A Situationist How to Use on Reich's _Character Analysis_

IN BEFORE SOME OBVIOUS META JOKESTER 

http://business.nmsu.edu/~dboje/theatrics/7/victor_turner.htm

should connect up victor turner's ethnographic insights (which should in turn conjure up thoughts of bourdieu and habitus for the reader) w the larger thread that is this thread

I am actually visiting this thread and reading (although I haven't gotten through both of your posts yet, I gotta move slowly since I have zero familiarity with this subject matter) and I just wanted you to know I didn't tell you to write up a bunch of stuff only to never visit again lol.

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I would like to touch on a subject that is rather off topic in this thread. A thread that is located in the off topic section of this forum, so I guess that legitimizes it a tiny bit. Are you interested in the halo game series, PM? I've seen you post a lot in debate threads, but never seen you post in anything halo related... Do you have a favorite game and/or montage?

As for the content you provided in your last post; cool supplement to Debord's spectacle. And they mention Noam Chomsky. May he never die! 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habitus_(sociology)

*if someone finds interest in this thread and doesn't care to search the web themselves 

to tie up the above post with the op more securely :

In their analysis, the Situationists argued that capitalism had turned all relationships transactional, and that life had been reduced to a "spectacle". The spectacle is the key concept of their theory. In many ways, they merely reworked Marx's view of alienation, as developed in his early writings. The worker is alienated from his product and from his fellow workers and finds himself living in an alien world: The worker does not produce himself; he produces an independent power. The success of this production, its abundance, returns to the producer as an abundance of dispossession. All the time and space of his world becomes foreign to him with the accumulation of his alienated products....

The increasing division of labor and specialization have transformed work into meaningless drudgery. "It is useless," Vaneigem observes, "to expect even a caricature of creativity from a conveyor belt." What they added to Marx was the recognition that in order to ensure continued economic growth, capitalism has created "pseudo-needs" to increase consumption. Instead of saying that consciousness was determined at the point of production, they said it occurred at the point of consumption. Modern capitalist society is a consumer society, a society of "spectacular" commodity consumption. Having long been treated with the utmost contempt as a producer, the worker is now lavishly courted and seduced as a consumer.

At the same time, while modern technology has ended natural alienation (the struggle for survival against nature), social alienation in the form of a hierarchy of masters and slaves has continued. People are treated like passive objects, not active subjects. After degrading being into having, the society of the spectacle has further transformed having into merely appearing. The result is an appalling contrast between cultural poverty and economic wealth, between what is and what could be. "Who wants a world in which the guarantee that we shall not die of starvation," Vaneigem asks, "entails the risk of dying of boredom?"

The way out of the Situationists was not to wait for a distant revolution but to reinvent everyday life here and now. To transform the perception of the world and to change the structure of society is the same thing. By liberating oneself, one changed power relations and therefore transformed society. They therefore tried to construct situations which disrupt the ordinary and normal in order to jolt people out of their customary ways of thinking and acting. [Hardly an original idea, spanning from Leary-style LSD use to zen, etc. -- Ken.] In place of petrified life, they sought the _derive_ (with its flow of acts and encounters) and _detournement_ (rerouting events and images). They supported vandalism, wildcat strikes and sabotage as a way of destroying the manufactured spectacle and commodity economy. Such gestures of refusal were considered signs of creativity. The role of the SI was to make clear to the masses what they were already implicitly doing. In this way, they wished to act as catalysts within the revolutionary process. Once the revolution was underway, the SI would disappear as a group.

In place of the society of the spectacle, the Situationists proposed a communistic society bereft of money, commodity production, wage labor, classes, private property and the State. Pseudo-needs would be replaced by real desires, and the economy of profit become one of pleasure. The division of labor and the antagonism between work and play would be overcome. It would be a society founded on the love of free play, characterized by the refusal to be led, to make sacrifices, and to perform roles. Above all, they insisted that every individual should actively and consciously participate in the reconstruction of every moment of life. They called themselves Situationists precisely because they believed that all individuals should construct the situations of their lives and release their own potential and obtain their own pleasure.

As for the basic unit of the future society, they recommended workers' councils by which they meant "sovereign rank-and-file assemblies, in the enterprises and the neighborhoods". As with the communes of the anarcho-communists, the councils would practice a form of direct democracy and make and execute all the key decisions affecting everyday life. Delegates would be mandated and recallable. The councils would then federate locally, nationally and internationally.

In their call for the "concrete transcendence of the State and of every kind of alienating collectivity" and in their vision of communist society the Situationists come closest to the anarchists. They not only referred to Bakunin for their attack on authoritarian structures and bureaucracy, but Debord argued that "anarchism had led in 1936 [in Spain] to a social revolution and to a rough sketch, the most advanced ever, of proletarian power." The Situationists differ however from traditional anarchism in their elitism as an exclusive group and in their overriding concern with coherence of theory and practice. In their narrow insistence on the proletariat as the sole revolutionary class, they overlooked the revolutionary potential of other social groups, especially the students. They also denied that they were "spontaneists" like the 22 March Movement and rejected the "ideology" of anarchism in so far as it was allegedly another restrictive ideology imposed on the workers.

 

to get back to the post i never finished ewd'ing 4ever ago, the second part of the author's piece is the really meaty bit (once you have a feel for reich).

From his front row seat, Wilhelm Reich couldn’t help being struck by the role played by character as anti-individual structure in the magnificent Nazi spectacle.(9) He leaves the farcical question “Why do workers revolt?” to the psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, sociologists and other servants of the spectacle, in order to pose the fundamental question: “Why don’t they revolt?”(10) He attributes their submission to the crushing of the individual by character. This is hardly contestable. Necessary but insufficient. To say that this society hasn’t got an intrinsically spectaclist tendency would amount to saying that the spectacle is the creation of the ruling class alone. That would be giving them too much credit! We know that the ruling class is the chief victim of its own illusions. It follows the trend.

We have already demonstrated the rationale of this tendency. Character is nevertheless undeniably real. It can be clinically detected. We now have to determine exactly what is analyzed in character analysis, once its insufficiency as a separate notion is recognized. As a separate notion it is nothing but one more fetish.

Our thesis is as follows. The quantitative reigns. All human relations are governed by the relation of quantity to quantity, though they appear as purely human relations — the deceived gaze only meets things and their prices. We have briefly reviewed the spontaneously spectaclist effect of the “natural” invisibility of value. For all that, value never ceases to be lived by each person as the inescapable necessity of his daily life. We have seen that this lived secret fulfilled the spectaclist tendency of commodity circulation. What is it that Reich clinically detects which he labels “character”? We contend that it is value, as inhuman necessity and otherwise invisible, that is grasped by this approach. It is even, up till now, the only concrete way of approaching value as secret misery of individuality. Under this form Reich tracked down the unconscious, its misery and its miserable repressive maneuvers, which only draw their force and their magical pomp from the dominion of value over everyday life. Because human relations have been globally socialized exclusively in terms of value, which is their negation, authentic human relations, validated by pleasure, are preserved(11) within this socialization as natural relations (and thus illicit and clandestine ones), since all sociality, all humanity, is occupied (in the colonialist sense) by value, the only officially validated socialization. Whatever tends to escape the law of value thus takes the form of the natural, i.e. that which by definition escapes the mastery of humanity.

replace "prices" or "value" w "prestige"-- the social positioning of something to something else, being "placed" higher or lower than it. so that in other words, value is what is expressed, manifest, visible in the encounter-- it is the assessed "worth" (this ready-made assessment is itself a function of whole cultural histories) of what is seen. it is that which is expressed by the subject-- first and foremost bodily, that is, by posturing, and by habits; also by marked tastes, by dialects, by varying wristwatches, etc. the deceived gaze is this socially re-produced tendency of people to encounter one another as price-points or "values"-- as commodified objects, as spectacular representations of the really existing person which has for its part disappeared into thin air, this tendency people have to encounter theirselves as valuable in specific ways, to conceive of themselves as marketable sets of skills and to market themselves as such-- and to see nothing in the encounter besides. the author is describing neurotic illnesses on the individual level as a symptom of a way of seeing, such that-- as a symptom, that is, a resistance to its own dissolution-- these neuroses or "character" armorings serve to re-produce this purely spectacular experience of life, to live by scraping off whatever dismal pleasure they can and swallowing it down with the thick hatred produced thereby, gritting their teeth down to their nubs after they've taken melatonin and ambien, waking up again only to sleepwalk through the same sorts of experiences their shell's formed to tolerate, and so again reproducing this shell the next day, at the cost of, say, the production of passionate, creative flows of energy-- which are not ideal for securing a wage to re-up on food and housing and all of one's little palliative media which themselves function by plugging into and recharging this bioelectric shell-armor.

 

the quantitative reigns = that which can be counted, accounted for and assessed, reigns

 

In his third Philosophical Manuscript, Marx measures the humanity of man, his socialization, by the degree of socialization of that “immediate, natural and necessary” human relationship: the relationship between man and woman. Value as universal socialization, as sole and inverted form of humanity, is also in fact the impossibility of socializing this relationship; which relationship remains, therefore, the “most natural,” that is to say the most frustrated by the reigning social organization. Within a world of universal socialization by value, this naturalness becomes increasingly equivalent to its degree of decay,(11) just as the degree of naturalness of the Nambikwara Indians within our civilization tends to equal the degree of their extermination. This degree of decay — psychosis, neurosis, character — as index of the nonsocialization and nonhumanity of man, is the real object of psychoanalysis. That old swine Freud went so far as to identify naturalness with “savagery,” and value-inverted socialization with “civilization.”

"the natural relationship between a man and a woman" admittedly this has to be one of the most confusing sentences a modern reader could ever come across. 

 

If, for one reason or another, an individual’s character is dissolved, the phenomenal spectacular form of the totality is dissolved in its pretension to pass for the absence of value. Thus we have established, negatively for the moment, an identity between character and the spectacle effect.

in reich's practice, the dissolution of character-armorings meant the allowance of free-streamings of energy, for the free-flow of energy (blood-flow but also electrical charge) previously impeded and controlled as a function of the organism's reactionary formations (sex-economy) and the biophysical laws which pertain to them. what the author is saying, though, is that dissolution of an one's character (read: the end of one's drawn-out resignment, the severing of onself from one's slavish bonds to the order of value, one's freedom from habituated neurosis) would afford him with the potential of becoming an individual, that is, of realizing his individuality, what normally is only so lucky as to slip through the some crack in his armor with the intensity of a spark, taking one deep and desperate breath of air before it's gone out again. 

I read the clearest writing in the thread so far and thought I'd ask some questions and give some thoughts just to see if I can come to a better understanding of what is being said and to voice a bit of criticism.  

 

In their analysis, the Situationists argued that capitalism had turned all relationships transactional, and that life had been reduced to a "spectacle". The spectacle is the key concept of their theory. In many ways, they merely reworked Marx's view of alienation, as developed in his early writings. The worker is alienated from his product and from his fellow workers and finds himself living in an alien world: The worker does not produce himself; he produces an independent power. The success of this production, its abundance, returns to the producer as an abundance of dispossession. All the time and space of his world becomes foreign to him with the accumulation of his alienated products....

The increasing division of labor and specialization have transformed work into meaningless drudgery. "It is useless," Vaneigem observes, "to expect even a caricature of creativity from a conveyor belt."

So before, when there was less division of labor and less specialization, work was not meaningless drudgery? In what sense is it meaningless drudgery now? First and foremost, work for the worker is a means to the end of consuming.  I think it is fair to say that compared with previous times, people are working much less  in order to attain much higher living standards as compared to before. So is the issue the fact that everything is so specialized that there is no possibility of "love for the craft"? e.g. Instead of the great satisfaction of a shoemaker in making a complete shoe himself, we instead have poor laborers in China being worked to the bone with the aid of machinery in order to produce only a part of the product, never getting to see the finished product or sell it themselves.

What they added to Marx was the recognition that in order to ensure continued economic growth, capitalism has created "pseudo-needs" to increase consumption. Instead of saying that consciousness was determined at the point of production, they said it occurred at the point of consumption. Modern capitalist society is a consumer society, a society of "spectacular" commodity consumption. Having long been treated with the utmost contempt as a producer, the worker is now lavishly courted and seduced as a consumer.

 

So, compared to previous times, capitalism has ensured that the basic needs of most members of society are met so much that now it can create luxury items for the masses? And is this bad because people are blinded into thinking that consumption of goods is what life is all about or something to that nature?

At the same time, while modern technology has ended natural alienation (the struggle for survival against nature), social alienation in the form of a hierarchy of masters and slaves has continued. People are treated like passive objects, not active subjects. After degrading being into having, the society of the spectacle has further transformed having into merely appearing. The result is an appalling contrast between cultural poverty and economic wealth, between what is and what could be. "Who wants a world in which the guarantee that we shall not die of starvation," Vaneigem asks, "entails the risk of dying of boredom?"

So capitalism has ended natural alienation since modern technology is its offspring. But now it has produced people that not only commodify each other, but in addition judge each other (and themselves) based on the quantity and quality of commodity-ownings. 

 

The way out of the Situationists was not to wait for a distant revolution but to reinvent everyday life here and now. To transform the perception of the world and to change the structure of society is the same thing. By liberating oneself, one changed power relations and therefore transformed society. They therefore tried to construct situations which disrupt the ordinary and normal in order to jolt people out of their customary ways of thinking and acting. [Hardly an original idea, spanning from Leary-style LSD use to zen, etc. -- Ken.] In place of petrified life, they sought the _derive_ (with its flow of acts and encounters) and _detournement_ (rerouting events and images). They supported vandalism, wildcat strikes and sabotage as a way of destroying the manufactured spectacle and commodity economy. Such gestures of refusal were considered signs of creativity. The role of the SI was to make clear to the masses what they were already implicitly doing. In this way, they wished to act as catalysts within the revolutionary process. Once the revolution was underway, the SI would disappear as a group.

In place of the society of the spectacle, the Situationists proposed a communistic society bereft of money, commodity production, wage labor, classes, private property and the State. Pseudo-needs would be replaced by real desires, and the economy of profit become one of pleasure. The division of labor and the antagonism between work and play would be overcome. It would be a society founded on the love of free play, characterized by the refusal to be led, to make sacrifices, and to perform roles. Above all, they insisted that every individual should actively and consciously participate in the reconstruction of every moment of life. They called themselves Situationists precisely because they believed that all individuals should construct the situations of their lives and release their own potential and obtain their own pleasure.

As for the basic unit of the future society, they recommended workers' councils by which they meant "sovereign rank-and-file assemblies, in the enterprises and the neighborhoods". As with the communes of the anarcho-communists, the councils would practice a form of direct democracy and make and execute all the key decisions affecting everyday life. Delegates would be mandated and recallable. The councils would then federate locally, nationally and internationally.

This reads as "pie in the sky" revolutionary dreaming.  "Pseudo-needs would be replaced with real desires."  Right...and who decides the difference between these two?
Thou shall not produce commodities. Thou shall not pay someone in exchange for work. Thou shall not have a medium of exchange. Thou shall not have private property. Thou shall not have to perform in any type of role, make sacrifices, or be led. Rather, each individual should "actively and consciously participate in the reconstruction of every moment of life and construct the situations of their lives and release their own potential and obtain their own pleasure; (It's like throwing Objectivists into a communist society and wishing for the best.)  But magically, without any of these institutions (the "thou shall nots"), and without anyone willing to be led or make sacrifices, we will have enough abundance in order that work will become free play.  Any literal interpretation of the bolded paragraph leads to this being a description of a society clearly plagued with large incentive issues which would result in poverty and instability.
This doesn't discredit the theory, and I find it at least admirable that there is some practical plan put forth so that I can see what kind of society is compatible with the theory. The society put forth, however, seems to rest on a poor understanding of the benefits of the institutions it forbids, for it does not seem to posit alternative institutions which are designed to solve the problems which are addressed by the forbidden institutions. (of course, all I have read is a short synopsis, so I am sure there is more to it than a paragraph.)

 

I read the clearest writing in the thread so far and thought I'd ask some questions and give some thoughts just to see if I can come to a better understanding of what is being said and to voice a bit of criticism.

the clearest writing = the article written by an old, white london historian

 

In their analysis, the Situationists argued that capitalism had turned all relationships transactional, and that life had been reduced to a "spectacle". The spectacle is the key concept of their theory. In many ways, they merely reworked Marx's view of alienation, as developed in his early writings. The worker is alienated from his product and from his fellow workers and finds himself living in an alien world: The worker does not produce himself; he produces an independent power. The success of this production, its abundance, returns to the producer as an abundance of dispossession. All the time and space of his world becomes foreign to him with the accumulation of his alienated products....

The increasing division of labor and specialization have transformed work into meaningless drudgery. "It is useless," Vaneigem observes, "to expect even a caricature of creativity from a conveyor belt."

So before, when there was less division of labor and less specialization, work was not meaningless drudgery? In what sense is it meaningless drudgery now?

by "before, when there was less division of labor and less specialization", do you mean "in our own pre-post-Fordist society something like ~100 yrs ago"?  in different social orderings you will find (mapped-out but invisible, kept like an insider's code) differing relations of prestige, and even differing relations within differing historical-ritual contexts. and of course to say that there is more a division of labor now than in a small islander social order means nothing, at best it is redundant. but maybe there is a meaningful critique along these lines: under prevailing conditions, man is more highly separated from his own experience of life, he has become part of the spectacle.  "more highly dol'ed, more specialized", i.e. invisibly, rapidly fragmenting in a state of hyper-consumption and all the self-referrentiality that that implies; the hysteria of a dying organic unit, and in that respect quite literally like a cancer. for the purposes of this thread it should be relevant that reich worked clinically on the treatment of cancer. 

 but the general point is that under prevailing conditions work (for most if not all people currently existing) is not the sort of thing that helps people to realize their potential to be individuals, to have individuality-- work has become instead the very thing that cuts off, interrupts and impedes those sorts of potential flows in order to maintain a striated and stratified sort of energy-grid on the individual level, a dim-witted perpetual energy machine, that only reproduces the orgastically impotent and politically castrated organism who does not and will not rewire that grid out of fear of his own personal ass experiencing power-failure. "the organism functions as a totality in all its relational effects. there's not a single muscle that's not involved in just one tilt of the head. any reaction to any given situation implies the totality of the organismal response" (lacan). this is the point at which these concepts i've been trying to introduce-- character and habitus-- converge: that is, on the notion of anxiety, and of the reactionary formations which take root, and the social universalizations that colonize and even "possess" the body. let me just say right here that it's irritating that you apparently haven't read (or else understood) anything else i've written in this thread, given that i've already been working to explain what precisely "work=meaningless drudgery"  actuallly entails, as in on the biophysical level on which reich worked.  but and even though i think you probably detest ethnological findings, i'll note anyway that it's very clear from the literature (see: marshall sahlins, stone age economics) that in matriarchal societies our concept of "work"-- that thing which, sure, we can and will take what is often a misguided sort of narcissistic pride in, but which is nevertheless almost always  and for everyone opposed to "leisure" in linguistic usage, just as in advertising (viz., in the public promotion of social universals which itself no longer occurs in clear ritual or organic contexts and through p2p interfacing but which, increasingly, only ever occurs automatically and televisually now)-- our concept of work is ridiculed. actually jokingly-- that is, publicly, if not antisocially-- ridiculed, it is thought of as absurd. sahlins has a great piece of work wherein he deconstructs the myth of "primitive peoples" working more. and along the same lines, it should be said that the myth of people "working less for more" today is just that, a fantastical narrative, but the historical reality is that although people in the west have turned over large swaths of their work to immigrants and machines, people never stop working anymore. "leisure time" was created so as to fill it with work. whereas in a "primitive" economy, work to secure one's necessary and culturally recognized needs ends after the stock is filled, today work and continues so as to produce excesses that are to be pulled back into ever-expanding order through leisure, which for its part has lost ground to many-a salaried managerial duties

you're probably familiar with the native american's constitutional ineptitude at being-a-slave (contracting out one's body to carry out the instrument of another alien will for chunks of time), it was a big problem for our early pioneers, but this is just one of the consequences of the general point that is to be made as concerns character and life-negating striations and controls of energy and time. these economic controls and regulations are functions of spectacular commodity production (just as much as as they are, or were once, functions of other cultural orderings in other places and times). what reich encountered as "character" in his analysis is the organism's form of resignation to the hyper-alienating conditions of modern life, 

[spoiler][/spoiler]

 First and foremost, work for the worker is a means to the end of consuming.  

the assemblage of man, clay, chisel and hammer, and the thread sketched out by this assemblage across time, the development of the sculptor assemblage, would be an end in itself. do you follow? perhaps we should distinguish work from labor, and define labor as the means to the end of consuming. but then what is it the laborer wants to do with consumption?

 

I think it is fair to say that compared with previous times, people are working much less  in order to attain much higher living standards as compared to before.

people are paying for their mortgages and student loans with more than their finances. (they pay with their whole life's work).

working less? compared to when? and what is that supposed to prove? to have to work in that fashion and under those conditions at all is what is at issue. it keeps coming up that you refuse to entertain a charitable concern over alienation, such as would be required on your part to engage with the content of this piece. the author of the piece i linked to in the OP is trying to tie up biophysical findings related to the production of neuroses (in short a stasis of energy on the level of the individual/organism) with the idea that actually fulfilling work-- work that doesn't simply drain (nevertheless filling a bank account) would not and could not be of the sort of work that is carried out for a profit, it would not float out of the organism like the sigh of a profit, but would be life-affirming, it would come from the organism who no longer sighs. if you are even trying to understand what i am saying at all, zyphex, it's that genuine work is work carried out in harmony with one's life-affirming flows, work which is not weighed down on by a yoke, or work from which other powers can slice off a profit on a transaction-by-transaction basis, but through which the organism becomes an individuality, through which the organism makes itself into something other, and not simply a process by which a character-- some certain bundle of resistances-- is reproduced.

So is the issue the fact that everything is so specialized that there is no possibility of "love for the craft"? 

the issue is more fundamental than that:

1.

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.

2.

The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation. The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself. The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living.

3.

The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification. As a part of society it is specifically the sector which concentrates all gazing and all consciousness. Due to the very fact that this sector is separate, it is the common ground of the deceived gaze and of false consciousness, and the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of generalized separation.

4.

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.

5.

The spectacle cannot be understood as an abuse of the world of vision, as a product of the techniques of mass dissemination of images. It is, rather, a Weltanschauung which has become actual, materially translated. It is a world vision which has become objectified.

the issue is that at the end of the day, there is nothing to be loved in the work and nothing to do loving work besides.

e.g. Instead of the great satisfaction of a shoemaker in making a complete shoe himself, we instead have poor laborers in China being worked to the bone with the aid of machinery in order to produce only a part of the product, never getting to see the finished product or sell it themselves.

yes, i don't disagree w this, but you're stopping on the level of marx

What they added to Marx was the recognition that in order to ensure continued economic growth, capitalism has created "pseudo-needs" to increase consumption. Instead of saying that consciousness was determined at the point of production, they said it occurred at the point of consumption. Modern capitalist society is a consumer society, a society of "spectacular" commodity consumption. Having long been treated with the utmost contempt as a producer, the worker is now lavishly courted and seduced as a consumer.

 

So, compared to previous times, capitalism has ensured that the basic needs of most members of society are met so much that now it can create luxury items for the masses? And is this bad because people are blinded into thinking that consumption of goods is what life is all about or something to that nature?

not exactly. the author is not arguing (like marx) that the people are mystified about this / that they are "blinded into thinking that consumption is what life's all about", etc... in my experience, it's true that most american christians (e.g. my family) don't believe, or don't purport to believe, any such rubbish. reich, e.g., somewhere argues that the nazis just coming to power were not mystified, but actually desired what was their very overt, rank-and-file subjugation and infantile obedience. one point to take away from this is that all desires are historical (and not originally "individual", in the classical liberal sense). another is that, given certain formations and institutions, desire can come to desire its own repression. this "society of spectacular commodity consumption" is itself a sort of agglomeration of desiring-organisms who are physically and spiritually separated from one another, who only connect in half-ways where there are no transgressions and each party withdraws and recoils in the culturally appropriate ways, signifying their profound relation of separation, wherein all the little lines in the sand are well-respected and but look again, they aren't lines in the sand but yellow plastic strips with Lay's potato chip decals on the ends.

i've also underlined something curious; you ridicule the idea that-- under a differing social regime-- "pseudo-needs" would come to be replaced by "real needs" of our organism, yet you yourself have in the above parahraph set up a clear dichotomy b/n "true need" and "luxury item". i suppose you count among real needs things like food and water and shelter, but do you count an unimpeded orgasm among them? surely the organism's sexual health is just as important as is its health "more generally". do you count among our real needs the need to become an individuality-- in other words, the need to realize a sense of freedom? this is a need that is so far as i know unique to humans, the only species which i am aware of that has really grasped its radical freedom and control over the trajectory of motion that defines its life. and am i right to assume that you would place something like a woman's purported "need to be back by 9, so i can catch the new episode of New Girl" in that category of unnecessary pseudo-needs?

So capitalism has ended natural alienation since modern technology is its offspring. But now it has produced people that not only commodify each other, but in addition judge each other (and themselves) based on the quantity and quality of commodity-ownings.

i realize sometimes my writing style undermines my desire to have interlocutors. let me just try to be as clear as i can (and to use fewer metaphors and the like) in the next couple paragraphs.

the point is not that people "judge" each other today based on what are the sort of socially-significant clues each of them gives off (their manner of dress, the brand of their clothing, the style of wristwatch; the style of dialectic and posturing-- each signifying higher or lower positions of prestige). though it is true people today do this, people everywhere have always done this, and moreover this kind of assessment-making isn't even specific to our species. no the point is more radical than that, and to say "that not only commodify each other, but in addition . . ." shows that you have sort of missed the point here. perhaps you are constitutionally unable to get this one. for what does it mean to commodify another person? it is not simply viewing them as so-valuable, this assessment of value is itself produced. it is produced by the unfolding movement of the actualization or materialization, by the objectification of a specific worldview. the application of this overlayed gridwork (that is a worldview mapped onto the territory) is = to the reproduction of every-day life, in that it is there, through and through one's everyday life that the grid is respected (re-acknowledged and re-produced) at all.

The way out of the Situationists was not to wait for a distant revolution but to reinvent everyday life here and now. To transform the perception of the world and to change the structure of society is the same thing. By liberating oneself, one changed power relations and therefore transformed society. They therefore tried to construct situations which disrupt the ordinary and normal in order to jolt people out of their customary ways of thinking and acting. [Hardly an original idea, spanning from Leary-style LSD use to zen, etc. -- Ken.] In place of petrified life, they sought the _derive_ (with its flow of acts and encounters) and _detournement_ (rerouting events and images). They supported vandalism, wildcat strikes and sabotage as a way of destroying the manufactured spectacle and commodity economy. Such gestures of refusal were considered signs of creativity. The role of the SI was to make clear to the masses what they were already implicitly doing. In this way, they wished to act as catalysts within the revolutionary process. Once the revolution was underway, the SI would disappear as a group.

In place of the society of the spectacle, the Situationists proposed a communistic society bereft of money, commodity production, wage labor, classes, private property and the State. Pseudo-needs would be replaced by real desires, and the economy of profit become one of pleasure. The division of labor and the antagonism between work and play would be overcome. It would be a society founded on the love of free play, characterized by the refusal to be led, to make sacrifices, and to perform roles. Above all, they insisted that every individual should actively and consciously participate in the reconstruction of every moment of life. They called themselves Situationists precisely because they believed that all individuals should construct the situations of their lives and release their own potential and obtain their own pleasure.

As for the basic unit of the future society, they recommended workers' councils by which they meant "sovereign rank-and-file assemblies, in the enterprises and the neighborhoods". As with the communes of the anarcho-communists, the councils would practice a form of direct democracy and make and execute all the key decisions affecting everyday life. Delegates would be mandated and recallable. The councils would then federate locally, nationally and internationally.

This reads as "pie in the sky" revolutionary dreaming.  "Pseudo-needs would be replaced with real desires."  Right...and who decides the difference between these two?

good question except that you yourself feel entitled to answer it in the above. why shouldn't that be decided in common?


Thou shall not produce commodities. Thou shall not pay someone in exchange for work. Thou shall not have a medium of exchange. Thou shall not have private property. Thou shall not have to perform in any type of role, make sacrifices, or be led. Rather, each individual should "actively and consciously participate in the reconstruction of every moment of life and construct the situations of their lives and release their own potential and obtain their own pleasure; (It's like throwing Objectivists into a communist society and wishing for the best.)  

... what

first of all, money was not simply invented out of necessity to give people a neutral stock of exchangeable stuffs in exchange for their having sold their labor-power. money (the medium of exchange in itself) is the invention of the state, of that form of power which slices or skims off a portion from every transaction. what will be taken and when are determined by the tax codes and so on, from that body of codes which taken up altogether trace out the gridwork. "ah, two land-owning men meet to exchange this many dollars for that much tea... so let's crunch the numbers really quick"-- and right there you have the formation (continuation) of "the state". you will see that sort of constant slicing off-- which is in fact the constitutive act of the state-- is only made possible once there is a medium, a something to mediate the interpersonal encounter of what are really some organisms-- something that can itself be sliced up. 

But magically,

... what 

 

nobody proposed any magical intervention. how about you learn how to read and stop shitting up my threads.

without any of these institutions (the "thou shall nots"), and without anyone willing to be led or make sacrifices, we will have enough abundance in order that work will become free play.  Any literal interpretation of the bolded paragraph leads to this being a description of a society clearly plagued with large incentive issues which would result in poverty and instability.

petty incentives and luxury rewards become truly unnecessary and even undesirable when set against the possibility of experiencing the fullness of a life free from fetishistic separation

 i'm not sure what point you wanted to make with that statement about poverty, except that you are simply incapable of imagining a social order that is actually bereft of money


This doesn't discredit the theory, and I find it at least admirable that there is some practical plan put forth so that I can see what kind of society is compatible with the theory. The society put forth, however, seems to rest on a poor understanding of the benefits of the institutions it forbids, for it does not seem to posit alternative institutions which are designed to solve the problems which are addressed by the forbidden institutions. (of course, all I have read is a short synopsis, so I am sure there is more to it than a paragraph.)

ya. i've linked to much more than 1 paragraph itt

 

 

 

you even thought that ten commandments joke was topical. didn't notice the video above your post? or are you saying that it is revolutionary dreaming to even imply that there need not be a bureaucratic network of controls?

 

http://i.imgur.com/Hz4t48L.png http://i.imgur.com/VGmXVmP.png

blush 

revised my latest response

This doesn't discredit the theory, and I find it at least admirable that there is some practical plan put forth so that I can see what kind of society is compatible with the theory. The society put forth, however, seems to rest on a poor understanding of the benefits of the institutions it forbids, for it does not seem to posit alternative institutions which are designed to solve the problems which are addressed by the forbidden institutions. (of course, all I have read is a short synopsis, so I am sure there is more to it than a paragraph.)

would you be more specific here?

http://www.uta.edu/huma/agger/fastcapitalism/9_1/eagles9_1.html#_edn1

Towards the end of the 1980s – in a context in which the ‘cold war’ had entered its final phase –Debord argued that the two forms of spectacle he had previously formulated, the diffuse and the concentrated,[2] had combined into an ‘integrated spectacle’.[3] This ‘rational combination’ took place ‘on the basis of a general victory of the…diffuse [spectacle]’ (Debord 1990: 8). The concentrated spectacle, Debord claims, preferred ‘the ideology condensed around a dictatorial personality’, whilst the diffuse spectacle, which ‘represented the Americanisation of the world’, required ‘wage-earners to apply their freedom of choice to the vast range of new commodities now on offer’ (1990: 8). Debord suggests that since ‘[t]he disturbances of 1968’, which failed to overturn modern capitalist society, ‘the spectacle has thus continued to gather strength’ (1990: 2-3). He also remarks that ‘the spectacle today is certainly more powerful than it was before’ (1990: 4).  Further, he writes ‘that the spectacle’s domination has succeeded in raising a whole generation moulded to its laws’ (1990: 7). ‘The commodity’, he maintains, ‘is beyond criticism’ (1990: 21).

For Debord, ‘the integrated spectacle is characterised by the combined effect of five principal features: incessant technological renewal; integration of state and economy; generalised secrecy;[4] unanswerable lies; an eternal present’ (1990: 11-12).  Furthermore, Debord claims that ‘the integrated spectacle has been pioneered by France and Italy’ (1990: 8), and that ‘[t]he emergence of this new form [of spectacle] is attributable to a number of shared historical features’ (1990: 8-9). These include, ‘the important role of the Stalinist party and unions in political and intellectual life, a weak democratic tradition, the long monopoly of power enjoyed by a single party of government, and the need to eliminate an unexpected upsurge in revolutionary activity’ (1990: 9).[5]

What, then, are we to make of Debord’s claim that ‘the integrated spectacle has been pioneered by France and Italy’?  And how does this relate to Debord’s claim that following the ‘general victory’ of the diffuse over the concentrated spectacle, an integrated spectacle ‘has since tended to impose itself globally’? (1990: 8) 

To explore this further, let us consider how the five principal features of the integrated spectacle relate to the previous two forms of spectacle. It can be argued, I think, that four of the five principal features are common to both diffuse and concentrated spectacular societies; namely, integration of state and economy, generalized secrecy, unanswerable lies, an eternal present.[6] Incessanttechnological renewal is, however, something which Debord implies was a feature of spectacular society in its diffuse rather than concentrated form.[7]

Debord, I think, is arguing that although diffuse and concentrated spectacular societies had differences between them, indeed differences sufficient to categorize particular societies into either form of spectacle, these two forms of spectacle are nevertheless not fundamentally opposed to one another. What Debord seems to suggest, then, in his later oeuvre,[8] is the following: that some of those features common to both forms of spectacle became modified following the ‘general victory’ of the diffuse over the concentrated spectacle. For example, Debord claims that in relation to 'unanswerable lies',[9] the ‘concept of disinformation was recently imported from Russia’ (1990: 44) (prior to the collapse of the USSR).  Thus, a concept or practice that arose and developed in a concentrated spectacular society, once applied in societies that had been categorized as diffuse, modifies the feature ‘unanswerable lies’ (see Debord 1990: 44-9).

So, although Debord sees the integrated spectacle as a form of spectacle that ‘has been established…on the basis of a general victory of the form which had shown itself stronger: the diffuse’ (1990: 8), it is not a case of the diffuse form spreading unaltered to those societies that were part of the concentrated spectacle.  Rather, the ‘rational combination’ of the two forms has led to the emergence of societies around the world that are a hybridization of diffuse and concentrated forms. Indeed, if we consider – as I argued above – that four of the five principal features of the integrated spectacle were common to both diffuse and concentrated societies, it follows that there were elements of the concentrated spectacle already present within the diffuse spectacle and vice versa.

If we are, then, to make any sense of Debord’s integrated spectacle, it could be argued that whilst the historical features shared by France and Italy are not necessary for the development of the integrated spectacle within most (or even all) societies around the world, what is necessary is the existence of an Americanized system of mass production and consumption.  For Debord, I think, it is this that makes possible the incessant technological renewal of modern capitalist society. Furthermore, the reason for Debord’s identification of France and Italy as pioneers of the integrated spectacle arguably comes down to the following: that the ‘principal features’ he identifies, in the particular historical context of these two societies, had altered, post 1968, to such an extent that a new form of spectacle could be distinguished. And that context was one which had the following features: a highly developed (Americanized) system of commodity production and consumption, a strong ‘Stalinist party and unions…, a weak democratic tradition, the long monopoly of power enjoyed by a single party of government, and the need to eliminate an unexpected upsurge in revolutionary activity’ (1990: 9) – namely the events of 1968. To take one of the principal features, ‘an eternal present’, a technique associated with this, which was prominently utilized and developed in (concentrated) Stalinist societies, was, according to Debord, the ‘[use of] police methods to transform perception’ ([1967]1995: para 105). Yet this technique, which was developed within France and Italy after 1968, has been modified such that ‘[t]he police in question…are of a completely new variety [emphasis added]’ (1995: 8).[10]

If we hold, then, to the argument outlined above, I think it is possible to view the integrated spectacle as a global concept. That said, the following question now arises: how does the (global) integrated spectacle reproduce itself? It is to this issue that I shall now turn.

Pleasure, Unpleasure and the Integrated Spectacle

The Situationists – in their heyday – considered that the spectacle is able to perpetuate itself, in part, through manipulating the individual’s desire to experience pleasure (see Debord 1995: paras 59, 66 & Vaneigem [1967]1994: 138). In this regard the following could be argued: given that the Situationists believe that the individual can attain self-realization through the pleasurable passions to be creative, to play and to love (see Vaneigem 1994: ch 23), and that ‘[p]leasure is the principle of unification’ (1994: 253),[11] the spectacle is able to reproduce itself by harnessing the pleasurable passions or real erotic desires of the individual (see below).[12] Spectacular society, then, through manipulating the individual’s desire to experience pleasure, achieves an illusory unity.

Now, I think the way in which the Situationists imagine that the spectacle reproduces itself, remains, on a general level, the same throughout their oeuvre -early or late.[13] That said, the particular manner in which the spectacle modifies the individual’s passions is portrayed, in Debord’s later oeuvre, as a more intensive process of repression than the Situationists previously imagined. Arguably, this stronger repression refers to the following (although I must stress that this is not made explicit in Debord’s later writings): that as the capitalist system, by the 1980s, produced a greater range of commodified goods and reified roles for people to consume, there emerged, for the mass of the population, niche markets for commodities. 

Spectacular society, through offering a huge range of ‘image-objects’[14] (alienated goods and roles) for consumption,[15] manipulates the individual’s sexual instinct. It stimulates – via images – the individual’s real desires, but only permits ‘pseudo-gratification’.[16] The individual, whose passions are subjected to a type of repression as they are ‘rechannelled…in roles’ (Vaneigem 1994: 133) or through the consumption of goods, experiences controlled pleasure; the spectacle, therefore, frustrates the realization of the individual’s real desires.[17] Post 1968, modern capitalism, due to changes in mass production techniques, offers a greater variety of image-objects from which to choose than hitherto. And it is through the niche marketing of commodities, it seems, that the spectacle has become more sophisticated in its manipulation of the individual’s real desires. Yet this requires – although this is potentially problematic for the spectacle – that the individual becomes more aware of the specificity of his or her desires (see section III). That said, the spectacle continues, nevertheless, to thwart genuine self-realization, as it re-routes the individual’s authentic desires towards commodified forms of leisure or play.[18]

In addition to modern capitalism’s manipulation of the individual’s sexual instinct, I think it can also be argued that the integrated spectacle manipulates, as did the spectacle (in a minor way) in its diffuse form and (to a greater extent) in its concentrated version, the instinct of self-preservation to help perpetuate itself (see below).[19] With this in mind, let us explore in greater detail how the spectacle in its integrated form functions.

In his Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, Debord brings the notion of fear more to the fore.[20]  He claims that:

Going from success to success, until 1968 modern society was convinced it was loved. It has since had to abandon these dreams; it prefers to be feared (Debord 1990: 82).

What Debord implies here, I think, is that the 1968 rebellion in France revealed –particularly to the ruling class – that the majority of the population was not deeply integrated into spectacular society. In addition to this, Debord suggests that the spectacle ‘has at least sufficient lucidity to expect that its free and unhindered reign will very shortly lead to a significant number of major catastrophes’ (1990: 62). He points to an ecological catastrophe, citing the dangers associated with nuclear power plants and the destruction of the earth’s ozone layer by CFC gases (1990: 34-8, 62). He also mentions an economic catastrophe, ‘in banking, for example’ (1990: 62). For Debord, then, the circumstances of the post 1968 era have been conducive for fear to become a major factor in relation to the reproduction of spectacular society.[21]

Surveillance organizations, which lurk in the background ready to strike at organized opposition, make people fear the consequences of dissent. They ensure that proletarian[22] opposition to spectacular society is ‘eliminated’ (Debord 1990: 80) or ‘dispersed’ (1990: 84). Debord maintains that:

Under spectacular domination people conspire to maintain it, and to guarantee what it alone would call its well-being. This conspiracy is a part of its very functioning (1990: 74).

So there is, in part, a conspiratorial element to the functioning of the integrated spectacle.[23]  As Debord writes:

[Specialists in surveillance] can now employ traditional methods for operations in clandestine milieux: provocation, infiltration, and various forms of elimination of authentic critique in favour of a false one which will have been created for this purpose (1990: 53-4).

Indeed, in its quest to crush dissent ‘the highest ambition of the integrated spectacle is still to turn secret agents into revolutionaries, and revolutionaries into secret agents’ (Debord 1990: 11). Take the case of the undercover policeman Mark Kennedy. From 2003 to 2010, Kennedy, a British policeman under the alias Mark Stone, infiltrated various anti-capitalist groups across Europe associated with the ‘anti-globalization’ movement. He was unmasked as a police agent just before a trial was due to begin in which the state sought to prosecute a group of protestors with whom Kennedy was associated; they were accused of planning an occupation of Ratcliffe power station in the UK.[24] The conspiratorial side to the spectacle (of which Debord speaks), should not, however, be seen as something unified and omnipotent. Rather, ‘thousands of plots in favour of the established order tangle and clash almost everywhere’ (1990: 82).  ‘Surveillance’, Debord suggests, ‘spies on itself, and plots against itself’ (1990: 84).

Debord also alludes, arguably, to the idea that frightening or alarming images, circulated by the mass media, manipulate the individual’s instinct of self-preservation and make him or her experience fear. As he writes:

The spectacle makes no secret of the fact that certain dangers surround the wonderful order it has established.  Ocean pollution and the destruction of equatorial forests threaten oxygen renewal; the earth’s ozone layer is menaced by industrial growth; nuclear radiation accumulates irreversibly.  It merely concludes that none of these things matter (Debord 1990: 34).[25]  

It would appear, then, that the mass media – and I think Debord’s use of the term ‘spectacle’ here does denote the mass media – on the one hand generate fear by highlighting specific dangers that pose a threat to the individual’s very existence; and yet on the other hand soothe these fears by suggesting the insignificance of such ‘dangers’.[26] On my reading, it is through the media raising the issue of catastrophic dangers to humankind, that the individual’s instinctual impulse of self-preservation is stimulated such that he or she experiences a feeling of extreme fear. In turn, as the spectacle portrays these dangers or risks as unimportant, the individual is relieved of the pain or unpleasure generated by a rise in instinctual tension.

This argument could, I think, be applied to the US government’s ‘war on terror’; a ‘war’ launched following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the USA.  Periodically, the media raise the issue of new terror plots; this makes the individual feel extremely anxious that his or her existence is threatened by upcoming acts of terror. As the terror attacks fail to materialize, the media subsequently suggesting the insignificance of this particular threat or danger, the individual experiences a feeling of relief. For example, in July 2002 a warning by the state authorities that the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was a possible target of a terrorist plot (although no such attack subsequently took place), gained widespread media coverage.[27] Further, it could be argued that when, occasionally, terror attacks do actually take place, the individual’s feelings of extreme anxiety are soothed as the media report that the state authorities are hunting those responsible for such attacks. For instance, the much publicized US drone aircraft missile attacks which assassinate ‘suspected militants’,[28] or the use of special forces to assassinate Islamist militants, such as Osama Bin Laden, who, on 2 May 2011, was killed by a US Naval Seals unit in Abbottabad, Pakistan.[29]

At this point it is pertinent to note that Debord points to the ‘dissolution of logic’ in spectacular society (1990: 27); or put another way, to the rise within the conditions of modern capitalist society, of a technological rationality which appears as reason itself.[30] In this connection, the Situationists referred to the spectacle’s power of recuperation; that is to say, modern capitalism’s ability to absorb – via the process of commodification – that which emerges outside of its domain. As Debord writes, ‘[spectacular discourse] isolates all it shows from its context, its past, its intentions and its consequences’ (1990: 28). In other words, anything that becomes subject to the rule of the commodity-form becomes equivalent and its importance or otherwise is veiled.[31] It is the logic of the commodity form, then, and not some conspiracy or dictatorship, which has facilitated the emergence of the media’s illogical language. As the commodity form has impacted itself upon images and information, these things have become increasingly fragmented; indeed, separated from their context, past and so on, to such a degree that most people are unable to make any real sense of them. Therefore, in a society in which the commodity-form rules over lived experience, most people lack ‘the ability immediately to perceive what is significant and what is insignificant or irrelevant’ (1990: 30).[32]

Debord claims that ‘the dissolution of logic has been pursued by…means…linked to the mass psychology of submission’ (1990: 27). Here, Debord alludes to the notion that the spectacle manipulates the individual’s instinctual drives to aid the smooth functioning of modern capitalism. To unpack this a bit further, I shall now make a few comments about Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933), in which he dealt with the issue of society’s manipulation of the instincts, as this should help to clarify Debord’s thought.[33]

Writing in the 1930s, Reich saw the family as the main social institution that socialized the individual. Reich argued that ‘[the authoritarian family] becomes the factory in which the state’s structure and ideology are molded’ ([1933] 1991: 30). He suggests that the family’s ‘[moral inhibition of the child’s natural sexuality] has a crippling effect on man’s rebellious forces because every vital life-impulse is now burdened with severe fear’ (1991: 30). For Debord, however, it is agencies external to the family that are now the central socializing forces –especially the mass media (see Debord [1978] 2003: 136-37).  With this difference in mind, let us now see how Reich’s ideas about fear and the instincts compare with those of Debord.

In contrast to Reich’s claim that ‘[m]an’s authoritarian structure…is basically produced by the embedding of sexual inhibitions and fear in the living substance of sexual impulses’ (1991: 30),  Debord and the Situationists do not, I think, imagine that spectacular society turns people into conformist worker-consumers through encumbering the sexual instinct with severe fear. Rather, they imply that this instinctual drive is manipulated in such a way that the real desires which derive from this drive are re-routed towards the spectacle’s image-objects. For the Situationists, then, spectacular society, by harnessing – via images – the individual’s sexual instinct to reproduce itself, is left in a precarious position: it might be subverted by proletarians if they come to realize their real erotic desires.[34] Indeed, this is what the Situationists claim had taken place in France during 1968.  According to Debord, it was the events of 1968 that led spectacular society, which ‘until 1968…was convinced it was loved’, ‘[to prefer] to be feared’ (1990: 82).

For the Situationists, the spectacle is able to perpetuate itself through manipulating the individual’s desire to experience pleasure. Yet, if we consider that when the spectacle manipulates the sexual instinct the individual’s (real) desires are not burdened with severe fear, but rather redirected towards ‘pleasurable’ spectacular roles and consumer goods, then I think that this may, in part, account for the Situationists’ tremendous optimism concerning the prospects for proletarian revolution throughout their earlier thought. Such optimism, however, disappears in Debord’s later oeuvre.

To explore this further, let me briefly make a few comments about Freud’s theory of the instincts and his model of the psyche. Freud referred to the self-preservation instinct in relation to the ego and the sexual instinct in relation to id. The ego is that part of the individual’s psyche that observes the reality-principle; the id, the pleasure-principle.[35] Freud suggests, in this regard, that the ego operates according to the reality principle – seeking instinctual gratification by adjusting to the facts of the external world – in order to ensure the maximization of pleasure; or, put another way, to ensure that the individual overcomes a state of unpleasure.

With this in mind, it could be argued that fear plays the following role in the functioning of the integrated spectacle. Given that Debord and the Situationists assume that the spectacle’s system of mass consumption functions through harnessing the individual’s pleasurable desires which stem from the sexual instinctual drive: and that this system of consumption could no longer function if this vital drive became burdened with severe fear. Moreover, given that Debord claims that the events of 1968 revealed how vulnerable the spectacle was to proletarian subversion, the spectacular system has, it seems, managed to remain in existence by generating fear through manipulating the individual’s instinct of self-preservation to a greater extent than prior to the rebellion of 1968.[36] By developing in this way, the system has become able to counteract more effectively the potentially subversive erotic desires of (proletarian) individuals.

For Debord, I think, the system of mass consumption, prior to the events of 1968, functioned as follows: it tapped the (real) erotic desires of the individual, and then repressed these desires as they were rechanneled through the consumption of spectacular goods and roles. The system was, nevertheless, extremely vulnerable to ‘proletarian revolution’.[37] What the uprising of 1968 in France showed, for the Situationists, was that modern capitalist society had been temporarily subverted by the ‘new proletariat’.[38] Such subversion took place as proletarians sought an authentic realization of their erotic desires which had been awakened but were not then successfully repressed, by the spectacle. After 1968, as I argued above, the spectacle, due to alterations in mass production techniques, refined the way in which its system of mass consumption manipulated individuals’ passions. Through developing, for the mass of the population, niche markets for commodities, modern capitalism has, in a sense, become more responsive to the diversity of human desires. Yet according to the terms of Situationist theory the spectacle still blocks genuine self-realization as it re-routes the individual’s authentic desires towards commodified goods and roles. The integrated spectacle, then, although more sophisticated in its harnessing of human erotic desire, nevertheless, remains vulnerable to proletarian rebellion (see section III).

Now, if we consider that both those parts of the individual’s psyche Freud termed the id and the ego seek to overcome a state of instinctual tension – that is strive to maximize pleasure or overcome a state of unpleasure – then it appears that, within the terms of Debord’s theory, it is through harnessing the individual’s sexual instinctual drive as well as self-preservation drive that the integrated spectacle is able to function successfully. Without drawing strength from the individual’s instinctual impulse of self-preservation, to counter the (real) erotic desires that the spectacle taps to re-route towards its image-objects, spectacular society would remain extremely vulnerable to ‘proletarian revolution’. Therefore, arguably, as the media publicize catastrophic dangers which threaten humankind and in turn stimulate the self-preservation instinct such that the individual experiences a feeling of extreme fear, the spectacle is able, so to speak, to pitch the ego against the id. This is, I think, what Debord may be alluding to when he claims that

until 1968 modern society was convinced it was loved.  It has since had to abandon these dreams; it prefers to be feared.  It knows full well that ‘its innocent air has gone forever’ (1990: 82).

h2>The Integrated Spectacle and Resistance

Debord’s view of the spectacle, outlined in his later oeuvre from the 1980s, is more bleak and pessimistic than the earlier Situationist vision. By the 1980s, the process of deindustrialization, which had begun in the early 1970s in the industrially advanced world, had led to a decline in large-scale workers’ struggles in the sphere of production. Furthermore, with improvements in transport, communications and the introduction of computers into the production process, companies were able ‘to vary output at short notice to meet changing demands’ (Hobsbawm 1994: 404). In such circumstances, the development of niche markets, for the mass of the population, subjected people to an intensified mystification. Yet, although Debord claims that modern capitalist society’s powers of mystification have gained in strength since 1968,[39] I do not think that he believes that people have become perfectly reified. Put another way, he considers, I think, that there are limits as to the extent to which the spectacle can control the passions of individuals.[40]Indeed, I think he continues to imagine that proletarian revolution[41] against the spectacle is a possibility; a remote possibility, but a possibility nonetheless.[42] Towards the end of Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, Debord makes the following remark:

We must conclude that a changeover is imminent and ineluctable in the coopted cast who serve the interests of domination, and above all manage the protection of that domination.  In such an affair, innovation will surely not be displayed on the spectacle’s stage.  It appears instead like lightning, which we know only when it strikes (1990: 88).

Just prior to the section I have quoted, Debord suggests that the consolidation of spectacular domination is analogous to the ‘great changes in the art of war’ which came about following the French Revolution (1990: 85-7). He cites the change from soldiers being ‘[kept in] ranks and firing on command’, to soldiers being ‘deployed in extended order, firing at will as they advanced on the enemy’ (1990: 86-7).  Now, if we assume that the ‘coopted cast’ that Debord refers to in the quotation is an allusion to worker-consumers, and that these worker-consumers – like the soldiers – are no longer so highly regimented but rather consumers who are encouraged to be more aware of their individuality, of their desires, then I think it is possible to read the cited passage as follows. 

Spectacular society, to reproduce itself, has become more sophisticated in harnessing the individual’s real desires. Whereas previously a more limited selection of commodities was available for consumption, with the development of niche markets for commodities this requires, in a sense, that each consumer be encouraged to develop a greater awareness of his or her individuality. In other words, for the spectacle to tap the individual’s passions and re-route them towards the more diverse range of alienated goods and roles now offered, it needs to make each individual become more aware, than hitherto, of the specificity of his or her desires. The spectacle, then, is compelled to move away from conditioning individuals to develop rather similar desires for commodities. This means that the spectacle encounters the following problem: as proletarians are encouraged to express more readily their individuality, albeit through commodified forms of leisure or play, potentially, at least, they will not be quite as conformist as they were when there was a more narrow selection of spectacular commodities available.[43] So, in this sense, ‘the coopted cast’ of worker-consumers have the potential to create the ‘innovation’ (or revolutionary transformation) which Debord suggests, ‘will…not be displayed on the spectacle’s stage’ (1990: 88). [44]

Furthermore, as the Situationists’ conception of the proletariat includes not only worker-consumers but also socially marginalized groups, let us consider the following: given that an uprising by marginalized youths, for the Situationists, constitutes an instance of a proletarian rebellion, then arguably, this might open up a further possibility for Debord’s later theory to account for revolutionary change. Such youths could be seen as a ‘catalyst’ for a more widespread rebellion involving worker-consumers (see Debord 1995: para 115 & Vaneigem 1994: 242).[45]  Indeed, towards the end of 2005 there was an uprising by youths from the banlieue which shook France. In addition, in England, during August 2011, disaffected youths rioted in various cities, looting shops and destroying property. Like the rioters of Watts in Los Angeles during 1965, who Debord believed had ‘[taken] modern capitalist propaganda, its publicity of abundance, literally’ (Knabb ed. 2006: 197), these youths, through the act of looting, achieved ‘the most direct realization of the distorted principle, “To each according to his false needs”’ (Knabb ed. 1989: 155).  To quote Debord:

They want to possess now all the objects shown and abstractly accessible, because they want to use them. In this way they are challenging their exchange-value… Through theft and gift they rediscover a use that immediately refutes the oppressive rationality of the commodity... (Knabb ed. 2006: 197)

That said, I think Debord believes that proletarian revolution against the integrated spectacle – involving marginalized groups and worker-consumers – is merely a slim possibility. For Debord, the spectacle’s powers of mystification post 1968 have strengthened. Nevertheless he imagines, it seems, that there remains a chance – albeit remote – that a majority of proletarians may someday spontaneously rebel against reification and overthrow spectacular society. Furthermore, this emphasis on spontaneity gives rise to a marked tension in Debord’s later thought between the following two central claims (a tension that was lessened to some extent in the Situationists’ earlier oeuvre through the intervention of a non-spectacular revolutionary avant-garde). That is to say, (1) the claim that modern capitalist society has strong powers of domination and mystification – powers that have gained in strength since 1968; and (2) the claim that proletarian revolution against the spectacle is a possibility.

Debord claims that the integrated spectacle’s powers of domination have increased to the point whereby spectacular society ‘has eliminated every organised revolutionary tendency’ (1990: 80). Further, he claims that authentic dissent[46] against the spectacle (whether that of dissenters with a highly developed revolutionary consciousness or otherwise) has been ‘dispersed’ (1990: 84). By making such claims Debord is, I think, pushed towards a more ‘spontaneous’ conception of proletarian revolution. That is to say, Debord becomes increasingly reliant on the spontaneous component of the Situationists’ vision of revolution.[47] Yet adhering to such a conception brings with it the risk that Debord’s theory will pull itself apart, given that he supposes that those who practise détournement[48] (diversion/subversion) may or may not have a revolutionary consciousness.[49] And for the majority to attain such a consciousness, to combat the recuperative power of the spectacle, the assistance of a revolutionary avant-garde group would be required.[50]

That said, it could be argued that the scattering or atomization of authentic dissent might now be counteracted by the use of ‘new’ technologies, such as the internet and mobile phones, which Debord, who died in 1994, does not mention. Given that these ‘new’ technologies appear, at present, to be difficult to police, it might be suggested that such technologies can now assist the linkage of those in opposition to capitalist society. Indeed, the use of the internet to help mobilize anti-capitalists – whether active nihilists, those with a proto-revolutionary consciousness or those with an advanced revolutionary (Situationist) consciousness[51] - has been seen with the ‘anti-globalization’ movement: this brought together dissenters against a variety of international summits of world leaders (such as World Bank, IMF, G8 meetings and so on). Also, the internet has been used to mobilize the ‘occupy wall street’ movement, which began as an occupation of Zuccotti Park in New York City’s Wall Street financial district on 17 September 2011 and then spread to many other cities in the US and around the world.[52] Of course, provided these movements are anti-hierarchically organized, engage in subversive play, do not put forward proposals for the reform of the capitalist system and so on, they can, according to Debord’s theory, be viewed as expressions of authentic dissent; that is to say, they stand in opposition to the spectacle and its recuperators (whether reformist politicians, business, hierarchical ‘revolutionary’ parties and so on).

Furthermore, marginalized youths in London and various other cities in England made use of social networking sites via various ‘new’ technologies during the August 2011 riots. Some of those involved in the events used an encrypted communication system on BlackBerry mobile phones. Whilst originally developed primarily to provide a secure method of communication for ‘business users’,[53] some of the rioters used BlackBerry Messenger to communicate with each other and attain some degree of organization during the rebellion. Put another way, they subjected a ‘new’ technology, developed for capitalist business people, to what Debord termed détournement. Once again, provided these rebellious youths organize themselves, during such events, anti-hierarchically and play subversively (through, for instance, looting[54] - ‘which instantly destroys the commodity as such’) (Knabb ed. 1989: 155), their rebellion can be considered to be in opposition to the spectacle.  However, should they turn to a creed such as nationalism (of one kind or another) or become seduced by hierarchical ‘revolutionary’ parties and so on, this would strengthen the spectacle again.

Therefore, if we assume that some ‘new’ technologies, when subjected to détournement, can help those opposed to the integrated spectacle to overcome their dispersal or atomization, then the introduction of this new element into the theory could lessen the tension between Debord’s two central claims (outlined above): and, enhance it, to some extent, as a theory of social change. Yet, should the ‘new’ technologies used by genuine dissenters become more susceptible to police surveillance and control, the tension in Debord’s theory would remain marked.

Fixed this finally. This post was basically the crux of our site not having post searching available for several months.
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