Entrapped By French Philosophy, Without a Clue

And who would strike us clueless but a Frenchman and aren’t they all Frenchmen, these mystery thinkers like Michel Foucault and Jacques Darrida. And now, come to haunt us on our own shores, Jean Baudrillard. He has a book to flog, titled The Conspiracy of Art.

Philosophy has either taken a wrong turn semantically or else it’s just the popular thing to write and speak obscurely, so no ordinary soul could possibly understand. The U.S. Tax Code is more philosophy than law, defined in this way.

But I make my case by the following statements concerning art and leave it to your sole (soul?) discretion to judge the words of the artist against the words of Baudrillard:

  • Painting is an attempt to come to terms with life. There are as many solutions as there are human beings—George Tooker, artist
  • The art scene is but a scene or obscene mask for the reality that all the world is trans-aestheticized—Jean Baudrillard

JeanbaudrillardI guess the ‘art scene’ is what you care to make it. Personally, I find George Tooker’s take on it pretty straightforward and easy to understand.

But brace for this and see if you can tell me what the hell it means when Baudrillard extrapolates as follows:

“We have no more to do with art as such, as an exceptional form. Now the banal reality has become aestheticized, all reality is trans-aestheticized, and that is the very problem. Art was a form, and then it became more and more no more a form but a value, and so we came from art to aesthetics—it’s something very, very different. And as art becomes aesthetics it joins with reality, it joins with the banality of reality. Because all reality becomes aesthetical, too, then it’s a total confusion between art and reality and the result of this confusion is hyperreality. But, in this sense, there is no more radical difference between art and realism. And this is the very end of art. As form.”

What a crock, foisted off on a stunned bunch at a Baudrillard reading, who hadn’t the foggiest notion of what he meant. Or the froggiest notion, if one wanted to be unkind. So, now we have seen Baudrillard’s pronouncement of the end of art, just as we saw Francis Fukuyama’s end of history and both are wrong, each striving for a desperate place as the hot-ticket observer of what’s going on. Each strives to arrive by tortured syntax, hiding in a fog of symbolism rather than outlined in stark contrast against a white wall of clarity.

The Conspiracy of Art might be subtitled, the abstract conspiracies of Jean Baudrillard to dance us down a winding lane of his semantic posturing to see how deeply we will slog into the swamp before turning back. Not that it matters much, once we’ve paid the purchase price, memorized the blurbs for conversational purposes and given Conspiracy pride of place on our bookshelf.

The stunned bunch in New York for Baudrillard’s reading, included the usual suspects; the dreadlocked, the white-raincoated, the red and purple-haired (on one head). A questioner, after the reading, summed up for me what icons we have made of the abstruse lecturer on almost any subject (from New Yorker magazine);

“I don’t know how to ask this question, because it’s so multi-faceted. You’re Baudrillard and you were able to fill a room. And what I want to know is: when someone dies, we read an obituary—like Derrida died last year, and it’s a great loss for all of us. What would you like to be said about you? In other words, who are you? I would like to know how old you are, if you’re married and if you have kids, and since you’ve spent a great deal of time writing a great many books, some of which I could not get through, is there something you want to say that can be summed up?”

In other words, are you understandable to this poor man with no contextual anchor in some form other than your writing?

“I am the simulacrum (vague semblance) of myself,” Baudrillard answered.

And I guess that says it all. Only in New York has the specialty of conning a public eager to be conned been raised to its own art form.

Following which, wine and cheese is expected to be served.


There are lots more Things That Make Me Nuts, all of them on my personal web site.

1 thought on “Entrapped By French Philosophy, Without a Clue

  1. I haven't read his book, only a couple articles by Baudrillard. I'm no philospher, and his texts are hard to get through. But so are the writings of many philosophers, Nietzsche comes to mind immediately. Not all of them are an Emerson.
    My take on the blurb of his you wrote of is: He believes that art as an exceptional form no longer exists, because of a different framework that has developed, that allows art to be merged with reality. In other words, my guess is he's saying he doesn't believe if you dump out a trashcan onto the floor of a gallery that it's art. He's saying that this heap of trash is something else, that it's also one part banal reality, and if it is going to be called art, then the other art, the old art as form, is dead. Form can be defined as the essential nature of a thing as distinguished from its material. Or beauty if you like. I think he said elsewhere this is the reason why modern art has no meaning to most folks.
    In the past writers have had a similiar discussion with critics, who years ago stopped judging style, the essential nature of writing, and instead started evaluating content.
    As to the questioner and Baudrillard's answer- it brought to mind an observation by Kurt Vonnegut. He said "Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be." Baudrillard when asked "What would you like to be said about you?" ignored the other questions that would pigeon-hole him and simply replied: I am the image of myself.

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