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And into the 21st,
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This review is from: The Spectacle of Disintegration: Situationist Passages Out of the Twentieth Century (Hardcover)
Why is Situationism still cool? After so many theorists of the 60s have passed into history and are no longer read - Herbert Marcuse and RD Laing, for example - the Situationists are still going strong. New books about them keep appearing.
Mainly that's because they were ahead of their time. The attention they paid to television, celebrity, consumerism, and shopping, in the attempt to understand how capitalism has been changing, looks now almost prophetic. They understood what was happening, and now - almost 50 years since their key text, 'The Society of the Spectacle', was published in 1967 - they are still ahead of the analyses of the more traditionalist sections of the Left.
They also embodied a sense of intelligent total revolt and uncompromising rejection of the status quo (I've found Situationism particularly good to read at times when I've been angry with the stupidity of managers) - which also explains why it became an influence on punk.
However, because it aims at total critique, Situationism can be over-the-top and overly negative. There are some examples in this book. Though it is true that mobile phones have led some people to find it hard to get away from their jobs in their time off (page 11), many of us have found them rather useful. Although sexuality is certainly used to sell commodities, it is an overstatement to claim that as a result, "love is nowhere" (page 80). It also seems a strange judgement to praise the Situationist theorist Guy Debord for refusing to compromise after 1968, declining into alcoholism and eventually suicide, but in contrast to condemn anarchist-turned-Green Danny Cohn-Bendit on the sole grounds that after '68 he became a Green Member of the European Parliament.
Whereas Marx wrote about a varied life which included to "criticise after dinner", it feels like the Situationists would prefer to criticise all bloody day.
This book is not an introduction to Situationism, but it will fill in some gaps if you already know something about it. For an overall, fairly jolly, introduction, I'd recommend 'Guy Debord' by Andy Merrifield. For getting to grips with the serious political philosophy involved, try 'Guy Debord' by Anselm Jappe, which explains how the Situationist concept of 'spectacle' derives from the idea of 'alienation' in Hegel and Marx.
'The Spectacle of Disintegration' provides some interesting detours into the elaborate utopianism of Charles Fourier, the secrecy of Gypsies, Debord's invention of board games, and so on. It reads more like a compilation of offcuts from the author's previous book, 'The Beach Beneath the Street', rather than a history of Situationism, or (as it hints it might be going to be) of 'Post-Situationism'.
The number of people interested in such offcuts and detours may not be very large - but there are enough of us to justify yet another book to keep the Situationist publishing industry rolling on.
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