Re: [-empyre-] Why US DAT is Virtual

Greetings at last from Pharmakopolis. I've been following the dialogue with
interest but unable to participate until now. It's fortunate that the thread
has taken a turn back toward these areas in which I'm deeply embedded.

I barely consider the SI an art movement, or its members, Debord included,
as artists, so it's a bit odd to me how the SI have been appropriated by the
digital arts -- my own work included. Debord was technology savvy, which
doesn't mean he was a luddite. He understand the significance of gadgets
that make you feel like you're getting a deal if the car salesman who just
reamed you is doing you a favor by throwing in a key-chain. Now it would be
a USB dongle, and I'm sure Debord would get that. This doesn't mean that he
would fail to welcome some future SI's use of appropriate technologies for
detournement. Perhaps what would surprise him most would be the degree of
integration of technological practice and psychogeography to yield new modes
of cultural, urban detournement. And yet much of Debord's writings on
psychogeography reveal a mindset that understands that any technology --
drink, games, role-playing -- that can engineer and sustain collective
hallucinations is a good thing. Unfortunately, this included a basic
gang-mentality, the model of social organization at the heart of the SI,
with Debord its head bully. Does this mean that his work isn't worth
lifting, pasting, correcting?

Psychogeography had little to do with poetics. It is a critical practice and
is always described as such in the work of the SI. I believe the SI saw it
more is a science, and I would read it as a weird science, an occult theory
of manufacturing collective experiences of time, bolstered by what amounts
to the nascent fields of pop cultural and media studies. They saw this
construction of situations as part of the factory of everyday life, and
through a mixture of drop-out culture and student life, sustained poverty
levels of subsistance in order to engage in the manufacture of their
reality. I think that they saw the spectacle precisely as the culture
industry that extends the laws and goals of production into leisure time.
Mechanization and automation only lead to their virtual duplicates in the
space of the spectacle -- the celebrity network -- which then influence the
identity-formation of the workers et al. And so the SI turn to detournement
as a way to critically read this spectacular duplicate of labor time now
passing as leisure, even as they promoted their own sub-spectacular lives.

Mathieu, I'm concerned by your collapsing of the "revolutionary potential of
collage / detournement". Collage and detournement are quite different
beasts. As Debord and Wolman explain in "A User's Guide to  Detournement"
(1956) -- and the collective entity known as René Viénet in "The
Situationists and the New Forms of Action Against Politics and Art"
(1967) -- detournement has less to do with generating new content out of
unexpected connections than it does appropriating commercially familiar
material (comic strips, cinema, television) and supplying it with new
soundtracks. This takes place literally in the cinematic work of Debord,
where popular footage like car commercials and snippets of the Beatles are
supplied with voice-overs of Debord reading his critical theses; in other
words, a heavier version of  Woody Allen's "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" It takes
place in comic strips in which the original content of word and thought
balloons are erased and these little cramped spaces become the vehicles,
again, for Situationist polemics. Perhaps detournement involves some
rudimentary aspects of the collage as very rough sequences of stolen
material, usually stills, comic panels and freeze-frames, arranged with
little concern for narrative cohesion. Detournement is certainly not
interested in juxtaposition in service to the surreal or the image. Most of
it is anti-image.

It ultimately matters very little whether the speaking character is Steve
Canyon or Mickey Mouse -- any popular culture image will work, because they
are all equally banal in the space of the spectacle. DENYING Mickey Mouse
even the opportunity to serve ironically is the icon's ultimate dismissal
and ruin. Ignoring the power of specific images -- power equaling the number
of lines of learned association active in the imagination of the viewer --
attacks the spectacle in its entirity. If Mickey Mouse is handy, great, use
him. If not, take whatever is at hand that has space for some hefty
paragraphs and can then be turned around for quick reprinting and
distribution. For print, the stark black-and-white contrasts of the daily
comics page was perfect. But the rewritten pieces aren't artworks so much as
they are rough little vehicles for propaganda and theory.

I think you have to watch it with Virilio because using Debord and SI as
founding fathers of an intellectual terrorism grants too much credit to
their mystique. Please check out Kristin Ross's excellent analysis, _May '68
and Its Aftermaths_, an astounding treatment of the insurrection, strikes,
occupations, and their ultimate diffusion via the media coverage of New
Philosphers and their post-May '68 accounts and readings. Debord and the SI
were one of a vast handful of small groups printing pamphlets, broadsides,
memos, and posters. Ross makes Debord's claims to have somehow led May '68
absolutely ridiculous, somehow instigated AND organized the mass uprisings
that united the peoples across several major districts and social castes of
Paris. He was, after all, a self-aggrandizing and arrogant drunk, by all
accounts. More radical than any SI member I read about was Felix Guattari,
who was running money for the Algerians. Whether that makes him a terrorist
depends largely on whose politics you follow. But fighting for the end of
the French empire made the French Algerians vital allies to workers, farmers
(it wasn't just urban; there was a huge agricultural component), students,
artists, popular press, communications industry, and others.

Almost invariably when the SI and May '68 are discussed -- as with much, pub
lically visible, politically-edged work -- comments come up about the
diffusion of the counter-culture through re-appropriation by the culture
industy. Debord circumvented this cooption my creating almost unreadable and
unviewable works. And not because they are so so intense or offensive. They
are unbearably boring for the most part. I mean those detourned comics! And
yet their very boringness acts as a shield from the attention of the mass
media and hence, the spectacle. And once you see through the negation of
recuperation that IS juxtaposition, you're IN THE SITUATION. It's an
excellent and too rare tactic.

As explained in the Viénet article, detournement is both against art and
politics, but it doesn't evoke quite as much terror as Breton's definition
of random public shootings as the ultimate surrealist act. Even after Debord
boots out Vaneigem, the SI are still about the production of situations that
somehow escape the spectacle's negation. This only marginally turned into an
activist negation of the spectacle on the part of the SI through acts of
appropriation and plagiarism. Debord's target is the category of the
historical, which operates in philosophy as the spectacle's analog. History
is embedded into the philosophical discourse of theory through the agency of
the quotation mark, and this is precisely what Debord counters with
detournement, which is little more than the practical denial of authorship.
The author for Debord, especially star-authors like Marx, function as the
celebrities of theory. Celebrities exist out of the flow of actual life,
they are like ghosts. To quote Marx was to allow a ghost into Debord's work
and render Marx's words into the shadow of meaning; for Debord to erase
Marx, to write through Marx, to CORRECT Marx, appears to be a way to sustain
and foster a living situation.

By the time the SI shamed Chaplin, he probably deserved it. He HAD become a
sentimental fraud, a known womanizer, and worse, a star. He was the
blueprint for the entertainment industry and the spectacle of press that
surrounds it. And it was stardom, the SI concluded, that DEFINES fascism.
Celebrities are invariably fascists of the imagination. Categorically.
Mickey Mouse. Steve Canyon. Johnny Depp. Michael Moore. Charlie Chaplin.
Karl Marx.


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