Jean Baudrillard’s my plumber, I thought. We had some water issues pursuant to a recent hefty storm. I could visualize one of my friends saying “well no wonder your hot water tank leaks. That guy should not be your plumber. Or anyone’s!”
Sadly, they’re probably right. Baudrillard, who died about 13 years ago — in March, 2007 — was one of the most fascinating thinkers of fin de siecle 20th. But he probably did not know much about copper. Or French drains. Or the decline of building quality and cities. How my bicycle disappeared off my driveway during a move to Houston. Though he did write a book called America. Still so worth reading.
How can we tell if it’s real?
What he did know was the difference between the false and the authentic — no simple matter. This naturally led him to criticize media, politicians and professional liars. He spawned a movement in France and among intellectuals — the first really fundamentally audacious look at virtualization. Hyperreality manufactures a story, without any history in the real… News mislead, even when journalists are sincere and not liars by training. He argued that news fabricate a false reality. We enter into complicity with lies. He said the Gulf War (version 1) would not take place, and later, when it had, that it did not take place.
Baudrillard made us look at our world as a manufactured product. Was it real or unreal? How would we know? He generated the ideas from which The Matrix, the movie by the Wachowskis, was born. And so was Jean Baudrillard’s expanded reputation…
The copper kettle, manufactured realities, and simplicity
When my wife and I were living in Houston, TX, one of the items on the wall in her office was a post-card sized photo of her French plumber. He was on a bicycle, with a coil of copper pipe hanging on his shoulder. Perhaps he needs a shave. He stands with pride, holds up a finger and shouts, in unshakable didactic confidence: “Cuivre! rien que du cuivre!!” (“Copper! nothing but copper!)
Digital worlds, manufactured histories
In Houston — and elsewhere — as I learned, the copper piping at the many residential construction and renovation sites in town was an item of special interest to thieves. Not CPVC — not PEX! Copper!! They would collect it and sell it. Why? because it was authentic, not hyper-engineered, not inimical to health, and it was valuable. That plumber may have known very little or nothing about digital worlds, electronic realities or substitute materials. But he helped many people remember was authenticity looked like…
Cheers, friends… More on this later. For academic content on this, see Jean Baudrillard in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
P.S. Check out the Encyclopedia of Country Living we wrote about very recently.