Date: 23 Feb 2001 03:07:35 +0000
BEGIN ANOTHER SWILL, THIS ONE WON'T LAST FOREVER
Again from the same root causes, the SI constrained their critique, their explanations and their strategies to the Economy and its material manifestations. Vaneigem himself has clearly moved away from this inadequate and dated position in identifying the underlying processes of human delusion and repression at work in medieval and middle-age periods of history (the Free Spirit). However in a nutshell this shortfall in critique may be defined as an absence of ecological sensibility.
Rebunk: Developing at the precise moment the economy began its current domination of all social life, it was inevitable that as a theory of social totality, the SI's critique would focus on commodity fetishism and the alienated labor behind the production of desire. Unlike most so-called Marxist thinkers, the SI did not limit their thought to pure ECONOMIC CRITIQUE, but rather concentrated on a CRITIQUE OF THE ECONOMY (the two terms are markedly different). They were thus able to predict the content and motivation of the May 68 insurrection. This lay not in material privation, whose elimination from the lives of most workers through trade union compromises had led many Leftist theorists to believe that the proletariat had all but disappeared, but in social and cultural alienation, where the relations of production described by Marx had invaded every level of existence, spreading beyond the factory into the classroom, the living room and the bedroom. Nevertheless, the SI did not elaborate extensively enough the motivations of those in power, and were thus unable to foresee the reaction that prevented the rebellion from turning into a full scale revolution. Despite a few formal considerations, the situationist critique of the economy's occupation of all spheres of life has maintained its relevance. With this crucial labor out of the way, we are in a position to examine those elements of the SI's work that could not be fully developed until now.
One could say, that Vaneigem's latest book focused on the moment in history when mercantilism was emerging, but the savagery with which he describes the suppression of joy in that historical epoch makes 1960s capitalism look damn cosy by comparison. Foucaults historical work is far more balanced than anything offered by the SI and in effect spans ALL cultures in (almost) ALL historical phases. In this far far bigger light, is it reasonable to say that we are dotting the I's left by the SI? I think noton the contrary I think it fairer to say they were the I-dotters for focussing so narrowly (and that narrowness ensues primarily from their constraint within mechanistic Marxist traditions whether it was economic critique or critique of economics).
There is too a sense in which the SI is simply out of date because of its focus on commodity fetishism. I can remember (along with mother's pride, tricycles and Watch with Mother) when my own disgust with the modern world discovered an echo of itself in a couple of books called SOS and ROEL. For years leading up to that moment the ADVERT had made me sick. Wherever I wandered, wherever they found methe billboards, the commercial, the circular, the neon in Picadilly, the radio-drivel...I felt seriously oppressed by the evergrowing incitement for men to wear perfume and women to shave their legs and kids to drink Cresta and old men to utilize cunning technological gadgets to rid themselves of unwanted nasal hair and housewives to have blue white shirts and electric this that and the other. But this GUT revulsion was TYPICAL then and it is NOT typical now. I don't see it in my own kids even though their exposure is many times higher than mine was. The fact ishomo sapiens ADAPTSthe direct disgust which was normal in the 1960s is not even comprehensible to most people today, it is not even REMEMBERED. I don't even feel it myselfI have acquired an immunity, and my kids were born with it, inoculated at an early age.
Re-analyzing and re-adapting to the 21st century is hardly a mere continuation of the SI of the 1960s, because we no longer live in the 1960swe have instead a whole new world to deal with which they could barely have conceived of....
Now this might hardly matter if indeed we still had similar "social and cultural alienation" albeit manifesting in different cultural guises, but in fact there has been a major shift in the nature of the game, from class based alienation to alienations which infect us on much more Individualistic levels on the one hand, or to other disatisfactions and anxieties which hardly merit the word "alienation" at all but which require us to dig back down to that more general quality of human natureexistentialismin search of an understanding...Moreover the idea that "the economy began its current domination of all social life" may also be past its moment. For example, since the beginning of the 90s we have no longer been subject to the same pressure to be A-LA-MODE, fashionable, a member of a certain subculture that we were throughout the 60s, 70s, and early 80s. "Post-modernist" consumerism is, in that sense, far less overtly authoritarian than previous commodity-fetishist decades (why could The New Avengers never attain the charisma of the original?). Isn't the explosive increase of "beggars" on the streets of western cities in the same recent period (late 80s to present) also a sign that refusal of commodities (or the public appearance of it) is more tolerable than it was? More people are willing to be beggars because rejecting consumerism is itself trendy: well what kind of market is that?! One, I would say, that blows the whistle on the notion that the economy dictates the plot rather than being merely a plot dictated by REAL power which is no longer clearly economic if it ever were (which is to say that economic relations are UNDER a pre-existing controlthat they are derivative of other material forces and never really were primary).
Okaythis is just a difference in stress. But it is the point of Article 3 to break out of the notion that everyday life can be reduced to a side issue of Economics.