“controlled froth”


[from Internationale Situationniste no. 9,  August 1964]

“controlled froth”

With the controlled froth of PAX-OMATIC, more of

the froth-overflow deteriorates your machine.

The extracts which follow are a good example – inscribed in the ridiculous jargon of the specialists of conditioning and [hierarchical] power – of attempts to reverse our perspectives, and sometimes even our formulas.[1] The qualitative is very evidently missing here! All the psycho-technique of stupidity applied here to recuperate the refuse of the post-Dadaist era (or of a post-Pirandellian theatre).[2] It is about integrating people into the system of submission at all costs, which could be made via the demand for an abstract “participation” which does not deny the spectacle but supports it. Thus, for the delicate, we can foresee a made-to-measure integration in the psychodramas[3] of the pasteurised political neo-organisation (Socialisme ou Barbarie, this year), or in the dehydrated artistic scandal.[4] The modern spectacle never ceases to create new employment: the greatest refinement of participation in the spectacle is actually offered by these cretins who stage the spectacle of participation.

“The Play-Girls constitutes a semi-improvised spectacle of a quite singular interest.[5] Due to a very flexible scenario, Marc’O, author and director, manages to play an active role to the spectators through [the] intrusion into their ranks of a huge cake that is offered by the actors.”

Marc Pierret, France-Observateur,

30 January 1964.[6]

“It is not the place, here and now, to look for the sufficient conditions to found a truly revolutionary theatre. Nor if it would still be theatre, nor how to show today the plays which are not made tasteless by their preserved cultural setting…

“The institutional directionality of spectacles is the true problem, and there are few chances that it will be resolved through setting out from the simple use of formal avant-garde processes or not…

“The spectacles of participation, on an experimental basis, can be organised from the present by teams made up of dramaturges, certainly, but also psycho-sociologists, artists having an experience of ‘happenings’, comedians or anyone looking to make the theatre the place of a living experience and emancipation.”

Marc Pierret, France-Observateur,

5 March 1964.

“The question of self-management is at the centre of the ideological problematic of the U.N.E.F.[7] In the course of these debates, it will act to clarify the actual meaning of the relation actor-spectator and from there found the critique in the perspective of a true dis-alienation.

“The question will be in effect of knowing if the cultural politics of the U.N.E.F. will consist of continuing to distribute tickets at a reduced rate permitting students to access use of the theatre, or if it will orient itself on the contrary toward initiatives in the style of some extremely passionate investigations [recherches] which have been undertaken by the students of Nice concerning a theatre of managed participation with the mise-en-scène elaborated collectively, the representation of the spectacle only constituting itself in the final result before the commencement of another work of collective elucidation.

“Second [piece of] important news: the First Conference of Psychodrama will take place at the Faculty of Medicine from the 31st of August to the 3rd of September under the honorary presidency of [Jacob L.] Moreno, who in the United States, well before the war, was the first psychodramatist. Self-management and psychodrama appears to me to be the most solid platform serving to set out an elaboration of revolutionary dramaturgy.”

Marc Pierret, France-Observateur,

26 March 1964.



IS  A  CUNT[8]



[1] I have inserted ‘[hierarchical]’ here in translating ‘le pouvoir’. The Situationist International (S.I.) distinguished between the alienated ‘hierarchical power’ of the capitalist spectacle and the ‘power’ or capacities of people, which become alienated as hierarchical power under conditions of capitalist social relations. They most often used the noun, ‘le pouvoir’, to denoted ‘hierarchical power’, whereas the often used the verb ‘pouvoir’ to denote the general and historically conditioned ‘powers’ of people to act and transform their world and conditions of existence. The S.I.’s use of these terms is both a recovery, and their own formalisation, of Marx’s conception of alienation (see in particular The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844). More on this distinction can be found here: Power (Notes toward a Situationist Dictionary).

[2] ‘Psychotechique’, also known as ‘theatre language’, is a theatrical rehearsal method developed by Constantin Stanislavsky, the inventor of ‘method acting.’ Also see footnote 3 below.

[3] ‘Psychodrama’ is a theatrically influenced psycho-therapeutic technique developed by Jacob L. Moreno. However the S.I. appears to also be using ‘psychodrama’ ironically, with reference to the film and literary criticisms which speak of the ‘psychodramas of narratives’ which focus on the so-called psychological events and developments of characters.   No doubt words such as ‘psychodrama’, ‘psycho-sociologists’ and ‘revolutionary dramaturgy’ in the hands of Marc Pierret,  constitute some of ‘the ridiculous jargon of the specialists of conditioning and [hierarchical] power’ the S.I. refer to.

[4] ‘the psychodramas of […] Socialisme ou Barbarie’ in 1964. In 1963 the Socialisme ou Barbarie group split, between the ‘modernists’ led by Cornelius Castoriadis (then known under the pseudonym Paul Cardan), and the more ‘orthodox’ Marxists grouped around the magazine Pouvoir Ouvrier. Castoriadis’ group essentially abandoned any attachment to Marx’s conception of class struggle as the constitutive antagonism of capitalist societies; indeed Castoriadis went further, blaming Marx for the sins of Marxism, something roundly condemned by the S.I. – see, in particular,  the following entries from the 9th number of their journal: Now, the S.I., and The Longest Months. From the latter article: “Since the split of 1963, the journal Socialisme ou Barbarie has struggled to follow in the footsteps of Arguments (cf. ‘We know that your subscription to Arguments testifies to similar preoccupations,’ in the circular of 20 January 1964 addressed by the new editorial committee to the public they want to recover.) But this comes too late, and it is clearly weaker and insignificant. Politically, it is the expression of the furthest left and most fanciful fringe of those managers and mid-level functionaries of the Left who want to have a revolutionary theory of their actual career in society, and also the overtly social career of such a ‘revolutionary theory.’ But whereas [Serge] Mallet and [André] Gorz are professionals at this sort of activity, the people at Socialisme ou Barbarie are visibly amateurs: a relaxing weekend for managers whose real career is elsewhere. The minority which split in fidelity with Marxism accepted the debate on the most false terrain: the ‘modern’ was the privilege of the Cardanists [i.e. followers of Cornelius Castoriadis], and ‘revolution’ the banner of the minority. But in fact, these notions are represented by neither camp, because there cannot be revolution without the modern or modern thought without the reinvention of revolutionary critique. The minority (Pouvoir Ouvrier) is so detached from the trivialities of the era that it has not judged it useful to explain the meaning of the dissolution of Socialisme ou Barbarie, a phenomenon too modern for its taste—not even to inform its few readers (no matter how fervent) of workers’ democracy. In Socialisme ou Barbarie there remains only a few traces of the useful theoretical work made on a number of points over the years. All is drowned in an extraordinary atmosphere of escalating resignation, as everyone rushes to abandon all critical thought. In this shipwreck it seems that the captain alone can spout off euphorically. [Paul] Cardan [i.e. Cornelius Castoriadis], after fifteen years of useless effort to get the dialectic— if only for a brief instant —decides that it is a fruit too immature, and proclaims that ‘we cannot be immediately given a dialectic, for a dialectic postulates the rationality of the world and of history, and this rationality is problematic, as theory and as practice.’ (Socialisme ou Barbarie, no 37, page 27). From this, he can attach with the greatest pride his long disguised inability to grasp the play of contradictions: ‘At the base of this (Marxist) theory of history, there is woven profoundly and contradictorily a philosophy of history, itself contradictory, as will be seen.’ Setting out from such a good foundation one will see everything; and even [Georges] Lapassade can direct psychodramatically such an avant-garde of revolutionary ‘questioning.’” (Note that my translation of this passage differs markedly from Reuben Keehan’s linked above).

[5] Les Playsgirls, a play written by Marc’O, aka Marc-Gilbert Guillaumin, onetime collaborator of Isidore Isou’s Lettrist movement between 1950 and 1953.

[6] Marc Pierret, journalist and collaborator with Georges Lapassade and Socialism ou Barbarie. See Guy Debord, letter To René Lourau, 13 January 1966.

[7] U.N.E.F. L’Union Nationale des Etudiants de France. The National Union of French Students, is a union which represents French undergraduate university students. Notably the S.I. played a decisive role two years later in the Strasbourg university students’ diversion of funds from the local branch of the U.N.E.F. in order to produce the pamphlet On the Poverty of Student Life

[8] Georges Lapassade was a Marxist academic and collaborator with Arguments – a journal boycotted by the S.I. from early 1961. In particular he was an advocate of ‘participatory’ spectacles. Note the reference to Lapassade in the quote reproduced in footnote 4 above. Also worth noting is this reference to Lapassade from Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Daily Life: “When the most advanced sociologists finally understood how the art-object became a market-value, by what means the famous creativity of the artist yielded to the norms of profitability, it appeared to them that it was necessary to return to the source of art in everyday life, not in order to change it (because this is not their function), but rather to make it the raw material of a new aesthetic which would resist its packaging and thus escape the mechanism of buying and selling. As if there was no way to consume on the spot! We know the result: socio-dramas and happenings through which the claim to organise an immediate participation of spectators results only in their participation in the aesthetic of nothingness. Via the method of the spectacle it is only possible to express the emptiness of everyday life. In terms of consumption, what is better than an aesthetic of emptiness? As it accelerates, does not the decomposition of value itself become the sole form of possible entertainment? The trick is to convert the spectators of the cultural and ideological vacuum into its organisers; to fill the inanity of the spectacle by the obligatory participation of the spectator – the passive agent par excellence. The happening and its derivatives have some chance of furnishing the society of slaves without masters – which the cyberneticians are preparing – with what it requires: the spectacle without spectators. For the artists, in the strict sense of the term, the way of absolute recuperation [récupération] is all mapped out. They will join with [Georges] Lapassade and consorts in the great corporation of specialists. [Hierarchical] power will reward them by deploying their talent to dress up in new and seductive colours the old conditioning to passivity.” Words in bold are in English in the original. From chapter 12, section 2, Traité de savoir-vivre à l’usage des jeunes generations; in English: The Revolution of Everyday Life. The above passage, translated by me, differs markedly from the Donald Nicholson-Smith translation.

First published in Internationale Situationniste no. 9,  August 1964, pp. 28-29. Translated from the French by Anthony Hayes, May 2013.  Thanks to Alastair Hemmens for help with the translation. I will endeavor to make available a complete scan of the original article sometime in the not too distant future.

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One Response to “controlled froth”

  1. Pingback: The packaging of “free-time” | notes from the sinister quarter

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