf War "did not happen," in the light of which Baudrillard retreated by asserting that it just wasn’t "a war," and the right vilifying Baudrillard for almost endorsing (in its eyes) the 9/11 attacks as a new assertion of meta-reality.

Even more than "simulacra," it is "hyperreality" that endures as a bit of Jeanish lexicon when we look at the world of 2011. Yet, a swift perusal of the culture vindicates Baudrillard as a prophet equivalent to Ezekiel, surveying a landscape of dried bones from which the life of former reality has dissipated. To watch a person walking down the street staring into a device rather than at a traffic light, to turn to the back pages of the papers (what’s left of them) to find even a mention of Barack Obama’s massive drone attacks in Pakistan is to affirm Baudrillard’s significant contention that reality has indeed disappeared and that what we are creating in its place, as yet, has no name.

Certainly it was George Orwell who anticipated the development of the kind of anonymous world war which engulfs our world without end, not to mention the dissipation of liberty and privacy which accompanies it. Baudrillard’s function was to create a philosophical comfort zone for the loss of objective perception and the destruction of individual identity that it compels.

Instinctively, artists are mapping the Baudrillardian landscape, from which there is no apparent escape, by constantly creating simulacra, whether it's Pierre Huyghe sailing into an ice floe or Jeff Koons walking into a Wal-Mart. This is an abdication of essence on the part of art, an abandonment of the search for realism through the breaking down and restructuring of reality, which characterized modernism. It is why there are no art movements any more, for art dialectics are dependent on competing creators identifying something, anything as reality.

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).