Guy Debord - further comment ("Eric Blair")

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Thu Aug 28 10:43:38 MDT 2003

----- Original Message -----
From: "Eric Blair" <eric at>
To: <bendien at>
Sent: Wednesday, August 27, 2003 10:25 PM
Subject: Re: Guy Debord - further comment (Jim Farmelant)

> Excellent ideas.  Thank you.
> -blair

Glad to be of help - I make no judgement of condemnation of Guy Debord's
personality of course, I recognise that he was some sort of revolutionary
who tried to live his idea as best as he could, I refer only to some of his
behaviours which I disagree with, which I think are a fault, a mistake.
Likewise, I think that many of Bourdieu's and John Cleese's ideas are
perfectly valid. It is just that a socialist cannot be content with the
deconstruction of an image, he wants to know what circumstances are behind
the image, and to some extent, Debord's strategy prevent this, is an
obstacle to it, that is my argument.

I am only warning people that Debord living his idea, ultimately led to
suicide, and not to socialism, that is all, so that his "medicine" may in
one case be beneficial, but in another case be poison, and cause death. This
does not deny the utility of the medicine he prescribes in seeking to treat
particular cultural diseases, but does say that excessive doses or wrong
applications may be lethal, you have to relativise this. I am not one of
these people who wants to devote time to the concept of "meaningful death" -
it's better to be a doctor than Jesus Christ, the latter whom had the
misfortune of people trying to see a meaning in his death which wasn't
there, mystifying what he was about. My own sister died when I was 5 years
old, from which I concluded that death may occur at anytime, without the
occurrence of death having any special "meaning" of itself. It isn't the
best starting position for a confidently lived life perhaps, but I think it
is a valid viewpoint.

I think, though, that the case of Guy Debord is very instructive in thinking
through the problem of the meaning of taking responsibility for your own
actions, given that, with modern information and communications technology,
it is possible to attach many unintended consequences to the behaviour of an
individual, in a way which may totally corrupt, disorient, or demoralise the
individual, and/or destroy his bodily or mental health, with the result that
the individual is not able to take responsibility for his personal behaviour
anymore, or at least not to an extent required for acceptable social
functioning, and lacks a self-concept which is objectively defensible or
sustainable, in any shape or form. It is an elementary rule of military
procedure that, in the normal run of events, you hit the enemy where he
currently happens to be weakest, or at any rate, a position which is not
welldefended yet critical to enemy operations. Applied to sexual,
psychological or cultural warfare, you can wreck an individual that way.

So I think when I look as a case like Debord, that I should rescue the
"rational kernel" inside the mystical shell, rather than apply a Stalinist
"are you for me or against me" rule, or a Jesus Christ rule of "whomever is
not for me, is against me" (superpoliticisation). A socialist has an
attitude in dealing with political questions of: "does this advance the
socialist cause, or does not not advance the cause of socialism" and I think
that it must be recognised that Debord did advance it is some ways, for
example, (1) by saying very clearly "don't be fooled by any mediated
representation of reality, don't impute a power to it that it does not have,
do not be seduced by it". But there is a sense in which he was a fool in
other ways, that he had some sort of ego problem, but even so, this
foolishness and misplaced egoism I am prepared to treat sympathetically,
insofar a human being simply cannot know everything, cannot foresee
everything, does not have full control over what happens to him, and so on.
(2) By providing some survival strategies involving conceptual reframing,
which apply to highly contradictory, complex situations in which every
attempt possible is made to grind an individual down. But if you lack
objectivity, do not strive for it, and engage in excessive paranoia,
victimisation and persecution complexes, then you may dig your own grave.
And I think a case can be made that Debord just exaggerated some things to
much, he went over the limit of what was healthy for him. But here too, you
can have some sympathy, since every revolutionary strives to push the limits
of what human beings can do, beyond what is currently thought possible (I'd
had quite a few kicks up the ass for what others perceived as cringing or
crawling behaviours). One reason is that in the revolutionary personality,
some aspects of his nature were in some sense denied. In Cuba and Nicaragua
they used the political slogan, "patria o muerte".

I don't consider myself any better or worse than Debord, I am a fool too, in
a certain sense, or find it difficult to get out of foolishness,  I just
have different priorities than Debord, that is all, even if my conditions of
life may sometimes appear just as tenuous and precarious as Debord's (refer
Desmond Bagley, The Tightrope Men, at least that is the title, if I have the
correct one). Shakespeare relativises this in his play "The Twelfth Night"
by saying "Better a witty fool than a foolish wit", which is good advice,
even although it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference. I stuck the
magnet label with that quote on my fridge.

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please;
they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under
circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.
The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an Alp on the brains
of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with
revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not
exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they
anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service,
borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to
present this new scene in world history in this time-honored disguise
and this borrowed language." - Karl Marx

Bourgeois revolutions, such as those of the eighteenth century, storm along
from strength to strength; their dramatic effects out do one another, people
and events seem to have a jewel-like sparkle, ecstasy is the feeling of the
day; but they are short lived, quickly attaining their zenith, and a lengthy
hangover grips society before it soberly absorbs the burning lessons of such
Sturm and Drang. By contrast, proletarian revolutions, such as those of the
nineteenth century, engage in perpetual self-criticism, always stopping
intheir own tracks; they return to what is apparently complete in order to
begin it anew, and deride with savage brutality the inadequacies, weak
points, and pitiful aspects of their first attempts. They seem to strike
down their adversary, only to have him draw new powers from the earth and
rise against them once more with the strength of a giant; againand again
they draw back from the prodigious scope of their own aims, until a
situation is created which makes impossible any reversion, and circumstances
themselves cry out: Hic Rhodus, hic salta! Hier ist Rose, hier tanze! (I;
1996, 35)
Karl Marx



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