Cutting the Circle: Jump Cut Magazine

In the middle of 1985, Jump Cut -- a Berkeley-based "journal of contemporary film criticism" -- published its tenth anniversary issue amid much hoopla. Featured prominently in this issue was an article that misread and consequently misapplied situationist theory. In June 1985 we sent a letter to the editor of the journal on the subject of the "situationist" article; five months later we received a reply, which, among other inanities, claimed that our letter to the editor did not contain sufficient "information" on the subject to warrant publication. Such would not seem to be the purpose or function of any letter to the editor, but no matter. Here we reprint our letter for the benefit of our readers and to indicate the speciousness of Jump Cut's claim that it was short on information.

We have come full circle. Toward the end of his The Society of the Spectacle, the situationist Guy Debord warned that, "the critical concept of spectacle can undoubtedly also be vulgarized into a commonplace hollow formula of sociologico-political rhetoric to explain and abstractly denounce everything, and thus serve as a defense of the spectacular system." Eighteen years after the publication of his book, Debord's warning has unfortunately come true in the form of Jon Lewis's "Return of the Jedi: A Situationist Perspective" (Jump Cut, No. 30). In his pathetic attempt to dress up rather ordinary, traditional leftist objections to George Lucas's film in the clothes of situationist theory, Lewis has rather unintentionally signaled to all those truly interested in radical critique that it's time that they gave up the ghost of the Situationist International. Formerly the enemy of spectacular power, the ghost now occupies power's very body.

In direct contradiction to the Situationists -- who wrote in the ninth issue of their journal Internationale Situationniste that they were Marxists "just as much as Marx was when he said, 'I am not a Marxist' " -- Lewis pretends that his reading of Return of the Jedi "is from a situationist perspective and not Marxist," as if such a complete distinction between the two theorists of revolution could be drawn in the first place. Again in contradiction to the Situationists -- who wrote in the same issue of IS quoted from above that "we refuse the term 'situationism,' which would be the only pigeonhole enabling us to be introduced into the reigning spectacle, incorporated in the form of a doctrine petrified against us, in the form of an ideology in Marx's sense" -- Lewis announces that "[John] Brenkman's reading of Debord suggests a connection between situationism and the distinctively U.S. paranoid political version of the elites." Yet again in contradiction to the Situationists -- who insisted in IS #9 that "we cannot be accepted with the spinelessness of a false eclectic interest, as if we were Sartres, Althussers, Aragons or Godards" -- Lewis sees absolutely no problem with mentioning in the same sentence Debord and Louis Althusser, a theorist for the very French Communist Party that refused to support, indeed, tried to sabotage, the May 1968 insurrection in which Debord and the other situationists played such important roles.

Listen to Lewis, hear the confusion in his voice: "My own critical activity becomes part of the spectacle. Even negation of participation can only serve the ideology of the spectacle and only reinforce the spectacle's liberality and all-encompassing/all-inclusive nature." Say what, Jon?!

From now on, we'd like to be referred to as anti-situationist. We have come full circle.

(Published in NOT BORED! #9, 1986.)



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