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More French Postmodern Philosophers

Who was Jean Baudrillard?

Jean Baudrillard (1929_) is a social theorist who writes about the absence of the kind of educated public discourse described by Jürgen Habermas (1929_) in pessimistic but elegant and evocative prose. He is, like Richard Rorty (1931-2007), a very readable postmodernist, but less sanguine.

Baudrillard's thought on terrorism in In the Shadow of the Silent Majority (1982) and The Spirit of Terrorism: And Requiem for the Twin Towers (2002) identifies it as a media-manipulating appropriation of public attention in a culture where only the spectacle is taken seriously. This is not a frivolous view insofar as it is based on a thorough-going analysis of contemporary life as in large part virtual, made up of simulacra of previous forms of human existence.

An example of this would be the way that newly constructed "old towns" are simulacra of historical places, and American pizza is a simulacrum of Italian food. This is apparently not just a question of things lacking authenticity, according to Baudrillard, but of a mass preference for virtuality instead of reality. Thus in The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (1991) he describes how experiences of the first Gulf War, even and especially for the troops, were mediated by its representation on television, radio, and other media forms, according to externally determined scripts that only captured bits and pieces of the actual experience.

Who was Jean-François Lyotard?

Jean-François Lyotard (1924-1998) was educated at the Sorbonne and attended Jacques Lacan's (1901-1981) psychoanalytic seminars. His The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979), which was commissioned by the Québec government, won him worldwide fame, and he taught and lectured widely throughout the United States.

Lyotard sought to articulate the principles of postmodernism as both an intellectual attitude and a condition of contemporary life.

What was Jean-François Lyotard's view of postmodernism?

Lyotard defined postmodernism as "incredulity toward metanarratives," or a skepticism that is not satisfied by legitimate orthodoxy. An example of the sort of narrative Lyotard had in mind was the Enlightenment account of the triumph of rationality and the liberation of the "rational subject." Lyotard proposed that "little narratives" about unique events be constructed instead. In his The Différend (1983) Lyotard considers disagreement between or among participants who cannot agree on the rules. As a result, the dispute cannot be resolved, so the best result that can occur is for all sides to be recognized.

Who were Gilles Deleuze and Pierre-Félix Guattari?

Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) and Pierre-Félix Guattari (1930-1992) were collaborators best known for Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972), A Thousand Plateaus (1980), and What Is Philosophy? (1991). Their last book, Chaosmose (1992), summed up their previous questioning about subjectivity: "How to produce it, collect it, enrich it, reinvent it permanently in order to make it compatible with 'mutant Universes of value?'"

Engaged with both the history of philosophy and contemporary culture, as well as political activism, they thought that the task of the theorist was to invent connections, since there was no preformed relation between theories and reality. Thus, certain structures were better understood as having "rhizomes" that traveled horizontally and popped up in surprising ways, rather than "roots," which could be uncovered straight down. Rhizomes were something like social trends that are decentralized, such as individuals creating their own news outlets through blogging, rather than people all relying on the same few sources for information. Progressive trends could be identified as "micropolitics," "schizo-analysis," and "becoming-woman."

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