Pre-Situationist International Documents
A series of documents by later SI members.
Pre-Situationist International Documents
A series of documents by later SI members.
-The Alba Platform
-What was the Bauhaus?
-A User's Guide to Détournement
-Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency's Conditions of Organization and Action
-Formulary for a New Urbanism
-Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography
The Alba Platform
September 2-8 a Congress was held in Alba, Italy, convoked by Asger Jorn and Giuseppe Gallizio in the name of the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, a grouping whose views are in agreement with the Lettrist International's program regarding urbanism and its possible uses (see Potlatch #26). Representatives of avant-garde groups from eight countries (Algeria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Holland, Italy) met there to determine the bases for a united organization. The tasks toward this end were dealt with in all their implications.
Christian Dotremont, who had been announced as a member of the Belgian delegation in spite of the fact that he has for some time been a collaborator in the Nouvelle Nouvelle Revue FranÃ§aise, refrained from appearing at the Congress, where his presence would have been unacceptable for the majority of the participants.
Enrico Baj, representative of the "Nuclear Art Movement," was excluded the very first day. The Congress affirmed its break with the Nuclearists by issuing the following statement: "Confronted with his conduct in certain previous affairs, Baj withdrew from the Congress. He did not make off with the cash-box."
Meanwhile our Czechoslovakian comrades Pravoslav Rada and Kotik were prevented from entering Italy. In spite of our protests, the Italian government did not grant them visas to pass through its national iron curtain until the end of the Alba Congress.
The statement of Wolman, the Lettrist International delegate, particularly stressed the necessity for a common platform specifying the totality of current experimentation:
Comrades, the parallel crises presently affecting all modes of artistic creation are determined by general, interrelated tendencies and cannot be resolved outside a comprehensive general perspective. The process of negation and destruction that has manifested itself at an accelerated rate against all the former conditions of artistic activity is irreversible: it is the consequence of the appearance of superior possibilities of action on the world. . . . Whatever prestige the bourgeoisie may today be willing to grant to fragmentary or deliberately retrograde artistic tentatives, creation can now be nothing less than a synthesis aiming at the construction of entire atmospheres and styles of life. . . . A unitary urbanism -- the synthesis we call for, incorporating arts and technology -- must be created in accordance with new values of life, values which we now need to distinguish and disseminate. . . .
The Congress concluded by expressing a substantial agreement in the form of a six-point resolution, declaring the "necessity of an integral construction of the environment by a unitary urbanism that must utilize all arts and modern techniques"; the "inevitable outmodedness of any renovation of an art within its traditional limits"; the "recognition of an essential interdependence between unitary urbanism and a future style of life" which must be situated "in the perspective of a greater real freedom and a greater domination of nature"; and finally, "unity of action among the signers on the basis of this program" (the sixth point going on to enumerate the various specifics of mutual support).
Apart from this final resolution -- signed by J. Calonne, Constant, G. Gallizio, A. Jorn, Kotik, Rada, Piero Simondo, E. Sottsass Jr., Elena Verrone, Wolman -- the Congress unanimously declared itself against any relations with participants in the Festival de la Cité Radieuse, thus following through with the boycott initiated the preceding month.
At the conclusion of the Congress Gil J. Wolman was added to the editorial board of Eristica, the information bulletin of the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, and Asger Jorn was placed on the board of directors of the Lettrist International.
The Alba Congress will probably one day be seen as a key moment, one of the difficult stages in the struggle for a new sensibility and a new culture, a struggle which is itself part of the general revolutionary resurgence characterizing the year 1956, visible in the upsurge of the masses in the USSR, Poland and Hungary (although in the latter case we see the dangerously confusing revival of rotten old watchwords of clerical nationalism resulting from the fatal error of the prohibition of any Marxist opposition), in the successes of the Algerian revolt, and in the major strikes in Spain. These developments allow us the greatest hopes for the near future.
From Potlatch: Information Bulletin of the Lettrist International #27
2 November 1956
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
Notes on the Formation of an Imaginist Bauhaus
What was the Bauhaus?
The Bauhaus was an answer to the question: What "education" do artists need in order to take their place in the machine age?
How was the Bauhaus idea realized?
It was realized with a "school" in Germany, first at Weimar, then at Dessau. Founded by the architect Walter Gropius in 1919, it was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933.
What is the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus?
It is the answer to the question WHERE AND HOW to find a justified place for artists in the machine age. This answer demonstrates that the education carried out by the old Bauhaus was mistaken.
How has the idea of an International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus been realized?
The Movement was founded in Switzerland in 1953 as a tendency aimed at forming a united organization capable of promoting an integral revolutionary cultural attitude. In 1954 the experience of the Albissola gathering demonstrated that experimental artists must get hold of industrial means and subject them to their own nonutilitarian ends. In 1955 an imaginist laboratory was founded at Alba. Conclusion of the Albissola experience: complete inflationary devaluation of modern values of decoration (cf. ceramics produced by children). In 1956 the Alba Congress dialectically defines unitary urbanism. In 1957 the Movement promulgates the watchword of psychogeographical action.
What we want
We want the same economic and practical means and possibilities that are already at the disposal of scientific research, of whose momentous results everyone is aware.
Artistic research is identical to "human science," which for us means "concerned" science, not purely historical science. This research should be carried out by artists with the assistance of scientists.
The first institute ever formed for this purpose is the experimental laboratory for free artistic research founded 29 September 1955 at Alba. Such a laboratory is not an instructional institution; it simply offers new possibilities for artistic experimentation.
The leaders of the old Bauhaus were great masters with exceptional talents, but they were bad teachers. The pupils' works were only pious imitations of their masters. The real influence of the latter was indirect, by force of example: Ruskin on Van de Velde, Van de Velde on Gropius.
This is not at all a criticism, it is simply a recognition of reality, from which the following conclusions may be drawn: The direct transfer of artistic gifts is impossible; artistic adaptation takes place through a series of contradictory phases: Shock -- Wonder -- Imitation -- Rejection -- Experimentation -- Possession.
None of these phases can be avoided, though they need not all be gone through by any one individual.
Our practical conclusion is the following: we are abandoning all efforts at pedagogical action and moving toward experimental activity.
ASGER JORN 1957
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly revised from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
A User's Guide to Détournement
Any reasonably aware person of our time is aware of the obvious fact that art can no longer be justified as a superior activity, or even as a compensatory activity to which one could honorably devote oneself. The reason for this deterioration is clearly the emergence of productive forces that necessitate other production relations and a new practice of life. In the civil-war phase we are engaged in, and in close connection with the orientation we are discovering for certain superior activities to come, we can consider that all known means of expression are going to converge in a general movement of propaganda that must encompass all the perpetually interacting aspects of social reality.
There are several conflicting opinions about the forms and even the very nature of educative propaganda, opinions that generally reflect one or another currently fashionable variety of reformist politics. Suffice it to say that in our view the premises for revolution, on the cultural as well as the strictly political level, are not only ripe, they have begun to rot. It is not just returning to the past which is reactionary; even "modern" cultural objectives are ultimately reactionary since they depend on ideological formulations of a past society that has prolonged its death agony to the present. The only historically justified tactic is extremist innovation.
The literary and artistic heritage of humanity should be used for partisan propaganda purposes. It is, of course, necessary to go beyond any idea of scandal. Since opposition to the bourgeois notion of art and artistic genius has become pretty much old hat, [Duchamp's] drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa is no more interesting than the original version of that painting. We must now push this process to the point of negating the negation. Bertolt Brecht, revealing in a recent interview in the magazine France-Observateur that he made some cuts in the classics of the theater in order to make the performances more educative, is much closer than Duchamp to the revolutionary orientation we are calling for. We must note, however, that in Brecht's case these salutary alterations are narrowly limited by his unfortunate respect for culture as defined by the ruling class -- that same respect, taught in the newspapers of the workers parties as well as in the primary schools of the bourgeoisie, which leads even the reddest worker districts of Paris always to prefer The Cid over [Brecht's] Mother Courage.
It is in fact necessary to eliminate all remnants of the notion of personal property in this area. The appearance of new necessities outmodes previous "inspired" works. They become obstacles, dangerous habits. The point is not whether we like them or not. We have to go beyond them.
Any elements, no matter where they are taken from, can serve in making new combinations. The discoveries of modern poetry regarding the analogical structure of images demonstrate that when two objects are brought together, no matter how far apart their original contexts may be, a relationship is always formed. Restricting oneself to a personal arrangement of words is mere convention. The mutual interference of two worlds of feeling, or the bringing together of two independent expressions, supersedes the original elements and produces a synthetic organization of greater efficacy. Anything can be used.
It goes without saying that one is not limited to correcting a work or to integrating diverse fragments of out-of-date works into a new one; one can also alter the meaning of those fragments in any appropriate way, leaving the imbeciles to their slavish preservation of "citations."
Such parodic methods have often been used to obtain comical effects. But such humor is the result of contradictions within a condition whose existence is taken for granted. Since the world of literature seems to us almost as distant as the Stone Age, such contradictions don't make us laugh. It is therefore necessary to conceive of a parodic-serious stage where the accumulation of detourned(1) elements, far from aiming to arouse indignation or laughter by alluding to some original work, will express our indifference toward a meaningless and forgotten original, and concern itself with rendering a certain sublimity.
Lautréamont advanced so far in this direction that he is still partially misunderstood even by his most ostentatious admirers. In spite of his obvious application of this method to theoretical language in Poésies -- where Lautréamont (drawing particularly on the maxims of Pascal and Vauvenargues) strives to reduce the argument, through successive concentrations, to maxims alone -- a certain Viroux caused considerable astonishment three or four years ago by conclusively demonstrating that Maldoror is one vast détournement of Buffon and other works of natural history, among other things. The fact that the prosaists of Figaro, like Viroux himself, were able to see this as a justification for disparaging Lautréamont, and that others believed they had to defend him by praising his insolence, only testifies to the senility of these two camps of dotards in courtly combat with each other. A slogan like "Plagiarism is necessary, progress implies it" is still as poorly understood, and for the same reasons, as the famous phrase about the poetry that "must be made by all."
Apart from Lautréamont's work -- whose appearance so far ahead of its time has to a great extent preserved it from a precise critique -- the tendencies toward détournement that can be observed in contemporary expression are for the most part unconscious or accidental. It is in the advertising industry, more than in a decaying aesthetic production, that one can find the best examples.
We can first of all define two main categories of detourned elements, without considering whether or not their being brought together is accompanied by corrections introduced in the originals. These are minor détournements and deceptive détournements.
Minor détournement is the détournement of an element which has no importance in itself and which thus draws all its meaning from the new context in which it has been placed. For example, a press clipping, a neutral phrase, a commonplace photograph.
Deceptive détournement, also termed premonitory-proposition détournement, is in contrast the détournement of an intrinsically significant element, which derives a different scope from the new context. A slogan of Saint-Just, for example, or a film sequence from Eisenstein.
Extensive detourned works will thus usually be composed of one or more series of deceptive and minor détournements.
Several laws on the use of détournement can now be formulated.
It is the most distant detourned element which contributes most sharply to the overall impression, and not the elements that directly determine the nature of this impression. For example, in a metagraph [poem-collage] relating to the Spanish Civil War the phrase with the most distinctly revolutionary sense is a fragment from a lipstick ad: "Pretty lips are red." In another metagraph ("The Death of J.H.") 125 classified ads of bars for sale express a suicide more strikingly than the newspaper articles that recount it.
The distortions introduced in the detourned elements must be as simplified as possible, since the main impact of a détournement is directly related to the conscious or semiconscious recollection of the original contexts of the elements. This is well known. Let us simply note that if this dependence on memory implies that one must determine one's public before devising a détournement, this is only a particular case of a general law that governs not only détournement but also any other form of action on the world. The idea of pure, absolute expression is dead; it only temporarily survives in parodic form as long as our other enemies survive.
Détournement is less effective the more it approaches a rational reply. This is the case with a rather large number of Lautréamont's altered maxims. The more the rational character of the reply is apparent, the more indistinguishable it becomes from the ordinary spirit of repartee, which similarly uses the opponent's words against him. This is naturally not limited to spoken language. It was in this connection that we objected to the project of some of our comrades who proposed to detourn an anti-Soviet poster of the fascist organization "Peace and Liberty" -- which proclaimed, amid images of overlapping flags of the Western powers, "Union makes strength" -- by adding onto it a smaller sheet with the phrase "and coalitions make war."
Détournement by simple reversal is always the most direct and the least effective. Thus, the Black Mass reacts against the construction of an ambiance based on a given metaphysics by constructing an ambiance in the same framework that merely reverses -- and thus simultaneously conserves -- the values of that metaphysics. Such reversals may nevertheless have a certain progressive aspect. For example, Clemenceau [called "The Tiger"] could be referred to as "The Tiger called Clemenceau."
Of the four laws that have just been set forth, the first is essential and applies universally. The other three are practically applicable only to deceptive detourned elements.
The first visible consequences of a widespread use of détournement, apart from its intrinsic propaganda powers, will be the revival of a multitude of bad books, and thus the extensive (unintended) participation of their unknown authors; an increasingly extensive transformation of phrases or plastic works that happen to be in fashion; and above all an ease of production far surpassing in quantity, variety and quality the automatic writing that has bored us for so long.
Détournement not only leads to the discovery of new aspects of talent; in addition, clashing head-on with all social and legal conventions, it cannot fail to be a powerful cultural weapon in the service of a real class struggle. The cheapness of its products is the heavy artillery that breaks through all the Chinese walls of understanding.(2) It is a real means of proletarian artistic education, the first step toward a literary communism.
Ideas and creations in the realm of détournement can be multiplied at will. For the moment we will limit ourselves to showing a few concrete possibilities in various current sectors of communication -- it being understood that these separate sectors are significant only in relation to present-day techniques, and are all tending to merge into superior syntheses with the advance of these techniques.
Apart from the various direct uses of detourned phrases in posters, records and radio broadcasts, the two main applications of detourned prose are metagraphic writings and, to a lesser degree, the adroit perversion of the classical novel form.
There is not much future in the détournement of complete novels, but during the transitional phase there might be a certain number of undertakings of this sort. Such a détournement gains by being accompanied by illustrations whose relationships to the text are not immediately obvious. In spite of undeniable difficulties, we believe it would be possible to produce an instructive psychogeographical détournement of George Sand's Consuelo, which thus decked out could be relaunched on the literary market disguised under some innocuous title like "Life in the Suburbs," or even under a title itself detourned, such as "The Lost Patrol." (It would be a good idea to reuse in this way many titles of deteriorated old films of which nothing else remains, or of films which continue to deaden the minds of young people in the cinema clubs.)
Metagraphic writing, no matter how outdated its plastic framework may be, presents far richer opportunities for detourning prose, as well as other appropriate objects or images. One can get some idea of this from the project, conceived in 1951 but eventually abandoned for lack of sufficient financial means, which envisaged a pinball machine arranged in such a way that the play of the lights and the more or less predictable trajectories of the balls would form a metagraphic-spatial composition entitled Thermal Sensations and Desires of People Passing by the Gates of the Cluny Museum Around an Hour after Sunset in November. We have since come to realize that a situationist-analytic enterprise cannot scientifically advance by way of such works. The means nevertheless remain suitable for less ambitious goals.
It is obviously in the realm of the cinema that détournement can attain its greatest effectiveness and, for those concerned with this aspect, its greatest beauty.
The powers of film are so extensive, and the absence of coordination of those powers is so glaring, that virtually any film that is above the miserable average can provide matter for endless polemics among spectators or professional critics. Only the conformism of those people prevents them from discovering equally appealing charms and equally glaring faults even in the worst films. To cut through this absurd confusion of values, we can observe that Griffith's Birth of a Nation is one of the most important films in the history of the cinema because of its wealth of new contributions. On the other hand, it is a racist film and therefore absolutely does not merit being shown in its present form. But its total prohibition could be seen as regrettable from the point of view of the secondary, but potentially worthier, domain of the cinema. It would be better to detourn it as a whole, without necessarily even altering the montage, by adding a soundtrack that made a powerful denunciation of the horrors of imperialist war and of the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, which are continuing in the United States even now.
Such a détournement -- a very moderate one -- is in the final analysis nothing more than the moral equivalent of the restoration of old paintings in museums. But most films only merit being cut up to compose other works. This reconversion of preexisting sequences will obviously be accompanied by other elements, musical or pictorial as well as historical. While the cinematic rewriting of history has until now been largely along the lines of Sacha Guitry's burlesque re-creations, one could have Robespierre say, before his execution: "In spite of so many trials, my experience and the grandeur of my task convinces me that all is well." If in this case an appropriate reuse of a Greek tragedy enables us to exalt Robespierre, we can conversely imagine a neorealist-type sequence, at the counter of a truck stop bar, for example, with one of the truck drivers saying seriously to another: "Ethics was formerly confined to the books of the philosophers; we have introduced it into the governing of nations." One can see that this juxtaposition illuminates Maximilien's idea, the idea of a dictatorship of the proletariat.(3)
The light of détournement is propagated in a straight line. To the extent that new architecture seems to have to begin with an experimental baroque stage, the architectural complex -- which we conceive as the construction of a dynamic environment related to styles of behavior -- will probably detourn existing architectural forms, and in any case will make plastic and emotional use of all sorts of detourned objects: careful arrangements of such things as cranes or metal scaffolding replacing a defunct sculptural tradition. This is shocking only to the most fanatical admirers of French-style gardens. It is said that in his old age D'Annunzio, that pro-fascist swine, had the prow of a torpedo boat in his park. Leaving aside his patriotic motives, the idea of such a monument is not without a certain charm.
If détournement were extended to urbanistic realizations, not many people would remain unaffected by an exact reconstruction in one city of an entire neighborhood of another. Life can never be too disorienting: détournement on this level would really make it beautiful.
Titles themselves, as we have already seen, are a basic element of détournement. This follows from two general observations: that all titles are interchangeable and that they have a decisive importance in several genres. All the detective stories in the "Série Noir" are extremely similar, yet merely continually changing the titles suffices to hold a considerable audience. In music a title always exerts a great influence, yet the choice of one is quite arbitrary. Thus it wouldn't be a bad idea to make a final correction to the title of the "Eroica Symphony" by changing it, for example, to "Lenin Symphony."(4)
The title contributes strongly to the détournement of a work, but there is an inevitable counteraction of the work on the title. Thus one can make extensive use of specific titles taken from scientific publications ("Coastal Biology of Temperate Seas") or military ones ("Night Combat of Small Infantry Units"), or even of many phrases found in illustrated children's books ("Marvelous Landscapes Greet the Voyagers").
In closing, we should briefly mention some aspects of what we call ultradétournement, that is, the tendencies for détournement to operate in everyday social life. Gestures and words can be given other meanings, and have been throughout history for various practical reasons. The secret societies of ancient China made use of quite subtle recognition signals encompassing the greater part of social behavior (the manner of arranging cups; of drinking; quotations of poems interrupted at agreed-on points). The need for a secret language, for passwords, is inseparable from a tendency toward play. Ultimately, any sign or word is susceptible to being converted into something else, even into its opposite. The royalist insurgents of the Vendée, because they bore the disgusting image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, were called the Red Army. In the limited domain of political war vocabulary this expression was completely detourned within a century.
Outside of language, it is possible to use the same methods to detourn clothing, with all its strong emotional connotations. Here again we find the notion of disguise closely linked to play. Finally, when we have got to the stage of constructing situations -- the ultimate goal of all our activity -- everyone will be free to detourn entire situations by deliberately changing this or that determinant condition of them.
The methods that we have briefly dealt with here are presented not as our own invention, but as a generally widespread practice which we propose to systematize.
In itself, the theory of détournement scarcely interests us. But we find it linked to almost all the constructive aspects of the presituationist period of transition. Thus its enrichment, through practice, seems necessary.
We will postpone the development of these theses until later.
GUY DEBORD, GIL J. WOLMAN
1. The French word détournement means deflection, diversion, misappropriation, hijacking, turning aside from the normal course or purpose. It has sometimes been translated as "diversion," but this word is confusing because of its more common meaning of idle entertainment. I have chosen simply to anglicize the French word, which has already been widely used by English-speaking detourners.
2. The authors are detourning a sentence from the Communist Manifesto: "The cheap price of the bourgeoisie's commodities are the the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians' intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate."
3. In the first imagined scene a phrase from a Greek tragedy (Sophocles's Oedipus at Colonus) is put in the mouth of French Revolution leader Maximilien Robespierre. In the second, a phrase from Robespierre is put in the mouth of a truck driver.
4. Beethoven originally named his third symphony after Napoleon, but when Napoleon crowned himself emperor he angrily tore up the dedication to him and renamed it "Eroica." The implied respect in this passage for Lenin (like the passing references to "workers states" in Debord's "Report on the Construction of Situations") is a vestige of the vague anarcho-Trotskyism of the lettrists' early, less politically sophisticated period.
This article appeared in the Belgian surrealist journal Les LÃ¨vres Nues #8 (May 1956).
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version entitled "Methods of Détournement" in the Situationist International Anthology).
Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency's Conditions of Organization and Action
Revolution and Counterrevolution in Modern Culture Decomposition: The Ultimate Stage of Bourgeois Thought The Role of Minority Tendencies in the Ebbing Period Platform for a Provisional Opposition Toward a Situationist International Our Immediate Tasks
Revolution and Counterrevolution in Modern Culture
First of all, we think the world must be changed. We want the most liberating change of the society and life in which we find ourselves confined. We know that such a change is possible through appropriate actions.
Our specific concern is the use of certain means of action and the discovery of new ones, means which are more easily recognizable in the domain of culture and customs, but which must be applied in interrelation with all revolutionary changes.
A society's "culture" both reflects and prefigures its possible ways of organizing life. Our era is characterized by the lagging of revolutionary political action behind the development of modern possibilities of production which call for a superior organization of the world.
We are going through a crucial historical crisis in which each year poses more acutely the global problem of rationally mastering the new productive forces and creating a new civilization. Yet the international working-class movement, on which depends the prerequisite overthrow of the economic infrastructure of exploitation, has only registered a few partial local successes. Capitalism has invented new forms of struggle (state intervention in the economy, expansion of the consumer sector, fascist governments) while camouflaging class oppositions through various reformist tactics and exploiting the degenerations of working-class leaderships. In this way it has succeeded in maintaining the old social relations in the great majority of the highly industrialized countries, thereby depriving a socialist society of its indispensable material base. In contrast, the underdeveloped or colonized countries, which over the last decade have engaged in the most direct and massive battles against imperialism, have begun to win some very significant victories. These victories are aggravating the contradictions of the capitalist economy and (particularly in the case of the Chinese revolution) could be a contributing factor toward a renewal of the whole revolutionary movement. Such a renewal cannot limit itself to reforms within the capitalist or anticapitalist countries, but must develop conflicts posing the question of power everywhere.
The shattering of modern culture is the result, on the plane of ideological struggle, of the chaotic crisis of these antagonisms. The new desires that are taking shape are presented in distorted form: present-day resources could enable them to be fulfilled, but the anachronistic economic structure is incapable of developing these resources to such ends. Ruling-class ideology has meanwhile lost all coherence because of the depreciation of its successive conceptions of the world (a depreciation which leads the ruling class to historical indecision and uncertainty); because of the coexistence of a range of mutually contradictory reactionary ideologies (such as Christianity and social-democracy); and because of the mixing into contemporary Western culture of a number of only recently appreciated features of several foreign civilizations. The main goal of ruling-class ideology is therefore to maintain this confusion.
Within culture (it should be understood that throughout this text we are ignoring the scientific or educational aspects of culture, even if the confusion we have noted is also visibly reflected at the level of general scientific theories and notions of education; we are using the term to refer to a complex of aesthetics, sentiments and customs: the reaction of an era on everyday life) there are two parallel counterrevolutionary confusionist tactics: the partial cooption of new values, and a deliberately anticultural industrially facilitated production (novels, films), the latter being a natural continuation of the imbecilization of young people begun in their schools and families. The ruling ideology sees to it that subversive discoveries are trivialized and sterilized, after which they can be safely spectacularized. It even manages to make use of subversive individuals -- by falsifying their works after their death, or, while they are still alive, by taking advantage of the general ideological confusion and drugging them with one or another of the many mystiques at their disposal.
One of the contradictions of the bourgeoisie in its period of decline is that while it respects the abstract principle of intellectual and artistic creation, it resists actual creations when they first appear, then eventually exploits them. This is because it needs to maintain a certain degree of criticality and experimental research among a minority, but must take care to channel this activity into narrowly compartmentalized utilitarian disciplines and avert any holistic critique and experimentation. In the domain of culture the bourgeoisie strives to divert the taste for innovation, which is dangerous for it in our era, toward certain confused, degraded and innocuous forms of novelty. Through the commercial mechanisms that control cultural activity, avant-garde tendencies are cut off from the segments of society that could support them, segments already limited because of the general social conditions. The people within these tendencies who become well-known are generally accepted as exceptional individuals, on the condition that they accept various renunciations: the essential point is always the renunciation of a comprehensive contestation and the acceptance of fragmentary work susceptible to diverse interpretations. This is what gives the very term "avant-garde," which in the final analysis is always defined and manipulated by the bourgeoisie, a dubious and ridiculous aspect.
The very notion of a collective avant-garde, with the militant aspect it implies, is a recent product of the historical conditions that are simultaneously giving rise to the necessity for a coherent revolutionary program in culture and to the necessity to struggle against the forces that impede the development of such a program. Such groups are led to transpose into their sphere of activity certain organizational methods originally created by revolutionary politics, and their action is henceforth inconceivable without some connection with a political critique. In this regard there is a notable progression from Futurism through Dadaism and Surrealism to the movements formed after 1945. At each of these stages, however, one discovers the same desire for total change; and the same rapid disintegration when the inability to change the real world profoundly enough leads to a defensive withdrawal to the very doctrinal positions whose inadequacy had just been revealed.
Futurism, whose influence spread from Italy in the period preceding World War I, adopted an attitude of revolutionizing literature and the arts which introduced a great number of formal innovations, but which was only based on an extremely simplistic application of the notion of mechanical progress. Futurism's puerile technological optimism vanished with the period of bourgeois euphoria that had sustained it. Italian futurism collapsed, going from nationalism to fascism without ever attaining a more complete theoretical vision of its time.
Dadaism, initiated in Zurich and New York by refugees and deserters from World War I, expressed the rejection of all the values of a bourgeois society whose bankruptcy had just become so grossly evident. Its violent manifestations in postwar Germany and France aimed mainly at the destruction of art and literature and to a lesser degree at certain forms of behavior (deliberately imbecilic spectacles, speeches and excursions). Its historic role is to have delivered a mortal blow to the traditional conception of culture. The almost immediate dissolution of dadaism was a result of its purely negative definition. The dadaist spirit has nevertheless influenced all the movements that have come after it; and any future constructive position must include a dadaist-type negative aspect, as long as the social conditions that impose the repetition of rotten superstructures -- conditions that have intellectually already been definitively condemned -- have not been wiped out by force.
The creators of surrealism, who had participated in the dadaist movement in France, endeavored to define the terrain of a constructive action on the basis of the spirit of revolt and the extreme depreciation of traditional means of communication expressed by dadaism. Setting out from a poetic application of Freudian psychology, surrealism extended the methods it had discovered to painting, to film and to some aspects of everyday life; and its influence, in more diffuse forms, spread much further. Now, what is important in an enterprise of this nature is not whether it is completely or relatively right, but whether it succeeds in catalyzing for a certain time the desires of an era. Surrealism's period of progress, marked by the liquidation of idealism and a moment of rallying to dialectical materialism, came to a halt soon after 1930, but its decay only became evident after World War II. Surrealism had by then spread to numerous countries. It had also initiated a discipline whose rigor must not be overestimated and which was often tempered by commercial considerations, but which was nevertheless an effective means of struggle against the confusionist mechanisms of the bourgeoisie.The surrealist program, asserting the sovereignty of desire and surprise and proposing a new way of life, is much richer in constructive possibilities than is generally realized. The limited scope of surrealism was in large part due to the lack of material means for fulfilling its aims. But the devolution of its original proponents into spiritualism, and above all the mediocrity of its later members, obliges us to search for the failed development of surrealist theory in the very origin of that theory.
The error that is at the root of surrealism is the idea of the infinite richness of the unconscious imagination. The cause of surrealism's ideological failure was its belief that the unconscious was the finally discovered ultimate force of life; and the fact that the surrealists revised the history of ideas in accordance with that simplistic perspective and never went any further. We now know that the unconscious imagination is poor, that automatic writing is monotonous, and that the whole ostentatious genre of would-be "strange" and "shocking" surrealistic creations has ceased to be very surprising. The formal fidelity to this style of imagination ultimately leads back to the polar opposite of the modern conditions of imagination: back to traditional occultism. The extent to which surrealism has remained dependent on its hypothesis regarding the unconscious can be seen in the theoretical investigations attempted by the second-generation surrealists: Calas and Mabille relate everything to the two successive aspects of the surrealist practice of the unconscious -- the former to psychoanalysis, the latter to cosmic influences. The discovery of the role of the unconscious was indeed a surprise and an innovation; but it was not a law of future surprises and innovations. Freud had also ended up discovering this when he wrote, "Everything conscious wears out. What is unconscious remains unaltered. But once it is set loose, does it not also fall into ruin?"
Opposing an apparently irrational society in which the clash between reality and the old but still vigorously proclaimed values was pushed to the point of absurdity, surrealism made use of the irrational to destroy that society's superficially logical values. The very success of surrealism has a lot to do with the fact that the most modern side of this society's ideology has renounced a strict hierarchy of factitious values and openly uses the irrational, including vestiges of surrealism. The bourgeoisie must above all prevent a new beginning of revolutionary thought. It was aware of the danger of surrealism. Now that it has been able to coopt it into ordinary aesthetic commerce, it would like people to believe that surrealism was the most radical and disturbing movement possible. It thus cultivates a sort of nostalgia for surrealism at the same time that it discredits any new venture by automatically pigeonholing it as a rehash of surrealism, a rerun of a defeat which according to it is definitive and can no longer be brought back into question by anyone. Reacting against the alienation of Christian society has led some people to admire the completely irrational alienation of primitive societies. But we need to go forward, not backward. We need to make the world more rational -- the necessary first step in making it more exciting, fascinating and fulfilling.
Decomposition: The Ultimate Stage of Bourgeois Thought
The two main centers of "modern" culture are Paris and Moscow. The styles originating in Paris (the majority of whose elaborators are not French) influence Europe, America and the other developed countries of the capitalist zone such as Japan. The styles imposed administratively by Moscow influence all the workers states and also have a slight effect on Paris and its European zone of influence. The Moscow influence is directly political. The persistence of the traditional influence of Paris stems partly from its long-entrenched position as professional cultural center.
Because bourgeois thought is lost in systematic confusion and Marxist thought has been profoundly distorted in the workers states, conservatism reigns both East and West, especially in the domain of culture and customs. This conservatism is overt in Moscow, which has revived the typically petit-bourgeois attitudes of the 19th century. In Paris it is hidden, disguised as anarchism, cynicism or humor. Although both of these ruling cultures are fundamentally incapable of dealing with the real problems of our time, relevant experimentation has been carried further in the West. In the context of this sort of cultural production, the Moscow zone functions as a region of underdevelopment.
In the bourgeois zone, where an appearance of intellectual freedom has generally been tolerated, the knowledge of the movement of ideas and the confused vision of the multiple transformations of the social environment tend to make people aware of an ongoing upheaval whose motivating forces are out of control. The reigning sensibility tries to adapt itself to this situation while resisting new changes that present new dangers. The solutions offered by the retrograde currents ultimately come down to three main attitudes: prolonging the fashions produced by the dada-surrealism crisis (which crisis is simply the sophisticated cultural expression of a state of mind that spontaneously manifests itself wherever previously accepted meanings of life crumble along with previous lifestyles); settling into mental ruins; or returning to the distant past.
In the first case, a diluted form of surrealism can be found everywhere. It has all the tastes of the surrealist era and none of its ideas. Its aesthetic is based on repetition. The remnants of orthodox surrealism have arrived at the stage of occultist senility, and are as incapable of articulating an ideological position as they are of inventing anything whatsoever. They lend credence to increasingly crude charlatanisms and engender others.
Setting up shop in nullity is the cultural solution that has been most visible in the years following World War II. This solution includes two possibilities, each of which has been abundantly illustrated: dissimulating nothingness by means of an appropriate vocabulary, or openly flaunting it.
The first of these options has become particularly famous since the advent of existentialist literature, which has reproduced, under the cover of a borrowed philosophy, the most mediocre aspects of the cultural evolution of the preceding three decades and augmented its mass-media-based notoriety by doses of fake Marxism and psychoanalysis and by successive announcements of more or less arbitrary political engagements and resignations. These tactics have generated a very large number of followers, avowed or unacknowledged. The continuing proliferation of abstract painting and its associated theories is another example of the same nature and scope.
The complacent affirmation of total mental nullity is exemplified by the recent neoliterary phenomenon of "cynical young right-wing novelists," but is by no means limited to right-wingers, novelists, or semi-youth.
Among the tendencies calling for a return to the past, the doctrine of Socialist Realism has proven to be the most durable, because its indefensible position in the domain of cultural creation seems to be supported by its appeal to the conclusions of a revolutionary movement. At the 1948 conference of Soviet musicians, Andrei Zhdanov revealed the stake of theoretical repression: "Haven't we done well to preserve the treasures of classic painting and to suppress the liquidators of painting? Wouldn't the survival of such 'schools' have amounted to the liquidation of painting?" Faced with this liquidation of painting and with many other liquidations, and recognizing the crumbling of all its systems of values, the advanced Western bourgeoisie is banking on total ideological decomposition, whether out of desperate reaction or out of political opportunism. In contrast, Zhdanov -- with the taste characteristic of the parvenu -- recognizes himself in the petit-bourgeois that opposes the decomposition of 19th-century cultural values, and can see nothing else to do than to undertake an authoritarian restoration of those values. He is unrealistic enough to believe that short-lived local political circumstances will give him the power to evade the general problems of this era, if only he can force people to return to the study of superseded problems after having repressed all the conclusions that history has previously drawn from those problems.
The form (and even some aspects of the content) of this Socialist Realism is not very different from the traditional propaganda of religious organizations, particularly of Catholicism. By means of an invariable propaganda, Catholicism defends a unitary ideological structure that it alone, among all the forces of the past, still possesses. But at the same time, in a parallel operation designed to recapture the increasingly numerous sectors that are escaping its influence, the Catholic Church is attempting to take over modern cultural forms, particularly those representing complicated theoretical nullity ("spontaneous" painting, for example). The Catholic reactionaries have the advantage over other bourgeois tendencies of being able to rely on a permanent hierarchy of values; this inalterable foundation enables them all the more freely to push decomposition to the extreme in whatever discipline they engage in.
The crisis of modern culture has led to total ideological decomposition. Nothing new can be built on these ruins. Critical thought itself becomes impossible as each judgment clashes with others and each person invokes fragments of outmoded systems or follows merely personal inclinations.
This decomposition can be seen everywhere. It is no longer a matter of noting the increasingly massive use of commercial publicity to influence judgments about cultural creation. We have arrived at a stage of ideological absence in which advertising has become the only active factor, overriding any preexisting critical judgment or transforming such judgment into a mere conditioned reflex. The complex operation of sales techniques has reached the point of surprising even the ad professionals by automatically creating pseudosubjects of cultural debate. This is the sociological significance of the FranÃ§oise Sagan phenomenon in France over the last three years, an experience whose repercussions have even penetrated beyond the cultural zone centered on Paris by provoking some interest in the workers states. The professional judges of culture, seeing such a phenomenon as an unpredictable effect of mechanisms with which they are unfamiliar, tend to attribute it to mere crude mass-media publicity. But their profession nevertheless obliges them to come up with some bogus critiques of these bogus works. (Moreover, a work whose interest is inexplicable constitutes the richest subject for bourgeois confusionist criticism.) They naturally remain unaware of the fact that the intellectual mechanisms of criticism had already escaped them long before the external mechanisms arrived to exploit this void. They avoid facing the fact that Sagan is simply the ridiculous flip side of the change of means of expression into means of action on everyday life. This process of supersession has caused the life of the author to become increasingly more important than her work. As the period of important expressions arrives at its ultimate reduction, nothing of any possible importance remains except the personality of the author, who in turn is no longer capable of possessing any notable quality beyond her age, or some fashionable vice, or some picturesque old craft.
The opposition that must now be united against this ideological decomposition must not get caught up in criticizing the buffooneries appearing in outmoded forms like poems or novels. We have to criticize activities that are important for the future, activities that we need to make use of. One of the most serious signs of the present ideological decomposition is that the functionalist theory of architecture is now based on the most reactionary conceptions of society and morality. That is, the temporarily and partially valid contributions of the original Bauhaus or of the school of Le Corbusier have been distorted so as to reinforce an excessively backward notion of life and of the framework of life.
Everything indicates, however, that since 1956 we have been entering a new phase of the struggle, and that an upheaval of revolutionary forces, attacking the most appalling obstacles on all fronts, is beginning to change the conditions of the preceding period. Socialist Realism is beginning to decline in the countries of the anticapitalist camp, along with the reactionary Stalinism that produced it, while in the West the Sagan culture is marking a depth of bourgeois decadence beyond which it is probably impossible to go and there seems to be an increasing awareness of the exhaustion of the cultural expedients that have served since the end of World War II. In this context, the avant-garde minority may be able to rediscover a positive value.
The Role of Minority Tendencies in the Ebbing Period
The ebbing of the international revolutionary movement, which became apparent within a few years after 1920 and increasingly obvious until around 1950, was followed, with a time-lag of five or six years, by an ebbing of the movements that had tried to promote liberatory innovations in culture and everyday life. The ideological and material importance of such movements has continually diminished, to the point that they have become totally isolated. Their action, which under more favorable conditions was able to lead to a sudden renewal of the climate of feeling, has weakened to the point that conservative tendencies have been able to exclude them from any direct penetration into the rigged arena of official culture. Once these movements have been deprived of their role in the production of new values, they end up serving as a reserve pool of intellectual labor from which the bourgeoisie can draw individuals capable of adding innovative nuances to its propaganda.
At this point of dissolution, the social importance of the experimental avant-garde is apparently less than that of the pseudomodernist tendencies which don't even bother to pretend to seek change, but which represent the modern, media-reinforced face of accepted culture. But those who have a role in the actual production of modern culture, and who are discovering their interests as producers of this culture (all the more acutely as they are reduced to a purely negative position), are developing a consciousness that is inevitably lacking among the modernist representatives of the declining society. The poverty of the accepted culture and its monopoly on the means of cultural production lead to a corresponding impoverishment of the theory and manifestations of the avant-garde. But it is only within this avant-garde that a new revolutionary conception of culture is imperceptibly taking shape. Now that the dominant culture and the beginnings of oppositional culture are arriving at the extreme point of their separation and impotence, this new conception should assert itself,
The history of modern culture during the period of revolutionary ebbing is thus also the history of the theoretical and practical defeat of the movement of renewal, to the point that the minority tendencies became completely isolated and decomposition reigned everywhere.
Between 1930 and World War II surrealism continually declined as a revolutionary force at the same time that its influence was being extended beyond its control. The postwar period led to the rapid destruction of surrealism by the two factors that had already blocked its development around 1930: the lack of possibilities for theoretical renewal and the ebbing of revolution, developments which were reflected in the political and cultural reaction in the workers movement. The latter factor is directly determinant, for example, in the disappearance of the surrealist group of Rumania. On the other hand, it is above all the first of these factors that condemned the Revolutionary Surrealism movement in France and Belgium to a rapid collapse. Except in Belgium, where a fraction issuing from surrealism has maintained a valid experimental position [the LÃ¨vres Nues group], all the surrealist tendencies scattered around the world have joined the camp of mystical idealism.
Some of the Revolutionary Surrealists were among those who formed the "Experimental Artists' International" (1949-1951), which included participants from Denmark, Belgium, Holland, and eventually also Germany, and which published the journal Cobra (Copenhagen-Brussels-Amsterdam).(1) The merit of these groups was to have understood that such an organization is necessitated by the complexity and extent of present-day problems. But their lack of ideological rigor, the limitation of their pursuits to mainly plastic experimentation, and above all the absence of a comprehensive theory of the conditions and perspectives of their experience led to their breakup.
Lettrism, in France, had started off by totally opposing the entire known aesthetic movement, whose continual decaying it correctly analyzed. Striving for the uninterrupted creation of new forms in all domains, the Lettrist group carried on a salutary agitation between 1946 and 1952. But the group generally took it for granted that aesthetic disciplines should take a new departure within a general framework similar to the former one, and this idealist error limited its productions to a few paltry experiments. In 1952 the Lettrist left wing organized itself into a "Lettrist International" and expelled the backward fraction.(2) In the Lettrist International the quest for new methods of intervention in everyday life was pursued amidst sharp struggles among different tendencies.
In Italy -- with the exception of the antifunctionalist experimental group that in 1955 formed the most solid section of the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus -- the efforts toward avant-garde formations have remained attached to the old artistic perspectives and have not even succeeded in expressing themselves theoretically.
During the same period the most innocuous and massified aspects of Western culture have been massively imitated all over the world, from the United States to Japan. (The US avant-garde, which tends to congregate in the American colony in Paris, lives there in the most tame, insipidly conformist manner, isolated ideologically, socially and even ecologically from everything else going on.) As for the productions of peoples who are still subject to cultural colonialism (often caused by political oppression), even though they may be progressive in their own countries, they play a reactionary role in the advanced cultural centers. Critics who have based their entire career on outdated systems of creation pretend to discover engaging new developments in Greek films or Guatemalan novels -- an exoticism of the antiexotic, the revival of old forms long since exploited and exhausted in other countries; an exoticism which does, however, serve the primary purpose of exoticism: escape from the real conditions of life and creation.
In the workers states only the experimentation carried out by Brecht in Berlin, insofar as it puts into question the classic spectacle notion, is close to the constructions that matter for us today. Only Brecht has succeeded in resisting the stupidity of Socialist Realism in power.
Now that Socialist Realism is falling apart, we can expect much from a revolutionary confrontation of the intellectuals in the workers states with the real problems of modern culture. If Zhdanovism has been the purest expression not only of the cultural degeneration of the workers movement but also of the conservative cultural position in the bourgeois world, those in the Eastern Bloc who are presently revolting against Zhdanovism cannot do so -- whatever their subjective intentions -- merely in the name of a greater creative freedom Ã la Cocteau, for example. A negation of Zhdanovism objectively means the negation of the Zhdanovist negation of "liquidation." The sole possible supersession of Zhdanovism will be the real exercise of freedom, which is consciousness of present necessity.
Here, too, the recent years have at most been a period of confused resistance to the confused reign of reactionary imbecility. There weren't many of us really working against it. But we shouldn't linger over the tastes or trivial findings of this period. The problems of cultural creation can be resolved only in relation with a new advance of world revolution.
Platform for a Provisional Opposition
A revolutionary action within culture must aim to enlarge life, not merely to express or explain it. It must attack misery on every front. Revolution is not limited to determining the level of industrial production, or even to determining who is to be the master of such production. It must abolish the exploitation of humanity, but also the passions, compensations and habits which that exploitation has engendered. We have to define new desires in relation to present possibilities. In the thick of the battle between the present society and the forces that are going to destroy it, we have to find the first elements of a superior construction of the environment and new conditions of behavior -- both as experiences in themselves and as material for propaganda. Everything else belongs to the past, and serves it.
We now have to undertake an organized collective work aimed at a unitary use of all the means of revolutionizing everyday life. That is, we must first of all recognize the interdependence of these means in the perspective of increased freedom and an increased domination of nature. We need to construct new ambiences that will be both the products and the instruments of new forms of behavior. To do this, we must from the beginning make practical use of the everyday processes and cultural forms that now exist, while refusing to acknowledge any inherent value they may claim to have. The very criterion of formal invention or innovation has lost its sense within the traditional framework of the arts -- insufficient, fragmentary forms whose partial renovations are inevitably outdated and therefore impossible.
We should not simply refuse modern culture; we must seize it in order to negate it. No one can claim to be a revolutionary intellectual who does not recognize the cultural revolution we are now facing. An intellectual creator cannot be revolutionary by merely supporting some party line, not even if he does so with original methods, but only by working alongside the parties toward the necessary transformation of all the cultural superstructures. What ultimately determines whether or not someone is a bourgeois intellectual is neither his social origin nor his knowledge of a culture (such knowledge may just as well be the basis for a critique of that culture or for some new creative venture), but his role in the production of the historically bourgeois forms of culture. Authors of revolutionary political opinions who find themselves praised by bourgeois literary critics should ask themselves what they've done wrong.
The union of several experimental tendencies for a revolutionary front in culture, begun at the congress held at Alba, Italy, at the end of 1956, presupposes that we not neglect three important factors.
First of all, we must insist on a complete accord among the persons and groups that participate in this united action; and this accord must not be facilitated by allowing certain of its consequences to be dissimulated. Jokers or careerists who are stupid enough to think they can advance their careers in this way must be rebuffed.
Next, we must recall that while any genuinely experimental attitude is usable, that word has very often been misused in the attempt to justify artistic actions within an already-existing structure. The only valid experimental proceeding is based on the accurate critique of existing conditions and the deliberate supersession of them. It must be understood once and for all that something that is only a personal expression within a framework created by others cannot be termed a creation. Creation is not the arrangement of objects and forms, it is the invention of new laws on such arrangement.
Finally, we have to eliminate the sectarianism among us that opposes unity of action with possible allies for specific goals and prevents our infiltration of parallel organizations.(3) From 1952 to 1955 the Lettrist International, after some necessary purges, continually moved toward a sort of absolutist rigor leading to an equally absolute isolation and ineffectuality, and ultimately to a certain immobility, a degeneration of the spirit of critique and discovery. We must definitively supersede this sectarian conduct in favor of real actions. This should be the sole criterion on which we join with or separate from comrades. Naturally this does not mean that we should renounce breaks, as everyone urges us to do. On the contrary, we think that it is necessary to go still further in breaking with habits and persons.
We should collectively define our program and realize it in a disciplined manner, using any means, even artistic ones.
Toward a Situationist International
Our central idea is the construction of situations, that is to say, the concrete construction of momentary ambiances of life and their transformation into a superior passional quality. We must develop a systematic intervention based on the complex factors of two components in perpetual interaction: the material environment of life and the behaviors which it gives rise to and which radically transform it.
Our perspectives of action on the environment ultimately lead us to the notion of unitary urbanism. Unitary urbanism is defined first of all as the use of all arts and techniques as means contributing to the composition of a unified milieu. Such an interrelated ensemble must be envisaged as incomparably more far-reaching than the old domination of architecture over the traditional arts, or than the present sporadic application to anarchic urbanism of specialized technology or of scientific investigations such as ecology. Unitary urbanism must, for example, determine the acoustic environment as well as the distribution of different varieties of food and drink. It must include both the creation of new forms and the détournement of previous forms of architecture, urbanism, poetry and cinema. Integral art, which has been talked about so much, can be realized only at the level of urbanism. But it can no longer correspond to any of the traditional aesthetic categories. In each of its experimental cities unitary urbanism will act by way of a certain number of force fields, which we can temporarily designate by the classic term "quarter." Each quarter will tend toward a specific harmony distinct from neighboring harmonies; or else will play on a maximum breaking up of internal harmony.
Secondly, unitary urbanism is dynamic, in that it is directly related to styles of behavior. The most elementary unit of unitary urbanism is not the house, but the architectural complex, which combines all the factors conditioning an ambiance, or a series of clashing ambiances, on the scale of the constructed situation. Spatial development must take into account the emotional effects that the experimental city is intended to produce. One of our comrades has advanced a theory of "states-of-mind" quarters, according to which each quarter of a city would be designed to provoke a specific basic sentiment to which people would knowingly expose themselves. It seems that such a project draws appropriate conclusions from the current tendency to depreciate randomly encountered primary sentiments, and that its realization could contribute to accelerating that depreciation. The comrades who call for a new, free architecture must understand that this new architecture will primarily be based not on free, poetic lines and forms -- in the sense that today's "lyrical abstract" painting uses those terms -- but rather on the atmospheric effects of rooms, hallways, streets -- atmospheres linked to the gestures they contain. Architecture must advance by taking emotionally moving situations, rather than emotionally moving forms, as the material it works with. And the experiments conducted with this material will lead to new, as yet unknown forms.
Psychogeographical research, "the study of the exact laws and specific effects of geographical environments, whether consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals," thus takes on a double meaning: active observation of present-day urban agglomerations and development of hypotheses on the structure of a situationist city. The progress of psychogeography depends to a great extent on the statistical extension of its methods of observation, but above all on experimentation by means of concrete interventions in urbanism. Before this stage is attained we cannot be certain of the objective truth of the initial psychogeographical findings. But even if these findings should turn out to be false, they would still be false solutions to what is nevertheless a real problem.
Our action on behavior, linked with other desirable aspects of a revolution in mores, can be briefly defined as the invention of games of an essentially new type. The most general goal must be to expand the nonmediocre part of life, to reduce the empty moments of life as much as possible. One could thus speak of our enterprise as a project of quantitatively increasing human life, an enterprise more serious than the biological methods currently being investigated, and one that automatically implies a qualitative increase whose developments are unpredictable. The situationist game is distinguished from the classic notion of games by its radical negation of the element of competition and of separation from everyday life. On the other hand, it is not distinct from a moral choice, since it implies taking a stand in favor of what will bring about the future reign of freedom and play.
This perspective is obviously linked to the continual and rapid increase of leisure time resulting from the level of productive forces our era has attained. It is also linked to the recognition of the fact that a battle of leisure is taking place before our eyes, a battle whose importance in the class struggle has not been sufficiently analyzed. So far, the ruling class has succeeded in using the leisure the revolutionary proletariat wrested from it by developing a vast industrial sector of leisure activities that is an incomparable instrument for stupefying the proletariat with by-products of mystifying ideology and bourgeois tastes. The abundance of televised imbecilities is probably one of the reasons for the American working class's inability to develop any political consciousness. By obtaining through collective pressure a slight rise in the price of its labor above the minimum necessary for the production of that labor, the proletariat not only extends its power of struggle, it also extends the terrain of the struggle. New forms of this struggle then arise alongside directly economic and political conflicts. It can be said that up till now revolutionary propaganda has been constantly overcome within these new forms of struggle in all the countries where advanced industrial development has introduced them. That the necessary changing of the infrastructure can be delayed by errors and weaknesses at the level of superstructures has unfortunately been demonstrated by several experiences of the twentieth century. It is necessary to throw new forces into the battle of leisure. We will take our position there.
A rough experimentation toward a new mode of behavior has already been made with what we have termed the dérive: the practice of a passional journey out of the ordinary through a rapid changing of ambiances, as well as a means of study of psychogeography and of situationist psychology. But the application of this will to playful creation must be extended to all known forms of human relationships, so as to influence, for example, the historical evolution of sentiments like friendship and love. Everything leads us to believe that the essential elements of our research lie in our hypothesis of constructions of situations.
A person's life is a succession of fortuitous situations, and even if none of them is exactly the same as another the immense majority of them are so undifferentiated and so dull that they give a perfect impression of sameness. As a result, the rare intensely engaging situations found in life only serve to strictly confine and limit that life. We must try to construct situations, that is to say, collective ambiances, ensembles of impressions determining the quality of a moment. If we take the simple example of a gathering of a group of individuals for a given time, it would be desirable, while taking into account the knowledge and material means we have at our disposal, to study what organization of the place, what selection of participants and what provocation of events are suitable for producing the desired ambiance. The powers of a situation will certainly expand considerably in both time and space with the realizations of unitary urbanism or the education of a situationist generation.
The construction of situations begins beyond the ruins of the modern spectacle. It is easy to see how much the very principle of the spectacle -- nonintervention -- is linked to the alienation of the old world. Conversely, the most pertinent revolutionary experiments in culture have sought to break the spectators' psychological identification with the hero so as to draw them into activity by provoking their capacities to revolutionize their own lives. The situation is thus designed to be lived by its constructors. The role played by a passive or merely bit-part playing "public" must constantly diminish, while that played by those who cannot be called actors, but rather, in a new sense of the term, "livers," must steadily increase.
We have to multiply poetic subjects and objects -- which are now unfortunately so rare that the slightest ones take on an exaggerated emotional importance -- and we have to organize games for these poetic subjects to play with these poetic objects. This is our entire program, which is essentially transitory. Our situations will be ephemeral, without a future. Passageways. Our only concern is real life; we care nothing about the permanence of art or of anything else. Eternity is the grossest idea a person can conceive of in connection with his acts.
Situationist techniques have yet to be invented. But we know that a task presents itself only when the material conditions necessary to its realization already exist, or at least are in the process of formation. We have to begin with a phase of small-scale experimentation. It will probably be necessary to prepare plans or scenarios for the creation of situations, despite their inevitable inadequacy at the beginning. To this end we must develop a system of notations, which will become more precise as we learn more from the experiences of construction. We will also need to discover or verify certain laws, such as that according to which situationist emotions depend on extreme concentration or extreme dispersal of actions (classical tragedy giving a rough idea of the former, dérives of the latter). In addition to the direct means that will be used for specific ends, the positive phase of the construction of situations will require a new application of reproductive technologies. One can envisage, for example, televised images of certain aspects of one situation being communicated live to people taking part in another situation somewhere else, thereby producing various modifications and interferences between the two. More simply, a new style of documentary film could be devoted to "current events" that really are current and eventful by preserving (in situationist archives) the most significant moments of a situation before the evolution of its elements has led to a different situation. Since the systematic construction of situations will give rise to previously unknown sentiments, film will find its greatest educational role in the dissemination of these new passions.
Situationist theory resolutely supports a noncontinuous conception of life. The notion of unity must cease to be seen as applying to the whole of one's life (where it serves as a reactionary mystification based on the belief in an immortal soul and, in the final analysis, on the division of labor); instead, it should apply to the construction of each particular moment of life through the unitary use of situationist methods. In a classless society there will no longer be "painters," but only situationists who, among other things, sometimes paint.
The main emotional drama of life, aside from the perpetual conflict between desire and reality hostile to desire, seems to be the sensation of the passage of time. In contrast to the aesthetic modes that strive to fix and eternalize some emotion, the situationist attitude consists in going with the flow of time. In so doing, in pushing ever further the game of creating new, emotionally provocative situations, the situationists are gambling that change will usually be for the better. In the short term the odds are obviously against that bet. But even if we have to lose it a thousand times, we see no other choice for a progressive attitude.
The situationist minority first emerged as a tendency in the Lettrist left wing, then in the Lettrist International which it ended up controlling. The same objective movement has led several recent avant-garde groups to similar conclusions. Together we must eliminate all the relics of the recent past. We now believe that an accord for a united action of the revolutionary avant-garde in culture must be carried out on the basis of such a program. We have neither guaranteed recipes nor definitive results. We only propose an experimental research to be collectively led in a few directions that we are presently defining and toward others that have yet to be defined. The very difficulty of succeeding in the first situationist projects is a proof of the newness of the domain we are penetrating. Something that changes our way of seeing the streets is more important than something that changes our way of seeing paintings. Our working hypotheses will be reexamined at each future upheaval, wherever it comes from.
Various people (particularly among the revolutionary artists and intellectuals who have resigned themselves to a certain impotence) will respond that this "situationism" seems rather disagreeable; that we have not created any beautiful works; that we would do better to talk about André Gide; and that no one will see any clear reasons to be interested in us. They will evade facing the issues we have raised by reproaching us for using scandalous tactics in order to call attention to ourselves, and will express their indignation at the procedures we have sometimes felt obliged to adopt in order to dissociate ourselves from certain people. We answer: It's not a matter of knowing whether this interests you, but whether you yourselves are capable of doing anything interesting in the context of the new conditions of cultural creation. Your role, revolutionary artists and intellectuals, is not to complain that freedom is insulted when we refuse to march alongside the enemies of freedom. Your role is not to imitate the bourgeois aesthetes who try to restrict people to what has already been done, because what has already been done doesn't bother them. You know that creation is never pure. Your role is to find out what the international avant-garde is doing, to take part in the critical development of its program, and to call for its support.
Our Immediate Tasks
We must call attention, among the workers parties or the extremist tendencies within those parties, to the need to undertake an effective ideological action in order to combat the emotional influence of advanced capitalist methods of propaganda. On every occasion, by every hyper-political means, we must publicize desirable alternatives to the spectacle of the capitalist way of life, so as to destroy the bourgeois idea of happiness. At the same time, taking into account the existence, within the various ruling classes, of elements that have always tended (out of boredom and thirst for novelty) toward things that lead to the disappearance of their societies, we should incite the persons who control some of the vast resources that we lack to provide us with the means to carry out our experiments, out of the same motives of potential profit as they do with scientific research.
We must everywhere present a revolutionary alternative to the ruling culture; coordinate all the researches that are currently taking place but which lack a comprehensive perspective; and incite, through critiques and propaganda, the most advanced artists and intellectuals of all countries to contact us in view of a collective action.
We should declare ourselves ready to renew discussion, on the basis of this program, with those who, having taken part in an earlier phase of our action, are still capable of joining with us.
We must put forward the slogans of unitary urbanism, experimental behavior, hyper-political propaganda, and the construction of ambiences. The passions have been sufficiently interpreted; the point now is to discover new ones.
GUY DEBORD June 1957
1. Cobra participants included future SI members Constant and Asger Jorn.
2. The final break was provoked when the radical tendency (including Debord and Wolman) disrupted a Charlie Chaplin press conference in October 1952. The aesthete lettrists, including the founder of lettrism, Isidore Isou, disavowed this action. The disrupters responded with an open letter: "We believe that the most urgent expression of freedom is the destruction of idols, especially when those idols present themselves in the name of freedom. The provocative tone of our leaflet was an attack against a unanimous servile adoration. The disavowal by certain lettrists, including Isou himself, only reveals the constantly reengendered communication gap between extremists and ex-extremists. . . ."
Lettrist International participants included MichÃ¨le Bernstein, Ivan Chtcheglov, Mohamed Dahou, Guy Debord, Abdelhafid Khatib, Alexander Trocchi and Gil Wolman, most of whom were later SI members.
3. The SI subsequently renounced any such "infiltration" of other groups, considering that simultaneous membership in two organizations tends to lead to manipulation.
This report was one of the preparatory texts for the July 1957 conference at Cosio d'Arroscia, Italy, at which the Situationist International was founded.
Revised translation by Ken Knabb of the complete text (the version in the Situationist International Anthology is abridged).
Formulary for a New Urbanism
SIRE, I AM FROM THE OTHER COUNTRY
We are bored in the city, there is no longer any Temple of the Sun. Between the legs of the women walking by, the dadaists imagined a monkey wrench and the surrealists a crystal cup. That's lost. We know how to read every promise in faces -- the latest stage of morphology. The poetry of the billboards lasted twenty years. We are bored in the city, we really have to strain to still discover mysteries on the sidewalk billboards, the latest state of humor and poetry:
Showerbath of the Patriarchs Meat Cutting Machines Notre Dame Zoo Sports Pharmacy Martyrs Provisions Translucent Concrete Golden Touch Sawmill Center for Functional Recuperation Sainte Anne Ambulance Café Fifth Avenue Prolonged Volunteers Street Family Boarding House in the Garden Hotel of Strangers Wild Street
And the swimming pool on the Street of Little Girls. And the police station on Rendezvous Street. The medical-surgical clinic and the free placement center on the Quai des OrfÃ¨vres. The artificial flowers on Sun Street. The Castle Cellars Hotel, the Ocean Bar and the Coming and Going Café. The Hotel of the Epoch.
And the strange statue of Dr. Philippe Pinel, benefactor of the insane, in the last evenings of summer. Exploring Paris.
And you, forgotten, your memories ravaged by all the consternations of two hemispheres, stranded in the Red Cellars of Pali-Kao, without music and without geography, no longer setting out for the hacienda where the roots think of the child and where the wine is finished off with fables from an old almanac. That's all over. You'll never see the hacienda. It doesn't exist.
The hacienda must be built.
All cities are geological. You can't take three steps without encountering ghosts bearing all the prestige of their legends. We move within a closed landscape whose landmarks constantly draw us toward the past. Certain shifting angles, certain receding perspectives, allow us to glimpse original conceptions of space, but this vision remains fragmentary. It must be sought in the magical locales of fairy tales and surrealist writings: castles, endless walls, little forgotten bars, mammoth caverns, casino mirrors.
These dated images retain a small catalyzing power, but it is almost impossible to use them in a symbolic urbanism without rejuvenating them by giving them a new meaning. Our imaginations, haunted by the old archetypes, have remained far behind the sophistication of the machines. The various attempts to integrate modern science into new myths remain inadequate. Meanwhile abstraction has invaded all the arts, contemporary architecture in particular. Pure plasticity, inanimate and storyless, soothes the eye. Elsewhere other fragmentary beauties can be found -- while the promised land of new syntheses continually recedes into the distance. Everyone wavers between the emotionally still-alive past and the already dead future.
We don't intend to prolong the mechanistic civilizations and frigid architecture that ultimately lead to boring leisure.
We propose to invent new, changeable decors. . . .
Darkness and obscurity are banished by artificial lighting, and the seasons by air conditioning. Night and summer are losing their charm and dawn is disappearing. The urban population think they have escaped from cosmic reality, but there is no corresponding expansion of their dream life. The reason is clear: dreams spring from reality and are realized in it.
The latest technological developments would make possible the individual's unbroken contact with cosmic reality while eliminating its disagreeable aspects. Stars and rain can be seen through glass ceilings. The mobile house turns with the sun. Its sliding walls enable vegetation to invade life. Mounted on tracks, it can go down to the sea in the morning and return to the forest in the evening.
Architecture is the simplest means of articulating time and space, of modulating reality and engendering dreams. It is a matter not only of plastic articulation and modulation expressing an ephemeral beauty, but of a modulation producing influences in accordance with the eternal spectrum of human desires and the progress in realizing them.
The architecture of tomorrow will be a means of modifying present conceptions of time and space. It will be a means of knowledge and a means of action.
Architectural complexes will be modifiable. Their aspect will change totally or partially in accordance with the will of their inhabitants. . . .
Past collectivities offered the masses an absolute truth and incontrovertible mythical exemplars. The appearance of the notion of relativity in the modern mind allows one to surmise the EXPERIMENTAL aspect of the next civilization (although I'm not satisfied with that word; I mean that it will be more supple, more "fun"). On the bases of this mobile civilization, architecture will, at least initially, be a means of experimenting with a thousand ways of modifying life, with a view to an ultimate mythic synthesis.
A mental disease has swept the planet: banalization. Everyone is hypnotized by production and conveniences -- sewage systems, elevators, bathrooms, washing machines.
This state of affairs, arising out of a struggle against poverty, has overshot its ultimate goal -- the liberation of humanity from material cares -- and become an omnipresent obsessive image. Presented with the alternative of love or a garbage disposal unit, young people of all countries have chosen the garbage disposal unit. It has become essential to provoke a complete spiritual transformation by bringing to light forgotten desires and by creating entirely new ones. And by carrying out an intensive propaganda in favor of these desires.
We have already pointed out the construction of situations as being one of the fundamental desires on which the next civilization will be founded. This need for total creation has always been intimately associated with the need to play with architecture, time and space. . . .
Chirico remains one of the most remarkable architectural precursors. He was grappling with the problems of absences and presences in time and space.
We know that an object that is not consciously noticed at the time of a first visit can, by its absence during subsequent visits, provoke an indefinable impression: as a result of this sighting backward in time, the absence of the object becomes a presence one can feel. More precisely: although the quality of the impression generally remains indefinite, it nevertheless varies with the nature of the removed object and the importance accorded it by the visitor, ranging from serene joy to terror. (It is of no particular significance that in this specific case memory is the vehicle of these feelings; I only selected this example for its convenience.)
In Chirico's paintings (during his Arcade period) an empty space creates a richly filled time. It is easy to imagine the fantastic future possibilities of such architecture and its influence on the masses. We can have nothing but contempt for a century that relegates such blueprints to its so-called museums.
This new vision of time and space, which will be the theoretical basis of future constructions, is still imprecise and will remain so until experimentation with patterns of behavior has taken place in cities specifically established for this purpose, cities assembling -- in addition to the facilities necessary for basic comfort and security -- buildings charged with evocative power, symbolic edifices representing desires, forces and events, past, present and to come. A rational extension of the old religious systems, of old tales, and above all of psychoanalysis, into architectural expression becomes more and more urgent as all the reasons for becoming impassioned disappear.
Everyone will live in their own personal "cathedral." There will be rooms more conducive to dreams than any drug, and houses where one cannot help but love. Others will be irresistibly alluring to travelers. . . .
This project could be compared with the Chinese and Japanese gardens of illusory perspectives [en trompe l'oeiI] -- with the difference that those gardens are not designed to be lived in all the time -- or with the ridiculous labyrinth in the Jardin des Plantes, at the entry to which is written (height of absurdity, Ariadne unemployed): Games are forbidden in the labyrinth.
This city could be envisaged in the form of an arbitrary assemblage of castles, grottos, lakes, etc. It would be the baroque stage of urbanism considered as a means of knowledge. But this theoretical phase is already outdated. We know that a modern building could be constructed which would have no resemblance to a medieval castle but which could preserve and enhance the Castle poetic power (by the conservation of a strict minimum of lines, the transposition of certain others, the positioning of openings, the topographical location, etc.).
The districts of this city could correspond to the whole spectrum of diverse feelings that one encounters by chance in everyday life.
Bizarre Quarter -- Happy Quarter (specially reserved for habitation) -- Noble and Tragic Quarter (for good children) -- Historical Quarter (museums, schools) -- Useful Quarter (hospital, tool shops) -- Sinister Quarter, etc. And an Astrolarium which would group plant species in accordance with the relations they manifest with the stellar rhythm, a planetary garden along the lines the astronomer Thomas wants to establish at Laaer Berg in Vienna. Indispensable for giving the inhabitants a consciousness of the cosmic. Perhaps also a Death Quarter, not for dying in but so as to have somewhere to live in peace -- I'm thinking here of Mexico and of a principle of cruelty in innocence that appeals more to me every day.
The Sinister Quarter, for example, would be a good replacement for those hellholes, those ill-reputed neighborhoods full of sordid dives and unsavory characters, that many peoples once possessed in their capitals: they symbolized all the evil forces of life. The Sinister Quarter would have no need to harbor real dangers, such as traps, dungeons or mines. It would be difficult to get into, with a hideous decor (piercing whistles, alarm bells, sirens wailing intermittently, grotesque sculptures, power-driven mobiles, called Auto-Mobiles), and as poorly lit at night as it was blindingly lit during the day by an intensive use of reflection. At the center, the "Square of the Appalling Mobile." Saturation of the market with a product causes the product's market value to fall: thus, as they explored the Sinister Quarter, the child and the adult would learn not to fear the anguishing occasions of life, but to be amused by them.
The main activity of the inhabitants will be CONTINUOUS DRIFTING. The changing of landscapes from one hour to the next will result in total disorientation. . . .
Later, as the gestures inevitably grow stale, this drifting [dérive] will partially leave the realm of direct experience for that of representation. . . .
The economic obstacles are only apparent. We know that the more a place is set apart for free play, the more it influences people's behavior and the greater is its force of attraction. This is demonstrated by the immense prestige of Monaco and Las Vegas -- and of Reno, that caricature of free love -- though they are mere gambling places. Our first experimental city would live largely off tolerated and controlled tourism. Future avant-garde activities and productions would naturally tend to gravitate there. In a few years it would become the intellectual capital of the world and would be universally recognized as such.
IVAN CHTCHEGLOV 1953
[ABOUT THE AUTHOR]
"Ivan Chtcheglov participated in the ventures that were at the origin of the situationist movement, and his role in it has been irreplaceable, both in its theoretical endeavors and in its practical activity (the dérive experiments). In 1953, at the age of 19, he had already drafted -- under the pseudonym Gilles Ivain -- the text entitled "Formulary for a New Urbanism," which was later published in the first issue of Internationale Situationniste. Having passed the last five years in a psychiatric clinic, where he still is, he reestablished contact with us only long after the formation of the SI. He is currently working on a revised edition of his 1953 writing on architecture and urbanism. The letters from which the following lines have been excerpted were addressed to MichÃ¨le Bernstein and Guy Debord over the last year. The plight to which Ivan Chtcheglov is being subjected can be considered as one of modern society's increasingly sophisticated methods of control over people's lives, a control that in previous times was expressed in atheists being condemned to the Bastille, for example, or political opponents to exile." (Introductory note to Chtcheglov's "Letters from Afar," Internationale Situationniste #9, p. 38.)
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography
Of all the affairs we participate in, with or without interest, the groping search for a new way of life is the only thing that remains really exciting. Aesthetic and other disciplines have proved glaringly inadequate in this regard and merit the greatest indifference. We should therefore delineate some provisional terrains of observation, including the observation of certain processes of chance and predictability in the streets.
The word psychogeography, suggested by an illiterate Kabyle as a general term for the phenomena a few of us were investigating around the summer of 1953, is not too inappropriate. It does not contradict the materialist perspective of the conditioning of life and thought by objective nature. Geography, for example, deals with the determinant action of general natural forces, such as soil composition or climatic conditions, on the economic structures of a society, and thus on the corresponding conception that such a society can have of the world. Psychogeography could set for itself the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, whether consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals. The charmingly vague adjective psychogeographical can be applied to the findings arrived at by this type of investigation, to their influence on human feelings, and more generally to any situation or conduct that seems to reflect the same spirit of discovery.
It has long been said that the desert is monotheistic. Is it illogical or devoid of interest to observe that the district in Paris between Place de la Contrescarpe and Rue de l'ArbalÃ¨te conduces rather to atheism, to oblivion and to the disorientation of habitual reflexes?
Historical conditions determine what is considered "useful." Baron Haussmann's urban renewal of Paris under the Second Empire, for example, was motivated by the desire to open up broad thoroughfares allowing for the rapid circulation of troops and the use of artillery against insurrections. But from any standpoint other than that of facilitating police control, Haussmann's Paris is a city built by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Present-day urbanism's main problem is ensuring the smooth circulation of a rapidly increasing number of motor vehicles. A future urbanism will undoubtedly apply itself to no less utilitarian projects, but in the rather different context of psychogeographical possibilities.
The present abundance of private automobiles is one of the most astonishing successes of the constant propaganda by which capitalist production persuades the masses that car ownership is one of the privileges our society reserves for its most privileged members. But anarchical progress often ends up contradicting itself, as when we savor the spectacle of a police chief issuing a filmed appeal urging Parisian car owners to use public transportation.
We know with what blind fury so many unprivileged people are ready to defend their mediocre advantages. Such pathetic illusions of privilege are linked to a general idea of happiness prevalent among the bourgeoisie and maintained by a system of publicity that includes Malraux's aesthetics as well as ads for Coca-Cola -- an idea of happiness whose crisis must be provoked on every occasion by every means.
The first of these means is undoubtedly the systematic provocative dissemination of a host of proposals tending to turn the whole of life into an exciting game, combined with the constant depreciation of all current diversions (to the extent, of course, that these latter cannot be detourned to serve in constructions of more interesting ambiances). The greatest difficulty in such an undertaking is to convey through these apparently extravagant proposals a sufficient degree of serious seduction. To accomplish this we can imagine an adroit use of currently popular means of communication. But a disruptive sort of abstention, or manifestations designed to radically frustrate the fans of these means of communication, can also promote at little expense an atmosphere of uneasiness extremely favorable for the introduction of a few new conceptions of pleasure.
The idea that the creation of a chosen emotional situation depends only on the thorough understanding and calculated application of a certain number of concrete techniques inspired this somewhat tongue-in-cheek "Psychogeographical Game of the Week," published in Potlatch #1:
In accordance with what you are seeking, choose a country, a large or small city, a busy or quiet street. Build a house. Furnish it. Use decorations and surroundings to the best advantage. Choose the season and the time of day. Bring together the most suitable people, with appropriate records and drinks. The lighting and the conversation should obviously be suited to the occasion, as should be the weather or your memories. If there has been no error in your calculations, the result should satisfy you.
We need to flood the market -- even if for the moment merely the intellectual market -- with a mass of desires whose fulfillment is not beyond the capacity of humanity's present means of action on the material world, but only beyond the capacity of the old social organization. It is thus not without political interest to publicly counterpose such desires to the elementary desires that are endlessly rehashed by the film industry and in psychological novels like those of that old hack Mauriac. (As Marx explained to poor Proudhon, "In a society based on poverty, the poorest products are inevitably consumed by the greatest number.")
The revolutionary transformation of the world, of all aspects of the world, will confirm all the dreams of abundance.
The sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the path of least resistance which is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the physical contour of the ground); the appealing or repelling character of certain places -- these phenomena all seem to be neglected. In any case they are never envisaged as depending on causes that can be uncovered by careful analysis and turned to account. People are quite aware that some neighborhoods are gloomy and others pleasant. But they generally simply assume that elegant streets cause a feeling of satisfaction and that poor streets are depressing, and let it go at that. In fact, the variety of possible combinations of ambiances, analogous to the blending of pure chemicals in an infinite number of mixtures, gives rise to feelings as differentiated and complex as any other form of spectacle can evoke. The slightest demystified investigation reveals that the qualitatively or quantitatively different influences of diverse urban decors cannot be determined solely on the basis of the historical period or architectural style, much less on the basis of housing conditions.
The research that we are thus led to undertake on the arrangement of the elements of the urban setting, in close relation with the sensations they provoke, entails bold hypotheses that must be constantly corrected in the light of experience, by critique and self-critique.
Certain of Chirico's paintings, which were clearly inspired by architecturally originated sensations, exert in turn an effect on their objective base to the point of transforming it: they tend themselves to become blueprints or models. Disquieting neighborhoods of arcades could one day carry on and fulfill the allure of these works.
I scarcely know of anything but those two harbors at dusk painted by Claude Lorrain -- which are in the Louvre and which juxtapose extremely dissimilar urban ambiances -- that can rival in beauty the Paris metro maps. I am not, of course, talking about mere physical beauty -- the new beauty can only be a beauty of situation -- but simply about the particularly moving presentation, in both cases, of a sum of possibilities.
Among various more difficult means of intervention, a renovated cartography seems appropriate for immediate utilization.
The production of psychogeographical maps, or even the introduction of alterations such as more or less arbitrarily transposing maps of two different regions, can contribute to clarifying certain wanderings that express not subordination to randomness but complete insubordination to habitual influences (influences generally categorized as tourism, that popular drug as repugnant as sports or buying on credit).
A friend recently told me that he had just wandered through the Harz region of Germany while blindly following the directions of a map of London. This sort of game is obviously only a feeble beginning in comparison to the complete creation of architecture and urbanism that will someday be within the power of everyone. Meanwhile we can distinguish several stages of partial, less difficult projects, beginning with the mere displacement of elements of decoration from the locations where we are used to seeing them.
For example, in the preceding issue of this journal Marcel MariÃ«n proposed that when global resources have ceased to be squandered on the irrational enterprises that are imposed on us today, all the equestrian statues of all the cities of the world be assembled in a single desert. This would offer to the passersby -- the future belongs to them -- the spectacle of an artificial cavalry charge, which could even be dedicated to the memory of the greatest massacrers of history, from Tamerlane to Ridgway. It also reflects one of the main demands of the present generation: educative value.
In fact, nothing really new can be expected until the masses in action awaken to the conditions that are imposed on them in all domains of life, and to the practical means of changing them.
"The imaginary is that which tends to become real," wrote an author whose name, on account of his notorious intellectual degradation, I have since forgotten. The involuntary restrictiveness of such a statement could serve as a touchstone exposing various farcical literary revolutions: That which tends to remain unreal is empty babble.
Life, for which we are responsible, presents powerful motives for discouragement and innumerable more or less vulgar diversions and compensations. A year doesn't go by when people we loved haven't succumbed, for lack of having clearly grasped the present possibilities, to some glaring capitulation. But the enemy camp objectively condemns people to imbecility and already numbers millions of imbeciles; the addition of a few more makes no difference.
The primary moral deficiency remains indulgence, in all its forms.
This article appeared in the Belgian surrealist journal Les LÃ¨vres Nues #6 (September 1955).
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).