The Society of the Spectacle

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(1931 - 1994)
Guy Louis Debord (/dəˈbɔːr/; French: [gi dəbɔʁ]; 28 December 1931 – 30 November 1994) was a French Marxist theorist, philosopher, filmmaker, member of the Letterist International, founder of a Letterist faction, and founding member of the Situationist International (SI). He was also briefly a member of Socialisme ou Barbarie. (From : Wikipedia.org.)

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Translator’s Note There have been several previous English translations of The Society of the Spectacle. I have gone through them all and have retained whatever seemed already to be adequate. In particular, I have adopted quite a few of Donald Nicholson-Smith’s renderings, though I have diverged from him in many other cases. His translation (Zone Books, 1994) and the earlier one by Fredy Perlman and John Supak (Black and Red, 1977) are both in print, and both can also be found at the Situationist International Online website. I believe that my translation conveys Debord’s actual meaning more accurately, as well as more clearly and idiomatically, than any of the other versions. I am nevertheless aware that it is far from perfect, and welcome any criticisms or suggestions. If you find the opening chapters too difficult, you might try starting with Chapter 4 or Chapter 5. As you see how Debord deals with concrete h... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Chapter 1: The Culmination of Separation “But for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, appearance to essence ... truth is considered profane, and only illusion is sacred. Sacredness is in fact held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.” Feuerbach, Preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity 1 In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation. 2 The images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream in which the uni... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Chapter 2: The Commodity as Spectacle “The commodity can be understood in its undistorted essence only when it becomes the universal category of society as a whole. Only in this context does the reification produced by commodity relations assume decisive importance both for the objective evolution of society and for the attitudes that people adopt toward it, as it subjugates their consciousness to the forms in which this reification finds expression... As labor is increasingly rationalized and mechanized, this subjugation is reinforced by the fact that people’s activity becomes less and less active and more and more contemplative.” Lukács, History and Class Consciousness 35 In the spectacle’s basic practice of incorporating into itself all the fluid aspects of human activity so as to possess them in a co... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Chapter 3: Unity and Division Within Appearances “A lively new polemic about the concepts ‘one divides into two’ and ‘two fuse into one’ is unfolding on the philosophical front in this country. This debate is a struggle between those who are for and those who are against the materialist dialectic, a struggle between two conceptions of the world: the proletarian conception and the bourgeois conception. Those who maintain that ‘one divides into two’ is the fundamental law of things are on the side of the materialist dialectic; those who maintain that the fundamental law of things is that ‘two fuse into one’ are against the materialist dialectic. The two sides have drawn a clear line of demarcation between them, and their arguments are diametrically opposed. This polemic is a reflection, on the ideological level, of the acute and complex class struggle taking place in China and in the world.”... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Chapter 4: The Proletariat as Subject and Representation “Equal right to all the goods and pleasures of this world, the destruction of all authority, the negation of all moral restraints — in the final analysis, these are the aims behind the March 18th insurrection and the charter of the fearsome organization that furnished it with an army.” Parliamentary Inquest on the Paris Commune 73 The real movement that transforms existing conditions has been the dominant social force since the bourgeoisie’s victory within the economic sphere, and this dominance became visible once that victory was translated onto the political plane. The development of productive forces shattered the old production relations, and all static order crumbled. Everything that was absolute became historical. 74 When people a... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Chapter 5: Time and History O, gentlemen, the time of life is short! ... An if we live, we live to tread on kings. Shakespeare, Henry IV 125 Man, “the negative being who is solely to the extent that he suppresses Being,” is one with time. Man’s appropriation of his own nature is at the same time his grasp of the development of the universe. “History is itself a real part of natural history, of the transformation of nature into man” (Marx). Conversely, this “natural history” has no real existence other than through the process of human history, the only vantage point from which one can take in that historical totality (like the modern telescope whose power enables one to look back in time at the receding nebulas at the periphery of the universe). History has always existed, but not always in its historica... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Chapter 6: Spectacular Time “We have nothing of our own except time, which even the homeless can experience.” Baltasar Gracián, The Art of Worldly Wisdom 147 The time of production — commodified time — is an infinite accumulation of equivalent intervals. It is irreversible time made abstract, in which each segment need only demonstrate by the clock its purely quantitative equality with all the others. It has no reality apart from its exchangeability. Under the social reign of commodified time, “time is everything, man is nothing; he is at most the carcass of time” (The Poverty of Philosophy). This devalued time is the complete opposite of time as “terrain of human development.” 148 This general time of human nondevelopment also has a complementary aspect &... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Chapter 7: Territorial Domination “Whoever becomes the ruler of a city that is accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it can expect to be destroyed by it, for it can always find a pretext for rebellion in the name of its former freedom and age-old customs, which are never forgotten despite the passage of time or any benefits it has received. No matter what the ruler does or what precautions he takes, the inhabitants will never forget that freedom or those customs — unless they are separated or dispersed ...” Machiavelli, The Prince 165 Capitalist production has unified space, breaking down the boundaries between one society and the next. This unification is at the same time an extensive and intensive process of banalization. Just as the accumulation of commodities mass-produced for the abstract space of the market shatter... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Chapter 8: Negation and Consumption Within Culture “Do you really believe that these Germans will make a political revolution in our lifetime? My friend, that is just wishful thinking... Let us judge Germany on the basis of its present history — and surely you are not going to object that all its history is falsified, or that all its present public life does not reflect the actual state of the people? Read whatever newspapers you please, and you cannot fail to be convinced that we never stop (and you must concede that the censorship prevents no one from stopping) celebrating the freedom and national happiness that we enjoy.” Ruge to Marx, March 1843 180 Culture is the general sphere of knowledge and of representations of lived experiences within historical societies divided into classes. It is a generalizing power which itself exists a... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Chapter 9: Ideology Materialized “Self-consciousness exists in itself and for itself only insofar as it exists in and for another self-consciousness; that is, it exists only by being recognized and acknowledged.” Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit 212 Ideology is the intellectual basis of class societies within the conflictual course of history. Ideological expressions have never been pure fictions; they represent a distorted consciousness of realities, and as such they have been real factors that have in turn produced real distorting effects. This interconnection is intensified with the advent of the spectacle — the materialization of ideology brought about by the concrete success of an autonomized system of economic production — which virtually identifies social reality with an ideology that has remolded all r... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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