Volume 4, Number 3 (October 2007)
A longer version of this obituary appeared on the Antigram website on March 07, 2007.
A few words for Jean Baudrillard since the vultures are already circling, everyone is getting paid for their thoughts and, with the possible exception of Steven Poole in the Guardian, many are simply reciting the same tired joke.
An essay in the Semiotext(e) anthology French Theory in America recounts the following story: subsequent to his publication of Baudrillard’s text Simulations, Semiotext(e) editor Sylvere Lotringer arranged for Baudrillard to give a paper at Columbia University. Baudrillard was as yet unknown in America so the talk was largely ignored and he ended up lecturing to a small audience. So much for the academy. Nonetheless, Lotringer reports, before long the book proved wildly popular downtown. Baudrillard had become a hipster status-symbol in the New York art world.
What eventually transpired was the monstrous birth of a New York “Simulationist” school, principally composed of the artists Peter Halley, Jeff Koons, Ross Bleckner, Sherrie Levine, and far more principally marketed and masterminded by freelance curators Collins and Milazzo, dressed down in a pair of sharkskin suits. Baudrillard was now – there is no other word for it – an icon, and so, in March 1987, four years after the first edition of Simulations was published, he was invited back to New York – this time to speak at the Whitney.
Picture the scene: the house is completely sold-out, packed with admirers. Lines snake around the block, to the extent that a rival, anti-Baudrillard event has even been set-up across the Village, in an opportunist attempt to cream off the surplus. Completely nonplussed, Baudrillard, the calmest man in the room, steps up to the lectern: “There cannot be a Simulationist School because the simulacrum cannot be represented,” he said. “It was”, he added, “a complete misunderstanding of my work.”
“Predictably”, Lotringer concludes, “he was finished in the art-world after that”. My point is a simple one: Who amongst Baudrillard’s eager detractors, supposing that they were themselves faced with similar circumstances, and were given the same choice between dismissal and lionization, would have had his same courage, and performed his same gesture?