chapter  1
27 Pages

How to comprehend barbarism in the midst of enlightenment

Who reads Veblen anymore? Jean Baudrillard (1981) does, and uses portions of Veblen's thought to depict a postmodern culture that is dominated by simulations, violence, objects, and discourses that have no firm origin, referent, ground, or foundation (Rojek 1990). It has become common for intellectuals who are engaged in the problematic postmodern discourse to hark back to the previous fin de siecle for referents even as they deny referents. Thus, Veblen's famous notion of "conspicuous consumption" becomes the centerpiece for Baudrillard's pathetic vision of the postmodern human, lost in a sea of circulating fictions, for whom consumption - which is not just passive, but an active mode of relating - is the only referent that is left from the grand narratives of modernity. According to Baudrillard, "Consumption is the virtual totality of all objects and messages presently constituted in a more-or-Iess coherent discourse" (1988: 22). Besides consumption, there is only violence in postmodern America, such that "you feel anything could blow up at any moment" (Baudrillard 1986: 60).