More fascinating (even) than any single work of Baudrillard’s has been the trajectory of his thought. In L’Autre par lui-même (see Baudrillard, 1988b [1987a]) he described the change between his early writings on consumer society and his gnomic utterances of the late 1970s and early 1980s as a movement ‘from the side of the subject to the side of the object’. He had already spoken of the need for theory and practice to move from the real to the symbolic, from production to seduction, from critical theory to fatal theory. Later, as he engaged more with technological themes, he would speak also of fourth-order simulation, the screen and the embrace of uncertainty. None of these formulations, though, will quite do. For one thing,
Baudrillard’s terminology (including for his own position) is always on the move. This is partly a tactic to avoid encapsulation. It also reﬂects a conceptual dynamism that arises from the fact that, for all its self-avowed swerve towards ‘metaphysics’, particularly that of good and evil, Baudrillard’s thinking has remained in a crucial sense sociological. It has not ceased, that is, to take as its object the moving front of the present, interpreted in terms of the metamorphoses of the system, capital, etc. – an object whose movement, at the same time, he has sought to mime and exaggerate (rather than analyse) while also staying ahead of the curve. In any case, we should be wary of deciphering Baudrillardian thought in
terms only of its initial transformation. Such formulae as ‘from subject to object’ do not throw much light on what came later. Nor, more importantly, do they enable us to see the movement of his thought in terms of the overall tension driving it, or in terms of the wider assemblage within, or with respect to, which each new turn has occurred. Of course, in seeking to raise such questions, one is not helped by
Baudrillard’s own insistence that radical theory – a term he has never dropped – should eschew participation in that glaciation of interpretation that
besets criticality of the traditional sort. But as my aim is not to make Baudrillard more mysterious, I will set this advice aside.