We Explain to You Who the Situationists Are

They were the ones who hijacked advertising by overloading the streets with graffiti. They were the ones who knew how to laugh at all the revolutions, at all the recuperations. They, the Situationists, were the ones who have elaborated a critique of our society so severe and so true that one cannot fail to recognize or pretend to ignore it. They were the ones who always maintained: "We have founded our cause on practically nothing: dissatisfaction and the irreducible desire for life."

If there is a subject that has become banal today, it is surely youth revolt. Not a month has gone by, indeed, that college students and high schoolers (not to mention the new generation of workers) haven't given in to explosions of joyous anger that took disconcerting forms. In December 1970, students from the Rodin High School at Paris, in the thirteenth district, rose up against the administrative authority of the establishment. For one week, there was a festival. Under a deluge of leaflets, some roller-skated or bicycled through the halls and the classrooms, others burned textbooks and a mannequin of Franco. The walls were covered with drawings, paintings and subversive slogans: "We Are All Delinquents" -- "Long Live Flowers, Birds and the Workers Councils" -- "Let's Realize Art" -- "Let The Young be the Officials of Beauty."

To observers, these "Enragés" (who are self-proclaimed Dadaists) affirmed: "By denying our roles as high school students, we are able to begin the real fight that will end in the realization of what we have sketched out: the end of work, the family, alienation, and boredom; the beginning of passion, generalized creativity, the autonomous character of man, and communism."

Contrary to common belief, this youth revolt owes nothing to what one would call Leftism. A particularly significant example: the students of the Rodin High School were energetically opposed the recuperative attempts of the Maoists and Trotskyists (the A.I.S. and the Communist League).[1] The new protesters' allergic reaction to Leftism can be explained by their serious spirits, by the doctrinaire sectarianism of these groups, and by these groups' flagrant lack of understanding of the meanings of the realities in France today.

How could a young person accept the ideas of those who confuse the world of the 1970s with that of the 1920s and who have a senile obsession with wanting to reconstruct the pure and hard Bolshevik Party according to Saint-Trotsky? As for Maoism (which version? there are so many of them!), its Chinese ideological folklore expresses an astounding distance [fuite] when faced with everyday reality. Some Maoists have been forced to recognize this bankrupt conception of revolution and have noted the profound indifference of the youth towards it. From whence comes the necessity for them now to make their auto-critique and modify their political line. This clearly illustrates the metamorphosis of a group like "Vive la Revolution" (the group that, in the autumn of 1970, launched -- under the very great patronage of Jean-Paul Satre -- a new publication, EVERYTHING: WHAT WE WANT: EVERYTHING, which was of a clearly anarchist character and in the style of the marginal newspapers of the American press).

Heirs to Dadaism

In reality, this new generation of insurgents only prolonged (and accentuated) the revolt of the Provos in Amsterdam (1965-67), the Enragés in Strasbourg (1966) and of course, those from Nanterre who gave the May '68 movement its style. This revolt must be attributed to an emerging consciousness of the real nature of the so-called consumer society. An awakening of consciousness (and speech) that finds its source in the intellectual activities (and practices) of a minority of insolent but lucid protesters: the Situationist International. Due to a paradox to which history holds the secret, the SI have remained practically unknown in our country for over ten years. Here is what could justify Hegel's reflection that "All the important revolutions that leap into view must be preceded in the spirit of the era by a secret revolution that is not visible to everyone, and still less observable by contemporaries, and that is as difficult to express in words as it is understand."[2]

Founded in July 1957 in Cosio d'Arroscia, a small village in Italy, the Situationist International (SI) is the fruit of a regrouping among artists and intellectuals issued from the avant-garde of the 1950s (the Experimental Artists International, better known under the name of the publication COBRA; the Lettrist International; the Imaginist Bauhaus; and the Psychogeography Committee of London).

As heirs to Dadaism's wilder period and to a lesser extent Surrealism, the Situationists became set on reaching a double-objective: "Transform the World" (Marx) and "Change Life" (Rimbaud). Critics of the dominant culture, which they wished to bankrupt, they discovered the mediocrity of the everyday lives of individuals and, at the same time, their secret desire to transcend this existence: "What are our goals? The creation of situations. Without a doubt, throughout history, people have attempted to intervene directly in the ambience of several moments in their lives. We only think that the means were not united so as to bring about a quantitative and qualitative extension of such constructions, which remained isolated and partial." But, today, the progress of science and technology, and the extraordinary development of industry in modern societies have permitted one to envision the realization of this dream. It will still be necessary to put all of these riches into the service of mankind. Therefore, "at this moment, man belongs to the very machines he's created. He is denied and mastered by them. We must reverse this non-sense or there will no longer be creation," wrote Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio. As avid readers of Hegel, the Situationists straight away saw the means for a good use of the dialectic, the perspective of the surpassing of all autonomous activity (fine arts, the sciences, urban planning, cybernetics) and, of course, our traditional institutions (work, family, the nation, the university, etc.)

After Lettrism

In June 1958, a little after the collapse of the 4th Republic and General De Gaulle's return to power in the midst of general indifference (the Algerian crisis holding the attention of all French people), the S.I. published the first issue of their bulletin. It was a very polished magazine, printed on glossy paper, with a metallic cover (for which the leftist cliques have always reproached it). Few illustrations. One found therein studies devoted to the situationist use of play, the conditioning techniques used in advertising, the cultural revolution (a term they originated) that they summoned with their wishes, and the application of different artistic methods to daily life. To judge from these texts, the situationist movement (right from the start) carried the imprint of the artists who animated the journal. Later on, one saw the group free itself little by little from this orientation, while the Parisian intellectuals -- with Debord at the head -- multiplied ruptures with the majority of the founding members, who were judged to be too artistic for their tastes.

Without going into detail, one can distinguish two moments in the S.I.'s development:

1958 -- 1962: Combat on the cultural terrain and, at the same time, baffling experiments undertaken with a view to modify everyday life.

1962 -- 1969: The application of their critique of art to consumer society (by denouncing its specific alienations).

The situationist critique of art is not original. Back in 1945-46, the founder of Lettrism, Isidore Isou (the S.I. hasn't forgotten his lessons, if one can say so!), had already formulated the essential aspects of it. As Gaeton Picon wrote in his Panorama de la Nouvelle Littérature Française, it "draws the last consequences of the critique of language that hasn't ceased to be pursued since Rimbaud." According to the Lettrists, we must distinguish two phases in the evolution of culture and, notably, in the arts: a period that they described as amplification [d'amplique] (aesthetic forms -- sonnets, novels, figurative paintings, etc. -- are elaborated and take their full amplitude at that moment. The anecdote brings the content to formal research.) And a "chiseling" period (development of experimental art) whose outcome is the destruction of all aesthetic forms. This goes for [Stéphane] Mallarmé, James Joyce, the Impressionists and the Cubists. In this perspective, Dadaism incarnates the ultimate phase of this evolution; it represents the supreme stage of the decomposition of artistic forms: the explosion of language, the triumph of delirium over Cartesian logic, nihilism, etc. Yet, just as every culture (all art) reflects (in a more or less distorted mirror) society at a determinate moment of its development, the destruction of artistic or cultural forms (seen through the Marxist perspective claimed by the Situationists) demands a transformation of this society. Lacking which the decomposition of art risks becoming an art of decomposition: sub-Dadaists and neo-surrealists, integrated into bourgeoise society, make us watch the miserable spectacle of an event that is already produced and which has now lost all its subversive value.

The Situationists themselves have refused to fall into this trap: they will not be recuperated. Thus they have always been opposed to the creation of a situationism, that is to say, "a doctrine for the interpretation of existing facts." And he or she who dares to use the word "situationism" opens him or herself to their attacks!

On Everyday Life

Once they felt their backs were covered, the SI went forth to battle. This had only been a beginning! "How are we going to bankrupt the dominant culture? Two ways, first gradually then abruptly. We propose to utilize in a non-artistic manner concepts of artistic origin." A certain use of aesthetic procedures would allow the derision of vulnerable masterpieces, photo-books, illustrated pornography, comic-strips intended for adults who have fallen back into childhood and precociously old youths. This "situationist practice" is dètournement, which Raoul Vaneigem tells us is "the art turning back against the enemy the weapons that commercial necessity has ordered him to distribute." Thus, thanks to a simple substitution of texts, Luc Bradfer and Superman in their [respective] comic-strips announce the punishment of the wicked capitalists and the triumph of the new proletariat. This little social game [ce petit jeu de sociètè], "[which is] due to the capacity for devalorization" (Asger Jorn), pleased many students during the 68-69 season. Recall the walls in the corridors of the subway. On advertising posters, by means of a subversive [speech] bubble, a half-nude young woman who praises the merits of some under-garment is made to say that she is a "whore sold to Capital." I obviously do not know if this procedure is as efficacious as some believe it to be in breaking the current system of conditioning. What is sure is that the procedure represents a very pleasurable pastime.

Of course, you could apply it to everyday life -- to airplanes, for example (the passion of the Palestinians who are great amateurs in revolutionary games), which they divert[3] from the passengers with a "Thank you," always content with the idea of living the great adventure of their small lives!

At a certain point, the desire to break the monotony of everyday life also led the situationists to throw themselves, for certain periods of time, into a certain type of baffling experiment that they called dérive. Here is the defintion: "A mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society, a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances." In reality, the dérive comes across better than détournement, although the objectives that one sets in these experiments -- if one can speak here of an goal, determined in advance by a conscious will -- are different. Indeed, doesn't one say of a ship that is drifting [un bateua qu'il dérive] under the effect of a current, or contrary winds, that it diverges [il se detourne] from its route?

What is the goal of the dérive? Let us take an example: if you wander the streets of Paris following your whims, instead of taking a pre-planned route, it can happen that you find yourself with the feeling of entering another world. Time becomes suspended. Space takes on unusual aspects. At the limit, reality attains the prestige of the dream: "Ambitiously seeking my Northwest Passage," Thomas de Quincey (a precursor) wrote, "I suddenly entered into the labyrinths of the alleyways . . . I sometimes believed that I, me, was the first one to discover these terrae incognitae, and I doubt that there were indicated on the modern maps of London."

A New Geography

To feel this total displacement of scene (in the strong sense of the word [depaysement]), it is recommended that one has a preference to deliver oneself to actions that the common people (the bourgeois) dismiss as absurd or provocative (but the idea of provocation is foreign to the experiment): for example, wait at the bus-stop during a transportation strike, under the pretext of disturbing traffic even more (do not worry: the Prefect of Police will be happy; he needs the work!). It is also a lot of fun to get lost at night in construction sites and, on these occasions, move the signs that forbid public access, or -- in an experiment the Situationists were fond of -- hanging out in that part of the catacombs[4] that is closed to strollers on Sunday. (Nevertheless, it is advised that you fulfill the following conditions: a) have a key to the entrance point, which is indispensible, even for getting out of there; b) be well-provided with bottles of wine, [other] alcoholic beverages or euphoric necessities). Most of all, good luck!

The dérive can be used by everyone, even those who know about the propitious or malevolent influences that an urban (or non-urban) environment, a terrain that is flat or steep, can exercise upon the conscious behavior of the individual. This is what the Situationists called psychogeography. In this case, the subject -- an explorer of a neighborhood and him or herself -- takes note of the route followed and then, upon returning, makes a survey of his or her trajectory. Thus, the situationists imagined maps of new geographies, setting up, for example, a new plan of des Halles.[5] The dérive (a psychogeographic practice) is indissociable from a study of the possibilities offered by time and space. From there to the conception of a unitary urbanism (cities conceived with the infinite desires of people in mind) is only a [short] step. Let's take it with the Situationists. In his "Formulary for a New Urbanism," Gilles Ivain[6] (since then locked up in one of those prisons for poets that are the psychiatric hospitals) foresees "a modifiable architecture complex" suited to the common will of its inhabitants. In one of the cities he presents to us, certain neighborhoods "would correspond with the diverse moods [sentiments] one encounters by chance in the current life." Thus, there would be, among others, a "Bizarre Neighborhood," a "Happy Neighborhood, particularly reserved for dwelling," a "Noble and Tragic Neighborhood" (for wise children). It's the triumph of science-fiction. The Situationists -- as we have seen -- haven't forgotten the fantastic projects of Fourier (whom they adored so much) in the matters of urbanism!

From 1961-62 onwards, as we have stated, there was a ceaseless politicization of the SI. The baffling experiments (dérive, psychogeographic studies, plans to realize a unitary urbanism) were interrupted; the critique of the cultural spectacle was extended to spectacular society. Of course, the SI had never remained indifferent towards political events; they hardly could have been even if they'd wanted to be. Indeed, as we mentioned at the beginning of this study, the Situationist International's journal came into existence during the fall of the 4th Republic. Like every intellectual or artistic avant-garde of the period, the SI was obliged to take a position with respect to the Algerian war, the failed military coup of 1958, and the Gaullist enterprise.

The SI's attitude with respect to these political events must be recalled if one really wants to understand the determining motivations for the group's radical opposition to Leftist intellectuals. Witness this reflection, extracted from one of the first issues of the journal: "The bourgeois parliamentary Republic was swept away in France without resistance; revolutionary intellectuals in a single voice denounced the collapse of the workers' parties, the unions, the sleep-walking ideologies and the myths of the Left. The only thing that they did not think worthy of mentioned was their own collapse." The future later proved that this critique of Leftist intellectuals had been completely justified. (Where have people like Jean Cau, a great laudator of the Algerians in L'Express, or Bernard Franck, who announced the return in flames of fascism under the banner of French Algeria? and so many others!) In 1961, the situationists signed[7] in earnest the famous Manifesto of the 121, which declared the right to military insubordination. The intellectuals of the Left (such as Edgar Morin) who refused to sign were vigorously denounced by the SI. The scorn piled upon this sociologist hasn't ceased since then. In the first issue of the journal, Michele Bernstein alerted us: the SI does not easily forget! To that end, the Situationists loved to proclaim, like Paul Morand (around 1930-35) "We Want Neat Corpses!"[8]

But the Algerian affair mustn't eclipse the rest of the world. The Situationists did not constitute an international to be ignorant of what was going on in the United States, Germany and the Scandinavian countries. Thus, while France was sinking into its "dirty war," consumer society was developing in Western Europe and America. Paid-for diversions, death on credit, concentrated (and air-conditioned) urbanism: the triumph of the spectacle, the last cry of the commodity. Everything is represented (and for sale): Brigitte Bardot, Coca-Cola, hoodlums' leather-jackets, Francois Mauriac, Charles De Gaulle, Jean-Luc Godard ("the worst of the pro-Chinese cunts"); youth -- the myth of advertising -- etc. On television, re-runs provide free programming to excite the precious tele-spectators (one no doubt remembers the images of old women who, come nightfall, gather up rotten vegetables in the gutters of des Halles just to survive!). Abjection considered as one of the fine arts of the advanced spectacular society! One wonders about 1961-62. From whence comes the time to live? Is this even possible (desirable)? In the films of Antonioni, an interchangeable couple strolls from evening to dawn in the artificial décor of the housing projects of Northern Italy. Incapable of making human connections, of exchanging real words, the people in Antonioni are made in the image of the era: strangers, shadow plays, phantoms. The word that makes a fortune: incommunicability. The malaise of civilization of which Freud complained has become the civilization of malaise.

An Expression of Anarcho-Marxism

In this socio-economic, cultural and political context, situationist activity takes on its full meaning: one can better explain the transformation of this artistic avant-garde (which split with all the aesthetic currents of its era) into a political movement. In 1961, Guy Debord -- spokesman (and lead theoretician of the group) -- drafted its first important political text: "Perspectives for Conscious Modification in Everyday Life." In the form of an exposition, prerecorded on tape-recorder, this text was presented to Henri Levebre, a Marxist sociologist, who led seminars on everyday life at the C.N.R.S. In this text, one can read: "Capitalist civilization is still unsurpassed anywhere, but everywhere it continues to produce its enemies itself. The next incline of the revolutionary movement, radicalized by the lessons of the preceding failures, and whose insistent programme must become enriched in accordance with the practical powers of modern society . . . this upcoming attempt at the total contestation of capitalism will known how to invent and propose another use of everyday life. . . ." An explosive (and prophetic) text!

A year later, in 1962, the SI acknowledged its new orientation even more. This time, it was a matter of envisioning what in the thoughts of Marxist and anarchist theoreticians could "serve in the formation of a (new) revolutionary movement." "The first thought to rediscover is obviously that of Marx, which is still easy, given the existing documentation and enormity of the lies told about him. But it is also necessary to reconsider the anarchist positions in the First International, Blanquism, Luxembourgism, the Councilist movement in Germany and Spain, Kronstadt and the Makhnovists, etc. Without neglecting the practical influence of the utopian socialists. . . "

A vast program, as one can see, and one that, in 1967 to 1969, ended up rediscovering workers' councils. Thanks to the situationists, Anarcho-Marxism found its newest and most coherent expression.

Relationships Spoiled at the Root

The references to Marx and the usage the situationists made of his concepts and vocabulary (alienation, surplus-value etc.) calls for reflection. Above all, one must briefly summarize the famous analysis Marx devoted to the fetishism of the commodity. First of all, what does it mean?

For Marx, usual objects (tables, chairs, etc) in the market (or capitalist) society appear, to the eyes of men, charged with a sovereign mystery. Thus it happens that a table, for example, takes on a singular aspect (a mystical character, Marx writes). Must one attribute this to the object itself? Obviously not. What makes us attach a price to it is precisely its monetary value ("It is a determined social relation among men," one reads in Capital, "that here takes the fantastic form of a relation of things to themselves"). The result does not make us wait: the individual is dispossessed from him- or herself to the extent that he or she accords autonomous value to commodities. In other words, the fetishism of the commodity is a form of alienation.

In a society in which the commodity-fetish is queen (as in ours), human alienation attains fantastic dimensions: "Everything that was directly lived," Guy Debord writes, "has receded into a representation." One can see the part that the situationists wanted to extract from Marx's analysis! In this perspective, the spectacular ("the spectacle is capital at such a degree of accumulation that it becomes an image") is a certain vision of the world (of others and oneself) that imposes a certain type of communication upon men. Completely alienated by the spirit of the commodity, the individual -- consumed consumer (in the double sense of the word) -- is no longer capable of living ("real life is absent," Rimbaud had already ascertained); he or she adapts his or her behavior to the stereotypes that society imposes ([through] cinema, television, and the press). The relations that he or she has with others are spoiled at the root: to which he or she actually applies him- or herself. To a particular human being, to a subject who loves, breathes and exists? Or to a bad comedian who has taken his role seriously? And do we all not play a comedic role? Situationist critique, one sees, extends the admirable analyses that Sartre and Heidegger devoted to the inauthentic universe. In his Treatise on Living for the Usage of the Younger Generations,[9] Raoul Vaneigem has expounded at length on the functions of the role. According to him, the role "has its mission in the adaptation [of people] into the norms of social organization, integration into the peaceful world of things and substitution for a lack: this much insufficiency of life, that much insufficiency of another role." Thus, to escape from him or herself -- or, rather, his or her own emptiness -- the qualified worker transforms him or herself (over the course of a single day) into motorist, conscientious spouse and perfect telespectator.

Rimbaud and Zarathustra

Of course, stereotypes are generously distributed by consumer society: Leftist intellectual, specialist, student, hooligan, red [Communist] (or yellow [gay or lesbian]) trade unionist, etc. One chooses according to age and preferences, if one can even use this word in this context.

But the emptiness that torments the man or woman of today -- the mystified, degraded, possessed subject, this bored mortal -- does not let itself be forgotten so easily. Forced to play in a comedy (in which he or she is the plaything), the individual can sometimes want to destroy the decor: explosions of individual or collective rage (demonstrations of the hooligans in 1960-1961); chronic neuroses (so common today); madness, riots. From 13 to 16 August 1965, the inhabitants of a black neighborhood of Los Angeles rose up against the city's authorities. They engaged in the generalized pillaging of stores. The riot lasted several days ("The man who destroys the commodity," the SI wrote on this occasion, "shows his human superiority to commodities. He does not remain a prisoner of arbitrary forms that invest the image of his needs"). That same year, the students at Berkeley burned their military papers in front of television cameras; they demonstrated in the streets, mixing their cries with those of the blacks of Watts: "Out of our neighborhood and out of Vietnam!" In Amsterdam, the Provos sabotaged the marriage ceremonies of Princess Beatrice and the ex-Nazi Claus Von Arensberg.

Within this brutal reaction against consumer society, the Situationists saw the work of a new proletariat, which they defined in these terms: "a proletarian is a person with no power over the use of his or her life and knows it." A rather broad definition, as it includes the old working class as well as the masses in the Third World, American blacks and especially the youth (students, high shoolers, juvenile delinquents, etc.). In On the Poverty of Student Life, one reads: "The revolt of youth against the way of life that is imposed on them is in reality only the harbinger of a vaster subversion that will overtake the entirety of those who experience the increasing impossibility of living, the prelude to the next revolutionary era." Two years later (this text dates from 1966), the revolt of May '68 exploded! The situationists thus remained at the forefront of events!

The mission that they assigned to this new proletariat would perhaps have surprised Marx. If one is to believe Raoul Vaneigem, the new proletariat must realize philosophy (as the father of Marxism had foreseen), but also art (poetry, in particular), the lost dreams of childhood and the project of the former masters to control the world. Elsewhere, Vaneigem says, "The unique depository of the will to live, because it has known the insupportable character of mere survival to the point of paroxysm, the proletariat will break the wall of constraints by the breath of its pleasure and the spontaneous violence of its creativity. All the joy to be taken, all the laughter that offers itself: the proletariat already possesses it. . . . The proletariat, abolishing itself as proletariat at the same time, will abolish the force of things through a gesture of luxury, through a kind of nonchalance, a grace that knows to arrogate to itself the one who proves his or her superiority."

One can believe one hears in this lyrical flight the breath of Rimbaud mixed with the ecstatic cry of Zarathustra. A skilled dialectician, as adroit as he is persuasive, Raoul Vaneigem knows how to reconcile the voices of Nietzche and Marx in a harmonious synthesis. The former slave, the negative at work, thus becomes the future "master without slaves": he or she will invent a free and joyous world founded upon on the free gift and ludic activity. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie -- itself a victim of capitalist society -- doesn't cease to debase itself (by debasing others). With a cold eye, Vaneigem observes the wearing-away of the leaders: the dimunition of their instinct for life. At the limit, this battle between the new proletariat and the bourgeoisie takes the proportions of a pitiless struggle between the "party of life" (Nietzsche) and that of death (in Freudian vocabulary: between Thanatos and Eternal Eros), which is a dualist conception that perpetuates a [certain] current of Western thought: Manicheanism, Gnosis, etc.)

Like the proletariat, the revolution announced by the situationists will take a new form. Above all, the real failure of the successful revolutions (the Russian October, the Chinese and Cuban Revolutions, etc) condemned all authoritarian organizations (of the Bolshevik type) in their eyes. On the other hand, they exalted the Paris Commune -- the "greatest festival of the 19th Century" -- and foresaw the creation of Workers' Councils in the framework of generalized self-management. Civil War? It would be a tragic game in full color: "Proletarian revolutions will be festivals or they will be nothing," one learns at the end of On the Poverty of Student Life, "because the life that they announce will itself be created under the sign of festival. The game is the ultimate rationality of the festival; to live without dead time and to play without obstacles will be the only rules that it [the proletariat] will recognize."

On Necessary Violence

One can now understand the Situationists' exaltation of ludic activity -- the festival -- quite well. Indeed, by definition play is subversive and demystifying: it tears off the masks, destroys forms, overturns appearances." "Then the slave is free, then he or she breaks all of the rigid and hostile barriers that misery, despotism, or 'insolent fashion' [la 'mode insolente'] has established among human beings. Now, through the gospel of universal harmony, each person not only feels united with the others, but also reconciled, blended, even identical. . . ." (Nietzsche). Moreover, the revolutionary game allows the proletariat to choose its terrain; it will attack its adversary by surprise (Raoul Vaneigem has studied his subject in its least details). Of course, this "game is not conceived without rules or play upon the rules. Watch children. They know the rules of the game, they follow them very well, but they ceaselessly cheat, they invent or imagine forms of cheating . . ." If there isn't a leader ("authority that freezes becomes irrevocable"), the ludic revolution still has an animator, [that is,] a master of ceremonies (the anti-authoritarian authority, if one wishes).

Like any festival, the revolution includes its portion of inevitable and necessary violence: in brief, it will illuminate people like a nice fire; they will yield their anguish, their demons, to it, better than to a psychoanalyst, because [Vaneigem writes] "the shock of freedom makes miracles. There is no one who can resist it, neither the maladies of spirit nor the stupefaction that creates the environment of power. When a water main broke in Pavlov's laboratory, none of the dogs that survived the flood kept the least trace of its long conditioning. Would the tidal wave of the great social upheavals have less effect on men than a flood did on dogs? Reich advocated explosions of anger to treat affectively blocked and muscularly hypertonic neurotics. This type of neurosis seems particularly widespread today: it is the pain [le mal] of survival. And the most coherent explosion of anger has many chances to resemble a general insurrection. Three thousand years of being plunged into darkness will not resist ten days of revolutionary violence."

Critics of the spectacular-commodity society and of all the evils that it engenders, precursors of a ludic revolution of which May '68 was the most brilliant manifestation, the situationists have also reinvented love: "I know that you do not love me because you love no one other than yourself. Love me!" (Vaneigem). A Nietzschean conception that is opposed to the Christian idea of love-sacrifice, it surmounts the traditional conceptions of narcissism and the love of others.

The Treatise on Living ends with a summary of situationist thinking about the future: self-realization in refusal and the total (and practical) affirmation of individual subjectivity; communication with others in the love for and participation of the world in the revolutionary game: a unitary triad that only asks to take form in the everyday life of each of us. This "long revolution" of the everyday -- in which we would realize all of our desires, which would [in turn] be ceaselessly renewed -- remains to be made. [This is] the hunt for happiness that Stendhal said is worth a whole life -- and the situationists say is worth all of the world's insurrections!

Since May '68, the situationist movement has regained a certain clandestinity. It has willingly left its place to the intellectual poverty of Leftism. But today (as we have said) high school kids and other young people have rediscovered this movement in joy and spontaneous revolt. A Dutch publisher will soon gather together in a single volume the complete collection of the SI's journal.[10] At Cluny, a Parisian bookshop and the principal distributor of situationist texts, I learned that these books have been selling like hot cakes. The Situationists, who some believe are forgotten, still haven't entered into history! Whatever the future holds, one can already say of them what Rene Vienet said at the end of 1968: "Here was lit a blaze that still hasn't been extinguished. The occupations movement killed the sleep of all the masters of the commodity, and never again will spectacular society fall back asleep."

At least it will never sleep soundly!

(Written by Pierre Hahn,[11] and published in Le Nouveau Planete, No. 22, May 1971. Translated from the French by Nicholas Large. Footnoted and extensively edited by NOT BORED! 14 May 2008.)

[1] The Revolutionary Communist League (Trotskyists). Not sure what "A.I.S." stands for.

[2] Except for the first two sentences, this entire paragraph was cited with pleasure in Guy Debord & Gianfranco Sanguinetti's Theses on the SI and Its Time (footnote #3).

[3] Though this example might seem gratuitous, it is not: "hijacking" is indeed one of the meanings of detournement in French.

[4] It was in fact the Lettrists, and not the Situationists, who explored the catacombs beneath Paris.

[5] Built in the 1850s, Les Halles was demolished in 1971. It was a favorite haunt of both the Lettrists and the Situationists.

[6] Pseudonym of Ivan Chtcheglov.

[7] No: the only signers from the SI were Guy Debord and Michelle Bernstein, and they did not sign as situationists, but as individuals.

[8] Paul Morand (1888-1976) was a collaborator with the Vichy regime and an anti-Semite. He is not mentioned in situationist literature. There seems no basis at all for the idea that the SI wanted "neat corpses."

[9] Translated into English as The Revolution of Everyday Life. [Note added 16 May 2008: in a certain on-line forum, we have described Hahn's essay as "Vaneigemist," and have been asked why. The following was our response.

A very quick summary would be: "Vaneigemism" has two meanings. First, a summarization of Vaneigem's conduct in the SI from 1965 to 1970, that is to say, after he wrote the "Treatise on Living for the Younger Generations": self-satisfaction with a single great book, leading to extended practical inactivity, even during May 1968 (!). And there is also a character trait here that can only be identified if one has read several of his books, of which there are a great many (dozens), most of them untranslated: there's the Vaneigem who reads widely and reads well, and who does excellent scholarship (this is the Vaneigem of the "Treatise," the books on the Brethren of the Free Spirit and other "heresies"); and there is also the Vaneigem who is an absolute fucking idiot (the book on Human Rights, especially, but also the Ratgeb stuff). When you pick up one of his books, you never know which Vaneigem you're gonna get. The difference in quality between the two "Vaneigems" is stunning. Certainly enough to make you wonder.

Second, "Vaneigemism" includes the triumph of "situationism" in art, advertising and politics after 1973 (especially the early 1980s): not just the recuperation of situationist theory, but an obsession with situationist theory as it was in 1965 or even 1960: before the revolutionary events of 1968 and afterwards. "Vaneigemists" continue to pursue the "utopian" side of the SI (free play, dreams, childhood) without distinguishing between the years before 1968 and after 1968. Some "Vaneigemists" (Jacques Attali, for example) consciously use the perpetuation of the pre-1968 vision as a way of obscuring the reality of post-1968 society.

My definition relies upon the marked and consistent preference of people of the second category -- as well as some "anarchists," citizenists and Leftists -- for the works of Vaneigem and their ignorance of and resentment for the works/personality of Guy Debord, who kept updating his theory of the spectacle in the wake of 1968 (in 1973, 1979 and 1988), precisely in response to "Vaneigemism" (see use of this word in "Real Split in the International," 1972).

If you re-read Pierre Hahn in this light, you will see several "Vaneigemist" hues: the wide-eyed "rediscovery" of what the SI had been doing ten years previously, waay back in 1961-1962, but no knowledge of what the SI did in 1969 (I.S.#12, the first issue of the Italian's journal, the formation of an American section, the interntional meeting Venice); the weird reference to Paul Morand; the extended discussion of Nietzsche; mentioning the Rodin High School incident but saying nothing about Italy in December 1969 or Poland in December 1970, etc.]

[10] The collected issues of Internationale Situationniste, 1958-1969, were published by Van Gennep in 1971.

[11] Born in 1936, Pierre Hahn was a prominent gay French journalist. He was among the founders of Front Homosexuel d'Action Revolutionnaire (the Homosexual Front for Revolutinary Action). He committed suicide in 1981.

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