Jean Baudrillard
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Philosophy, Sci-Fi, Semiotics, Theory

A master of the rhetorical device known as prolepsis, the French philosopher and sci-fi fan JEAN BAUDRILLARD (1929-2007) gained notoriety by referring to future phenomena as though they’d already occurred. Scorning the efforts of journalists and second-rate philosophers to prop up the same old binary hierarchical oppositions — body/mind, real/artificial, original/copy — that had exercised thinkers, writers, and artists ever since the Renaissance, Baudrillard argued that we’d entered into a paralyzing era of simulation, cloned duplication, the digitized and multiplied, the “hyperreal.” (We hadn’t, quite, but his prediction looks more and more accurate every day.) Expressed via thorny essays and elliptical aphorisms, Baudrillard’s normative values are themselves a binary hierarchical opposition: charming vs. creepy. Faked, imperfect, all-too-human “second-order simulacra” like vinyl LPs or robots from 1950s sci-fi movies are charming, he insisted. But present and future technologies like CDs and androids, which flawlessly simulate/replicate their originals, are creepy. Though the Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix ham-fistedly paid tribute to his 1981 essay Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard regarded its pioneering use of CGI as further evidence that we were already living in a dystopian future.

ALSO BORN THIS DATE: Don Marquis.

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Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based semiotic culture and brand analyst. He is editor/publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age science fiction imprint HILOBOOKS. In addition, Josh is co-author of several books, including (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY, the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS, and (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen) the family activities guides UNBORED, UNBORED GAMES, and the forthcoming UNBORED ADVENTURE. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT.