Volume 1, Number 2 (July 2004)
Author: Dr. Will Keenan
Review of: Grace, Victoria, Heather Worth and Laurence Simmons. Baudrillard West of the Dateline, Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press, 2003.
This collection of essays Baudrillard West of the Dateline is wide-ranging, witty in many senses of a polyvalent term, even wacky, as one might hope for in a work centered upon Baudrillard, as much an elusive genre and enigmatic style as a penetrating cultural philosopher, delicate photographer and bold polemicist. Grace, Worth and Simmons have put together a diverse and stimulating body of writings, including Baudrillard’s own essays “The Global and the Universal” and “The Violence of the Image and the Violence Done to the Image”, to mark recognition of Jean Baudrillard’s “gracious presence in New Zealand”1 at the University of Auckland conference (from which the book obtains its title and most of its contributions) in March 2001. The volume celebrates unabashedly “the multiplication of Baudrillards”2 and the vitality of Baudrillardean scholarship in the Antipodean context. It honours an heroic intellectual elder statesperson at a moment when the political equivalents seem puny by comparison.
The “big idea” of this book, explored across sections devoted to “The Global” (Chapters 1-7) and “The Virtual” (Chapters 8-12), is, as the editors state: “[T]estimony to the fact that there is no single or singular Baudrillard, no doctrinal unity of his thought”.3 What gives this unique collection its cutting-edge is the confident claim, fully justified within the individual essays, that we, the putative global symbolic exchange agents especially, have much enlightenment to gain and rusty shackles to lose, when we orient ourselves Easterly to the West. The centre of gravity of this work is the post-colonial, if still WASPish, world of Auckland, Queensland, Sydney, Canterbury, Dunedin, New South Wales – geographical, cultural and intellectual scapes increasingly self-consciously deracinated from the “metropole” of New York, Paris, Rome, Berlin and London. Here lies, at least the possibility of, “stubborn insurrection”, “singularity”, resistance to “unconditional globalization”.4 Baudrillard’s subversion of the hegemonic illusion of West-centric globality is pivotal to this enterprise in “post-occidental” identity-construction.
Expect here to experience the characteristic Baudrillardean shift, the sign of which is differentiated ambivalence-vertigo and violence among the pomo resisters; risk and renewal among the aficionados. Whether it be through Gary Genosko on surveillance, Laurence Simmons on Captain Bligh’s Breadfruit, Chris Prentice on the right use of whales, Nick Perry on forging identities, Karen McMillan and Heather Worth on dreams, Derrida and September 11, Louis Arnoux on entrepreneurship as poesy, Victoria Grace on medical visualization, Kevin Glynn on the seductions of media culture or Alan Cholodenko on apocalyptic animation, some disruption to any settled intellectual perception or resolved ideological (and emotional) response is likely. In their observations and insights into aspects of their worlds, it is clear that these commentators “west of the deadline” are, at the very least, as Louis Arnoux has it5 , “day after day marginally ahead of the west”. Baudrillard’s Antipodean epigoni demonstrate, as clearly as the ship’s bell, that when crossing into the southern home hemisphere, this margin, this timeline, is of considerable significance. Bubbling up from this crew of mainly South Seas Baudrillard specialists6 is the provocation of the master’s enigmatic quest “to capture the otherness and indifference of the world”, as Rex Butler puts it7 in a considered essay on photographing ethics, an analysis sensitively animated by samples of Baudrillard’s own seductive invocations, as Baudrillard (no slouch with a camera!) called his photos.
The unifying critical spirit pervading these highly individual chapters is the shadow of America, the looming spectre haunting the universal, the global, the real and the virtual as these vie for pre-eminent position and presence in “[t]he global institution of the New Millennium”.8 What matters is that the virtual “America (is) in each of us”, is properly grasped as an imagined “monolithic global order… against which the rest of the world has nothing to oppose but its real existence,”9 shades of Kant’s “starry heavens above” and “moral law within”.10 Bring on the sociology and political economy, the cultural and literary history, the geography and photography of real, singular, resistant communities “below the dateline”, some straws of situated otherness to clutch at as relentless waves of economic, cultural, military and technological occidentalization threaten to engulf nations, continents and planets.
The specialist chapters in the edition are fascinating contributions to a multidisciplinary, multi-perspectival take on a part of the world that appears increasingly to match its rampant bio-diversity with the kind of imaginative and intellectual energy that typically emanates from vectors of self-confident cultural self-transformation. This book asserts the normality when that matters and the extraordinariness when that too is appropriate of those particular identities and images blithely disposed of as the adiaphoric extra, exotic, and extreme parts of the world when viewed within the conventional “master” optic. It represents resistance to the “death” that Baudrillard calls “a violence of soft extermination,”11 that nullifying fate awaiting “lobotomized people”12 in every age. This is a flagship collection for the view from down under, a view that Baudrillard has shown can be gazed on from any distance with profit.
About the author:
Dr. Will Keenan is from Nottingham Trent University, England.
1 – Grace, Victoria, Heather Worth and Laurence Simmons. Baudrillard West of the Dateline, Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press, 2003:7.
2 – Ibid.:18.
3 – Ibid.
4 – Ibid.:26.
5 – Ibid.:140.
6 – Gary Genosko is at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.
7 – Grace, Op. Cit.:247.
8 – Ibid.:142.
9 – Ibid.:28.
11 – Ibid.:172.