The other day I read that Jean Baudrillard has passed away. I read some of his work when I was at university. I found his books inspiring, but at times difficult to follow. I often found myself browsing back and forth, at first unsure, but later convinced that it was he who was contradicting himself and not me who didn't understand. Instead of trying to make sense of the whole the best way to approach his work is to take whatever you can use.
When, about a year ago, I was preparing a lecture on his thinking on art, I found myself once again struggling. Baudrillard didn't care much about such banal things as sustaining an argument or empirical evidence. Still, many of the ideas collected in The Conspiracy of Art have only become more relevant.
It's a bit unfortunate that he will probably be best remembered for his polemical, provocative and misunderstood remarks about the Gulf War and the attacks of 9/11 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They only make sense within the context of his work.
If you think that a forest smells like shampoo or would like to read the theory behind Kim Kardashian being famous for being famous, do read Baudrillard. One of his best books, I think, but I haven't read everything he's written, is L'échange symbolique et la mort ("Symbolic Exchange and Death"). It is one of the books in which he has taken the time to outline what can be described as the fundamentals of his thinking. I can also recommend Simulacra and Simulations.
I think it's in his In the Shadow of Silent Majorities, but it could also be Simulacra and Simulations, that Baudrillard writes how a staged simulation of a bank robbery gets mixed up with reality when somebody faints or gets a heart attack. Thus, according to Baudrillard, the perfect simulation is impossible, and for the same reason the real is no longer possible either. This last "inference" is always a bit hard to follow.
The point Baudrillard is trying to make is that the realms of the real and illusion are already mixed up. Security personnel and police officers for instance, unconsciously imitate the poses, gestures and intonation of Hollywood movies.
In 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for Governor of California in a recall election. In his campaign he frequently adopted phrases and poses from one of his best known roles as the title character in The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). This conflation between actual person and fictional character contributed to his election victory.