25 August 2013

Negation and Postscript

"Although Debord never intended his writings to be dissected by the academy – The Society of the Spectacle (1967) was written as the theoretical accompaniment to an imminent conflagration, ...he certainly foresaw their recuperation. Displaying a vim seemingly absent in the opposing camp, the Situationists wrote, 'It is quite natural that our enemies succeed in partially using us. We are neither going to leave the present field of culture to them nor mix with them. [...] we must simply work to make any such exploitation entail the greatest possible risk for the exploiters'. But now, over forty years since the SI disbanded, it is hard to know what risks – beyond bad faith – the BnF or like institutions might run in approaching Debord’s archive. ‘50 years of recuperation’, in the words of McKenzie Wark, have seen the assimilation of avant-garde Situationist practices such as the dérive and détournement by everyone from anti-globalisation movements like Occupy Wall Street, to culture-jammers Adbusters, the Haçienda nightclub, and Benetton ad man Oliviero Toscani.

At the same time, despite a counter-insurgency led by luminaries including Régis Debray and Jean Baudrillard, the theories outlined in Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle refuse to go away. Viewed as the handbook of May 1968, in later life it has been deployed in cultural theory as a vague synonym for the evils of mass media, or roped into conspiracy theories about an 'inside job' on 9/11. While pro-Situationist collectives may expend their energy sifting rightful heirs such as Julien Coupat from pretenders to the throne, in reality the BnF’s exhibition was less of an anachronism than a mirror to the SI’s widespread co-option. In fact, as Steve Shaviro depressingly notes, it is precisely the SI’s radical rejection of commercial culture that has made it 'one of the most commercially successful 'memes' or 'brands' of the late twentieth century'."

- Clodagh Kinsella, writing for Afterall, reviewing the exhibition "Guy Debord: An Art of War," recently hosted by the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

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