Foreword to the Third French Edition of "The Society of the Spectacle"

New translation of one of Debord's last statements (circa 1992).

Submitted by BNB on July 2, 2009

[size=16][b]Foreword to the third French edition of The Society of the Spectacle[/size][/b]

The Society of the Spectacle was first published in November 1967, in Paris, by Buchet-Chastel. The troubles of 1968 made it known. The book, of which I have never changed a single word, was reprinted in 1971 by Editions Champ Libre, which took on the name Gerard Lebovici in 1984, following the assassination of this publisher. Reprints were regularly made until 1991. The current edition has also remained rigorously identical to the one of 1967. The same rule will, furthermore, quite naturally be followed in the re-edition of the totality of my books by Gallimard. I am not someone who corrects himself.[1]

Such a critical theory need not be changed as long as the general conditions of the long period of history that this theory was the first to define with exactitude have not been destroyed. The continuing development of the period has only verified and illustrated the theory of the spectacle, the exposition of which -- reiterated here -- can also be considered historic in a less elevated sense of the word: this book testified to the most extreme positions taken during the struggles of 1968, and thus to what was already possible to know in 1968. The worst dupes of that era have, since then, learned -- through the disappointments of their entire existences -- what the "visible negation of life," the "loss of quality" tied to the commodity-form and the "proletarianization of the world" mean.

Moreover, I have added, at the appropriate times, other observations concerning the most remarkable novelties that the subsequent course of the same process has produced. In 1979, on the occasion of a preface to a new Italian translation, I dealt with the effective transformations in the very nature of industrial production and in the techniques of government that began to authorize the use of spectacular force.[2] In 1988, the Comments on the Society of the Spectacle clearly established that the preceding "global division of spectacular tasks" between the rival reigns of the "concentrated spectacular" and the "diffuse spectacular" had ended in their fusion into the communal form of the "integrated spectacular."[3]

This fusion can be quickly summarized by correcting Thesis 105, which -- concerning what had taken place prior to 1967 -- still distinguished between these previous forms, if not certain [previously] opposed practices. The Great Schism of class power having been completed through reconciliation, it is now necessary to say that the unified practice of the integrated spectacular has, today, "economically transformed the world" at the same time that it "transformed perception through police methods."[4] (The police in this circumstance is itself completely new.)

It is only because this fusion was already produced in the political-economical reality of the entire world that the world could finally proclaim itself to be officially unified. It is also because the situation in which separated power has universally found itself is so serious that the world needed to be unified as quickly as possible, so as to participate as a single bloc in the consensual organization of the global market, falsified and guaranteed spectacularly. And, finally, it will not be unified.

The totalitarian bureaucracy, "substitute dominant class for the market economy," never believed very much in its destiny. It knew itself to be the "underdeveloped form of the dominant class" and wanted to be better. Long ago, Thesis 58 established the following axiom: "The root of the spectacle is the terrain of the economy-become-abundant, and it is from this terrain that the fruits that finally tend to dominate the spectacular market come."

It was this will to modernize and unify the spectacle, which is tied to all the other aspects of the simplification of society, that in 1989 led the Russian bureaucracy, as if it were a single person, to suddenly convert to the current ideology of democracy: that is to say, the dictatorial liberty of the Market, tempered by the recognition of the Rights of the Spectator. No one in the West has held forth for a single day on the meanings and consequences of such an extraordinary mediatic[5] event. The progress of the spectacular technique can be seen here. One has simply recorded the appearance of a kind of geological tremor. One dates the phenomenon, and one estimates it to be quite well-understood, by limiting oneself to repeating a very simple, signaled message -- the Fall-of-the-Berlin-Wall -- as unquestionable as all of the other democratic signals.[6]

In 1991, the first effects of this modernization appeared with the complete dissolution of Russia.[7] Here the disastrous results of the general evolution of the economy appear even more frankly than in the West. Disorder is only the consequence. Everywhere is posed the same redoubtable question that has haunted the world for the last two centuries: How to make the poor work, where illusion has proved disappointing and force has been defeated?

Thesis 111, which recognized the first symptoms of Russia's decline, the final explosions of which we are witnessing, and which envisioned the collapse of a global society that, as one might say today, will be wiped from the computer's memory, enunciates this strategic judgment, the justness of which is easy to feel: "The global decomposition of the alliance of the bureaucratic mystification is, in the last analysis, the most unfavorable factor for the current development of capitalist society."

It is necessary to read this book with the idea in mind that it was intentionally written to harm spectacular society. This has never been an extravagant claim.[8]

30 June 1992
Guy Debord


[1] Because Debord certainly made corrections to Thesis 105, we must take this disavowal to mean that he is someone who is corrected by history, in this case, May 1968.

[2] In his translation of this foreword, Donald Nicholson-Smith renders this phrase thus: "I dealt with the effective changes in the nature of industrial production, as in the technique of government, that began with the deployment of the power of the spectacle" (emphasis added). Zone Books, New York, page 8. But Debord is in fact addressing the changes in the spectacle since 1967, many years after its original deployment: in particular, artificial terrorism in Italy in the 1970s.

[3] In his translation of both this foreword and The Society of the Spectacle itself, Donald Nicholson-Smith consistently renders spectaculaire as "spectacle." But Debord means "spectacular," in the way that American advertisers speak of a "Summer Sales Spectacular."

[4] Thesis 105 states that "the ideology that materializes itself here has not economically transformed the world, like capitalism that has arrived at the stage of abundance; it has only transformed perception in a police fashion."

[5] There is no adequate English equivalent for mediatique, which not only refers to "the media," but the spectacular, as well.

[6] In the precise way that American government officials say that "democratic signals are coming out of Iran."

[7] Note that Debord refuses to refer to "the Soviet Union" on the grounds that such a country never existed.

[8] In his translation of this foreword, Donald Nicholson-Smith renders this phrase as "There was never anything outrageous, however, about what it had to say" (p. 10).

(Translated from the French by NOT BORED! July 2009. All footnotes by the translator.)