The diffuse spectacular

Newly arrived at the stage of commodity abundance, capitalism disperses its representations of happiness – and thus of hierarchical success – in an infinity of objects and gadgets expressing, really and deceptively, so many appendages to the stratifications of consumer society; and all these objects are outmoded and replaced according to the necessities of the flow of expanding production. The spectacle of manifold objects that are for sale invites the taking of manifold roles because it aims to oblige everyone to recognize and to realize them-self in the effective consumption of this production spread everywhere. Being only a response to a spectacular definition of needs, such consumption itself remains essentially spectacular insofar as it is pseudo-use: it has an effective role only as an economic exchange necessary for the system. Thus the real need is not seen; and what is seen has almost no reality. The object is first of all displayed so that one wants to possess it; then, in response, it is possessed to be displayed. Collections of worthy objects are thus constituted, which have the function of signifying a specific social status, and even a pseudo-personality exactly identical to the objects which represent it. Here, on display in the magazine Lui of January 1964, the collection of purchases equivalent to the “business man” personality contains an edition of the “economic works” of Marx.

Translation updated 9 September 2012

First published in Internationale Situationniste no. 10,  March 1966. Translated from the French by Anthony Hayes, September 2012.  A scan of the original article from page 45 of IS no. 10 is available here.

More on the diffuse and concentrated forms of the spectacle can be found in Chapter 3: Unity and Division Within Appearances in Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, in particular theses 63, 64, 65 and 70.

Another English translation of this article was made by Paul Hammond under the title ‘The diffuse spectacle’. It is available in the book Theory of the Dérive and other situationist writings on the city edited by Libero Andreotti & Xavier Costa, and published in 1996 as an accompaniment to the exhibition Situationists: Art, Politics, Urbanism at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. As far as I can tell it is not available to read online.

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