Baudrillard; a thought from the 19th century

John H. Stevens, Jr. (jhs14@CORNELL.EDU)
Sun, 31 Mar 1996 09:11:27 -0500

Just wanted to throw in something here. In regards in particular to this
quote from Davenport via Geiger:

>Baudrillard quoted by Davenport:
>"The fifties were the real high spot for the U.S. ('when things
>were going on'), and you can still feel nostalgia for those
>years, for the ecstasy of power, when power was power. In the
>seventies power was still there, but the spell was broken. That
>was orgy time (war, sex, Manson, Woodstock). Today the orgy is
>over. The U.S., like everyone else, now has to face up to a soft
>world order, a soft situation. Power has become impotent.

and Geiger's observation on B's "'imagined' 50s."

Mr. James Mooney, late (he died in 1921) of the (late itself) Bureau of
American Ethnology, had a thing or two to say about such "sentiments:"

1) "The doctrine that the world is old and worn out" (Mooney, *Ghost Dance
and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890*, p. 661), is certainly not a new one, but
one that he found running through the history of humankind (althought he
has nothing to say about Confucius!).

2) "The remote in time or distance is always strange. The familiar present
is always natural and a matter of course. Beyond the narrow range of our
horizon imagination creates a new world, but as we advance in any
direction, or as we go back over forgotten paths, we find ever a continuity
and succession" (Mooney, p. 928). One of Mooney's theses was that
humankind draws on and (to use a term of Greg Dening's) "re-presents"
history in particular, culturally and circumstancially shaped ways.
History is "strange" in that things were different "back then," and often
seen as extremely better or worse. Most interesting here is Mooney's link
of imagination with continuity, which (given his thoughts in *Ghost Dance*
as a whole) is an argument for the construction of particular histories.
As we create a new story we link it to events in the past and in essence
both create a new story and assert that we are telling the old one too.

B. is obviously doing his own version of this. Certainly he's right about
nostalgia, but lines such as "when power was power" which he links to the
current impotence of power (a gross underestimation, in my opinion; I would
say that in some areas power is even more potent because it is often
masked, subtle, normalized, and pervasive), are certainly points where
imagination and continuity meet. It's also interesting that he chooses a
sort of climatic course of history, where power builds up, there is an
orgasm in the seventies (um, where did the 60s go, BTW??), and now "we" are
not only spent, but unable to perform. Has anyone done any work on the
historical consciousness of B. or any of his ilk?? Or of postmodernism??
It would be an interesting project!!

And just a quick comment on a vivd image of Monsieur McCreery:

>Vance is right to point to the stream of cultural materialism
>(aka primitive Marxism) in Baudrillard's thought. This partly
>explains the chill up the spine that reading Mr. B produces.
>The revolution has happened. Class and gender no longer
>matter. And in place of Marx's utopia, the result is something
>like a transvestite bar past midnight, with tired drag queens
>flirting in an atmosphere of stale beer, smoke, and vomit.
>It's an interesting world to contemplate. Not the one I happen
>to live in.
>How do other people see this?

First of all, I love that image. For some reason it also conjures up an
image from Ben Anderson's *Imagined Communities* of late European
monarchies "Putting on nationalist drag" in a vain attempt to attract
nationalists and also hide the fact that they are monarchies. The image of
desperation is somewhat the same, although one is tired and worn, the other
nervous and preening. Obviously, I interpreted John's "tired drag queens"
as complementary images to Ben's. I suppose I would agree that that isn't
the world we live in (the beer certainly isn't stale!!), although I do
believe we're getting closer to closing time. . . ;-)

Have an exegetic day!

Best regards,

John H. Stevens, Jr.
Department of Anthropology
Cornell University

Student Area Coordinator, Amnesty International (Central NY)
Co-Chair, Urgent Action Coordinator, Trainer, and Death Penalty Abolition
Coordinator, Cornell Student Chapter

Member, Human Rights Educators' Network and Society for American Ethnohistory
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Quote o' the Moment:
"Ernest Hemingway once said, 'It is a nice world, and worth fighting for.'
I agree with the second part." William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), in *Seven*