New Philosophy

More French Postmodern Philosophers

Who was Jean Baudrillard?

Jean Baudrillard (1929–) is a social theorist who writes about the absence of the kind of educated public discourse described by Jürgen Habermas (1929–) in pessimistic but elegant and evocative prose. He is, like Richard Rorty (1931–2007), a very readable postmodernist, but less sanguine.

Baudrillard’s thought on terrorism in In the Shadow of the Silent Majority (1982) and The Spirit of Terrorism: And Requiem for the Twin Towers (2002) identifies it as a media-manipulating appropriation of public attention in a culture where only the spectacle is taken seriously. This is not a frivolous view insofar as it is based on a thorough-going analysis of contemporary life as in large part virtual, made up of simulacra of previous forms of human existence.

An example of this would be the way that newly constructed “old towns” are simulacra of historical places, and American pizza is a simulacrum of Italian food. This is apparently not just a question of things lacking authenticity, according to Baudrillard, but of a mass preference for virtuality instead of reality. Thus in The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (1991) he describes how experiences of the first Gulf War, even and especially for the troops, were mediated by its representation on television, radio, and other media forms, according to externally determined scripts that only captured bits and pieces of the actual experience.


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