BOOK REVIEW / I bar dullard sociologist: 'Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews' - ed Mike Gane: Routledge, pounds 40 / pounds 12.99

JEAN BAUDRILLARD must be the only sociologist, certainly the only post- modern French sociologist, to have appeared in The Face. He is big news, yet notoriously difficult to understand. Mike Gane's book is billed as 'a unique and accessible overview of Baudrillard's key ideas'. Alas, such is far from being the case.

A Wildean decadent without the wit, a McLuhanite without the oracular tone, Baudrillard claims he has 'a kind of allergy' to 'the stereotyped language used in philosophy'. Instead he resorts to the stereotyped language of teenage symbolism. Like the boy in Iris Murdoch's The Bell, who uses 'rebarbative' in every sentence, Baudrillard is in love with words he doesn't quite grasp. He spews out neologisms ('hypertelation', 'libinal') like a mint churns out coins.

Obsessed with consumer durables, he calls his hi-fi system 'the ecstasy of music', although he never mentions a single work or composer. Like an A- level student misunderstanding Raymond Williams, he thinks the theatre 'bourgeois'. While professors of film studies adore him, he says he is 'not at all attracted by experimental cinema': what he likes is Hollywood.

So much so that although he has written a book on America, all he knows about the country has been gleaned from the movies. He knows nothing of history, a problem he gets around by calling the subject 'an immense toy' and arguing that there is no such thing as a real world. In a now notorious interview, reprinted here, he suggested that the Gulf war never took place: everything is just 'silent apparitions' flickering on a screen; the images refer only to themselves.

Fond of recalling his peasant origins, Baudrillard likes to think of himself as an oppositional intellectual. Most of the time he sounds like Margaret Thatcher. What kind of sociologist can it be who wants to do away with 'the social'? On the matter of television he is similarly wrong-headed. Radicals are wont to see the box as part of the capitalist conspiracy, a cog in the machine that keeps the workers down. Not Baudrillard, for whom watching that shiny vacuum in the corner is an act tantamount to revolution.

Baudrillard's lack of clarity makes these interviews tough going. Most of the time he sounds as if he is talking in anagrams. Suitably rearranged, his name becomes my verdict on his work: I bar dullard.

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