Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

The Failure of the Twentieth Century: Beaubourg answers the Eiffel Tower

Prof. Marie-Therese Killiam.

The accelerating disappearance of the aesthetic canon in the world of art today, which the surrealists had celebrated and hoped for, defines, among other things, the postmodern condition. The romantic and surrealist movements to remove the barrier between dream and reality seem to have found an audience in the post-modern age, with the elimination of the ultimate barrier, that of the real and the fake.
Baudrillard’s theory of the postmodern relies heavily on the notion of a fusion of the real and the fake into hyperreality. For this reason he is the most illustrious spokesman of the postmodern in France.
Baudrillard’s discussion of the Beaubourg Center is the best example today of postmodern art analyzed by a postmodern critic. Indeed, Baudrillard does not comment on "classic” paintings like Foucault in les suivantes, or like Derrida who wrote at length on Van Gogh in La vérité dans la peinture, or even Michel Serres, whose apocalyptic view of our future does not deter from indulging in art criticism in his Esthétiques sur Carpaccio for example. Baudrillard on the other hand, does not want to share in this bourgeois "goût de l'ancien" [Pour une politique économique du Signe, 38].
Beaubourg conveys the existential meaninglessness and the hopelessness inherent to the nuclear analogy that Baudrillard draws from this structure. The subtitle for l'effet Beaubourg, which reads "Implosion et Dissuasion" captures Baudrillard’s post-modern tragic angle. The entire pamphlet on Beaubourg revolves around this enigmatic phrase which, as in a symphony, weaves in and out as a leitmotif throughout the entire essay. The text is in fact the development of this basic tenet, that Beaubourg is representative of the nuclear age in which we live, as the Eiffel Tower was representative of the Modern age. The latter praises by its verticality the hopes of the new century whereas the former testifies to its failure.
This paper will discuss the implosive characteristic of the post-modern age as represented by the hyperreal Beaubourg building, concept, and impact.


Prof. Marie-Therese Killiam  (United States)
Modern Languages and Literatures
Sweet Briar College

"licence" and "masters degree" from the university of Nice, France in American Civilization
"M.A, M.Phil and Ph.d" in French from Columbia University in New York
Published "The Art Criticism of Paul Claudel" and "L'analyse du texte"
Published several articles on art and literature


(30 min. Conference Paper, English)