From Internationale Situationniste #5 (December 1960).
The conditions of the SI’s activity explain both its discipline and the forms of hostility it encounters. The SI is not interested in finding a niche within the present artistic establishment, but in undermining it. The situationists are in the catacombs of visible culture.
Anyone who is at all familiar with the social milieu of those with special status in cultural affairs is well aware of how everyone there despises and is bored by almost everyone else. This fact is not even hidden, they are all quite aware of it; it is even the first thing they talk about whenever they get together. What is the cause of their resignation? Clearly the fact that they are incapable of being bearers of a collective project. Each one recognizes in the others his own insignificance and his own conditioning — the resignation he has had to accept in order to participate in this separate milieu and its established aims.
Within such a community people have neither the need nor the objective possibility for any sort of collective discipline. Everyone always politely agrees about the same things and nothing ever changes. Personal or ideological disagreements remain secondary in comparison with what they have in common. But for the SI and the struggle it sets for itself, exclusion is a possible and necessary weapon.
It is the only weapon of any group based on complete freedom of individuals. None of us likes to control or judge; if we do so it is for a practical purpose, not as a moral punishment. The “terrorism” of the SI’s exclusions can in no way be compared to the same practices in political movements by power-wielding bureaucracies. It is, on the contrary, the extreme ambiguity of the situation of artists, who are constantly tempted to integrate themselves into the modest sphere of social power reserved for them, that makes some discipline necessary in order to clearly define an incorruptible platform. Otherwise there would be a rapid and irremediable osmosis between this platform and the dominant cultural milieu because of the number of people going back and forth. It seems to us that the question of a present-day cultural avant-garde can only be posed at an integral level, a level not only of collective works but of collectively interacting problems.
This is why certain people have been excluded from the SI. Some of them have rejoined the world they previously fought; others merely console themselves in a pathetic community with each other, although they have nothing in common but the fact that we broke with them — often for opposite reasons. Others retain a certain dignity in isolation, and we have been in a good position to recognize their talents. Do we think that in leaving the SI they have ceased being avant-garde? Yes, we do. There is, for the moment, no other organization constituted for a task of this scope.
The sentimental objections to these breaks seem to us to reflect the greatest mystification. The entire socioeconomic structure tends to make the past dominate the present, to freeze living persons, to reify them as commodities. A sentimental world in which the same sorts of tastes and relations are constantly repeated is the direct product of the economic and social world in which gestures must be repeated every day in the slavery of capitalist production. The taste for false novelty reflects its unhappy nostalgia.
The violent reactions against the SI, especially those coming from people who were previously excluded from its collective activity, are first of all a measure of the personal passion that this enterprise has been able to bring into play. Reversed into a boundless hostility, this passion has spread it about that we are loafers, Stalinists, imposters and a hundred other clever characterizations. One person claimed that the SI was a cunningly organized economic association for dealing in modern art. Others have suggested that it was rather for the purpose of dealing in drugs. Still others have declared that we have never sold any drugs since we have too great a propensity for taking them ourselves. Others go into detail about our sexual vices. Others have gotten so carried away as to denounce us as social climbers.
These attacks have long been whispered around us by the same people who publicly pretend to be unaware of our existence. But this silence is now beginning to be broken more and more frequently by sharp public critiques. The recent special issue of Poésie Nouvelle, for example, mixes several accusations of the above sort with two or three possibly sincere misunderstandings. These people characterize us as “vitalists,” despite the fact that we have made the most radical critique of the poverty of all presently permitted life; and they are so completely caught up in the world of the spectacle that when they try to relate our notion of a “situation” to something they are familiar with, they can only imagine that it must refer to some form of theatrical presentation. Last June these same neo-lettrists put on an exhibition of “supertemporal” art calling for audience participation, and wanted to include in it the SI’s antiart, particularly some of Asger Jorn’s détourned paintings. This would have amounted to putting our antiart in the context of their metaphysical system of permanent, signed spectacles, thereby attributing the ridiculous ambitions of the official art of the last century to a total attack on art itself.
Certain expressions of critical art now being used by the situationist current could be considered part of the general cultural disintegration. Not only détourned painting, but a film like Critique of Separation, for example, or the “scenic unity” evoked elsewhere in the present issue of Internationale Situationniste. The difference is that our actions within culture are all linked to the project of overthrowing this culture itself, and to the formation and development of a new organized situationist instrumentation.
Strange emissaries journey across Europe and beyond, meeting each other, bearing incredible instructions.
To the question, Why have we promoted such an impassioned regrouping in this cultural sphere whose present reality we reject? the answer is: Because culture is the center of meaning of a society without meaning. This empty culture is at the heart of an empty existence, and the reinvention of a project of transforming the world as a whole must also and first of all be posed on this terrain. To give up demanding power in culture would be to leave that power to those who now possess it.
We are quite aware that the culture to be overthrown will really fall only with the totality of the socioeconomic structure that supports it. But without waiting any longer, the Situationist International intends to confront it in its entirety, on every front, to the point of imposing an autonomous situationist control and instrumentation against those held by existing cultural authorities; that is, to the point of a state of dual power in culture.
Translated by Ken Knabb. Text from: https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/adventure.html