situationism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Mon Mar 26 10:45:15 MST 2001


>im curious to find out list members opinions and experiences in regards to
>situationism, situationist authors like debord, vaneigem, jorn, etc. and
>situationist groups like the london and nyc psychogeographical
associations.
>what type of activity and effect have they had since the may 68 events?  ive
>never come across any articles, reports, or second hand references to such
>groups.  are they generally not taken seriously?  if not, why?  thanks in
>advance.
>
>  keith

The SI archives are at: http://www.nothingness.org/si/

Here is an article from the bourgeois press that does not exactly inspire
me to find out more about this movement:

The Guardian (London), May 28, 1992

THE POLITICS OF HAVING A GOOD TIME

SUZANNE MOORE

The Most Radical Gesture, the Situationist International in a Postmodern
Age, by Sadie Plant (Routledge, hdbk pounds 35, pbk pounds 10.99)

IN THE smog of current political debate, in which the ultimate choice is
pre sented as being between one John and another, to talk of pleasure and
politics in the same breath seems faintly ridiculous. Yet the Situationist
demand for "a rise in the pleasure of living" is as radical now as it has
always been. Not only have Situationist ideas refused to go away, cropping
up everywhere from punk to the architecture of Nigel Coates, their legacy
is seen most compellingly in much post-modern theorising. Imagining
Baudrillard without Guy Debord is like Surrealism without Dada.

What Sadie Plant's accessible little book, The Most Radical Gesture, does
is to actually situate Situationism within the context of contemporary
thought, as well as demonstrating the extent to which its style and tactics
have influenced subsequent political and cultural theory. Along the way she
cleverly persuades that the vitality of Situationism may in the end have
more to offer than the pessimistic inertia of much post-modern theory. For
although, like the post-modernists, they saw the whole of life under
capitalism as alienated from itself, "they postulated neither the
inevitability of this alienation nor the impossibility of its critique".

The two key Situationist texts remain Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle
and Raoul Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life, both published in
1967, a decade after the establishment of the Situationist International.
Writing at a time of relative affluence, Debord defined the society of the
spectacle as one where every act and every relationship is mediated and
commodified, where technology and the media create a senseless web of
image, illusion and simulation. Yet refusing both the endless deferral of
gratification promised by the spectacle, as well as the endless deferral of
revolution promised by Marxism, Debord believed it was still possible to
negate the spectacle - to tear down its veil. Distrustful of any
traditional methods of opposition, the weapons of the Situationists would
be those which allowed the free play of imagination, creativity and desire.
Phoning in sick, shoplifting, graffiti, rioting, plagiarism - all contested
the spectacle. While the goal was not to prepare the masses for social
revolution but simply to "organise the detonation", it was considered
equally important to have fun.

This tension between enjoying yourself in the here and now, or waiting
until after the revolution, was personified by Vaneigem himself who went on
holiday when the events in Paris in 1968 started. Indeed the scandals,
mysteries and hostilities that took place between the actual members of the
Situationist International, combined with Debord's cocksure arrogance,
reveal a dogmatism verging on the anal-retentive that often seems quite at
odds with the inspired irreverence of their actions. Yet it is in
Vaneigem's search for a radical subjectivity - "the eruption of lived
pleasure" that could shatter the spectacular mediocrity of everyday life -
that one can see a continuity between Dada and surrealism, the Marcusian
pleasure principle through to post-structuralist jouissance, the desiring
machines of Deleuze and Guattari, the body of Foucault, the sublime of
Lyotard. The working class having failed to assume its correct
revolutionary role has forced a frantic theoretical scramble to locate the
forces of resistance elsewhere, often in the unconscious minds and weary
bodies of the disenfranchised, the dispossessed and the deranged. The
"real" political possibilites of fetishing those times when we are out of
our minds remain hazy, as Sadie Plant pragmatically points out: "While the
radical subject is ecstatic, it cannot express itself."

Such a crisis was itself precipitated by the events of May 1968 which had
thrown up the awkward question of the locus of power. Where was it? In the
TV stations? In the government? In cultural values? As a reaction,
philosophers have created new and ever more complicated accounts of the
workings and organisation of power. With the post-structuralist claim that
subjectivity is itself created in discourse, there is no way of being
outside of the spectacle, or language or ideology, so the Situationist
impulse to reveal some kind of reality has been left drifting. In this
brave new world, no such thing as subversion or intervention, or even
criticism, is feasible. Baudrillard has taken all this to its terrifyingly
logical conclusion, suggesting that reality is already always spectacle, so
we might as well just sit back and go with the flow, trying our best to
survive among the ruins.

In the face of such doom-mongering, Sadie Plant usefully reminds us that
much of what preoccupies post-modern thought is prefigured in Situationist
writings. Baudrillard's celebration of hyper-reality has, according to Guy
Debord, simply "happily accepted the spectacle's own account of itself."
The interest in cities, in pleasure, in the collapse of distinctions
between aesthetic and everyday concerns, the iconoclasm - not to mention
the neglect of any society other than our own - are all already there in
Situationist texts. But the crucial opposition between the real and the
spectacle has been lost in favour of nihilism and sub-Nietzschean
meanderings.

The Most Radical Gesture lucidly reminds us of the passion of a politics
that was actually passionate about living, where out on the street one can
be touched by what Andre Breton called "the breath of the possible". And
though the post-modernist may fiddle while cities burn, the street remains
more than a metaphor. While much contemporary writing would have us believe
that the famous slogan "Under the cobblestones, the beach" is no longer
valid - there is no beach - Plant discerns among the negativity "a sense in
which some memory of the beach persists." Real or imaginary, the
Situationists grasped the power of this vision and ran with it. As
Christopher Gray asks, "Who the hell is going to exert themselves to get
another frozen chicken, another pokey room? But the possibilities of living
in one's own cathedral. . . "

Suzanne Moore's book, Looking for Trouble, was published this year by
Serpent's Tail.


Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org






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