Encyclopedie des Nuisances #11


English translations from the eleventh issue of Encyclopedia of Nuisances, published in November 1989.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 10, 2022


Abolir - Guy Debord

An unsigned article by Guy Debord. Published in L'Encyclopedie des Nuisances #11, June 1987. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! June 2007. All footnotes by the translator.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 10, 2022

To Abolish

To abolish, which in its Latin etymological meaning simply means to destroy, quickly became specialized in its juridical and social dimensions. Antoine-Leandre Sardou, in his New Dictionary of French Synonymes (1874), thus compares it to Abrogate: "To abolish concerns many things, customs, usages laws, etc: to abrogate only concerns laws, decrees, public acts having the force of law. Non-usage suffices for abolition, but abrogation necessitates a positive act: a law fallen into desuetude is abolished in fact: it can only be abrogated by another law or by a formal authoritative declaration."

The French Revolution abolished in rights the privileges of the nobility and the clergy, so as to found bourgeois civil equality. The 19th century abolished slavery in the colonies that depended upon the European powers and, later on and not without resistance, in the United States. The revolutionary program, which must obviously encounter more durable resistance, proposes to abolish the State, classes, the commodity, etc. Some points of this program have, to some extent, been realized already -- but upside-down -- by the progress of the counter-revolution of this century, thereby abolishing much of what had existed and always in the sole perspective and by the sole practice of absolute, policed and psychiatric control, and the elimination of all liberty outside of the "deciders" of the State.

Thus, the futile ideology of the "rights of man" is nothing other than an epitaph on the tombstone of all that all of the States have buried. The abolition of the town/country separation has been attained by the simultaneous collapse of both. The work/diversion separation is undone when work becomes so massively unproductive and inept (in the derisory "tertiary sector") and when diversion becomes a boring and tiring economic activity. The inequalities in culture have been abolished almost everywhere and for almost everyone with the new illiteracy -- the old project of the suppression of ignorance has been transformed by suppression of the ignorance deprived of diplomas -- and this in its hard version (primary school) as in its soft version (the neo-university), because the formula of A.-L. Sardou verifies its exactness everywhere: "Non-usage suffices for abolition." Money is in the process of being abolished in a special way by the use of plastic money,[1] through which the citizen-child -- confident and well-educated -- must leave the management of their small piggy-banks to machines that are more competent than they are, that indubitably know better than they do what suits them and from what they should abstain.

One knows that Christian thought, whose tenacious life has unfortunately lasted nearly two thousand years, undertook to establish that the world was only a "valley of tears." Thus it disapproved of, under the name "deadly sins," the principal tendencies of real humanity, but without flattering itself with ever arriving at suppressing them in the vast expense of the societies that it controlled for so long.

The list of these deadly sins is quite forgotten today and the small minority of our contemporaries who maintain a certain familiarity with reading and language remember that there were seven of them. The sources of all the others, the deadly sins were pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and laziness.

In the roar of uninterrupted proclamations that inform us of the triumphs of the dominant society on the terrains of its overwhelming, energetic power, its gross national product, its modernized crises and its cultivated computers and so many other pleasant abstractions, one too modestly forgets a concrete phenomenon of an immense significance: the worldwide organization of society that is being put into place, with an always-increasing speed, in the second half of the 20th century has succeeded in abolishing six of the seven deadly sins (or, to put it in the terms that are more transmittable today, a percentage approximately equal to 86%). We will prove this is a few words: that each person simply thinks of examples of what he no longer dares to call "his country"!

Pride is obviously dead for the administered voter, the sounded-out automobile driver, the polluted telespectator, the inhabitant of the HLM[2] and the highway vacationer. No one who has accepted surviving in this way can even hope for the possibility of experiencing a fleeting moment of pride.

Avarice no longer has any basis, since property tends to become concentrated in the State, which squanders on principle. Read individual property, accessible to very few people, is gnawed at by hairsplitting control and the right to intervention by a thousand public or corporate authorities. The salaried worker can no longer hoard a little poor money, which is of a value that is always changing, fictive and as fluid as water. This same money distances itself into an always-further away abstraction, simply "plastic," a game of accounting that is played without the worker's participation. And if he thinks of accumulating a few more precious objects than what is offered daily on the market, a thief carries them off.

Lust has disappeared almost everywhere, with the liquidation of real personalities and real tastes. Lust has withdrawn before the flood of ideology that is too obviously insincere, cold simulation and the comic pretensions of the robot to automatic passion. AIDS arises to perfect this rout.

Gluttony has surrendered its weapons in the face of the findings of the food-processing industry. Moreover, the spectator - here as well as at the theater -- no longer believes himself capable of judging the taste of what he eats. Thus he is guided by the stimuli that are the names of the fashionable dishes, advertising and the judgment of gastronomical critique.

Anger has so many reasons [for existing] and so few manifestations that it is dissolved into the general cowardice and resignation. In good faith, does a voter have the occasion to become angry with the final result of an election, which in truth is always the same and thus precisely foreseeable and guaranteed? Ill-advised to play with disappointed and humiliated innocence, the voter is in any case guilty. He can only feel anger at himself and this is an uncomfortable position that he ordinarily wants to avoid.

Laziness is no longer hardly possible: there is too much noise everywhere. It is even worse for all those unfortunate people who hurry to work or their vacations. Laziness is only a pleasure for the one who is pleased with himself and in his own company.[3] The modern countries can have an elevated number of unemployed people and others who work on many completely useless things. But they cannot preserve laziness for anyone; they are not rich enough for that.

One might object to us that this exposition, despite its profound truth, is a little too systematic because reality in history is always dialectic and that it is an impoverished schematization that presents all the deadly sins as being condemned to the same ruin. This objection is not founded: we have not at all forgotten envy, which contradictorily survives and which is the only inheritor of all the other annihilated powers.

Envy has become an exclusive and universal motive. Envy has always proceeded from the fact that many individuals measure themselves according to the same scale. Most often, this is power and money. Beyond this common measure of limitation, reality remains diverse and those who do not care too much for power and riches obviously remain sheltered from envy. On another side, some envious characters can always be in rivalry with people in their spheres of activity. A poet might envy a[nother] poet. And such envy can be manifested by a general, a prostitute, an actor or an owner of a cafe. But the largest number of individuals hardly arouse the envy of others. Today, when people have almost nothing and love nothing, they want everything, without neglecting the contrary. Any [given] spectator envies almost all of the stars. But he can also simultaneously envy all of the traits of all the stars. He who has the baseness to make a career, and who is thus hardly satisfied with that career (others are always higher up), would also have the honor and pleasure of being considered as someone who is misunderstood, insubordinate and "cursed." And since this pursuit of the wind is absolutely vain, all of today's cuckolds are thus condemned to run unceasingly. Ignoring real life, they do not know that almost all the human traits are actually grounded by necessarily excluding many of the others.

Antiquity said: "It is not given to everyone to go to Corinth." At present, one can add that this prevents the simultaneous inhabitation of Tokyo.

One easily understands the triumph of envy, the uncontrollable fusion of its radioactive heart and the dispersal of its fall-out everywhere. The deadly sins that have disappeared concern the personal traits of the individual acting on his own (or, in the case of laziness, preferring not to act). But envy is the only trait that concerns others. It is normal that it remains alone, to amuse and goad those who have been dispossessed of everything. In our century, these are the stupefying findings that one is not allowed to forget about. Previously, Cesar Borgia did not envy Michel-Ange, Frederick II did not envy Voltaire and Mr Thiers himself certainly did not even think of envying Baudelaire.[4] More recently, President Valery Giscard did not reject the satisfaction of making it known that he admired Flaubert (this same Giscard was Homais, Bouvard and Pecuchet[5] in a single person) and that he would have quite willingly renounced a year of political activity if, during this period, he was assured of making an artistic work at Flaubert's level, which in his eyes would have been quite worth the renunciation of two semesters of other, more sure gifts. And many contemporary illiterates, from their [university] chairs, envy the culture of the editors of this Encyclopedia and the richness of its information!

We say that the intensive and extensive repression of personality inevitably involves the disappearance of personal taste. What can actually please someone who is nothing, has nothing and knows nothing -- other than lying and imbecilic hearsay? And almost nothing displeases such a person: such is exactly the goal that the owners and "deciders" of this society propose, that is, those who hold the instruments of social communication, with the aid of which they find themselves in a position to manipulate the simulacra of disappeared tastes.

Edgar Poe's "The Colloquy of Monos and Una," which takes as its subject the impending destruction of the world and which long ago anticipated what our contemporaries have so recently discovered concerning the accumulation of irreversible and blind ruptures of the ecological equilibrium, said in 1845:

Meantime, huge smoking cities arose, innumerable. Green leaves shrank before the hot breath of furnaces. The fair face of Nature was deformed as with the ravages of some loathsome disease. And methinks, sweet Una, even our slumbering sense of the forced and of the far-fetched might have arrested us here. But now it appears that we had worked out our own destruction in the perversion of our taste, or rather in the blind neglect of its culture in the schools. For, in truth, it was at this crisis that taste alone -- that faculty which, holding a middle position between the pure intellect and the moral sense, could never safely have been disregarded -- it was now that taste alone could have led us gently back to Beauty, to Nature, and to Life.[6]

Nothing has better shown at which point taste and knowledge have both disappeared, along with the senses of the improbable and the ridiculous, than the clumsy archeological-cultural imposture of this century, which (it seems) people still laugh at and which its principal dupes prefer to believe has been forgotten without any other explanation. Around 1980, one was ecstatic about an army of statues of thousands of soldiers and horses, a little larger than life-size, that the Chinese claimed to have discovered in 1974 and that were supposed to have been buried with Emperor Tsin Che Hoang Ti [Qin Shinuangdi] twenty-two centuries ago.[7] Hundreds of newspapers and dozens of publishers swallowed the bait and the line, and -- guaranteed, moreover, by the enthusiasm of the aforementioned Valery Giscard -- this treasure was displayed in many great cities of Europe. Inevitably, subaltern doubts about whether these traveling marvels were the originals, as had been affirmed by the neo-Maoist government, or copies, as it was forced to admit later on. Here, the formula of Feuerbach, which already said that his times preferred the copy to the original, was quite surpassed by progress, since these were copies of originals that had never existed. With a single glance at the first photos of the "excavation," one could only laugh at the imprudence of the Chinese bureaucrats, who so shamelessly took foreigners to be cretins. But still more extravagant than all of these absolute improbabilities was the fact -- easily discernible from the images of the soldiers' heads (all of which were strongly similar) -- that nowhere and at no moment in the history of the world were such figures produced in molded forms, that is, not before the first third of our century (in fact, they were fabricated in the last years of Mao's reign to be an abundant and miraculous discovery that compensated for all that had been destroyed during the insanity of the pseudo-"cultural revolution"). To compose the poor, basic forms of these gigantic marionettes, one needed to already have the die-casting capabilities of the factories of the early 20th century; the paintings of [Paul] Gauguin, which had relatively recently traced a new artistic figure of the exotic in Western art; and, finally and especially, Stalinist and Nazi statuary -- which were the same things -- , which had existed since the 1930s.

Two centuries of deepening in the history of civilization, the history of forms, and all that Winckelmann and Schiller, Burckhardt and Elie Faure, and a hundred others from Schlegel to Walter Benjamin[8] were able to show -- all this is forgotten in the same obscurity, since those who hold the floor, as the people of Paris say when they still speak, have been persuaded that there is not, neither here nor elsewhere, anything scientific that one must know and that ignorance can say anything, since they know that they no longer have to fear a response.

It is perfectly definite that thousands of people in the world, without need of being an archeologist or a Sinologist, understood all this [about the Chinese statues] straight off, as we did. But what about the spectacle and those that it informs? They are purely ignorant people, who pour disinformation into the masses.[9] And as far as the rather mediocre professionals who treat such questions: when they finally learned of their error through the confidences of certain insiders, they thought that it would surely be more elegant on their part to not remember anything. And here is why the tyrant, as La Boetie showed,[10] has so many friends. There are many people with small interests who, on behalf of those with large interests, want to see history and memory abolished.

[1] That is to say, credit cards, debit cards, et al. "Plastic" or electronic money is in fact the very subject of the article entitled Abolition.

[2] Huge subsidized housing-blocks in France.

[3] See Raoul Vaneigem's text on the subject of refined laziness.

[4] Ceasar Borgia (1475-1507) was a ruthless Italian Duke, military leader and cardinal. Michel-Ange (1475-1564) is better known as "Michelangelo," the famous Italian painter, sculptor, poet and architect. Frederick II (1740-1786) was brilliant military leader and the King of Prussia; he was also a friend of Francois-Marie Arouet, aka "Voltaire" (1694-1778), a celebrated essayist and philosopher. Louis Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877) was a French politician infamous for the suppression of the Paris Commune. Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) was a great French poet and translator.

[5] Three characters in Flaubert's Madame Bovary.

[6] Rather than translate Debord's Poe back into English, we have quoted directly from the original text.

[7] Debord would briefly refer to this affair in his Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988).

[8] Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768) was a German art historian and archeologist. Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) was a German poet and philosopher. Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897) was Swiss art historian. Elie Faure (1873-1937) was a French art historian. Karl Wilhelm Schlegel (1772-1829) was a German poet and scholar. Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was a German historian and social critic.

[9] Debord would again take up the theme of disinformation in his Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988).

[10] In Discourse on Voluntary Servitude.



An old computer console and landline telephone. Hands type on a small keyboard

A text on money and magic, published anonymously in the 11th issue of L'encyclopedie des Nuisances, dated June 1987. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! October 2006. All footnotes by the translator.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 10, 2022

In the 14th Century, the Archpriest of Hita had already said that money had the power to "make truths into lies and lies into truths." Today, fully developed in the spectacle, where exchange-value is present everywhere (and so it is almost useless to represent it in a monetary form), this power even permits one to speak of a "society without money." The economic abstraction, which carves monetary values into all sacrificed life, envisions that electronic money will allow it to accede to autonomous functioning, the pure accountability of the administration of reified things and people, and the direct expression of a measure of the subjection that abolishes the agitational power of money.

An advertising campaign that pushes upon us, under the name LIBERTEL,[1] "a new art of experiencing the bank," tells us: "Magic is finding money in a minute without asking anyone for anything." One has known since Marx that the magic of money lies in dissolving the social yield into the formation of value, and that money appears as the "immediate incarnation of all human effort."[2] If one can now add to this ancient magic a new one, it is only that the opacity of social relations is still thick and that the alienated appearance of the totality of human effort in money tends to dissolve, in its turn, so as to leave room -- in bureacratized management and its electronic instrumentation -- for a total alienation without appearance. The general equivalence incarnated in money, and manifesting a general interdependance, becomes -- in the form of information stockpiled in the machines of power -- the object of a particular activity, less and less controlled by its nominal "owner." The salaried employee then sees the price of his work, as well as his work itself, escape from him so as to circulate (far away from him) among the diverse bureaucracies that manage his survival. And the abstraction thus rendered even more abstract by being reduced to the pure quantitative is, in a certain fashion, in its electronic circulation, good for the abolition of the need for money, which is "the true and unique need produced by political economy," but through a heavier constraint in which money, the power of all reduced to an abstraction, defines its own needs in an authoritarian fashion.

Elsewhere, all this is proclaimed loudly and clearly by advertising, if one knows how to listen. Those who can, thanks to the magic of LIBERTEL, "find money in a minute without asking anyone for anything" are the executives [le cadre], the model employees, those to whom one no longer needs to guarantee anything, since one already knows everything about him, about his "cash on hand" [encaisse]: he has actually sunk [encaisse] and is so completely surrendered to those who hold his purse-strings that he is no longer certain who "to ask." His margin of liberty is calculated by his just price, by the pro-rata of his submission: "On 20 January you will obtain your LIBERTEL reserve. We suppose that it will rise to 40,000 Francs about two months after your revenues . . . " This reserve, having been liberally accorded to him so that he could frolic in the luxury of permitted consumption (". . . the due-date for your taxes has arrived, your Christmas vacation was costly and the balance of your checking account is quite modest"), our executive tries to respond to the agonizing question that is posed to him by those who are careful to pressure him more scientifically: "How are you going to manage without disorganizing your budget?" It will suffice for him to manage at home, on his Minitel, his "treasury," his "finances," that is to say, it will suffice for him to calculate himself to what degree he will be eaten, how much this "deficit" [decouvert] (as one would have said in a less free era) will cost him. Henceforth, dressed [couvert] in the exact limits of his integration, he can instantly report each thing -- a trip to Egypt, a session of wind-surfing -- one at a time: his work time, his "income." Because he must do all for his benefactors, including the satisfaction of being able to lighten their tasks a little, by organizing the reordering of his debts himself, so as to ineluctably end up in the definitive crash that will represent the discarding of his work-force. In brief, this "new art of experiencing the bank" is only a survival that is more narrowly controlled by the economy, in which one inhabits a computer terminal and in which, by fits and starts, one circulates thanks to electronic "chips," as a function of the motive force through which one's plastic money has been credited.

To find money in a minute, without having to furnish a commodity (his work in general) in exchange: this is what is quite extraordinary. And if this becomes common, it can only be because all social relations, of which money is the measure, have collapsed and that, before one loses even the memory of the old alienation, one will play in the streets with the fetish that has become derisory. But beyond the advertising proclamation of LIBERTEL communism, we possess enough supporting indications as to be assured that this world has not begun to organize the gratuity in abundance (see the article "Abundance"[3]). The society "without [bank]notes" (the cashless society[4]), the beauties of which one describes to us, is thus merely a society in which the capillary penetration by computerized networks have attained such a degree that, with respect to the omnipresence of the instruments of market calculation, the fugitive materialization of money in currency henceforth appears as an obstacle that slows down its circulation and declines to the profit of electronic accounting, in which exchange is no longer anticipated (as in the monetary form) but controlled in "real time." However, it isn't data processing that, with it immaterial electronic money, renders commodities instantly commensurable (between them, that is to say, for each has its own price, its salary) without them needing to have their respective values represented outside of themselves, in hard cash [especes sonnantes] or at least in palpable cash. On the contrary, it is the occupation of social space-time by the commodity that permits one to directly bring back all commodities to their shared value, the time of work; that they can measure altogether their value without passing for money. The time-commodity of production is thus stripped of its diverse consumable disguises (services, diversions) so as to crudely manifest its "essential characteristics of exchangeable, homogenous unities and the suppression of the qualitative dimension" (The Society of the Spectacle).[5] And the "real time" of informatics, at first used as a particular technique of control over market flows, now finds its field of application in all of society.

Thus, what one has here is a manner of bureaucratic realization of the utopia of the "good timetables of work," to which Marx objected that it is impossible to abolish money insofar as exchange-value remains the social form of products. With its delirium of electronic money, the spectacle seeks to prove that it is at least possible to abolish the appearance of money, the sign of the socially alienated community, to the profit of its own network of hierarchical signals. But to prove this, the spectacle must conform point-by-point to the description made by Marx of the banking system, which the Saint-Simonians would have liked to make the "papacy of distribution." If only to make the asses who treated Marx like an old dog bray, when they weren't agitating about the gulags, we would thus quote at length from the pages of the Manuscripts of 1844 in which the emaciated Marxology of a Rubel[6] sees a "vehement charge" rather than a "scientific analysis"; because these manuscripts clearly show that there is more science in this vehemence than there will ever be in all of the professorial excuses and prudences.

Marx remarked at the beginning that -- deceived by the disappearance of the materiality of the "strange power," alienation -- the Saint-Simonians saw in the "banking system," in credit, "a progressive abolition of the separation of man and objects, capital and work, private property and money, money and man -- the end of the separation of man from man." Today, this illusion of disalienation is no longer the hobby-horse of a sect, but finds itself propagated by all of the spectacular pharmacies that press everyone to invest and improve themselves in all the coarse advertising of its inversion into "a dehumanization much more infamous and exhaustive because its element is no longer the commodity, the metal, the paper, but the moral existence, the social existence, the intimacy of the human heart itself; because, under the appearance of the confidence of man in man, it is supreme distrust and total alienation." It is the usage that the economy makes of him, the guarantee that his non-life offers to his exploiters, that is at every instant calculated and recalculated by the machines of market abstraction, the credit accorded to each person. And Marx exclaimed, unfortunately almost obsolete in his appeal to indignation: "Think of what there is of abjection in the fact of estimating[7] a man in [terms of] money, as is the case with credit." Today, man is estimated by pushing abjection to the point of making him display his price himself, with the pride of the executive who exhibits his rosary [chapelet] of credit cards, the amulettes that assure that he is counted part of the Elect of the Kingdom of the Commodity. But in any case no one can dream of shrinking from this "judgment that political economy pronounces on the morality of a man"; he must apply himself to all the levels of the hierarchy of dispossession, because -- confronted with the bureaucratic concentration of social richness -- there are only debtors and credit is everywhere presented as "the convenient intermediary of exchange, that is to say, money itself elevated to a completely ideal form."

Thus a work that describes the dematerialization of money for the benefit of the "Bank Card Group" can envision that, in the near future, the "card with a chip" will become "the obligatory intermediary for all of our dialogues with the environment" (Invisible Money: The Era of Electronic Flows). It is assuredly not the obligatory character that will be lacking from this intermediary, but, whatever technical procedure is adopted, the dependance created will, in any case, only be a new form of the mutual and generalized dependance of indifferent individuals that is the content of money. If this expresses itself electronically as information about each consumer, it is that, with the generalization of the salariat and the concentration of economic decision-making, the management of credit can itself be centralized. "It isn't money that abolishes itself in man at the heart of the system of credit; it is man himself who changes himself into money, in other words, money incarnates itself in man." How much each incarnates money, that is to say, how much social labor can he exchange himself for: this is what credit estimates and puts on to cards. And "as far as he has no credit, he isn't simply judged to be poor, but also morally, as someone who neither merits, nor trusts, nor estimates; as a pariah, a wicked man"; in brief, as a traitor to the economy. He must submit himself to "the humiliation of lowering himself to beg for credit from the rich," under the diverse, impersonal forms that are today adopted and that are expected to objectively measure if there is still some profit to be extracted from him. So as to find grace in the economy, it is necessary to enter into the system of reciprocal deception and to make of his entire existence an advertisement for his market value. Because each person is accountable for all the moments of his life in their economic estimation: "Thanks to the completely ideal existence of money, man is in a position to practice counterfeiting, not only in another matter, but concerning his own person: forced to make false money with his own person, he must simulate, lie, etc., so as to obtain credit; thus credit becomes -- as much on the side of he who accords trust as he who solicits it -- an object of illegal trade, deception and reciprocal abuse." Our readers will easily recognize here all of the door-mats who, thinner than the thin wall-to-wall carpeting that flaps at La Tapie, must ceaselessly bluff so as to support the rate of their fiduciary value. Finally, "it appears with a burst that, at the basis of what political economy calls confidence, there is mistrust, the distrustful calculations that reveal if it is necessary or not to accord credit; the spying upon the secrets concerning the private life of the borrower, etc." And, by describing in detail the instruments with which this police control is today endowed, one adds nothing essential to this conclusion.

Nevertheless, the magic of monetary value, the total value of its immaterial life -- if it has had a sordidly repressive and police-like development -- has also had, as compensation, its dream-like and almost poetic development. Because, after banking at home, it is now the stock exchange that invites itself even more informally and comes to haunt those who decidedly are not part of it at home and at home less than anywhere else. The salaried employee, already relieved of his pennies, and the care of having to find out how to dispense them, thus sees himself telematically plugged into the most vast financial flows and can thus participate in the global circulation of capital by generously pouring into it the remainder of the accountable signs that the automatic deductions have eventually left to him. The same computerized financial pumps permit him -- after having it pass before his eyes, so as to respect the forms, the price of his work -- to instantly mobilize his evanescent nest-egg (he himself also being evanescent). Because when one knows a little of what today is the financial market, such a proposition must rather be welcomed with fright, if something like the good sense of the petite-bourgeoisie is retained by the executive. Nevertheless, the aberration has its logic and it is quite normal that the loss of control over the signs of the computerized general equivalent is completed, for the privileges of dispossession, by an enthusiastic contemplation of the endless round that makes these signals travel [tourner] across the world. The telematic racket[8] that envisions scientifically raking in what can no longer be called savings can thus be accepted as progress, thanks to which each person knows, sitting in front of his or her screen, the ecstasy of the stock-market crash. There is obviously never a question about being amazed by the crash.

Beyond democratized dabbling in the stock market, this progress in the circulation of abstraction actually has a more sincerely cheerful aspect, that of amplifying -- with its speculative effects reverberating from one end of the planet to the other -- a monetary instability that has irrepressably grown since 1971, the year that the convertibility of the dollar [into gold] was abolished and that -- for the first time in times of peace -- one has assisted in the disappearance of all international money of reference. The monstrous coupling of telematics and the flows of capital is not simply a technique of marginal collection, but is at the center of this "financial revolution" that has, for several years now, permitted the birth of the only perfect market that one has ever seen: a global market in dematerialized capital. This perfection has already displayed a few of its beauties; one has the right to hope for others.[9] And perhaps even the savory spectacle of a global financial shipwreck. The same magic that permits us to find money in a minute without asking anything of anyone apparently functions so as to permit others to make money disappear in huge quantities, without anyone being able to understand exactly how. Thus, one learned one fine morning that the Volkswagen company lost, in a single blow, the equivalent of its annual revenues due to a swindle that was in fact an unfortunate speculation upon the dollar. This limited case of the volatility of capital (to the point of its pure and simple valorization) illustrates quite well -- with the fantastic piracy of the Wall Street "raiders"[10] -- the type of perfection of a market in which arbitrariness is the norm and in which capital, rather than depositing itself in investments, prefers to ceaselessly travel across the globe in search of speculative profits.

In the same way that the degradation of nature is much more profound than what one has been left to suppose, the decay of the mechanisms that used to regulate intercapitalist relations is much more advanced than what one would like us to perceive. Because, here as well, those who know do not speak, and those who speak know nothing. Yet the agonizing confidences concerning the uncontrollable reality of the international financial system that must be the guarantee and the measure of all the economic processes more and more often slips out from the "deciders." One of these experts sighs that "one no longer knows with certitude who borrows from whom, nor who loans to whom" (quoted by H. Bourguinat, The Vertigo of International Finances). Another expert improves upon this: "Everyone exchanges debts, and one ends up no longer knowing who is at the end of the chain, who is the creditor and who is the debtor" (Dynasteurs, March 1987). Here is an ignorance from which several financial adventurers can advantageously draw profit, but to which no one really puts an end: the inextricable entanglements of debts and the ultra-rapid electronic circulation of credit, of which no one can guarantee the clear expression in the language of a financial pathology that is informatically equipped. This is a forward flight that is comparable, in what concerns the forced course of economic abstraction, in the order of its authoritarian materialization, to the development of a nuclear industry. The ideal form of money, credit experiences an inflation that is in itself "ideal," the nominal illusion of the richness that capitalism gives to itself. The artificial multiplication of speculative profits rests or, rather, skids upon a boom in the deficit that the system is forced to accord to itself, always more liberally, so as to compensate for the profits that it cannot attain in the circulation of commodities.

In a situation in which the general abstract equivalent of social richness becomes even more abstract, because this richness is itself quite doubtful, a financier can remark with an air of chagrin that the first function of money must be to "facillitate exchanges and not to dominate them," and that "the sign (money) and reality (the commodity, the product) henceforth obey different laws" (J. Peyrelavalde, President of the Stern Bank, Le Monde, 17 April 1987). These groans of an anarchronistic bourgeois realism -- like all lamentations that denounce the too-flagrant unreality of the financial boom[11] -- want to be ignorant that this in fact expresses the most profound economic reality, the outrageousness of a concentration of the social richness that pushes itself beyond all usage, which obeys the foolish laws that prescribe the perpetual domination of exchange-value. What the currect director of the International Monetary Fund calls "the enormous surplus of a proliferating financial sector that recoups the real economy from its shadow" (Dynasteurs, March 1987) is thus, rather, the enormous surplus of a market economy that recoups real life from its shadow, that is, when it doesn't crush it by plummeting head-long. So as to relocate a measure, a social usage that has been defined in an authoritarian manner -- so as to restore laws that are capable of judging all of this -- the reformers must turn one more time to the State, the "savior of last recourse." But who will save this savior, when the States themselves -- like the borrowers and investors -- are buried up to their necks in waves of indebtedness that permit the artificial auto-valorization of the monetary abstraction? In his time, Hegel had already seen the commodity, the autonomous movement of the non-living, "as the wild beast that calls for the firm hand of a tamer." Since then, one has seen on the historical stage a number of apprentice tamers (or at least learned experts in taming), the instruction of whom is well summarized by Keynes when he declared that the totalitarian bureaucratic system "neither holds nor knows how to hold, in what concerns economic technique, any useful element to which we might have recourse, if we ever decide to do so in the framework of a society that conforms to the ideals of the British bourgeoisie" (Laissez-faire and Communism, quoted by Paul Mattick, Marx and Keynes). The ideals of the British bourgeoisie were in fact nothing, but -- although this isn't the place to attempt to precisely evaluate the current relations between the wild beast and its governmental [etatique] tamer -- it is certain that they have sometimes thought that it is, rather, the senile hand of the one that calls for the jaws of the other. In any case, the image that contains this confused mixture hardly resembles the ideal portrait of the bureaucracy as the "universal class," which, "disengaged from work directed towards needs," "occupies itself with general interests, with social life." Instead it evokes, in the manner of the end of Animal Farm, a danse macabre of the State and the commodity in which one no longer knows very well who is the wild beast and who is the tamer . . . but in which one still knows who is endlessly trampled upon.

The confusion of Statist politics and their erratic economic order is such that a mediocre commentator can remark on the occasion of the most recent of the "summits" periodically charged with putting an end to this confusion: "One wants to stimulate domestic demand in the United States thanks to the diminution of public expenditures (and thus the loans to finance them). One presses the Federal Republic [of Germany] and Japan to revive their respective economies by an augmentation of budgetary expenditures (and thus loans). No mediatic[12] operation can exhaust this contradiction" (Paul Fabra, Le Monde, 7-8 June 1987). Thus one understands that a system henceforth incapable of understanding itself prefers to contemplate the machines that represent the magic of its uncontrollable functioning as pure rapidity of the circulation of abstraction, for which all human perception is deficient: "Certain days, the computers themselves must work at different speeds. When the fever seizes the market, they inscribe themselves in the phase of the 'accelerated market' (fast market[13]): the exchanges are so rapid that the prices appearing on the screens only announce approximations" (Le Monde, 21-22 December 1986).

If the power of money is not abolished here, where one says it is abolished, but, on the contrary, is reinforced as a police constraint, then money encounters -- in its very autonomy, as the bureaucratic calculation of planned survival -- its limits and contradictions. Its arbitrary appearance [eclate] at the most elevated level of abstraction, in the dementia of the financial fiction in which what is rationalized (that is to say, repressed) at the basis of society reappears as global irrationality. Because all the progress and all the inconsequences of such a system can only be a new regression and the new consequence of dispossession.

[1] Still offered by HSBC France: "With Libertel credit, you benefit from a permanent reserve of money: you utilize it when you wish and then you reconstitute your reserve through the reimbursement by your due dates."

[2] Karl Marx, "The Power of Money," in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.

[3] In issue #11 of L'encyclopedie des nuisances.

[4] English in original.

[5] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (1967): Thesis 149 in Chapter 6, "Spectacular Time."

[6] See, for example, Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, edited by Maximilien Rubel and John Crump (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987).

[7] Note that estimer can mean both "to estimate" and "to esteem."

[8] English in original.

[9] Four months after this text was published, that is, on 19 October 1987, there was a terrible crash: $500 billion was lost in one day.

[10] English in original.

[11] English in original.

[12] The French word used here is mediatique, for which there is no equivalent in English.

[13] English in original.



A text published anonymously in Encyclopedia of Nuisances, #11, 1986. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! June 2007. All footnotes by the translator.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 10, 2022

In the so-called developed countries, where one noisily claims to have acceded to abundance, evoking this notion immediately leads one to wonder what there is such a profusion of. Less overwhelmed with uncertainties in this regard, some societies have easily defined their abundance in the practices of potlatch, ritualized waste [dilapidation], and festival. And before the simple determinations of the necessary and the superfluous lost themselves in market abstractions, repetitive work and the routine satisfaction of stable needs attained their outcome and their meaning, their consecration, in the idleness or the excess of those who represented the expensive usage of life by manifesting its values for everyone. One had to wait until today for work to annul itself in the indefiniteness of needs -- among the simplest, like breathing -- the satisfaction of which is nothing less than routine, so that one comes to ask oneself what can be desirable in the excess of such misery or the idleness that must still live with all this. Thus, market abundance, which was supposed to satisfy all of the needs that it recognized, and those that it created as a bonus, has finally enriched privation to the point of destroying all kinds of satisfaction. A society without luxury, in which the necessary is lacking: such is the most expeditious definition of what is proposed worldwide as the highest accomplishment of human history.

On 25 August 1686, the Day of Saint-Louis, the pirate Grammont -- having taken Campeche, feasted for two months and fired the cannon in honor of the king of France -- illuminated the last orgy with a blaze in which was consumed all of the wood, at the time reputed to be the most precious in the world, found in the warehouses of the town. And this man, who exceeded the customary irregularity of the pirates who accompanied him and declared themselves to be libertines, that is to say, atheists, exclaimed while contemplating this most useless and expensive of pillages: "What can they attempt at Versailles that is not salad dressing compared to what we have done?" Several weeks later, quite far in advance of another wastrel [dilapidateur], Arthur Cravan, Grammont disappeared off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and so one could not see what decisive continuation of his disastrous career could have added to this superbly launched challenge (made under the pretext of celebration) to a king whom he only recognized so as to surpass him in luxury. In the manner of Blanqui, exclaiming "Crush the romantics!" during the revolution of 1830, one exulted from being able to "Crush the Sun-King!" before the brutal overthrow of the hierarchies established in the access to abundance. Crush the pharoahic pretensions of the king who, assimilating "the regal and useful course of the sun" to the "infinite good that royalty produces," especially achieved the centralization of his court in the decorum of absolutism, which is the preliminary to all subsequent Statist impoverishment; until then ostentatious expenditure had been put in play in the disorder of the aristocratic rivalries of which the Fronde was the last and paroxysmal example.

A clumsy and authoritarian retort to the feast of Fouquet, Versailles -- thanks to the pageantry capable of enchanting generations of petit-bourgeois republicans who laboriously attained a discounted luxury, of which the "Great Century" remains the inaccessible model -- gave one the feeling of the accomplished passage from effervescence to etiquette, from excess to pomp: if it is not certain that this is a factory, the construction of which imposes itself between the chateau and an ornamental pond, it is no less the case that the beautiful disorder of life is inhibited there, like the urban troubles from which it was necessary to distance oneself, through all the heavy harmony of the decor. With respect to repression and pomp, one knows, moreover that Marly's machine,[1] which had water to play with at Versailles, was the most powerful machine of the 17th Century. Nevertheless, even though the technical machinery was still relegated to the wings of power, like an instrument of its hydraulic fantasies, this already tempered -- symbolically, at least -- its ostentation and its pomp according to some notion of public interest, and the equestrian statue constructed on demand by Bernin -- too exuberant in its illustration of an insolubly unproductive glory -- was finally set aside by its sponsor for a more edifying allegory that presented the benefits of his reign to the judgment of history.

However dubious these benefits might have appeared to its contemporaries, it is, on the other hand, certain that the harnessing of what, until then, had expended itself without reserve to the profit of economic accumulation was greatly favored by the constitution at the Court of a model of hierarchical consumption, governed by fashion and ruling over luxury according to a ladder of appearances that each person strove to climb. Parallel to the military excesses of the Fronde, aristocratic prodigality could still illustrate itself as a mundane and already private diversion in the games of the precious men and women, the charming seriousness of which Tallemant des Reaux[2] described well. But henceforth what was free fantasy became an obligation to appear on the stage of absolutism, to hold a rank from which the State drew glory: "The life of the Court becomes the criteria for a beautiful life. The luxurious standards of consumption that were established in it little by little spread throughout society." Lewis Mumford showed in Technics and Civilization how this standardized luxurious consumption, along with the equipment of military slaughter, at the origin of modern industrial production. And the essential is the fact that luxury progressively ceased to be represented in the unproductive feasts of religion and the fantastic games of those who were beyond needs, so as to be consumed, acquired under the form of commodities.

Material production was then no longer limited, as it had been previously, on the side of poverty as well as on the side of wealth: on the former, by the stability of needs, and on the latter, by expenditures of the excess in pure loss. The accumulation of the means of production, the indefinite growth of the economy, began with the creation of new needs that opened an unlimited field of deployment of dissatisfaction: by promising the democratization of luxury, and by actually banalizing it, the commodity simultaneously attacked what was beyond needs, the free play with wealth and the limited satisfaction that, if it was still not attained, was at least accepted as the sole horizon. As Goethe had one of his characters say, in praise of the incessant movement of commercial activity: "Therefore, consider thus natural or manufactured products, from all parts of the world, and dream of the fashion by which the have, by turns, become indispensable objects." And further on: "You will discover the most insignificant commodity in its relations with the ensemble of commerce and from then on you will hold nothing as insignificant since everything increases the circulation on which your own life nourishes itself" (Wilhelm Meister). But this philosophical satisfaction, which wants to save the commodity from insignificance by discovering in it the exuberance of a movement that exceeds it, is no more than an ideological travesty of what is in fact a worrisome investigation of a wealth that each time escapes in the disappointment of possession; pursued abundance retreats, and demands as compensation that the individual identify his own life with "the ensemble of commerce," and find its nourishment in "circulation." Because wealth is not deposited in any particular commodity; it is, rather, what is missing from each particular commodity and what foils it; like excess and luxury, it is the exclusive property of the infinite movement of negation of all particularity that animates the market abstraction. Money itself, when it is possessed, merely represents the negation of rest: it is the infinite quantified. "This contradiction between the always-definite quantity and the quality of the infinite power of money ceaselessly leads the hoarder to the work of Sisyphus. He is like a conqueror whose each new conquest only leads to a new frontier" (Marx).[3]

Thus, only this "infinite power" that money incarnates, the permanent self-valorization of the world of things, socially represents the true wealth, not as a result but as a process, in which the preceding know-how must each time be thrown into the furnace of production, of economic progress. To the movement that carries society far from all previous stability, the revolutionary bourgeoisie in vain opposed its ideal of Spartan frugality and voluntary egalitarianism; it no longer had time to restore the old bases of satisfaction and historic action. Instead of enjoying itself and periodically exhausting itself in disorders and institutionalized, ritualized destruction [dilapidation], human negativity was at once repressed and captured by the cycle of productive work, in which it turned 'round, thereby making the economic machine turn. Hegel -- more radical than Goethe and anyone else [at that time] because he was less concerned with positive consolations -- could thenceforth praise in technique the "restlessness of the subjective, of the Concept, placed beyond the subject": the Spirit of the World functioned all alone. It has not ceased to do so today, when it manifests itself under the modest signature of Chernobyl,[4] for example, so well placed "beyond the subject" that this subject, the real human being, is no more than the lack of spirit, the source of error. But Hegel also foresaw this: "Finally, the abstraction of production makes work ever more mechanical and, in the end, it is possible that man will be excluded and that the machine will replace him" (Principles of the Philosophy of Right).

The attachment to things, the anguished need for their possession, is the ordinary neurosis through which the desire for abundance seeks to satisfy itself, "curbed" in production and deprived of the ritualized forms of its sublimation: the mania of the collector, the vain search for a useless accomplishment, represents the shrill form of the frustration of the consumer. But, for all that, what announced itself as an ascension to luxury was realized as an extension of necessity. Thus Mumford wrote the following to summarize how the banalization of the conventional signs of luxury contributed to the growth of manufacturing production: "One can remark with irony that it is with the capital amassed in his workshops of junk in Soho that Matthew Boulton helped James Watt during the period in which he was perfecting the steam engine." Junk is, among the savages who aspire to practice luxury in gratuitousness and unproductive expenditure, the fallacious ambassador of efficiency, of the economy that always enslaves them more and more to work. Junk carries the flag [les couleurs] of the commodity, but it must borrow them from the world that the commodity is in the process of abolishing. Its false brilliance reflects for a moment longer the splendor of a disappearing luxury, which the powers in their rivalries dilapidates; and which testifies to the beauty of many Italian towns that are, in the overlapping of ostentatious architectural expenditures, like a petrified potlatch. To the Towers of San Gimignamo, which uselessly fly towards the sky, to play with the wealth that is offered to all as decor, the world of junk replied with the somber and solitary obstinacy of William Beckford, who twice rebuilt the Tower of Fonthill, which he wanted to be always taller and which, due to its repeated collapses, consumed the most important fortune in England. At least Beckford, still enjoying the aristocratic privileges of wealth, could really celebrate -- to the great scandal of his milieu -- the sumptuous festival of which [his novel] Vathek was the literary echo. If the whole life of he who was like Louis II without a kingdom or a Ferdinand Cheval without a wheelbarrow (but who inscribed on his Ideal Palace "The fairies of the East come to fraternize with the West"), if the meditated disaster of his excess -- which wasn't only architectural -- was a violent challenge to what began to unfurl with the industrial revolution, one can say more generally that, beyond aesthetics and his taste for the Gothic and its profusion of vain ornaments, it is fitting to understand that, under the name of Romanticism, he above all expressed a protest against the downfall of luxury, against the poverty of a world in which splendor had to be borrowed from the past and in which art, like junk, is essentially nostalgia. Schiller's famous affirmation, according to which man is only fully man when he is at play, is inscribed upon the threshold of the modern hell of production, in which the principle of efficiency no longer leaves any place for play, in which mutilated man works to produce the consumable substitutes for the faculties that have been amputated from him.

Considered in this way, not in the perspective of necessity but of its contrary, "luxury" -- as was attempted, not without several quite ridiculous blunders concerning modern problems, by Georges Bataille in "The Notion of Expenditure"[5] and The Accursed Share[6] -- the economic and anti-economic history of human societies assuredly acquires different, brilliant colors than those that -- thanks to the people who retroactively impose the stinginess of market calculations -- spoil the beauty of what was accomplished, what was made in the depth of the desire to accede to the free expenditure of life, to the affirmation of human prodigality. Nevertheless, the action that pushes the question of abundance, of the collective access to abundance (and thus the idea that we must own all that has been manifested the luxurious values of life in the past), to be posed lucidly and rationally must not, in its turn, led us to retrospectively consider history by loaning to the recovered epochs the possible freedoms that are ours in this respect. Abundance has always existed, but nowhere has it existed abundantly: either because everyone did not enjoy it or because, when everyone did enjoy it, they did not do so all of the time. No doubt abundance really lived can only be particular to a human group engaged in a collective adventure, when it has its own practical values, its own language, its own rules of the game. Thus, Huizinga wrote the following with respect to the descriptions furnished by Malinowski of the rituals of reciprocal gift-exchange practiced by the Melanesians: "The entire event unfolded in an atmosphere of reciprocal obligation, trust, friendship, free hospitality, noble exploits, generosity, honor and glory. The navigations were often adventurous and full of dangers" (Homo ludens). But today, to recover the particularity of practices of abundance, this diversity and all the rival requirements of which it can be the occasion, it is necessary to attack the general form that has taken dispossession in market wealth, abstract abundance, in which all direct pleasure is denied.

The universal right to wealth that the commodity instaurates by destroying all privileged and ritualized participation in expenditure: this abstraction realizes itself in the always-increasing distance from the usage of abundance. The ostentation of the rich only realizes itself with the aid of signs of an absent life, in the accumulation of objects that are irremediably deprived of all that their mode of usage does not know how to provide. The consumer of the abundant commodity is the secularized version of the ascetic ideal embodied by the hoarder. He also pursues the appropriation of wealth under its general, abstract form, by renouncing wealth in its material reality, in the particularization and in the manifestations of his life. Because he is ignorant of his real needs, to the profit of the arbitrary forms that they assume in the spectacle, he misrecognizes both deprivation and its reversal. One can see the point at which one can revive the meaning of human abundance at the opposite extreme of the existing counterfeits in this paradoxical luxury, in which the spectacle has taken its completed form and where the ideal of the hoarder's renunciation has attained its best formulation in the motto of Benjamin Franklin, who developed the famous precept time is money[7]: in American society, the truth of wealth -- which flees from all parts of the needy ostentation of the privileged consumers of appearances -- is experienced in the exuberant and desperate life of the most miserable: the Blacks. Faced with the sordid American dream, the Black shave thrown -- as a denial of all that one wants to reduce them to, and of all that one has believed to gain thereby -- the insult of a sovereign scorn, which is dispensed in the most useless of luxuries: music. In hardly more than 50 years, jazz[8] has completed the cycle that leads all art to detach itself from the collective practices of a game with repertory forms and to affirm itself in an individualized production that takes innovation as its rule, and thus sinks into a negative movement in which it only expresses the loss of a common language. But previously, at its point of incandescence -- disengaged from the conventions of folklore,[9] but without losing itself in the cacophony of impossible communication -- it had, as a savage postface to the history of art, prolonged for another instant the ability to represent an authentic luxury, to manifest the gratuitousness of life. Having passed beyond this point, but without betraying the negation that it incarnated in a positive expression, jazz only has the choice between the beaten tracks of formal decomposition, which would reduce it to the sub-dadaism of official American culture, and the difficult road of a supercession of all representation in the insurrection of the Blacks. One knows what has become of jazz, and today it remains something to be collected by the aesthetes of the microgrooves.

Bataille wrote in 1933: "Today, the great and free social forms of unproductive expenditure have disappeared. However, it is not necessary to conclude from this that the very principle of expenditure has ceased to be situated as the end of economic activity [...] Only generosity and nobility have disappeared and, with them, the spectacular counterpart that the rich would render to the poor" ("The Notion of Expenditure").[10] Since the time that Bataille wrote these lines, the progress of class society has manifestly consisted of endowing itself with the means that allow it, with neither generosity nor nobility, but with the efficacy of cold calculation, to render to contemporary poor people the "spectacular counterpart" from which they were excluded; that is to say, today practically everyone, from the satisfaction of elementary needs to participation in luxurious expenditure. Conforming to the particular logic of the economy, such a counterpart absorbs an always-growing part of the excess productivity that one does not put to emancipatory usage: the spectacular substitute for life consumes the energy that could be devoted to surpass this substitute. But, as this expenditure still does not suffice to maintain the pressure of economic necessity, the unleashing of the artificial and the construction of a pseudo-reality is accompanied by the destruction of all the realities on which survival rests: this is a recoil in which the arbitrary in the usage of technical power negatively expresses possible freedom. And in this indefinite outbreak of the struggle for the satisfaction of need, society disastrously consumes the power that it could joyously waste in surmounting the economy.

When it began to reformulate itself upon the refusal of work, including the artistic work that represented for subservient society an activity that was emancipated from necessity -- a luxurious game -- , the revolutionary programme of communist abundance could still, with the grain of Marxist reasoning, consider that capitalism had accomplished its historical task by creating a productive apparatus that could permit an egalitarian satisfaction of needs, and that this very development, with the material powers thus accumulated, thenceforth posed to humanity the problem of a free expenditure of life that, generalized, was at the same time the supercession of art and the economy. Against the retrograde claims of reformism -- which only gave as its objective to the workers' struggles the ascension to a minimum of survival, condemned them to indefinitely pursue the satisfaction of needs under the arbitrary forms and the always-increased artificial necessities of this society -- it [the revolutionary programme] affirmed: "Life is to be lived beyond" (Potlatch, #4, July 1954).[11] It seems established that, on the basis of technical development, with the possibility of an automation that would discharge men from all the constraints of non-creative activity, the content of the modern revolution thenceforth becomes the employment of the time and energies thus liberated: to give it a programme that really responds to the principal problem of the era -- overdevelopment without wealth -- , which could pass for the definition of a new wealth, in total opposition to the inept lie of the so-called "society of consumption." Beyond the socialization of vital goods, it would be a question of indicating my means of appropriate propaganda the excessive liberty of a possible game, which alone would give a passionate meaning to the fact that the question of subsistence can be rationally dominated: "Revolutionary thought must make the critique of everyday life in bourgeois society; [it must] spread another idea of happiness. The Left and the Right are in accord on the image of poverty, which is a matter of having no food [privation alimentaire]. The Left and the Right are also in accord on the image of the good life [...] Beefsteak will be replaced as the sign of the masses' right to live" (Internationale Situationniste #2, December 1958).[12]

Thirty years later, it is not deceptive to summarize the situation by saying that we have gained nothing beyond beefsteak, and that we have lost beefsteak itself.[13] That is to say, by acceding to abundant consumption, we have seen beefsteak effectively "replaced" by something in which there is a lot of merchandise and very little meat. Not only has the dominant society (in its own way, that is, by gradually and partially automating production) succeeded in surmounting technical development by neutralizing human energy, which is thereby rendered vacant, but also by creating "jobs" [emplois] in this sector (thus preventing the creation of a new use [emploi] of life), but this society has also ceaselessly lengthened the detour by which we reach vital goods, diligently unburdening at each stage of sophistication a part of its content (to the profit of costly synthetic substitutes). And the end of the day, what everyone accedes to (if everyone indeed accedes to it, because it is still necessary to pay for these aliments[14] of death) literally no longer exists. The threshold of abundance has thus paradoxically been freed from both the costs of the satisfaction of elementary needs, with the result that beefsteak -- if one has the least interest in quality or even merely the non-noxious -- once again becomes a revolutionary demand. In a world turned upside-down, the most absurd excesses are the rule where proportion [la mesure] and exact knowledge obviously impose themselves (in the appropriation of nature); and in those places where the free effervescence of human freedom can manifest itself completely at its leisure, there reigns the most sordid parsimony, passivity and repetition.

Nevertheless, unproductive activity suppressed by the anti-historical maintenance of market profitability returns as an irrationality that is socially supportable by the compulsive absurdity of individual behaviors. Thus, as if to justify the idea that the automobile should principally be an idiotic plaything, and secondarily a means of transportation, we see the young generations, unable to construct a way of life [savoir-vivre], devote themselves to an expedited way of death [savoir-mourir], by employing the means of permitted circulation in a superabundantly aberrant fashion. This destructive excess -- excessive with respect to the normally programmed rate of usury (concerning the vehicles as much as their users) -- evokes the operations of snipers who act on the margins of the great campaigns of destruction in which this society catastrophically expends its power. There obviously are not a lack of humanists to be indignant about the irresponsibility of all those who throw themselves down the roads, after making themselves suitably intoxicated, but these protectors of survival want to ignore the fact that it is not drunkenness that is absurd, nor the will to play with machines, but the constraints that weigh down upon the deployment of all this, determining a usage that is so poor that its only excess is auto-destruction (if one dares to say so). The modern poor people who give the end of work such a rivalry of risks and waste use the commodity that best summarizes the cost of this work, what it costs and what it allows; it is all this that they put into play in the sole goal of recovering the real prestige that attaches itself to the scorn of riches. It is for this prestigious sacrifice that alcohol prepares people: alcohol would only be an obstacle if it was a question of circulating efficiently, and it is precisely this that is not a concern.

No matter what the drug, only the construction of superior games could put an end to the pathology of substitute expenditures that, in their repetitive fixations, reproduce the world of constraints that these expenditures want to repudiate. How could this society -- which only knows how to organize the muddles of material and human resources on a grand scale -- really judge the muddles that so many desperate people make of their own lives and demand that each person subscribe to this madness as a necessity? All the successes of domination over the last thirty years have consisted of planning a regularized destruction of goods, which replaces the old economic function of war. Without difficulty, market abundance has been, at the simple level of consumed objects and supposed satisfactions, the contrary of what it said it was: the subservience to an indefinitely renewed productive labor, integrated usury supporting the methods of advertising so as to impose the change of what remains fundamentally identical, and the ephemera of the necessary thus began to annul the material conditions of luxury. But the perpetuation of what can define as the monstrous paradox of this society, which makes people work to maintain work, obliged one to carry the destruction further, quite beyond the sphere of the usual objects. The current disaster -- from ordinary waste to regularized catastrophes -- is like a frightening potlatch of destruction by which humanity searches to recover, in the ruins of its illusions, the truth of its needs as well as its true wealth. The fact that the costs of its own devastations today become properly incalculable by the existing society: in its way, this fact expresses how accumulated power can come forth from the economy without, for all that, surmounting it: by prolonging beyond all proportion the enslavement of men and the destruction of life.

In the light of this overturning of abundant production by its contrary, one can re-read what the situationists wrote in 1960 concerning the supercession of "the old division between imposed work and passive diversions" that must allow "the automatization of production and the socialization of vital goods": "Thus liberated from all economic responsibility, liberated from all debts to the past and others, man will dispose of a new use-value, incalculable in money because it is impossible to reduce it to the measurements of salaried work: the value of play, of life freely constructed" ("Manifesto of 17 May 1960," Internationale Situationniste #4).[15] The surplus-value that has been expropriated from us henceforth shows itself in the monstrous excess of Statist arbitrariness, of which it can certainly be said that it is "liberated from all debts to the past and others" and even all economic responsibility. Material power, accumulated in the hierarchical framework of the past, instead of being reoriented by an emancipatory project, can no longer be distinguished from the powers of the owners of monopolized survival. In 1776, bringing Boswell to the workshops in which he manufactured Watt's steam engine in serial fashion, Boulton is said to have said: "Here, sir, I sell what everyone desires to have: power." The crux of the matter being that the English word power signifies both ability and power (in the sense of energy). What everyone wants to have -- the material ability to emancipate oneself from immediate needs -- is thus returned to and against us by socially taking the form of a power that undertakes to definitively keep us in the "system of needs" that already convinced Hegel to conclude upon the necessity of a State bureaucracy: a "system of mutual physical dependency" as constraining and coherent as the surveillance of the stockpiles of nuclear waste.

Thus the project of revolutionary reappropriation cannot today hold anything as historically established: satisfaction and excess must be reconstructed together, and only a society that can rationally organize this can devote itself freely to reinventing them. It will be a question -- in the autonomy of individuals and groups, as a moving frontier in dynamic contradiction -- of recovering the opposition of needs and luxuries, of which the alienating forms -- in the division between work and leisure -- have finally ruined all aptitude to produce and enjoy, to measure and play, to accumulate and squander. But from now on, in this decomposition -- which we defined in the "Prospectus" that announced the publication of this Encyclopedia as "one of the paradoxes of our situation" -- "it is necessary for us to develop a critique that leads beyond this state of affairs and, at the same time, re-takes for our account certain qualities and values (made precise and deepened) that bureaucratization annihilates and that, previously, it seemed possible to directly supercede in the abundance of a free construction of life." And this is why, we, who are so little disposed to have a sense of proportion, must also acquire it.

[1] Completed in 1684, Marly's machine was a series of 14 gigantic water-wheels installed along the Seine.

[2] Tallemant des Reaux (1619-1692), the author of Historiettes, a collection of short biographies.

[3] Karl Marx, Capital, Part 1, Chapter III, Section 3: Money.

[4] The phrase "the modest signature of Chernobyl" occurs in a letter from Guy Debord to Jaime Semprun dated 12 June 1986.

[5] "The Notion of Expenditure" was first published in French in 1933. A translation into English appears in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939 (University of Minnesota, 1985).

[6] The Accursed Share was first published in 1949. A translation into English was published by Zone Books in 1989. In our review of this book, we denounced Bataille for his cynical justifications for Stalinism.

[7] English in original. Note: we think that the rest of this paragraph is total bullshit.

[8] English in original. For similar bullshit, see Theodor Adorno's awful essay "On Jazz" (1936).

[9] English in original.

[10] See "The Notion of Expenditure," Visions of Excess, p. 124.

[11] "In the Minimum of Life." Note that in Reuban Keehan's translation of this text, which appears on the Situationist International Online, this entire sentence -- intended ironically -- is missing.

[12] "The Collapse of the Revolutionary Intellectuals." Note that in Reuban Keehan's translation of this text, which appears on the Situationist International Online, privation alimentaire is rendered as "basic privation," which loses the flavor of the pun on food ("beefsteak"), and the entire sentence "The Left and the Right are also in accord on the image of the good life" is missing.

[13] See Guy Debord's essay Abat-Faim, which was also published by Encyclopedia of Nuisances.

[14] This word can mean both "food" and "necessities."

[15] Note that in Fabian Thompsett's translation of this text, which appears on the Situationist International Online, l'homme disposera d'une nouvelle plus-value is rendered as "humankind will exude [sic] a new surplus value." (For an incisive critique of the entire Encyclopedia of Nuisances project and the pronounced "pro-situ" or, if you will, sub-situ tone of articles such as this one, see Guy Debord's letter to Jean-Pierre Baudet and Jean-Francois Martos dated 9 September 1987.)