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ZKM_Symposien

Jean Baudrillard and the Arts

A Tribute to his 75th birthday

16 - 18 July 2004
ZKM_Media Theatre and Projectroom at MNK

in attendance of Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard’s 75th birthday on 27 July 2004 is reason enough to pay tribute to him.
Baudrillard is one of the most productive and most translated modern-day French authors, 34 titles having been published to date in French and 24 in German translation. This is despite the fact that he was a comparatively late starter. His first book »Le système des objets« [German: »Das System der Dinge«, Vienna 1974] did not appear until 1968, when he was almost 40. Previously a teacher, he translated Brecht’s »Flüchtlingsgespräche« and Peter Weiß’ »Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats« and published a long and still eminently readable article on Uwe Johnson in Sartre’s »Les Temps modernes« in 1962. From 1966 he was assistant to Henri Levèbvre at the University of Paris-Nanterre, where he taught sociology, one of his students being Daniel Cohn-Bendit, now a frequent guest in talk shows.

Jean Baudrillard cannot be classified as an adherent of any particular movement or school of thought. He is neither a structuralist nor a pre or post-structuralist and he is not an advocate of either Modernism or Post-Modernism. Baudrillard is a loner, a solitary. He describes his career as follows - and I quote here from the second volume of his »Cool Memories«, which has yet to appear in German:

»pataphysicist at 20 -
situationist at 30 -
utopian at 40 -
transversal at 50 -
viral and metaleptic at 60 -
that’s the story of my life.«

Nevertheless, one main issue can be said to have occupied Baudrillard’s mind from the very outset: the object. »Everything proceeds from the object«, he says. In his first phase, which begins with »Le système des objets« [see above] and ends with his weightiest tome »L' échange symbolique et la mort«, 1976, [German: »Der symbolische Tausch und der Tod«, Munich 1982], there is still what one might call a subject-object dialectic and the drama of alienation. In a society of spectacle everything is transformed into signs that no longer relate to anything real and can only be interchanged. Baudrillard calls this simulation. The world of politics, for example, is only superficially concerned with opinion forming and representation. In reality politicians concentrate on ruling a silent majority by means of opinion polls, tests and audience ratings. In his first book Baudrillard attempts to come to grips with the society of spectacle by developing a critical terminology that is borrowed from Marcel Mauss, Roger Callois and George Bataille: gift, over-exertion, potlach, outlawed part, symbolic exchange. Nowadays he calls this logic of sacrifice an anthropological dream, the dream of a status of the object that is beyond use and exchange, beyond value and equivalence. He is concerned to move beyond the categories of political economy and to add a radical anthropological critique to the Marxist critique of capital. The objective is to subvert the codes and to restore a symbolic order that rests on reversibility, »primarily on the reversal of the opposition between life and death, which results in connection with death«; the same applies to the opposition between subject and object, male and female, significant und signified. That much on Baudrillard as a situationist und a utopian.

In his second phase, which begins in 1979 with the book »De la seduction« [German: »Von der Verführung«, Munich 1992], this reference to symbolic exchange disappears. He writes: »The object itself seizes the initiative on reversibility, on seducing and enticing. The determining factor now is a different concatenation; it is no longer that of a symbolic order [which is the concatenation of a subject and a discourse], but the purely random order of the rules of a game. The world’s game is that of reversibility. It is no longer the desire of the subject that is the focus of attention in the world, but the fate of the object.«
»Les stratégies fatales«, 1983, [German : »Die fatalen Strategien«, Munich 1991], »La Transparence du Mal«, 1990, [German : »Die Transparenz des Bösen«, Berlin 1992], »L´illusion de la fin ou La grève des événements«, 1992, [German : »Die Illusion des Endes«, Berlin 1994], »Le crime parfait«, 1995, [German : »Das perfekte Verbrechen«, Munich 1996], »L´Echange impossible«, 1999, [German: »Der unmögliche Tausch«, Berlin 2000] are the titles of his next books, in which the key terms are fatality, transparency and illusion.

We are now in the 1980s and Baudrillard [together with Virilio and de Certeau] is a member of the editorial department of the periodical »Traverses«, in which his seminal texts are published.
»Theory cannot be satisfied with describing and analysing; it must itself become an occurrence in the very universe it describes. To do so it must immerse itself in the same logic and accelerate it«. »L’autre par lui meme«, Paris 1987 [German: »Das Andere selbst«, Vienna 1987, p. 77]
»All theory can do is to wrest comparison from the world: the more objective, the more ironic, the more seductive, the more real or the more unreal ...« ibid p. 79.

Jean Baudrillard wrote »Kool Killer ou l´insurrection par les signes« [German: »Kool Killer oder der Aufstand der Zeichen«, Berlin 1978] as early as 1975 at a time when there was precious little graffiti on walls here in Germany.
While networking and data highways are now presented as utopias, he analyses the consequences. He examines the here and now by dissecting extreme phenomena: stock market crashes, Islamic fundamentalism, Aids, terrorism, kidnapping, political corruption, pornography and obesity.
Baudrillard develops his own terminology to come to grips with these phenomena: simulacra, precession, ecstasy, metastasis, obscenity, virality, trans-politics, trans-economics, promiscuity, exorcism, hysteresis.

‘Baudrillard and the Arts’ - in contrast to the previous events devoted to Foucault and Deleuze this title is intended to make it clear that Jean Baudrillard not only approaches the arts in a critical and interpretative way, but that he himself is also in the process of becoming an artist.
One might call him an artist-philosopher and set him alongside Nietzsche, Adorno, Klossowski, Roland Barthes, Peter Weibel and others.
On the occasion of the celebration to mark his 75th birthday, then, we wish to present not just the thinker, Jean Baudrillard, but also the artist. Hence there will be an exhibition of his photographs and his aphorisms as well as a reading from his books.

    Peter Gente, May 2004

-> Text in deutsch

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