Tag Archives: SI

SWILL: Trading Comforts For Prison Cells And Rivers Of Blood

Blood and Guts
Blood and Guts

To: sworg-talk@scenewash.org
Date: 23 Feb 2001 03:07:35 +0000

Article 3:

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.

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 is—homo sapiens ADAPTS—the direct disgust which was normal in the 1960s is not even comprehensible to most people today, it is not even REMEMBERED.
Well put, but. The omissions of the SI are substantially greater than the phrase "those elements of the SI's work" suggests. Actually its a pretty damn big omission not to have considered "the motivations of those in power" for a start. Absurd in fact. Actually, of course, the SI were "unable to foresee" mostly because they had not sufficiently understood (although Vaneigem surely had his suspicions) the motivations of those on the street, and the fact that they would no way trade in their comforts for prison cells and rivers of blood.

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 not—on 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 me—the 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 is—homo sapiens ADAPTS—the 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 myself—I have acquired an immunity, and my kids were born with it, inoculated at an early age.

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?).
This wee anecdote is surely incredibly important. The SI felt as I felt : I knew that even as a child; but today it is thought of as an intellectual theory simply because it requires an effort of the mind (for the average person) to see their point of view which in actual fact it did NOT require at the time—in a postwar world which suddenly found itself subjected to a barrage of oppressive and exploitive technology-powered communication.

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 1960s—we 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 nature—existentialism—in 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 control—that they are derivative of other material forces and never really were primary).

Okay—this 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.


The SI Is Not Sports Illustrated


Originally published Mar 20, 1997; this discussion took place in the founding days on The Spectacle SI listserv between Sam Hutchinson in italics, and myself.

I don't want to dis your friend too hard here, but are you kidding me? If we are going to set up such a silly Marx/Engels parallel, then undoubtly the most apparent Engels would be Vanegiem. Now I will go out on a limb here and say that the truest heir to Debord's paper throne was Malcolm Maclaren. I recognize punk as more than a passing fad. It was a very subversive passing fad... The only significant press time Situ theory has received since '68 was that insane summer of '77. Count the ego drive that inevitably destroyed the movement each was so critical in creating and you have the beginnings of a very subtle parallel to be drawn.

True. Bracken acknowledges this, but still draws heavily from the language of Marx, while like the original situ thinkers, rejects the Soviet model, and rightly so, doesn't say too much about the Chinese model, but loves himself a Chinese woman, or two, actually can rarely ignore the opportunity to add several Asians to his whistling sidecar.

I question this Bracken's thinking concerning Situ theory. Capitalist pig? Situationism was not Marxism. it grew from a distrust of Marxism as well as a distrust of capitalism and a refusal of the polar dialectic the two combined to create. anarchy, if it is good, attempts to break out of these convenient structures of left and right and find a new form, a new city, a new avenue to the conditions of freedom... What have we learned these past few days? Me, I have basically decided that situationism can not be revived. it would be like this "punk-revival" that is so big these days. in mimicing the stances and attitudes of punk, you essentially repress you ability to create new stances and forms. punk was a violent refusal to allow that freedom, the freedom to create new stances, the freedom to be revolutionary, to disappear from the zone that is pop.music.rock-n-roll, for lack of a better term. as Peter Buck once said of the early days of R.E.M.: "When we would go to New York and play, everyone was like, no, that's not punk. Punk is three chords and spitting. But we always saw punk as being able to so whatever you wanted, even if you wanted to be a folk-punk band..." I think we can easily substitute "situationism" for punk in all of the above sentences. To relive the exploits of the past is to deny a creation of a now. If we are to be situationists of a contemporary epoch, we must at least have the nerve to bury the remains of the past. Otherwise we are just necrophiles fucking a long dead corpse. To sum up: I don't live in Paris, 1968. I live in Atlanta, 1997.

I wouldn't change a single syllable above. Bravo! Why can't Bracken fathom this? I think he was off on some island, too conservative, too young, or just too damned preoccupied with books and scholarly pretensions, and therefore not a part of the punk scene to admit that the world has screamed past 1968. But then, I'm not a textbook revolutionary. I'm an observer observing the observers, executing bad policies, that is to say, putting to death bad policies I have tested and found wanting....and as my doubts are eyeball high, the jury's still out given the book I'm just been paid to typeset, it's probably best for me to duck from this discussion for now.

At this point, I don't think any of us on this list are revolutionary. I bought this computer.

To your point, Sam, I shelled out big money on this upscale computer so that I could join the world of blips and bleeps, to face the fears of the future with ev'ry article of faith I have to exploit my need to communicate from the best beaches of childhood memory to the most stormy seashores chanced by aman in search of the most valuable one liner ever heard in the English language, and live out a simple life making simple choices, one or two maybe a few at a time, but I certainly do not feel qualified to speak for, or against, this bustling deaf world at large, except in spoonfuls of salt or vinegar meant for beggars and brothers who prove themselves not on the field of battle but upon the waves of friendship. I'm not neither parrot, nor paratrooper, sheep or wolf, victim or executioner until I have no other choices. It's time we realized that we cannot control the entire world with a well-placed verb, noun, or screaming decibel of a three-minute song, but it is the almighty decimal point that is being propped up by controlling powers pacing strategically around the globe that must be analyzed, attacked, and destroyed in due time. But most of us don't want to be around when that happens.

Bracken drives a Beemer, or is it a Volvo? I have no problem with that, and neither does he, obviously, but why if a typewriter is a revolutionary's best friend, tell me in the name of Bill Gates (my own nominee for Anti-Christ of the hour), does buying a computer make one "unrevolutionary"? This is one aspect of the materialism/born with nothing, die with nothing question I have never quite understood, although in some respects I feel the same burn because my wife has a tendancy to want to buy a new house, or the latest anything all the time. I confess to a degree the same desires, but mine are generally focussed entirely on software and hardware, and of course books. I don't need clothes or car. My house is satisfactory except for the inner city warzone where it's located keeping me juiced on paranoia with a nearly debilitating fear to tread outdoors.

Anyone taken as an individual is tolerably sensible and reasonable—as a member of a crowd he at once becomes a blockhead.Friedrich Schiller

The question of Marcus is a tricky one. He was my introduction to the SI and I agree that it's a great read, but on re-reading him last year in the midst of hundreds of other people's versions (I kid you not, I can send the 8-page bib.!), it is clear that Marcus either knows little about the politics of the SI post- '62 and/or glosses over many things in order to push his 'bohemian losers' line. There is a certain aestheticism and romanticism in Marcus' account that renders everything in the book as simultaneously crucial, vital, necessary and doomed, marginal, pointless. From what little I know of Len Bracken, I think he's just taking these kinds of qualms and magnifying them (in best pro-Situ fashion) into a stance of unwavering enmity.

Friedrich Schiller
I think you are probably right about this. The only flaw in this argument however is Bracken's own romanticism about everything Debordian to the point that he disagrees with damn near anybody who publishes an opinion concerning his master, so that his own opinion remains prominent in the minds of any potential acolytes. I rely upon Bracken's real life example in these matters because he is my strongest closest contact with all this revolutionary posture, and I'm new to the specifics of the SI, despite have been an independent rebellious sort while struggling for self-awareness for much of my life. Bracken, like myself, is a sports enthusiast, although I'm way past my prime. Yes, I had read Lipstick Traces, already. Still have my original hardcover on the bookshelves. But Bracken is local. He stormed in wearing this Debordian crown of thorns. He claims a certain pride of Debordian discipleship, so I'm sure he would not appreciate these "non-dialectical" details of his life coming off my keyboard, but to me the reality is that everything is dialectical or nothing is dialectical. I do not understand this solipsistic need to get social approval for one's revolutionary postures. Either one is revolutionary or one is not. The label is nothing but air and alphabet. Aestheticism, however, is not among Len's own bag of tricks, except as it regards his own personal hygiene and that of women. Is the situationist spiel merely a thinly disguised front for bagging women, I ask. With Bracken, it seems so. I hardly think the SI is Sports Illustrated. But thanks for the perspective...