This is one of the more accessible books by Baudrillard, within which he takes the reader through a number of essays on America. I found the introduction (written by a scholar rather than by Baudrillard himself) to be overly complicated and inaccessible, which did the book itself no favours I'd suggest skipping and moving on to the main course.
Why any one or any nation feels affronted by observations is beyond my conception. Although the meta-narrative concept of Truth may have been abandoned, the postmodern notion of truth still exists and is no less valid. This text is a wonderfully balanced and clearly observed encounter with America at that point in history. it is not a definitive 'guide' or expose, because it was not supposed to be and besides such concreteness is pure illusion. So Baudrillard was French, so he cast his rapier vision Westwards? So what? It exists, get over it. Rather than offer any more comment I have chosen to offer instead, my favourite observations on the observations.
"One could almost believe that the American Deserts were created precisely in order to satisfy the cloud-stifled yearnings of northern Europeans" (p. XI)
"Clouds spoil our European skies. Compared with the immense skies of America and their thick clouds, our little fleecy skies and little fleecy clouds resemble our fleecy thoughts, which are never thoughts of wide open spaces." (p.16)
"Meaning is born out of the erosion of words, significations are born out of the erosion of signs" (p.4)
"Whose immanence is breathtaking, yet lacking a past through which to reflect on this, and therefore fundamentally primitive ... It's primitivism has passed into the hyperbolic, inhuman character of a universe that is beyond us, that far outstrips its own moral, social, or ecological rationale." (p.8)
"It is the saddest sight in the world. Sadder than destitution, sadder than the beggar is the man who eats alone in public. Nothing more contradict the laws of man or beast, for animals always do each other the honour of sharing or disputing each others' food. He who eats alone is dead (but not he who drinks alone. Why is this?)" (p.15)
"The marathon is a form of demonstrative suicide., suicide as advertising: it is running to show you are capable of getting every last drop of energy out of yourself, to prove it ... to prove what? That you are capable of finishing. Graffiti carry the same message. They simply say: I'm so-and-so and I exist! They are free publicity for existence." (p.21)
"For me there is no truth of America. I ask of the Americans only that they be Americans. I do not ask them to be intelligent, sensible, original." (p. 27)
"One of the aspects of their good faith is this stubborn determination to reconstitute everything of a past and a history which were not their own and which they have largely destroyed or spirited away." (p.42)
"The paradox of this society is that you cannot even die in it anymore since you are already dead." (p.44)
"All you need to know about American society can be gleaned from an anthropology of its driving behaviour." (p.57)
"You are born modern, you do not become so." (p.78)
"Colonization was, in this sense, a world-scale coup de théâtre, which leaves deep nostalgic traces everywhere, even when it is collapsing. For the Old World, it represents the unique experience of an idealized substitution of values [...] a substitution which, at a stroke short-circuited the destiny of these values in their countries of origin. [...] They are eradicated by the ideal model which they have themselves secreted. And development will never again take place in the form of progressive alignment." (p.84)
"What is thought in Europe becomes reality in America - everything that disappears in Europe reappears in San Francisco!" (p.91)
"Americans believe in facts but not in facticity." (p.92)
"This conformity makes American society close to the primitive societies, in which it would be absurd to distinguish oneself morally by disobeying the collective ritual." (p.101)
"Democracy demands that all if its citizens begin the race even. Egalitarianism demands that they finish the race even." (p.102)Read more ›
The most striking thing about this book is that apart from some references to Reagan being in power in the 2nd half of the book you could easily forget this was written in the 80's as so much of it could be easily be applied to today. My personal preference with this book was approx the first 3rd with the seemingly disconnected paragraphs about the desert and travelling through America, the last 40 or so pages were too far off tangent for me and I got a bit bored to be honest.