- postmodernism / postmodernity
- ---- by Ashley WoodwardBaudrillard brieﬂy used the term 'postmodern' in the early-to-mid 1980s before expressing deep dissatisfaction with it and seeking to disassociate himself from it. In response to a request to explain postmodernism, he once quipped:I cannot explain and I will not explain. Post modernism for me is nothing. I do not worry about this term. I am very exhausted with this post modernism. All that I will say is that the post modern is maybe postmodern. (Baudrillard, cited in Sim, 2004: 43)Nevertheless, Baudrillard was labelled and hailed as one of the key theorists of the postmodern, and any adequate understanding of postmodernism must take his work into account. Moreover, Baudrillard's thought displays key themes in common with other postmodern thinkers. As Zurbrugg (1994: 227) asserts, 'Baudrillard's disclaimer "I have nothing to do with postmodernism" is rich with irony. Considered in terms of his general arguments and assertions, Baudrillard has everything to do with postmodernism.' Despite his disclaimers, Baudrillard's work can readily be interpreted as providing a theory of postmodernity, replete with insightful characterisations of many aspects of postmodern culture, and can itself be understood as a postmodern form of theory.Fredric Jameson (1991) understands postmodernism as 'the cultural logic of late capitalism', and Baudrillard can be seen as a theorist of postmodernity insofar as he develops theories of both the nature of late capitalism and the cultural logic which accompanies it. From his early writings on consumer culture to his later, more metaphysical works, Baudrillard asserts a recent, radical change in the nature of capitalism and its cultural logic. He theorises this change as a move from production to consumption as the primarymodeofthecapitalistsystem(CS),andasashiftfromthecommodity law of value to the structural law of value (SED). With these changes in capitalism, cultural logic also changes, as emphasis shifts from the use value and exchange value of objects to their sign value. Baudrillard develops and extends his analysis of this cultural logic in his later works through ideas such as simulation, hyper-reality and the radiant stage of value.Like other theorists of postmodernity such as Jameson, Lyotard and Vattimo, Baudrillard sees a 'derealisation' of reality as characteristic of postmodern culture. This derealisation is paradoxically produced by the attempt to capture reality and represent it in systems of signs. For Baudrillard, this produces a hyper-reality in which signs and images ﬂoat free of any reference in the real. This superficiality of signs implies a certain ﬂatness or lack of depth, another characteristic of postmodern culture identified by theorists such as Jameson. Another key feature of postmodernity Baudrillard identifies is a loss of social cohesion and stratification in contemporary society. He describes this as an implosion of the social into 'the masses', where the social indicates the modernist understanding of society as comprehensible through categories such as class and improvable through advances in education, social welfare and so on. 'The masses', on the other hand, indicates an undifferentiated society resistant to categories and distinctions: 'no analysis would know how to contain this diffuse, de-centered, Brownian, molecular reality' (SSM, 55).At the broadest level of analysis, Baudrillard can be seen as a theorist of postmodernity because he theorises the end of modernity. Like Lyotard and others, he believes that the values of modernity, bound up with the Enlightenment dream of the progressive emancipation of humanity through the development and application of reason, have become bankrupt. This has not been because of a failure of the modernist project, but because its very success has undermined its own values: the triumph of reason has led to a superficial culture in which all values are confused. This means that the prospect of understanding human history as progressive emancipation is no longer possible. Baudrillard thus posits the end of history, another central postmodern theme. Summarising his vision of postmodernity, he writes:Postmodernity is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. It is a game with the vestiges of what has been destroyed. This is why we are 'post-': history has stopped, one is in a kind of post-history which is without meaning. One would not be able to find any meaning in it. So, we must move in it, as though it were a kind of circular gravity. We can no longer be said to progress. So it is a 'moving' situation . . . postmodernity is the attempt - perhaps it's desperate, I don't know - to reach a point where one can live with what is left. It is more a survival among the remnants than anything else. (Laughter.) (BL, 95)Baudrillard's work may be understood as postmodern both because of the theoretical positions it explores and the style(s) in which it is written. Postmodern theory is popularly associated with the rejection of reality and truth, the embrace of an ironic standpoint and the adoption of a rhetorical style. Baudrillard's work has important connections with all these themes, but has too often been read as endorsing a whimsical disregard for truth and reality. A more precise way of understanding Baudrillard's thought as postmodern is to see it as a critical reaction to a specifically modern image of thought originating with René Descartes and dominating the contemporary world. Richard Rorty (1979) has analysed modern thought as viewing the mind as a mirror of nature. In this model, the task of thought is to represent the world of objects as accurately as possible in the mind of the subject. Through his many critical themes, such as the political economy of the sign (CPS), simulation (SS), transparency (TE) and so on, Baudrillard argues that the project of modern thought is internally contradictory and destined to failure. This critical stance leads him to reject the traditional modes of theoretical discourse to which modern thought gave rise, and to explore ironic and rhetorical modes in an attempt to find ways of thinking and writing about the world which are something other than simply representations.Passwords§ masses§ the end
The Baudrillard dictionary. Richard G. Smith. 2015.