Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, by Guy Debord

Gathered together in one place, for easy access, an agglomeration of writings and images relevant to the Rapeutation phenomenon.

Re: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, by Guy Debord

Postby admin » Sat Jun 24, 2017 9:20 pm

XXX

SURVEILLANCE would be much more dangerous had it not been led by its ambition for absolute control of everything to a point where it encountered difficulties created by its own progress. There is a contradiction between the mass of information collected on a growing number of individuals, and the time and intelligence available to analyse it, not to mention its actual interest. The quantity of data demands constant summarising: much of it will be lost, and what remains is still too long to be read. Management of surveillance and manipulation is uncoordinated. Indeed there is a widespread struggle for a share of the profits, and thus also for favouring the development of this or that potential in the existing society, to the detriment of the other potentials, which nonetheless, so long as they are all tarred with the same brush, are considered equally respectable.

This struggle is also a game. Each control comes to over-value his agents, as well as his opponents. Each country, not to mention the numerous supranational alliances, currently possesses an indefinite number of police and counter-espionage services, along with secret services, both state and para-state. There are also many private companies dealing in surveillance, security and investigation. The large multinationals naturally have their own services; but so do nationalised companies, even those of modest scale, which will still pursue independent policies at a national and sometimes an international level. A nuclear power group will fight against an oil group, even though both are owned by the same state and what is more are dialectically united by their interest in maintaining high oil prices on the world market. Each particular industry's security service combats the threat of sabotage, while organising it, when necessary, against their rivals: a company with important interests in undersea tunnels will be favourably disposed to the hazards of ferries and may bribe newspapers in financial trouble to ensure they spot these hazards without delay and without too much reflection; a company competing with Sandoz will be indifferent to underground springs in the Rhine valley. Secrets are subject to secret surveillance. Thus each of these organisations, all subtly united around the executives of raison d'Etat, aspires to its own private hegemony of meaning. For meaning has been lost along with an identifiable centre.

Going from success to success, until 1968 modem 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'.

So it is that thousands of plots in favour of the established order tangle and dash almost everywhere, as the overlap of secret networks and secret issues or activities grows ever more dense along with their rapid integration into every sector of economics, politics and culture. In all areas of social life the degree of intermingling in surveillance, disinformation and security activities gets greater and greater. The plot having thickened to the point where it is almost out in the open, each part of it now starts to interfere with, or worry, the others, for all these professional conspirators are spying on each other without really knowing why, are colliding by chance yet not identifying each other with any certainty. Who is observing whom? On whose behalf, apparently? And actually? The real influences remain hidden, and the ultimate aims can barely be suspected and almost never understood. So that while no one can be sure he is not being tricked or manipulated, it is rare for the string-puller to know he has succeeded. And in any case, to be on the winning side of manipulation does not mean that one has chosen the right strategic perspective. Tactical successes can thus lead great powers down dangerous roads.

In the same network and apparently pursuing similar goals, those who are only a part of the network are necessarily ignorant of the hypotheses and conclusions of the other parts, and above all of their controlling nucleus. The reasonably well known fact that all information on whatever subject under observation may well be entirely imaginary, or seriously falsified, or very inadequately interpreted, complicates and undermines to a great degree the calculations of the inquisitors. For what is sufficient to condemn someone is far less sure when it comes to recognising or using him. Since sources of information are in competition, so are falsifications.

It is in these circumstances that we can speak of domination's falling rate of profit, as it spreads to almost the whole of social space and consequently increases both its personnel and its means. For now each means aspires, and labours, to become an end. Surveillance spies on itself, and plots against itself

Its principal present contradiction, finally, is that it is spying on, infiltrating and pressurising an absent entity: that which is supposed to be trying to subvert the social order. But where can it actually be seen at work? Certainly conditions have never been so seriously revolutionary. but it is only governments who think so. Negation has been so thoroughly deprived of its thought that it was dispersed long ago. Because of this it remains only a vague, yet highly disturbing threat, and surveillance in its turn has been deprived of its preferred field of activity. Surveillance and intervention are thus rightly led by the present exigencies determining their terms of engagement to operate on the very terrain of this threat in order to combat it in advance. This is why surveillance has an interest in organising poles of negation itself, which it can instruct with more than the discredited means of the spectacle, so as to manipulate, not terrorists this time, but theories.
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Re: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, by Guy Debord

Postby admin » Sat Jun 24, 2017 9:20 pm

XXXI

BALTASAR Gracian, that great authority on historical time, tells us with considerable pertinency in The Courtier: 'Be it words or action, all must be measured by time. We must choose when we are able; for time and tide wait on no man.' But Omar Khayyam was less of an optimist 'We are the puppets and the firmament is the puppet-master / In actual fact and not as a metaphor; / For a time we acted on this stage/We went back one by one into the box of oblivion.'
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Re: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, by Guy Debord

Postby admin » Sat Jun 24, 2017 9:21 pm

XXXII

THE French Revolution brought great changes in the art of war. It was from that experience that Clausewitz could draw the distinction between tactics, as the use of forces in battle to obtain victory, and strategy, as the use of victories in battle to attain the goals of a war. Europe was subjugated, quickly and lastingly, by the results. But the theory was not proven till later, and was developed unevenly. First to be appreciated were the positive features directly brought about by a profound social transformation: the enthusiasm and mobility of a greatly enlarged army which lived off the land and was relatively independent of stores and supply trains. Such useful elements were soon counterbalanced by the appearance on the enemy side of similar elements: in Spain the French armies encountered an equal popular enthusiasm; in the vast spaces of Russia, a land they could not live off; after the rising in Germany, numerically far superior forces. However the effect of a total break, in the new French tactics, which was the simple basis on which Bonaparte founded his strategy - the latter consisting of using victories in advance, as if acquired on credit to understand manoeuvres in all their diverse variants from the start as consequences of a victory which while not yet obtained would certainly be at the first onslaught - derived also from the forced abandonment of false ideas.

These tactics demanded an abrupt break from these false ideas, and at the same time, by the concomitant play of the other innovations outlined above, found the means to achieve such a break. The newly mustered French soldiers were incapable of fighting in line, that is, of keeping ranks and firing on command. They would thus be deployed in extended order, firing at will as they advanced on the enemy. Now in fact independent fire was shown to be the only effective kind, a genuinely destructive use of musketry which proved the most decisive factor in military engagements of the period. Yet military thinking had universally rejected this conclusion in the century that was ending, and indeed debate on the issue continued through most of the new century, despite constant practical demonstration in battle, and the ceaseless progress in range and rate of fire.

Similarly, the establishment of spectacular domination is such a profound social transformation that it has radically altered the art of government. This simplification, which has quickly borne such fruit in practice, has yet to be fully comprehended in theory. Old prejudices everywhere belied, precautions now useless, and even the residues of scruples from an earlier age, still clog up the thinking of quite a number of rulers, preventing them from recognising something which practice demonstrates and proves every single day. Not only are the subjected led to believe that to all intents and purposes they are still living in a world which in fact has been eliminated, but the rulers themselves sometimes suffer from the absurd belief that in some respects they do too. They come to believe in a part of what they have suppressed, as if it remained a reality and had still to be included in their calculations. This backwardness will not last long. Those who have achieved so much so easily must necessarily go further. It should not be thought that those who have been too slow to appreciate the pliability of the new rules of their game and its form of barbaric grandeur, will last forever like some archaism in proximity to real power. It is certainly not the spectacle's destiny to end up as enlightened despotism.

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. This changeover, which will conclude decisively the work of these spectacular times, will occur discreetly, and conspiratorially, even though it concerns those within the inner circles of power. It will select those who will share this central exigency: that they clearly see what obstacles they have overcome, and of what they are capable.
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Re: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, by Guy Debord

Postby admin » Sat Jun 24, 2017 9:21 pm

XXXIII

THE same Sardou also wrote:

Vainly relates to the subject; in vain to the object; uselessly simply means with no use for anyone. One has worked vainly when one has done so without success, so that one has wasted one's time and effort: one has worked in vain when one has done so without achieving the intended result, because of the defectiveness of the work. If I cannot succeed in completing a piece of work, I am working vainly; I am uselessly wasting my time and effort. If the work I have done does not have the result I was expecting, if I have not attained my goal, I have worked in vain; that is to say, I have done something useless . . . .

It is also said that someone has worked vainly when he has not been rewarded for his work, or when this work has not been approved; for in this case the worker has wasted his time and effort, without this prejudicing in any way the value of his work, which indeed may be very good.

Paris, February-April 1988
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Re: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, by Guy Debord

Postby admin » Sat Jun 24, 2017 9:21 pm

TRANSLATOR'S NOTES

The French edition of Comments has no footnotes, and it would have been inappropriate to add any to this translation. However, with the author's approval, I have included these brief notes on certain references and allusions that might otherwise remain unnecessarily obscure to English readers.

Page vi: Sun Tzu. Guy Debord's epigraph is taken from the first European translation of The Art of War, by the Jesuit JJ.L Amiot (1 782). The best available English translation, by Samuel B. Griffith (Oxford 1 963), does not include this passage, so I have had to translate from the French.

Page 17: '. . . wine experts able to con connoisseurs into admiring their new, more distinctive, flavours.' The French here is ' . . . des experts en vins qui entraineront les caves a aimer leurs nouveaux parfums, plus reconnaissables.' Debord's pun on the two meanings of caves - wine-cellars (fern.) and hopeless dupes or suckers (masc.) - is unfortunately lost in English. The word's underworld etymology is instructive. It originally referred to anyone who worked in a legitimate job; hence to someone who did not know how to live; and hence to any kind of dupe.

Page 17: ' . . . under a poor cloak you commonly find a good drinker.' The proverb is from Don Quixote, quoted by the Duchess in her conversation with Sancho Panza (vol. II, hook 3, ch. 1). The Spanish is, 'Debajo de mala capa, suele haber huen hebedor.' I have used the Samuel Putnam translation.

Page 20: '. . . men resemble their times more than their fathers.' An Arab proverb, dating from the fourteenth century.

Page 29: 'They are jeering at us, and we know whom these programmes are for.' The French here is, 'On nous siffle, et l'on sait pour qui sont ces structures.' Debord is playing on a famous line from Racine's Andromache, Act V, Scene 3: 'Pour qui sont ces serpents qui sifflent sur vos tetes?'

Page 33: Dr Archambeau. In 1984, seemingly motivated by professional jealousy, certain colleagues of a Dr Archambeau at a hospital in Poitiers caused the death of some of his patients in the operating-theatre by reversing the oxygen and nitrogen supplies during resuscitation. Archambeau was eventually acquitted of any blame, but the real culprits were never discovered.

Page 39 It was Marx who defined political economy as 'the final denial of humanity'.

Page 41: ' . . . illusionists, barkers and stool-pigeons . . . ' The French here is 'illusionnistes, aboyeurs et barons'. Baron, a word still in common use, refers to a trickster's accomplice, planted in the crowd, who helps to dupe others either by raising objections which the trickster can easily refute, or by pretending to buy whatever is on offer. This was also the nineteenth-century meaning of 'stool-pigeon', although the word is now used in a different sense. I cannot find a modern English equivalent, though some American meanings of 'stooge' might be adequate.

Page 42: ' . . . rather in the way that the one who was waiting for Grouchy instead saw Blucher join the battle, it was simply a matter of calling in the Guard of experts.' The battle is Waterloo, the 'one', Napoleon. The allusion is to Victor Hugo's description of Waterloo in his poem 'L'Expiation': seeing the battle was going badly for the French, Napoleon summoned the Imperial Guard to enter the fray.

Page 54: 'GAL', Grupo Anti-Terorista de Liberacion.

Page 55: "the mad killers of Brabant". Les tueurs fous de Brabant was the media's name for the perpetrators of a series of murders in Belgium in the 1 980s. The murders were carried out during a number of raids on supermarkets: on each occasion the gang, armed with military weapons, shot six or seven people, apparently at random, and stole very small amounts of money. Recent newspaper revelations have suggested that the choice of victims may not have been entirely random, and that the murderers may have been linked to right-wing organisations.

Page 55: ' . . . home is the pirate, home from the sea . . .' The allusion is to Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Requiem'. But some of the references here are more specific. Debord has pointed out that 'the thief who no longer needs to steal', for example, was Francois Besse, the former accomplice of Jacques Mesrine, who has disappeared without trace.

Pages 67-68 Jaures was assassinated in the Chope du Croissant (now the cafe Chope du Croissant), 146 rue Monttnartre, on 31 July 1914.

Page 74: ' . . . under the name "Three Cultures" . . .' On 2 October 1 968, police opened fire on student demonstrators in Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico City, killing many. During the preceding fortnight, at least fifty more students had been killed during police attacks on strike meetings and the university campus.

Page 77: 'Rome is no longer in Rome . . .' The quotation is from a line in Racine's Mithridate: 'Rome n'est plus dans Rome; elle est toute ou je suis.'

Page 78: 'Hello there, artists . . .' The French is, 'Salut, les artistes! Tant pis si je me trompes.' The old low-life greeting was, 'Salut, les hommes . . .': Debord has substituted 'artists' for 'men'.

Page 78: 'Ducasse has had a row with the Comte de Lautreamont . . .' Isidor Ducasse was of course the Comte de Lautreamont. Auguste Macquet (or Maquet), a historian, was one of Dumas Pere's chief literary collaborators. Emile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian ( 1822-99 and 1 826-90) wrote several novels and plays together over some forty years, many of them set in their native Alsace. Censier-Daubenton is a Paris Metro station.

Page 82: 'Its innocent air has gone forever.' Debord is quoting from his film, In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni.

I would like to thank Guy Debord, Liz Heron and Martin Thorn for their help with this translation.
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Re: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, by Guy Debord

Postby admin » Sat Jun 24, 2017 9:22 pm

Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, by Guy Debord, Translated by Malcolm Imrie

'The empty debate on the spectacle - that is, on the activities of the world's owners - is organized by the spectacle itself; everything is said about the extensive means at its disposal to ensure that nothing is said about their extensive deployment. Rather than talk of the spectacle, people often prefer to use the term "media". And by this they mean to describe a mere instrument, a kind of public service which with impartial "professionalism" would facilitate the new wealth of mass communication through mass media - a form of communication which has at last attained a unilateral purity, whereby decisions already taken are presented for passive admiration. For what is communicated are orders; and, with perfect harmony, those who give them are also those who tell us what they think of them.'

Guy Debord's critique of 'the spectacle' has produced a variety of responses. In 1968 his first book, The Society of the Spectacle, was generally seen as something shocking in its extremism; in the seventies, as something valid and useable so long as its pessimistic or malevolent aspects were carefully eliminated; in the eighties, as if it had become absolutely correct. Debord has since pointed out that it was not his book whose meaning had changed, but merely the world. He has illustrated this view in these new Comments on the Society of the Spectacle.

Guy Debord was born in 1931. After editing the journal Internationale situationniste, he published La Societe du Spectacle in 1967. In 1988 he added these Comments on the same subject.
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