Said the Guests: Jean Baudrillard
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Last week, Jean Baudrillard finally returned my email. Months ago I wrote to him, inviting him to contribute to our Said the Guests series, to take some moments and write about a couple favourite songs. It is not an exaggeration (though it is a metaphor) to say than in my first years at McGill University, Baudrillard's writings blew my mind. His work on culture, politics, language and technology had an enormous impact on critical theory in the latter half of the 20th c, and I wasn't the first kid to find himself mesmerised by these ideas.

Of course it's a busy life being an eminence grise of post-structuralism; I wasn't surprised that Mr Baudrillard did not at first return my unsolicited letter. (I still haven't heard back from McLuhan, Foucault, Deleuze or Guattari.) But imagine my delight last Sunday when my mail program went bing-bong and Jean Baudrillard's name appeared in the email byline. "I found myself with some temps libre :*)", he wrote. And so without further ado, in the man's own words...

These songs, each of which has a good tune and rhythm, are entirely unproblematic.

Non, c'est seulement une petite blague pour un petit blog.

Avril Lavigne - "Complicated"

In actual fact, the songs all call to mind the philosophical aphorism ex nihilio nihil fit (nothing comes from nothing). Of this phrase there can be a certain kind of understanding that amounts to not much more than a non-understanding, but constitutes, in fact, the only multi-dimensional interpretation of the maxim as it pertains to what we call the real. This is the non-understanding of Parmenides; a paradoxical cognizance, which appears untenable because it leads to "absurd" consequences, and is the opposite of the Understanding of Bertrand Russell, which obliterates the soundness of the proposition through obfuscatory clarity1. Now, I don't mean to bore you (or myself) with philosophical exercises - I raise this only as an attempt to explain how this song can exist and not exist at once. In truth, Avril Lavigne is nothing emergent from nothing, which is to say she is merely the simulacrum of a simulacrum, two orders shy of real2.

It is obvious enough that Lavigne's insouciant attitude, punk-inspired fashion choices, and nihilistic antics are meant to represent rebellion, yet are firmly entrenched in the vapid mainstream against which she proudly rebels. That she is a fraud is trivial, of course. What's more, when we listen to her song on a CD or mp3 player, or sitting in front of our computer, with headphones on, reading the writings of one Jean Baudrillard; we are not hearing her, or her rebellion, but a simulation of her simulation in which Lavigne, her song, and her pretend rebellion all cease to be manifest. At the same time precisely, however, all that ceases to be takes on a new kind of being, that of the hyperreality of what it fraudulently represents: rebellion. The listener/viewer is presented with the encoded simulations of "Complicated" (both auditory and visual) as "real" rebellion and, if credulous enough (as is often the case), understands it as such. Thus the song is adopted as the model of the phenomenon. Its rebellion is real; Lavigne is no fraud. From the Matrix emerges a new rebellion in place of the old.

(I find the last line of "Complicated" ("Honestly, promise me I'm never gonna find you fake it") - with its implication of prescribed "realness" - funny on SO MANY LEVELS.)

All of the above could be said of this, too.

Lead Belly - "(Good Night) Irene"

Throughout his life, John Lomax sought out the real music of America and found it as much as anywhere in the extensive songbook of Huddie Leadbetter. Leadbetter was as real as a sphere is equally tall in all directions: He was a lowlife; an unrepentant sinner and a murderer. He won more gunfights than he lost but was so often shot in the stomach that he earned the nickname "Lead Belly." He was a gentleman and a gentle man; he wouldn't hurt a fly. He was misunderstood and depressed and drank himself to death, though his tolerance for alcohol consumption was so impressive it earned him the nickname "Lead Belly." Lomax had him released from a prison in which he was never incarcerated for a murder he was guilty of but did not commit, so that he could compose songs (make them real), perform songs (make them real), and record songs (make them real); so that his own realness could persist and intensify in communications from well beyond the conclusion of the flimsiest, most ephemeral dimension of his existence.


  1. Russell wants to show us that we mean by ex nihilio nihil fit not that there is something that has the property of non-existence that comes to be from nothing, but that it is not the case that there exists some y such that if there does not exist an x, then that y can come from that x. Bullshit!

  2. She is three orders shy of real!

[Jean Baudrillard died on March 6, 2007.]

(Previous guest-blogs: artist Danny Zabbal, artist Irina Troitskaya, artist Eleanor Meredith, artist Keith Greiman, artist Matthew Feyld, The Weakerthans, Parenthetical Girls, artist Daria Tessler, Clem Snide, Marcello Carlin, Beirut, Jonathan Lethem, Will Butler (Arcade Fire), Al Kratina, Eugene Mirman, artist Dave Bailey, Agent Simple, artist Keith Andrew Shore, Owen Ashworth (Casiotone for the Painfully Alone), artist Kit Malo with Alden Penner (The Unicorns) 1 2, artist Rachell Sumpter, artist Katy Horan 1 2, David Barclay (The Diskettes), artist Drew Heffron, Carl Wilson, artist Tim Moore, Michael Nau (Page France), Devin Davis, Will Sheff (Okkervil River), Edward Droste (Grizzly Bear), Hello Saferide, Damon Krukowski (Damon & Naomi), Brian Michael Roff, Howard Bilerman (producer: Silver Mt. Zion, Arcade Fire, etc.). There are many more to come.)

Posted by Sean at April 12, 2007 8:27 AM

(I find the last line of "Complicated" ("Honestly, promise me I'm never gonna find you fake it") - with its implication of prescribed "realness" - funny on SO MANY LEVELS.)

Baudrillard OTM.

Posted by G00blar at April 12, 2007 9:39 AM

That Leadbelly song is quite possibly one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

Posted by Tuwa at April 12, 2007 10:14 AM

im super confused and/or super dumb and have misread yr post but how come jb could send you a reply last week when he died a month ago?

Posted by blah at April 12, 2007 11:52 AM

rip baudrillard. long live baudrillard

Posted by erojas at April 12, 2007 12:00 PM

Is that matrix line a reference to her band (who is, i believe, called 'the matrix'?)

This is a brilliant post. Is Baudrillard becoming Fluxblog?

Posted by jeff at April 12, 2007 12:19 PM

(crossing fingers) in hopes that Deleuze returns your letter

Posted by Doctor Jones at April 12, 2007 1:57 PM

That post made my brain numb in a fun, happy way. Especially the Lead Belly part. And the reply/death times.

Posted by Linka at April 12, 2007 3:20 PM

This was amazingly clever. It's like a term paper, a love letter, and spirit writing wrapped into one and set to music.

Posted by Elizabeth. at April 12, 2007 5:43 PM

Bravo, Sean! The week the Big B died I was amazed by the number of mp3 blogs that noted his passing, and not amazed (tho sorta disappointed) that none of them managed to say anything insightful about how he might have changed (or could change) the way we talk about music.

And crossing fingers D&G NEVER return your email. Please no.

Posted by Amy at April 12, 2007 7:47 PM

Perfect post for the song choice. Or, the perfect song choice for the post?

Either way, I can't wait to call someone a "simulacrum of a simulacrum."

Posted by John at April 12, 2007 9:15 PM

So.. why did Leadbelly earn the nickname again ?
Alcohol or bullets ?

Posted by armcurl at April 13, 2007 10:33 AM

I have always wanted to interpret Baudrillard's polemic in the way many interpret zizek today, as a intentional overstatement put forth with the goal of jolting minds into new perception... not necessarily as an essentialist declaration of what there is... Anyway, whether or not that was what he was going for (and my knowledge of B. is really thin) it disturbs me to no end the way he (and other similarly brilliant and tricky thinkers of the 20th C) is taken up for play, used to illustrate an attractively complex analysis with a hint of radical critique. His political history and the furvency with which he and his developed their lives around an attack of the capitalist status quo falls to the side and his tricky wordplay is taken up, to what ends?

I stand firmly in the positivity camp, where ex nihilio nihil fit means very little except metaphorically and anthropologically, but still i fully acknowledge the importance and power of such concepts and discourses. And in this place i am puzzled about the meaning and implications of Lavigne's hyperreality, her existence+nonexistence, or the new rebellion borne of her ascending simulacra? Like what does that *mean*? Considering most of us (i unabashedly assume) have a certain level of awareness and critiqe of marketing, false representation, our own ironic consumption of pop music. Does a beaudrillardian analysis still offer us anything new? Is it more than one of the many ways we ineffectually engage with simulacra (thereby reinforcing them)?

On the other side, that leadbelly part of the post was just great, i *loved* it. evoked a whiff of buddy bolden's aporias so tragically effused by ondaatje. thanks.

Posted by efff "taking it seriously for fun" ffa at April 13, 2007 3:06 PM

man oh man... genius. Thanks for that. It's just what I needed. Baudrillard also changed my world for better or worse.

Posted by ryansenseless at April 13, 2007 4:47 PM

The Baudrillard joke was okay, but just a little too long. On the other hand, that's true of the Lavigne song, too. If it were 2:48 instead of 4:04, it could be a perfect little pastiche; that last line really might speak to the Debord-Foucault-Rimbaud coffee klatsch I expect Baudrillard joined once able.

'Goodnight Irene' is one of the greatest songs ever recorded. There is no 'quite possibly' about it. Sometimes I have a great notion, too. Whew -- punk rock.

Posted by wcw at April 14, 2007 2:24 AM

Oh, this is just fantastic.

Posted by Mike B. at April 14, 2007 1:48 PM

Classic. Baudrillard lives. His musical taste makes me laugh. Avril Lavigne, hahahaa.

Posted by Ortho at April 19, 2007 10:52 PM

A postscript: With the exception of the introduction, the above post was written by Jordan, and certainly not by me. He wished to remain anonymous, but I do not want to take credit for someone else's work. Unlike some...

Posted by Sean at April 22, 2007 9:25 AM

oh it's a joke. um...ha?

man i don't miss academia...

Posted by kjc at April 30, 2007 9:57 AM

I totally wrote an essay about my trip to Disneyland with Jean Baudrillard and my zombie friend Carl. I'm not even kidding.

Posted by Benny at May 21, 2007 10:29 PM

In case you weren't kidding, Michel Foucalt died in 1984.

Posted by Michael Quirk at March 8, 2008 10:55 PM

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Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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