America, By Jean Baudrillard, trs Chris Turner

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The Independent Culture

Billed as "travel/philosophy", America does not fall neatly into either category. It is a series of assertions, inspired by his travels in America, in which Baudrillard strains his hardest to be clever and provocative.

It's crammed with paradoxes (America is "the only remaining primitive society") ; outlandish metaphors ("The marathon is a form of demonstrative suicide") and patronising generalisations ("America is a desert"; Americans are "brutally naïve").

There's also a good deal of repetition ("a realised utopia is a paradoxical idea" – p85; "the idea of an achieved utopia is a paradoxical one" – p91). There are some insights (in America, there is "an air of openness to the confrontation between races") and some poetic descriptions (desert sunsets are "giant rainbows lasting for an hour"), but the constant playing to the gallery becomes irksome.

It's all wit and no judgement. Am I taking all this too seriously, and not getting the joke? Possibly. I'm aware that this is the response of an empirically inclined Anglo-Saxon. Read it and feel free to disagree.