an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image
Volume 15, Summer 2018, ISSN 1552-5112
Reinventing the Real: A Conversation with Marine Dupuis Baudrillard
Otherness is our destiny ... and the will conspires with those who touch us in destiny.
Marine Dupuis Baudrillard
In the Beginning
FAGIOLI - Baudrillard was born in the city of Reims, in the north-east of France, home to one of the most famous cathedrals of Christianity. His grandparents were farmers, and his parents were civil servants. What relationship did he have with his own roots?
DUPUIS - He started to learn German, with the intention of getting out of a very modest family whose mentality he did not like... His mother was a postal worker, his father was a policeman: it was something he wanted absolutely to step away from. To this we can clearly add much more, but it all resulted in a person who was obligated to live out his own way of thinking alongside this reality. Is it enviable? I'm not sure, because Jean was, how to say it? Obsessed with everything, and then he also said about me: "Marine is life". This means that I represented for him in some way an interface [with life]. Because he was, I repeat, obsessed, with life as with a little thing that falls from the sky.
FAGIOLI - His life in retrospect seems anything but free, rational, and arbitrary, as driven by an inexorable need disguised by the artifice of chance - including meetings. In what circumstances did you meet?
DUPUIS - I met Jean in Nanterre in 1970, I came back from a boat trip around the world with my boyfriend. I was still very young and lived on a houseboat. Jean called me Marine from the beginning, but my name is Martine, and after that everything started.
FAGIOLI - And for life!
DUPUIS - Even today, when I go to get treated, they tell me: "But you're called Martine", and bla bla bla ...
FAGIOLI - How did the seduction game start? You were 25 years old!
DUPUIS - And 25 years of difference ... I was 25 when I met him. I'll tell you, I was 25 because I was wandering around the world, by boat, while the others were 21 ... I was 4 years older, I was tanned and arrived after '68. This means that there was great confusion in the Universities, especially in Nanterre. There had already been the May movement with ... what's it called ... Cohn-Bendit, but it was [still] a big mess: the professor was there with the students sitting everywhere, all screaming, smoking, I did not know ahead of time what I would have found. And Jean talking ... he looked very relaxed, he had no problems with exams because he gave good notes to everyone.
FAGIOLI - A sort of ‘political 18’ (i.e. in the wake of ’68, somewhat easier, collective exams were obtained, and also, the guarantee of a vote given sufficient political cause – Ed.), as in Italy. In several comments on Italy, traceable for example in "Cool Memories" and in other essays, Baudrillard seems to suffer a particular fascination for our country, its inhabitants, its politicians, its contradictions, its excesses, its dissimulations: a fascination similar to the one he had for women and for the feminine. What idea did he have of Italy? What did he think of Italians?
DUPUIS - Well, he adored them. You ask me questions about Italy and women, but when I met Jean I was 25, he was older and had a wife and children at the time. They had then separated and had said that never ever would he have lived with a woman again ... never ever ... And so it took me twenty years to seduce Jean, to be with me until the end. On the other hand, in the period in which I met him he visited a lot of Italy, above all Urbino.
FAGIOLI – Is it you that seduced him or he that seduced you?
DUPUIS - It was mutual, but all this is to say that I was not part of the Urbino group, it was in the years '75 -77, and there he had a lot of fun with all the Italian ones ... There are some pictures that make me think that it was a lot of fun, that he took advantage of it.
For a phenomenology of Baudrillard
FAGIOLI - How would you define the voice of Baudrillard?
DUPUIS - No, no! You are the one who will do the job ... it is you who will have to listen to it and therefore define it. I rejoice, that's all. Wait, I had a little video there [on the shelf]. When I'm too sad, I start to watch a short video of Jean [available at: https://youtu.be/msLZeiUzltU]. However, there is a little echo in the video. Jean has a sweet way of pronouncing words, of putting words together with one another.
FAGIOLI - It has a sweet voice, and the hands are small.
DUPUIS - Peasant hands are hands of peasant origin. I said: a way of approaching words in a very sweet way but, at the same time, without a trace of hesitation. It was that word, not another, and he pronounced it with sweetness, he did not impose it on anyone. If he asked himself a question and then someone interrupted him, he had no interest in him, he did not impose his words, do you understand what I mean?
FAGIOLI - He was always calm, he never had violent reactions?
DUPUIS - He had an incredible mastery of himself ... except, ah, except in the car ... he loved to drive, he was handsome, full of women, even when I met him he loved cars, he loved speed. So when there was an imbecile [slowing him down] I saw a being next to me, like a demon, coming out of Jean's head. You cannot imagine, it was something incredible, scary. It was a total change of personality. Apart from that, when there was an imbecile who asked him a totally stupid question, at a conference, at dinner ... otherwise never.
FAGIOLI - So even Baudrillard would not pass the car resilience test. Because in Italy people are completely transformed into beasts.
DUPUIS - But it was scary, everyone was scared so fast. And I had found the solution: drink and put me in the back seat. There was only that solution, I was so afraid of, and one day I said, "I cannot keep drinking like that, it's not possible." He replied: “Ok, now you drive.” But it was even worse, because I drove like a little girl and he said, "Do not you feel the engine that suffers?" I did not feel anything.
FAGIOLI - The gears, the clutch ... in fact the car is an extension of the body.
DUPUIS - Of course, it is quite clear, but I did not feel anything, it was true that I was completely unresponsive!
FAGIOLI - Speaking of sensations, Baudrillard is the only thinker with whom I can associate a musicality, a kind of sound – a tone that is Baudrillardian, and that reflects the end of humanity, the desert of meaning, and a 'beyond' unthinkable: "Collapse" by Boards of Canada and "Icefire" by Pat Metheney, for examples. What music did Jean listen to?
DUPUIS - What music did he listen to? He loved baroque music, Monteverdi, the gallant years ... understand, otherwise he also listened to ‘the banana’ ... the Velvet Underground.
FAGIOLI - But did he work listening to music?
DUPUIS - Never, never, never!
FAGIOLI - Absolute silence!
DUPUIS - On the other hand I do not think he did two things at the same time. Jean, when he was writing, when he was working, he had a kind of object that I did not find, you know those kitschy things of the '70s with sand, oil, that kind of paintings that revolves. Here, he could watch it for hours.
FAGIOLI - To think?
DUPUIS - And then he was beating hard, on his old typewriter, never at the computer.
FAGIOLI - And did he have fixed hours to work? How was your working day organized and how did you interpret the "profession" of a thinker?
DUPUIS - First of all, this was not how it worked. He had a small vanity, I think: he did not like to see the effort in the things he did, for him it was vulgar to show the effort. So I never saw him work hard ... and I said to him, "Are we going for a ride, or what if we went two days to Antwerp?" He never told me: "No, I have to work, I have to finish something." It must be said that I too, worked a lot, and [so] he remained calm during the day ... This means an extremely simple life! Apart from traveling, we did not see many people. Jean was careful to escape entertainment. And this paid him dearly, because when you are in a [foreign] country and you do not want to meet journalists, you do not want to go on TV, you do not want to leave the world ...
FAGIOLI - Entertainment is the work, the thought!
DUPUIS - And this represented for him absolute enjoyment!
FAGIOLI - An enjoyment?
DUPUIS - Of course, just enjoyment! He had found his harmony, he was a very harmonious person. When you met him he was very well disposed, he never had a judgment on someone, never. And this for very simple reason, namely that he thought that intelligence and stupidity could easily reverse, he did not judge people. Put all this in your character, and then put another thing, that dazzled me, dazzled from beginning to end ... he never had a double face, I've never seen him with two different faces with different people, he was absolutely not hypocritical. If he met the President of the Republic it was exactly the same as when he spoke with the porter. It's something very impressive, because I keep seeing intellectuals going around ... if you knew how far they are able to play four or five characters at a time!
FAGIOLI - But consistently with his thought he did not need to conceal himself, it was what he was!
DUPUIS - Yes, but ... how to say it ... by being in his thought ... he had become his own truth, he did not need to go looking for a doctrine to expire it. See, it was all of this, and that's what made him an extremely fascinating person.
FAGIOLI - Was it romantic with him?
DUPUIS - Not just for nothing! Absolutely not! [...] I will take out of Jean's sentences, to answer your question. There is one that says: “When one says 'I love you' it is already the language that one begins to love, it is the first infidelity!”.
FAGIOLI - Very subtle!
DUPUIS - You can well understand that he was not a man who was constantly saying: "I love you, I love you, I love you ...", no, no, no, not at all!
Zen and the art of photography
FAGIOLI - What was your profession?
DUPUIS - I was the artistic director of a magazine, for photography. On the internet you often find nonsense about me, but in the end, the internet is not a channel of knowledge for me, so I do not care.
Jean Baudrillard: Saint-Beuve
FAGIOLI - I love this picture ... Baudrillard talked about the violence of the image on reality, but also about a sort of revenge of reality on the image, or the violence of meaning that reality wants to attribute to the image (political, social, aesthetic). On the other hand, the photographs of Baudrillard represent in some way the end of the illusion of the mirror, images that tend to cancel the subject from the representation, and at the same time go beyond the representation, and are without reference ... What kind of freedom did photography offer to Baudrillard and what kind of constriction? How was it compared to the idea to "show off" his works, he who was so critical of the contemporary art system, and also rather careful to keep his passion at a discreet and amateur level?
DUPUIS - Too many questions, I'll explain it to you with an anecdote. Jean, we are in the 80s, at the end of the 80s, had to hold a conference in Japan and the Japanese are always used to offering a small gift. They offered him a small, really small camera of this size. Jean has thus started to have fun.
FAGIOLI - It was not a passion that had always been.
DUPUIS - Alone he would never have done it. We had fun. Jean had a lot of fun, really a lot, as soon as he could: he was an extremely facetious person, he liked a lot of fun. It was light: he told you things, wonderful things, but told you so lightly, like a Zen monk. You know, it was very Oriental, very light, do not take yourself seriously ... because we, in Europe, have a very thoughtful tradition of will [of voluntarism]. Jean was not this, you never felt the slightest effort in him.
FAGIOLI - Because you did not feel the will, a tense will ...
DUPUIS - I say this because very often the people who came to visit him said to him: “Your thought is Oriental…”, and Jean, who had a vast culture, he had read the Indians, the Upanishads, who knew all about Zen Taoism, would say: "It is not worth it [to bother with the Orientals].” It must be possible to arrive at this irony - which is ultimately his domain of investigation - with his own culture; it is not worth going out of one’s way to look for exotic things.
FAGIOLI - Sometimes I have feelings when I read the texts of Baudrillard. Reading Baudrillard changes the way of thinking and therefore of living the world. Some things emerge in their meaning only after months, even years. Often his intuitions are understood a long time later. What kind of influence did he have on you, and what influence did you have on him?
DUPUIS - See, when you read it ten years later, there are still some things coming out of it for the reader. You do not read it in the same way at all. I have books I read when I was young and it's not the same thing at all, years later. Here's what I want to say: when I'm sick, I read a text by Jean on any subject and I feel better. I say to myself: "What is he talking about" But it is not at all what he talks about, it is the form of his thought that is imprinted in your brain and that motivates you.
FAGIOLI - It is the syntax, it is the form of a sensation. In sad and lazy days for me it's a kind of therapy, or a tonic!
DUPUIS - Exactly! It is a form, that when you follow its tracks - because this is reading a book, it is following its traces - it straightens the vertebral column, and then you are better.
FAGIOLI - It is addictive. The curious thing is that when I read the text of a great systematic philosopher, such as Kant, it seems to me in principle that I do not understand anything, but once I get the premises, everything becomes relatively smooth, and I can follow with a certain order the increasing complexity; while when I read Jean Baudrillard, or re-read something after a week, a year or ten, it is as if the text had changed in its articulation, in its depth, in its levels, in its complexity. For example, ‘America’, my favorite, I read it many times, each as if it were a different text. How much time did Baudrillard spend in America?
DUPUIS – A long time, because while he had to teach, and I was continuing courses at Nanterre - he went around, giving lectures here and there. You arrived in the lecture hall and found: "Prof. Baudrillard will be back in two months". Moreover, Jean, who was of very modest extraction, in that way exposed himself; he loved that period, it was the explosion.
FAGIOLI - Jean said that ‘America’ is probably his second best work, after ‘Symbolic Exchange and Death’.
DUPUIS - If this is so, it is because it is not purely abstract, it is life: Jean’s writing gives us the key to live, to travel, to see. We say to ourselves: if I come to understand all this, I can do everything.
The nonexistent language
DUPUIS - Jean was one who had managed to escape power during his entire life. He paid close attention to this aspect, he always hated men of power. He talked, sometimes, in a sober tone, so, without insisting, and I had the impression of being in front of the magic crystals; I did not understand anything of what he said, nothing at all, yet I was at the center, at the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I saw the crystals and this little village and I said to myself: “I do not understand anything, but it is so beautiful”. And we have not mentioned, that he was sick ?! He had to leave for America and he was sick. And I said to him: "Listen Jean - it was the beginning of the I-Ching - you're very sick, I'll do the I-Ching", because I was very interested in the subject. Then we started, I managed to carve out a small space, but even so it went on a bit long. He was amazed by his power of seduction. In Montparnasse, the young men told me in cafes: "Here he is with a new girl!" He was very charming and seduced a lot of women and there was no reproach or ruining the party, and he took advantage of it ... to tell the truth ... Jean's intelligence was also exercised in the intelligence of the couple, you understand? For example, there was never, but never, the slightest blackmail. I came from a very authoritative and possessive mother, but Jean never, ever could make small blackmail games, nor would he respond to blackmail ... and this until the end. In the end, I would have given everything for him to take something, I wanted him to eat something and I said: "Jean, if you do not eat I’ll throw myself out the window!" - "But please, remain in your seat," he said ... he was immovable. He was a beautiful person, a beautiful person.
FAGIOLI - He had to leave for America and was sick. Had he contracted malaria before leaving?
DUPUIS - Oh yes, because I ... I started scuba diving in an archipelago of the Indian Ocean, the Comoros Islands, and then, in the space of thirty years, I went there often [...]. So ... I had made a sort of Treaty of Tordesillas with Jean: "You have the world, I have the Comoros", so when he came with me, because he sometimes came with us, he was "Mariner's husband". And then I went there often, and I needed Jean to be there with me because I needed to escape ... I had created a philosophical café, the Cool Memories. Here they are, the Cool memories: see the clientele ... and the taxis on the island. I had created a ‘Baudrillard's Land’. Jean ... he was a man ... it's not a matter of expressing my admiration, because he would have hated it, and it was not a veneration. We were a real couple, we argued a lot and when I went to sleep I said to myself: "This asshole is right." ... well, it was so, but in the end, everything went in a very specific way. If you want to know everything, after September 11th, Jean had blood in his urine. I said to him, "You have to get yourself treated!" He was so excited by September 11th, so excited. He could not have prevented it, of course, but he had seen the matrix of world change. And so [only] later he got treated, but it got worse and the disease quickly spread to the nervous system, the circulatory system, the blood. Jean had been treated to please me. When we went to chemo, I had consulted all the best oncologists in Paris, with huge dossiers, etc. When [the doctors] arrived in the room, they found Jean saying, as if nothing had happened: "Ah well, Marine went to call, come back in five minutes," as if everything did not concern him. "Wait five minutes, she'll come back," and he would start reading again. And [you had to see] those guys, big Mandarins, the most successful I could find and with great difficulty!
FAGIOLI - It must be said that for Baudrillard medical care was a form of power ...
DUPUIS - Yes, he hated doctors. And there is also a little anecdote about it: everything happened here and one day he tells me that it was really very bad, too painful. One day, since I was in agreement with the pharmacist, with the doctor, with the oncologist, with everyone ... one day when Jean was really suffering, while listening to music, we gave him morphine. The same night Jean started to speak a non-existent language. And the next day, telling him what had happened, I told him: "Jean, do not do this because I could not bear the fact that you are mad!" And he replied: "How? Did I speak a non-existent language? It's brilliant, you should have recorded me! "He was excited, and he spoke again. He was dying, but what interested him was "What happened in this story?" "What was that nonexistent language?"
FAGIOLI - But this language was non-existent because it was incomprehensible, or ...?
DUPUIS - No, I assure you, it was a non-existent language because it could not be said that it resembled the Indian language or I do not know what, but it did not exist at all. It was incredible!
FAGIOLI - It was a pataphysical language!
DUPUIS - Maybe, maybe ... [laughs].
In the void, the power of thought
DUPUIS - Later I will show you his office. He was full of books, everything that interested him, while what did not interest him, simply did not exist. So it was not the case [to fill it indiscriminately] ... you could also bring a pinecone or other, but in a very simple way ... everything was empty.
FAGIOLI - If a philosopher tends to reduce the world to his own image, and sometimes suffers from it as a kind of intellectual claustrophobia, how could Baudrillard manage to become relativized as an individual? To relativize the power of one's thought?
DUPUIS - See, regarding the power of thought ... There was no need to say things. His entourage understood very well [even without speaking]. Jean was not someone who gave orders; he was incredibly sweet and well-disposed, calm, never, ever angry - but the power of his thought made sure you did not want to be distracted from that thought to return to small ordinary matters.
FAGIOLI - I see ... [a silence that worked] as an emanation of his thought.
DUPUIS - The emanation of a powerful thought. This phenomenon went very far, because [from] when he got sick, the agony lasted almost four years - between the beginning and the end of the illness, four years passed ... as you know, it happens in the case of cancer. Jean never needed to tell anyone that he wanted to die here, at all, he never said anything to anyone, and everyone went to his service. I no doubt, but out of love, the others not for love: the pharmacist, the doctor, the oncologist, the professor ... all!
FAGIOLI - Everyone here at home!
DUPUIS - Everyone in his place, and nobody discussed, nobody said: "Come on, it would be easier to take him to the hospital!" No. He imposed his rules, as if nothing had happened. This is incredible! This is the power of thought. You see, you have to believe in the power of thought, and it's not worth heaps of explanation as filler: the more filler, the more complicated the game.
FAGIOLI - The game, but also the job of thinking! What was his daily ritual in the exercise of thought?
DUPUIS - As I said, the idea was not to fill, with teapots or other things: Jean loved the void, so it was not a prohibition to place objects, it was simply the fact that he was well and good in the void, not just the void of objects, but also the emptiness of people. I'll tell you a little ritual: all mornings he went down ... no, wait, I'll tell you in a different way. One day, Jean had been dead for three years and someone stopped me on the street and said, "I have a present for you." I answered: "Thank you, I accept it willingly ... it's nice of you". And this gentleman tells me that it is a photograph and gives me a photograph: can I show it to you? I cannot find the large format of the photograph, but I put it on paper. So, I'll explain what it was: every morning Jean went down, retrieved his mail, went there, to the trash can, read the mail and threw it away ... If there was a check, he put it in his pocket. He did not keep any documents: health insurance documents, rent documents, insurance documents, he threw away everything.
FAGIOLI - I can imagine this action: this is how the world is thrown into the trash.
DUPUIS - That photographer who took the photo lived right in front of the trash can and every day he saw that guy who came with his mail and said to himself: but who is that? ... until the day in he asked a friend: "but that man who throws his mail every day in the garbage can live in this neighborhood?" The friend replied: "Yes! It's Jean Baudrillard. " Then from that moment he took many pictures and offered them to me, although Jean had died three years earlier. An incredible thing! And there's another similar story: [the picture of me] I was waiting for Jean in a cafe and he arrives, he bends over to me and gives me a kiss ... and I get a picture of a kiss, three years after his death ... It was incredible! I had the impression that Jean sent me a kiss from the afterlife.
The legacy of Baudrillard
DUPUIS - Jean left me a beautiful legacy. It's not about money ... it's incredible, is not it? It is rather what makes you go to China, to meetings of 20-25 year olds and you realize what happened there: you do not know how, you do not know where [his thought] has passed ... to say that I'm the only person who goes to China not to make money and come back ... do you understand what I mean? Go everywhere and thought emerges, completely escaping the financialization of the world. And the thought is something magnificent, it is our spirit, it is with this that it continues to grow, it is with this that you will love it, [...] understand, the thought is the very essence that moves us and something that does not perish. That's why Jean's legacy is incredible. He left behind the tools to survive him.
FAGIOLI - In fact, I am also under his influence.
DUPUIS - I can understand that, and it's like that everywhere. I could have you read the writing of one who describes how Jean changed his life. I do not know this guy. He wrote an excellent book on Jeff Koons. I read the book and say to myself: "Look! He has read Baudrillard. " So I send him a small message that says, "I really appreciated your book." And he replies that he is a professor of art in Lille: "We are a small band and Baudrillard is the watchword, something that really helps us to live, to think". Nice is not it?! We have to be very happy, it’s beautiful thing.
FAGIOLI - "Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life". In the opening scene of the film American Beauty [1999, written by Alan Ball and directed by Sam Mendes] the protagonist pronounces this sentence, which also appears in the first chapter of America, Vanishing Point. I have always thought that the film is partly inspired by the writing of Baudrillard, so popular in the United States, perhaps also because of the intrinsically cinematic character of his thought about America.
DUPUIS - Yes. But it is someone who did it without telling him, because Jean has never had contact with those people, who in any case could have read Jean Baudrillard. What is incredible is that today there is no more thought ... I am very calm about it. Jean was not at all sure that intelligence could remain an attribute of humanity. And it must be said that this ... of course, cannot be measured in the time frame of a single life ... but he was not at all sure. He thought that humanity imagined it could circumscribe itself, that man could technicize to death and invent, as he said, the means of our extinction. But if, in spite of everything, intelligence develops along the way, yes we will talk about Baudrillard - but all this is of no consequence. Jean never wanted disciples, has not at all prepared his succession, his posterity ...never. To do this, he should have been convinced he was in possession of a truth and that one should absolutely protect it. No, such was not typical of Jean. He had a way to metabolize reality, to teach us how to metabolize what happens to us ... it was rather a mental posture. See, it is something like that, even if he used some beautiful words, an excellent style, as an artist; but it is not a question of one doctrine with an established truth.
FAGIOLI – He was rather an artist of thought. In this sense, one would say that Baudrillard was to philosophy as Carmelo Bene at the theater.
DUPUIS - Look Tommaso, you did not come for nothing. For Jean's death, I sent this little picture to communicate [the day and the place of the funeral] and all the rest. You know, I needed an invitation and I chose this picture because I thought that moment was the birth [of all], and that it was right to send the image of a navel even for death. Do you understand me? Because this closes a circle. And here it is, with his words on the back of it:
“Existence is not everything.
It is even the least of things.”
Jean Baudrillard ‘disappeared’ on March 6, 2007.
The interview took place on July 1, 2016, in Jean and Marine Baudrillard's house on Rue Saint-Beuve, in Paris. We would like to thank Elisa Fuksas, who acted as interpreter between Tommaso and Marine, and Fausto Fraisopi for having carried out a first conversational transcription of the conversation between the three, extremely colloquial, which was then integrated with some questions that Fagioli had previously sent to Marine, to be adapted to the written page. The images were kindly provided by Marine Dupuis Baudrillard.
an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image
Volume 15, Summer 2018, ISSN 1552-5112