Although with a great deal more fanfare and attention, Kurt Vonnegut's death followed hot on the heels of one of my favorite contemporary thinkers--Jean Baudrillard's. I personally don't have anything too valuable to say about Baudrillard's death, but this snippet from The Guardian is a short, sweet remark on his passing, and a painfully accurate diagnosis of the stigma that attached itself to his work in the past decade and a half or so.
My experience with Baudrillard was particularly "special" to me, not because of his philosophy per se, but because of its timing. Silly as it is to say, most philosphers and theorists you study as an undergraduate, even if you study postmodern theory, are dead guys. Baudrillard was different simply by virtue of living, breathing, walking around somewhere on the earth, at the same time that I did. Derrida too, but by the time I got to Derrida, he'd had his day--deconstruction was already something your literature TAs smirked at (although they performed it constantly). Yes, true enough, you could hit me back with long lists of "living" famous theorists and such (Rorty comes immediately to mind--although "neo-pragmatism" has a stigma all its own these days), but I would argue that few of them have the fame and notoriety--much less the brilliance, playfulness, and provocativeness (is that a word?)--of Baudrillard.
So Jean B.'s status as "living breathin dude" made him special to me, but also that I got to see, to some extent, the final segment in the arc of his fame--watched his comet-tail curving down towards the horizon, if you will--during the course of my own academic career. JB wasn't sneered at nearly so openly when I was a college freshman than he was now. You could still impress people by mentioning him back then--he was still trendy. Now, you only drop his name ironically, and while there's still one cheerleader for postmodern theory in my department, even he would talk about him in lectures almost apologetically. And we're not even British.
It's kind of sad that he's dead now. But am I sad, or am I simulating sadness?
RIP, Baudrillard! Thanks for making me feel smart in 1999.