An Introduction to the Situationists
By Jan D. Matthews
Here is a pamphlet to make Guy and Raoul roll over in their graves (again). Jan D. Matthews would surely get kicked out of the group for publishing this clear, glossary style explanation of the terms defined or coined by the Sits.
So if you're going through Society of the Spectacle, and you could use a little guide, this might be the piece for you. Or if you're finding yourself in conversations with people who haven't read or understood the Sits, and you want to give them homework to understand you, this booklet could come in handy. Or if you're sick of arguing with friends about what the Sits really mean by "the spectacle," here is an authority in printed form for you to fight over.
The Situationist International (1957-1972) was a relatively small yet influential Paris-based group that had its origins the avant garde artistic tradition. The situationists are best known for their radical political theory and their influence on the May 1968 student and worker revolts in France. The Situationist International (SI) published a journal called Internatio-nale Situationniste (IS). Selections from the journal's twelve issues have been translated and published by Ken Knabb as the Situationist Interna-tional Anthology. The two other texts that are essential to an understand-ing of the SI's theory are The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord (the SI's leading theorist throughout its existence) and The Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneigem. Debord said of The Society of the Spectacle: "there have doubtless not been three books of social criticism of such importance in the last hundred years." Debord was perhaps think-ing of Marx's Capital, the first volume of which was published in 1867, exactly 100 years prior to the publication of The Society of the Spectacle. While Debord was certainly not known for his modesty, many who are familiar with his book, including myself, are tempted to agree with him. The British anti-state communist journal Aufheben, for example, feels that while it may not be this century's Capital, it is one of the few books that could make such a claim. Another situationist claim, made in 1964 in IS #9, is in many ways far grander: "Ours is the best effort toward getting out of the twentieth century." This essay will inevitably present some of the grounds on which to judge the validity of this latter claim.
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