It is alleged by Thomas F. McDonough (in "Rereading Debord, Rereading the Situationists," his introduction to Guy Debord and the Internationale situationniste: A Special Issue of October [#79, Winter 1997]) that Ken Knabb's Situationist International Anthology is a prejudiced selection of texts. "The material [Knabb] selects consistently obscures cultural analyses in favor of political ones -- to the extent that these two can be separated in Situationist writings," McDonough claims. "This extends as far as a selective editing of articles to deemphasize the S.I.'s abiding interest in issues of visual and literary culture." For McDonough, "the cumulative effect of Knabb's choices is to enforce a misleading construction of the S.I.'s history: because cultural politics are placed in a decidedly secondary position, the reader is free to see the Situationists as one of many anarchist 'groupuscules' formed in the wake of the leftist critique of the Stalinist French Communist Party (1956-58)."[1]

In a footnote to this crucial sentence, McDonough advises his readers to seek a "more accurate political contextualization of the S.I." in -- among other works -- an essay unfortunately entitled "Situationism," despite the fact that the situationists themselves clearly stated from the outset and many times thereafter that "there is no 'situationism' as doctrine." (In a testament to the poor quality of McDonough's own understanding of the situationist project and to the generally poor quality of the essays he selected for inclusion -- a noteworthy exception is the interview with Henri Lefebvre -- two of the "critical" essays in his volume refer to "situationism" as if this were quite simply the critical theory expounded by the situationists.)

Though McDonough's got Ken Knabb's number, he is dead wrong about the situationists. According to him, the reader who sees the SI "as one of many anarchist 'groupuscules' formed in the wake of the leftist critique of the Stalinist French Communist Party" is only partly right, certainly misled, possibly even duped. The Situationists can never simply be one of many groups, especially if these groups are anarchist. And why the fuck not? Because if they are only one among many, the situationists are not absolutely unique, and, if they're not absolutely unique, they cannot be "special." It depends on what you mean by "special," doesn't it? Something is "special" if I can act as if I personally discovered it, if I can claim that I have a unique relationship to it, and if, in claiming that no one else can possibly understand it like I do, it communicates to me something of its mystique, power and glamour. I can see why anarchist groups are never "special" for you. You got it: no one can act as if he or she discovered them, has a unique relationship to them, or understands them like no one else. The mystique, power and glamour just aren't transferable.

So as to preserve his and his colleagues' vampiric access to the image of the Situationist International, McDonough -- supposedly in the interests of "the reader" -- must intervene in such a way as to prevent or discourage this "reader" from taking undue liberties or being too "free" in his or her vision of the SI. This anarchism stuff has got to be put in check. The Situationists weren't merely or simply anarchists: they were primarily Artists, Avant-Gardists, Modernists, Cultural Revolutionaries, and Critical Theorists! Consequently, only specialists in these fields -- such as yourself and your academic colleagues -- are their rightful legatees and proper heirs, right? Right! And the thing we as their rightful legatees and proper heirs should be doing right now is . . . historicize! Not risking our professional reputations and futures by forming anarchist groupuscules appropriate to today, right? Right! Now you got it.

Restoring "cultural politics" ("issues of visual and literary culture") to its rightful place in the history of the SI -- while making sure to keep anarchist politics in its proper place -- does more than simply permit academics such as McDonough to further their careers by writing about and endlessly "rereading" Debord and all those other situationists. As Tim Clark and Donald Nicholson-Smith point out in "Why Art Can't Kill the Situationist International" (their fierce contribution to this otherwise meek and crappy little volume), those who would de-emphasize or even dismiss the importance of what the various members of the SI said in the 1962 to 1967 period about completely political subjects -- such as the Algerian War, the Six Day War, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the riots in Watts -- are trying to hide the fact that A). back in the 1960s they were in fact Stalinists of one stripe or another, and so were incapable of producing such "disabused and passionate" classics of Marxist analysis, and B). even today they are unable to produce good, coherent analytical work about current events or past events, for that matter.

The reason why art can't kill the Situationist International is that, in Clark and Nicholson-Smith's words, "it was the Left (as opposed to, say, the art world) that the Situationists most hated in the 1960s." To the SI, "the overwhelming reality was Stalinism: the damage and horror it had given rise to, and its capacity to reproduce itself, in ever newer and technically more plausible forms, within a Left that had never faced its own complicity or infection." If you take certain situationist concepts and "return" them to their presumed source in modern art, you won't kill the Situationist Superman -- Clark's own book The Painting of Modern Life (1986) has already proved this to be true.

Are you tired of ineffective recuperations? Do you really want to know how to kill the SI? The kryptonite radiates out from the pictures that appear sprinkled throughout Clark and Nicholson-Smith's piece: "Toppled [statue of] Alexander III" (Moscow, 1917); "Dedication of statue of Heinrich Heine" (Petrograd, 1918); "Toppled Stalin" (Budapest, October 23, 1956); "Toppled Lenin" (Vilnius, August 30, 1991); "Toppled Dzerzhinsky" (Moscow, KGB headquarters, August 22, 1991); and, finally, "Anarcho-Situationist 'commandos' installing a replica of Charles Fourier's statue on a plinth left empty since the removal of the original by the Nazis" (Paris, Place Clichy, March 10, 1969). Bring all of humanity to life -- that is the only way to kill the SI. Once wide-awake and truly alive, we will have no need for Great Men, no matter who they are. They do not make History. We do.


[1] Let's pause to note that McDonough is absolutely right about Ken Knabb. His SI Anthology is, in Knabb's own words, "admittedly weighted somewhat toward the situationists' later, more 'political' period," because, were it not for the existence of this later period, "no one but a few specialists in obscure avant-garde movements would have ever heard of them." Knabb the editor still has no qualms about dropping out significant passages that do not suit his narrow, immediate needs -- provided, of course, that proper ellipses mark the spots where text used to be.

For example, in Public Secrets: Collected Skirmishes of Ken Knabb: 1970-1997, Knabb reprints some of our text "Ken Knabb, R.I.P." (originally published in NOT BORED! #19, June 1991) in the section of his book devoted to "Selected Responses" to his work. In this text, we discussed Knabb's "The War and the Spectacle," which begins with the line, "The orchestration of the Gulf War was a glaring expression of what the situationists call the spectacle -- the development of modern society to the point where images dominate life." In its entirety, our response to this opening salvo was as follows.

"Not only is the tone [here] appropriate to grade schoolers, and not only is the definition of what 'the spectacle' is simplistic, but the whole concept seems to be that recent events prove that the situationists were right. It's always a drag when someone reverses things and has the practice prove the theory right (instead of having the theory prove the practice right), but especially where the situationists are concerned. Like they really need to have their theory proved right, again? and at this stage of things? Rest in peace, Ken: the situationists were indeed right. And so, in a way, are you when you write, 'The point is to undermine [the spectacle-spectator relation] -- to challenge the conditioning that makes people susceptible to media manipulation in the first place.' But how?"

In Knabb's version, the two sentences printed in italics are replaced by an ellipsis. The effect of this deletion is to remove all irony from the lines that conclude the text. Instead of ridiculing the importance attached to being right, our text seems to simply praise the situationists for being right, once again. Instead of expressing frustration with Knabb's refusal to focus on specific methods of contesting the spectacle as it exists today (he prefers to focus on the situationists and the theory that they "perfected" so many years ago), our final question seems to indicate that we are clueless and that we need specialists like Knabb to answer such questions for us.

It is significant that Knabb is unable to deal with the issues that we raised about the situationists being "right" without resorting to a complete suppression of them. (Read p. 150 of his new book and note well that Knabb is able to deal directly with points we raised in "Ken Knabb, R.I.P." provided that 1) they are minor points dealt with in parenthetical remarks, such as why it took him months to write, publish and distribute "The War and the Spectacle," which is both short and thin, and 2) he doesn't have to mention us by name and thereby give us the kind of publicity of which he no doubt considers us to be undeserving.) We dared to question Knabb's attachment to the always-right theories of Great Men such as Debord, Sanguinetti, Voyer, et al., and he responded by trying to deny us acknowledgment for what we have written and tried to do on our own.

(Published in NOT BORED! #27, 1997.)

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