Utopias of Design & Luxury


Symbolic Order

1200 - 1299

Liebnix, Piscopia

Symbolic Order: Society is organized as a fixed system of signs distributed according to rank and obligation (e.g. in the feudal era a peasant couldn't become the King). The question of reality doesn't arise: the meaning of signs is already established in advance (by God or power structures).

First Order of Simulacra

1300 - 1840

Diderot, Hegel, Rousseau, Hume, Kant, Mill, Fuller, Smith, Hebdige, Peabody

First Order of Simulacra: The Early Modern period, from the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution. A competition for the meaning of signs starts. Simulacra aim to restore an ideal image of nature. Fakes and counterfeits enter the scene: baroque angels, concrete chairs, theatre, fashion. But true originals underlie the fakes.

Second Order of Simulacra

1841 - 1950

Marx, Engels, Frege, Nietzche, Husserl, Heidegger, King, Barnes, Abrose, Veblen, Levi-Straus, Simmel, Gailbraith, Foucault, Barthes

Second Order of Simulacra: From the Industrial Revolution up til the middle of the 20th century. Mass production of copies or replicas of a single prototype: cars, planes, fridges, clothes, books. Liberation of energy through the machine (Marx's world). Copies more or less indistinguishable. Reproduced things aren't counterfeits: they're just as "real" as their prototype (though we can still recognize the prototype).

Third Order of Simulacra

1950 - 2013

Foucault, Derrida, Rand, Sartre, Arendt, Foucault, De Beauvoir, Dennett, Churchalnd, Bourdieu, Baulliard, Barthes

Third Order of Simulacra: The present age - dominated by simulations, things that have no original or prototype (though they may parallel something). Era of the model or code: computers, virtual reality, opinion polls, DNA, genetic engineering, cloning, the news media make the news, Nike sneakers as status symbols, Disneyland. The death of the real: no more counterfeits or prototypes, just simulations of reality - hyperreality. Information replaces the machine as the basic mode of production.


Spiritual Guidance

700 - 1399

Stone Age, Mesopotamia, Egyptian, Greek & Hellenistic, Roman, Asia, Byzantine & Islamic, Middle Ages

reflects a basic reality (see "Precession of the Simulacra" for an extended discussion). Example: Gothic paintings depict the birth of Jesus as the true son of God, replete with signs of his divinity (the Three Wise Men, a halo over the Madonna's head, etc.).

Masking Reality

1400 - 1941

Early & High Renaissance, Venetian & Northern Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical, Realism, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Futurism, Fauvism & Expressionism, Arts & Crafts Movement, Cubism, Futurism, De Stijl, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Dada & Surrealism, Suprematist,

Art masks and perverts a basic reality. Example: baroque paintings of an impossibly beautiful Jesus ascending to the heavens like Superman, with the Madonna watching with a blissful look on her face.

Masks Absence of Reality

1900 - 1960

Bauhaus, De Stijl-Neoplasticism, Abstract Expressionism, Modernism, Minimalism, New Realism, Magic Realism, Pop Art, Psychedelic Art, Studio Movement, Dada-Surrealism-Psychedelic Art

Art masks the absence of a basic reality. Example: photography and the mechanical reproduction of paintings (see Walter Benjamin's important essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"). A framed reproduction of a Renaissance painting of the Madonna hung over one's bed, right beside a velvet image of Elvis.

Death of Real, Hyperreality

1960 - 2013

Studio Movement, Crafts Movement, Post-Modern, Post-Minimalism, Conceptual Art, Performance Art, Junk Art, Photorealism, Neo-Expressionism, Graffiti, Digital Arts, Toyism, Synaestesia, Masssurealism, Stuckism, Remodernism, Maximalism, ArT is Free, Occupy,

Art bears no relation to reality at all. Example: a virtual reality female talking head reads news headlines to us over the Internet. Is she real? A fake? The question has lost its meaning - there is no original to compare her to. Or Madonna (the singer) made up like Marilyn Monroe vamping it up with a troupe of lithe male dancers in a music video on MTV.


Once Upon A Time...

700 - 1600

No need for utopian or science-fiction writing: the utopian order already exists in the here and now.


1200 - 1950

Utopias: Transcendental or romantic dreams, counterfeit copies of the real world. "If only we got everything right, life would be beautiful!" Thomas More's Utopia. Francis Bacon's New Atlantis.

World Wars & The Space Race

1900 - 1985

The Classic Science-Fiction of the Age of Mass Production: robots, rocket-ships to Mars, space exploration, alien invasion, intergalactic wars. Present technology projected into the future and outer space. Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Isaac Asimov's I, Robot. Fifties Hollywood sci-fi films (e.g. Them, It Came from Outer Space). The original Star Trek television series. Borges' imperial map.


1980 - 2013

The End of Science Fiction: the real absorbed into a hyperreal, cybernetic world. Not about an alternative universe, but about a simulation of the present one. Philip K. Dick's Simulacra. J. G. Ballard's Crash. William Gibson's Neuromancer. Ridley Scott's film Blade Runner. Paul Verhoeven's film Total Recall. David Cronenberg's films Crash and eXistenZ. The Wachowski brothers' The Matrix. The Borg, the holodeck, and VR characters (Voyager's doctor) in the later Star Trek television series.