We shall remain nostalgic Utopians, agonizing over our ideals, but balking, ultimately, at their realization, professing that everything is possible, but never that everything has been achieved (Baudrillard, America, 85)

Social scientists should not be reading Jean Baudrillard. This is because, as writers like Bogard (1990) argue, he dissolves the social into nothing more than images. These are “simulacra,” images corresponding to no object; inventions only. Such images Baudrillard calls the “hyper-real.” “Policy” is impossible in such a world, and neither is anything that tries to claim the status of “science.” Therefore, while the postmodernists skillfully criticize the present “western social system” and its economic market, they have nothing positive to advocate, since anything constructive must also be tainted by its interaction with the hyper-real.

This critique renders the language of social life false. Importantly, it also renders the language of rebellion equally illusive. Baudrillard is intolerable because, as Bogard writes:

Baudrillard radically denies the possibility of sociology by way of an argument which claims that the social field, i.e., the web of social relationships conceived as the empirical ground and reality principle for a uniquely sociological enterprise, is in the process of collapsing into an undifferentiated and homogeneous ‘mass’ – a mass which is itself the product of a social process yet can no longer be identified with any particular social subject or object (Bogard, 1990: 2-3).

Bogard is incorrect to argue that the society is “in the process of collapsing” into a mass of unreal images without referents. It has already done so, and sociology was its product. The essential criticism, however, is correct. The argument in this paper is that, if social life is based on images, and images refer only to themselves, then those who project the images are insulated from all serious criticism. This is simply because there is nowhere solid to stand that. Language and the social do not exist except as mental images that skillfully manipulate the herd. Yet, the nature of this criticism does not yield results.

This is especially manifest in the postmodern market, that, among other things, believes itself to be the very manifestation of “utopia achieved.” Hefner writes, “The realm of personal/social need satisfaction has increasingly been tied to the operation of a market, and this has been accompanied by an expansion of socially-defined wants and the market geared to their continued growth” (Hefner, 1977: 113).

While Hefner, albeit writing from the Dark Ages, is skeptical of the above description of the postmodern critique, he is also drawn to it. Baudrillard will later add some overgeneralized theory to it, but the essential idea is the same. Markets are impersonal machines. Over time, mass production, advertising and the total monetization of all “social” relationships has dissolved the “market” into a set of images. The rise of virtual reality just confirmed the trajectory and is nothing new or special.

Hence, the machine is inorganic and artificial, it is one step away from reality. Making it “abstract,” that is, wholly monetized, is yet another layer of the unreal, making it twice removed from reality. Finally, that it is now virtual and global (that is, corresponding to nothing), dissolves even that realm of illusion, making illusions out of previous ones. It is three times removed from reality.

Bogard is the most vehement in his rejection of this thesis. His conclusion is that Baudrillard is wrong because he renders “liberal change” impossible, and by extension, the academic role in that change (Bogard, 1990: 13-14). How this is a reason to reject Baudrillard remains a mystery. That it is an argument deriving from professional self-interest. He actually says one has to reject Baudrillard because academic liberals would be out of a job; or alternatively, that academic social science would cease to exist.

Policy, social science, and maybe academia itself seem to be uncomfortable when deconstruction is turned around on themselves (cf. Bogard, 1990: 10-14). Others (cf. Rubenstein, 1989) use it for partisan purposes. The postmodern criticism might itself be criticized and even parodied, but to reject it entirely is difficult. Baudrillard writes:

Yes, California (and America with it) is the mirror of our decadence, but it is not decadent at all. It is hyperreal in its vitality, it has all the energy of the simulacrum. It is the world center of the inauthentic. Certainly it is: that is what gives it its originality and power. The irresistible rise of the simulacrum is something you can simply feel here without the slightest effort (Baudrillard, 2010: 113-114).

The only problem is that energy need not come from the real. Originality almost requires the make-believe. Most of all, power must justify itself through the creation of an imaginary world. Thus, the quote above is not a positive view, nor does it remotely defend the present system. Worst of all, the system itself is “irresistible,” and in part, that is because it holds itself out as inevitable.

Therefore, the issues here are that a) social sciences pretend that what they analyze is somehow objective, b) that the market and individual “needs and desires” are some of these objects, and c) that such mechanisms can be analyzed like any other social phenomenon. Baudrillard and Applbaum (1998) argue that they are incorrect as the social sciences have been deconstructed out of existence.

Applbaum’s scathing parody of the pseudo-academic field of “marketing” is both necessary and accurate. Market-oriented writers and the market as such often act as the epiphany of “freedom” itself. The truth is that “the free market” has long become a set of images delivering the message that, in being absorbed into this matrix, the subject is now a non-conformist and even a rebel. The “rebel” is safe from repercussions, because even the act of rebellion is stylized, standardized and rendered hyper-real (Applbaum, 1998: 325).

As part of his critique, Applbaum cites several significant authorities in this “field” to the effect that customers do not know their interests. Their needs are indeterminate (apart from staple items) and thus need to be led and directed. While even a cursory glance at the typical high-priced advertisement shows this to be true, the system itself is normally justified by a reference to “reason.” This is the crux of the matter.

“Reason” is defined in the most vulgar way possible – the constant search for one’s utility, value and profit. These might be defied broadly, but they manipulate the “mass” of the population in the name of individual self-creation. Implying that the market is based on the rational “maximization of utility” on the one hand, while acting as if the mass are a mere herd on the other; those who control the market are mocking the herd, rubbing their nose in their inability to realize that they live in a world created by anonymous others. That the “mass,” the herd, remain unaware is part of the process. The more inert the herd proves itself to be, the more powerful the system becomes (Applbaum, 1998: 326-327). Applbaum writes,

Coca-Cola and McDonald’s surely must be counted among the seven wonders in modern times. Beholding this massive barrage of communications all shouting ‘‘Buy me!’’ (though in fact the message is ‘‘Choose me!’’), the critics have often held that a force capable of co-opting consciousness in this way must be organized, conniving, and hegemonic (Applbaum, 1998: 334).

While this is true, Applbaum would rather not be associated with it. Instead, he substitutes the idea that the simulacra of hyper-reality, economically speaking, are appropriated by consumers for “the procurement and use of commodities for the purpose of self-construction” (Applbaum, 1998: 334). The only problem is that the foundation for this “identity” that consumers are constructing is nowhere to be found. In other words, one cannot agree that the social world is little more than images, while still arguing that there is some fundament from which the “sovereign individual” can “construct himself.”

He argues that “the aspect of the cosmology that I address is the implicitly held theory of needs and their purported satisfaction through the mutually constructed cultural economic entity of the free market” (Applbaum, 1998: 347). While claiming that this “cosmology” of the “free spirit” is pure illusion, he insists that this same “self-construction” is autonomous. This attempt to save the social sciences fails, because the basis on which an “individual” will seek to “construct herself” must be derivable from some power, something with significant social salience. This authority is normally pop-culture or one of its derivatives.

Baudrillard (2010) argues against such unexplained academic innocence:

Politics frees itself in the spectacle, in the all-out advertising effect; sexuality frees itself in all its anomalies and perversions. . . mores, customs, the body, and language free themselves in the ever quickening round of fashion. The liberated man is not the one who is freed in his ideal reality, his inner truth, or his transparency; he is the man who changes spaces, who circulates, who changes sex, clothes, and habits according to fashion, rather than morality. . . (Baudrillard, 2010: 105).

Given the sheer depth of the immersion into the matrix, it is difficult to argue with him. The only problem left is that he sounds like a conservative of several generations ago. His reputation as a “leftist,” however, renders such critical ideas fashionable, and unfortunately, hyper-real.

The late Russell Kirk, a well known expositor of traditionalist conservative ideas writes:

I think it would be better, if the choice could be made, for society to be dissolved into its constituent atoms than for the society to become one featureless bulk of production-men and consumption-men. . . As the media for expression of thought decay or expire, the parlor-tables in British hotels are covered with a new spawn of trade-journals and automobile-company magazines, luxuriously printed, fat and glossy, published out of the ample advertising-funds of the great stock-companies (Kirk, 1956).

This is no different from Baudrillard. Had the name been removed from the above quotes, many of Baudrillard’s followers would nod along with the ideas presented. Once informed that it was “Russell Kirk,” the reader, picking up the cue, would just as quickly be revolted. Kirk’s approach, developed at length through his long career, contains substantial criticisms of market relations, mass society and the force that creates them both: the substitution of base desire for traditional conceptions of virtue. Confusingly, post-modern “conservatism” is actually libertarianism, whose love of the postmodern market and its globalized enforcement regime know no bounds.

Importantly, when Hefner states “This system in turn has had a most dramatic effect on other world cultures increasingly linked to events originating in the West. In this many people would see an event of tragic proportions” (Hefner, 1977: 113), he needs to clarify what “west” means. He certainly cannot be considering the west of Aristotle or Aquinas. He can only be using the simulacra of “the west” to refer to the social degeneration Kirk and his followers rightly decry.

Baudrillard seems to agree: “Utopia has been achieved here and anti-utopia is being achieved: the anti-utopia of unreason, of deterritorialization, of the indeterminacy of language and the subject, of the neutralization of all values, of the death of culture” (Baudrillard, 2010: 106).

What values are being referenced? That is the problem: Baudrillard seems to be in full agreement with Kirk and many others of that tradition, but overtly saying so seems quite non-academic. Yet, as if from nowhere, Baudrillard writes

The great lesson of all this is that freedom and equality, like ease and grace, only exist where they are present from the outset. This is the surprise democracy had in store for us: equality is at the beginning, not at the end. That is the difference between egalitarianism and democracy: democracy presupposes equality at the outset, egalitarianism presupposes it at the end (Baudrillard, 2010: 103).

Where are these abstractions coming from? How are “freedom and equality,” “democracy” or “egalitarianism” anything other than simulacra? Even worse, what is this mysterious force that will make everyone “even” at the beginning? And would not that force, by its very existence, prove that such equalization “at the outset” is impossible? These phrases, completely out of sync with the rest of his writings, do not seem to even be written by the same man. These kinds of modern, almost libertarian constructs seem almost like concessions to his academic readership rather than serious ideas.

A “simulatory culture” is a world where words have no referents; there is no corresponding object. It is not a culture at all. Such falsity requires a population to accept it as real. They are hypnotics. This is Baudrillard’s conception of a virtual, or simulatory world; one where the entire planet is brought to accept the images as reality. “Insanity,” and “terror” is defined as not accepting them as real (Baudrillard, 1988: 98-99).

They bring benefits to their subjects in that they are easier than reality, since they are infinitely plastic and malleable. It is the final manifestation of the Enlightenment and its drive to reshape reality (Baudrillard, 1988: 92-93). Finally, this world has been created by globalized capital, where national cultures are inconveniences. The less cultural specificity exists, the easier it is to bring them into the vortex of capitalist relations without a foundation for resistance (Baudrillard, 1988: 91-93).

The “global culture” is a system, a network of images. Its goal is profit, but it is far more. The system must be recognized by all as “the obvious good, the natural ideal of the human race” (Baudrillard, 1988: 99-101). It cannot have its claim to be the universal satisfaction of all human desire “cast into doubt” (Baudrillard, 99-101). Even if it is just a handful of “fanatics,” their very existence is overwhelming to the system. It is humiliation that it fears most of all.

The global order has its own life, language and social relations that correspond only to the images the system projects as “reality.” These images are infinitely plastic, and hence, can correspond to the interests of those who project them and craft the desires of those who receive them (Fisher, 2009: 54ff). This more friendly world, more exciting than the real, Baudrillard calls “hyper-reality,” and is the pseudo-ontological foundation for the present globalized order (Baudrillard, 1988: 88-89).

Virilio (1995) argues that “there is no such thing as globalization, there is only virtualization. What is being effectively globalized by instantaneity is time. Everything now happens within the perspective of real time: henceforth we are deemed to live in a ‘one-time-system’” (Virilio, 1995: np). In terms of culture, Virilio argues that the richness and diversity of history comes from the local, that is, the national or the ethnic. Virtualization and universalization mean its destruction.

The hypnosis is driven by the consumer, the subject. This is not “forced” on society, but, once any sense of the absolute has been destroyed, society loses any purpose or aim. This void then makes its subjects easy prey for the friendlier virtual world. Reality forces people to make hard choices and be responsible for their acts. The world of consumer images makes no such demands, and, since it is based on relativism, the struggles for virtue and the good are not significant.

Fisher explains: “‘Being realistic’ may once have meant coming to terms with of a reality experienced as solid and immovable. Capitalist realism, however, entails subordinating oneself to a reality that is infinitely plastic, capable of reconfiguring itself at any moment” (Fisher, 2009: 54). This virtual world is created by the drive for profit. Money (itself a simulacrum) reduces all human relations to itself. Once human interaction is reduced to dollars, the “human” is totally effaced (Baudrillard, 1988: 93).

“Violence” is defined by Baudrillard as this process of reducing all reality into monetary relations (Baudrillard, 1988: 92). The violence of the system is manifest in “our own submission to an integral technology, to a crushing virtual reality, to the grip of networks and programs, which perhaps represents the involutive profile of the entire species, of the human race’s become ‘global’”. . .(Baudrillard, 1988: 104). The broader point is that it is the generator of images that decides what reality is and hence, who is outside it.

“Violence” is different from “terror.” The latter is anything that exists outside the system; it is everyone who seeks its subversion through both the unmasking of its values. They seek the re-establishment of specific cultures. They are illiberal and hence, dangerous to the system (Baudrillard, 1988: 96-97).

The system sees terror as a problem and opportunity. The system’s bureaucratic organization does not permit to effectively respond. This machine, neither private nor public, cannot fight a guerrilla war because such wars follow no rules. “Guerrilla terrorists” do not wear uniforms, follow no standard military protocols, and have a flair for the symbolic. The “symbolic” refers to those realities that are expanded beyond their initial impact and become emblematic of their broader ideas. 9-11 destroyed the Trade Towers and surrounding buildings. Yet, in the virtual world, it is far more. It served to humiliate the insulated projectors of the hyper-real. These eternally invisible “terrorists” are a threat because they actually live in the real, have a solid culture and are not enmeshed in hyper-reality (Baudrillard, 1988: 101).

However, the existence of these guerrilla bands, large enough to cause fear but not so large as to take the system head on, are used by the it to keep everyone on guard. Subjects then become fearful and suspicious, which leads to a state of great suggestibility. Baudrillard and Klein (2007) argue that “crisis” is used to buttress the system of images. Baudrillard argues that when the system runs out of enemies, it must create them (Baudrillard, 1988: 93). The upsurge against it is sporadic and decentralized, but really only an irritant. They are the revenge of the “singular” against the global order: the constant drive to homogenization (Baudrillard, 1988: 98).

Globalisation has been created by economic actors far more powerful than states or governments. John Urry (2005) writes “Empire is the sovereign power, creating a ‘smooth world’, the single logic of rule that now governs the world. This new sovereignty is deterritorialised and de-centered, with a merging and blending of a ‘global rainbow’” (Urry, 249). Scholte (2002) says the same, but argues that the imperial use of technology can empower, as well as dis-empower, those seeking to resist it. Poster argues that the faux-universal ideas stressed by Baudrillard are the final manifestation of the “Enlightenment” (Poster, 2008: 5). The universal claims of globalization are western European, elite and purely modern, based on concentrated capital and mechanization (Poster, 16).

Mark Fisher states that such a system “. . . can only emerge in a late capitalist culture in which images acquire an autonomous force. The way value is generated on the stock exchange depends of course less on what a company ‘really does’, and more on perceptions of, and beliefs about, its (future) performance (Fisher, 2009: 54-56). The point is that the world of virtual reality, relative values, an elastic “individualism” and capitalist relations are all part of the liberal order. Liberalism leads to a world without purpose; an ethics without virtue and discourse without foundation. Modern globalization is not conceivable without it (Fisher, 30-32).

To reject this world, even passively, is to be an outsider. The problem is that none of the authors in this field are outsiders, they are deeply enmeshed in the system and have made their peace with it. Actual rebels end up dead or in prison, not granted tenure.

Nevertheless, their arguments all converge on the truth that nominalism, individualism and relativism are absolutely essential for hyper-reality to have an “anti-ontology” from which to generate “reality.” It would seem that the solution to the evils of liberalism world require, at a minimum, a rejection of liberalism. Such an argument is not an option for most academics. It would be career-destroying.

Z. Bauman states: “The very project of modernity is born out of the desire for a world without surprises, a safe world, a world without fear” (in Galecki, 2006). He is arguing that this false world comes from the desire to reshape reality. He then comments that the older ties of human solidarity have been destroyed by the individualism necessarily promoted by this same project: “there is no individual self-determination without social solidarity” (Bauman, 2006: 144-146). Where these past values came from remains a mystery. Social solidarity, given his definition, must come from a pre-modern world. It must exist prior to the Enlightenment. This leaves us with romanticism, ethnic and religious community, agrarianism and the traditional world of the village. Committing to these, however, are not options in liberal academia, so he has to leave that part blank.

Bauman, rejecting the religious movements against globalization, reduces them to a “. . . longing for certainty in an unstable world. It is an escape from extremely complicated problems we cannot even name. . . It is nostalgia for a lost, simple world and the elementary array of tasks within this world” (in Gałecki, 2006). This dismissal is an extreme example of oversimplification. It is the use of virtual symbols to reject illiberal movements against the same liberalism he too rejects. If these problems are too complex for even a name, then how does he know to reject these solutions? Since he offers none in his (2006) work, dismissing other forms of resistance is forced and sloppy. This is especially acute when these groups use language almost identical to his own. If they are correct on diagnosing the problems, then how ‘simple’ can they be? This poor reasoning derives from Bauman’s refusal to admit the obvious: If liberalism is to be replaced, then its replacement cannot be liberal. Given the strictures of academia, he is forced to live with cognitive dissonance.

The other authors reviewed here have the same problem. David Harvey, in his (2005) A Brief History of Neoliberalism, writes that capitalism appropriated the rhetoric of the “liberty of consumer choice, not only with respect to particular products but also with respect to lifestyles, modes of expression, and a wide range of cultural practices” (Harvey, 2005: 42).

From the point of view of modern liberalism, Harvey is treading on dangerous ground. Worse, he writes, “[New York’s] elites acceded. . . to the demand for lifestyle diversification (including those attached to sexual preference and gender) and increasing consumer niche choices.” Capitalism, neoliberalism and the hyper-real are all connected. The machinery of hypnosis that makes it all hang together is summarized as: “The narcissistic exploration of self, sexuality, and identity became the leitmotif of bourgeois urban culture. Artistic freedom and artistic license, promoted by the city’s powerful cultural institutions, led, in effect, to the neoliberalization of culture” (Harvey, 47).

As if reassuring himself as to the obvious correctness of the same liberalism he just excoriated, he writes:

The Republican Party sought an alliance with the Christian right. . . . they appealed to the cultural nationalism of the white working classes and their besieged sense of moral righteousness (besieged because this class lived under conditions of chronic economic insecurity). This political base could be mobilized through the positives of religion and cultural nationalism and negatively through coded, if not blatant, racism, homophobia, and antifeminism (Harvey, 49-50).

Harvey has backed himself into a corner. He is condemning the “Christian right” for rejecting the same phenomena he has just condemned. Harvey, for example, does not tell us the nature of these moral foundations that have been washed away. Aren’t these Christian standards? He makes reference to an absolute standard without bothering to explain it. Harvey does not have to justify his views because his colleagues are generally liberal. He must reassure himself as well as the structure within which he works that he remains a liberal. The strange conflict that derives from this will just have to stand.

Naomi Klein has the same problem, but she merely denies that exists. The mental gymnastics required for this are really not a problem, since much, of not all of her audience is unaware of the conflicts. She argues that capitalism and globalization are not liberal ideologies at all, but conservative. Refusing to define the term, she lumps militarism, nationalism, traditionalism and post-modern capitalism into the same hyper-real symbol (Klein, 2007: 7). It is a pure simulacrum; it has no referent.

The “Shock Doctrine” is a well-known idea usually associated with the “far right” in American politics. She does not bother to cite the originators of this idea, but permits the reader to believe it is her creation. Klein is correct that the rhetoric of capitalist freedom is a fraud, but this only shows that liberalism is authoritarian. Fisher has already said the same above.

Klein makes no attempt to explain how the followers of Burke, Adams and Dostoevsky have suddenly converted to a revolutionary, global, culture-less capitalism, only that they have (Bowman (2010) makes the same error; Norberg, (2008) however, makes a similar argument about Klein). These are all slaves of their own hyper-real ideological prison. There is no escape for this unless they want to be run out of academics.

Baudrillard, Fisher, Bowman, Poster, Bauman and Harvey are all saying the same thing. Their negative analysis is first-class. Their positive ideas either do not exist or are reduced to vague, hyper-real symbols such as “democracy” or “human rights,” themselves liberal. Refusing to admit that this same deconstruction can be turned on themselves, they reassure each other through fierce condemnations of the illiberalism their own criticisms make necessary. They have to be aware of this.

All of these are examples of what Baudrillard, et al. define as both “violence as symbol” and the hyper-reality of post-modern globalism. The critics of globalization operate within a virtual world that rewards their efforts without the inconvenience of being outsiders against it. Klein’s lucrative job in academia, tenure, light work loads and best selling books do not bespeak a “outsider” status. Rebellion is itself standardized and proceeds according to a script. Keeping to that script permits the “rebel” to act as an outsider while reaping the rewards of an imprisoned, conflicted insider. The harsh rhetoric above is likely a consequence of this. Holding that global capitalism is relativist and amoral, she does not tell us where her absolute demands for justice come from.

Everyone above agrees that the global order is modern, imperial, technological, secular and morally relativist. No one claims that post-modern virtual reality comes from the Carolingian empire. Therefore, the solution must be based upon strong social, ethnic and religious ties; limits on technology and personal desire; religion and the absolute; communitarianism, cultural specificity and decentralization. These are only the more obvious consequences, and none of them are, ipso facto, a problem to advocate unless there is some other force constraining them (all).

The broader point about Baudrillard and the school he helped make mainstream is that it spells the end of liberalism. It retains its power over many, but its assumptions are being rotted away by the continual exposure of its own absurdities. However, the act of making something mainstream is to bring it into the hyper-real. That has yet to dawn on many of them. They have provided the mental tools to become real outsiders and to, as a result, expose the similacra for what they are.

The reader is left to console himself through suspension of disbelief. Weiner speaks of the distinction between America and Europe as the distinction between the pragmatic “expert” and the lofty “intellectual,” (Weiner 2003, 16). This is probably true, albeit a wild over-generalization. It is also an older conservative opinion. Kirk himself made a similar distinction between “training” and “education” or, alternatively, between the “scholar” and the “intellectual” (Kirk, 1953: 476-478). Kirk states that the postmodern world is that of the technician, while the real world, the world outside the matrix, is that of the great authors from Plato to TS Eliot (Kirk, 1956).

Kirk makes more sense than Baudrillard or his followers, if only in that Kirk still hangs on to the real world that exists, barely, under layers and layers of illusion. It may be as simple as the difference between Baudrillard surrendering to the matrix while Kirk did not. At the same time, rescuing the social sciences is not worth anyone’s time, since the nominalist, Enlightenment-era naivete of modern “science” is guilty of laying the foundation for this matrix. Baudrillard writes in this regard:

America is the original version of modernity. We are the dubbed or subtitled version. America ducks the question of origins; it cultivates no origin or mythical authenticity; it has no past and no founding truth. Having known no primitive accumulation of time, it lives in a perpetual present (Baudrillard, 2010: 82).

No wonder Bogard is so irritated. The conclusion here is simple: if the world of the postmodern market is illusory, has no “origins” and does not even pretend to be “authentic,” then what is real? How is it known? And how is it returned to its rightful place? If the real is said not to exist at all, then several conclusions seem inescapable, that a) the critique of the illusory has no purpose; b) the critique itself is undercut; and c) no critique is possible at all.

If the real is always a social construction, than Nietzsche wins; power is all that matters. Yet, the use of power for someone else’s self interest is what made Baudrillard put pen to paper in the first place. Liberal and leftist academics are in a constant state of cognitive dissonance. They cannot claim to be liberals and then accept the arguments of Baudrillard. Relativism is a bad thing, they all say, and is the cause and foundation of modern capitalist authoirtarianism. There was a time when the politics of the spectacle didn’t hold sway. Therefore, those periods and ideas were, generally speaking, better than the present “hyper-real” world. The likes of Klein would rather chop off her own foot and eat it before admitting this inescapable fact. So unless the above questions are answered, the impasse might be permanent.



Appadurai, A. 1996. Modernity at Large. University of Minnesota Press

Applbaum, Kalman (1998) The Sweetness of Salvation: Consumer Marketing and the Liberal-Bourgeois Theory of Needs. Current Anthropology, 39(3), 323-350

Baudrillard, J. 1988. The Violence of The Global. In: The Spirit of Terrorism. Verso Publishing, pp 86-105

Baudrillard, Jean (2010). America. Verso

Bauman, Z. 2006. Liquid Fears. Polity Press

Bogard, William (1990) Closing Down the Social: Baudrillard’s Challenge to Contemporary Sociology. Sociological Theory, 8(1), 1-15

Bowman, P. 2010. Cut the Shock Doctrine. Radicalize Common Sense. Culture Machine, 1-12

Fisher, M. 2009. Capitalist Realism: Is There no Alternative? O Books

Harvey, D. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford University Press

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Klein, N. 2007 The Shock Doctrine. Alan Lane

Norberg, J. (2008) The Klein Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Polemics. Cato Institute Briefing Paper 102

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Rubenstein, Diane (1989) The Mirror of Reproduction: Baudrillard and Reagan’s America. Political Theory, 17(4), 582-606

Scholte, JA. (2002) What Is Globalization? The Definitional Issue – Again. CSGR Working Paper No. 109/02. Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation

Urry, J. (2005) The Complexities of the Global. Theory, Culture & Society, 22(5), 235-254

Virilio, Paul. (1995) Speed and Information: Cyberspace Alarm! Ctheory

Weiner, Susan (2001) “Terre à Terre:” Tocqueville, Aron, Baudrillard, and the American Way of Life. Yale French Studies, 100, 13-24


The Pagan Roots of Christmas Trees, Evergreen & Mistletoe

By J.S. Redfield, 1846

Mark Dagley~ “Evergreen”, 40 x 96 inches, enamel, iron, MDF, 2017



Like other natural objects of signal importance to man, whether yielding food, affording shelter, or simply conferring loveliness on the landscape, trees, in the earlier stages of society, have uniformly been the fertile subjects of poetical and mythological allusion. Many of the prettiest legends of heathen antiquity, as well as of our Christian progenitors, relate to trees; while poets, in all countries and ages, have borrowed from them their most brilliant imagery and comparisons. Without inquiring into the causes of these varied allusions, we intend to present the reader with a few of the more remarkable legends.

The White Poplar, according to ancient mythology, was consecrated to Hercules, because he destroyed Cacus in a cavern of Mount Aventine, which was covered with these trees; and in the moment of his triumph, bound his brow with a branch of one as a token of his. victory.

When he descended into the infernal regions, he also returned with a wreath of white poplar round his head. It was this, says the fable, that made the leaves of the color they are now. The perspiration from the hero’s brow made the inner part of the leaf white ; while the smoke of the lower regions turned the upper surface of the leaves almost black. Persons sacrificing to Hercules were always crowned with branches of this tree ; and all who had gloriously conquered their enemies in battle wore garlands of it, in imitation of Hercules. It is said that the ancients consecrated “the white poplar to Time, because the leaves are in continual agitation; and being of a blackish green on one side, with a thick white cotton on the other, these were supposed to indicate the alternation of day and night.

The Black Poplar is no less celebrated in fable than its congener above-mentioned. According to Ovid, when Phaethon borrowed the chariot and horses of the sun, and, by his heedless driving, set half the world on fire, he was hurled from the chariot by Jupiter into the Po, where he was drowned ; and his sisters, the Heliades, wandering on the banks of the river, were changed into trees—supposed by most commentators to be poplars.

The evidence in favor of the poplar consists in there being abundance of black poplars on the banks of the Po; in the poplar, in common with many other aquatic trees, being so surcharged with moisture, as to have it exuding through the pores of the leaves, which may thus literally be said to weep ; and in there being no tree on which the sun shines more brightly than on the black poplar, thus still showing gleams of parental affection to the only memorial left of the unhappy son whom his own fondness had contributed to destroy.

The Apple-Tree, so singularly connected with the first transgression and fall of man, is distinguished alike in the mythologies of the Greeks, Scandinavians, and Druids. The golden fruits of the Hesperides, which it was one of the labors of Hercules to procure, in spite of the sleepless dragon which guarded them, were believed by the pagans to be apples. Hercules was worshiped by the Thebans under the name of Melius; and apples were offered at his altars.

The origin of this custom was the circumstance of the river Asopus having on one occasion overflowed its banks to such an extent, as to render it impossible to bring a sheep across it which was to be sacrificed to Hercules, when some youths, recollecting that an apple bore the same name as a sheep in Greek (melon), offered an apple, with four little sticks stuck in it, to resemble legs, as a substitute for sheep ; and after that period, the pagans always considered the apple as especially devoted to Hercules. In the Scandinavian Edda, we are told that the goddess Iduna had the care of apples which had the power of conferring immortality, and which were consequently reserved for the gods, who ate of them when they began to feel themselves growing old. The evil spirit, Loke, took away Iduna and her apple-tree, and hid them in a forest, where they could not be found by the gods. In consequence of this malicious theft, everything went wrong in the world. The gods became old and infirm; and, enfeebled both in body and in mind, no longer paid the same attention to the affairs of the earth, and men having no one to look after them, fell into evil courses, and became the prey of the evil spirit. At length the gods, finding matters get worse and worse every day, roused their last remains of vigor, and combining together, forced Loke to restore the tree.

The Druids paid particular reverence to the apple-tree, because the mistletoe was supposed to grow only on it and the oak, and also on account of the usefulness of its fruit. In consequence of this feeling, the apple was cultivated in Britain from the earliest ages of which we have any record; and Glastonbury was called the apple orchard, from the quantity of apples grown there previous to the time of the Romans.

Many old rites and ceremonies are therefore connected with this tree, some of which are practiced in the orchard districts even at the present day. ” On Christmas eve,” says Mrs. Bray, ” the farmers and their men in Devonshire take a large bowl of cider, with a toast in it, and carrying it in state to the orchard, they salute the apple-trees with much ceremony, in order to make them bear well next season. This salutation consists in throwing some of the cider about the roots of the tree, placing bits of the toast on the branches, and then forming themselves into a ring, they, like the bards of old, set up their voices and sing a song, which may be found in Brand’s Popular Antiquities. In Hone’s Every-Day Book, this custom is mentioned, but with some slight variation.

The wassail bowl, drunk on All Hallow E’en, Twelfth Day Eve, Christmas Eve, and on other festivals of the church, was compounded of ale, sugar, nutmeg, and roasted apples, which every person partook of, each taking out an apple with the spoon, and then drinking out of the bowl. Sometimes the roasted apples were bruised and mixed with milk or white wine instead of ale; and in some parts of the country apples were roasted on a string, till they dropped off into a bowl of spiced ale beneath, which was called Lamb’s Wool. The reason of this name, which is common to all the compounds of apples and ale, is attributed by Vallancey to its being drunk on the 31st of October, All Hallow E’en; the first day of November being dedicated to the angel presiding over fruit, seeds, &c., and therefore named La Mas Ubhal, that is, the day of the apple-fruit, and this being pronounced lamosool, soon became corrupted by the English into lamb’s wool. Apples were blessed by the priests on the 25th of July, and an especial form for this purpose is preserved in the manual of the church of Sarum.

The custom of bobbing for apples on All Hallow E’en, and on All Saints Day, which was formerly common over all England, and is still practiced in some parts of Ireland, has lately been rendered familiar by M’Clise’s masterly painting of the Sports of All Hallow E’en. A kind of hanging-beam, which was continually turning, was suspended from the roof of the room, and an apple placed at one end, and a lighted candle at the other. The parties having their hands tied behind them, and being to catch the apple with their mouths, frequently caught the candle instead. In Warwickshire, apples are tied to a string, and caught at in the same manner, but the lighted candle is omitted; and in the same county children roast apples on a string on Christmas Eve; the first who can catch an apple, when it drops from the string’, getting it. In Scotland, apples are put into a tub of water, and then bobbed for with the mouth.

The Ash, according to heathen mythology, furnished the wood of which Cupid made his arrows, before he had learned to adopt the more fatal cypress. In the Scandinavian Edda, it is stated that the court of the gods is held under a mighty ash, the summit of which reaches the heavens, the branches overshadow the whole earth, and the roots penetrate to the infernal regions. An eagle rests on its summit, to observe everything that passes, to whom a squirrel constantly ascends to report those things which the exalted bird may have neglected to notice. Serpents are twined round the trunk, and from the roots there spring two limpid fountains, in one of which wisdom lies concealed, and in the other a knowledge of the things to come. Three virgins constantly attend on this tree, to sprinkle its leaves with water from the magic fountains, and this water, falling on the earth in the shape of dew, produces honey. Man, according to the Edda, was formed from the wood of this tree. Ancient writers of all nations state that the serpent entertains an extraordinary respect for the ash. Pliny says that if a serpent be placed near a fire, and both surrounded by ashen twigs, the serpent will sooner run into the fire than pass over the pieces of ash; and Dioscorides asserts that the juice of ash leaves, mixed with wine, is a cure for the bite of that reptile.

The Oak appears early to have been an object of worship among the Celts and ancient Britons. Under the form of this tree the Celts worshiped their god Tuet, and the Britons Tarnawa, their god of thunder. Baal, the Celtic god of fire, whose festival (that of Yule) was kept at Christmas, was also worshiped under the semblance of an oak.

The Druids professed to maintain perpetual fire; and once every year all the fires belonging to the people were extinguished, and relighted from the sacred fire of their priests. This was the origin of the Yule log, with which, even so lately as the middle of last century, the Christmas fire, in some parts of the country, was always kindled ; a fresh log being thrown on and lighted, but taken off before it was consumed, and reserved to kindle the Christmas fire of the following year.

The Yule log was always of oak, and as the ancient Britons believed that it was essential for their hearth-fires to be renewed every year from the sacred fire of the Druids, so their descendants thought that some misfortune would befall them if any accident happened to the Yule log.

The worship of the Druids was generally performed under an oak, and a heap of stones or cairn was erected on which the sacred fire was kindled. Before the ceremony of gathering the mistletoe, the Druids fasted for several days, and offered sacrifices in wicker baskets or frames, which, however, were not of willow, but of oak twigs curiously interwoven, and were similar to that still carried by Jackin-the-green on May-day, which, according to some, is a relic of Druidism.

The well-known chorus of ” Hey, derry down,” according to Professor Burnet, was a Druidic chant, signifying literally, ” In a circle the oak move around.” Criminals were tried under an oak-tree ; the judge, with the jury, being seated under its shade, and the culprit placed in a circle made by the chief Druid’s wand. The Saxons also held their national meetings under an oak, and the celebrated conference between the Saxons and the Britons, after the invasion of the former, was held under the oaks of Dartmoor.

The Mistletoe, particularly that which grows on the oak, was held in great veneration by the Britons. At the beginning of their year, the Druids went in solemn procession into the forests, and raised a grass altar at the foot of the finest oak, on which they inscribed the names of those gods which were considered as the most powerful.

After this the chief Druid, clad in a white garment, ascended the tree, and cropped the mistletoe with a consecrated golden pruning-hook, the other Druids receiving it in a pure white cloth, which they held beneath the tree. The mistletoe was then dipped in water by the principal Druid, and distributed among the people, as a preservative against witchcraft and diseases. If any part of the plant touched the ground, it was considered to be the omen of some dreadful misfortune which was about to fall upon the land. The ceremony was always performed when the moon was six days old, and two white bulls were sacrificed at the conclusion.

In Scandinavian mythology, Loke, the evil spirit, is said to have made the arrow with which he wounded Balder (Apollo), the son of Friga (Venus), of mistletoe branches. Balder was charmed against injury from everything which sprang from fire, earth, air, and water; but the mistletoe, springing from neither, was found to be fatal, and Balder was not restored to the world till by a general effort of the other gods. The magical properties of the mistletoe are mentioned both by Virgil and Ovid. In the dark ages a similar belief prevailed; and even to the present day the /peasants of Holstein, and some other countries, call the mistletoe the “spectre’s wand,” from the supposition, that holding a branch of mistletoe will not only enable a man to see ghosts, but to force them to speak to him.

The custom of kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas has been handed down to us by our Saxon ancestors, who, on the restoration of Balder, dedicated the plant to their Venus (Friga), to place it entirely under her control, and to prevent it from being again used against her as an instrument of mischief. In the feudal ages, it was gathered with great solemnity on Christmas Eve, and hung up in the great hall with loud shouts and rejoicing :—

Then opened wide the baron’s hall
To vassal, tenant, serf, and all.”

The Holly, like some other evergreens, has long been used at Christmas for ornamenting churches and dwelling-houses. It appears to have been first made use of for this purpose by the early Christians at Rome, and was probably adopted for decorating the churches at Christmas, because holly was used in the great festival of the Saturnalia, which occurred about that period. It was customary among the Romans to send boughs of holly, during the Saturnalia, as emblematic of good wishes, with the gilts they presented to their friends at that season ; and the holly came thus to be considered as an emblem of peace and good-will.

Whatever may have been the origin of the practice of decorating churches and houses with holly, it is of great antiquity. In England, perhaps, the earliest record of the custom is in a carol in praise of holly, written in the time of Henry VI., beginning with the stanza—

” Nay, ivy, nay. it shall not be. I wys; Let holly hafe the maystry [mastery,] as the manner is.

Holy stonde in the hallr, fayre to behold;

Ivy stonde without the dore : she is ful sore a-cold.”

In illustration of which it must be observed that the ivy, being dedicated to Bacchus, was used as a vintner’s sign in winter, and hung outside the door.

The disciples of Zoroaster, the author of fire-worship, believed that the sun never shadows the holly-tree; and the followers of that philosopher, who still remain in Persia and India, are said to throw water impregnated with holly bark in the face of a new-born child. In the language of flowers, the holly is the symbol of foresight and caution.

Source: New Pictorial Library R.Sears, J.S. Redfield, 1846

MARK DAGLEY Radical Structures


Spencer Brownstone Gallery is pleased to present Radical Structures, Mark Dagley’s first solo exhibition in five years and debut with the gallery. The show features a wide range of painting techniques spanning forty years of the artist’s career, from 1977 to present.

The spectrum of materials in Radical Structures  polymer-resin, vinyl acrylic, wire mesh, and brushed copper, to name a few  traces his thorough examination of structure and texture. Preparatory drawings for his paintings resemble blueprints and reveal his highly methodical approach. Despite its studied and calculated qualities that point inward, Dagley’s work has always featured balance with its environment and frank acknowledgement of its corporeality. The surfaces of his work exhibit entropy as well as varying degrees of finish. His paintings do not simply exist on a wall but purposefully hang, lean, sit, and rest.


Mark Dagley’s exploration of form was ahead of its time, preceding similar more widely recognized work. Radical Structures aims to survey his expansive ouevre and present never before shown pieces including the Construct series. These large-scale works of paint and common construction material plot new points on his matrix of materialized geometry.


Opening Reception: Wednesday, Dec. 13, 6-8pm

Spencer Brownstone Gallery
170-B Suffolk Street
New York, NY 10002
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Gallery hours
11am to 6pm, Wednesday – Sunday
Closed Monday & Tuesday



Concurrently on view at W. Alexander

Repeating Sequence: 1967-2006 

Larry Bell
Richard Anuszkiewicz
Max Bill
Thomas Downing
Howard Mehring
Rogelio Polesello
Mark Dagley
Kumiko Imanaka
Onosato Toshinobu