"No one is indifferent to his own life and the least event still has something moving about it. I was here in my imagination long before I actually came here."
If you want a book that makes you sing a certain Simon and Garfunkel song EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. you look at it, or pick it up, or remember that you're reading it, then this is definitely the book you should read. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't want that, so I assume you've all gone to buy it right now. It's cool, I'll wait.
We've all come, to look for Ameriiiica...
Ok, so. I was excited to read this because the genre identifying thing on the back said 'Philosophy/Travel' and I was like
But also I REALLY LIKE both of those things, and even though I sometimes... struggle with Philosophical works (translation: I don't think I've ever finished one. And HALF OF MY DEGREE is in Philosophy. That's good learning, kids!) I was like meh, I'll be fine. Because it's a book about America, did I not make that clear? I love America, AND I love thinking! What could possibly go wrong?
Well. When I started reading it, I was overly aware of two main things- I am so not used to reading academic texts anymore, and this guy seems to dislike America a bit. Which I pretty much wanted to yawn at, because a french intellectual who doesn't think America is the bees knees? Quelle Surprise! For the first, ooh, 40 pages or so, I was kind of skimming along the surface of it and trying to find a way in whilst simultaneously trying not to punch Baudrillard in the face for being mean about America (I mean, I think he was being mean, but it was kind of hard to tell. Philosophers, you know?)
BUT THEN- I got to this bit where Baudrillard makes an argument that I kind of understood and I felt the synapses and things start firing in my head and started kind of nodding in agreement and sort of getting it, and started feeling like maybe I wasn't doomed to be an idiot forever? Which is always a good feeling. But the thing that I understood was when he started saying that the culture of America (and, really, I think, the developed world) is an anorexic culture, in that because everything is so readily available to us, we reject it and deny ourselves it and in this we are kind of, you know, stupid. And I was all like YES and RIGHT ON and WOW MY BRAIN STILL WORKS and then I read this:
"The obsessive desire for survival (and not for life) is a symptom of this state of affairs and doubtless the most worrying sign of the degradation of the species"
And I was like, well, it's a bit heavy handed, but mostly YES, isn't that how we live now? Just... trying to do everything that's good for us and healthy so we can survive that little bit longer, but when do we really live? I mean, I don't necessarily agree that it's a sign of degradation because, like, what if it's just really evolved of us to want to have as much life as we possibly can, but STILL- even this disagreement is a good thing in my brain because I am thinking about shit and that's just awesome.
And really, that's just the first in a long list of the things Baudrillard comes up with regarding America- some of which are undoubtedly bullshit, and some of which undoubtedly are just there to serve his wider philosophical vision (I wish I could tell you what that is, but I don't know. Something something post-modernism something simulacrum something?) as in, making the situation fit his pre-existing ideas rather than getting new idea because of the situation; but there was enough here to make me think about things and feel like I was learning something and just generally nerd out and get excited and sort of wish I could do a whole unit just on this book, each week taking one idea and slowly and gently pulling it apart.
But. Instead I just have this blog post so you get to hear about the anorexic culture and stuff instead. And also these few things:
- "Santa Barbara is a Paradise; Disneyland is a paradise; the US is a paradise. Paradise is just paradise. Mournful, monotonous, and superficial though it may be, it is paradise." - I feel like this is a really french (dare I say European? Maybe...) idea that paradise isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be, and a realised paradise becomes less awesome the more you live there, because what else is left to do? Nothing. And so boredom ensues...
- "Everything that has been dreamt on this side of the Atlantic [Europe] has a chance of being realised on the other. They build the real out of ideas. We transform the real into ideas, or into ideology. Here in America, only what is produced or manifested has meaning, for us in Europe only what can be thought or concealed has meaning." - On the one hand, he's basically saying, 'America doesn't appreciate thinkers!' but on the other, he says this with admiration- Americans get things done and that's why they're successful and rich and lots of other things (although as far as that success and wealth is a good thing is up for debate too)
- And, this was written in the eighties, so the following is kiiiind of time specific, but also kind of specific to right now, too: "The very last traces of marginality excised as if by plastic surgery: new faces, new fingernails, glossy brain cells, the whole topped with a tousle of software. A generation nether fired by ambition nor fuelled by the energy of repression, but completely refocused upon themselves." I mean, right?!
So yeah. Basically I liked this book for making me think, even if there were large chunks of it I read that I didn't understand at all- I'm kind of used to that (have you read Kant? Of course you have not, because you are smart people), and what I did get out of it was enough to give me faith that my brain hasn't turned to mush because I haven't had any formal education for over three years (although I have, of course, learnt shitloads). I'm not saying it's going to be everyone's cup of tea because normal people aren't so much into the philosophical texts, but it's worth a try because understanding just a few ideas in it makes you feel all smart and good and stuff. It sure as hell doesn't make you eloquent though.