Thursday, March 8, 2007

Growing Up Infantile

Katy's comment to my memoir of Jean Baudrillard left me with the comfort that, even from the grave, he still has the ability to provoke. That provocation seems to have a lot to do with his invocation of the concept of "infantile." Of course this is as concept that occupied American (intellectual?) minds long before most of us were aware of Jean Baudrillard. Paul Goodman took it in in Growing up Absurd, beginning with the premise that, back in the good old days, being adult had to do with the ability to provide food, clothing, and shelter and that, by those standards, very few middle-class Americans in the middle of the twentieth century could be classified as adult. See, it is one thing to purposefully amass (a term that Baudrillard used in contrast to "collect") large quantities of salt because you happen to have evidence that there may be a salt shortage (in the style of the dream of the seven fat years and the seven lean years) and quite another to collect a large quantity of salt shakers. The former is an instance (perhaps overly stereotyped) of the Heidegger concept of being-in-the-world, i.e. being aware of the situation and taking action to deal with it; while the latter is "ultimately discourse with one's self," which, as far as Baudrillard is concerned, is infantile. He chose that language to raise hackles, and it looks like it still works!

Yes, we all need our comforts. We even all need moments of self-indulgence from time to time. On the other hand, in the immortal words of Don Marquis, there is such as thing as "too tourjours gai!" Baudrillard looked around and feared that self-indulgence in comfort was become the focal point of everyday life. He reasoned that such focus detached us from many of the harsher realities of the world. Were he still alive, he would probably be fulminating in the same way over Second Life and the cocoons we weave for ourselves with our iPods. In other words his strident warnings are as important today as they were when he first wrote Le Système des Objets!

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