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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revolution In The Service Of Poetry., 6 Dec 2003
R Jess "Raymond Jess" (Limerick, Ireland.) - See all my reviews
The Situationist International has retained a certain cache in postmodern thought. Guy Debord's concept of 'spectacle' is now widely bantered about in any discussion on the nature of consumer society. Ironically, in the eyes of the traditional left, the situationists have been seen as variously elitist, nihilistic and childishly utopian. Yet their central focus, on how consumer capitalism affects the most intimate and mundane aspects of our everyday lives, brings us right back to the essence of Marx's theory of alienation.
This book gathers together previously unpublished texts and acts as a useful supplement to 'The Situationist International Anthology' edited by Ken Knabb. Fortunately for the art historian Tom McDonagh (who edits the book) and the other art historians who add complementary blurbs on the back of the jacket, most of these previously unpublished texts were written when the SI still had an enthusiasm for art. Post '63 the political came to dominate their work. This was almost a realization that they were on the defensive, that in the socio-political world of the mid-60's art as a means of authentic experience had been pushed to the margins. 'The poetry of the streets' was the only sure-fire way of taking back everyday life. This form of aggressive poetry eventually culminated in the events of May '68 in Paris.
California it seems was the nemesis of the SI's Latin Quarter. The radicalism that evolved from the Beat Generation in the U.S. is dealt with by nothing but contempt by Debord and his cohorts. Freudian psychology: "We know that the unconscious imagination is poor, that automatic writing is monotonous"p.33; ecology: "...a greater domination of nature, a greater freedom."p.42; and eastern spirituality: "...the mental infirmity of American capitalist culture has enrolled in the school of Zen Buddhism"p.80 This searing revulsion of American hippie culture may have been one of the reasons the SI was so attractive to certain strains within the punk movement from Malcolm McLaren to the Gang of 4 (who's 'Natural's Not In It' is the best distillation of situationist ideas set to music).
What also sets the situationists apart from the radicals within the U.S. was their unbridled enthusiasm for technology. This might seem like evidence of their utopian strain, a throwback to pre-war surrealism. But a belief that technology will eventually relieve us of unnecessary toil is an idea that goes back as least as far as the 18th century. As far as I can deduce from the early texts included here, the most impressive and imaginative of the early situationists was not Debord or even Asger Jorn, but the Dutch painter Constant Nieuwenhuys. His 'A Different City for a Different Life' is fascinating in its vision of a situationist city in a post-capitalist world. New Babylon would be constructed above ground level with most of the traffic condemned below. Moving walls, changeable spaces, climate-controlled communities, neighbourhoods designed for different individual emotions and the creation of a variety of environments to facilitate chance encounters. What could be a greater experimental realization of Marx's dictum that consiousness is shaped by environment?
Constant's early technological optimism contrasts sharply with Debord's later political pessimism. For by the mid-60's it was clear that not only would imaginative and non-alienating uses of technology not be on the horizon, but that a stronger defensive must be made for existing environments that were about to be totally consumed for capitalist techne. One is reminded of New York's Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and his hubristic schemes to run expressways through every borough of New York. When it finally came to running one through bohemian Lower Manhatten, an anti-Moses action group was formed to put a stop to the idea of motorwaying old communal neighbourhoods into the ground. As such maybe 'derives' are still possible in Lower Manhatten?
In Mustapha Khayati's 'Captive Words', there seems to be a slight acknowledgement of some structualist arguments that were bandied around at the time, "Power resides in language, which is the refuge of its police violence."p.174 Detournement - the situationist subversion of the signifier - was probably the most powerfully striking method of conveying dialectical conflict in the later 20th century. Khayati looks back to the dadaists in whom "the innocence of words was....consciously attacked."p.175 The situationists sought to challenge traditional signifieds by constant subversion of popular signifiers. This attack on comfortable images provoked an immediate questioning of received meanings. Their natural artistic sympathies were with the European avant-garde but they also disavowed much of it due to its often political ambiguity and its sometime outright reactionary nature. In the words of Greil Marcus "The situationist program....came down to Lautreamont and workers councils."p.14
Of the essays on the SI, Jonathan Crary's 'Spectacle, Attention, Counter-Memory', proved to be more than a little contentious, if all the more illuminating for it. He takes a sentence from Debord's 'Comments on the Society of the Spectacle' written in 1988 in which he states that when he wrote the original back in 1967, the spectacle was barely 40 years old. Crary then theorizes on what Debord meant by placing the beginning of the spectacle in 1927 or around the late 20's. He gives a number of insightful reasons, including 1: 1927 saw the technological perfection of television; 2: 'The Jazz Singer' premiered in 1927 and saw the birth of synchronized sound; 3: The rise of facism in the late 20's and its emphasis on using all available mediums to propogate its ideas.
I leave you with Theo Frey's vision of our Internet future written in 1966(!) "Henceforth a universal communication network supresses the distance between things while increasing the distance between people, the future solution will consist in making people circulate less and information circulate more. People will stay at home, transformed into mere audiovisual 'receivers' of information."p.170
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good collection, 24 Aug 2007
Mr. M. J. Bowen "middle name : NR" (some NOT RANDOM room) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Guy Debord and the Situationist International: Texts and Documents (October Books) (Paperback)
This is a handsome book that contains the bare texts which comprise alot of the early situationist output. It presents them in a far superior way to the frequently adolescent Leaving the 20th Century - dividing the images from the articles and reproducing them in hi-quality. People (don't ask me who specifically!) often draw a distinction between the "artistic" and "political" phases of the situationist project - and the work collected in here would relate most closely to the former phase. This is fine by me as this is the stuff I am most interested in - and the opportunity to encounter some of these articles first hand is a boon! There are also some worthwhile secondary essays included - one about "counter-memory" being especially good and another by Greil Marcus serving as a decent introduction.

I would say you should probably get it but don't fetishize the damn thing!
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