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Cultural Identity and Politic. Parte 5/8 (10' 01") [European Graduate School]
Jean Baudrillard, French cultural theorist, philosopher, political commentator, and photographer talking about cultural identity, politics, changing and becoming. The work of Jean Baudrillard is frequently associated with postmodernism and post-structuralism. Seminar for the students at the European Graduate School, EGS Media and Communication Program Studies Department, Saas-Fee, Switzerland, Europe, in 2002. Jean Baudrillard was a social theorist and critic best known for his analysis of the modes of mediation and of technological communication. His writing, although consistently interested in the way technological progress affects social change, covers diverse subjects - from consumerism to gender relations to the social understanding of history to journalistic commentaries about AIDS, cloning, the Rushdie affair, the (first) Gulf War and the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. His published work emerged as part of a generation of French thinkers such as Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Michel Foucault and Jacques Lacan who all shared an interested in semiotics, and he is often seen as a part of the poststructuralist philosophical school. In common with many poststructuralists, his arguments consistently draw upon the notion that signification and meaning are both only understandable in terms of how particular words or 'signs' interrelate. Jean Baudrillard thought, as many post-structuralists did, that meaning is brought about through systems of signs working together. Following on from the structuralist linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, Baudrillard argued that meaning is based upon an absence (so 'dog' means 'dog' not because of what the word says, as such, but because of what it does not say: 'cat', 'goat', 'tree' et cetera). In fact, he viewed meaning as near enough self-referential: objects, images of objects, words and signs are situated in a web of meaning; one object's meaning is only understandable through its relation to the meaning of other objects. One thing's prestigiousness relates to another's quotidianity. From this starting point Jean Baudrillard constructed broad theories of human society based upon this kind of self-referentiality. His pictures of society portray societies always searching for a sense of meaning -- or a 'total' understanding of the world -- that remains consistently elusive. In contrast to poststructuralists such as Foucault, for whom the search for knowledge always created a relationship of power and dominance, Baudrillard developed theories in which the excessive, fruitless search for total knowledge lead almost inevitability to a kind of delusion. In Baudrillard's view, the (human) subject may try to understand the (non-human) object, but because the object can only be understood according to what it signifies (and because the process of signification immediately involves a web of other signs from which it is distinguished) this never produces the desired results. The subject, rather, becomes seduced (in the original latin sense, seducere, to lead away) by the object. He therefore argued that, in the last analysis, a complete understanding of the minutiae of human life is impossible, and when people are seduced into thinking otherwise they become drawn toward a simulated version of reality, or, to use one of his neologisms, a state of hyperreality This is not to say that the world becomes unreal, but rather that the the faster and more comprehensively societies begin to bring reality together into one supposedly coherent picure, the more insecure and unstable it looks and the more fearful societies become. Reality, in this sense, dies out. Jean Baudrillard argued that in late Twentieth Century 'global' society the excess of signs and of meaning had caused a (quite paradoxical) effacement of reality. In this world neither liberal or Marxist utopias are any longer believed in. We live, he argued, not in a 'global village,' to use Marshall McLuhan's phrase, but rather in a world that is ever more easily petrified by even the smallest event. Because the 'global' world operates at the level of the exchange of signs and commodities, it becomes ever more blind to symbolic acts such as, for example, terrorism. In Baudrillard's work the symbolic realm (which he develops a perspective on through the anthropolical work of Marcel Mauss and Georges Bataille) is seen as quite distinct from that of signs and signification. Signs can be exchanged like commodities; symbols, on the other hand, operate quite differently: they are exchanged, like gifts, sometimes violently as a form of potlatch. Baudrillard, particularly in his later work, saw the 'global' society as without this 'symbolic' element, and therefore symbolically (if not militarily) defenceless against acts such as the Rushdie Fatwa or, indeed, the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States and its military establishment.