Jean Baudrillard wrote and thought with the exceptional talent of a theorist amenable to numerous intellectual currents yet insistent on blazing his own trail through a world that he perceived and revealed to be infinitely more extraordinary than even the most incredible accounts supposed. He died in Paris on 6 March 2007, aged 77. Baudrillard pursued a career that was, in many ways, remarkable; which saw him, in almost equal measure, gain fame and infamy, respect and notoriety, from numerous quarters: academic, artistic, political, etc. This book, which gathers together a collection of essays from many of Baudrillard’s most accomplished commentators, is above all concerned with understanding what it was that Baudrillard did when he wrote and thought – and what difference this might make to those coming after him. The book is expressly not, therefore, a detailed and sober assessment of his legacy; nor a reverential account of his life’s work; nor a sycophantic exposition of his theoretical brilliance. It is, rather – in a vein that we hope Baudrillard himself would have appreciated – a largely unceremonious, immensely energetic, varied and insightful appreciation of the potency of his particular mode of theorizing. At the same time, the writings gathered here are most certainly rigorous, erudite, committed and, we hope, poised to reveal the radical import of Baudrillard’s style of thought. For while one can never pronounce the final word on a theorist like Baudrillard, the essays comprising the volume have the capacity to overcome many of the misconceptions that have attached to Baudrillard’s work in the past; to pave the way towards a more rounded appreciation of the difference that Baudrillard’s intellectual endeavours have made and will continue to make. In addition to this wealth of appreciative – though never uncritical – commentary, the book also contains two pieces by Baudrillard himself, neither of which has been published in English before.

The first chapter of the book, ‘The vanishing point of communication’, dates from the early 1990s, and derives from a lecture Baudrillard delivered in English at Loughborough University. Following on from this, the second chapter, ‘On disappearance’, was among Baudrillard’s final writings and figures as his last publicly presented work: delivered in absentia by Mike Gane to the ‘Engaging Baudrillard’ conference held at Swansea University, Wales, in September, 2006. At the risk of treading over old ground, the remainder of these introductory remarks offer a brief recapitulation not only of Baudrillard’s thought but also of its reception, particularly within the English-speaking world. We then offer an overview of the chapters making up the rest of the book, by way of alerting and orientating the reader to the themes they address. Baudrillard’s thought has always defied easy categorization. He began his

intellectual life while teaching German at a provincial lycée, writing reviews for Jean-Paul Sartre’s Les Temps modernes and translating a variety of German works into French. But in terms of what was to follow, this might be regarded as his intellectual pre-history – traces of which nonetheless endure throughout Baudrillard’s subsequent trajectory. It was from the 1960s, when Baudrillard started to engage with sociological thought, that his eventual status as one of the most significant intellectual figures of our age began to emerge. Studying under and subsequently working alongside Henri Lefebvre at the Université de Paris X, Nanterre – although already exploring his divergence from conventional Leftist politics – Baudrillard produced the first numbers of a series of books that would ultimately see his writings achieve exit velocity, projecting his thought into a largely unexplored conceptual universe. Books such as The System of Objects (1996a [1968]) and The Consumer Society (1998a [1970]) examined the strangeness of an affluent society, drawing on but at the same time transforming the theoretical tools that were available for such an investigation (political-economic, semiotic, psychoanalytic). If Lefebvre and Roland Barthes reflected the French Fifties in seeking to demystify everyday life (Kelly, 2000), Baudrillard was not alone in the 1960s in beginning to question the whole problematic of mystification, particularly the implication that some kind of ceremonial unveiling, presided over by critical thought, was all that was needed to unmask and thence to transform the world. Yet Baudrillard was to become one of the most ardent explorers of what this dissenting position might entail. To this extent, works such as For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1981 [1972]) and The Mirror of Production (1975 [1973]) amount to rigorous theoretical attempts to surpass earlier modes of radical thought. Indeed, a good deal of this writing was first published in the pro-Situationist journal, Utopie (a collection of which has since been reprinted: Baudrillard, 2006b). It was Symbolic Exchange and Death (1993a [1976]), however – famously described by Baudrillard, exhibiting his typically self-deprecating sense of humour, as ‘the last book that inspired any confidence’ (Baudrillard, 1993c: 189) – that marked a watershed in Baudrillard’s thought. It would

have been fascinating to read the planned but unwritten The Mirror of Desire; to witness Baudrillard’s erudite demolition of the mythical promises of psychoanalysis (that it could serve as an infallible instrument of demystification), alongside his virtuosic destruction, undertaken in The Mirror of Production, of those same promises as held out by historical materialism. But Symbolic Exchange and Death signalled an altered conception of theory and a changed sense of the manner in which one might engage with the world: a world very different from one simply in need of unveiling to fathom its mysteries. It is no accident that the notion of ‘simulation’ introduced by Baudrillard in Symbolic Exchange and Death has come to figure among his most celebrated concepts – even though its profundity has sometimes been misunderstood as implying precisely the same kind of mystification that Baudrillard’s manner of theorizing has, in fact, surpassed. In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities (1983 [1978]) already detected, in

the behaviour of the masses, the new kind of theoretical strategy Baudrillard was looking for; suggesting, even given the book’s anti-empiricist commitment, a kind of evidencing of an ever-present undercurrent of symbolic exchange, challenge and fatal complicity. The operation of the masses suggests a strategy no longer naïve enough to believe in mystification, deception and misrepresentation as adequate notions for engaging the world, and Baudrillard was more than happy to follow suit. Distancing himself from Foucault’s theoretical strategies – in the work provocatively entitled Forget Foucault (Baudrillard 1987a [1977]) – and joyfully withdrawing from the strictures of French academia, Baudrillard’s own work found itself envisioning and increasingly occupying a wholly different universe, where certain of the themes developed in his earliest writings – not least a preoccupation with the object – now took on a highly original (and, initially, often misunderstood) character. One way of thinking through this particular turn in Baudrillard’s work is in relation to the radical alterity of the world; in terms of its stark otherness. Seduction (1990a [1979]), for example, initially proposes this relation in opposition to production. Baudrillard reminds us that to produce means to make appear and move forward (pro-ducere), while to seduce is to lead astray and make disappear (se-ducere). Whereas the world inaugurated by modernity was obsessed with rendering visible and making real, the world as it is secretly pursues its furtive destiny via a fatal strategy of seduction. The possibilities of understanding this; the position in which it places the theorist; and the capacity of the theorist to elucidate the ways in which the contemporary world expresses itself are, in effect, the constant themes of Baudrillard’s work ever since. Where Simulacra and Simulation (1994a [1981]) further developed the conception of simulation introduced in Symbolic Exchange and Death, most of Baudrillard’s subsequent works are, in the same vein as is Seduction, attempts to conceptualize what lies beyond the limits that make the real what it is – attempts that refuse to take reality for what it purports to be, and which are progressively more cognisant of the exhaustion of the reality principle through a rapidly accelerating process of

realization and virtualization. The notion of the fatal considered in Fatal Strategies (1990b [1983]), which escapes the would-be all-embracing division of the world into either deterministic or random, is one such attempt to comprehend the world without committing to the reality principle. The notion of transparition and the superior logic of evil subjected to scrutiny in The Transparency of Evil (1993b [1990a]); the idea of illusion as developed in The Illusion of the End (1994b [1992]); and the idea of the Impossible Exchange (2001a [1999a]) reveal Baudrillard as consummate inventor and explorer of conceptual potentialities. This theoretical invention was never pursued for its own sake, but always in relation to the world, to the situation in which we find ourselves. Baudrillard’s constant refinement of his ideas and his creative ability to summon new ones is, of necessity, an attempt to philosophize events – or, indeed, non-events. This emphasis on refinement, the crystallization of an idea, is, perhaps, most apparent in Baudrillard’s increasingly aphoristic style, exemplified in the Cool Memories series of books but also permeating much of his later writing. Although Baudrillard’s thought has sometimes been seen as wilfully provocative, his sense of purpose is never simply a case of épater les bourgeois (this being merely a fortunate by-product). Consumption, the object, communication, the media, the virtual, terrorism, art, photography, war: Baudrillard’s thought is unconstrained in its topical focus precisely because nothing is, for Baudrillard, a topical focus. Theorizing and the world stand in a symbolic relation to one another, and it is the challenge this relation implies that also animates the essays comprising this volume. In attempting to consider the difference that Baudrillard’s thought makes,

rather than engaging in the vain task of adumbrating its distinctive qualities or attempting to extract some woefully naïve set of axiomatic foundations where there are none, we restrict ourselves to some brief remarks on Baudrillard’s reception in the English-speaking world – not least because this book necessarily forms a part of that reception, and therefore demands reflexive consideration. Baudrillard’s reception in France (see, in particular, L’Yvonnet, 2004) is, perhaps unsurprisingly, less prone to misconception (though not to controversy) than it has been in the English-speaking world – where selective translation (out of sequence and of variable quality) has had something of a determinate effect on how Baudrillard’s ideas have been received (the first collections of translated excerpts of Baudrillard’s writings were supplied in two volumes: Poster, 1988; Foss and Pefanis, 1990). Equally, however, Baudrillard has arguably been taken less seriously as a distinctive thinker in his homeland than he has in the English-speaking world. His influence is undoubtedly most marked as a global public intellectual. Baudrillard first rose to prominence in the English-speaking world in the

early 1980s, in Australia, Canada and the United States, and slightly later in Britain, and was initially mistaken as a prophet of postmodernism – even as that movement’s high priest. The earliest volume of commentary on Baudrillard (Frankovits, 1984) and Kroker’s (1985) sympathetic Marxist-postmodernist

reading of Baudrillard (see also Kroker and Cook, 1988) provoked something of a backlash from the traditional Left, both against the postmodern movement as a whole (Callinicos, 1989; Harvey, 1989; Norris, 1990) and against Baudrillard in particular (Kellner, 1989). Subsequent readings went some way to counteract this reaction, the most significant being Gane’s (1991a, 1991b) refutation of Baudrillard’s undeserved reputation as an apologist for postmodernity and a more serious contextualization of his thought in relation to the Durkheimian-Maussian tradition of sociology and (though arguably still underappreciatively) Friedrich Nietzsche as refracted through Georges Bataille. As the postmodern controversy waned, a growing body of more serious and critically informed work on Baudrillard emerged (Gane, 2000a, 2000b; Genosko, 1994, 1999; Grace, 2000; Grace et al., 2003; Hegarty, 2004; Kellner, 1994; Lane, 2000; Levin, 1996; Merrin, 2005; Pawlett, 2008; Pefanis, 1991; Rojek and Turner, 1993; Stearns and Chaloupka, 1992). Over the same period, Baudrillard’s ideas gradually penetrated and began to reshape a range of disciplines: cultural studies, visual culture, design studies, human geography, photography, film studies, sociology, art history and art theory, social and cultural history, philosophy, architecture, cultural politics, media and communication studies, and cyberculture, such that, today, his work is intellectually unavoidable. The launch of the online International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, in January 2004, is a reflection of his influence. Although Baudrillard is still sometimes portrayed by his critics as a nihilistic reactionary celebrating the excesses of postmodernity, this kind of misconception is increasingly difficult to maintain. The present book, as we have already intimated, seeks to add to the scholarly appreciation of Baudrillard’s work, to the power of his mode of theorizing, and to the recognition that Baudrillard’s thought is not only suggestive, provocative and sophisticated, but also a major challenge to all those who feel that his work is merely a passing fad that can be easily dismissed. As the chapters we now proceed to outline make clear, such a verdict is woefully awry. In Chapter 1, ‘The vanishing point of communication’, Baudrillard offers

a stylish and adept analysis of the implications of communications technologies and the nature of communication itself. Noting the theoretical revolutions that were responsible for radically transforming our understanding of production and consumption – and the lack of any comparable transformation of our thinking about communications media – Baudrillard offers his own thoughts on what the prevailing technological fantasies of a world tamed by communication and information fail to grasp. Communication is, as Baudrillard points out, a peculiarly modern invention – as, indeed, is reality itself. Just as the advent of reality signals a failure of the reality principle, the vast technological edifice of communication is indexed to the failure of speech and symbolic exchange. For while speech is an act, communication is an operation. Although this essay was composed in 1992, the way in which it addresses the lack of an adequate theory of communication anticipates certain of the themes played out in Chapter 2, ‘On

disappearance’ – which, as previously noted, is one of Baudrillard’s final works. In the ‘vanishing point’ essay, Baudrillard alludes to Apollinaire, suggesting that we only speak of communication because human communion has been subject to a process of disappearance, leaving in its wake only the forced circulation of meaning at a distance. As Apollinaire – and Heidegger and Hegel – point out, only when something begins to fade away is it noticed, conceptualized, named and, adds Baudrillard, eclipsed by its own simulation model. ‘The vanishing point of communication’ also sees Baudrillard concerned with the disappearance of the subject into the object and the collapse of the human-machine dichotomy, arguing that the sovereignty of the subject has become inexorably bound up – through institutions, programs, psychology, biology and medicine – with the operational logic of communication. For Baudrillard, subjects have become screens precisely because computer screens and our mental screens have become inseparable, assuming a Möbius-like topology. Thus, while there is no longer any alienation, there is, alas, no freedom either – just integration into the digital circuits of communication. The human has vanished onto the screen, just as human communion has disappeared into the sphere of inhuman communication. Resonating with the ‘vanishing point’ essay of Chapter 1, Chapter 2 pre-

sents Baudrillard’s ‘On disappearance’ – about which we need to say very little here, not least since Chapter 3 provides a series of commentaries on this text, from Rex Butler, David Clarke, Marcus Doel, Gary Genosko, Douglas Kellner, Mark Poster, Richard Smith and Andrew Wernick. Baudrillard’s ‘On disappearance’ is a magisterial piece, patiently and scrupulously drawing into view some of the most significant qualities of the modern world, and meticulously sounding out their consequences. Many of its implications are afforded sometimes widely divergent readings in the commentaries comprising Chapter 3 – unsurprisingly, given the range of conceptual vantage points to which Baudrillard’s work speaks, and given the range of opinions encompassed by the chapter’s contributors. Also unsurprisingly, such differences and divergences are further played out in the remainder of the chapters of the book – though it is also instructive to witness the sophistication of this work, which studiously avoids many of the pitfalls of misinterpretation that once characterized commentaries on Baudrillard. In Chapter 4, for example, Rex Butler confirms his reputation as one of

Baudrillard’s most adept and sensitive commentators, identifying the way in which ‘Baudrillard’s taste’ reveals itself. Like Douglas Kellner (in Chapter 7), Butler focuses particularly on The Conspiracy of Art. However, Butler is far more closely aligned to Baudrillard’s worldview than is Kellner (who, as we shall see, regards Baudrillard as offering food for thought – but a kind of thought in strict need of tempering by critical theory). At the risk of caricaturing Butler’s subtle and intricate analysis, he demonstrates that Baudrillard’s theory of conspiracy is anything but a conspiracy theory – highlighting the unexpected distinction Baudrillard makes between ‘true’ and ‘false’ simulation as a means of interrogating the logic of Baudrillard’s

position. Butler finds this logic to be secretly complicit in the events it elucidates, imposing a distinction that necessarily breaks down, yet which nonetheless reveals something crucial in the process. Thus, for instance, the more we know about a conspiracy, the less accurate it is to regard it as a conspiracy; but this kind of situation places the theorist in a vital position which, as Butler shows, has persistently characterized Baudrillard’s thought, from his earliest writings to his last. In ‘Floral tributes, binge-drinking and the Ikea riot’ (Chapter 5) William

Merrin takes a different tack, considering hyperconformity as a destructive force in mass-mediated consumer culture. At a time when it is arguably easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to envision the end of capitalism, Merrin presents a pithy distillation of Baudrillard’s pataphysical take on fatal strategy and radical praxis, illustrated by a series of satirical vignettes drawn from recent ‘non-events’ in the United Kingdom: the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, which precipitated an hysterical performance of exponential mourning; the fuel crisis of 2000, in which panic-buying by hauliers and motorists threatened to bring a post-industrial society addicted to speed to a paralytic standstill; the death of the Queen Mother, in whose wake the indifference of the silent majority stupefied an expectant mass media; the unveiling of the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fountain, whose enforced interactivity precipitated mayhem in the parks of London; the sale-of-the-century opening of an Ikea furniture store, which was stormed by impoverished consumers; and the deregulation of British licensing laws, which fanned the flames of a mass-mediated moral panic over binge drinking. On each occasion, an insatiable mass movement borne of hyperconformity threw itself into a delirious performance of what the system ostensibly demands: emotion, mobility, duty, participation, consumption and enjoyment. And on each occasion, the force of hyperconformity revealed itself to be more destructive than overt resistance, and more powerful than frontal opposition. If the consumer society is to perish, Merrin suggests, it will do so not by running up against the limits to growth, but by running out of the means to sustain an exponentially increasing mass from exuberantly joining in. In Chapter 6, ‘Better than butter’, Gary Genosko engages with one of

Baudrillard’s seminal and much misunderstood notions: simulation. The substance of Genosko’s enquiry is margarine, that humdrum manufactured product born of the nineteenth century and cultivated throughout the twentieth, which, try as it might, has singularly failed to live up to its double: butter. For no matter how much margarine aspires to be like butter – in its physical qualities, social mythology and everyday usage – this counterfeit material cannot match the qualities of butter, whose aura remains more or less undiminished. For when one turns to margarine, one turns to a substitute, and this continues to mark margarine out as a pale imitation. Genosko charts how the vanguard of margarine has striven to erase the difference between margarine and butter, through all manner of enhancements

and refinements, and how the defenders of butter have sought to thwart such ambitions, often through legal prohibition. In many respects, margarine has arguably surpassed the status of butter, particularly in terms of price and utility. Yet Genosko’s key move is to transform our appreciation of both butter and margarine by demonstrating how each is brought into existence on the basis of models and formulae: agro-chemical, economic, scientific, mythological, symbolic, etc. For margarine is not simply the degraded double of butter: butter is itself an industrialized simulation of the degraded motifs of nature and tradition. Both butter and margarine are realized in an ever-shifting play of appearances and disappearances that befits a consumer culture. Held together in simulation, the transmogrification of one transforms the substance of the other: a flavourless margarine makes for a tastier butter, and a vitamin-enriched margarine makes for a more unhealthy butter, etc. Crucially, Genosko emphasizes that butter and margarine are not held together by a force of nature – least of all the force of semblance – but by a contingent encounter. Arguably, this contingent encounter has been split asunder, and margarine has become free to follow the errant path of its own autonomous potential. Here as elsewhere, the real of the simulacrum is reproduction, not resemblance. In Chapter 7, ‘Baudrillard and the art conspiracy’, Douglas Kellner’s

long-standing ambivalent appreciation of Baudrillard’s theoretical experimentation expresses itself in a valuable retrospective of Baudrillard’s even more prolonged ambivalent appreciation of art and aesthetics. In contrast to commentators like Butler (Chapter 4), Kellner is less willing to be seduced by Baudrillard’s dazzling reflections. Indeed, Kellner stresses the importance of contextualizing Baudrillard’s conceptions as the outcome of a certain historical conjuncture, rather than allowing that they might somehow stand apart from that conjuncture. Kellner thus insists on reading Baudrillard in historicized terms, rather than on his own terms. This produces, for Kellner, a far more robust means of assessing the import of Baudrillard’s writings and the opportunity of evaluating the significance of Baudrillard’s own assessment of, and engagement with, art – which Kellner proceeds to do with a comprehensive appraisal that goes back to The Consumer Society and reaches up to The Conspiracy of Art. Kellner’s own adjudication – which displays a remarkable continuity in his own position – is that, while Baudrillard valuably draws our attention to issues and ways of thinking that might otherwise escape us, these insights, however appealing, must nonetheless be tempered by the vantage points offered by more critical modes of thought. Chapter 8, ‘Mirror, mirror’, by Graeme Gilloch, offers an eloquent and

perceptive analysis of a topic that has long awaited such a treatment: Baudrillard’s invocation of the film The Student of Prague (the 1926 version directed by Henrik Galeen) in the conclusion to The Consumer Society. Explicating Baudrillard’s reading of the tale as the perfect allegory of alienation, Gilloch documents the complexities the story suggests, triangulating

Baudrillard’s interpretation with those offered by two other exemplary thinkers of modernity: Siegfried Kracauer’s assessment of the film as an allegory of the German bourgeois soul; and Friedrich Kittler’s more recent view of the film as the soul of film itself (which operates self-referentially, after the fashion Foucault suggests with respect to Velázquez’s painting, Las Meninas). Ranging over Baudrillard, Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank and others to provide an accomplished assessment of the uncanny figures of the double, the dual, and the duel, Gilloch considers their significance across Baudrillard’s entire oeuvre. Baudrillard’s account of The Student of Prague is arguably the most profound interpretation of the consequences of contemporary alienation, Gilloch maintains, insofar as it reveals that we cannot escape that which escapes us; that the object always takes its revenge; and that the faithfulness of the reflection in the mirror is always specious. Philip Hammond’s ‘The Gulf War revisited’ (Chapter 9) provides a con-

sidered reassessment of some of Baudrillard’s most controversial writings: those on war and terrorism. Hammond ably demonstrates the foresight, pertinence and resilience of Baudrillard’s analyses of the Gulf War, revealing the necessary reassessment of their potency, in the light of ‘Gulf War 2’, by those initially dismissive of his insights. Possessing a singular ability to point up the sophistication of Baudrillard’s thinking; its political savvy; its refusal to accept the West’s own self-portrait as anything other than a self-obsessive and over-inflated form of self-flattery; Hammond demonstrates his skill as a reader of Baudrillard and as a political analyst in his own right – ranging with ease over not only the Gulf but also Kosovo, the so-called War on Terror, and the post-Cold War geopolitical situation in toto. His appreciation of Baudrillard notwithstanding, Hammond nonetheless takes issue with certain aspects of Baudrillard’s thought, doubting what he sees as certain of its more metaphysical leanings, and ruing Baudrillard’s apparent preclusion of alternatives – obliquely raising the question of whether this is, in fact, a deficiency in Baudrillard’s thought or a property of the world itself, a world from which such possibilities have truly been vanquished. Paul Hegarty’s ‘Fate of the animal’ (Chapter 10) provides a consummate

exploration of the real and its relation to simulation in Baudrillard’s work, focusing in detail on the animal (as category: animality); and on life, death and sacrifice in relation to simulation. Considering that which opposes the real (itself an historically inaugurated principle), Hegarty draws virtuosically on Baudrillard’s conceptions of symbolic exchange, impossible exchange, seduction, the event, etc. – each of which amounts to an attempt to grasp the Other of simulation, which is forever poised to bite back. The importance of Hegarty’s contribution lies in the examination he provides of the role of the animal in Baudrillard’s thought, drawing on Bataille’s notion of animal immanence, as well as Baudrillard’s essay on animals in Simulacra and Simulation, and mobilizing Ruggero Deodato’s (1980) ‘exploitation film’ Cannibal Holocaust (which itself seemingly receives indirect mention in Fatal Strategies), to demonstrate the playing out of the animal/simulation

reversible threshold. Elucidating Baudrillard’s position through these means, Hegarty re-examines the distinction between animality and humanity as a way of reconsidering Baudrillard’s notion of simulation. Deflecting naïve versions of the ‘revenge of the animal’ theme – noting some populist responses to events such as the death of the Australian naturalist Steve Irwin – Hegarty offers a compelling examination of the potency of, but also certain lacunae in, Baudrillard’s thought. In Chapter 11, ‘Reality: now and then – Baudrillard and W-Bush’s

America’, Diane Rubenstein explores how Baudrillard’s concept of integral reality affords a certain insight into the ‘fakery’ of George W. Bush’s White House. Rubenstein notes how Baudrillard’s works, published both immediately before and after 9/11, chart the disappearance of reality in ways that both resonate with and anticipate the America of ‘W-Bush’: events are manufactured as signs; facts only conform to the speculative models that have been employed to predict them; the political spectacle has given way to the reality show; the screen has displaced the mirror; and so on. Specifically, Rubenstein illustrates Baudrillard’s theorization of integral reality – where metaphor has collapsed into the real – through a detailed discussion of the much commented-upon US phenomena of ‘fake news’ and ‘fake newsmen’: a strategy that emerged with the W-Bush presidency, and which she takes as symptomatic of integral reality (i.e. a new virtual world that no longer has an imaginary) and the non-event. In short, Rubenstein’s chapter is of particular interest precisely because she seeks to explain the W-Bush administration’s ‘fake’ propaganda not as an example of spectacle, or even hyperreality/ simulation/simulacrum (as Baudrillard had chosen to speak of Reagan’s simulated photo-opportunities), but as an example of Baudrillard’s total screen, an integral reality where the reality principle has itself been deregulated. In Chapter 12, ‘Baudrillard’s sense of humour’, Mike Gane brilliantly

assesses the strategic role of wit in Baudrillard’s work. Anyone who has read Baudrillard will appreciate the witty character of his writing, which Gane initially locates in Baudrillard’s formative participation in the College of Pataphysics and his fondness for Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (1896), inflected by Antonin Artaud’s theatre of cruelty. In the wake of Artaud, Bataille, Debord, Durkheim, Jarry and Mauss, many readers will be familiar with a certain style of thought that pitches symbolic playfulness against semiotic playfulness: the modest playfulness of the system – exemplified by the purported freedom of the consuming subject to manipulate the profusion of signs of satisfaction to his or her own alienated ends – is countered by an immodest toying with this very system of play – exemplified by the ardent gambler, whose wanton expenditure of the stakes of the game portends a veritable potlatch of the signs of satisfaction. And yet Gane also detects an altogether different sense of humour at work in Baudrillard’s thought – a sense of humour that is graphically illustrated by the following enigmatic claim: ‘Utopia is that which, by the abolition of the blade and the disappearance of the handle, gives the knife its force de frappe.’ For Gane, this