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America Paperback – September 17, 1989

3.8 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Like de Tocqueville before him, Baudrillard, a French social scientist, is in search of the American ethos. His little essay, however, lacks the substance, perspicacity, and originality of a Democracy in America . Rather, Baudrillard's analysis tends to be grandiloquent and sometimes hackneyed, as when he observes "Americans believe in facts, but not in facticity , " and "The cinema and TV are America's reality!" In addition, the book is overpriced. Not recommended. Kenneth F. Kister, Poynter Inst. for Media Studies, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“[O]ccasionally provocative and almost always infuriating ... America is filled with perceptive, almost poetic observations.”—Rolling Stone

“Since de Toqueville, French thinkers have been fascinated with America. But when it comes to mysterious paradoxes and lyrical complexity no French intellectual matches Jean Baudrillard in contemplating the New World... [He] has become a sharp-shooting Lone Ranger of the post-Marxist left.”—The New York Times

“A mixture of crazy notions and dead-on insights, America is a valuable (and voluble) picture of what Mr. Baudrillard calls ‘the only remaining primitive society’ ... ours.”—The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 129 pages
  • Publisher: Verso; Reprint edition (September 17, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0860919781
  • ISBN-13: 978-0860919780
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #987,542 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John David Ebert on April 9, 2007
Format: Paperback
Since his recent death, there has been a lot of Baudrillard bashing in the media. He is variously written off as a "comedian of ideas," as obscurantist, as saying everything about nothing and nothing about everything. But this is completely inaccurate since Baudrillard was one of the great minds produced out of the 1960s philosophical explosion in France. His prose is difficult, admittedly. But then so is Heidegger, Immanuel Kant, Gilles Deleuze, etc. Would it be wise to characterize these men as having nothing important to say because of the difficulty involved in working through their dense prose? Of course not.

"America" provides the novice with a good in-road to his thinking, since Baudrillard is more relaxed and informal in these meditations upon what, after all, is a very informal land, indeed. The interesting thing about this book is that Baudrillard's attitude toward American culture--and this is certainly atypical of the average Euro thinker--is not condescending. This is a Frenchman (for a change) who is genuinely fascinated by America and its kitschy world of movie screens, parking lots, freeways, strip malls and airports. What fascinates him, in particular, as he writes in his chapter on "Utopia Achieved," is how American society represents such a radical break with history. It is an achieved utopia that has fled from the nightmare of world history and managed to succeed in erecting a civilization in which that very history is denied and largely ignored. Thus, the ahistorical cities of the American Southwest, and L.A. in particular, are places where events with inward cultural significance no longer take place. Instead, it is a world in which history has been replaced by historical simulacra in theme parks like Disneyland or the Getty Museum or Venice Beach.
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Format: Paperback
Here you can read a modern French philosopher's impressions of America. The author writes poetically and impressionistically about his visits to California and New York and points in between. He is simultaneously impressed, charmed, confounded, curious, and intrigued by this big country and its people, in contrast to Europe and Europeans. This is not so much a travelogue, but rather a gentle and thoughtful dissection of American culture, done in drive-by fashion, taking in the architecture, billboards, men and women on the sidewalks, the corner stop-and-shops, the geography, the highways, deserts, even the skies. This is not a book putting down America, as one might eroneously assume, but neither is it a pat-on-the-back. For American readers, it will serve as a mirror that reflects striking realities, both flattering and not, that, nevertheless, have become so common to us Americans that they are practically invisible to us, if not for the insightful light shined by this urbane French writer. Think of this book as a French impressionistic painting of America,--more in the "people-caught-in-the-act" style of Manet, rather than Monet with his lillies and haystacks--where the mundane, the ugly, the beautiful and the grandiose blend into a composition of insight, harmony and even-handed judgement of the particulars.
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Format: Paperback
Visiting and then writing about the U.S. has a solid tradition among the French, but it's safe to say the late Jean Beaudrillard`s 1986 work"America" hasn't made the list of books covering their country that Americans would showcase. Even the most cynical among my new compatriots would hesitate to call their country "a giant hologram," a "blank solitude," or a "narcissistic refraction." Abstract hyperbole defines Beaudrillard's "America."

On the ground, it is the desert that defines Beaudrillard's America. He can't get enough of it because "you are delivered from all depth there--a brilliant, mobile, superficial neutrality, a challenge to meaning and profundity, a challenge to nature and culture, an outer hyperspace, with no origin, no reference-points." America is simply a vast space--it is "the very form of thought."

The focus on space renders the narrative static, suspended in a timeless void. America "lives in a perpetual present." This is how Beaudrillard approaches travel: outside of time. His trip is "without any objective," without a purpose or destination, and thus endless. He floats through the country, freeway to highway, motel to rest stop, town to city. The privilege allows him to over-generalize, albeit delivered from all depth. Any visitor to this country will generalize, drawing conclusions that reinforce the stereotypes; Beaudrillard joins the distinguished club of fellow French philosophers who base sweeping statements about a complex culture on a single trip.

Beaudrillard, who had earlier developed a theory of simulacra and simulation, sees America as "neither dream, nor reality. It is a hyperreality because it is a utopia which has behaved from the very beginning as though it were already achieved." His America is the original desert of the real.
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Format: Paperback
Utterly superb and crystalline observations.

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.
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