Jean Baudrillard died on 6 March this year. The obituary columns worldwide joked that his death did not take place. This was a knowing nod to Baudrillard’s most infamous proclamation in 1991 that the first Gulf War, of all things, did not take place. The joke was told unkindly by some to imply that Baudrillard was a curious but ridiculous postmodernist who was unacceptably cavalier with the material realities of life. Baudrillard has ceased to exist, so the material world is not a simulation.
The trick in reading Baudrillard, however, is to take him not literally but seriously. His work is riddled with insight delivered to your delight or despair by exaggeration, provocation and destruction—he was, by his own admission, accurately, an intellectual terrorist. The lengths to which Baudrillard went to deform and reimagine conventional outlooks on the real world, and on the world of theory, led academic Douglas Kellner, for example, to remark that it is undecideable as to whether his work is best read as science fiction or as social theory.
This anthology is a fine example of the undecidability Kellner describes. The book brings together all of the articles Baudrillard contributed to the eponymous journal of the Utopie Group from 1966. The group, which met in Henri Lefebvre’s house in the Pyrénées, comprised architects and sociologists and was committed to a radical left-wing rethink of urbanism and everyday life. Baudrillard’s essays range in inimitable style from dense critique of Marxist political economy to playful grappling with pornography as an instance of hyperreal culture—each essay agitates for, ultimately, a reconfigured social existence as much as a reconfiguration of what constitutes cultural criticism.
As is typical of Baudrillard’s oeuvre, then, bound together in Utopia Deferred is a fascinating commentary on the ways in which patterns of consumption regulate the material culture of everyday real life and a fantastical commentary on what life is to become, theoretically, if these patterns continue in current form.
And typical of the publishing industry which satellites these stellar authors, the book is a montage of material already read, notwithstanding Stuart Kendall’s new translations. Now that Baudrillard is dead and buried, we can no doubt look forward to more anthologies which repeat and recombine works from his corpus, maybe even enough in number to convince us that his death was, in fact, only a material disappearance.
Ken Neil is head of Historical and Critical Studies at the Glasgow School of Art