Issue nine of the journal of the Situationist International
Internationale Situationiste #9
Now, the SI
"Each era forges its own human material, and if our era really needed theoretical works it would itself create the forces necessary for its satisfaction."
--Rosa Luxemburg, in VorwÃ¤rts (14 March 1903)
Now that the situationists already have a history and their activity has carved out a very particular but undeniably central role for itself in the cultural debates of the last few years, some people reproach the SI for having succeeded and others reproach it for having failed.
In order to understand the real significance of these terms, as well as almost all the intellectual establishment's judgments concerning the SI, it is first necessary to reverse them. The SI's element of failure is what is commonly considered to be its success -- the artistic value that is beginning to be appreciated in us; the fact that certain of our theses have come to be sociologically or urbanistically fashionable; or simply the personal success that is virtually guaranteed to any situationist the moment he is excluded from the SI. Our element of success, which is more profound, is the fact that we have resisted the mass of compromises that we have been offered; the fact that we have not clung to our original pilot program but have proved that its main avant-garde character, in spite of some other more apparent ones, lay in the fact that it had to lead further; and the fact that we have thus far been refused any recognition within the established framework of the present order.
We have undoubtedly made many mistakes. We have often corrected or abandoned them, although it was precisely among them that were found the elements which were succeeding or for which the greatest aid was offered to bring them to fruition. It is easy to note the shortcomings in our earliest publications -- the extravagant verbiage, the fantasies left over from the old artistic milieu, the holdovers from the old politics; it is, moreover, in the light of the SI's later conclusions that these earlier shortcomings are most easily criticizable. An inverse factor has naturally left less trace in our writings, but has weighed heavily on us: a nihilist abstentionism, a serious inability among many of us to think and act beyond the first stammerings of positive dialogue. This lack is almost always accompanied by the most abstract and pretentious insistence on a disembodied radicalism.
There is, however, a deviation that has threatened us more gravely than all the others: it was the risk of not differentiating ourselves clearly enough from the modern tendencies of explanations and proposals regarding the new society to which capitalism has brought us -- tendencies which, behind different masks, all lead to integration into this society. Since Constant's interpretation of unitary urbanism this tendency has been expressed within the SI, and it is incomparably more dangerous than the old artistic conception we have fought so much. It is more modern and therefore less obvious, and certainly has a more promising future. Our project has taken shape at the same time as the modern tendencies toward integration. There is thus not only a direct opposition between them but also an air of resemblance, since the two sides are really contemporaneous. We have not paid enough attention to this aspect, even recently. Thus, it is not impossible to interpret Alexander Trocchi's proposals in issue #8 of this journal(1) as having some affinity -- despite their obviously completely contrary spirit -- with those poor attempts at a "psychodramatic" salvaging of decomposed art expressed for example by the ridiculous "Workshop of Free Expression" in Paris last May. But the point we have arrived at clarifies both our project and, inversely, the project of integration. All really modern nonrevolutionary ventures must now be recognized and treated as our number-one enemy. They are going to reinforce all existing controls.
We must not for all that abandon the extreme point of the modern world merely so as to avoid resembling it in any way, or even in order not to teach it anything that could be used against us. It is quite natural that our enemies succeed in partially using us. We are neither going to leave the present field of culture to them nor mix with them. The armchair advisors who want to admire and understand us from a respectful distance readily recommend to us the purity of the first attitude while they adopt the second one. We reject this suspect formalism: like the proletariat, we cannot claim to be unexploitable in the present conditions; the best we can do is to work to make any such exploitation entail the greatest possible risk for the exploiters. The SI has taken a clear stand as an alternative to the dominant culture, and particularly to its so-called avant-garde forms. The situationists consider that they must succeed to art -- which is dead -- and to separate philosophical reflection -- whose corpse no one, despite all the present efforts, will succeed in "reviving" -- because the spectacle that is replacing this art and this thought is itself the heir of religion. And just as was the "critique of religion" (a critique that the present Left abandoned at the same time it abandoned all thought and action), the critique of the spectacle is today the precondition for any critique.
The path of total police control over all human activities and the path of unlimited free creation of all human activities are one: it is the same path of modern discoveries. We are necessarily on the same path as our enemies -- most often preceding them -- but we must be there, without any confusion, as enemies. The best will win.
The present era can test innumerable innovations, but it is incapable of putting them to good use because it is chained to the fundamental conservation of an old order. Over and over, in all our innovating formulations, we must stress the need for a revolutionary transformation of society.
The revolutionary critique of all existing conditions does not, to be sure, have a monopoly on intelligence; it only has a monopoly on its use. In the present cultural and social crisis, those who do not know how to use their intelligence have in fact no discernable intelligence of any kind. Stop talking to us about unused intelligence and you'll make us happy. Poor Heidegger! Poor LukÃ¡cs! Poor Sartre! Poor Barthes! Poor Lefebvre! Poor Cardan! Tics, tics, and tics. Lacking the method for using their intelligence, they end up with nothing but caricatural fragments of the innovating ideas that can simultaneously comprehend and contest the totality of our era. They are not only incapable of developing ideas, they don't even know how to skillfully plagiarize ideas developed by others. Once the specialized thinkers step out of their own domain, they can only be the dumbfounded spectators of some neighboring and equally bankrupt specialization of which they were previously ignorant but which has become fashionable. The former specialist of ultraleftist politics [Cornelius Castoriadis, aka Cardan] is awestruck at discovering, along with structuralism and social psychology, an ethnological ideology completely new to him: the fact that the Zuni Indians did not have any history appears to him as a luminous explanation for his own inability to act in our history. (Go laugh at the first twenty-five pages of Socialisme ou Barbarie #36.) The specialists of thought can no longer be anything but thinkers of specialization. We don't claim to have a monopoly on the dialectics that everyone talks about; we only claim to have a temporary monopoly on its use.
Some people still venture to object to our theories by gravely insisting on the necessity of practice, although those who speak at this level of methodological delirium have abundantly revealed their own inability to carry out the slightest practice. When revolutionary theory reappears in our time and can count only on itself to propagate itself through a new practice, it seems to us that this is already an important beginning of practice. This theory is at the outset caught in the framework of the new educated ignorance propagated by the present society, and is much more radically cut off from the masses than it was in the nineteenth century. We naturally share its isolation, its risks, and its fate.
To approach us one should therefore not already be compromised, and should be aware that even if we may be momentarily mistaken on many minor points, we will never admit having been mistaken in our negative judgment of persons. Our qualitative criteria are much too certain for us to debate them. There is no point in approaching us if one is not theoretically and practically in agreement with our condemnations of contemporary persons or currents. Some of the thinkers who are now going to plan and justify modern society have already justified and ultimately conserved more archaic forms of it when they were, for example, Stalinists. Now, without batting an eye, they are going to reenlist, just as coolly and cheerily as before, for a second debacle. Others, who fought them during the preceding phase, are now joining them in a common celebration of innovation. All the specializations of illusion can be taught and discussed by the tenured thinkers. But the situationists take their stand in the knowledge that is outside this spectacle: we are not thinkers sponsored by the state.
We have to organize a coherent encounter between the elements of critique and negation (whether as acts or as ideas) that are now scattered around the world; and between these critical and negative elements that have become conscious and the entire life of the bearers of them; and finally, between the people or the first groups that are at this level of intellectual knowledge and practical contestation. The coordination of these researches and struggles on the most practical plane (a new international linkup) is now inseparable from a coordination on the most theoretical plane (which will be expressed by several works presently being prepared by some of the situationists). For example, the present issue of this journal, in order to better explain aspects of our theses that have sometimes been presented too abstractly, gives a large place to a coherent presentation of items drawn from the ordinary daily news. The continuation of our projects will have to be expressed in fuller forms. This continuation will considerably exceed what we would have been able to undertake by ourselves.
While contemporary impotence blathers on about the belated project of "getting into the twentieth century," we think it is high time to eliminate the dead time that has dominated this century and to put an end to the Christian Era with the same stroke. Here as elsewhere, the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. Ours is the best effort so far toward getting out of the twentieth century.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1964)
1. Trocchi's article, which proposed an international linkup of countercultural artists and dissidents, is not included in the SI Anthology. The English version, "A Revolutionary Proposal" appeared in New Saltire #8 (London, June 1963) and City Lights Journal #2 (San Francisco, 1964), the latter also containing a subsequent more detailed program for his "Project Sigma." Internationale Situationniste #10 (p. 83) contains the following note: "Upon the appearance in London in fall 1964 of the first publications of the 'Project Sigma' initiated by Alexander Trocchi, it was mutually agreed that the SI could not involve itself in such a loose cultural venture, in spite of the interest we have in dialogue with certain of the individuals who may be drawn to it, notably in the United States and England. It is therefore no longer as a member of the SI that our friend Alexander Trocchi has since developed an activity of which we fully approve of several aspects."
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
1. What does the word "situationist" mean?
It denotes an activity aimed at creating situations, as opposed to passively recognizing them in academic or other separate terms. At all levels of social practice or individual history. We replace existential passivity with the construction of moments of life, and doubt with playful affirmation. Up till now philosophers and artists have only interpreted situations; the point now is to transform them. Since human beings are molded by the situations they go through, it is essential to create human situations. Since individuals are defined by their situation, they need the power to create situations worthy of their desires. This is the perspective in which poetry (communication fulfilled in concrete situations), the appropriation of nature, and complete social liberation must all merge and be realized. Our era is going to replace the fixed frontier of the extreme situations that phenomenology has limited itself to describing with the practical creation of situations; it is going to continually shift this frontier with the development of our realization. We want a phenomeno-praxis. We have no doubt that this will be the first banality of the movement toward the liberation that is now possible.What situations are to be transformed? At different levels it could be the whole planet, or an era (a civilization in Burckhardt's sense, for example), or a moment of individual life. On with the show! It is only in this way that the values of past culture and the hopes of realizing reason in history can find their true fulfillment. Everything else is in decay. The term situationist in the SI's sense is the total opposite of the current usage in Portugal, where "situationists" refer to supporters of the existing situation (i.e. supporters of Salazar's dictatorship).
2. Is the Situationist International a political movement?
The words "political movement" today connote the specialized activity of group and party bosses who derive the oppressive force of their future power from the organized passivity of their militants. The SI wants nothing to do with any form of hierarchical power whatsoever. The SI is neither a political movement nor a sociology of political mystification. The SI aims to represent the highest degree of international revolutionary consciousness. This is why it strives to illuminate and coordinate the gestures of refusal and the signs of creativity that are defining the new contours of the proletariat, the irreducible desire for freedom. Centered on the spontaneity of the masses, such activity is undeniably "political" in the sense that those rebellious masses are themselves political. Whenever new radical currents appear -- as recently in Japan (the extremist wing of the Zengakuren), in the Congo, and in the Spanish underground(1) -- the SI gives them critical support and thereby aids them practically. But in contrast to all the "transitional programs" of specialized politics, the SI insists on a permanent revolution of everyday life.
3. Is the SI an artistic movement?
A large part of the situationist critique of consumer society consists in showing to what extent contemporary artists, by abandoning the richness of supersession implicitly present (though not fully realized) in the 1910-1925 period, have condemned themselves to doing art as one does business. Since that time artistic movements have only been imaginary repercussions from an explosion that never took place, an explosion that threatened and still threatens the structures of this society. The SI's awareness of this abandonment and of its contradictory implications (emptiness and a desire to return to the initial violence) makes the SI the only movement able, by incorporating the survival of art into the art of life, to speak to the project of the authentic artist. We are artists only insofar as we are no longer artists: we come to fulfill art.
4. Is the SI an expression of nihilism?
The SI refuses the role that would be readily granted it in the spectacle of decomposition. The supersession of nihilism is reached by way of the decomposition of the spectacle; which is precisely what the SI is working on. Whatever is elaborated and constructed outside such a perspective will collapse of its own weight without needing any help from the SI. But it is also true that everywhere in consumer society wastelands of spontaneous collapse are offering a terrain of experimentation for new values that the SI cannot do without. We can build only on the ruins of the spectacle. Moreover, the fully justified anticipation of a total destruction precludes any construction that is not carried out in the perspective of the totality.
5. Are the situationist positions utopian?
Reality is superseding utopia. There is no longer any point in projecting imaginary bridges between the wealth of present technological potentials and the poverty of their use by the rulers of every variety. We want to put the material equipment at the service of everyone's creativity, as the masses themselves always strive to do in revolutionary situations. It's simply a matter of coordination or tactics. Everything we deal with is realizable, either immediately or in the short term, once our methods of research and activity begin to be put in practice.
6. Do you consider it necessary to call yourselves "situationists"?
In the existing order, where things take the place of people, any label is compromising. The one we have chosen, however, embodies its own critique, in that it is automatically opposed any "situationism," the label that others would like to saddle us with. Moreover, it will disappear when all of us have become fully situationist and are no longer proletarians struggling for the end of the proletariat. For the moment, however ridiculous a label may be, ours has the merit of drawing a sharp line between the previous incoherence and a new rigorousness. Such incisiveness is just what has been most lacking in the thought of the last few decades.
7. What is original about the situationists considered as a distinct group?
It seems to us that three notable points justify the importance that we attribute to ourselves as an organized group of theorists and experimenters. First, we are developing for the first time, from a revolutionary perspective, a new, coherent critique of this society as it is developing now. This critique is deeply anchored in the culture and art of our time, which can in fact be truly grasped only by means of such a critique (this work is obviously a long way from completion). Second, we make a practice of breaking completely and definitively with all those who oblige us to do so, and in many cases with anyone else who remains in solidarity with them. Such polarization is vital in a time when the diverse forms of resignation are so subtly intertwined and interdependent. Third, we are initiating a new style of relation with our "partisans": we absolutely refuse disciples. We are interested only in participation at the highest level, and in setting autonomous people loose in the world.
8. Why don't people talk about the SI?
The SI is talked about often enough among the specialized owners of decomposing modern thought; but they write about it very little. In the broadest sense this is because we refuse the term "situationism," which would be the only pigeonhole enabling us to be introduced into the reigning spectacle, incorporated in the form of a doctrine petrified against us, in the form of an ideology in Marx's sense. It is natural that the spectacle we reject rejects us in turn. Situationists are more readily discussed as individuals in an effort to separate them from the collective contestation, although this collective contestation is the only thing that makes them "interesting" individuals. Situationists are talked about the moment they cease to be situationists (as with the rival varieties of "Nashism" in several countries, whose only common claim to fame is that they lyingly pretend to have some sort of relationship with the SI). The spectacle's watchdogs appropriate fragments of situationist theory without acknowledgment in order to turn it against us. It is quite natural that they get ideas from us in their struggle for the survival of the spectacle. But they have to conceal their source, not merely to protect their reputation for originality from charges of plagiarism, but because this source implies the broader, coherent context of these "ideas." Moreover, many hesitant intellectuals do not dare to speak openly of the SI because to speak of it entails taking a minimum position -- saying what one rejects of it and what one accepts of it. Many of them believe, quite mistakenly, that to feign ignorance of it in the meantime will suffice to clear them of responsibility later.
9. What support do you give to the revolutionary movement?
Unfortunately there isn't one. The society certainly contains contradictions and is undergoing changes; this is what, in continually new ways, is making revolutionary activity possible and necessary. But such activity no longer exists -- or does not yet exist -- in the form of an organized movement. It is therefore not a matter of "supporting" such a movement, but of creating it: of inseparably defining it and experimenting with it. Admitting that there is no revolutionary movement is the first precondition for developing such a movement. Anything else is a ridiculous patching up of the past.
10. Are you Marxists?
Just as much as Marx was when he said, "I am not a Marxist."
11. Is there a relation between your theories and your actual way of life?
Our theories are nothing other than the theory of our real life and of the possibilities experienced or perceived in it. As fragmented as the available terrains of activity may be for the moment, we make the most of them. We treat enemies as enemies, a first step we recommend to everyone as an accelerated apprenticeship in learning how to think. It also goes without saying that we unconditionally support all forms of liberated behavior, everything that the bourgeois and bureaucratic scum call debauchery. It is obviously out of the question that we should pave the way for the revolution of everyday life with asceticism.
12. Are the situationists in the vanguard of leisure society?
Leisure society is an appearance that veils a particular type of production/consumption of social space-time. If the time of productive work in the strict sense is reduced, the reserve army of industrial life works in consumption. Everyone is successively worker and raw material in the industry of vacations, of leisure, of spectacles. Present work is the alpha and omega of present life. The organization of consumption plus the organization of leisure must exactly counterbalance the organization of work. "Free time" is a most ironic quantity in the context of the flow of a prefabricated time. Alienated work can only produce alienated leisure, for the idle (increasingly, in fact, merely semi-idle) elite as well as for the masses who are obtaining access to momentary leisure. No lead shielding can insulate either a fragment of time or the entire time of a fragment of society from the radiation of alienated labor -- if for no other reason than the fact that it is that labor which shapes the totality of products and of social life in its own image.
13. Who finances you?
We have never been able to be financed except, in a very precarious manner, by working in the present cultural economy. This employment is subject to this contradiction: we have such creative abilities that we can be virtually assured of "success" in any field; yet we have such a rigorous insistence on independence and complete consistency between our project and each of our present creations (see our definition of antisituationist artistic production) that we are almost totally unacceptable to the dominant cultural organization, even in the most secondary activities. The state of our resources follows from these conditions. In this connection, see what we wrote in issue #8 of this journal (p.26) about "the capital that is never lacking for Nashist enterprises" and, in contrast, our conditions (on the last page of this issue).(2)
14. How many of you are there?
A few more than the original guerrilla nucleus in the Sierra Madre, but with fewer weapons. A few less than the delegates in London in 1864 who founded the International Working Men's Association, but with a more coherent program. As unyielding as the Greeks at Thermopylae ("Passerby, go tell them at Lacedaemon..."), but with a brighter future.
15. What value can you attribute to a questionnaire? To this one?
Questionnaires are an obvious form of the pseudodialogue that is becoming obsessively used in all the psychotechniques of integration into the spectacle so as to elicit people's happy acceptance of passivity under the crude guise of "participation" and pseudoactivity. Taking such an incoherent, reified form of questioning as a point of departure, however, enables us to express precise positions. These positions are not really "answers," because they don't stick to the questions; they reply by posing new questions that supersede the old ones. Thus, real dialogue could begin after these responses. In the present questionnaire all the questions are false; our responses, however, are true.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1964)
1. See, for example, the SI's critique of the Spanish AcciÃ³n Comunista group in "Contribution au programme des conseils ouvriers en Espagne" (Internationale Situationniste #10, pp. 27-32).
2. The reference is to JÃ¶rgen Nash and others who had recently been excluded from the SI and who were trying to cash in on the situationists' notoriety by producing "situationist art" and founding a "Second Situationist International" (see The Counter-Situationist Campaign in Various Countries). As for the situationists' own conditions, they stated that they had no objection to publishers, film producers, patrons, etc., interested in financing situationist projects, whether disinterestedly or in the hope of making profits, as long as it was understood that the situationists would retain total control over the form and content of the projects. Regarding the publication of radical texts, Internationale Situationniste #10 (p. 70) has the following note: "It is clear that there are presently only four possible types of publishing: state-bureaucratic; bourgeois semicompetitive (though subject to a tendency toward economic concentration); independent (wherever radical theory can be legally self-published); and clandestine. The SI -- and any critical current anywhere -- uses and will continue to use the latter two methods; it may in many cases use the second one (to obtain a qualitatively different level of distribution) because of the contradictions left open by anarchic competition and the lack of enforced ideological orthodoxy; and it is of course totally incompatible only with the first one. The reason is very simple: the competitive bourgeois type of publishing does not claim to guarantee any consistency between itself and its different authors; the authors are not responsible for a publishing firm's operation and, conversely, the publisher has no direct responsibility for their life or ideas. Only state-bureaucratic publishing (or that of parties representing such a bureaucracy in formation) is in complete solidarity with its authors: it has to endorse its authors in everything and its authors also have to endorse it. Thus it represents a double impossibility for any revolutionary expression."
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
Response to a Questionnaire from the Center for Socio-Experimental Art
1. Why are the masses not concerned with art? Why does art remain the privilege of certain educated sectors of the bourgeois class?
The importance of the theme of the present questionnaire and the limited space allotted for answers oblige us to be somewhat schematic. The situationists' positions on these topics have been elaborated in more detail in the SI's journals (Internationale Situationniste, Der Deutsche Gedanke and Situationistisk Revolution) and in the catalog [The Situationists and the New Forms of Action in Politics and Art] published on the occasion of the "Destruction of RSG 6" demonstration in Denmark last June.
The masses, i.e. the nonruling classes, have no reason to feel concerned with any aspects of a culture or an organization of social life that have not only been developed without their participation or their control, but that have in fact been deliberately designed to prevent such participation and control. They are concerned (illusorily) only with the by-products specifically produced for their consumption: the diverse forms of spectacular publicity and propaganda in favor of various products or role models.
This does not mean, however, that art subsists merely as a "privilege" of the bourgeois class. In the past every dominant class had its own art -- for the same reasons that a classless society will have none, will be beyond artistic practice. But the historical conditions of our time, associated with a major breakthrough in man's appropriation of nature and thus bearing the concrete project of a classless society, are such that major art in this period has necessarily been revolutionary. What has been called modern art, from its origins in the nineteenth century to its full development in the first third of the twentieth, has been an anti-bourgeois art. The present crisis of art is linked to the crisis of the workers movement since the defeat of the Russian revolution and the modernization of capitalism.
Today a fake continuation of modern art (formal repetitions attractively packaged and publicized, completely divorced from the original combativeness of their models) along with a voracious consumption of bits and pieces of previous cultures completely divorced from their real meaning (Malraux, previously their most ludicrous salesman in the realm of "theory," is now exhibiting them in his "Culture Centers") are what actually constitute the dubious "privilege" of the new stratum of intellectual workers that proliferates with the development of the "tertiary sector" of the economy. This sector is closely connected to that of the social spectacle: this intellectual stratum (the requirements of whose training and employment explain both the quantitative extension of education and its qualitative degradation) is both the most direct producer of the spectacle and the most direct consumer of its specifically cultural elements.
Two tendencies seem to us to typify the contemporary cultural consumption offered to this public of alienated intellectual workers:
On one hand, endeavors such as the "Visual Art Research Group" clearly tend toward the integration of the population into the dominant socioeconomic system, along the lines currently being worked out by repressive urbanism and the theorists of cybernetic control. Through a veritable parody of the revolutionary theses on putting an end to the passivity of separated spectators through the construction of situations, this "Visual Art" group strives to make the spectator participate in his own misery -- taking its lack of dialectics to the point of "freeing" the spectator by announcing that it is "forbidden not to participate" (tract at the Third Paris Biennial).
On the other hand, "New Realism," drawing heavily on the form of dadaism (but not its spirit), is an apologetic junk art. It fits quite well in the margin of pseudofreedom offered by a society of gadgets and waste.
But the importance of such artists remains very secondary, even in comparison with advertising. Thus, paradoxically, the "Socialist Realism" of the Eastern bloc, which is not art at all, nevertheless has a more decisive social function. This is because in the East power is maintained primarily by selling ideology (i.e. mystifying justifications), while in the West it is maintained by selling consumer goods. The fact that the Eastern bureaucracy has proved incapable of developing its own art, and has been forced to adapt the forms of the pseudoartistic vision of petty-bourgeois conformists of the last century (in spite of the inherent ineffectuality of those forms), confirms the present impossibility of any art as a ruling-class "privilege."
Nevertheless, all art is "social" in the sense that it has its roots in a given society and even despite itself must have some relation to the prevailing conditions, or to their negation. Former moments of opposition survive fragmentarily and lose their artistic (or postartistic) value to the precise extent they have lost the heart of opposition. With their loss of this heart they have also lost any reference to the mass of postartistic acts (of revolt and of free reconstruction of life) that already exist in the world and that are tending to replace art. This fragmentary opposition can then only withdraw to an aesthetic position and harden rapidly into a dated and ineffectual aesthetic in a world where it is already too late for aesthetics -- as has happened with surrealism, for example. Other movements are typical of degraded bourgeois mysticism (art as substitute for religion). They reproduce -- but only in the form of solitary fantasy or idealist pretension -- the forces that dominate present social life both officially and in fact: noncommunication, bluff, frantic desire for novelty as such, for the rapid turnover of arbitrary and uninteresting gadgets -- lettrism, for example, on which subject we remarked that "Isou, product of an era of unconsumable art, has suppressed the very idea of its consumption" and that he has "proposed the first art of solipsism" (Internationale Situationniste #4).
Finally, the very proliferation of would-be artistic movements that are essentially indistinguishable from one another can be seen as an application of the modern sales technique of marketing the same product under rival trademarks.
2. How can art be really "social"?
The time for art is over. The point now is to realize art, to really create on every level of life everything that hitherto could only be an artistic memory or an illusion, dreamed and preserved unilaterally. Art can be realized only by being suppressed. However, in contrast to the present society, which suppresses art by replacing it with the automatic functioning of an even more passive and hierarchical spectacle, we maintain that art can really be suppressed only by being realized.
2. (cont.) Does the political society in which you live encourage or discourage your social function as an artist?
This society has suppressed what you call the social function of the artist.
If this question refers to the function of employees in the reigning spectacle, it is obvious that the number of jobs to be had there expands as the spectacle does. The situationists, however, do not find this employment opportunity the least bit attractive.
If, on the other hand, we take this question as referring to the inheriting of previous art through new types of activity, beginning with contestation of the whole society, the society in question naturally discourages such a practice.
3. Do you think your aesthetics would be different if you lived in a socially, politically or economically different society?
Certainly. When our perspectives are realized, aesthetics (as well as its negation) will be superseded.
If we were presently living in an underdeveloped country or in one subjected to archaic forms of domination (colonialism or a Franco-type dictatorship), we would agree that artists can to a certain extent participate as such in popular struggles. In a context of general social and cultural backwardness the social function of the artist still retains a certain significance, and a not entirely sham communication is still possible within the traditional forms.
If we were living in a country governed by a "socialist" bureaucracy, where information about cultural and other experimentation in advanced industrialized countries over the last fifty years is systematically suppressed, we would certainly support the minimum demand for dissemination of truth, including the truth about contemporary Western art. We would do this despite the inevitable ambiguity of such a demand, since the history of modern art, though already accessible and even glorified in the West, is nonetheless still profoundly falsified; and its importation into the Eastern bloc would first of all be exploited by hacks like Yevtushenko in their modernization of official art.
4. Do you participate in politics or not? Why?
Yes, but in only one kind: together with various other forces in the world, we are working toward the linkup and the theoretical and practical organization of a new revolutionary movement.
All the considerations we are developing here simultaneously demonstrate the need to go beyond the failures of previous specialized politics.
5. Does an association of artists seem necessary to you? What would be its objectives?
There are already numerous associations of artists, either without principles or based on one or another extravagant absurdity -- mutual aid unions, mutual congratulation societies, alliances for collective careerism. Works that on the slightest pretext are proclaimed "collective projects" are fashionable at the moment, and are even put in the limelight at the pitiful Paris biennials, thus diverting attention from the real problems of the supersession of art. We regard all these associations with equal contempt and accept no contact whatsoever with this milieu.
We do believe that a coherent and disciplined association for the realization of a common program is possible on the bases worked out by the Situationist International, provided that the participants are so rigorously selected that they all demonstrate a high degree of creative originality, and that in a sense they cease to be "artists" or to consider themselves as artists in the old sense of the word.
It could in fact be questioned whether the situationists are artists at all, even avant-garde ones. Not only because almost everyone in the cultural scene resists acknowledging them as such (at least once the whole of the situationist program is involved) or because their interests extend far beyond the former scope of art. Their nature as artists is even more problematic on the socioeconomic level. Many situationists support themselves by rather dubious methods, ranging from historical research to poker, from bartending to running puppet theaters. It is striking that of the 28 members of the Situationist International whom we have had to exclude so far, 23 personally had a socially recognized and increasingly profitable role as artists: they were known as artists despite their membership in the SI. But as such they were tending to reinforce the position of our enemies, who want to invent a "situationism" so as to finish with us by integrating us into the spectacle as just one more doomsday aesthetic. Yet while doing this, these artists wanted to remain in the SI. This was unacceptable for us. The figures speak for themselves.
It goes without saying that any other "objectives" of any association of artists are of no interest to us, since we regard them as no longer having any point whatsoever.
6. How is the work you are presenting here related to these statements?
The enclosed work obviously cannot represent a "situationist art." Under the present distinctly antisituationist cultural conditions we have to resort to "communication containing its own critique," which we have experimented with in every accessible medium, from film to writing, and which we have theorized under the name of détournement. Since the Center for Socio-Experimental Art has limited its survey to the plastic arts, we have selected, from among the numerous possibilities of détournement as a means of agitation, MichÃ¨le Bernstein's antipainting Victory of the Bonnot Gang. It forms part of a series including Victory of the Paris Commune, Victory of the Great Jacquerie of 1358, Victory of the Spanish Republicans, Victory of the Workers Councils of Budapest and several other victories. Such paintings attempt to negate "Pop Art" (which is materially and "ideologically" characterized by indifference and dull complacency) by incorporating only toy objects and by making them meaningful in as heavy-handed a way as possible. In a sense this series carries on the tradition of the painting of battles; and also rectifies the history of revolts (which is not over) in a way that pleases us. It seems that each new attempt to transform the world is forced to start out with the appearance of a new unrealism.
We hope that our remarks here, both humorous and serious, will help to clarify our position on the present relationship between art and society.
For the Situationist International:
J.V. MARTIN, JAN STRIJBOSCH, RAOUL VANEIGEM, RENÃ‰ VIÃ‰NET (6 December 1963)
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Sitiuationist International Anthology).