alternatives to society of the spectacle

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bouncingsoul
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Nov 25 2008 16:27
alternatives to society of the spectacle

Hi there guys, Im new to the board!

Was wondering if anyone could point me to any good books with the same kind of subject matter as society of the spectacle. i.e. what emerges on the culture/media/consumption side of things as a result of the capitalist mode of production - colonization of social life by commodities etc. Im reading society of the spectacle now and enjoying it in places, although some bits are too obscure, and there isnt enough concrete stuff in terms of examples etc.

Any advice?

Cheers

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Joseph Kay
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Nov 25 2008 16:39

welcome to the boards smile

Jean Baudrillard talks about this kinda stuff, but he moves further away from the class-based marxist underpinnings to debord's work, and is no less obscure. generally i'd steer away from the pomo stuff as it tends to forget production - and the class relations it entails - altogether, neuteuring the analyasis of consumption somewhat.

slavoj zizek writes a lot about culture, and how it reflects on capitalist society. a lot of his stuff is interesting, particularly his critique of liberal tolerance and the false freedom of hedonistic consumption (he likes the example of the laxative chocolate bar as the commodity that typifies this). he's written loads of books which are often copy/pastes of each other. this essay's probably as good as any as an introduction to his writings on culture. he can also be more dense and obscure than debord in his more theoretical writings, adding lacanian terminology to the marxian/hegelian jargon in debord.

finally, not really cultural/consumption-oriented per se, but the pamphlet 'Work. Community. Politics. War.' is awesome, and there's some debordian influence; "something is feeding off our lives and spitting images of them back in our faces." it also shows how consumption and production can't really be separated in analysing capitalism; commodities imply wage labour; wage labour implies commodities.

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Django
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Nov 25 2008 17:25

Hiya

I'm not a fan of his, but Theodor Adorno wrote a lot about what he called the 'culture industry' and its effects on subject formation - and especially the destruction of the critical potential of certain cultural activities.

I do think Debord is good though, he should however be read critically and bearing in mind the ways in which his ideas have been flattened out and misread by academics and art students alike. There's a good critical article in the latest issue of Aufheben. Georgy Lukacs was a huge influence on Debord, and his early stuff is worth reading, especially the first section of Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat, but with the same critical eye.

I second not wasting your time on Baudrillard.

bouncingsoul
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Nov 25 2008 20:46

cheers guys!

yeah, i read some baudrillard and thought it was rubbish, im well aware of stearing away from pomo stuff.

Ill check out zizek, but i dont know anything of lacan (and havent heard great things tbh), ill give that essay a bash though.

Iv seen work community politics war, in fact iv been recommending it to my non-politicised friends.

I have been reading the debord critically, and like i say, am enjoying quite a lot of it. Ill certainly check out the aufheben article and the lukacs.

Of course im still open to more recommendations from anyone.

Nice one guys, think ill be coming here more often!

Jason Cortez
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Nov 25 2008 20:56

The obvious one is Revolution of everyday life- by Raoul Vaneigem

si
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Nov 25 2008 21:39

surprised no-one posted http://www.prole.info/pamphlets/situationistsabout.pdf . it includes the aufheben article. [edit - the //old// aufheben article; didn't realise there was a new one.]

Lukacs/H&CC is the big-hitter really though. Not easy, but a lot easier than darling Adorno.

Caiman del Barrio
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Nov 25 2008 21:54
Jason Cortez wrote:
The obvious one is Revolution of everyday life- by Raoul Vaneigem

While still being the best political text I've ever read (oops...apart from the latest Direct Action I mean wink), it's probably a bad one if you find Debord too obscure, seeing as how there's more literary references in there than a Bloomsbury Group wine and cheese party...

That said though, he makes Debord look pretty dull and utilitarian, basically making the same points but with better, more emotive language and more recourse to stimulating allegories (my favourites are the one about the wise men and the building with no windows).

Caiman del Barrio
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Nov 25 2008 22:16

You just didn't understand it Jack.

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quint
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Nov 26 2008 03:38

Vaneigem has his moments but Debord is much stronger.

I like Gilles Dauvé's critique of the Situationist International:

http://libcom.org/library/critique-situationist-international-gilles-dauve

And (although it doesn't exactly deal with culture and commodities) check out René Riesel's "Preliminaries on Councils and Councilist Organisation":

http://libcom.org/library/preliminaries-councils-and-councilist-organization-rene-riesel

Maybe I just like that one cause it uses the phrase "anti-state dictatorship of the proletariat" though. smile

SatanIsMyCoPilot
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Dec 18 2008 23:14

I guess the question is as to why you want to read something similar. Personbally - and whilst I think there to be many things of interest tucked away within Debord's work - it seems to me that he focusses on the 'appearances' of capital to such an extent that he never really gets to grip with capital itself. The same can be said for Lukacs to an extent, and perhaps also Baudrillard (who, whilst practically incomprehensible to me, seems to be extremely politically dubious).

Anyway: Adorno is definitely worth a look, but he pretty much replaces the proletariat with philosophy. His essay on 'The Culture Industry' - which is possibly the closest to Debord - is quite incredibly boring. Negative Dialectics is great, but very hard, and the present English translation reads as though it was written by Yoda. Have you looked at Benjamin? There's a lot of stuff in his work that might be interesting. Lefebvre's Critique of Everyday Life is worth a look too.

Perhaps Vaneigem is the great undiscovered country: I've been writing him off for years as pure oratory, but I had a long and drunken conversation with someone the other night who was trying to tell me that there is much in his work worth looking at. I can't really see it myself - it seems that all he does is say 'hey guys! let's all be nice to each other and have fun!' in an overly elaborate manner - but you never know. Maybe I shoudl read it again.

The Principia Dialectica people seem to think that Postone is Debord's true heir, so you might want to check that out - but I guess it depends on which aspects of Debord you're interested in: are you into the image stuff (in which case bear in mind that he normally uses the word metaphorically, and beware of new-media drivel that fails to understand that), are you into ideas about alienation (you might want to look at a bit of Hegel and early Marx, and then see where it takes you), or are you into the arty, utopian stuff (in which case there's no end of things to look at)?

It's an interesting area to look at, however flawed it might be, so have fun

Matt_efc
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Dec 19 2008 18:34

I'm writing my Masters on Vaneigem. Either around the comparing of an "Anarchist" view of freedom, to the view that he poses, or a much grander idea of what does it actually mean? What is it he is really trying to get across.

Im planning on using quite a bit of stuff from Greece, as a lot of the communique's have a very similar style and, from what i can work out, understandings of freedom.

bouncingsoul
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Dec 19 2008 20:46

Satanismycopilot:

I think the reason i asked this really was to find some stuff that tackled similar subject matter (although not necessairly made similar arguments) that is a bit less dense with more concrete examples. Still haven't got round to reading most of the recommendations yet though. Cheers for the comments

Sean68
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Dec 19 2008 23:10

Forget Vaneigem.

Revolution of Everyday Life was seminal in helping to create the impetus that led to the events of 1968, but whereas Debord's Society of the Spectacle has stood the test of time, Vaneigem's ideas are underpinned by a Nietzschean will to life. In some ways, you can imagine those hippies that took the bus across to Kabul in the 1960s carrying it in their back-packs, and thus helping to meld the intoxification of revolution east and west over shared hookah pipes in the cafes when they got there, assisting, as they did, to cleave open a unique moment in Afghan history - only for it all to become undone as the reality of fundamentalist political economy dissolved Vaneigem's left-wing Lebensphilosophie in the only concrete way it would - by negation in the cauldron of inter-imperialist rivalry. Vaneigem was a Walter Benjamin with bovver boots; that is, the Benjamin castigated by Adorno for his initial draft of the Arcades Project, but a Benjamin up against the wall of a modern welfare state. Not as applicable, with hindsight, as Debord, whose horizon was so vast.

An interesting paper presented at the recent Historical Materialism conference in London will be posted up on our website soon; it explores more fully the failure of the S.I in its analysis of antisemitism, which the authors posit as the SI's achilles heel, but here are a few comments they make on the limitations of the Vanegeim tendency in the SI:

"Just one remark here against the commonplace left-wing prejudice of “vitalism” (Lebensphilosophie) with the allegedly “positive” situationist juxtaposition of “life”, “the lived” (le vécu) etc. on the “good, revolutionary” side, and the dead(ly) “unhuman abstraction” of value, money, and capital etc. on the bad side of society and history, as is globally and falsely attributed to the situationist critical theorists never mind if they use a Nietzschean concept of ”life”, as does more or less Raoul Vaneigem, or a Hegelian and Marxian approach to spectacular “ghost-like world-of-objects” (“gespenstische Gegenständlichkeit”, sic Marx), as is, most of all, the case with Guy Debord."

From 'Catastrophe and the Situationist Limit' by BieneBaumeisterZwiNegator (2008)

As for Adorno, it is a mistake to assert that he somehow jettisoned 'the proletariat' for 'philosophy.' On the contrary, his weakness was that he maintained right to the end that labour was the transhistorical subject - and so for Vaneigem, but not - ironically - for Benjamin, whose faith in the proletariat as subject was a blindspot that hardly ever sullied his outstanding writing.

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Django
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Dec 19 2008 23:15
Sean68 wrote:
Revolution of Everyday Life was seminal in helping to create the impetus that led to the events of 1968

Wow, do you actually believe this? I've never actually seen anyone argue that Vaneigem's work was the impetus for the biggest wildcat strike in history. Even the situationists credited themselves obliquely so they could avoid actually providing any evidence for playing anything other than a marginal role in the events of may 68.

SatanIsMyCoPilot
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Dec 20 2008 14:16
Matt_efc wrote:
I'm writing my Masters on Vaneigem. Either around the comparing of an "Anarchist" view of freedom, to the view that he poses, or a much grander idea of what does it actually mean? What is it he is really trying to get across.

Im planning on using quite a bit of stuff from Greece, as a lot of the communique's have a very similar style and, from what i can work out, understandings of freedom.

Ah! I think you must be the guy I was talking to in the pub last week. I was very drunk and probably very overbearing. In case I failed to communicate it at the time: I thought your project sounded very interesting, and certainly worth pursuing

SatanIsMyCoPilot
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Dec 20 2008 17:22
bouncingsoul wrote:
Satanismycopilot:

I think the reason i asked this really was to find some stuff that tackled similar subject matter (although not necessairly made similar arguments) that is a bit less dense with more concrete examples. Still haven't got round to reading most of the recommendations yet though. Cheers for the comments

If you want something that will make sense of Debord you could do far worse than to read Anselm Jappe's book. There's an enormous amount of crap written about Debord, but Jappe's book is one of the few academic texts that actually squares up to the fact that you can't understand his work without getting hold of Hegel and Marx (Debord actually wrote in a letter that it is impossible to understand TSOTS without Marx, and 'especially Hegel').

I'd also have a look at the first section of Lukacs' Reification and the Class Consciousness of the Proletariat. It's not too hard - the second section of that essay is the real killer - and should help a great deal with understanding Debord. It stresses this notion of a 'contemplative relation to history' which is, for me, the key to understanding Debord's spectacle.You might also look at the recent Aufheben piece on Debord, which was written with the aim of clarifying some of these rather mysterious concepts.

Another way into it might be to look at TJ Clark and Donald Nicholson-Smith's (both ex-members of the S.I.) 'Why Art Can't Kill the Situationist International', which provides a remedy of sorts to the art theory based rubbish that often gets associated with Debord's spectacle.

...and if you really want to get something from Debord, read the script to his film In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni. I think it's by far the best thing he ever wrote

SatanIsMyCoPilot
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Dec 20 2008 14:38
Sean68 wrote:
As for Adorno, it is a mistake to assert that he somehow jettisoned 'the proletariat' for 'philosophy.' On the contrary, his weakness was that he maintained right to the end that labour was the transhistorical subject - and so for Vaneigem, but not - ironically - for Benjamin, whose faith in the proletariat as subject was a blindspot that hardly ever sullied his outstanding writing.

In what respects is 'labour' the 'trans-historical subject' for Adorno but not for Benjamin?

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Dec 20 2008 15:31
satanismycopilot wrote:
If you want something that will make sense of Debord you could do far worse than to read Anselm Jappe's book.

i couldnt even finish that book because it pissed me off so much. much of the stuff about his intellectual background is accurate, but the perspective of the author pissed me off enormously. doesnt he dismiss the political implications of his writing in a paragraph in the introduction, and compare arguing the merits of a council-based socialism to medieval heretics discussing the nature of god.

SatanIsMyCoPilot
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Dec 20 2008 17:27
Django wrote:
satanismycopilot wrote:
If you want something that will make sense of Debord you could do far worse than to read Anselm Jappe's book.

i couldnt even finish that book because it pissed me off so much. much of the stuff about his intellectual background is accurate, but the perspective of the author pissed me off enormously. doesnt he dismiss the political implications of his writing in a paragraph in the introduction, and compare arguing the merits of a council-based socialism to medieval heretics discussing the nature of god.

No,I just checked it: he isn't dismissing the political implications of Debord's work, but rather the question of the kind of revolutionary organisation (workers' counclils, etc.) that should be adopted. The Afterword to the book isn't bad, and says a fair bit about the political engagement of these ideas.

Sean68
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Dec 20 2008 17:37

Django, I fear your literary criticism is on a par with your taste in music laugh out loud

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Dec 20 2008 18:27
Sean68 wrote:
Django, I fear your literary criticism is on a par with your taste in music laugh out loud

Literary criticism? Is this is a response to my post saying that Vaneigem wasn't responsible for the 'impetus' behind May '68? Because that was a purely historical statement. And we're not discussing 'literature' here either...

(P.S. - If you have anything substantial to say about 2008 in music I'd love to see it on the relevant thread)

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Django
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Dec 20 2008 18:57
Satanismycopilot wrote:
No,I just checked it: he isn't dismissing the political implications of Debord's work, but rather the question of the kind of revolutionary organisation (workers' counclils, etc.) that should be adopted. The Afterword to the book isn't bad, and says a fair bit about the political engagement of these ideas

Ok, it was a couple of years ago when I read it, or bits of it anyway. I didnt read the conclusion.

But if I remember right, Isn't this omission to avoid dealing with large sections of the Society of the Spectacle which deal exactly with this question of organisation, as Debord posits workers' councils as being the natural form of social relations to combat and replace the production of interpersonal and social life in and through the commodity form? Thats what the spectacle is, essentially. And this is important because it roots the spectacle in the mode of production, and its negation in the class struggle which is immanent to this mode of production.

I actually think the sections where Debord is dealing with the history of the revolutionary movement are quite powerful.

SatanIsMyCoPilot
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Dec 20 2008 19:41

Debord himself described the fourth chapter - which deals with the 'collapse and return' of the revolutionary movement - as the most important. However, there isn't much in the book on organisation; there are few theses which talk about workers' councils (theses 117 to 122), but that's about it.

I actually think Debord does a really bad job of 'rooting the spectacle in a mode of production'. He explicitly states that the spectacle is a particular stage in commodity production and circulation, but he's so preoccupied with this great mass of circulating commodities that he never really gets to grips with the relations of production that produce them. It's rather like that bit in Capital where we move from the 'noisy sphere of circulation' to the 'hidden abode of production'. Debord never makes that move; instead, he derives an abstracted notion of production from his reflections on circulation. This is because he dissolves the wage relation - and therefore any ability to think about what capital actually is, and how one might combat it - into 'everyday life', which he considers as a generality. Labour becomes one with a generalised notion of 'activity'. This is similar in some respects to the focus on 'biopolitics' that you get with bits of autonomia.

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Dec 20 2008 19:50
satanismycopilot wrote:
Debord himself described the fourth chapter - which deals with the 'collapse and return' of the revolutionary movement - as the most important. However, there isn't much in the book on organisation; there are few theses which talk about workers' councils (theses 117 to 122), but that's about it.

I actually think Debord does a really bad job of 'rooting the spectacle in a mode of production'. He explicitly states that the spectacle is a particular stage in commodity production and circulation, but he's so preoccupied with this great mass of commodities that he never really gets to grips with the relations of production that produce them. He dissolves the wage relation - and therefore any ability to think about what capital actually is, and how one might combat it - into 'everyday life', which is considered as a generality. This is similar in some respects to the focus on 'biopolitics' that you get with bits of autonomia.

Yes, the criticism of Debord for not having a sufficient grasp of class politics, or at least not integrating them meaningfully into his argument is quite widespread - Dauve and Aufheben have written pretty well on this.

But I think to get the most from Society of the Spectacle it has to be read as something of a contemporary (at the time of writing) gloss on Marx. All those Marx quotes throughout point towards that. And Dauve argues that if read as a supplement to Marx's arguments, it is a powerful work, but if read as a self-contained critique of contemporary capitalism it fails. I'd agree. Its a plug-in.

I'd disagree that organisation doesn't form a significant part of the book - the comments on councils come at the end of a very lengthy (by the standards of the book) critique of the history of the workers movement, and form its conclusion.

Boris Badenov
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Dec 21 2008 15:26
SatanIsMyCoPilot wrote:
you can't understand his work without getting hold of Hegel and Marx (Debord actually wrote in a letter that it is impossible to understand TSOTS without Marx, and 'especially Hegel').

Can someone explain to me why "especially Hegel"? I can see how reading Hegel would help with reading Marx and consequently with reading Debord, but what's so important about Hegel that makes Debord so much more relevant?

Django wrote:
and compare arguing the merits of a council-based socialism to medieval heretics discussing the nature of god.

Doesn't, or rather don't, Luther Blisset do a bit of that in Q? That book was quite excellent, although granted it was just a novel.

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Dec 21 2008 15:45

What I mean is, Jappe says that it is as relevant today as the beliefs of medieval heretics, iirc.

SatanIsMyCoPilot
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Dec 22 2008 19:52
Vlad336 wrote:
SatanIsMyCoPilot wrote:
you can't understand his work without getting hold of Hegel and Marx (Debord actually wrote in a letter that it is impossible to understand TSOTS without Marx, and 'especially Hegel').

Can someone explain to me why "especially Hegel"? I can see how reading Hegel would help with reading Marx and consequently with reading Debord, but what's so important about Hegel that makes Debord so much more relevant?

Django wrote:
and compare arguing the merits of a council-based socialism to medieval heretics discussing the nature of god.

Doesn't, or rather don't, Luther Blisset do a bit of that in Q? That book was quite excellent, although granted it was just a novel.

Hegel doesn't make Debord 'relevant', but according to Debord himself - and I agree - you need a bit of Hegel, or at least an acquaintance with some of the key concerns of Hegelian Marxism (i.e. the actualisation of consciousness in history) to understand The Society of the Spectacle. The whole concept of spectacle is essentially to do with a relation to history: is history going to be shaped by the economy - i.e. by our own alienated power and activity - or is it going to be shaped by human beings? are we going to 'spectate' a life that is dictated for us, or are we going to actually live it directly and consciously?

I don't think Jappe dismisses the issue of organisation as irrelevant; his complaint seems to be with discussions about it, not the issue itself.
Also, I disagree that organisation is a key concern for Debord. Perhaps it shoudl be, but I really don;t think it's as central to TSOTS as was claimed above. Debord is so concerned to avoid imposing any kind of absolute prescription that he offers only the vaguest sense of what sort of organisation should be pursued. yes, these are to be workers' councils - but we're only give a couple of theses that actually talk about them much, and those theses are characterised primarily by (Hegelian) concerns with uniting the particular and the universal, recognition, supersession of alienation, etc.