Jean Baudrillard, America (1986)

Baudrillard AmericaTake a postmodern French philosopher, put him on a road trip across the USA and what have you got?

Possibly the most trite tagline for Jean Baudrillard’s America imaginable.

Both insightful and slap-dash, it’s a highly accessible work. Simulacrum meets the desert. Even though there are excursions into cities, Baudrillard keeps returning to the desert. Hyperreal America is founded on the desert—equally a place of death, of speed, of space, of disappearance.

I felt honored that, on page 50, he wrote about the city in California I used to live in:

Irvine: a new Silicon Valley. electronic factories with no openings to the outside world, like integrated circuits. A desert zone, given over to ions and electrons, a suprahuman place, the product of inhuman decision-making. By a terrible twist of irony it just had to be here, in the hills of Irvine, that they shot Planet of the Apes. (50)

Actually, they didn’t. The fifth film (last in a series that obeyed the law of diminishing returns) Escape from Planet of the Apes was filmed at the university. Not that Baudrillard cares, he’s not trying to give me a history lesson. Some of what America considers important seems curiously obscurantist and quaint (I had no idea Reagan had cancer of the nose). But the majority is filled with eye-opening (if occasionally weird or philosophically odd) perspectives:

The city was here before the freeway system, no doubt, but it now looks as though the metropolis has actually been built around this arterial network. It is the same with American reality. It was there before the screen was invented, but everything about the way it is today suggests it was invented with the screen in mind, that it is the refraction of a giant screen. (57)


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About Richard

I am a writer who travels endlessly. Fascinated by how our lives are propelled forward by what's left behind, I thirst to know everything. I read, collect, gather, organise, list. Here are some of the things I read, see and experience. Please make yourself at home: drinks and pretzels will be served shortly. If you'd like to get in touch, I'd love to hear from you!

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