“The ruthless criticism of everything that exists”

antyphayes:

A follow up to some discussion generated on Facebook in response to my earlier blog post ‘You Are Here’.

Originally posted on works & days:

He Knows

A friend posted a link to my blog post (and leaflet) You Are Nowhere on Facebook a few days ago. Many people commented on it. Below I will attempt to respond to some of the comments that emerged in the Facebook discussion. I’m not on Facebook so thanks to those who posted and defended or explained my arguments, and who also passed on this discussion.

Why did I write You Are Nowhere? I wrote ‘You Are Nowhere’ in order to present the related story of the Aktion Surreal group and the occupation of the ANU Chancelry in 1994. As opposed to the leaflets I put out in 2011 and 2012, which both directly criticized the You Are Here festival, I chose to offer a story from Canberra’s past. Indeed I believe that Aktion Surreal (hereafter AS) offers some insight into possible alternatives of artistic practice and presentation. But as…

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You Are Nowhere

you are nowhere

A leaflet released and distributed at the You Are Here festival. Click on the image above to access a pdf of it.

This year I decided to tell the tale of Aktion Surreal (1991-1994) and ANU Chancelry occupation of 1994. At its best Aktion Surreal was a collaborative artistic project more adventurous and much less restrictive than festivals like You Are Here. However I don’t think we should repeat Aktion Surreal; rather we can do better, be clearer and even more radical in our rejection of the boring commercial morality of capitalism.

In previous leaflets I have criticized the You Are Here festival for being insufficiently critical of the funding it receives from the state and capitalists.  For instance one of the main contributors of funds to the festival is the capitalist vigilante organisation Canberra CBD - an organisation which is notoriously anti-art. For instance they help the police hunt down people who graffiti the walls of this city. On the their website they write:

Use your mobile phone to snap photos of graffiti vandalism, go online and send it to Canberra Connect.

Canberra CBD Limited reports damage to the AFP [Australian Federal Police] in an effort to eventually gather enough data that can be used to incriminate the vandals.

Even as Canberra CBD organise to “clean up” and police graffiti they also hand out money to artists that contributes to “beautifying” the drab commercial zones of the city centre. The contradiction is palpable.

Artists at You Are Here must refuse to be associated with the likes of Canberra CBD. To be associated with Canberra CBD is to be a part of its “beautifying” mission and policing of all creative activities that fall outside the commercial “needs” of these property owners.

Indeed artists must make explicit what is essential to the free creation of art and everyday life: the refusal of all restraints.

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Daniel Blanchard – Helen Arnold – Richard Greeman – Socialisme ou barbarie

A recent video interview conducted in English by Richard Greeman: of himself, Daniel Blanchard and Helen Arnold – all of them former social barbarians. The discussion is relatively wide ranging, though covering mostly the time in which these three were involved in the group, from the late 1950s to its ‘official’ end in 1967.

An account of aspects of Socialisme ou Barbarie (SB) will be of interest to readers of this blog, considering its considerable influence on the practice of the Situationist International. Indeed the SI and Guy Debord figure in some of the interview, from around the 47 minute mark up until around 1:04:00. However if you are going to jump to that point I would recommend watching from 44:06, as Daniel Blanchard provides an account of ‘order-givers’ (dirigeants) and ‘order-takers’ (exécutants), vital to an understanding of Debord and the SI’s engagement with SB.

Blanchard speaks briefly of the relation he had with Guy Debord, and the circumstances which led to the writing of Preliminaries Toward Defining a Unitary Revolutionary Program. In the interview Helen Arnold comments that this text was “pretentious” and “practically unreadable” (to which Greeman gleefully ejaculates in response “I will take your word for it!”); sadly she gives no supporting evidence for her opinion. She also shows no obvious sign of knowing about the Situationist conception of détournement, nor of the very real acknowledgement of their debt to SB, when she opines that Debord borrowed more than he would admit to from SB.

A better, and more detailed account of Debord’s and Blanchard’s relations can be found in Blanchard’s written reminiscence, Debord, in the Resounding Cataract of Time.

I don’t know much about Richard Greeman but he plays the role of an irritating interlocutor, often butting in to give his version of a story he admittedly participated in only briefly (or more often to regale us with tales of his exploits in the U.S. that are only tangentially related to SB).  One particularly egregious example of his editorialising are his hostile comments against Guy Debord. Not only does he retread the well worn criticism of Debord being a tyrannical leader who expelled all who disagreed with him, he even more ridiculously accuses Debord and the SI of behaviour worse than contemporary Stalinists (because, according to Greeman, at least the Stalinists had recourse to “faked procedure”!). Unfortunately Greeman’s asinine comments are not contested by Arnold or Blanchard.

Nonetheless still worth a look if only to get a feel for the radical milieus they inhabited in the period of which they speak.

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Toward the realisation of philosophy

Recently I presented a paper at a graduate history conference at the University of Sydney. The paper is called Toward the realisation of philosophy: The Situationist International between 1957 and 1960. It is brief and has a rather abrupt end. It represents some of my current research, particularly with an eye to identifying the emergence of a coherent critique in the early, 1957 to 1961 period of the Situationist International. I also deal with the widely misunderstood and enigmatic Hamburg Theses.

A pdf of the paper is available here. This paper can also be accessed through the linked title above. It is also reproduced below.

Any criticism is welcome. Please send it to: antyphayes [at] gmail [dot] com

Toward the realisation of philosophy:
The Situationist International between 1957 and 1960

by Anthony Hayes[1]

In early September 1961, Guy Debord, Attila Kotànyi and Raoul Vaneigem, spent a few days in Hamburg ‘in a series of haphazardly chosen bars’.[2] Members of the Situationist International the three were returning to France and Belgium from the group’s just concluded Fifth Conference held in Gothenburg, Sweden. This conference was marked by heated arguments between, on the one hand, the Scandinavian and German sections of the Situationist International (hereafter SI), and on the other, the Belgian and French sections. These arguments centred on the role of art amongst Situationists, whose group had up until that time been known, when it was known, as primarily an avant-garde group of artistic origins. However what was significant about the pub crawl in Hamburg, what to a passing stranger may have seemed just another group of men on a drinking binge, was what the three Situationists discussed and composed during these few days. The fruits of these discussions came to be known as The Hamburg Theses in the SI, and though a direct consequence of the arguments at the Fifth Conference, their aim was more general. Indeed they were directed at resolving the impasse the group had reached as a whole, what Debord would later describe as ‘a theoretical and strategic discussion that concerned the totality of the conduct of the SI.’[3] Over the previous two years not only had the dispute over art continued to develop, but perhaps more pointedly the French and Belgian sections of the group had become more engaged with the French ‘ultra-left’ — in particular with the Socialism or Barbarism group.

The Hamburg Theses were significant for several reasons: first, given the live disputes in the group they were an attempt to outline a coherent practice for the group as a whole; secondly, they were never written down or publicly quoted in the group’s publications; and finally precise details of the Theses were never given to anyone outside of the group.  Indeed when Guy Debord finally spoke at some length about them almost 30 years later he wrote:

It was found that the simplest summary of its rich and complex conclusions could be expressed in a single phrase: ‘The SI must now realize philosophy.’ Even this very phrase wasn’t written down. Thus, the conclusions were so well hidden that they have remained secret until now.[4]

The ephemeral nature of the Theses — the hand written notes that were destroyed once the discussions were concluded — belies their importance to the group. Indeed the act of leaving no obvious trace apart from the actions they informed was perhaps the most important aspect of the Theses. And it is without doubt they were of central importance to the group. Debord, in the same note quoted above, went as far to write that the Theses ‘fixed the departure point for the intervention that led to the movement of May 1968 and subsequent events.’[5]

‘The SI must now realize its philosophy’. This quote from Debord, from a letter written in 1989, 28 years after the composition of the Hamburg Theses, and 17 years after the dissolution of the SI, is all that remains of this primary source, if we can even conceive of it as a primary source. It is as if the Situationists set out to deliberately recreate a pre-Socratic fragment in the midst of a modern, information saturated world; a deliberate attempt at resistance to the incessant representations and misrepresentations of what they would increasingly call the world of the spectacle. And indeed it was a deliberate act.

Debord pointed out that the source of this quote was Marx, specifically from an early text that Marx composed over the winter of 1843 and 1844. In this text — the intended Introduction to his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right — Marx criticised the political liberals and left-wing philosophers of the scattered German states of the 1840s. Of the former he argued that they tried to suppress philosophy without realising it; of the latter he argued that they tried to realise philosophy without suppressing it. For Marx the point was to realise philosophy and suppress it; suppress it, that is, as an activity apart from other activities of everyday life; as an activity that merely reflects upon the state of the world rather than engages in practical transformations. As he would later put it, perhaps more pithily and famously: ‘[t]he philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.’[6]

Perhaps the most important part of this work of Marx is to be found in his evocation of the proletariat as the revolutionary force that will, by turns, realise and suppress philosophy. For Marx what makes the proletariat capable of such is its sheer negativity: as the living embodiment of the denial of human possibility: from its domination by the burgeoning industrial labour as much as from its exclusion from the political and civil community of its day, the proletariat is the inversion of the idea of human community, made over into a negative image of its potential creativity harnessed not for it, but for a small minority of the social body. It is this idea of the creative force of negativity that Debord and the Situationists drew upon with The Hamburg Theses, for these Theses attempted to encompass the idea of revolutionary negativity in terms of both form and content.

Thus The Hamburg Theses herald the negative revolutionary potential not only by force of its unrecorded argument, but also through the gesture of its physical absence. As Debord would write later

the ‘Theses’ were a striking innovation in the succession of artistic avant-gardes, which until then had given the impression of being avid to explain themselves.[7]

Such a connection was made even more explicit in one of the few, and presumably enigmatic references to The Hamburg Theses at the time. In an article published in the 7th issue of the SI’s journal in 1962, the group wrote:

The SI must expose what is hidden, thereby exposing itself as the possibility ‘hidden’ by its enemies. Picking up on the contradictions that others have chosen to forget, we will succeed in transforming ourselves into the practical force laid out in the Hamburg Theses, as established by Debord, Kotányi, Trocchi and Vaneigem (summer 1961).[8]

The play on the words ‘hidden’ and ‘to forget’ draws attention not only to the hidden nature of the Hamburg Theses, but also the hidden and forgotten nature of modern subjectivity: the alienation of the individual from their social being and from each other. Indeed in the article quoted — a collectively written one as were many by the Situationists — the SI pose themselves as the positive pole of alienation. In a similar way to the young Marx they presented the modern revolutionary project as positive to the extent that it is based on the suppression or negation of the truly negative, i.e. the reduction of the human to mere means for the production of capital, commodities and profit, which is to say alienation in the sense that Marx gave it. Again, the modern revolutionary project was positive to the extent that it pointed out what needed to be done away with, and what impeded the positive constitution of a human community.

Unfortunately I cannot go into a detailed examination of Marx’s theory of alienation here. However the point of raising it schematically is this: the movement toward posing themselves in the words of Marx belies the fact of their emergence from the artistic avant-garde milieus of the twentieth century, rather than the Marxist milieus. No doubt these were not strictly separated, and in particular in France in the post war 1950s the artistic and political avant-gardes tended to draw from the same well, as it were. However The Hamburg Theses signified a startling development on the part of the Situationists. First, they began to draw a comparison between the philosophical project of Marx in the1840s and the project of the successive artistic avant-gardes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And secondly, and most obviously here, they argued that Marx’s philosophical project, by signalling not so much the end of philosophy as its transformation into a practical force mirrors the successive artistic avant-gardes’ search for a practice that moved beyond the merely artistic. Indeed this was the fabled ‘north west passage’ the Situationists had been searching for since their founding conference in July 1957.

In what remains of this talk I want to examine the first attempts of the Situationists to chart such a practice designed to move beyond the impasse of art and the state of the avant-gardes in the post-war world. The Hamburg Theses had two main targets: on the one hand Debord wrote that the summary, ‘the SI must now realise its philosophy […] signified that one must no longer give the least importance to the conceptions of any of the revolutionary groups that still existed as inheritors of the old social emancipation movement that was destroyed in the first half of our century’.[9] On the other hand, it signified ‘that it would no longer be necessary to count on the SI alone to relaunch a new era of contestation by renewing all of the starting points of the movement that was constituted in the 1840s.’[10] Both of these points have multiple referents. The most obvious ones are to other ultra-left Marx inspired groups, like Socialism or Barbarism, and the French and European anarchist and left-communist milieus, as well as the artistic milieus from which the SI emerged. The other implicit reference is to the SI itself. Indeed the argument over art and its role in the SI, of which the Theses is a sort of apotheosis, had also been fought over whether or not the SI was the sole expression of a purely cultural revolution; or whether or not it should aspire to such. As we will see the terms adopted by Debord, Vaneigem, Kotànyi and the other Situationists that remained in the group after the expulsion of the artists in 1962, the terms used by Marx in the 1840s and elaborated into a philosophy that poses its realisation through its suppression as an alienated activity, were first posed in the terms, practices and heritage from which the SI emerged: the artistic avant-gardes of the first half of the twentieth century.

The SI in 1957

The founding document of the SI, the Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency’s Conditions of Organization and Action, was written by Debord and presented at the founding conference of the group in July 1957.[11] For our purposes the two most important parts of the Report are the critique of the early twentieth century avant-gardes — in particular Dada and Surrealism — and the presentation of distinctly Situationist practices — in particular the ‘construction of situations’ and ‘Unitary Urbanism’.

In the Report Debord argued that Dada and Surrealism had foundered in turn, Dada on its utter negativity and Surrealism through its attempt to positively reconstitute the Dada project on more artistic lines. In what would become common to Debord’s style of criticism, he argued that both Dada and Surrealism misapprehended their greatest strengths while hailing their weakest attributes. As he would put it after The Hamburg Theses, in The Society of the Spectacle, published in 1967:

Dadaism wanted to suppress art without realizing it; Surrealism wanted to realize art without suppressing it. The critical position later elaborated by the Situationists has shown that the suppression and the realisation of art are inseparable aspects of the same overcoming of art.[12]

For Debord what was significant about the Surrealism of the 1920s was its assertion of ‘the sovereignty of desire and surprise’ and its proposition that a ‘new way of life’ was possible in opposition to a bourgeois world organised around wage labour and the family.[13] Rather than the apparent success of Surrealist activity — e.g. the unsettling dream scapes of the painters as much as the automatic verse of the poets — it was the more ephemeral practice of living that was the most important legacy of the original Surrealists: their general non-conformism, their rejection of the prevailing morality (sexually or otherwise), their penchant for scandal, and so on.

Indeed such a critique was extended to the successors of Surrealism, in particular the post-war avant-gardes, which drew precisely on the weakest phenomenal success of Surrealism at the expense of its practical non-conformism and original commitment to ‘change life’ and ‘transform the world.’[14] Thus Debord positioned the Situationist International as inheriting the Surrealist project at its most radical — the Surrealism of 1924 rather than 1958, as it was put in the second issue of the SI’s journal. And because Surrealism still existed as an organised tendency in the late 1950s, mired in all that Debord criticised (e.g. the artistic practices, the evocation of mysticism and the power of the unconscious), the Situationist project was necessarily a break not a continuation. Indeed the Situationist International derived its name from what was to be the central idea of the early SI: the construction of situations.

Constructed situations & unitary urbanism

In the first issue of the Situationist journal the constructed situation was defined as ‘[a] moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambience and a game of events.’[15] The constructed situation was opposed to the phenomenal results of previous artistic avant-gardes: painting, poetry, prose, sculpture, cinema, etc.; indeed the production of any object that could potentially be isolated and fetishized as a commodity for sale. This was not to say that the Situationists were opposed to the production of artistic objects at such; rather they saw the very artistic techniques as necessarily being appropriated by the constructors of situations, reappropriating such diverse practices and others in order that they would be combined in new totalities, new ‘ambiances’ for living rather than as objects solely for spectatorship or sale.

This brings us to a central if often misrepresented aspect of the idea of the ‘constructed situation.’ Most often the constructed situation is conceived as a type of artistic ‘happening’ or, to use a term favoured by art criticism, a type of Gesamtkunstwerk or ‘total work of art’[16] — indeed this is how Simon Sadler describes it in his truly terrible book, The Situationist City.[17] However the SI from the outset presented the constructed situation as only possible on a material basis utterly transformed from the present capitalistic one. As Debord put it in the Report, ‘[t]he construction of situations begins beyond the modern ruins of the spectacle’;[18] i.e. short of a radical transformation of the possibilities of the everyday — indeed a revolutionary transformation — the constructed situation was not possible. Certainly such a conception is very different from Jean Paul Sartre’s ontological conception of the ‘situation’, another point lost on Sadler when he attempts to foster a Sartrean genealogy onto the Situationists.[19] In fact we can consider the Situationist’s theory of the ‘constructed situation’ as both a critique of and an inversion of Sartre’s idea of the situation. For the SI the ‘situations’ of everyday capitalist life were endured rather than created; thus the ‘constructed situation’ was implicitly a critique of a life determined by capitalist social relations and explicitly a theory of the free construction of everyday life.

The SI in its first few years often referred to its activities as ‘pre-situationist’, insofar as they worked toward a world of ‘constructed situations’. To underline their stance, pinned to the theory of the ‘constructed situation’, Debord in the same founding Report proposed a type of experimental practice through which to develop the theory of situations, as well as to experiment with the possibilities of freely constructed situations albeit under the constrained conditions of present day capitalism. Such an experimental practice he termed ‘Unitary Urbanism’. Unitary Urbanism was defined as ‘the use of all arts and techniques as means contributing to the composition of a unified milieu.’[20] Debord distinguished it from contemporary architectural theory and practice, particularly that which had begun to appear under the term ‘urbanism’, by drawing attention to its critical perspective and its aspiration to be associated with a thoroughgoing revolutionary transformation of everyday life. Unitary Urbanism was both a critique of contemporary capitalist urbanism and an experimental platform for investigations into an alternative urbanism. Thus it was a type of bridge between the theory of the ‘constructed situation’ and the realisation of conditions for ‘constructed situations’ in a post-capitalist future. And as a bridge, unitary urbanism was considered as ‘pre-situationist’.

The dispute over art: 1958 to 1960

On the basis of the similarities and differences between the theory of ‘constructed situations’ and the theory and practice of ‘unitary urbanism’, we can argue that there was a tension between the Situationist’s theoretical critique of art and the practice of the Situationists up until the so-called end of the artistic phase in 1962. In September 1958 this tension became explicit. Constant Nieuwenhuys (better known as simply ‘Constant’), member of the Dutch section of the SI, initiated a discussion over the idea of the ‘free artist’, an idea advocated by another Situationist, Asger Jorn. Both Jorn and Constant had been members of a group that the SI considered one its immediate precursors: the CoBrA group which existed between 1948 and 1951.[21] In the wake of CoBrA both Jorn and Constant became engaged with more architectural concerns; concerns which would bring them into contact with Debord’s Lettrist International group and ultimately the foundation of the SI in 1957.

The crux of the debate was this: Constant believed that Situationists like Jorn continued to emphasise traditional artistic practices like painting. Constant proposed ‘invent[ing] new techniques in every domain’ rather than the mere incorporation of the ‘threadbare’ traditional arts in new urban ‘ambiances’.[22] Such techniques must be based on the most advanced machinery techniques rather than the romantic individualism inherent in the traditional arts. In this debate Debord played a mediating role (which in itself goes some way to refuting the caricature of Debord the unbending dogmatist). On the one hand Debord agreed with Constant that the traditional arts were ‘retrograde’. However he posed that alongside the appropriation of the most advanced techniques of present day capitalism, a revolutionary transformation of everyday life would also appropriate the artistic techniques of the traditional arts. Debord argued such appropriations would necessarily be transformative rather than merely additive as long as the aim of such practices was revolutionary, i.e. the establishment of conditions conducive to ‘constructed situations’. Thus Jorn’s conception of the ‘free artist’, rather than being a romantic throwback could be conceived as the evocation of a future subjectivity — which is to say when everyone is an artist there will be no more artists.[23]  Or, to paraphrase Marx, one could paint amongst other activities without ever being just a painter.

The upshot of this debate is not what you may expect. As a direct result of the argument Debord and Constant wrote the ‘Amsterdam Declaration’ in November 1958. This draft, written for the upcoming Third conference of the SI planned for Munich in April 1959, synthesised the results of the argument with an eye to refocusing the group on the experimental practice of Unitary Urbanism. The Declaration clearly repudiated the ‘renovation’ of the ‘individual arts’ as in any way commensurate with Situationists activity.[24] Indeed of all the points in the Declaration this point was strengthened at the April 1959 conference, being changed to a clear repudiation of the ‘practice’ of the traditional arts.[25] Which is odd if we consider the following: At the Third conference the German Spur group of artists joined the SI en masse. The Spur group (meaning ‘way’ of ‘trail’ in German) were predominantly painters, and had been recruited by Asger Jorn (another painter). From the outset both Debord and Constant expressed concerns about the enrolment of so many painters, considering their relative lack of success in recruiting non-artists. Indeed the Spur group would go on to prove increasingly troublesome in the SI, consisting flouting the very injunction against the practice of the ‘individual arts’ which they had agreed on from their entry into the SI in April 1959 until the expulsion of the last of the Spur members from the SI in February 1962.

The other oddity regarding the acceptance of the Amsterdam Declaration by the group was the future trajectory of Constant. A little more than a year after the Third conference Constant had resigned from the SI. There were two main reasons for this. First Constant had managed to recruit some non-artists to the group, two Dutch architects who became involved with his ‘New Babylon’ elaboration of Unitary Urbanism. However these architects were expelled from the SI in 1960 for not only accepting a commission to design a church but more importantly for refusing to repudiate such a commission. Indeed not only were they involved in a questionable religious endeavour but they were clearly in contravention of the Amsterdam Declaration. Constant resigned shortly after on the 1st of June 1960. However the reasons were made more explicit for his resignation in the December 1960 issue of the Situationist journal:

Constant found himself in opposition to the S.I. because he has been primarily concerned, almost exclusively, with structural questions of certain assemblies [architectural models] of unitary urbanism, so that other situationists had to recall that at the present stage of the project it was necessary to put the accent on its content ([e.g.] play, free creation of everyday life). Thus Constant’s theses promoted the technicians of architectural forms over any search for a global culture.[26]

The cruel irony here is that Constant, despite his campaign against the painters, in particular, and artists more generally, had ended by elaborating Unitary Urbanism in an exclusively artistic and artisanal fashion. And even worse, with his withdrawal and the expulsion of the Dutch architects, practicing painters made up a sizable portion of the group — perhaps even more so than at the founding three years earlier. Debord’s immediate answer to this was three-fold: he continued to seek out ‘non-artist’ members for the group; he began an active engagement with Socialism or Barbarism, an ultra-left Marxist group whose critique of modern capitalism began to resonate with the Situationists; and he continued to argue against the practice of art within the group, apart from its use for propagandistic ends, i.e. as means to argue and develop the Situationist critique of contemporary capitalism.

And so we find ourselves back in Hamburg, September 1961, after a fashion. Unfortunately the course of the SI between mid-1960 and the most crucial aftermath of the Hamburg Theses, the expulsion of the Spur group of artists in February 1962, is beyond the limits of this talk. Without doubt the arguments over art and its overcoming as a limited and indeed alienated practice had reached a high point in the first three years, but as yet was unresolved by mid-1960. However we can conceive of the Hamburg Theses as the ultimate resolution of the problem raised through Constant’s, Jorn’s and Debord’s argument over the role of art and artists in the group. Whereas Constant held to an overcoming of the alienated specialisation of the ‘traditional arts’, he ended by transforming Unitary Urbanism into something not so dissimilar. Indeed his New Babylon project and his New Babylon models went on to be considered as ‘art’, and were influential on such artistically inclined architects as those associated with the Archigram group in the UK, the Utopie and Architecture Principe groups in France, and the Superstudio group in Italy. And as a perhaps depressing coda to his militant opposition to the ‘painters’, Constant resumed painting in 1969.

FOOTNOTES

[1] This paper was originally written for and delivered at the Tethering the Past postgraduate conference at the University of Sydney, 29 November, 2013.

[2] Debord, Guy. ‘Letter to Thomas Levin, November 1989’, translated by Not Bored!, December 2008: http://www.notbored.org/debord-November1989.html (accessed 13 November 2013). Originally published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 7: Janvier 1988-Novembre 1994 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2008.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid. Translation modified.

[6] Karl Marx. ‘Theses on Feuerbach’ [1845], in Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works Volume 5, New York : International Publishers, 1976

[7] Debord 1989

[8] Situationist International. ‘The role of the S.I.’ [1962], in Internationale situationniste no. 7, trans. by (Reuben Keehan, http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/role.html, n.d.

[9] Debord 1989

[10] Ibid.

[11] Debord, Guy. ‘Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency’s Conditions of Organisation and Action’ [1957], in Situationist International Anthology: Revised and Expanded Edition, ed. & trans. by Ken Knabb, Berkley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006, pp. 25-43.

[12] Guy Debord. La Société du Spectacle, Paris : Éditions Gallimard, 1992 [1967], Thesis 191, p. 186.

[13] Debord [1957] 2006: 28

[14] André Breton: ‘“Transform the world,” Marx said; “Change life,” Rimbaud said. These two watchwords are one for us.’ From ‘Speech to the Congress of Writers (1935)’ in André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, trans. by Richard Seaver & Helen R. Lane, University of Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1998, p. 241.

[15] Situationist International. ‘Definitions’ [1958a], in Situationist International Anthology: Revised and Expanded Edition, ed. & trans. by Ken Knabb, Berkley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006, p. 51.

[16] Perhaps a more obvious target, at least initially, was the reborn Bauhaus of Max Bill’s which had come under attack by Asger Jorn. Indeed Jorn’s post CoBrA group, the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus was organised as a counter to Bill’s ‘functionalist’ Bauhaus. It was also an indicator of Jorn’s growing interest in architecture that would eventually lead him to contact with the Lettrist International, and ultimately the foundation of the Situationist International.

[17] Simon Sadler. The Situationist City. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1998, pp. 105-07.

[18] Debord [1957] 2006: 40. Trans. modified.

[19] Sadler 1998: 45

[20] Debord [1957] 2006: 38

[21] CoBrA: an acronym derived from the originating cities of its initial participants: Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam. From 1949 it was more formally known as the International of Experimental Artists (Internationale des Artistes Expérimentaux).

[22] Situationist International. ‘On Our Means and Perspectives’ [1958b], in Internationale situationniste no. 2, trans. by Paul Hammond, http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/means.html, no date

[23] Ibid.

[24] Constant & Guy Debord. ‘Amsterdam Declaration’ [1958c], in Internationale situationniste no. 2, trans. by Paul Hammond, http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/amsterdam.html, no date

[25] Situationist International. ‘Corrections to Adopting the Eleven Points of Amsterdam’ [1959], in Internationale situationniste no. 3, trans. by Paul Hammond, http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/corrections.html, no date

[26] Situationist International. ‘Situationist News’ [1960], in Internationale situationniste no. 5, trans. by Anthony Hayes, http://thesinisterquarter.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/situationist-news-december-1960/, 2012.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Breton, André. ‘Speech to the Congress of Writers (1935)’ in Manifestoes of Surrealism, trans. by Richard Seaver & Helen R. Lane, University of Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1998, pp. 234-241.

Constant & Guy Debord, ‘Amsterdam Declaration’ [1958c], in Internationale situationniste no. 2, trans. by Paul Hammond, http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/amsterdam.html, no date.

Debord, Guy. ‘Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency’s Conditions of Organisation and Action’ [1957], in Situationist International Anthology: Revised and Expanded Edition, ed. & trans. by Ken Knabb, Berkley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006, pp. 25-43.

­­­­­­­­­­­­________ La Société du Spectacle, Paris : Éditions Gallimard, 1992 [1967].

________ ‘Letter to Thomas Levin, November 1989’, translated by Not Bored!, December 2008: http://www.notbored.org/debord-November1989.html (accessed 13 November 2013). Originally published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 7: Janvier 1988-Novembre 1994 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2008.

Marx, Karl. ‘Theses on Feuerbach’ [1845], in Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works Volume 5, New York : International Publishers, 1976, pp. 3-5.

Sadler, Simon. The Situationist City. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1998.

Situationist International. ‘Definitions’ [1958a], in Internationale situationniste no. 1, ed. & trans. by Ken Knabb, Situationist International Anthology: Revised and Expanded Edition, Berkley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006, pp. 51-52.

________ ‘On Our Means and Perspectives’ [1958b], in Internationale situationniste no. 2, trans. by Paul Hammond, http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/means.html, no date

________ ‘Corrections to Adopting the Eleven Points of Amsterdam’ [1959], in Internationale situationniste no. 3, trans. by Paul Hammond, http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/corrections.html, no date

________ ‘Situationist News’ [1960], in Internationale situationniste no. 5, trans. by Anthony Hayes, http://thesinisterquarter.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/situationist-news-december-1960/, 2012.

________ ‘The role of the S.I.’ [1962], in Internationale situationniste no. 7, trans. by (Reuben Keehan, http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/role.html, n.d.

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“Socialism or Planète”

[from Internationale Situationniste, no. 10,  March 1966]

We put forward several apparently risky assertions with the assurance of subsequently seeing an historical display of their undeniable seriousness. The more limited our remarks — for example when we analyse a detail of the pseudo-critique that attempts to cover the [entire] field of the real criticism of the present — the quicker [such] demonstrations naturally follow, even though the same objective limits in such cases lead only to demystification in some restricted milieus, with which we are justly concerned. Such is the result now evident of the boycott launched by the S.I. against the journal Arguments (1956-1962), [a] journal that was also the European concentrate of this pseudo-critique.[1]

Arguments, as we know, had two very big heads, [Kostos] Axelos and Edgar Morin.[2] Since the collapse of their highest undertaking, their careers have been speaking. Starting in July 1964, Axelos threw himself into Planète no. 17, presented by its editorial board as swimming “in a meditation that is ours”, and attempting to promote “an open and multi-dimensional thought, questioning and global”.[3] In the following year, in several issues of Le Monde, Morin seriously examined the doctrines and methods of Planète (this pseudo-impartiality before the void being already unanimity). He had elsewhere concluded rather positively, not before inviting Planète to improve itself by becoming still more “planetary”, and he designated his acolyte, Axelos, as [the] already-present sign of this progress. The rewards for his good offices in “public relations” hardly had to wait. One could read in Le Monde of 28 January1966: “In the offices of the journal Planète, Louis Pauwels and Claude Planson, the old director of the Theatre of Nations, installed the headquarters of a new association, l’A.R.C. (Association pour la recherche des cultures).[4] In the directorial committee we find the names of Maurice Béjart, Jean Duvignaud, Edgar Morin, Jean Vilar, Jan Kott”.[5] Sub-intellectual manifestations of the Planète type are only the extreme products of the decomposition of the totality of culture. Those who do not know how to refuse the totality of the politico-cultural spectacle — and who do not want to practically break with its numerous defenders — cannot even, finally, refuse the monstrous evidence of the stupidity spread by Planète. The very frontier of this “Planetism” is not evident to [those] who have truly broken with nothing of the organised confusion of today. Such [people], who certainly will not accept all of Planetism, will accept some Planetism, like some Godard, or some psycho-sociology, or some bureaucratic “orthodoxy”. Already, back in the day, it accepted some confused critique from some leftovers. All respectful contestation will end by accepting cohabitation with Planetism, because the many hollow intentions that those people oppose to almost everything [will] not hold them back from practically juxtaposing themselves, with reciprocal support, in an identical framework of spectacular-confusionist thought. This juxtaposition is the same principle of the present intellectual spectacle, the schizophrenic false consciousness of our time (cf. the works of J[oseph] Gabel).[6] The breaking up of Arguments also illuminated its past as the “university of left Planetism” by also revealing the process of contamination by osmosis of all the half-critiques that conceal themselves before a totally clear option, inseparable from acts themselves clearly decided [tranchés] in all areas of activity (including the tastes and encounters of everyday life).

The group associated with the journal Socialisme ou Barbarie have taken over from Arguments. They will end like Arguments. In Socialisme ou Barbarie, no. 39 (March 1965) the same Morin — [who is there] without doubt due to the shortage of more mediocre editors, and in any case he no longer had to fear compromising himself by appearing there — can legitimately feel at home in the entourage of a [Paul] Cardan, theoretician of the bread crumb who wanted, two years ago, “to recommence the revolution”; and who, in fact, accomplished his reconversion to the common culture of middle management particularly badly.[7] [Daniel] Mothé, the exemplary worker of this old revolutionary group, announced in his book Militant chez Renault (Seuil) his joyous membership in the ex-French Confederation of Christian Workers, whose democracy strongly attracts him.[8] As a result, here he is in the journal Esprit (February 1966), which reveals, apropos the presidential election: “It is the privatisation of the citizen and his reduction to a consumer of spectacle that obliges him to transfer the political to the level of household problems.” Here is the usual development of the Argumentist[9]: to circulate in polite society a little diffuse “situationism”, which is to say degraded critical thought, but on a degraded basis — one baseness compensating the other! The ex-Argumentist Yvon Bourdet, in the same issue of Socialisme ou Barbarie, no. 39, unleashes himself [se déchaîne] against the First International, confusing it so much with the bureaucratic powers that dominated the subsequent two Internationals — notwithstanding the differences between them — that he audaciously concludes: “In fact, the three are the same.” Furthermore, for him, closed to all the historical proofs (the place of Poland and of Polish exiles in all the struggles of the 19th century would have in itself been sufficient), the notion of internationalism would never have been “lived at the level of the apparatus (the general council) composed principally of émigrés”.[10] We see the two-fold delirium that transfers the modern reality of the apparatus, in the form of a timeless concept eternally rich from all of its crimes, to a time that has not known it[11] and that, on the other hand, succeeds in isolating the quality of émigré from its origin: a struggle spontaneously born in many countries, from similar conditions, and tending toward a community of international action, towards a party in the spontaneous sense that Marx then gave to this term. The measure of internationalism is exactly the measure of the consciousness of the revolutionary reality, a consciousness that has always been weak, repressed by all the mental and morale organisations of the dominant society, by a thousand defeats, and by one hundred thousand Cardan-Bourdets. But the return of what is repressed has its domain in all modern society. It is the end of its spectacle that will reveal it. Meanwhile Socialisme ou Barbarie thinks like the historian [Jacques] Rougerie does in the special number of Mouvement Social on the I.W.A. (April 1965).[12] The prudence of his scholarly conclusion, with one hundred years of hindsight, results in this admirable, involuntary parody, this masterpiece of questioning: “The problem remains open; momentarily, we have for the sole proof of the existence of worker internationalism that of the International itself.”

Similarly we have for the sole proof of the existence of Cardanism the thought of Cardan himself. This is not much! The disorder of current ideas mixed together in an interminable article by Cardan — who always fallaciously announces its end from one number to the next, and who restarts [it] in an incessant flight onward, without having ever commenced — marked the definitive impossibility of the existence of a group tolerating this.[13] The Macedonian Ideology of Cardan is such that ten individuals, themselves very close to mental debility, could not agree on a text whose own author decomposed it into scattered islands.[14] The dissipation of ideas goes so far that Cardan henceforth can no longer be satisfied with a five-year pseudonym; to hide his incoherent variations and the consequences of his poverty, he would need a different pseudonym every five pages.

Cardan, who no doubt believes, here as elsewhere, that it suffices to speak of something in order to possess it, vaguely gargles about “the imaginary”, thus wanting to justify, more or less, his gelatinous inconsistency of thought. He grasps hold of — following the example of the now-official world — psychoanalysis as a justification of the irrational and the profound reasons of the unconscious; whereas in fact the discoveries of psychoanalysis are a reinforcement  — still unused, for evident socio-political motives — of the rational critique of the world. Psychoanalysis deeply tracks down the unconscious, its misery and its miserable repressive instances, which only derives their strength and magical pageantry from a very common practical repression in everyday life. Cardan immediately looses himself, before seeing that there is always a constituted imaginary that hides the actual imaginable. The social imaginary never has the pure innocence, the independence, attributed to it by its neophyte Cardan. For example, the greatest political problem of the century is an imaginary affair: we have imagined that the socialist revolution was successful in the U.S.S.R. The imagination is not free in an enslaved society. Without it, why would we imagine not only Planète, [but] so many Cardaneries?[15]

In Socialisme ou Barbarie, no. 40, Cardan sumptuously extended his questioning to “the fabrication of needs” in the advanced capitalist society. Cardan is a questioner of size; he sees far; one does not deceive him with the common idea of “true needs”; he seeks the highest assurance of the fundamental uncertainty of human enterprises. He writes (our emphasis): “It is vain to present this situation exclusively as a ‘replacement response’, as the offer of substitutes for other needs, ‘true’ needs, which the present society leaves unsatisfied. Because, by admitting that such needs exist and that we can define them, it can only become more striking that such a reality can be totally covered by a ‘pseudo-reality’. Thus the same oppression and all its precisely oriented lies, all its spectacular organisation of the “pseudo-reality”, become problematic for Cardan and are absolved, from the moment that he completely passed from [the side of] critique to the side of the pseudo-reality. In place of trying to explain the astonishing, the “striking” function of social appearance in modern capitalism (key to all new revolutionary attempts), Cardan has the flat positivist self-confidence of the comic bourgeois who says “this would be all the same” [in order] to deny a problem that upsets his great common sense. Not only is he blind here, but he also denies that there is anything to see. However, pseudo-reality itself shows, negatively, what it hides. That all the needs that solicit or could solicit the production of commodities are equally artificial or arbitrary is what belies the dazzling contradiction of advertising in the social spectacle, which speaks of what it does not sell and does not sell that which it speaks of. It is easy, even for sociologists, to see what advertising promises and does not give publicity to — effective for the diffusion of some commodity or another: it promises security and adventure; the novel development of personality and recognition by others; communication and, above all, the fulfilment of erotic desires. For example, after Freud and Reich, we effectively know more than before about what are sexual “true needs,” and their dominant role in advertising imagery is manifestly intended to sell to people the market substitution for what they don’t have, rather than an infinity of equally acceptable imaginary possibilities. The existing imaginary of which Cardan speaks is not beyond some elementary needs, but an obstacle on the same side as them. These needs are still in no way transcended [dépassés] (except simple dietary needs in only a part of the world). But all of these truths that elude Cardan still do not mean that there existed this “essentially unalterable human nature in which the predominant motivation would be the economic motivation” — [an] error that Cardan, in his total ignorance of dialectical thought, believed can be revealed as the “hidden postulate” of Marxism (cf. our citation in S.I. 9, page 18).[16] We think, like Marx, that “the whole of history is only the progressive transformation of human nature”.[17] [And] the whole is understood in the moment of history that is here and now. All those who understand it at the same time understand very well the incomprehension of Morin and Cardan, and their effective fraternization. Even the rout of Socialisme ou Barbarie is nothing original: it faithfully follows Arguments into the dustbin that we have been able, in advance, to assign it.


TRANSLATOR’S FOOTNOTES

[1] This boycott was announced in I.S. no 5 (December 1960), in ‘Renseignements situationnistes’ (‘Situationist News’), p. 13: “the [Central] Council [of the S.I.] has decided to take advantage, without delay, of progress made by the S.I. and the support that it has begun to gain, to make an example of the most representative tendencies of the pseudo-leftist and conformist intelligentsia who have painstakingly organised so far the silence around us; and whose resignation in all fields begins to appear before the eyes of informed people: [i.e.,] the French journal Arguments. The Council has decided that all people who collaborate with the journal Arguments starting from January 1st, 1961, cannot be admitted under any circumstances, now or in the future, among the Situationists. The announcement of this boycott draws its force from the importance that we know the S.I. secures at least in the culture of the years ahead. Interested parties can bet, on the contrary, on the dubious company it will attract.”

[2] Morin and Axelos were the chief editors and animating ‘spirits’ of Arguments during its entire run (1957-62).

[3] “The journal Planète often incurred the criticism of the S.I. […] Planète, a magazine that combined science fiction stories with articles on speculative ‘science’, is perhaps the progenitor of such English language magazines as Omni and Wired, and is indeed the forerunner of the ideological function of such magazines. In their article Ideologies, Classes, and the Domination of Nature from I.S. no. 8, the Situationists compared Planète’s function to that of the journal Arguments. Whereas Arguments, under the guise of being a journal of ‘eclectic’ and ‘critical’ Marxist theory, was criticized for producing ‘the futile questioning of pure speculation’ (and thus played an important role in the spectacle of criticism), Planète was criticized for haranguing ‘ordinary people with the message that henceforth everything must be changed — while at the same time taking for granted 99% of the life really lived in our era.’ Thus the similarity of function – both journals were mouthpieces of the ideology of ‘progressive’ change (a central tenant of bourgeois ideology in its ‘free market’ and ‘state capitalist’ variants), whilst operating within and by virtue of the parameters of the bourgeois market. Their function as commodities that offered non-threatening change was central to the Situationist critique of them. Thus it was this appearance of modernity that was effectively non-threatening vis-à-vis capitalist modernity that was most egregious in the eyes of the Situationists, whose alternative was encapsulated in their conception of a coherent revolutionary project. Such an appearance would soon be shifted into the spectacle of post-modernism; the babble of ultra-modern theoretical radicalism that apparently interrogated everything all the better to hide the unitary nature of capitalist exploitation and alienation.” (from fn. 5, Well Said S.I.! (I.S. No. 9)

[4] Association for the Study of Cultures.

[5] In I.S. no. 9 under the title of ‘Les Mois Les Plus Longs’ (‘The Longest Months’), the names of Jean Duvignaud, Edgar Morin and many others were listed as ‘collaborators of Arguments’.

[6] Joseph Gabel was one of the Argumentists whose name was published in I.S. no. 9 (see footnote 5). Nonetheless his work on false consciousness, which he argued manifested as the non-dialectical ‘schizophrenic’ character of capitalist subjects, was used critically by the SI. See in particular Gabel’s book False Consciousness: An Essay on Reification (translated by Margaret A. Thompson, New York: Harper & Row, 1975), ‘Quelques recherches sans mode d’emploi’ (‘Investigations without a Guidebook’) in I.S. no. 10, p. 73, and Guy Debord The Society of the Spectacle,  Chapter 9, ‘Ideology Materialised’, Theses nos. 217-220.

[7] Paul Cardan was one of several pseudonyms used by Cornelius Castoriadis. In Socialisme ou Barbarie, no. 35 (January 1964), Castoriadis’ article ‘Recommencer la révolution’ (‘Recommencing the Revolution’) was published. ‘Recommencing the Revolution’ was written by Castoriadis in the midst of what would shortly become the formalisation of a ‘de facto scission within the group’ in July 1963 — cf. Cornelius Castoriadis ‘Postface to “Recommencing the Revolution”’ in Cornelius Castoriadis, Political and Social Writings, Volume 3, translated and edited by David Ames Curtis, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993, pp. 80-88.

[8] Daniel Mothé, Militant chez Renault (Militant at Renault) published by Seuil, October 1965. In this work Mothé (pseudonym for Jacques Gautrat), detailed his recent membership of the C. F. D. T. (Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail, i.e. French Democratic Confederation of Labour), which had only the year before, in 1964, been immaculately conceived from the C. F. T. C. (Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens, i.e. French Confederation of Christian Workers).

[9] I.e. a member or follower of the journal Arguments.

[10] Solidarity with the Polish uprising of January 1863 – and indeed with the question of Polish freedom throughout the nineteenth century – was instrumental in forging the links between French and English workers that led to the founding of the International Workingmen’s Association: “Henri Tolain, Perrachon, and Limousin visited London in July 1863, attending a meeting held in St. James’ Hall in honour of the Polish uprising. Here there was discussion of the need for an international organisation, which would, amongst other things, prevent the import of foreign workers to break strikes. In September, 1864, some French delegates again visited London with the concrete aim of setting up a special committee for the exchange of information upon matters of interest to the workers of all lands.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Workingmen%27s_Association)

Indeed attention was drawn to Poland in the Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association written by Marx.

[11] ‘Apparatus’ from the French ‘appareil’. ‘Appareil’ can also denote in French, the ‘machinery of power’ or ‘political machinery’. The point the S.I. are making here is that it is questionable if the General Council of the First International (called an apparatus by Bourdet) can be classified as a part of the ‘machinery of political power’ simply because (and unlike the Second and Third Internationals), it was first of all, so singly opposed to the existence of such political machinery in its own time; secondly even in the 1860s and 70s the bourgeois machinery of power was still primitive in comparison to the political machinery of state of the 20th century — and particularly of the 1960s; and finally the First International, unlike the Second and Third, was never embroiled in the political and economic management and defence of capitalist states (e.g. the leading Second International party, the German S.P.D., and its counter-revolutionary role in saving the German state against  the revolutionary wave of 1918-21, and of course the Third International’s role in defending and exporting the state-capitalist dogma of the ‘Soviet’ state).

[12] I.W.A.: the International Workingmen’s Association, aka the First International (1864-1876).

[13] The reference is to Cardan’s/Castoriadis’ article ‘Marxisme et Théorie Révolutionnaire’ (‘Marxism and Revolutionary Theory’) published in no less than 5 issues of the Socialisme ou Barbarie journal between April 1964 and June 1965. This article later formed the first part of Castoriadis’ 1975 work, L’institution imaginaire de la societé (The Imaginary Institution of Society — translated by Kathleen Blamey, 1987). Castoriadis even refers to the original article in his 1974 preface as “itself the never-ending development” of an earlier article. The S.I. also reference the conditions under which this long article was written, i.e. the ‘de facto scission’ of 1963 (cf. footnote 7).

[14] Here the reference must be to the remaining members of Socialisme ou Barbarie. By 1966 the journal had ceased publication the year before, effectively ending the group’s activity even though it was only formally  dissolved in 1967. There were, however, several groupuscules influenced by Socialisme ou Barbarie left in its wake.

[15] The S.I.’s joke at the expense of Cardan/Castoriadis, ‘Cardaneries’, is difficult to translate.  We assume it means in this case organisations or metaphorical shops peddling the ideas of Cardan, thus ‘Cardaneries’.

[16] Cf. ‘La Contestation en Miettes’ (‘Critique in Shreds’), I.S. no. 9, pp. 17-18. Translated by the Thomas Y. Levin, the citation reads: “The Marxist theory of history . . . is ultimately based on the hidden postulate of an essentially unchangeable human nature whose overriding motivation is an economic one. — Paul Cardan, Socialisme ou Barbarie, no. 37, July 1964.” The SI had briefly commented, in the same section: “[Paul] Cardan, when he is not organizing votes for or against the meaning of the Realm of God, presents to his movement (whose mission is to “recommence the revolution”) the same anti-Marxist and grossly falsifying platform that was proclaimed by the professors of philosophy in 1910” (ibid.).

[17] Cf. Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Third Manuscript under the title ‘Private Property and Communism’. Here is the entire sentence from the 1974 English translation by Gregor Benton: “But since for socialist man the whole of what is called world history is nothing more than the creation of man through human labour, and the development of nature for man, he therefore has palpable and incontrovertible proof of his self-mediated birth, of his process of emergence.” (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/epm/3rd.htm#s2)

First published in Internationale Situationniste no. 10, March 1966, pp. 77-79. Translated from the French by Anthony Hayes, October 2013. Thanks to Not Bored! and Marblepunk for help with the translation. You can find a pdf of the original issue number 10 here.

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The production of decadence

[from Internationale Situationniste no. 10,  March 1966]

“There are already machines specially constructed to serve no useful purpose. Here is the best: on sale in New York, for a dollar, [there is] a self-eating machine. As soon as you press on a particular red button, a noisy mechanism starts and, slowly, ineluctably, the bits composing the machine get stuck, break, [and] fall. At the end of a quarter of an hour, there remains only a dismal pile of rods, springs, pulleys and disassembled gears! Supreme luxury: the advertising to make you buy this machine promises in large print, that the assembly — as soon as one has played with [it] once — is beyond repair!” (Elle, of 2-9-65)

In America, the automobile, the proliferation of which progressively reduces its use-value until it tends toward the status of a gadget (those responsible for the circulation of traffic in New York begin to envisage the necessity of a local prohibition of its use), has in 1965 spread to two cars for a quarter of American families (11 million). According to a survey by the Wall Street Journal, the motivation of the buyers is “to possess those that are better”, and to arouse the admiration of their neighbours: an enterprise worthy of Sisyphus, since the neighbours inevitably do the same. Far beyond the social sector whose riches permit such accumulation, these purchases are provoked through the facilitation of credit, the repayment of which can be extended to 42 months, and the guarantees to provide [such credit] reduced to a minimum. New gadgets appear that propel part of the considerable growth in crime. In New York an attempted rape is recorded every six hours, and someone is attacked every 12 minutes. According to a report by Michel Gordrey, who observes in this city a previously unknown “obsessive fear of crime” (France-Soir of 27-7-65), store fronts and newspaper advertisements offer “gadgets intended to strike assailants with an electro-shock of 4,000 volts, pocket sprays that cover them in an indelible colour and perfume them with an identifiable odour for a long time (to facilitate police searches”. One thousand two hundred special police officers have been assigned to surveillance of the subways, where armed attacks and other crimes have risen 52% from 1963 to 1964. “The avenues of the big department stores are now deserts once night has fallen. When I walk alone the rare passers-by who see me from afar start running.” A long film documentary for TV shows the “self-defense of a building” after many burglaries and murders: “The 45 tenants of the building and their families have formed a defense association, the men taking turns guarding the entry hall and the elevators, patrolling the basements and the cellars. At the end of the film, a police commissioner appears on the screen to encourage other buildings to ‘organise themselves’ in a similar fashion and to give advice…” Godrey concludes that we should not “take the psychosis of New York too lightly. What is happening in New York, at a higher level, interests all the large cities in a crisis of growth. Our city-planners who study American urbanism for the Paris of the year 2000 know that analogous sociological crises have suddenly appeared or will emerge in other forms in Europe.”

“Vietnam reveals the permanent violence that hides itself behind the smile and urbanity of the American way”, the Vietnam Day Committee wrote in their October [1965] bulletin.[1] Nevertheless the report of the commission of enquiry created by the State of California after the Watts uprising — which admits “the situation is so serious that unless adequate measures are taken, other troubles yet more serious can happen” — accuse the black “extremist” leaders, not only of having encouraged the masses to riot, but also of “delaying the solution of the black problem”.  We may even say that, generally, “extremist” men — like us — scandalously delay “the definitive solution of the problem of man” in the concentration camps programmed by the cyberneticians of power. If the contradictions of the barbarism of abundance constrain all the groups of society to self-defense, it will solely be necessary to redefine here and there the values and the type of life to defend.

In Encounter, August 1965, Irving Kristol pondered on the incredible revolt of American students.[2] He clearly sees that the support of the blacks’ demands has only been an opportunity and that “Viet Nam itself, one may suspect, is as much the occasion as the cause” of the movement begun five years ago. Kristol writes: “Why American students, amidst general prosperity, and under a liberal Administration that is expanding the Welfare State more aggressively and successfully than anyone had thought possible, should ‘go left,’ is a riddle to which no sociologist has as yet come up with an answer. One theory is, simply, that these young people are bored”. For a critique that finds this already paradoxical, “all sorts of paradoxes” result: “For instance, these young American radicals are in the historically unique position of not being able to demand a single piece of legislation from their government”. It is here that we discover the greatest novelty, the originality, of the contestation that is currently brewing in America, measured by the stupefied gauge of Irving Kristol. From on high he judges what remains incomprehensible to him: the appearance of strangers in his country, in his habits. But he shows its importance, which he himself does not see, when he notes, “It is a strange experience to see a radical movement in search of a radical cause — it is usually very much the other way around.”

The transformation of a society is a totally different affair from political struggles concerning a few precise points within a society that is accepted. Here the program precedes the movement; there the movement precedes the program — which will be made in the same process. In this same overdeveloped urban zone of the north-east United States — where the gigantic electrical power failure in November [1965] that paralysed thirty million inhabitants for a few hours showed what guerrilla opportunities can appear in the highly industrialised countries[3] — the recent attempt at a Free University in New York falls into the category of research into the formation of such a program.[4] The manifesto of the Free University[5] declares that it wants “to develop the concepts necessary to comprehend the events of this century” in “response to the intellectual bankruptcy” of the American educational order.[6] Oriented from the outset toward an active contestation, this self-managed university — which constitutes itself without any fixation in particular buildings, and declares itself ready for semi-clandestinity by being able to exist scattered throughout the city — “is necessary because, in our conception, American universities have been reduced to institutions of intellectual servitude. Students have been systematically dehumanised, deemed incompetent to regulate their own lives, sexually, politically and academically.” (Address of the Free University of New York, 20 E. 14th Street, New York City).


TRANSLATOR’S FOOTNOTES

[1] ‘Vietnam Day Committee’ in English in the original. The Vietnam Day Committee (VDC) was a coalition of left-wing political groups, student groups, labour organizations, and pacifist religions in the USA that opposed the Vietnam War. The VDC was formed as a result of a 35 hour ‘Vietnam Day teach-in’ organised in and around the Berkley campus of the University of California on May 21 & 22, 1965.  It is claimed the teach-in involved 35,000 people. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_Day_Committee)

[2] Irving Kristol, ‘Teaching In, Speaking Out: The Controversy over Viet Nam — Letter from New York’, in Encounter, August 1965, pp. 65-70. All  of the citations by the S.I. in the following paragraph have been checked against the original article. Available here: http://www.unz.org/Pub/Encounter-1965. Encounter was an Anglo-American literary magazine founded in 1953 and originally associated with the ‘anti–Stalinist’ Left. In 1967 Encounter was revealed to have been in receipt of funding from the C.I.A.: “The magazine received covert funding from the Central Intelligence Agency, after the CIA and MI6 discussed the founding of an ‘Anglo-American left-of-centre publication’ intended to counter the idea of cold war neutralism.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encounter_%28magazine%29)

[3] “The Northeast blackout of 1965 was a significant disruption in the supply of electricity on Tuesday, November 9, 1965, affecting parts of Ontario in Canada and Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, and New Jersey in the United States. Over 30 million people and 80,000 square miles (207,000 km2) were left without electricity for up to 13 hours.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_blackout_of_1965)

[4] The Free University of New York (FUNY) “began as a home for professors dismissed from local universities for protesting the Vietnam War, or for holding socialist views. Course topics included: Black Liberation, Revolutionary Art and Ethics, Community Organization, The American Radical Tradition, Cuba and China, and Imperialism and Social Structure. FUNY opened on July 6, 1965 in a loft at 20 East 14th Street overlooking Union Square. FUNY began as an experimental school for the New Left, built on models such as Black Mountain College (North Carolina), though it became closely aligned with the Maoist Progressive Labor Party. Tuition for the 10 week session was $24 for the first course course, and $8 for each additional course; welfare recipients could attend for free. After the first year, many of the initial collaborators left or were forced to leave, and it shut down a few years later.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_University_of_New_York)

[5] English in the original.

[6] I was able to check the S.I.’s citations against a copy of the FUNY manifesto reproduced in an article of the Peace Times, 29 October, 1965. A scan of this article is available here: http://antihistory.org/image/19473441418

First published in Internationale Situationniste no. 10, March 1966, pp. 61-62. Translated from the French by Anthony Hayes, October 2013. Thanks to Not Bored! for help with the translation. You can find a pdf of the original issue number 10 here.

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The Invention of the Family

Originally posted on works & days:

Invention of the Family

 

 

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