Wednesday, March 07, 2007


The development of Baudrillard's work throughout the 1980s saw him move away from economically-based theories to considerations of mediation and mass communication. Although he retained an interest in Saussurean semiotics and the logic of symbolic exchange (under the influence of the anthropologist Marcel Mauss) Baudrillard increasingly turned his attention to the likes of Marshall McLuhan, developing ideas about how the nature of social relations is determined by the forms of communication that a society employs. In doing so Baudrillard actually moved beyond both Saussure's and Roland Barthes' formal semiology to consider the implications of a historically understood, and thus formless, version of structural semiology.

Most famously he argued — in the book Symbolic Exchange and Death — that Western societies have undergone a "precession of simulacra". This precession, according to Baudrillard, took the form of "orders of simulacra" from

1. the era of the original
2. to the counterfeit
3. to the produced, mechanical copy, and through
4. to the simulated "third order of simulacra" whereby the copy has come to replace the original.

Referring to "On Exactitude in Science", a fable by Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares, Baudrillard argued that for present day society as the simulated copy had superseded the original so the map had come to precede the territory. So it was, for example, with the first Gulf War: the image of war came to precede genuine conflict.

Using this line of reasoning, Baudrillard came to characterise the present age — following on from Ludwig Feuerbach and Guy Debord — as one of 'hyperreality' where the real has come to be effaced or superseded by the signs of its existence. Such an assertion — the one for which Baudrillard has drawn most and his heaviest criticism — is typical of Baudrillard's "fatal strategy" of attempting to push his theories of society beyond themselves, so to speak. Rather than saying, for instance, that our hysteria surrounding pedophilia is such that we no longer really understand what childhood is anymore, Baudrillard argued that "the Child no longer exists".

Similarly, rather than arguing — in a similar manner to Susan Sontag in her book On Photography — that the notion of reality has been complicated by the profusion of images of it, Baudrillard came to assert: "the real no longer exists". In so doing Baudrillard came to characterise his philosophical challenge as being no longer the Leibnizian question of: "Why is there something rather than nothing?", but rather: "Why is there nothing rather than something?"

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