Internationale Situationniste #1

Cover of Internationale Situationiste #1

First issue of the journal of the Situationist International. Published June 1958.

Submitted by libcom on September 8, 2005

As a rule, this bulletin is edited collectively. The various articles written and signed individually must also be considered of interest to all of our comrades, and as particular points of their common research. We are opposed to the survival of such forms as the literary review or art journal.

All texts published in Internationale Situationniste may be freely reproduced, translated and adapted, even without indication of origin.

YOUNG GUYS, YOUNG GIRLS

Talent wanted for getting out of this and playing
No special qualifications
Whether you're beautiful or you're bright
History could be on your side
WITH THE SITUATIONISTS
No telephone. Write or turn up:
32, rue de la Montagne-Geneviève, Paris 5e.

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The Bitter Victory of Surrealism

A surrealist photo collage of several hands appearing out of a rocky landscape. The sky is occupied by a human eye.

Situationist International critique of the Surrealists, from International Situationniste #1.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 22, 2022

Translated by Ian Thompson, January 2015. Proofread and Edited by Anna O’Meara & Mehdi el H. From here: https://isinenglish.com/the-bitter-victory-of-surrealism/

"The success of Surrealism owes much to the fact that the most modern aspect of this society’s ideology has renounced a strict hierarchy of artificial values and openly makes use of the irrational, alongside the relics of Surrealism."
Report on the Construction of Situations, June 1957

Framed within a world that has not been fundamentally transformed, Surrealism is a success. This success has backfired on Surrealism, which expected nothing less than the overthrow of the dominant social order. Meanwhile, the intensifying delay in mass action devoted to this overthrow, along with the contradictions of advanced capitalism and a matching impotence in cultural creation, maintain the currency of Surrealism and promote a multiplicity of degraded repetitions.

Surrealism has an impassable nature in the conditions of life it has encountered (and which it has scandalously prolonged until now) because, as a whole, it is already an addendum to the art and poetry annihilated by Dadaism, with all the possibilities 1 [of art and poetry] [lying] beyond the Surrealist postscript to art history – in the issues of constructing an authentic life. All those who want to place themselves after Surrealism rediscover questions which predate it (Dadaist poetry or theatre – research into a collection of secondhand goods 2 ). Thus, for the most part, the pictorial novelties which have attracted attention since the end of the war are merely details, isolated and enlarged, taken — secretly — from the coherent mass of Surrealist contributions (Max Ernst, at an exhibition in Paris in early 1958, recalled what he had heard from Pollock in 1942).

The modern world has caught up with the clear lead that Surrealism once had on it. Demonstrations of innovation in the disciplines which are genuinely advancing (the scientific techniques) take on a Surrealist appearance: in 1955, a robot at the University of Manchester wrote a love letter that could pass for an example of automatic writing by a less-than-talented 3 Surrealist. However the reality controlling this progression is that, [as] the revolution has not come 4 , everything that [once] constituted a margin of freedom for Surrealism finds itself co-opted and utilised by the repressive world the Surrealists had fought.

The use of tape recorders to teach sleeping subjects sets about depleting life’s storehouse of dreams in the pursuit of pathetic and repugnant utilitarian goals. Nothing, however, constitutes such a clear co-opting of Surrealism’s subversive discoveries as the exploitation of automatic writing, and the collective games based on it, found in the technique of canvassing ideas called “brainstorming” in the United States. In “France-Observateur”, Gérard Lauzun writes:

“In a session lasting a set duration (ten minutes to an hour), a limited number of people (6 to 15) have complete freedom to express as many of their ideas as possible, no matter how outlandish, with no risk of censure. The quality of the ideas isn’t of much concern. It is absolutely forbidden to criticise participants’ ideas, or even to smile while they are speaking. Additionally everyone has the absolute right, the obligation even, to steal from and add to the previous ideas. (…) The army, the civil service, and the police have also found uses for the technique. The world of scientific research itself substitutes brainstorming sessions for conferences and ’round-tables’. (…) A writer/producer at the C.F.P.I. needs a title for a film. Eight people can put forward seventy in around fifteen minutes! Then, a tagline 5 : one hundred and four ideas in thirty four minutes – two are kept. (…) Lack of thinking, irrationality, absurdity, and sudden changes of subject are the rule. Quality makes way for quantity. The main goal of this technique is to eliminate the various barriers of social constraint, timidity, and fear which often prevent some people from speaking up at meetings or during administrative conferences – from advancing absurd suggestions which may contain some buried treasure! With these barriers lifted, we observe that people speak and, above all, that everyone has something to say. (…) Some American managers have been quick to see the advantages of such a technique in employee relations. Those who are able to express themselves demand less. ‘Organise brainstorming sessions for us!’ they tell the specialists: ‘to demonstrate to our employees that we care about their ideas, since we’re asking for them!’ The technique is becoming a vaccine against the revolutionary virus.”

Translators' note: As this new translation was being produced, I cross-referenced it to an existing translation made by Reuben Keehan, available on-line here. I would like to acknowledge the work done by Reuben Keehan, and the real assistance his translation provided to me. However all final decisions (for better or worse – which is for the reader to decide) in this translation are mine alone.

  • 1“ouvertures” – literally openings
  • 2“dans le style du recueil «Mont-de-Piété»” – literally “in the style of a pawnshop collection”
  • 3“peu doué” – literally “not very gifted”
  • 4“la révolution n’etant pas faite” – literally “the revolution has not been made”
  • 5“slogan” – slogan, or advertising headline (‘tagline’ is specifically related to films)

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The Sound and the Fury

John Arden
John Arden

An article on the emerging youth culture in the late 1950s that expressed some disillusionment with society.

Submitted by libcom on September 9, 2005

There is a lot of talk these days about angry, raging youth. The reason people are so fond of talking about them is that, from the aimless riots of Swedish adolescents to the proclamations of England's would-be literary movement, the "Angry Young Men," there is the same utter innocuousness, the same reassuring flimsiness. Products of a period in which the dominant ideas and lifestyles are decomposing, a period that has seen tremendous breakthroughs in the domination of nature without any corresponding increase in the real possibilities of everyday life, reacting, often crudely, against the world they find themselves stuck in, these youth outbursts are somewhat reminiscent of the surrealist state of mind. But they lack surrealism's points of leverage in culture, and its revolutionary hope. Hence the tone underlying the spontaneous negativity of American, Scandinavian and Japanese youth is one of resignation. Saint-Germain-des-Prés had already, during the first years after World War II, served as a laboratory for this kind of behavior (misleadingly termed "existentialist" by the press); which is why the present intellectual representatives of that generation in France (Françoise Sagan, Robbe-Grillet, Vadim, the atrocious Buffet) are all such extreme caricatural images of resignation.

Although this intellectual generation exhibits more aggressiveness outside France, its consciousness still ranges from simple imbecility to premature self-satisfaction with a very inadequate revolt. The rotten egg smell exuded by the idea of God envelops the mystical cretins of America's "Beat Generation" and is not even entirely absent from the declarations of the Angry Young Men (e.g. Colin Wilson). These latter have just discovered, thirty years behind the times, a certain moral subversiveness that England had managed to completely hide from them all this time; and they think they're being daringly scandalous by declaring themselves antimonarchists. "Plays continue to be produced," writes Kenneth Tynan, "that are based on the ridiculous idea that people still fear and respect the Crown, the Empire, the Church, the University and Polite Society." This statement is indicative of how tepidly literary the Angry Young Men's perspective is. They have simply come to change their opinions about a few social conventions without even noticing the fundamental change of terrain of all cultural activity so evident in every avant-garde tendency of this century. The Angry Young Men are in fact particularly reactionary in attributing a privileged, redemptive value to the practice of literature, thereby defending a mystification that was denounced in Europe around 1920 and whose survival today is of greater counterrevolutionary significance than that of the British Crown.

In all this pseudorevolutionary sound and fury there is a common lack of understanding of the meaning and scope of surrealism (itself naturally distorted by its bourgeois artistic success). A continuation of surrealism would in fact be the most consistent attitude to take if nothing new arose to replace it. But because the young people who now rally to surrealism are aware of surrealism's profound demands while being incapable of overcoming the contradiction between those demands and the stagnation accompanying its apparent success, they take refuge in the reactionary aspects present within surrealism from its inception (magic, belief in a golden age elsewhere than in history to come). Some of them even take pride in still standing under surrealism's arc de triomphe, so long after the period of real struggle. There they will remain, says Gérard Legrand proudly (Surréalisme même #2), faithful to their tradition, "a small band of youthful souls resolved to keep alive the true flame of surrealism."

A movement more liberating than the surrealism of 1924 -- a movement Breton promised to rally to if it were to appear -- cannot easily be formed because its liberativeness now depends on its seizing the more advanced material means of the modern world. But the surrealists of 1958 have not only become incapable of rallying to such a movement, they are even determined to combat it. But this does not eliminate the necessity for a revolutionary movement in culture to appropriate, with greater effectiveness, the freedom of spirit and the concrete freedom of mores demanded by surrealism.

For us, surrealism has been only a beginning of a revolutionary experiment in culture, an experiment that almost immediately ground to a practical and theoretical halt. We have to go further. Why is becoming a surrealist no longer a meaningful option? Not because of the ruling class's constant encouragement of "avant-garde" movements to dissociate themselves from the scandalous aspects of surrealism. (This encouragement is not made in the name of promoting originality at all costs -- how could it be, when the ruling order has nothing really new to propose to us, nothing going beyond surrealism? On the contrary, the bourgeoisie stands ready to applaud any regressions we might lapse into.) If we are not surrealists, it is because surrealism has become a total bore.

Decrepit surrealism, raging and ill-informed youth, well-off adolescent rebels without perspectives (though certainly not without a cause) -- boredom is what they all have in common. The situationists will execute the judgment that contemporary leisure is pronouncing against itself.

SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1958)

Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).

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The Freedom to Read What? Some Nonsense.

A short text from Internationale Situationniste #1.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 23, 2022

Translated by Ian Thompson, February 2015. Proofread and Edited by Anna O’Meara & Mehdi el H. From: https://isinenglish.com/717-2/

The escape into art and literature, along with the overvaluing of these activities (in accord 1 with the old bourgeois perspective) seem to be widespread notions in the Workers’ States of Europe. There, disillusioned intellectuals, reacting to the police détournements 2 of an undertaking to make real change in the world, have come to demonstrate a naïve indulgence for the by-products and repetitions of a decomposing Western culture. In a concurrent delusion they have rediscovered the subject of Parliamentary Democracy. The young Polish writer Marek Hlasko, in an interview in “L’Express” (17 April 1958), justified his intention to return to Poland (where, according to his own confidently expressed opinions, life is unbearable – with no possibility of improvement) by using this stunning rationale: “Poland is an extraordinary country for a writer, and it is worth enduring all the consequences in order to live in this country, and to observe it.”

We have no regrets about the decline of the Zhdanov Doctrine despite the senseless interest one comes across in Czechoslovakia or Poland in the more wretched aspects of the end of Western culture: expressions which are no longer at the extreme of formal decomposition, but which have reached a total neutrality (e.g. Sagan-Drouet, or the artistic motivations of the journal “Phases”). We understand the need to oppose the still powerful doctrine of Social Realism by demanding total freedom of information and creation. But this freedom should in no instance become confused with an allegiance to the “modern” culture now found in Western Europe. This culture is historically the opposite of creation: a series of forged repetitions. To call for freedom of creation, is to recognise the necessity for the better construction of environments. Real freedom will be the same both here and in the Workers’ States, as will its foes.

Translator's Note: As this new translation was being produced, I cross-referenced it to an existing translation made by Reuben Keehan, available on-line here. I would like to acknowledge the work done by Reuben Keehan, and the real assistance his translation provided. However all final decisions (for better or worse – which is for the reader to decide) in this translation are mine alone.

  • 1“définies selon” – literally “defined in accordance with”
  • 2“détournement” – literally “diversion/misappropriation”, I have retained the original French here to denote it’s very specific use by the SI (as specified later in this issue in “Definitions”)

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The Struggle for Control of the New Techniques of Conditioning

A cartoon showing adults interacting with children - Reinforcement and Punishment

Text on psychological manipulation and influence from International Situationniste #1.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 24, 2022

Translated by Ian Thompson, March 2015. Proofread and Edited by Anna O’Meara & Mehdi el H. From: https://isinenglish.com/1-4-the-struggle-for-control-of-the-new-techniques-of-conditioning/

“It is now possible for us to unfailingly trigger and direct the responses of men in predetermined ways”, writes Serge Chakhotin concerning techniques of public influence1 used by both revolutionaries and fascists between the two world wars (“The Rape of the Masses : the Psychology of Totalitarian Political Propaganda”2
, Gallimard). Science has continued to progress ever since: there have been advances in the experimental study of the mechanisms of behaviour; new uses have been found for existing technologies; and new technologies [for influencing behaviour] have been invented. For many years, there have been trials of subliminal advertising (by editing unrelated images, 1/24th of a second in duration, into films, – [that are] perceptible to the retina but that remain beneath conscious recognition) and of inaudible advertising (using infrasound). In 1957, Canada’s National Defence Research Service carried out an experimental study into boredom, in which subjects were isolated in a hermetically-sealed3 environment (a constantly-lit cell with bare walls, furnished with only a comfortable couch, and absolutely devoid of smells, noises, or variations in temperature). Researchers observed extensive disturbances in behaviour; in the absence of sensory stimuli the brain failed to maintain the standard4 level of arousal needed for its normal functioning. They could therefore conclude that dull ambiences have a harmful influence on human behaviour, and hence explain the unpredictable accidents that occur during monotonous work – which will certainly5 increase with the extension of automation.

The testimony of a certain Lajos Ruff, published in the French press6 at the start of 1958, takes take this a step further7 . His account (dubious in many respects, but not lacking in detail8 ) describes the “brainwashing” he allegedly endured [at the hands of]9 the Hungarian police in 1956. Ruff claims he had spent six weeks locked in a room where the combined use of well-known techniques10 had aimed at — and eventually succeeded in — making him lose all faith in his own perception of the outside world and in his own personality. These techniques were: the resolutely alien decor of this closed room (transparent furniture, a curved bed); the lighting, with a bright light11 from the outside shining through at night (he had deliberately been warned about the light’s psychological effects, but had no ability to shelter [from it]); psychoanalytic methods used by a doctor in everyday conversation; various drugs; simple deceptions which enhanced the effects of these drugs (even though he had every reason to believe that he had been unable to leave his cell for weeks, he would wake up [dressed in] damp clothes and muddy shoes); the screening of absurd or erotic films, combined with the occasional performance of other scenes in the room itself; and lastly, visitors who spoke to him as if he were the hero of an adventure series (set in the Hungarian Resistance) which he was forced to watch (from the details in these films and in his real-life encounters, he ended up feeling the pride of having taken part in the action).

Here we must recognise the repressive use of a constructed ambience that has reached a fair level of complexity. To date, all the findings of impartial scientific research have been ignored by free artists, and put to immediate use by the police. In the United States subliminal advertising has raised some concern, but the public has been reassured by the announcement that the first two slogans to be broadcast would be innocuous 12 . These persuasive messages are“Ils influenceront dans ces deux directions” – literally “They will influence in these two ways”: “Drive slower” and “GO TO CHURCH.”

The entire humanist, artistic and legal notion of the sacrosanct, unalterable personality is doomed. We have no displeasure in seeing it go. But it should be understood that we will [actively] join the race between free artists and the police to test and to improve the use of the new techniques of conditioning. The police already have a considerable head start in this race. Its outcome [will result in either]13 the outbreak of passionate and liberating environments, or the scientifically controllable, impervious reinforcement of the old world’s environment of horror and oppression. While we speak of free artists, no artistic freedom is possible until we seize the means accumulated by the XXth century – which we see as the real means of artistic production. Those deprived of [such means] are doomed not to be artists for these times. If the control of these new means is not entirely revolutionary, we could be dragged towards the police[-state] ideal14 of a beehive-like society. The domination of nature can be either revolutionary or become the absolute weapon of the forces of the past. The Situationists place themselves at the service of the need for forgetting. The only force that the Situationists can expect anything of is the proletariat (theoretically without a past, compelled to reinvent everything permanently, which in Marx’s words “is revolutionary or nothing”). Will the proletariat be of our times or not? The question is important for our purpose: the proletariat must realise art.

Translator's note: As this new translation was being produced, I cross-referenced it to an existing translation made by Reuben Keehan, available on-line here. I would like to acknowledge the work done by Reuben Keehan, and the real assistance his translation provided. However all final decisions (for better or worse – which is for the reader to decide) in this translation are mine alone.

  • 1“méthods d’influence sur des collectivités” – techniques of influence on communities”
  • 2Title of the English version of Chakhotin’s book – translated by E. W. Dickes (Alliance Book Corp, 1940)
  • 3“un environnement aménagé de telle sorte que rien ne pouvrait s’y passer” – literally “an environment adjusted in such a way that nothing can get through it”
  • 4“moyenne” – can also be translated as “average” or “normal”
  • 5“destinés à” – literally “destined for”
  • 6“et en libraire” – redundant phrase not included
  • 7“On va plus loin” – literally “We go further”
  • 8“ne contenant aucune anticipation de détail” – literally “not holding back any advance of detail”
  • 9“que lui aurait fait subir la” – literally “which he would have [been] made to endure [by] the”
  • 10“moyens” – literally “means” or “resources”
  • 11“rayon lumineux” – literally “luminous beam”
  • 12“seraient sans danger pour quiconque” – literally “would be harmless for anyone”
  • 13“De son issue dépend pourtant” – literally “From its outcome yet depends”
  • 14alternatively “policé” can be the past participle of the archaic verb “policer” (literally “to civilise”) – so there is an alternate rendered of “civilised ideal”

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For and Against Cinema

Cinema audience

Short situationist text on cinema, from Internationale Situationniste #1.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 25, 2022

FOR 1 AND AGAINST CINEMA

Translated by Ian Thompson, April 2015. Proofread and Edited by Anna O’Meara & Mehdi el H. From https://isinenglish.com/748-2/

Cinema is the principal art of our society, insofar as its development is sought in the continual integration2 of new mechanical technologies. Hence, [cinema] is the best representation of an era of anarchically juxtaposed inventions (not coherently linked, but simply added together3 ) not only in its anecdotal or formal expression, but also in its material infrastructure. Following the big-screen, the introduction of stereo sound, and attempts [to create] 3D images, the United States showcased a process known as “Circarama”4 at the Brussels World Fair. As reported in “Le Monde” on April 17, through this technique5

“we find ourselves in the centre of the spectacle and we live it – just as if we are an integrated part of it. When cameras mounted inside a car capture images of San Francisco’s Chinatown rushing past6 , we experience the [same] reactions and feelings [as] the car’s passengers.”

Elsewhere an aromatic cinema is being tested through new applications of sprays; it is expected to give undeniably realistic results.

Cinema thus presents itself as a passive substitute for the unitary artistic activity that is now possible. It brings previously unheard of power to the worn-down, reactionary force of the spectacle without participation. One is not afraid to say that we live in the world we recognise by finding ourselves7 without freedom in the centre of a miserable spectacle, “just as if we are an integrated part of it”. But that is not life, and spectators [have] not yet [come into] the world8 . [Indeed] those who wish to build this world must fight cinema’s tendency to represent the anti-construction of situations (the construction of the ambience of the slave, the legacy of cathedrals), while at the same time recognising the inherent value of new technological applications (stereophonics, aromatics).

The lag in the appearance of symptoms of modern art in cinema (e.g. some [self]-destructive9 works, accepted for 20 to 30 years in literature and the plastic arts, are still rejected even in the cinema clubs 10 ) arises not only from its chains of simple economics and masked idealisms (moral censorship), but [also] from the positive importance of cinematic art in modern society. Cinema’s importance is owed to the superior means of influence it applies, which inevitably leads to the increasing control [of cinema] by the dominant class. It is therefore necessary to struggle to seize a truly experimental sector in the cinema.

We can foresee two distinct uses for cinema: firstly, its use as a form of propaganda in the pre-situationist transition period; next, its direct use as a constituent element in a realised situation.

Cinema is therefore comparable to architecture in its current importance in everyone’s life, in the restrictions that hamper“ferment” – literally “close (off)” its renewal, and by the great potential impact such freedom of renewal is bound to have. It is necessary to take advantage of the progressive aspects of mass-produced cinema, and as in the discovery of an architecture based on the psychological employment of ambience, we can remove the pearl hidden in the manure of absolute functionalism.

Translator's Note: As this new translation was being produced, I cross-referenced it to an existing translation made by Reuben Keehan, available on-line here. I would like to acknowledge the work done by Reuben Keehan, and the real assistance his translation provided. However all final decisions (for better or worse – which is for the reader to decide) in this translation are mine alone.

  • 1“Avec” – literally “with”
  • 2“dans un mouvement continu d’integration” – literally “in a continuous motion/action of integration”
  • 3“non articulées, simplement additionnées” – literally “not connected, merely added”
  • 4“Circarama” was developed by Disney Corporation
  • 5“au moyen duquel” – literally “by means of which”
  • 6“prises de vues fonce dans le quartier chinois de San-Francisco” – “have taken pictures hurrying in the Chinese neighborhood of San Francisco”
  • 7“du fait que l’on se trouve” – literally “in fact that in it we find ourselves”
  • 8“ne sont pas encore au monde” – literally “are not yet in/with the world
  • 9“oeuvres formellement destructrices” – literally “absolutely destructive works”
  • 10“sont encore rejectées même dans les ciné-clubs” – literally “are still rejected, even in cinema clubs”. Please note that this entire sentence has been totally restructured to flow better in English.

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Contribution to a Situationist Definition of Play

A photo of two boys playing football in front a "No Ball Games" sign.

A short text from Internationale Situationniste #1.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 26, 2022

Translated by Ian Thompson, April 2015. Proofread and Edited by Anna O’Meara & Mehdi el H.
From: https://isinenglish.com/1-6-contribution-to-a-situationist-definition-of-play/

One can only escape the linguistic and practical confusion that surrounds the notion of play by considering it in action. Two centuries of negation by the constant idealisation of production have led to the primitive social functions of play now appearing as nothing more than bastardised relics, as inferior forms derived from the needs of the current organisation of production. At the same time, the progressive tendencies of play have revealed themselves, linked to the very development of these productive forces.

The next phase of play’s advance1 seems to require2 the disappearance of any element of competition. The question of winning or losing, which has to date been nearly inseparable from ludic activity, appears to be tied to every other expression of competition between people in the appropriation of goods. The sense of importance in winning, which concerns concrete (or more frequently illusory) satisfactions, is the wretched product of a wretched society. The feeling [of winning] is, of course, exploited by every conservative force to conceal the monotony and the brutality of the conditions of life they impose. Simply consider the [social] demands3 détourned by competitive sports, which was most clearly established in its modern form4 in Great Britain, alongside5 the rise of factories. Not only do the crowds identify with professional players or clubs (which assume the same mythic role as the movie stars who live, and the statesmen who make decisions, in their place), but the endless sequence of match results also keeps hold over the passions of the spectators6 . Direct participation in a game, even in those requiring a certain degree of intellectual exertion, becomes uninteresting as soon as the established rules of play involve the acceptance of competition for its own sake. Nothing sows the contemporary contempt for the idea of play as much as the presumptuous observation which opens Tartakower’s “A Breviary of Chess” 7 : “Chess is universally recognised as the king of games.”

The element of competition must vanish in favour of a more authentically collective concept of play: the communal creation of selected ludic ambiences. The central distinction made between play and everyday life, which keeps play as an isolated and temporary anomaly, must be surpassed. Johan Huizinga writes, “Into an imperfect world and into the confusion of life, [play] brings a temporary, a limited perfection.” [8] Everyday life, which was previously determined by the question of survival, can now be rationally controlled (this possibility is at the heart of every conflict of our time). Play, radically breaking with a delimited ludic time and space, must invade the whole of life. Perfection cannot be its endpoint, insofar as this perfection signifies a static construction opposed to life. However one can propose to push the beautiful chaos of life to its perfection. Eugénio d’Ors considered the Baroque to delimit once and for all “the vacancy of history”, and the organised afterlife of the Baroque will hold a major place in the coming reign of leisure

In this historical perspective, play — the constant experimentation with ludic innovations — only comes into being alongside ethics and questions of life’s meaning. The only success which we can appreciate in play is the immediate success of its ambience, and the constant increase of its powers. In its present co-existence with the residues of the phase of decline, play cannot completely free itself from a competitive aspect, it must at least aim to provoke conditions favourable to living directly. In this sense it is still both a struggle and a representation: a struggle for a life measured by desire, and a concrete representation of such a life.

Play often feels imaginary, owing to its fringe existence in comparison to the oppressive reality of work, but the Situationists’ work is precisely the preparation of the ludic possibilities to come. One can thus be tempted to neglect the Situationist International inasmuch as one will easily identify in it some aspects of a great game. “Nevertheless,” says Huizinga, “as we have already pointed out, the consciousness of play being ‘only pretend’ does not in any way prevent it from proceeding with the utmost seriousness…”8

Translator's Note: As this new translation was being produced, I cross-referenced it to an existing translation made by Reuben Keehan, available on-line here. I would like to acknowledge the work done by Reuben Keehan, and the real assistance his translation provided. However all final decisions (for better or worse – which is for the reader to decide) in this translation are mine alone.

  • 1“affirmation” – literally “assertion”
  • 2“semble devoir” – literally “seems to be bound to”
  • 3“revendications” are demands/claims made on behalf of a group (eg strikers, protestors)
  • 4“qui s”impose sous sa forme moderne précisément” – literally “which established itself in it’s modern form accurately”
  • 5“avec” – “with”, “because of”, or “using”
  • 6“ne laisse pas de passionner les observateurs” – literally “does not let [up on] entralling/exciting the observers”
  • 7English translation of Tartakower’s book (George Rutledge & Sons, 1937)
  • 8both Huizinga quotes are taken from the English edition of “Homo Ludens” (Roy Publishers, 1950). “Homo Luden’s” was written in German, however the English translation was partially based on Huzinga’s own translation into English. Note that the grammatically awkward phrase “only a pretend” has been altered in the last quote for flow.

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Preliminary Problems in Constructing a Situation

Preliminary Problems in Constructing a Situation

Submitted by libcom on September 9, 2005

"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. . . . 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."

--Report on the Construction of Situations

Our conception of a "constructed situation" is not limited to an integrated use of artistic means to create an ambiance, however great the force or spatiotemporal extent of that ambiance might be. A situation is also an integrated ensemble of behavior in time. It is composed of actions contained in a transitory decor. These actions are the product of the decor and of themselves, and they in their turn produce other decors and other actions. How can these forces be oriented? We are not going to limit ourselves to merely empirical experimentation with environments in quest of mechanistically provoked surprises. The really experimental direction of situationist activity consists in setting up, on the basis of more or less clearly recognized desires, a temporary field of activity favorable to these desires. This alone can lead to the further clarification of these simple basic desires, and to the confused emergence of new desires whose material roots will be precisely the new reality engendered by situationist constructions.

We must thus envisage a sort of situationist-oriented psychoanalysis in which, in contrast to the goals pursued by the various currents stemming from Freudianism, each of the participants in this adventure would discover desires for specific ambiances in order to fulfill them. Each person must seek what he loves, what attracts him. (And here again, in contrast to certain endeavors of modern writing -- Leiris, for example -- what is important to us is neither our individual psychological structures nor the explanation of their formation, but their possible application in the construction of situations.) Through this method one can tabulate elements out of which situations can be constructed, along with projects to dynamize these elements.

This kind of research is meaningful only for individuals working practically toward a construction of situations. Such people are presituationists (either spontaneously or in a conscious and organized manner) inasmuch as they have sensed the objective need for this sort of construction through having recognized the present cultural emptiness and having participated in recent expressions of experimental awareness. They are close to each other because they share the same specialization and have taken part in the same historical avant-garde of that specialization. It is thus likely that they will share a number of situationist themes and desires, which will increasingly diversify once they are brought into a phase of real activity.

A constructed situation must be collectively prepared and developed. It would seem, however, that, at least during the initial period of rough experiments, a situation requires one individual to play a sort of "director" role. If we imagine a particular situation project in which, for example, a research team has arranged an emotionally moving gathering of a few people for an evening, we would no doubt have to distinguish: a director or producer responsible for coordinating the basic elements necessary for the construction of the decor and for working out certain interventions in the events (alternatively, several people could work out their own interventions while being more or less unaware of each other's plans); the direct agents living the situation, who have taken part in creating the collective project and worked on the practical composition of the ambiance; and finally, a few passive spectators who have not participated in the constructive work, who should be forced into action.

This relation between the director and the "livers" of the situation must naturally never become a permanent specialization. It's only a matter of a temporary subordination of a team of situationists to the person responsible for a particular project. These perspectives, or the provisional terminology describing them, should not be taken to mean that we are talking about some continuation of theater. Pirandello and Brecht have already revealed the destruction of the theatrical spectacle and pointed out a few of the requirements for going beyond it. It could be said that the construction of situations will replace theater in the same sense that the real construction of life has increasingly tended to replace religion. The principal domain we are going to replace and fulfill is obviously poetry, which burned itself out by taking its position at the vanguard of our time and has now completely disappeared.

Real individual fulfillment, which is also involved in the artistic experience that the situationists are discovering, entails the collective takeover of the world. Until this happens there will be no real individuals, but only specters haunting the things anarchically presented to them by others. In chance situations we meet separated beings moving at random. Their divergent emotions neutralize each other and maintain their solid environment of boredom. We are going to undermine these conditions by raising at a few points the incendiary beacon heralding a greater game.

In our time functionalism (an inevitable expression of technological advance) is attempting to entirely eliminate play. The partisans of "industrial design" complain that their projects are spoiled by people's playful tendencies. At the same time, industrial commerce crudely exploits these tendencies by diverting them to a demand for constant superficial renovation of utilitarian products. We obviously have no interest in encouraging the continuous artistic renovation of refrigerator designs. But a moralizing functionalism is incapable of getting to the heart of the problem. The only progressive way out is to liberate the tendency toward play elsewhere, and on a larger scale. Short of this, all the naïve indignation of the theorists of industrial design will not change the basic fact that the private automobile, for example, is primarily an idiotic toy and only secondarily a means of transportation. As opposed to all the regressive forms of play -- which are regressions to its infantile stage and are invariably linked to reactionary politics -- it is necessary to promote the experimental forms of a game of revolution.

SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1958)

Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).

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Definitions

Submitted by libcom on September 9, 2005

constructed situation

A moment of life, concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of unitary environment and the free play of events.

situationist

Relating to the theory or practical activity of constructing situations. One who engages in the construction of situations. A member of the Situationist International.

situationism

A word totally devoid of meaning, improperly derived from the preceding term. There is no situationism, which would mean a theory of interpretation of existing facts. The notion of situationism was obviously conceived by anti-situationists.

psychogeography

The study of the precise effects of geographical setting, consciously managed or not, acting directly on the mood and behaviour of the individual.

psychogeographical

Relating to psychogeography. That which manifests the direct effect of geographical setting on mood.

psychogeographer

One who studies and reports on psychogeographical realities.

dérive

An experimental mode of behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique for hastily passing through varied environments. Also used, more particularly, to designate the duration of a prolonged exercise of such an experiment.

unitary urbanism

The theory of the combined use of art and technology leading to the integrated construction of an environment dynamically linked to behavioural experiments.

détournement

Used as an abbreviation for the formula: détournement of prefabricated aesthetic elements. The integration of past or present artistic production into a superior environmental construction. In this sense, there cannot be situationist painting, or music, but a situationist use of these media. In a more primitive sense, détournement from within old cultural spheres is a form of propaganda, which lays witness to the depletion and waning importance of these spheres.

culture

The reflection and prefiguration at any given historical moment, of the possible organization of daily life; the complex of mores, aesthetic, and feelings by which a collective reacts to a life which is objectively given to it by its economy. (We define this term only from the perspective of the creation of values, and not of their teaching.)

decomposition

The process by which traditional cultural forms have destroyed themselves, under the effects of the appearance of superior means of dominating nature, permitting and requiring superior cultural constructions. We distinguish between an active phase of decomposition, effective demolition of older superstructures -- which ends around 1930 -- and a phase of repetition, which has dominated since then. The delay in passing from decomposition to new constructions is tied to the delay in the revolutionary liquidation of capitalism.

(June 1958)

Translated 1995 by a.h.s. boy

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Formulary for a New Urbanism - Gilles Ivain

Extracts of maps in black are joined by red arrows. "Everyone will live in their own cathedral..."

One of the key texts of psychogeography, composed by Ivan Chtcheglov under the pseudonym Gilles Ivain when he was 19 years old. It was orginally an internal document adopted by the Lettrist International in October 1953, then published in International Situationniste #1.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 27, 2022

Translated by Ian Thompson, January 2016. Proofread and Edited by Anna O’Meara & Mehdi el H. From: https://isinenglish.com/1-9-formulary-for-a-new-urbanism/

SIR, I AM FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY

We are bored in the city, there is no more Temple of the Sun. Between the legs of passing women the Dadaists had hoped to find a monkey wrench, and the Surrealists, a crystal cup. That’s gone [1]. We know how to read faces [for] every promise — the latest stage of morphology. The poetry of billboards lasted twenty years. We are bored in the city, we have to push ourselves to the limit [2] to discover still more mysteries on the street signage [3], the latest state of humour and poetry:

Patriarch’s Public Baths
Meat-cutting Machines
Notre-Dame Zoo
Sports Pharmacy
Martyrs’ Convenience Store
Translucent Concrete
Golden-Hand Sawmill
Centre for Functional Recuperation
Saint-Anne Ambulance
Café Fifth Avenue
Volunteers Street Extension [4]
Guesthouse in the Garden
Hotel of Foreigners
Wild Street

And the swimming pool on the Street of Little Girls [5]. And the police station on Rendezvous Street [6]. The medico-surgical clinic and the free employment agency on the Quay of Goldsmiths [7]. The artificial flowers on Sun Street [8]. The Castle Cellars Hotel, the Ocean Bar and the Back & Forth Café. The Hotel of the Epoch.

And the strange statue of Dr. Philippe Pinel, benefactor of the insane, in the last evenings of summer. To explore Paris.

And you, forgotten, your memories ravaged by all the dismays of the world [9], run aground in the Red Cellars of Pali-Kao, without music and without geography, no longer on your way to the hacienda where the roots think of the child and where the wine ends in fables from an almanac. That’s all over. You will not see the hacienda. It doesn’t exist.

The hacienda must be built.

All cities are geological, and one can’t take three steps without running into ghosts fully-charged with the glamour [10] of their legends. We move about in a closed landscape whose landmarks incessantly pull us toward the past. Certain shifting angles, certain receding perspectives, allow us to catch a glimpse of the original notions of space, but this remains a partial view [11]. [A full view] must be sought [12] in the magical places of folktales and surrealist writings: castles, endless walls, small forgotten bars, mammoth caverns, casino mirrors.

These dated symbols retain a small catalysing power, but it is almost impossible to use them in a symbolic urbanism without rejuvenating them; charging them with a new meaning. Our state of mind, haunted by the old archetypes [13], has lagged behind sophisticated machines. The various attempts to incorporate modern science into new myths remain inadequate. Meanwhile the abstract has infested all arts, contemporary architecture in particular. Pure plasticity, story-less and lifeless, soothes and cools the eye. Other partial beauties can be found elsewhere, while the land of new syntheses recedes further and further into the distance. Each of us is torn between the emotionally-charged past and the already dead future [14].

We will not prolong the mechanical cultures and cold architecture that ultimately lead to boring leisure.

We intend to create new, changing [15] settings. (…)

Darkness retreats in the face of lighting, and the seasons in the face of air conditioning: night-time and summer lose their allure, and dawn vanishes. The city-dwellers [16] think that they pull away from cosmic reality, and no longer dream of it. The reason is obvious: dreams spring from reality and fulfil themselves in it.

The latest technological developments [17] enable continuous connection between the individual and cosmic reality, while eliminating its inconveniences. Glass ceilings reveal the stars and the rain. The mobile house turns towards the sun. Its sliding walls enable plants to invade life. Climbing on tracks, it can move towards the sea in the morning, returning to the forest in the evening.

Architecture is the simplest means of connecting time and space, of regulating reality; the stuff of dreams. It concerns not only plastic connections and regulation (expressing an ephemeral beauty), but an affective [18] regulation, part of the perpetual evolution [19] of human desires and progress in fulfilling them.

Tomorrow’s architecture will therefore be a means of altering contemporary notions of time and space. It will be a means of knowing and a means of acting.

The architectural complex will be modifiable. Its appearance will partly or totally change in accordance with the desire of its inhabitants. (…)

Communities of the past had offered the masses an absolute truth and unquestionable mythical paradigms. The entry of the concept of relativity into the modern mind makes it possible to surmise the EXPERIMENTAL aspect of the next civilisation (although I’m still not satisfied with that word). Let’s say more flexible, more “playful” [20]. On the basis of this mobile civilisation, architecture will, at least initially, be a means of experimenting with the thousands of ways of changing life, in preparation for a synthesis that can only be epic.

A mental illness has overrun the planet: banalisation. Everyone is mesmerised by [material] production and comfort — [21] sewage systems, elevators, bathrooms, washing machines.

This state of affairs, born of a struggle [22] against poverty, has overshot its goal — the liberation of humanity from material cares — to become a haunting symbol of today. Between love and a garbage disposal unit, the youth of every country have made their choice in favour of the garbage disposal unit. A complete U-turn of the psyche has become vital, by bringing to light forgotten desires, and by the creation of entirely new desires. [Then by] intensive propaganda in favour of these desires.

We have already highlighted the need for the construction of situations to be [23] one of the basic desires on which the next civilisation will be founded. This need for total creation has always been tightly bound together [24] with the need to play with architecture, time and space. (. . .)

Chirico will be remembered [25] as one of the most remarkable architectural pioneers. He tackled the the issues of absences and presences across 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 undefinable sensation: through a recovery in time, the absence of the object makes itself a noticeable presence. Better [put]: although remaining generally undefinable, the character of the sensation can vary from serene joy to horror, according to the object’s nature and the importance assigned to it by the visitor. (It’s of little concern to us that in this specific case memory is the vehicle of this unease [26]; I have only chosen this example for its utility).

In Chirico’s paintings [of the] Arcades period an empty space creates a well-filled time. It is easy to imagine that the future will have such architects in store for us, and what their influence will be on the masses. We can only despise a century [like our own] [27] that relegates such blueprints [28] to so-called museums.

This new vision of time and space, which will be the theoretical basis of future constructions, is not [yet] fully developed. It never will be until experimentation on behaviours takes place in cities reserved for this purpose, where — in addition to the facilities necessary for basic comfort and security — buildings filled with great evocative and influential power would be systematically assembled; symbolic structures representing desires, forces and events – past, present and future. A rational extension of old religious systems, of old tales, and particularly of psychoanalysis to the benefit of architecture becomes more urgent every day, as the reasons to be empassioned vanish.

Everyone will live in their own “cathedral”, as it were. It will contain rooms which produce dreams more effectively than drugs, and houses where one cannot help but love. Others will be irresistibly alluring to travellers. . . .

This proposal can be compared to the Chinese and Japanese gardens in Trompe-l’oeil [29] — with the difference that those gardens are not designed to be lived in all the time — or to the absurd labyrinth in the Jardin des Plantes [30], at the entry to which is written (the height of stupidity, Ariadne rendered jobless [31]): Games are forbidden in the labyrinth.

This city could be conceived in the form of an arbitrary assembly of castles, grottos, lakes, etc… This would be the baroque stage of urbanism viewed as a means of understanding; 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 increase the poetic power of Castle (through the maintenance of a strict minimum of lines, the rearrangement of a number of others, the location of windows [32], its topographical location, etc.).

The districts of this city could correspond to the myriad feelings [33] that are encountered by chance in day-to-day life.

Bizarre Quarter — Happy Quarter (specially reserved for housing) — Noble and Tragic Quarter (for well-behaved children) — Historical Quarter (museums, schools) — Useful Quarter (hospital, hardware stores) — Sinister Quarter, etc… And an Astrolarium which would group plant varieties according to the connection that they demonstrate to the stellar rhythm, a planetary garden similar to that which the astronomer Thomas intends to establish at Laaer Berg in Vienna. Vital to give the inhabitants a consciousness of the cosmic. Perhaps also a Quarter of Death, not to die in but for living 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 beneficially replace those god-forsaken places [34], the mouths of hell, many peoples had possessed in their capitals long ago: that had symbolised the evil powers of life. The Sinister Quarter would have no need to contain real dangers, like traps, dungeons or mines. It would be difficult to approach, hideously decorated ([with] piercing whistles, alarm bells, regular sirens at sporadic intervals, hideous sculptures, powered moving machines, called Auto-Mobiles), and as poorly lit at night as it was blindingly [35] lit during the day through an excessive use of reflection. At the centre, the “Square of the Appalling Mobile.” [Since the] saturation of the market with a product causes its value to fall: through exploring the sinister quarter, adults and children would learn to no longer be afraid of the frightening events of life, but to be amused by them.

The main activity of the inhabitants will be the CONTINUOUS DÉRIVE. The changing of the scenery from one hour to the next will result in complete disorientation. (. . .)

Later, with the inevitable decrease in the effect of actions [36], this dérive will partly abandon the realm of experience for that of representation. (. . .)

Economic objections can easily be dismissed. We know that the more a place is set apart for free play, the more it influences behaviour and the stronger its attraction grows. The proof is in the great status [given to] Monaco and Las Vegas, [along with] Reno (that caricature of free love). Yet these are nothing but simple gambling venues [37]. The first experimental city would easily survive from permitted and controlled tourism. Upcoming avant-garde activities and creations would focus there. In a few years it would become the intellectual capital of the world, and would be universally acknowledged as such.

Gilles Ivain.

Translator's Note: In October 1953 the Lettrist International adopted this report on urbanism by Gilles Ivain, which constituted a key component in the new direction then being taken by the experimental avant-garde. This current text was created from two successive drafts containing minor differences in wording, preserved in the LI archive, which became documents 103 and 108 of the Situationist Archives.

As this new translation was being produced, I cross-referenced it to an existing translation made by Ken Knabb available on-line here. I would like to acknowledge the work done by Ken Knabb, and the real assistance his translation provided to me. However all final decisions (for better or worse – which is for the reader to decide) in this translation are mine alone.

[1] “perdu” – can also be “lost”
[2] “il faut se fatiguer salement” – literally “must exhaust yourself badly/messily”
[3] “les pancartes de la voie publique” – literally “signs of the highway”
[4] “rue des Volontaires” – a street in the 15th arrondissement of Paris
[5] “rue des Fillettes” – a street in the 18th arrondissement of Paris
[6] “rue du Rendez-Vous” – a street in the 12th arrondissement of Paris
[7] There is a pun here that cannot be translated. “Quai des Orfèvres” is the address of the Parisian police headquarters (on the Île de la Cité), and in the phrase for job centre (”bureau de placement gratuit”) the word “placement” is a French slang term for being arrested.
[8] “rue du Soleil” – a street in the 20th arrondissement of Paris
[9] “mappemonde” – literally “globe”
[10] “armés de tout le prestige” – literally “armed/charged with all the glamour”
[11] “cette vision demeure fragmentaire” – literally “this view remains [a] fraction”
[12] “Il faut la chercher” – literally “It is necessary to search for it”. But what is the “la”/”it”? It is the view (”vision”) – however the context makes it clear that this is not the partial view described in [11], hence I have used the clarifying phrase “a full view”.
[13] “images-clefs” – literally “key-images”
[14] “mort dès à present” – literally “dead as from now”
[15] “mouvants” – literally “moving” or “shifting”, but in this context “changing” seems most appropriate
[16] “L’homme des villes” – literally “The man of the cities”
[17] “Le dernier état de la technique” – literally “the latest state/condition of technology”
[18] “influentielle” – in this context this emphasises the influence on the desires/emotions, so the word “affective” has been used
[18] “la courbe éternelle” – literally “the eternal curve/bend”
[19] “amusé” – literally “amused” or “entertained”
[20] “tout-à-le” not included
[21] “comme un” – literally “as one”, but English grammar requires a different construct
[22] “protestation” – literally “protest”, but in English this doesn’t get across the inherent conflict
[23] “étroitement mêlé au” – literally “closely combined/blended with”
[24] “peu nous importe” – literally “it doesn’t matter to us”
[25] “restera” – literally “will remain”
[26] “étate d’âme” – literally “qualms/hestitation”
[27] “Nous ne pouvons aujourd’hui que méprise” – literally “We can today only despise”
[28] “maquettes” – literally “models/first drafts”
[29] “Trompe-l’œil – “French for ‘deceive the eye’, is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions.” (From Wikipedia)
[30] the “Jardin des Plantes” is the Paris botanical gardens on the city’s right bank
[31] “en chômage” – literally “in unemployment”. In Greek Mythology Ariadne is known as the “Mistress of the Labyrinth”.
[32] “ouvertures” – literally “openings” or “windows”
[33] word omitted: “catalogués” – “labelled” or “classed”
[34] “trous” – literally “holes”, slang term for dump, grave, prison
[35] “violemment” – literally “violently”
[36] “lors de l’inévitable usure des gestes” – literally “during the inevitable erosion of gestures/actions
[37] “Pourtant il ne s’agit que de simples jeux d’argent” – literally “Yet it is only a matter of simple gambling”

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Theses on Cultural Revolution - Guy Debord

“Thèses sur la révolution culturelle” originally appeared in Internationale Situationniste #1 (Paris, June 1958). This translation by Ken Knabb is from the Situationist International Anthology (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2006). No copyright.

Author
Submitted by Fozzie on November 28, 2022

1

The traditional goal of aesthetics is to produce, by means of art, impressions of certain past elements of life in circumstances where those elements are lacking or absent, in such a way that those elements escape the disorder of appearances subject to the ravages of time. The degree of aesthetic success is thus measured by a beauty that is inseparable from duration, and that even goes so far as pretensions of eternity. The goal of the situationists is immediate participation in a passionate abundance of life by means of deliberately arranged variations of ephemeral moments. The success of these moments can reside in nothing other than their fleeting effect. The situationists consider cultural activity in its totality as an experimental method for constructing everyday life, a method that can and should be continually developed with the extension of leisure and the withering away of the division of labor (beginning with the division of artistic labor).

2

Art can cease being a report about sensations and become a direct organization of more advanced sensations. The point is to produce ourselves rather than things that enslave us.

3

Mascolo is right in saying (in Le Communisme) that the reduction of the work day by the dictatorship of the proletariat is “the most certain sign of the latter’s revolutionary authenticity.” Indeed, “if man is a commodity, if he is treated as a thing, if human relations are relations of thing to thing, this is because it is possible to buy his time.” But Mascolo is too quick to conclude that “the time of a man freely employed” is always well spent, and that “the purchase of time is the sole evil.” There can be no freely spent time until we possess the modern tools for the construction of everyday life. The use of such tools will mark the leap from a utopian revolutionary art to an experimental revolutionary art.

4

An international association of situationists can be seen as a coalition of workers in an advanced sector of culture, or more precisely as a coalition of all those who demand the right to work on a project that is obstructed by present social conditions; hence as an attempt at organizing professional revolutionaries in culture.

5

We are excluded from real control over the vast material powers of our time. The communist revolution has not yet occurred and we are still living within the confines of decomposing old cultural superstructures. Henri Lefebvre rightly sees that this contradiction is at the heart of a specifically modern discordance between the progressive individual and the world, and he terms the cultural tendency based on this discordance “revolutionary-romantic.” The inadequacy of Lefebvre’s conception lies in the fact that he makes the mere expression of this discordance a sufficient criterion for revolutionary action within culture. Lefebvre abandons in advance any experimentation involving profound cultural change, contenting himself with mere awareness of possibilities that are as yet impossible (because they are still too remote), an awareness that can be expressed in any sort of form within the framework of cultural decomposition.

6

Those who want to supersede the old established order in all its aspects cannot cling to the disorder of the present, even in the sphere of culture. In culture as in other areas, it is necessary to struggle without waiting any longer for some concrete appearance of the moving order of the future. The possibility of this ever-changing new order, which is already present among us, devalues all expressions within existing cultural forms. If we are ever to arrive at authentic direct communication (in our working hypothesis of higher cultural means: the construction of situations), we must bring about the destruction of all the forms of pseudocommunication. The victory will go to those who are capable of creating disorder without loving it.

7

In the world of cultural decomposition we can test our strength but never use it. The practical task of overcoming our discordance with this world, that is, of surmounting its decomposition by some more advanced constructions, is not romantic. We will be “revolutionary romantics,” in Lefebvre’s sense, precisely to the degree that we fail.

GUY DEBORD
1958

From: http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/1.cultural-revolution.htm

Comments

The Situationists and automation

Asger Jorn on automation in modern society.

Author
Submitted by libcom on September 8, 2005

It's rather astonishing that practically no one, until now, dared pursue the logic of automation to its ultimate implications. As a result, we have no real perspectives on it. It seems more like the engineers, scientists, and sociologists are trying to fraudulently sneak automation into society.

Automation, however, is now at the center of the problem of socialist control of production and of the preeminence of leisure over work time. The question of automation is the most heavily charged with positive and negative possibilities.

The goal of socialism is abundance -- the greatest amount of goods to the greatest number of people, which, statistically, implies the reduction of unforseen events to the level of improbable. An increase in the number of goods reduces the value of each. This devalorisation of all human goods to the level of "perfect neutrality," so to speak, will be the unavoidable consequence of a purely scientific socialist development. It is unfortunate that most intellectuals never get past this idea of mechanical reproduction, and are preparing man for this bleak, symmetric future. Likewise artists, specialized in the study of the unique, are turning in greater numbers, with hostility, against socialism. On the flip side, the socialist politicians are suspicious of any manifestation of artistic power or originality.

Attached to their conformist positions, one after another displays a certain bead mood with regard to automation, which risks jeopardizing their cultural and economic conceptions. There is, in every "avant-garde" tendency, a self-defeating attitude towards automation or, at best, an under-estimation of the positive aspects of the future, the proximity of which is revealed by the early stages of automation. At the same time, the reactionary forces flaunt an idiotic optimism.

An anecdote is pertinent here. Last year, in the journal Quatrième Internationale, the militant marxist Livio Maitan reported that an Italian priest had already proposed the idea of a second weekly Mass, necessitated by the increase in free time. Maitan responded: "The error consists in believing that man in the new society will be the same as in the present society, though in reality he will have needs so different from ours that it's almost too difficult to imagine." But Maitan's error is to leave to a vague future the new needs which are "almost too difficult to imagine." The dialectical role of the spirit is to incline the possible towards desirable forms. Maitan forgets that "the elements of a new society are formed within the old society," always, as the Communist Manifesto states. The elements of a new life should already be in formation among us -- in the realm of culture --, and it's up to us to help ourselves in order to raise the level of the debate.

Socialism, which tends towards the most complete liberation of the energies and potential in each individual, will be obligated to see in automation an anti-progressive tendency, rendered progressive only by its relation to new provocations capable of exteriorizing the latent energies of man. If, as the scientists and technicians claim, automation is a new means of liberating man, it ought to imply the transcendence of precedent human activity. This requires man's active imagination to transcend the very realization of automation. Where can we find such perspectives, which render man master and not slave of automation?

Louis Salleron explains in his study on "Automation" that it, "as nearly always happens with matters of progress, adds more than it replaces or suppresses." What does automation, in itself, add to the possibility of action? We have learned that it completely suppresses it within its domain.

The crisis of industrialization is a crisis of consumption and production. The crisis of production is more important than the crisis of consumption, the latter being conditioned by the former. Transposed on the individual level, this is equivalent to the thesis that it is better to give than to receive, to be capable of adding rather than suppressing. Automation is thus possessed of two opposing perspectives: it deprives the individual of any possibility of adding something personal to automated production, which is a fixation of progress, while at the same time sparing human energies now massively liberated from reproductive and uncreative activities. The value of automation thus depends on projects which transcend it, and which release new human energies at a superior level.

Experimental activity in culture [is] today in this incomparable field. And the self-defeating attitude here, the resignation before the possibilities of the epoch, is symptomatic of the old avant-garde who remain content, as Edgar Morin wrote, "to chew on the bones of the past." A surrealist named Benayoun says in No. 2 of Surréalisme Même, the latest expression of the movement: "The problem of leisure is already tormenting sociologists... We no longer put faith in scientists, but in clowns, lounge singers, ballerinas, plastic people. One day of work for six of rest: the balance between the serious and the frivolous, between slacking and laboring, is at great risk of being upset. The 'worker,' in his unemployment, will be lobotomized by a convulsive, invasive television short on ideas and scarce on talent." This surrealist doesn't see that a week of six days of rest will not lead to an "upset of the balance" between the frivolous and the serious, but a change in nature of the serious as well as of the frivolous. He hopes only for mistaken identities, a ridiculous return to the given world, which he perceives, like an aging surrealist, as a sort of intangible vaudeville. Why will this future be the solidification of present-day vulgarities? And why will it be "short on ideas?" Does this mean it will be short on 1924 surrealist ideas updated for 1936? Probably. On does it mean that imitation surrealists are short on ideas? We know it well.

New leisures seem like a chasm that current society knows no better way to bridge than to proliferate jury-rigged pseudogames. But they are, at the same time, the base on which the greatest cultural construction ever imagined could be erected. This goal is obviously outside the circle of interest of the partisans of automation. If we want to have a discussion with engineers, we must enter their field of interest. Maldonado, who currently directs the Hochschule f?r Gestaltung at Ulm, explains that the development of automation has been compromised because there is little enthusiasm amongst the youth to follow the polytechnic path, except for specialists in automation itself, gutted of a general cultural perspective. But Maldonado, who, of all people, should display such a general perspective, is completely unaware of it: "automation will only be able to develop rapidly once it establishes as its goal a perspective contrary to its own establishment, and once we can realize such a perspective in the course of its development."

Maldonado proposes the opposite: first establish automation, then its uses. We could argue with this method if the goal were not precisely automation, because automation is not an action in a domain, which would provoke an anti-action. It is the neutralization of a domain, which would come to neutralize the outside as well if the opposing actions were not undertaken at the same time.

Pierre Drouin, speaking in the January 5, 1957 Le Monde on the growth of hobbies as the realization of virtualities which workers can no longer find use for in their professional activity, concludes that in every man "there is a creator sleeping." This old cliché burns with truth today, if we link it back to the real material possibilities of our time. The sleeping creator must awaken, and his state of waking could well be called situationist.

The notion of standardization is an attempt to reduce and simplify the greatest number of human needs to the greatest degree of equality. It is up to us as to whether standardization opens more interesting realms of experience than it closes. Depending on the result, we could end up with a total degradation of human life, or the possibility of perpetually discovering new desires. But these desires will not come about on their own, in the oppressive frame of our world. Communal action must be taken to detect, manifest, and realize them.

Asger Jorn (June 1958)

Translated 1995 by a.h.s. boy

Comments

No Useless Leniency (excerpts)

Submitted by libcom on September 9, 2005

"Intellectual" or "artistic" collaboration in a group devoted to the type of experimentation we are engaged in involves our everyday life. It is always accompanied with a certain friendship.

Consequently, when we think of those who have participated in this joint activity and then been excluded from it, we are obliged to admit that they were once our friends. Sometimes the memory is pleasant. In other cases it's ridiculous and embarrassing.

On the whole, later developments have confirmed the correctness of our reproaches and the irredeemability of the people who have not been able to remain with us. A few of them have even ended up joining the Church or the colonial troops. Most of the others have retired to one or another little niche in the intelligentsia. [...]

The recent formation of the Situationist International has given a new relevance to the questions of accord and breaks. A period of discussions and negotiations on a footing of equality between several groups, beginning with the Alba Congress, has been concluded with the formation at Cosio d'Arroscia a disciplined organization. The result of these new objective conditions has been to force certain opportunist elements into open opposition, leading to their immediate elimination (the purging of the Italian section). Certain wait-and-see attitudes have also ceased to be tolerable, and those of our allies who have not seen fit to join us immediately have thereby unmasked themselves as adversaries. It is on the basis of the program since developed by the majority of the SI that all the new elements have joined us, and we would risk cutting ourselves off from these elements, and especially from those we will meet in the future, if we consented to pursue the slightest dialogue with those who, since Alba, have demonstrated that their creative days are over.

We have become stronger and therefore more seductive. We don't want innocuous relationships and we don't want relationships that could serve our enemies. [...]

It should be clearly understood that all the situationists will maintain the enmities inherited from the former groupings that have constituted the SI, and that there is no possible return for those whom we have ever been forced to despise. But we don't have an idealist, abstract, absolutist conception of breaks. It is necessary to recognize when an encounter in a concrete collective task becomes impossible, but also to see if such an encounter, in changed circumstances, does not once again become possible and desirable between persons who have been able to retain a certain respect for each other. [...]

As I said at the beginning, a collective project like we have undertaken and are pursuing cannot avoid being accompanied by friendship. But it is also true that it cannot be identified with friendship and that it should not be subject to the same weaknesses. Nor to the same modes of continuity or looseness.

MICHÈLE BERNSTEIN (1958)

Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).

Comments

BNB

15 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by BNB on January 25, 2009

better translation, full version

http://www.notbored.org/no-useless-indulgences.html

Publications for Situationist Agitation

A short round up of Situationist publications from International Situationniste #1.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 29, 2022

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From: https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/editions.html

ON 1 JANUARY 1958 the first manifesto of the German section of the SI was published in Munich under the title "Nervenruh! Keine Experimente!" [Stay Calm! No Experiments!]. Violently denouncing the poverty of cultural pseudo-novelties, this tract did not shy from pointing out the issue at hand: "Damen und Herren, lassen Sie sicht nicht provozieren: das ist das letzte Gefechte! . . . Wann kommt der neue Einheitsstuhl? Ein Gespenst geistertdurch die Welt: die situationistische Internationale." [Ladies and Gentlemen, don't let yourselves be provoked: this is the last struggle! . . . When will the new Einheitsstuhl1 come out? A specter is haunting the world: the Situationist International.]

Shortly afterwards the French section published the tract "The New Cultural Theater of Operations" and the appeal "To the Producers of Modern Art" (If you are tired of copying the demolitions; if you think that the fragmentary repetitions expected of you are outdated before they even come about, contact us to organize the new powers for a superior transformation of the surrounding environment.)2

Potlatch, information bulletin of the Lettrist International until its 28th issue, has come under the control of our united organization, its publication occasionally continued by our French section. Due for publication by the SI in Paris, Asger Jorn's book Pour la Forme, collecting many texts published in different languages between 1953 and 1957, presents his essential theoretical contributions to the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, which is equally integrated into the new International.

In Belgium our comrades have published, in a book devoted to the history of the avant-garde gallery "Taptoe" — which closed with a psychogeographical exhibition in February 1957 — an interview with Jorn on the meaning of the changes in experimental art before and after the Cobra movement (1949-1951), and a second edition of Report on the Construction of Situations. A translation of this report by our Italian section was published in Turin in May (Editions Notizie).

The Belgian section of the SI is also occupied with the extension of its propaganda in Holland, with Walter Korun's study on the origins of the Situationist International and its current program, written in Dutch for number 11 of the journal Gard-Sivik.

  • 1An all purpose chair produced by the original Bauhaus.
  • 2This text was printed on a single strip of paper, 2cms high and 90 cms long.

Comments

The Second SI Conference

A very brief summary of the event, from Internationale Situationniste #1 (June 1958)

Submitted by Fozzie on November 30, 2022

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From: https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/second.html

The second conference of the Situationist International met in Paris on the 25 and 26 January, six months after the founding conference of Cosio d'Arroscia in July 1957, concerned particularly with the development of our action in Northern Europe and Germany, editorial activity, the organization of a dérive by several groups in radio contact, and preliminary positions on the application of certain ambient constructions.

The conference proceeded with the purging of the Italian section, in which a faction had developed, first maintaining idealist and reactionary theses which were refuted and condemned by the majority, and then abstaining from all self-criticism. The conference thereby decided on the exclusion of Walter Olmo, Piero Simondo and Edna Verrone.

Comments

Venice has Vanquished Ralph Rumney

Ralph Rumney

A humourous short text on Rumney's failed attempt to produce a psychogeographical report on the city of Venice.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 1, 2022

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From here: https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/venice.html

The British Situationist Ralph Rumney, who had conducted a number of psychogeographical forays into Venice the Spring of 1957, subsequently set out with the goal of a more systematic exploration of the area, hoping to be able to present an exhaustive account by around June 1958 (cf. an announcement in Potlatch #29). At first the expedition went favorably. Having completed the initial elements of a plan of Venice whose notational technique clearly surpassed all psychogeographical cartography before it, Rumney imparted to his comrades his discoveries, his early conclusions and his hopes. By the month of January 1958, however, the news was taking a turn for the worst. Rumney, struggling against innumerable difficulties, slowed down more and more by the territory he had attempted to cross, abandoned one line of research after the other, and in the end, as he communicated to us in his moving message of 20 March, came to a complete standstill.

Diagram of all the courses taken in one year by a student living in the 16th Arrondissement.
Published by Chombart de Lauwe in "Paris et l'agglomération parisienne" (PUF).

The explorers of old were aware of the high proportion of losses entailed in the quest for objective knowledge of geography. One must expect to see victims among the new searchers, the explorers of social space and its modes of use. The pitfalls are of a wholly different type, the stakes of a different nature: it is a matter of discovering a passionate use for life. It is natural for one to encounter all the defenses the world of boredom can muster. And thus, Rumney has disappeared, and his father has not yet organized a search party. The Venetian jungle is strong; it closed in on the young man, full of life and promise, now lost, dissolved in a multitude of memories.

Comments

Fozzie

1 year 5 months ago

Submitted by Fozzie on December 1, 2022

Yeah I assume that is covered in future issues, so watch this space ;-)

Steven.

1 year 5 months ago

Submitted by Steven. on December 1, 2022

Ha ha, I will await the 60+ year old gossip eagerly

Action in Belgium against the international assembly of art critics

The text of a leaflet distributed by the Situationists at a gathering of art critics.

Submitted by libcom on September 8, 2005

On April 12, two days before the gathering in Brussels of an international assembly of art critics, the situationists widely distributed an address to that assembly signed -- in the name of the Algerian, Belgian, French, German, Italian and Scandinavian sections of the SI -- by Khatib, Korun, Debord, Platschek, Pinot-Gallizio and Jorn:

To you, this gathering is just one more boring event. The Situationist International, however, considers that while this assemblage of so many art critics as an attraction of the Brussels Fair is laughable, it is also significant. Inasmuch as modern cultural thought has proved itself completely stagnant for over twenty-five years, and inasmuch as a whole era that has understood nothing and changed nothing is now becoming aware of its failure, its spokesmen are striving to transform their activities into institutions. They thus solicit official recognition from the completely outmoded but still materially dominant society, for which most of them have been loyal watchdogs. The main shortcoming of modern art criticism is that it has never looked at the culture as a whole nor at the conditions of an experimental movement that is perpetually superseding it. At this point in time the increased domination of nature permits and necessitates the use of superior powers in the construction of life. These are today's problems; and those intellectuals who hold back, through fear of a general subversion of a certain form of existence and of the ideas which that form has produced, can no longer do anything but struggle irrationally against each other as defenders of one or another detail of the old world -- of a world whose day is done and whose meaning they have not even known. And so we see art critics assembling to exchange the crumbs of their ignorance and their doubts. We know of a few people here who are presently making some effort to understand and support new ventures; but by coming here they have accepted being mixed up with an immense majority of mediocrities, and we warn them that they cannot hope to retain the slightest interest on our part unless they break with this milieu. Vanish, art critics, partial, incoherent and divided imbeciles! In vain do you stage the spectacle of a fake encounter. You have nothing in common but a role to cling to; you are only in this market to parade one of the aspects of Western commerce: your confused and empty babble about a decomposed culture. History has depreciated you. Even your audacities belong to a past now forever closed. Disperse, fragments of art critics, critics of fragments of art. The Situationist International is now organizing the integral artistic activity of the future. You have nothing more to say. The Situationist International will leave no place for you. We will starve you out.

Our Belgian section carried out the necessary direct attack. Beginning April 13, on the eve of the opening of the proceedings, when the art critics from two hemispheres, led by the American Sweeney, were being welcomed to Brussels, the text of the situationist proclamation was brought to their attention in several ways. Copies were mailed to a large number of critics or given to them personally. Others were telephoned and read all or part of the text. A group forced its way into the Press Club where the critics were being received and threw the leaflets among the audience. Others were tossed onto the sidewalks from upstairs windows or from a car. (After the Press Club incident, art critics were seen coming out in the street to pick up the leaflets so as to remove them from the curiosity of passersby.) In short, all steps were taken to leave the critics no chance of being unaware of the text. These art critics did not shrink from calling the police, and used their World Exposition influence in order to block the reprinting in the press of a text harmful to the prestige of their convention and their specialization. Our comrade Korun is now being threatened with prosecution for his role in the intervention.

SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1958)

Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).

Comments

A Civil War in France

A text on the May 1958 crisis in France and the Algerian war of independence.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 2, 2022

It is not Catilina on our doorstep, but death.
— P.J. Proudhon to Herzan, 1849

While the current issue of this journal was at the printers (13 May to 2 June), serious events were underway in France. These latest developments could have a dramatic impact on the conditions of avant-garde culture, as well as many other aspects of European life.

If it is true that history tends to replay tragedy as farce, then the Spanish War of Independence has seen its repetition in the comedy of the end of the Fourth Republic. The political heart of the Fourth Republic was its unreality, and its bloodless death was itself unreal. The Fourth Republic was inseparable from the perpetual war in the colonies: while the people of France were interested in ending the war, the colonialist sectors were interested in winning it. Parliament seemed incapable of doing either, but for years it made repeated concessions and resignations to the colonialists and the army in their service, ever willing to hand them the reigns of power.

When the colonial Algerian army revolted, just as everyone had expected it to, it would not have taken much for the republican government to maintain order, and resistance remained necessary and could easily have been executed right up to the last day. But initially, it had to rely on the support of the people through a parliamentary majority of the left. In the end, after the conquest of Corsica and the threat of airborne troops invading Paris, it could have depended upon the effective force of a mobilized population (with a government organized general strike like that which annihilated the initial success of the Kapp putsch1 by armed militias). This revolutionary process, which involved calling on conscripted men to rise up against their rebellious leaders and above all to recognize Algerian independence, looked even more dangerous than fascism.

Throughout this crisis the Communist Party was the greatest defender of the parliamentary regime and nothing more. But the regime reached this point of dissolution precisely because of its refusal to take into account the voice of the communist majority in the Left. Until the very end, it remained the victim of the unique process of intimidation with which the Right minority had continuously imposed its politics: the myth of a Communist Party working to seize power. The Party, which had not done the slightest amount of work, had thus disappointed and disarmed the masses without ever achieving a single thing in Parliament; all the while making every effort to have its advances noticed by the leaders of the bourgeoisie themselves. These latter can be assured that the communists will never register their first parliamentary success: the regime collapsed before they could have the chance. On 28 May it seemed as if it would be possible to drive the nation — and not the Parliament — into the anti-fascist struggle. But after the CGT's2 failure on the evening of 29 May to call for the unlimited general strike that would have been the principle weapon of this struggle, the demonstrations of 1 June could be nothing but pure formalities.

The indifference of the masses was due to the fact that for such a long time, they had only been offered a false parliamentary alternative between the moderate Right and the moderation of a Popular Front made all the more utopian by its absolute rejection by non-communists. Non-politicized elements had been anaesthetized by the popular press and radio. A government controlling such means of communication, exploiting them to their fullest, should have had time to inform the country, but the capitalist mode of information followed its natural inclination and successfully concealed the death throes of the regime from the majority of the population. The politicized elements had, since 1945, made a habit out of defeat, and they were justifiably skeptical of such a "defense of the Republic." However, the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who marched together in Paris on 28 May showed that the people deserved better, and that at the last moment they would rise up.

As yet, this lamentable affair has had nothing modern about it. Fascism has neither a mass party in France, nor a program. Only the force of a narrow-minded, racist colonialism and an army that can see no other victory in its reach, has, as a first step, imposed de Gaulle on France: a man who represents a boyscout's idea of the national grandeur of 17th century France, and who guarantees the transition to a Poujadist,3 militarist moral order. For such a heavily industrialized country, there has been next to no decisive action on the part of the working class. Things have sunk to the level where neither the bourgeoisie nor the proletariat has a political presence, and everything is decided by pronunciamentos.

So what happens now? The workers' organizations are intact; public opinion has been alerted; and the Algerian army is still fighting. To maintain its Algerian rule, the colonists, who controlled the government in Paris long before their official appointment, must now rule unopposed in France. Their goal remains the intensification to their profit of the war effort across the whole of France, and at present this necessitates the liquidation of democracy in this country and the triumph of fascist authority. If they are still capable of reversing this current, the democratic forces in France must now take their attitude to its logical end: the liquidation of colonial power in Algeria and in France, that is to say the establishment of an Algerian Republic of the FLN.4 A violent clash is therefore inevitable before too long. The despicable illusions on the role of the President-General, the obstacles facing united action, and another hesitation just as the struggle is beginning might serve to further weaken the people, or even to sell them out, but nothing will hold off the dénouement.

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From here: https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/civilwar.html

  • 1Kapp Putsch: Reactionary coup led by Wolfgang Kapp (1958-1922) in which the Freikorps seized control of Berlin on 13 March 1920. It was defeated by a four day general strike organized by the ruling Social Democrats after an unsuccessful appeal to the army.
  • 2CGT: Confédération Générale du Travail, the General Confederation of Labor, France's largest trade union, closely allied with the French Communist Party.
  • 3Poujadism: Right-wing protest movement led by French politician Pierre Poujade (b.1920), enjoying massive popularity in the 1950's.
  • 4FLN: Front de Libération Nationale, National Liberation Front, the Algerian revolutionary group that led the War of Independence against France from 1956 until 1962.

Comments

Steven.

1 year 5 months ago

Submitted by Steven. on December 2, 2022

Thanks for this! I have merged and then deleted the duplicate France tag

Fozzie

1 year 5 months ago

Submitted by Fozzie on December 2, 2022

Ah nice one. I meant to do that and then forgot! There were two Vaneigem tags also - now one.

Steven.

1 year 5 months ago

Submitted by Steven. on December 3, 2022

Excellent, cheers

shamass

10 months 2 weeks ago

Submitted by shamass on July 6, 2023

Vaneigem did not write this article. He would not join the group for another 2 and a bit years. This attribution appears to be a mistake of the translator, Ruben Keehen (for instance, you will find it on his translation here: https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/civilwar.html). If you check the original publication of this it is clear that it was published under the name of the Situationist International, not any one person.

Submitted by Fozzie on July 6, 2023

shamass wrote: Vaneigem did not write this article. He would not join the group for another 2 and a bit years. This attribution appears to be a mistake of the translator, Ruben Keehen (for instance, you will find it on his translation here: https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/civilwar.html). If you check the original publication of this it is clear that it was published under the name of the Situationist International, not any one person.

Thanks for pointing this out, you are right and I have corrected.