John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 9 Mar 1996 23:14:33 +0900

Kalex Griffin asks,

"What is the validity of the various views presented by Jean
Baudrillard in terms of his conclusions as to contemporary forms of
"culture," their ethnographic "presentation," and his "conclusions"
derived from his constructs of reality?"

My own response is conditioned(1) by a failed attempt to read
_Seduction_, which I find too vertiginous to entice me beyond the first
few pages, and (2) _Forget Baudrillard?_, a fascinating collection of essays
edited by Chris Rojek and Bryan S. Turner. I quote from the introduction:

"A recent review of one of Baudrillard's most important books,
_Seduction_, illustrates the difficulty of commenting upon his work. The
review, written by one of the shrewdest analysts of Baudrillard's oeuvre,
begins by ocnveying the right air of gravitas. Baudrillard is described as a
'subtle,' 'powerful' thinker. His work is considered to be at the cutting
edge of social and cultural theory. However, quick quickly the reviewer is
also driven to observe that many of Baudrillard's arguments are
'ludicrous'; and that his manner of presentation is often 'maladroit'. Yet
the conclusion that one would predict from these serious criticisms is
absent. We are _not_ invited to reject Baudrillard....'Unsatisfactory as it
obviously is,' writes Mike Gane (1992:184)--the reviewer in question--
'unclassifiable as it is, it nevertheless throws up disturbing quesitons
which will be dismissed only with a bad conscience.'"

I hazard, then, the suggestion that validity not the issue in deciding
whether or not to forget Baudrillard. It is, instead, what makes the
questions his work throws up so, almost literally, nauseating.

In the opening pages of seduction Baudrillard fantasizes a world in which
the central issue of economics--the allocation of scarce resources--no
longer has any relevance--a world in which any and all desires can be
satisfied instantly. Here, in particular, is a world in which sex is totally
polymorphous. Perversity is not an issue. The dissolution of patriarchy
has not produced a reversal of male and female, with the feminine now
the dominant principle. Gender has disappeared, taking with it the
baggage of repression that makes sexual satisfaction a rare and precious
commodity. What form is left, then, for social interaction? Baudrillard
says "seduction." Here, however, seduction is no longer an instrumental
technique for securing scarce sexual goods. It is, instead, a game played
with artificial signs that have no meaning either in or beyond themselves.
The game is only a pseudolife, but when it is over, the players are dead.

The obvious objection is that the world that Baudrillard describes is, after
all, a fantasy. Economic scarcity and sexual repression are facts of life for
people everywhere. Just suppose, however, that both were magically
eliminated. In a world of perfect freedom and equality....what would we be
left with?

John McCreery
March 9, 1996