Saturday, January 9, 2010

Society of the Spectacle: Toward the Postmodern

My long-time buddy, Ryland Johnson, was kind enough to respond to my recent posting on Society of the Spectacle, Chapter 1 and what follows here is a reply to him.

Kudzu Kongzi is primarily a space for me to germinate my thinking. So I greatly benefit from your input on what is written as I am not an authority on any of it. Below is my reply to Ryland

Thanks for reading, Ryland.

There are some great things in your response, thanks. I'll only just briefly address only a few, not because I disagree with you, but only to kind of elaborate a little more on why I said some of these things here.

First, the blog's really just an off-the-cuff response to what I read today. The blog here serves in some capacity as a place holder for my thinking; but when folks, such as yourself, supplement this with your thinking I get greatly enriched. So thanks, again!

As for invocation of Dasein above: yes. I said it up there, only for the most superficial associative reason - because Dasein is an historic dasein and Debord seems to want to include some of Heidegger's thinking in §11. I agree with you, I think, that Debord, if he writes any more like this later in the book (I'm only reading Chapter 1 here), he's going to have a problem talking about Dasein in a proper way.

This should be said also, about Debord: in reading his works and what I've read about him as a person, I don't get the sense that he's a thorough scholar nor is he particularly interested in giving credit where credit is due.

As for Žižek: yes. I'm sure that there are many other people between 1967 and the rock star Žižek of the past decade, that have written about this advertisement stuff. The obvious place to start, since both Žižek and Debord are very open about their affinity for him is Lacan. I've not climbed the Mt. Doom of Lacan as yet.

At this point, with the minimal exposure to the other SI texts, and largely based on Lefebvre's account in that interview I've linked to here (from the journal October (79), Winter 1997) I'm not sure that the Situationists really had a good idea about the situations they wanted to achieve. In many ways the movement sounds like a collection of very creative, interesting, and angry people. The anger probably fueled their kinetic behavior, but it also probably contributed to the brevity of their moment.

One avenue I'd like to explore more thoroughly would be to better understand something that Ranciére was telling us this past summer: that there is a disconnect between Lyotard and (probably have to include Hal Foster, Bois, et al.) Baudrillard's account of the postmodern and the avant-garde of the early 20th century.

Ranciére seemed to be suggesting that the claims to postmodernity in Lyotard and Baudrillard are problematic in that they fail to account for the work that had been done in montage, surrealism, perhaps futurism, and so on.

So, part of my motivation to read Bréton with Debord is to consider the latter's inheritance from the former and to ask whether Debord has offered something more innovative in light of that inheritance. And also, to some extent, I want to apply what I'm learning in that Harvey lecture course on Capital. This last item is really not remarkable since nearly everyone worth reading from France during the 20th century was a (Neo)Marxist, so there is no surprise to see whole chunks of Marx inserted in sections and just presupposed as true. Were I better read in Marx I might argue some of the finer points of how Capital gets used, but I'm not an authority at all.

A place that I really should develop is at the end there, in talking about the current economic crisis. It's really too simplistic to accept the often-invoked, and largely class-war inspired, trope that it's because too many people were flipping properties that global capitalism started stuttering. That's just not true. What's seems to me more true is that most people on Wall Street don't understand what Value is.

But, beyond this intuition that Debord might be able to help us understand the moment, I'm not sure I've got more than a tenuous gleam. I'd say 30% of me suspects Debord might, but 70% of me thinks that Debord was a bad student and a loudmouth. Here's to learning that I'm wrong.


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