In his seminal work Simulacra and Simulation, Jean Baudrillard suggests that the defining feature of the modern world is the inability to tell what’s real from what’s not. He tells this fable to illustrate his point: Once upon a time, a king commissioned a cartographer to make a map of his kingdom. He insisted that the map be a 1:1 representation of the kingdom, the same size as the kingdom itself, accurately mapping out the terrain inch by inch. The cartographer complied, and this full-size map was his life’s work. The map covered the whole kingdom. Over time, the map became travelled-on, and became a part of the terrain itself, so that it was impossible to tell the map from the actual terrain. In the modern world, says Baudrillard, reality is irrevocably blended with our representations of reality, so much so that it is impossible to tell the two apart.
As perhaps our most mainstream culture critic and pop-philosopher, navigating this indiscernible gap is Chuck Klosterman’s job. As a writer for Grantland, where he writes about sports and culture, and as an author and essayist beforehand, he has for years written about the things we create and the way we create us. His acclaimed collection of essays, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs presents him as one of our sharpest thinkers, approaching everything from The Sims to romance movies with an original, thought-provoking sidelong glance. Additionally, it was revealed just recently that he will be taking over as the Ethicist for the New York Times’ long-running column. In his most recent work, a novel called The Visible Man, Klosterman returns to the cluster of questions that have shaped his career. What forces make me who I am? How does culture influence us? Who or what is the real me?