Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Guy Debord a.k.a. Situationist Pt. I

Readers of this blog will no doubt have noticed that it is proclaimed to be "situationist" and further doubtlessly (for the non-anarchists out there) have scratched their heads wondering what the heck that exactly means.

Wikipedia offers:
The journal Internationale Situationniste defined situationist as "having to do with the theory or practical activity of constructing situations." The same journal defined situationism as "a meaningless term improperly derived from the above. There is no such thing as situationism, which would mean a doctrine of interpretation of existing facts. The notion of situationism is obviously devised by anti-situationist." (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situationist)
Which is a quite decent summary, and verifiable from many sources. But what does "constructing situations" mean? Well, I'm going to leave a deep-dive into general situationist thought for another post and instead redirect the spotlight onto Guy Debord, the key figure in the Situationist International and author of the brilliant "Society of the Spectacle."

A brief bio of Guy Debord from Nothingness.org (the de facto home of the Situationist International) reads as follows:
Self-proclaimed leader of the Situationist International, Guy Debord was certainly responsible for the longevity and high profile of Situationist ideas, although the equation of the SI with Guy Debord would be misleading. Brilliant but autocratic, Debord helped both unify situationist praxis and destroy its expansion into areas not explicitly in line with his own ideas. His text The Society of the Spectacle remains today one of the great theoretical works on modern-day capital, cultural imperialism, and the role of mediation in social relationships.

After the dissolution of the Situationist International, Debord was tangentially implicated in the assassination of his friend and publisher Gérard Lebovici. The accusations infuriated Debord, and he consequently prohibited the showing of his films in France during his lifetime. Debord continued writing, and in 1989 he published his Commentaries on the Society of the Spectacle, arguing that everything he wrote in 1967 was still true, with one major exception: the society of the spectacle had reached a new form, that of the integrated spectacle. The prospect of overturning the society of the spectacle seemed more unlikely than ever. In December of 1994, at the age of 62, Debord killed himself. The French press, who had always repudiated the significance of the Situationist International, suddenly made him a celebrity.
Karl Marx describes the fundamental inner workings of Capital as he understood it during the late 1800s. Indeed the primal forces of capitalism still function largely as Marx described them, with exchange value and primative accumulation and all of the other core concepts completely intact.

What Guy Debord brings to the table is a compelling analysis of the recursive nature of capital in a society where image has become the core commodity. This is what Debord describes in the Society of the Spectacle, where he has radically developed the concept of the fetishization of the commodity as image, or spectacle. In his later works he applies systems theory to describe how this process continues to accelerate, and this he calls the "integrated spectacle."

The Society of the Spectacle, like Marx's works before, contains much hope. Both Marx and Debord say that the "evil systems" they are describing contain within them the kernels of their demise. Considering the way both of their lives ended I would not be surprised if either or both of them gave up hope eventually.

I suppose that I cannot imagine what it was like to go through the challenges the Guy Debord faced, with several of his friends having been assassinated and continual harassment from secret police. Nevertheless, I find and grab onto the great inspiration and hope in his early works.

I do believe that, no matter how small the chance, the seeds of a another possible world are daily planted, and like the snow crocus in early spring, that world will slowly but surely rise up from the frozen conditions to bring about a better, brighter and more just world for all man- and woman-kind.

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