society of the spectacle by guy debord

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Aug 26 17:20:58 MDT 2003

>Hello,  perhaps this isn't the right way to go about it, but I've been
>reading this list for sometime and am curious if anyone (Mr. Proyect,
>Shaffer, Lippman perhaps?) has anything  to say about Debord's Society of
>the Spectacle, or the Situationist International, who from what I know
>happened to be Marxists very much against both Western Capitalism and what
>they call the State Bureaucratic Capitalism of the USSR, China, Cuba, etc...

The Game of War: the life and death of Guy Debord, by Andrew Hussey; The
Society of the Spectacle, by Guy Debord, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith

How did a revolutionary guru of May '68 help to form punk rock? Charles
Shaar Murray on a secret history

The Independent, 14 July 2001


Guy Debord was born in 1931 into a family on the point of ceasing to be
wealthy. A bullying stepfather unwittingly instilled in him a profound
anti-authoritarian sensibility which led him towards the transgressive:
first in literature - Goth Boy, of course -- then in art and, finally, in
politics. The primacy of anti-authoritarianism as a governing principle
guided him through the worlds of avant-garde art, and the politics of the
salon and the street.

The Society of the Spectacle demonstrates his mastery of modern Marxism
(the section "The Proletariat as Subject and Representation" is as
penetrating a Marxist critique of Bolshevik-Leninism in theory and practice
as one could hope to read) but, ultimately, Debord was not a Marxist. He
recognised that early Marxism provided a uniquely powerful and flexible set
of intellectual tools, perfectly suited for attacking the targets he had in
his sights, and he used them brilliantly, but he was not necessarily
committed to them. The Situationists were utterly opposed not only to
Stalinism, but also to Maoism, Trotskyism, anarchism and just about every
other -ism, including their own.

Despite the fact that he repeatedly called for governance by workers'
councils, even though it was blatantly obvious that he would have found
such a regime as oppressive as either liberal capitalism or bureaucratic
oligarchy, Debord was not even a socialist. Quite the reverse: he was an
elitist misanthrope endowed with formidable intellectual and creative
powers, and a personal magnetism which rendered him attractive even -
especially - for those to whom he meted out the most dismissive or (to use
a word which recurs in Andrew Hussey's life) "disdainful" treatment.

Furthermore, Debord's snotty elitism helped to isolate him from the most
fertile human ground upon which his cultural seed has fallen. He hated
dopers, preferring to achieve his own intoxication via copious draughts of
red wine and calvados; and despised pop culture in general, and pop music
in particular, as another mindlessly vulgar aspect of the spectacle. If he
had been paying more attention, he might have noted that ever since the
advent of Brian Jones, the rock music of the Sixties and after was a
natural homing ground for the kind of nihilist dandies that he so admired
in poetry or painting.


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