Thursday, May 6, 2010

Good Riddance Postmodernist!

The quintessential French love letter to the U.S. is Jean Baudrillard’s 1986 book, America. It is of course a brilliant book. That is to say, the subject of the book is Baudrillard’s brilliance. There are scenes of Baudrillard being brilliant in Utah, being brilliant in Los Angeles, being brilliant in New York. America has only a minor supporting role. “Americans believe in facts, but not in facticity,” he writes. Aah! Brilliant! A Puerile Paradox! One pictures him posing like a great Gallic hunter next to this bon mot he has bagged on the American desert. It is a marvelous stuffed insight, a trophy mot he can hang on his wall at home.

One imagines him thumbing a ride through Nevada. A trucker picks Baudrillard up, and he begins unfurling some of the observations he will put into his book. “Here in the most conformist society the dimensions are immoral. It is the immorality that makes distance light and the journey infinite, that cleanses the muscles of their tiredness,” Baudrillard intones as the trucker barrels the big rig down the asphalt. Baudrillard is pleased with the string of words, but the truck driver is looking sideways at him, trying to figure out what this French guy is talking about. Baudrillard continues his soliloquy. His self-regard radiates out in waves, putting a strain on the air-conditioning system. He is inhabiting a higher realm, the realm of the seer of supple things. He pictures himself repeating these ironic profundities on French TV, holding the microphone up to his mouth like a seductive cigarette, with one of those “God Is Dead but My Hair Is Perfect” looks that French intellectuals have mastered in the presence of febrile undergraduates.

Baudrillard drones on to the trucker: “The pigmentation of the dark races is like a natural make-up that is set off by the artificial kind to produce a beauty which is not sexual, but sublime and animal.” The truck driver glances about for a baseball bat. But Baudrillard, lost in the glory of his oracular brilliance, goes on: "...extreme heat, the orgasmic form of bodily deterritorialization. The acceleration of molecules in the heat contributes to a barely perceptible evaporation of meaning…" In another second, the trucker has gunned it to 85 mph, and with a flick of the opposite door handle and a shove, the soliloquizing semiotician has been pushed onto the highway, where he has been transformed into a rolling, bouncing postmodernist ball, thrilled in his last brilliant thought to have been the object of such a daring countertextual act, a purity of will, a jejune comment on the transgression of meaning.

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