2: The Perfect Crime

Jean Baudrillard: Saint Clément, 1987

I first read Jean Baudrillard in my early thirties. I'd heard of him before, and pretended to read him at uni. Then I forgot about him until 1999 when the first Matrix movie came out and some of the publicity focussed on how the Wachowskis had based their film on Baudrillard's ideas, particularly his book Simulacra and Simulation. Later, with pleasure, I would read Baudrillard's own judgement on those movies:

"The Matrix is surely the kind of film about the matrix that the matrix would have produced about itself."

Via reviews and PR I absorbed some version of what had fascinated the Wachowskis about Baudrillard: that he thought modern life was entirely fake. Interesting, I thought, and went back to surfing the internet, a slower novelty in those days. It was half a decade later, experiencing a small life-crisis in part about the terror of fakeness, that I found myself drawn to the Baudrillard section of a big bookshop in London. I was looking for explanations about private and public things that neither novels nor self-help sections seemed to be able to provide. Simulacra and Simulation was out of stock but there were other books on the shelves. I was drawn to the crimson cover, square shape and compelling title of The Perfect Crime.

What was this redness in the burnt-out carpark? I wanted answers. It looked more like a David Lynch movie than a work of philosophy. I drew it down and skimmed through a few pages.

What hits you – or hit me – first about Baudrillard is the incantatory language. It is as if the Devil himself has come down to whisper his most diabolical but conversational plans in your ear:

"This is the story of a crime – of the murder of reality. And the extermination of an illusion – the vital illusion, the radical illusion of the world."

Sensational and conversational – but not necessarily comprehensible, at first, if ever fully at all. But I was hooked enough to buy the book and trust my decoding skills at home. That is the thing with Baudrillard, for me at least: you must plunge in on trust however you first enter, understanding you won't understand a thing, really, for a while, until the rhythms of the sentences have hypnotised you enough to get a glimpse of what is being said. And when that happens the world opens up. Or at least it did for me...


© Susanna Kleeman 2020

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