En bon amoureux du langage, j’affectionne tout particulièrement les mots que je ne connais pas. Il en existe – et pourtant des communs – dont la signification m’échappe encore. Saltimbanque, disruptif, arriviste, situationniste, magnanime. Je ne cherche surtout pas à les démystifier, ce sont des trésors d’ignorance. Peut-être faut-il chérir ce qui nous conserve légèrement en retrait de l’érudition. Mégalomanie m’a longtemps été étranger. Quelle déception, le jour où j’ai connu son sens, de m’apercevoir qu’il m’allait plutôt bien.
The Situationist International (1957–1972) was a relatively small yet influential Paris-based group that had its origins in 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 Internationale Situationniste (IS). Selections from the journal’s twelve issues have been translated and published by Ken Knabb as the Situationist International Anthology. The two other texts that are essential to an understanding of the SI’s theory areThe 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 thinking 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.
Art can be realized only by being suppressed. However, in contrast to the present society, which suppresses art by replacing it with the automatic functioning of an even more passive and hierarchical spectacle, we maintain that art can really be suppressed only by being realized.