Baudrillard's America

Carlos Zilio, I YOU, 1971, felt-tip pen on paper, 47x32,5


Comments about the book Americaby Jean Baudrillard

Sociologist and philosopher Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) wrote more than 25 books. Passionate about photography, he has developed a set of theories that discuss the impacts of communication and media on contemporary society and culture. He worked with hyper-reality – constructed reality –, virtual reality and the signs that surround it. Professor for many years at the University of Nanterre (Paris X) he wrote, among other works, The object system (1965) In the shadow of silent majorities (1978) simulation and simulation (1981), 3 volumes of Cool Memories, the impossible exchange (1999) the vital illusion (2001) From one fragment to another (2003)

Em America (original edition, 1985) decided, as usual, to play high: it is a reflection on a trip he had recently taken to the United States. But, it is not superfluous to point out, it is not a linear, chronologically ordered diary; on the contrary. The reader is faced with a multi-faceted text, pleasant to read, with a lot of verve and that, at the same time, requires a certain astuteness to capture the subtleties triggered by his reflections.

Produced already in full maturity, it captures images that range from the smile, the architecture, the street, the loneliness, the body and the madness of the American people. the idea of realized utopia, which Baudrillard makes use of throughout the entire analysis, is fundamental for understanding the way of characterizing North American society. For him, the United States is an immense realized utopia, where everything (or almost everything) is available. “At the heart of wealth and freedom, there is always the same question: “What do you do after the orgy?”. What to do when everything is available, sex, flowers, stereotypes of life and death? This is America's problem and, through it, it has become the whole world's (p. 27). America, compared to Europe – and France in particular – “is the original version of modernity; we are the dubbed or subtitled version”, while America exorcises the question of origin, has no past or founding truth and, “because it has not known a primitive accumulation of time, lives in a perpetual actuality”, lives in perpetual simulation, for it has not experienced a slow, secular accumulation of the principle of truth. However, he warns, the crisis the US is going through must be seen in terms different from that of the old European countries: “Ours”, says Baudrillard , “is that of historical ideals in the face of their impossible realization. Theirs is that of realized utopia, in confrontation with its duration and its permanence” (p. 66).


In this sense, Baudrillard points out Europe's responsibility in such a process, since the emergence of the USA – in fact, the colonization it suffered – ends up nullifying the fate of historical societies. By brutally extrapolating their essence overseas, such societies lose control of their own evolution, which will no longer be resumed in the form of progressive alignment – ​​the values ​​of the “new” society become, from then on, irreversible. “It is what, whatever happens, separates us from Americans. We will never reach them and we will never have this naivety. We do nothing but imitate them, parody them 50 years late, and without success, by the way. We lack the soul and audacity of what could be called the zero degree of a culture, the power of lack of culture…“ (p. 67-68). And Baudrillard becomes even more caustic when he considers that Europeans continue to be nostalgic utopians, that the big problem consists in that the old European goals (revolution, progress, freedom) dissipated before they were achieved, without having been able to materialize. . “Hence the melancholy. Europeans live in negativity and contradiction, while Americans live in paradox – let’s face it, the idea of ​​a realized utopia is paradoxical… And the American way of life resides, for many, in this pragmatic and paradoxical humor, “while ours is characterized (…) by the subtlety of the critical spirit” (p. 68).

“There are products”, he says, “that do not suffer from import-export”. Thus, history and Marxism are like fine wines and cuisine: they cannot cross the ocean, despite countless attempts to acclimatize them. And, with a lot of humor, he adds: “it is revenge justified by the fact that we Europeans can never truly dominate modernity, which also refuses to cross the ocean but in the opposite direction (…) So much the worse for us, so much worse for them. If for us society is a carnivorous flower, for them history is an exogenous flower. Its perfume is no more convincing than the bouquet of Californian wines… (p. 68-69). But Baudrillard takes his reasoning to the last consequences, insisting on the principle that everything that was heroically thrown and distributed in Europe under the sign of Revolution and Terror, was realized across the Atlantic in a simple and empirical way – “the utopia of wealth , law, freedom, the social contract and representation”.

In the same way, everything that Europeans dreamed of under the sign of anticulture and theoretical, aesthetic, political and social subversion (May/68 was the last example of this) has been realized in America. “Here the utopia was realized and the anti-utopia was realized: that of counter-reason, of deterritorialization, of the indetermination of the subject and of language, of the neutralization of all values, of death and of culture…” And, to leave the The reader, even more stunned, asks and answers: “But then, is this a realized utopia, is this a successful revolution? Yes, that's it! (...) Santa Barbara is a paradise, Disneyland is a paradise, the USA is a paradise. Paradise is what it is, eventually funereal, monotonous and superficial. But it is paradise. There is no other…” (p. 84).

Baudrillard's hallucinatory journey, made in partnership with Marx, Freud and Foucault, misses nothing: it analyzes the mania for practicing the jogging, spurs informatics, considers the fields university students isolated from the world – everything disappears there, the decentralization is total, the authority is not perceived, the architecture is fantastic but, at the same time, it is also impossible to demonstrate: “where to join, where to gather?” (p. 39-40) – speaks of the fascination that Americans have for artifice (everything is illuminated, the night does not seem to exist), of the proliferation of sects (which get involved in precipitating the Kingdom of God on Earth) and, in a way brilliant, of the “Californization” of the entire America in Reagan's image (see the chapter “The End of Power”), where the cinematic and euphoric vision sets the tone.

America is to be read at the same time as watching Paris, Texas, by Wenders: the desert is everywhere and helps Americans accept their insignificance as humans living in paradise.

Afrânio Catani is a retired professor at USP and visiting professor at UFF.

This article is a slightly modified version of a review published in the extinct Jornal da Tarde, on 09/01/1987, p. 10


Jean Baudrillard. America. Translation: Álvaro Cabral. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1986.




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