Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard, 77, Critic and Theorist of Hyperreality, Dies

The French critic and provocateur Jean Baudrillard, whose theories about consumer culture and the manufactured nature of reality were intensely discussed both in rarefied philosophical circles and in blockbuster movies like “The Matrix,” died yesterday in Paris. He was 77.

One of his better known theories postulates that we live in a world where simulated feelings and experiences have replaced the real thing. This seductive “hyperreality,” where shopping malls, amusement parks and mass-produced images from the news, television shows and films dominate, is drained of authenticity and meaning. Since illusion reigns, he counseled people to give up the search for reality.

“All of our values are simulated,” he told The New York Times in 2005. “What is freedom? We have a choice between buying one car or buying another car? It’s a simulation of freedom.”

NYT Obituary:

I never got too much into Baudrillard, but found some of his ideas interesting. Echoes of Rimbaud: "True life is absent."

Rest in Peace

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Renaissance Festival

The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance by John Hale

At first flush, designations such as Medieval and Renaissance don’t seem to mean much. They are often arbitrary beginning and end points for whatever phenomenon one wishes to examine, whether social, political, cultural, religious, etc. In the past, hearing the term Renaissance applied historically, my mind immediately turned to the Quattrocento, a brief period in which Italian arts and architecture reached an apogee under the patronage of what seemed to be proto-Mafioso strongmen. Over time, I came to realize what a limited perspective this had been. The Renaissance was in fact a truly European phenomenon with complex antecedents and a number of highs and lows depending upon whether one is considering the age in terms of social conventions, artistic achievement, the rise of the mercantile class, the expansion of the limits of the known world (the discovery of the New World was a direct result of the expanding mercantile economy), religious innovation (the Reformation), innovations in leaning as a result of the “rediscovery” of ancient authors, or the many other perspectives Hale examines in this volume. Braudel wrote of “the perspective of the world”, and what one sees in this volume is the awakening of thought and energy to a new way of perceiving the world. Fore Hale, Europe discovered itself in the Renaissance, and began to see the world as one of expanding horizons, as cartographers worked feverishly to redefine the limits of the Earth in an age of discovery.

Hale touches on a wide range of themes in this work. My only complaint is that the major themes tend to get lost as he attempts to provide almost too much detail, too many names and examples to illustrate his themes. But once I got used to his pace, I began to appreciate the details – the odd moments when an obscure voice from the past speaks to us to provide details of a life lived and insights into a cognitive terrain in which we see some dim ancestry to ourselves, just as we see, taking shape, the outlines of our own world in the maps of the 16th century cartographers.

John Hale suffered a severe stroke soon after completing the manuscript of this book. His wife thoughtfully enlisted the aid of David Chambers, a former student of Hale’s, to see the book to completion. It is clearly the culmination of a life’s work in Renaissance studies, and a fitting tribute to the author.

Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance