Friday, April 7, 2017
Notes from Society of the Spectacle
Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord
Detroit: Black and Red, 1983
#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 specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself.
#3 As a part of society it [spectacle] 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 It [spectacle] is a world vision which has become objectified.
#6 The spectacle, grasped in its totality, is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society. In all its specific forms, as information or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, the spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life.
#8 One cannot abstractly contrast the spectacle to actual social activity: such a division is itself divided… Every notion fixed this way has no other basis than its passage into the opposite: reality rises up within the spectacle, and the spectacle is real. This reciprocal alientation is the essence and the support of the existing society.
#9 In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false.
#12 It [spectacle] says nothing more than “that which appears is good, that which is good appears.” The attitude which it demands in principle is passive acceptance which in fact it already obtained by its manner of appearing without reply, by its monopoly of appearance.
#14 In the spectacle, which is the image of the ruling economy, the goal is nothing, development everything. The spectacle aims at nothing other than itself.
#15 … the spectacle is the main production of present-day society
#21 To the extent that necessity is socially dreamed, the dream becomes necessary. The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep.
#25 Separation is the alpha and omega of the spectacle.
#28 The economic system founded on isolation is a circular production of isolation. The technology is based on isolation, and the technical process isolates in turn. From the automobile to television, all the goods selected by the spectacular system are also its weapons for a constant reinforcement of the conditions of isolation of “lonely crowds.” The spectacle constantly rediscovers its own assumptions more concretely.
#34 The spectacle is capital to such a degree of accumulation that it becomes an image.
#37 The world at once present and absent which the spectacle makes visible is the world of the commodity dominating all that is lived. The world of the commodity is thus shown for what it is, because its movement is identical to the estrangement of men among themselves and in relation to their global product.
#38 The loss of quality so evident at all levels of spectacular language, from the objects it praises to the behavior it regulates, merely translates the fundamental traits of the real production which brushes reality aside: the commodity-form is through and through equal to itself, the category of the quantitative. The quantitative is what the commodity-form develops, and it can develop only within the quantitative.
#40 Economic growth frees societies from the natural pressure which required their direct struggle for survival, but at that point it is from their liberator that they are not liberated. The independence of the commodity is extended to the entire economy over which it rules. The economy transforms the world, but transforms it only into a world of economy. The pseudo-nature within which human labor is alienated demands that it be served ad infinitum, and this service, being judged and absolved only by itself, in fact acquires the totality of socially permissible efforts and projects as its servants. The abundance of commodities, namely, of commodity relations, can be nothing more than increased survival.
#41 With the industrial revolution, the division of labor in manufactures, and mass production for the world market, the commodity appears in fact as a power which comes to occupy social life. It is then that political economy takes shape, as the dominant science and the science of domination.
#42 The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life. Not only is the relation to the commodity visible but it is all one sees: the world one sees is its world.
#44 The spectacle is a permanent opium war which aims to make people identify goods with commodities and satisfaction with survival that increases according to its own laws. But consumable survival is something which must always increase, this is because it continues to _contain privation_. If there is nothing beyond increasing survival, if there is no point where it might stop growing, this is not because it is beyond privation, but because it is enriched privation.
NB: addiction model
#45 Automation, the most advanced sector of modern industry as well as the model which perfectly sums up its practice, drives the commodity world towrad the following contradiction: the technical equipment which objectively eliminates labor must at the same time preserve _labor as a commodity_ and as the only source of the commodity. If the social labor (time) engaged by the society is not to diminish because of automation (or any less extreme form of icnreasing the productivity of labor), then new jobs have to be created. Services, the tertiary sector, swell the ranks of the army of distribution and are a eulogy to the current commodities; the additional forces which are mobilized just happen to be suitable for the organization of redundant labor required by the artiifical needs for such commodities.
#49 The spectacle is the other side of money: it is the general abstract equivalent of all commodities. Money dominated society as the representation of general equivalence, namely, of the exchangeability of different goods whose uses could not be compared. The spectacle is the developed modern complement of money where the totality of the commodity world appears as a whole, as a general equivalence for what the entire society can be and can do. The spectacle is the money which one only _looks at_, because in the spectacle the totality of use is already exchanged for the totality of abstract representation. The spectacle is not only the servant of _pseudo-use_. it is already in itself the pseudo-use of life.
#51 When economic necessity is replaced by the necessity for boundless economic development, the satisfaction of primary human needs is replaced by an uninterrupted fabrication of pseudo-needs which are reduced to the single pseudo-need of maintaining the reign of the autonomous economy.
#59 Under the shimmering diversions of the spectacle, _banalization_ dominates modern society the world over and at every point where the developed consumption of commodities has seemingly multiplied the roles and objects to choose from. The remains of religion and of the family (the principle relic of the heritage of class power) and the moral repression tehy assure, merge whenever the enjoyment of this world is affirmed - this world being nothing other than repressive pseudo-enjoyment. The smug acceptance of what exists can also merge with purely spectacular rebellion; this reflects the simple fact that dissatisfaction itself became a commodity as soon as economic abundance oculd extend production to the processing of such raw materials.
#60 The celebrity, the spectacular representation of a living human being, embodies this banality by embodying the image of a possible role. Being a star means specializing in the _seemingly lived_; the star is the object of identification with the shallow seeming life that has to compensate for the fragmented productive specializations which are actually lived. Celebrities exist to act out various styles of living and viewing society - unfettered, free to express themselves _globally_. They embody the inaccessible result of social _labor_ by dramatizing its by-products magically projected above it as its goal: _power and vacations_, decision and consumption, which are the beginning and end of an undiscussed process. In one case state power personalizes itself as a pseudo-star; in another a star of comsumption gets elected as a pseudo-power over the lived. But just as the activities of the star are not really global, they are not really varied.
#61 Kennedy remained an orator even to the point of proclaiming the eulogy over his own tomb, since Theodore Sorenson continued to edit speeches for the successor in the style which had characterized the personality of the deceased.
#63 …the spectacle is nothing more than an image of happy unification surrounded by desolation and fear at the tranquil center of misery.
#64 Wherever the concentrated spectacle rules, so does the police.
#65 …the spectacle of automobiles demands a perfect transport network which destroys old cities, while the spectacle of the city itself requires museum-areas. Therefore the already problematic satisfaction which i supposed to come from the _consumption of the whole_, is falsified immediately since the actual consumer can directly touch only a succession of fragments of this commodity happiness, fragments in which the quality attributed to the whole is obviously missing every time.
#66 The spectacle does not sing the praises of men and their weapons, but of commodities and their passions.
#67 Waves of enthusiasm for a given product, supported and spread by all the media of communication, are thus propagated with lightning speed.
#82 The bourgeois epoch, which wants to give a scientific foundation to history, overlooks the fact that this available science needs a historical foundation along with the economy. Inversely, history directly depends on economic knowledge only to the extent that it remains economic history. The extent to which the viewpont of scientific observation could overlook the role of history in the economy (th eglobal process which modifies its own basic scientific premises) is shown by the vanity of those socialist calculations which thought they had established the exact periodicity of crises. Now that the constant intervention of the Sate has succeeded in compensating for the effect of tendencies toward crisis, the same type of reasoning sees in this equilibrium a definitive economic harmony. The porject of mastering hte economy, the project of appropriating history, if it must know - and absorb -the science of society, cannot itslef be _scientific_. The revolutionary viewpoint of a movement which thinks it can dominate current history by means of scientific knowledge remains bourgeois.
#92 The strength and the weakness of the real anarchist struggles resides in its viewing the goal of proletarian revolution as _immediately present_ (the pretensions of anarchism in its individualist variants have always been laughable).
NB: Grace Lee Boggs and the identification of means with ends, swadeshi and Gandhian economics, politics as practice
#95 Those who have failed to recognize that for Marx and for the revolutionary proletariat the unitary thought of history _was in no way distinct from the practical attitude to be adopted_, regularly became victims of the practice they adopted.
#96 The separate position of the movement’s deputies and journalists attracted the already recruited bourgeois intellectuals toward a bourgeois mode of life. Even those who had been recruited from the struggles of industrial workers and who were themselves workers, were transformed by the union bureaucracy into brokers of labor power who sold labor as a commodity for a just price. If their activity was to retain some appearance of being revolutionary, capitalism would have had to be conveniently unalbe to support economically this reformism which it tolerated politically (in the legalistic agitation of the social-democrats). But such an antagonism, guaranteed by their science, was constantly belied by history.
#97 “Socialism means working a lot.”
#100 The historical moment when Bolshevism triumphed _for itself_ in Russia and when social-democracy fought victoriously _for the old world_ marks the inauguration of the state of affairs which is at the heart of the domination of the modern spectacle: the _representation of the working class_ radically opposes itself to the working class.
#102 By seizing state monopoly over representation and defense of workers’ power, the Bolshevik party justified itself and _became what it was_: the party of the _proprietors of the proletariat_ (essentially eliminating earlier forms of property).
#109 Fascism is technically-equipped archaism. Its decomposed ersatz of myth is revived in the spectacular context of the most modern means of conditioning and illusion. Thus it is one of the factors in the formation of the modern spectacle, and its role in the destruction of the old workers’ movement makes it one of the fundamental forces of present-day society. However, since fascism is also the _most costly_ form of preserving the capitalist order, it usually had to leave the front of the stage to the great roles played by the capitalist States; it is eliminated by stronger and more rational forms of the same order.
#112 Lukacs is the best proof of the fundamental rule which judges all the intellectuals of this century: what they respect is an exact measure of their own despicable reality.
#115 The new signs of negation multiplying in the economically developed countries, signs which are misunderstood and falsified by spectacular arrangement, already enable us to draw the conclusion that a new epoch has begun: now, after teh workers’ first attempt at subversion, _it is capitalist abundance which has failed_. When anti-union sturggles of Western workers are repressed first of all by unions, and when the first amorphous protests launched by rebellious currents of youth_directly_ imply the rejection of the old specialized politics, of art and of daily life, we see two sides of a new spontaneous struggle which begins under a _criminal_ guise. These are the portents of a second proletarian assault against class society. when the lost children of this still immobile army reappear on this battleground which was altered and yet remains the same, they follow a new “General Ludd” who, this time, urges them to destory the machines of permitted consumption.
#121 The revolutionary oganization can be nothing less than a unitary critique of society, namely a critique which does not compormise with any form of separate power anywhere in the world, and a critique proclaimed globally against all the aspects of alientated social life. In the sturggle between the revolutionary organization and class society, the weapons are nothing other than the _essence_ of the combatants themselves: the revolutionary organization cannot reproduce within itself the dominant society’s conditions of separation and hierarchy. It must struggle constantly against its deformation in the ruling spectacle. The only limit to participation in the total democracy of the revolutionary organization is the recognition and self-appropriation of the coherence of its critique by all its members, a coherence which must be proved int he critical theory as such and in the relation between the theory and practical activity.
#124 Revolutionary theory is now the enemy of all revolutionary ideology and knows it.
#140 The bougeoisie is attached to _labor_ time, which is liberated for the first time from the cyclical. With the bourgeoisie, work becomes _labor which transforms historical conditions_. The boureoisie is the first ruling class for which labor is a value.
#142 The history which is present in all the depths of society tends to be lost at the surface. The trimuph of irreversible time is also its metamorphosis into the _time of things-, because the weapon of its victory was precisely the mass production of objects according to the laws of the commodity. the main product which eocnomic development has transfered from luxurious scarcity to daily consumption is therefore _history_, but only int he form of hte hisotry of the abstract movement of things which dominates all qualitative use of life. While the earlier cyclical time has supported a growing part of historical time lived by inidivudals and groups, the domination of the irreversible time of production tends, socially, to eliminate this lived time.
#143 “There was history, but there is no more,” because the class of owners of the economy, which cannot break with _economic history_, is directly threatened by all other irreversibble use of time and must repress it.
NB: Francis Fukuyama and “the end of history"
#158 The spectacle, as the present social organization of the paralysis of historya nd memory, of the abandonment of history buitl on the foundation of historical time, is the _false consciousness of time_.
#166 In order to become ever more identical to itself, to get as close as possible to motionless monotony, the_ free space of the commodity_ is henceforth constantly modified and reconstructed.
#167 This society which eliminates geographical distance reproduces distance internally as spectacular separation.
#168 Tourism, human circulation considered as consumption, a by-product of the circulation of commodities, is fundamentally nothing more than the leisure of going to see what has become banal. The economic organization of visits to different places is already in itself the guarantee of their _equivalence_. The same modernization that removed time from the voyage also removed from it the reality of space.
#172 After the experiences of the French Revolution, the efforts of all established powers to increase the means of maintaining order in the streets finally culminates in the suppression of the street.
#175 Economic history, which developed entirely around the opposition between town and country, has reached a level of success which simultaneously cancels out both terms. The current paralysis of total historical development for the sake of the mere continuation of the economy’s independent movement makes the moment when town and country being to disappear, not the supersessison of their cleavage, but their simultaneous collapse. The reciprocal erosion of twon and country, product of the failyre of the hisotrical moement through which existing urban reality should have been surmounted, is visible in the eclectic melange of their decayed elements which cover the most industrially advanced zones.
#177 … natural ignorance has been replaced by the organized spectacle of error.
NB: tobacco, coal, guns, climate change….
#178 In this game’s changing space, and in the freely chosen variations in the game’s rules, the autonomy of place can be rediscovered without the reintroduction of an exclusie attachment to the land, thus bringing back the reality of the voyage and of life understood as a voyage which contains its entire meaining within itself.
#179 The greatest revolutionary idea concerning urbanism is not itself urbanistic, technological or esthetic. It is the decision to reconstruct the entire environment in accordance with the needs of the power of the Workers’ Councils, of the _anti-statist dictatorship_ of the proletariat, of enforcable dialogue. And the power of the Councils, which can be effective only if it transforms existing conditions in their entirely, cannot assign itself a smaller task if it wants to be recognized and to _recognize itself_ in its world.
#180 By gaining its independence, culture begins an imperialist mvoement of enrichment which is at the same time the decline of its independence. The history which creates the relative autonomy also expresses itself as history of culture. And the entire victorious history of culture cna be understood as the history of the revelation of its inadequacy, as a march toward its self-suppression. Culture is the locus of the search for lost unity. In this search for unity, culture as a separate sphere is obliged to negate itself.
#181 The struggle between tradition and innovatin, which is the principle of internal cultural development in historical societies, can be carried on only through the permanent victory of innvoation. Yet cultural innovation is carried by nothing other than the total historical movement which, by becoming conscious of its totality, tends to supersede its own cultural presuppositions and moves toward the suppression of all separation.
#182 The growth of knowledge about society, which includes the understanding of history as the heart of culture, derives from itself an irreversible knowledge, which is experessed by the destruction of God. But this “ first condition of any critique” is also the first obligation of a critique without end. When it is no longer possible to maintain a single rule of conduct, every result of culture forces culture to advance toward its dissultion.
#185 In the case of representations, the critical self-destruction of society’s former _common language_ confronts its artificial recomposition in the commodity spectacle, the illusory representation of the non-lived.
NB: Get a life
#187 The loss of the language of communication is positively expressed by the modern movement of decomposition of all art, its formal annihilation. This movement expresses negatively the fact that a common language must be rediscovered - no longer in the unilaterla conclusion which, in the art of the historical society, _always arrived too late_, speaking to others about what was lived without real dialogue, and admitting this deficiency of life - but it must be rediscovered in praxis, which unifies direct activity and its language [NB]. The problem is to actually possess the community of dialogue and the game with time which have been represent by poetic-artistic works.
#188 The greatness of art begins to appear only at the dusk of life.
#189 When all part art is recognized and sought historically and retrospectively constituted into a world of art, it is relativized into a global disorder which in turn constitutes a baroque edifice on a higher level, an edifice in which the very production of baroque art merges with all its revivals. The arts of all civilizations and all epochs can be known and accepted together for the first time. Once this “collection of souvenirs” of art history becomes possible, it is also the _end of the world of art_. In this age of museums, when artistic communication can no longer exist, all the former moments of art can be admitted equally, because they no longer suffer from the loss of their specific conditions of communicaiton in the current general loss of the conditions of communication.
#191 Dadaism wanted to _suppress art without realizing it_; surrealism wanted to _realize art without suppressing it_. The critical position later elaborated by the Situationists has shown that the suppression and the realization of art are inseparable aspects of a single _supersession of art_.
#192 The critical truth of this destruction - the real life of modern poetry and art - is obviously hidden, since the spectacle, whose function is to make _history forgotten within culture_ [NB], applies, in the pseudo-novelty of its modernist means, the very strategy which constitutes its core…. This is an expression, on the level of spectacular pseudo-culture, of developed capitalism’s general project, which aims to recapture the fragmented worker as a “personality well integrated in the group,” a tendency described by American sociologists (Riesman, Whte, etc.) It is the same project everywhere: _a restructuring without community_. [NB]
#193 When culture becomes nothign more than a commodity, it must also become the star commodity of the spectacular society. Clark Kerr, one of the foremost ideologyes of this tendency, has calculated that the complex process of production, distribution and consumption of knowledge already gets 29% of the eyarly national product of the United States; and he prdicts that in the second half of this century culture will be the driving force in the development of the economy, a role played by the automobile in the first half of this century, and by railroads in the second half of the previous century.
NB: Knowledge worker, knowledge society
#194 All the branches of knowledg,e which continue to develop as the thought of the spectcale, have to justify a society without justification, and constitute a general science of false consciousness. This thought is compeltely conditioned by the fact that it cannot and will not investigate its own material basis in the spectacular system.
#195 The system’s thought, the thought of the social orgnaization of appearance, is itself obscured by the generalized _syb-communication_ which it defends. I does not know that conflict is at the origin of all things in its world. Specialists in the power of the spectacle, an absolute power within its system of language without response, are absolutely corrupted by their experience of contempt and of the success of contempt; and they find their contempt confirmed by their knowledge of _the contemptible man, who the spectator really is_[NB].
#198 Those who denounce the absurdity of the perils of incitement to wsate in the society of econoic abundance do not understand the prupose of waste.
#200 The sociology which thinks that an industrial rationality functioning separately can be isolated from the whoel of social life cna go so far as to isolate the techniques of reproduction and transmission from the general industrial movement. Thus Boorstin finds that the results he depicts are cuased by the unfortuante, almost fortitous encounter of an oversized technical apparatus for image diffusion with an excessive attraction to the pseudo-sensational on the part of the people of our epoch. Tjhus the spectacle would be caused byt the fact that modern man is too much of a spectator. Boorstin fails to understand that the proliferation of the prefabricated “pseudo-events” which he denounces flows from teh simpel fact that, in the massive reality of presnet social life, men do not themselves live events. Because history itself haunts modern society like a spectre, pseudo-histories are constructed at eveyr level of consumption of life in order to preserve the threatened equilibrium of present frozen time.
NB: Nothing ever changes in a sitcom
#203 The critical concept of spectacle can undoubtedly also be vulgarized into a commonplace holow formula of sociological-political rhetoric to explain and absatrctly denounce everything, and thus serve as a defense fot he spectacular system. It is ovvious that no idea can lead beyond the existing spectacle, but only beyond the existing ideas about the spectacle. To effectively destory the society of the spectacle, what is needed is men putting a practical force into action. The critical theory of the spectacle can be true only by untiing with the practical current of negation in scoiety, and this negation, the resumption of revolutionary class sturggle, will become conscious of itslef by developign the critique of the spectacle which is the theory of its real conditons (the practical conditions of present oppression), an inversely y unveiling the secret of what this negaiton can be. this theory does not expect miracles from the workign class. It envisages the new formulation and the realization of preletarin imperatives as a long-range task. To make an artificial distinction between theoretical and practical struggle - since on the basis defined here, the very formulation and communication of such a theory cannot even be conceived without a rigorous procatice - it is certain that the ovscure and difficutl path of critical theory must also be the lot fo the practical movement acting on the scale of society.
#210 Only the real negation of culture can preserve its meaning. It can no longer be _cultural_. Thus it is what in some way remains at the level of culture, but with a completely different meaning.
#212 Ideology is the basis of the thought of a class society in the conflict-laden course of history. Idiological facts were never a simple chimaera, but rather a deformed consciousness of realities, and in this form they have been real factors which set in motion real deforming acts; all the more so when the materialization, in the form of spectacle, of the ideology borught about by the concrete success of autonomized economic production in practice confounds social reality with an ideology which has tailored all reality in terms of its model.
#215 The spectacle is ideology par excellence, because it exposes and manifests in tis fullness the essence of all ideological systems: the impoverishment, servitude and negagtion of real life…. “The need for money is thus the real need produced by political economy and the only need it produces” (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts). The spectacle extends to all social life the principle which Hegel (in the Realphilosophie of Jena) conceives as a the principle of money: it is “the life of what is dead, moving within itself.”
#219 Teh spectacle obliterates the boundaries between self and world by crushing the slef besieged by the presence-absence of the world an it obliterates the boundaties between true and false by driving all lived truth below the real presence of fraud ensured by the organization of appearance. One who passively accpets his alien daily fate is thus pushed toward a madness that reeacts in an illusory way to this fate by resorting to magical techniques. The acceptance and consumption of commodities are at the heart of this pseudo-response to a communication without response. The need to imitiate which is felt by the consumer is precisely the infantile need conditioned by all the aspects of his fundamental dispossession. In the terms applied by Gabel to a completely different pathological level, “the abnormal need for representation here compensates for a tortuous feeling of being on the margin of existence.”
#220 If the logic of false consciousness cannot know itself truly, the search for critical truth about the spectacle must simultaneously be a true critique. It must struggle in practice among the irreconcilable enemies of the spectacle and admit that it is absent where they are absent. Teh abstract desire for immeidate effectiveness accepts the laws of the ruling thought,t he exclusive point of view of the present, when it throws itself into reformist compromises or trashy pseudo-revolutionary common actions. Thus madness reappears in the very posture which pretends to fight it. Conversely, the critique which goes beyond the spectacl must know how to wait.
#221 Emancipation from the material bases of inverted truth - this is what the self-emancipation of our epoch consists of. This “historical mission of installing truth in the world” cannot be accomplished either by the isolated individual, or by the atomized crows subjected to manipulation, but now as ever by the class which is able to effect the dissolution of all classes by bringing all power into the dealienating form of realized democracy, the Council, in which practical theory control itself and sees its own action. This ispossible only where individuals are “directly linked to universal history”; only where dialogue arms itself to make its own conditions victorious.