- ---- by Rex ButlerLike many of Baudrillard's key terms, 'otherness' [altérité] is divided in its meaning: it is both what is lost in today's society and what Baudrillard opposes to society. It is this that complicates tremendously any analysis of Baudrillard's 'Orientalism'. He can be accused of it, but also has a discourse about it. He is critical of it, but argues as well for it (or something like it). Thus it can be asked, even of such lengthy analyses as Almond's (2007), whether they truly grasp the ambiguity or even 'reversibility' of the 'other' in Baudrillard's work. That is, for all of Almond's acknowledgement that Islam plays the role of ironic, hyperconforming object in Baudrillard's text, Almond still condemns him for not allowing Arabs to speak; and, in terms of the Orientalist clichés in Baudrillard's text, Almond does not ask whether for Baudrillard Orientalism (at least of a certain kind) is necessarily a bad thing. It is, indeed, perhaps in its silencing that the 'other' exerts its revenge. And it is a silencing that would continue exactly through Almond's demand that it speak. It is these ambivalences that are the ultimate fate of all those who 'criticise' Baudrillard.Baudrillard undoubtedly comes equipped with the typical cultural imaginary of his time and place. There exists, of course, a whole line of early-to-mid-century 'Orientalism' that was the result of French colonisation throughout northern Africa, Asia and the Pacific that Baudrillard inherits. Baudrillard at several points expresses his admiration for the French explorer and ethnographer Victor Segalen, who coined or at least popularised the term 'exotic', which Baudrillard adopts in his work (TE, 146-55). Baudrillard also follows figures like Bertolt Brecht and Roland Barthes in his appreciation of the artificiality of the Peking Opera, which he sees as creating an 'empty space' (FS, 214) between bodies that can never be crossed. And Baudrillard follows Alexandre Kojève too in privileging Japan as embodying a certain end to western history in its ability to move directly to the global without passing through the universal (SC). In all of these ways, Baudrillard is diagnosable as coming from a particular European-speaking position. His examples are precisely reﬂexive or projective and not the result of any real anthropological insight or research. And this is an accusation that Baudrillard's critics have not failed to make.But what these critics fail to realise is that any analogies we might make between Baudrillard's examples and those of any other thinker remain only approximate. If both Kojève and Baudrillard appear to speak of Japan in similar terms, the comparison is not exact. Each thinker's system is distinctive; the role the same term plays within it is different. All of this is to say that Baudrillard's system of thought is not 'realist' and cannot entirely be explained socially or historically. The cultures and places Baudrillard refers to are also rhetorical or technical terms that take on meaning only within the context of Baudrillard's own work, operate as much as shorthand for extended chains of argument as for any cultural or geographical reality. Of course, in this sense, Baudrillard's arguments are still 'Orientalist' in Edward Said's (1979) definition of an expression that does not simply misrepresent some Oriental essence but is intended for western ends. But, if we can say this, Baudrillard puts his Orientalism to absolutely non-western purposes. What Baudrillard admires about such cultures as the Japanese and Islamic is that they will 'never become Western' (TE, 140). Or they are 'other' and not merely 'different' from the West, not part of that dialectical trick by which Europe extends its self by positing its alternative (TE). There is thus inaugurated the complex game in which Orientalist terms are used to speak about the unassimilability of the other. It is a strategy Baudrillard sums up by means of a typically caustic double negative: '[The envy and resentment of the West by non-Western countries] would lead me to detest the Southern - and the Islamic - peoples for their feeble-mindedness, their suicidal rhetorics, if I did not already detest even more the little hardline Whites, who are so sure they will always have the upper hand' (CM, 71).Passwords
The Baudrillard dictionary. Richard G. Smith. 2015.