The core of the Situationist idea of The Society of the Spectacle is mediation. The idea is that people are no longer allowed to experience anything directly; instead events are packaged, explained, sanitized and force-fed to to the experiencer. They are spectacularized.

The evening news on TV is a good example of this phenomenon: events, even in the viewers' own community, are packaged into 15 second sound bites, with the implication that the event outside the sound bite is actually less real than the encapsulation. This serves to sharpen the line between subject and object, dividing the world between actors and those who observe events on TV, removing the idea of any responsibility, or even possibility of action, from the watchers.

The Situationist antidote to this was to create situations, events where the line between subject and object could be blurred again, shocking The Masses into some sort of action, in a sort of prototypical guerilla street theater. The ultimate situation that was created this way was probably the May of 1968 uprising.

A short book written by Guy Debord which explains the concepts of the Spectacular Society in full. This is one of the most scathing and brilliant critiques of modern times ever written. It was first published (as La société du spectacle) in 1967 by Editions Buchet-Chastel (Paris). The first English translation was published by Black & Red (Detroit) in 1970.

Fearles noder mutant has been so kind as to begin noding the book in its entirety, starting with Society of the Spectacle:1. However he seems to have stalled about 1/4 of the way through its 221 items. In lieu of the completion of this herculean task, the text can be found online at the wonderful Nothingness site here: http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/pub_contents/4

Debord later wrote a second book called Commments on the Society of the Spectacle, in which he evaluated some of the observations made in the first book and how they have played out over the years.

This book is one of the most profound philosophical and political manifestoes of the twentieth century. It is best to let it speak for itself. Therefore:

The Society of the Spectacle

by Guy Debord

  1. The Culmination of Separation
  2. The Commodity as Spectacle
  3. Unity and Division Within Appearances
  4. The Proletariat as Subject and Representation
  5. Time and History
  6. Spectacular Time
  7. Territorial Domination
  8. Negation and Consumption Within Culture
  9. Ideology Materialized

This book is not copyrighted.


The 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 historical events, you may get a better idea of the practical implications of ideas that are presented more abstractly in the other chapters.

The book is not, however, as difficult or abstract as it is reputed to be. It is not an ivory-tower academic or philosophical discourse. It is an effort to clarify the nature of the society in which we find ourselves and the advantages and drawbacks of various methods for changing it. Every single thesis has a direct or indirect bearing on issues that are matters of life and death. Chapter 4, which with remarkable conciseness sums up the lessons of two centuries of revolutionary experience, is simply the most obvious example.

—Ken Knabb
February 2002

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