Society of the Spectacle

ISBN: 0946061122
ISBN 13: 9780946061129
By: Guy Debord Ken Knabb

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Reader's Thoughts

Tosh

It only took 154 pages to change our world. Guy Debord's manifesto/book length essay that is truly a masterpiece of political writing that borders on the poetic. It is also a crystal clear view how culture is formed in the 20th (and of course the 21st) century. The theater is built in front us and we are lead to believe that we actually participate in its adventure. As Johnny Rotten said at the last Sex Pistols concert in the late 70's "Have you ever felt the feeling that you have been had?" Well, something of that effect. Nevertheless the show goes on and on. It's wise to realize that it's a show... and nothing else.

Peter Landau

Poetry as philosophy? Philosophy as poetry? Either way, it's just as opaque. Maybe it was French, translated into English and landing on the page in words that read as neither. Maybe it's me. I'm not the sharpest knife in the shed -- I'm not even a knife, nor do I have a shed. To summarize Guy Debord's theory, well, I could, but it would be more an act of fiction on my part than critical review. Sure, I got bits and pieces. Sure, I liked a lot of what those bits and pieces evoked in my head. Sure, I read it aloud to savor the sound of each word, which helped put me and my kids to sleep on more than one restless night. I only wish that certain disciplines would drop the jargon and communicate clearly. Or at least make a couple jokes. How about a cartoon or two? That would have helped. Maybe a frumpy character in oversized glasses. This is the kind of book that, for me, requires more research to mine the gold that are in them thar hills, and, hopefully, the discover of a talented critic to hold my hand and walk me through it. Criticism can be art, too, you know.

Babak Fakhamzadeh

Debord was one of the main players behind the Situationist International and the very guy who coined the term psychogeography, referring to the experience of one's immediate environment as it is directly presented. A way, incidentally, to counter the society of the spectacle. The society of the spectacle is a manifest, if nothing else, primarily an agitation against consumerist society. The central tenet being that modern production systems have allowed society to accept representations of society as replacements for what is real. And it's these representations, these spectacles, to which society gives meaning and value, not the underlying reality. Debord puts forward a whole lot of interesting and still very relevant ideas, but also loses himself in unnecessary complexity, borrowing too much from, and building too much on, classic philosophers. Debord's staying power derives from his visionary description of consumerist society, extrapolating the world as he knew and saw it some fifty years ago. But his critique is steeped in a language that formally lost relevance 20 years ago and practically many years before that. That is not to say that class struggle is no longer relevant or possible, but it *is* very unlikely, possibly specifically because pseudo separation has made unification practically impossible. In today's world, we all believe we are right and first and foremost put ourselves before any shared good. My full, in depth, review

cras culture

This classic of sorts from the leading light of the infamous post-arts post-political group The Situationists outlines a (then) new form of consumption and insidious capitalist totality known as Spectacle. The Spectacle mutates throughout the book to be established as meaning various things. However, one of the main aspects of spectacle is the consumption of images as commodity (ranging from physical to emotional to spiritual, psycological and everything-in-between attachment to said commodity) to the absurd and perilous point that the social, or society as we know it becomes completely subsumed by it. Debord works within a marxist spectrum and explanation of things, however, I would hesitate to call him a marxist per se as he works out entirely (then) new and current frameworks for dealing with the runaway train that was then, and continues to be spectacular capitalism and commodity exchange. A marxist would generally be one who sticks more rigidly to an orthodox reading of marx, (but hell, that's just my two cents.) While written in dense theoretical fragments, if the reader can transcend the surface of the work they will find an almost poetic attack on a culture of mass that would as it turns out, to this day, only become more obsessed with the vanity of its own consumer death urge. Not anywhere near as rollicking as the other main longer work by a Situ, 'Revolution of Everyday Life', however the dryness of the language almost gives it this other sense of urgency and despair that is quite compelling.

Jeff

Guy Dubord's critique of Western culture as spectacle seems more pointed today than when he wrote it in the 1960s. Dubord basically says that our so-called culture has come down to looking at things, and that the media (print, film, advertising, etc.) provide us with a constant wash of images that we mistake for culture, when in fact they are simply about making us feel helpless, passive, and chained to a need to consume products in order to have a sense of self worth. The fact that things like the internet make all of this hundreds of times faster and more intense simply makes Dubord's point stronger. A remarkable piece of writing, that still poses questions we desperately need to answer.

jeremy

9. in a world that really has been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood.20. ...the absolute denial of life, in the shape of a fallacious paradise, is no longer projected onto the heavens, but finds its place instead within material life itself. the spectacle is hence a technological version of the exiling of human powers in a "world beyond" - and the perfection of separation within human beings.67. ...a use of the commodity arises that is sufficient unto itself; what this means for the consumer is an outpouring of religious zeal in honor of the commodity's sovereign freedom. waves of enthusiasm for particular products, fueled and boosted by the communications media, are propagated with lightning speed. a film sparks a fashion craze, or a magazine launches a chain of clubs that in turn spins off a line of products. the sheer fad item perfectly expresses the fact that, as the mass of commodities becomes more and more absurd, absurdity becomes a commodity in its own right...188. when a newly independent art paints its world in brilliant colors, then a moment of life has grown old. by art's brilliant colors it cannot be rejuvenated but only recalled to mind. the greatness of art makes its appearance only as dusk begins to fall over life.

Mira

Amazing. Read this for research purposes while writing thesis "Perception and the spaces between art". I don't want to ruin this by reviewing it in a highly analytical manner, so I'll just say that it applies as much now as when it was written. A great text about the repackaging of culture and the coersion of visual freedom.

Nate

This book is one of the best depictions of capitalist alienation ever written. It is a very one-of-a-kind philosophical and thought-provoking read, written in such a way that each paragraph is a thesis. It is not copyrighted, and can be found for free online: http://www.marxists.org/reference/arc...Debord also turned it into a film, which can be found here: http://www.ubu.com/film/debord.htmlIn spite of the merits of the rest of the book, Chapter 4 , The Proletariat as Subject and as Representation, denounces way too much, seemingly rejecting everything but Situationism. Anarchism and the bureaucratism of degenerated workers' states were rightly condemned in this chapter, but incorrect slanders were levelled against Leninism and Trotskyism, which will mislead an uninformed reader.

Pedro

Este é um daqueles livros que todos deveriam ler, pois pode altera o modo como vemos o mundo que nos rodeia. Guy Debord escreveu um livro sem copyright e sem direitos reservados, no qual pôs uma mensagem forte. Ele defende que a sociedade em que vivemos é um espectáculo e todas as nossas interacções não são mais que teatro. Será realmente assim? É algo que cada um terá de decidir ao ler.Escrito num tom erudito, com inúmeras referências a trabalhos conhecidos e exemplos, é uma tese sólida sobre a sociedade moderna. Está dividida em parágrafos para facilitar a leitura e a organização das ideias. Só não sei porque não há mais pessoas a lê-lo...

Patrick

We're all duped by the illusions produced by contemporary consumer society. But fear not: simply utilize your free time creatively and grant autonomous political and economic powers to self-governed workers' councils within every vestige of society and all will be well. Best quote: "Plagiarism is necessary. Progress demands it." (p. 145)

Tristan

Pseudo-everything.

Ryn Shane-Armstrong

I read Society of the Spectacle way back in college -- when one is young and naive, and you're supposed to care about heady, outdated French philosophy that is utterly disconnected from the real. But now that I'm older and I have a world of experience to draw from, I'm fairly certain it wouldn't resonate as it once did. To wit, the so-called "radical" situationist ethic is now a totally mainstream, mass media commodity in and of itself. Beijing hosts pillow fight flash mobs in Tian'anmen square, orchestrated with consumer electronics on high-speed internet connections; the next day, everyone goes about their business as usual.My beef with Debord and his ilk (Hakim Bey, for instance) is twofold: their message is hyperbolic, poorly articulated, loaded with cyclical logic, and often imbued with the sexy but none the less empty rhetoric of retro-romaticism (notice, as Steev has, the "thin" nature of their masterpieces -- this is no accident or coincidence); and, of course, they espouse a remote worldview that is tremendously arrogant and at least as fantastic and absurd as that with which they claim to despise about the human condition.Case in point, Debord's regressive contention that:"The spectacle was born from the world's loss of the unity, and the immense expansion of the modern spectacle reveals the enormity of this loss. The abstractifying of all individual labor and the general abstractness of what is produced are perfectly reflected in the spectacle, whose manner of being concrete is precisely abstraction."Putting aside for a moment the meta mind-fuck jibber-jabber of the author's writing -- not to mention the rich irony of a book (itself a kind of spectacle that's only about 600 year old) littered with such sentences that so expertly illustrate how the spectacle's "...manner of being concrete is precisely abstraction" -- it's pretty clear that Debord laments the development of our species and longs for a return to some supposedly glorious golden era when everything and everybody was awash in "unity." Not sure how far back he wants to go, but given his frustrations with the spectacle's "representation" of the real, the charming paintings of the 18,000 year old Caves of Lascaux in the lands of his own native France clearly isn't far enough. Maybe the dawn of agriculture? The big bang? When, prey tell, were we whole, Mr. Debord?!I recommend this book to folks if only to become aware of this particular subset of intellectual sophistry. But please don't take it to heart. If you really want to revel in photos of your kid, by all means, enjoy your spectacular "abstractifying." I won't tell the smug intelligentsia if you won't

Michael

It’s funny, because this book has been more-or-less “in my orbit” for the past 25 years or so, but I only got around to actually reading through it for the first time just now. That makes it a bit difficult to review, because in some ways I knew what I was getting in to when I first opened it, but in other ways it was a surprise. Maybe that helps explain the fact that it struck me as being at times very cutting-edge, and at others quite out-of-date.This book was originally a manifesto of sorts, along with Revolution of Everyday Life for the “Situationists” in France in the 1960s. Where Vaneigem was speaking more positively about what could be done, Debord is outlining the problem as the Situationists' critique understood it. The concept of the “Spectacle” is an attempt to move revolutionary theory into a post-industrial territory, by analyzing the shift from substance to image under late-twentieth-century conditions: “The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalized sliding of having into appearing, from which all actual ‘having’ must draw its immediate prestige and ultimate function.” This probably seems pretty obvious, today, but relatively few radical critiques have expressed it so clearly, even if angry people everywhere can feel it in their bones. Debord walks a kind of tightrope in this book between rejection of Marxism’s authoritarian tendencies and a nostalgic longing for working class revolution. His critique of the Soviet Union, of Lenin and Stalin, and of their many imitators and followers, is generally right on, and vindicated by events since the writing of the book. He also sees, though I would say with less definite clarity, the fallacy in Marx’s refusal to see the State (or rather the bureaucrats who comprise it) as a class in itself with its own class interests, which led to the rise of the apparatchik in Russia and elsewhere. Yet still he clings to the idea of “worker’s councils” as the only revolutionary path away from the spectacle, failing himself to recognize that identification as “workers” in itself disempowers individuals when they form collectivities (this is especially ironic, since so far as I know Debord never held a steady job himself). His brief analysis of fascism (in paragraph #109 of the text) is equally fascinating in its past-and-future-ness; on the one hand he anticipates later theorists in declaring it “technically-equipped archaism” whose “decomposed ersatz of myth is revived in the spectacular context of the most modern means of conditioning and illusion,” and yet he insists simultaneously that it is merely “an extremist defense of the bourgeois economy,” in line with the Stalinist analysis. It’s interesting that I find this text somewhat detached from time, both old and new at one time, because I think the most valuable chapter here is probably the one on “Time and History,” in which Debord attempts to explore the ways in which power affects our understanding of time itself. I say this is probably the most valuable chapter, because quite frankly I will need to live with it for a while, and go back and read it a few more times, before I’m sure that I have understood the argument. Coming from me, that’s pretty high praise, so long as I don’t find three months from now that I didn’t understand it because it make no sense at all.

Elisabeth

Bright sunny styles starting at $8 are spectacle. Tanning beds and stairmasters are spectacle. Sonny and Cher are spectacle. Sonny as mayor is spectacle. Any mayor “cleaning up” Times Square and polishing it with corporate spit is spectacle. Little New York in Las Vegas is spectacle. Little New York in Vegas in Dubai is spectacle. Little New York in Vegas in Dubai inside Tokyo Disney in a feature-film starring a topless Nicolas Cage saving the natives with guns in a Gatorade jihad is spectacle. These are obvious examples of spectacle in a society where “all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacle. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation” (1). I have a zoo membership. It takes us into a tropical jungle full of strollers. Nice capris. Nice passive aggressive DNA exchange. Nice legacy of anxiety across the generations as captured in the phenomena of perpetual perceived election. What if I can’t let go of this plushee harp seal pup that says “mama” every time I squeeze its flipper? “What requires the deepening of rationality is also what nourishes the irrationality of hierarchical exploitation and repression.” Thank you for your campaign contribution. Vote China. Vote Coke. Vote CNN. Vote BPA-free, gluten-free, organic plastic baby CNN. “The spectacle is not a collection of images but a social relation among people, mediated by images” (4)--“the eonomy developing for itself” (16). I’m in the spectacle, and the spectacle’s in me. A prolonged meditation in which self-immolation is imminent, and also elusive. All of this abstract diagnosis is making me hungry. A vortex of plastic waste twice the size of the United States roaming the Pacific Ocean is a ghost mouth. It is an organ of yes. It is always hungry. It is a roiling maw post-time. “The spectacle … is the false consciousness of time” (158). I carry this book everywhere with me for months. I read and read (and, interestingly, it is Debord’s use of abstractions that make Society of the Spectacle a kind of timeless text, versus say Berger’s Ways of Seeing, which is so swept up in the technology of its own contemporaneity that it reads as an outdated text) and am actively aware of my own hunger for some kind of solution. Not solution but antidote. A manifesto against. For détournement. By 203, we get some instruction: To effectively destroy the society of the spectacle, what is needed is men [sic!] putting a practical force into action. The critical theory of the spectacle can be true only by uniting with the practical current of negation in society, and this negation, the resumption of revolutionary class struggle, will become conscious of itself by developing the critique of the spectacle which is the theory of its real conditions (the practical conditions of present oppression), and inversely by unveiling the secret of what this negation can be.Debord concedes that this is a “long-range task,” but his is a complicated directive merging theory with practical conditions: “the obscure and difficult path of critical theory must also be the lot of the practical movement acting on the scale of society” (203, again). Ostensibly, this is a loaded enterprise, but given the increasing marginalization of theorists in academia (as expressed in a recent round table on theory at the U) and their resistance to institutionalization (“the inevitable fall into falling asleep”) and their solidarity with movements that bring together individuals from within and without institutions, such as Occupy Wall Street, the Green Revolution in Iran, the Arab Spring, and Pussy Riots against the re-enstatement of Putin in Russia, it seems there is no better time than now to listen to Debord. In Poetryland, we have our own warriors such as Joshua Clover and the Davis Dozen, CA Conrad, Anne Boyer, Brandon Brown, Dana Ward, Steve Zultanski picking up political mantles with an urgency that exceeds the limits of aesthetic debate or taste oppression in Poetryland-proper. Maria Damon’s recent discussion of antonisms recalls Debord when he says: “Critical theory must be communicated in its own language. It is the language of contradiction, which must be dialectical in form as it is in content….It is not “the nadir of writing,” but its inversion. It is not a negation of style, but the style of negation.” One way in which this might be achieved, suggests Debord, is through theft: “Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it.” I’ll take these as marching orders, and also mutate “the obvious degradation of being into having” (17) with a partial reversal through “the obvious liberation of being into having” via Cixous on writing:"Having? A having without limits, without restriction; but without any “deposit,” a having that doesn’t withhold or possess, a having-love that sustains itself with loving, in the blood-rapport. In this way, give yourself what you would want God-if-he-existed to give you."

John Lucy

The concept of the society of the spectacle is rather intriguing. So I had hoped that I'd be reading a book about the society of the spectacle. That wasn't always the case, in a way.First of all, the introduction, written by Martin Jenkins, is half a commentary on the content of the book and half an historical review of the SI, the Communist intellectual group of which Guy Debord belonged. While the introduction is good and helpful, the half and half bit continues throughout the book. Half a Communist philosophical treatise on the idea of the society of the spectacle, and half just a Communist treatise that seems to have little reference to the rest of the book (mostly in the middle chapters). Truthfully, the society of the spectacle gets left behind rather early: the book clearly is not meant to develop the idea of the society of the spectacle but to push a modern Communist agenda. I have no problem with Communist agendas, and I was more prepared for it with the introduction, but since the concept of spectacle is so compelling I wish Debord could have been a little more committed to it and be more subtle in arguing his agenda.In general, Debord also just takes Marx's groundbreaking analysis of commodity and then says, "The commodity is spectacle. To produce and sell a commodity is spectacular and has now become the sole purpose of life: to watch and buy and watch some more spectacles--commodities--as spectators." Of course there's much more to this whole book, but on the whole I think Debord could have accomplished more. Again, much of the problem, I think, is that Debord seems impatient to rush to the "Here's why Communism rules" sections rather than actually discuss the concept that he's created. Thus the concept of the spectacle, in Communist terms, is left without much of a foundation. And, indeed, Debord's impatience seems to have hindered the connection between spectacle and Communism, creating an insoluble divide between the concept of spectacle on one side and Communism on the other. Certainly Debord argues fairly well his point that spectacle = commodity = here's why we need Communism, but the foundation of the argument is either overlooked or supposedly established on surface-level terms. It is never really established. The argument almost becomes pointless.Also, though I have no problem with Communism as a concept, I personally wish that this book were more like Jean Baudrillard's work on simulacra. Spectacle and simulation have enormous similarities. So why does Debord try to appropriate the idea of spectacle as a Communist concept? I think he has a point (that could have been made more subtly, for full effect), and it's certainly interesting reading this little Communist book, but if you're looking, as I was, for a solid philosophical investigation of the society of the spectacle, you've come to the wrong place. Though I do read Communist works, I wish this weren't one of them. The title alone had much promise. Even when I knew that it was a Communist work, the book had much promise. Not much of that promise was realized.In the end, I'm not sorry that I read the book, but I am sorry that I did not read some other book. I know there are other books out there, some published before, some after Debord's work, that deal specifically and only with the idea of spectacle/image without trying too hard to mold the idea into some preconceived agenda. Oh well.

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