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OT: derive and spectacle

from Alan Shapiro’s “Social Choreography: Steve Valk and the Situationists”:

Like winning and losing at a subtle divertissement, the two key ideas of the Situationists, an avant-garde artistic and radical leftist political movement which thrived in Paris, London, and northern California in the mid-20th century, are like a perpetual Möbius strip which appears at all points to have two sides but really has one. The two crucial Situationist ideas – wandering and the spectacle – have often been regarded as contradictory and at odds with each other. Wandering or le dérive, which literally means “the drift,” is connected with the early Parisian Situationists of the 1950s, who were influenced by Dada, Surrealism, and Lettrism, with the collage art of the Dutch painter Asger Jorn, and with the utopian theories of city planners Constant Nieuwenhuys and the Algerian Abdelhafid Khatib.2 The dérive, a group technique of transient passage through varied ambiences, evokes activity, creativity, and cultural optimism; new encounters and the exploration of territory; and psycho-geographical defamiliarization. It conjures up free association and the rediscovery of fascination; the construction of stimulating “situations;” and an adventurous playing with architecture and urban space.

The notion of “the society of the spectacle” was first elaborated in Guy Debord’s 1967 text La Société du spectacle, and it attained prominence during the French student uprisings and workers’ factory and office occupations of May 1968.3 The spectacle denotes a certain critique of consumerism, the mass media, simulations, and “commodity fetishism.”4

It implies a degree of resignation and cultural pessimism faced with the widespread domination of images over reality, and in the wake of prevailing contemporary social phenomena such as television, advertising, cybernetics, and organized leisure time. “Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation,” wrote Debord. The generalized reduction of the citizen to spectator status and the alienation of the worker from the product of his labor are developments which the Situationist International saw as common to the advanced capitalist countries of the West and the state socialism of the East. The spectacle is the dominion of the mode of mere survival of economics as separating category, ruling over life itself and the festival of culture. It is “the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity.”5 But in the active critique and transformation of everyday life, as in the system of red and black in roulette, the concepts of wandering (or the dérive) and the spectacle are revealed as being deeply inter-connected and non-separated from each other.

The permanent circulation of automobile traffic, semiotic messages, commodities commerce, and shopping everywhere is the ceaseless organization of universal isolation, the unremitting production of “lonely crowds,” and the antinomy of encounter. “Spectacles compensate for the participation that is no longer possible.” For Guy Debord, the spectacle is the incessant auto-justifying and self-legitimating speech of the established society. “The spectacle is the dominant order’s uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue.”8 As designer lifestyles get manufactured as palettes of niche products, the spectacle also becomes a system of separation from one’s own life, an integrated complex of specialization and fragmentation into widely separated instances of social existence. But the spectacle is instantiated, brought into renewed being at each moment by its actors. We partake in the spectacle, and we can change it. There is nothing outside of the spectacle and that is good. Digital technologies, online interactive networks, and “reality TV” have not in themselves dismantled or altered the spectacle. Technophoric claims along such lines tend to miss the point. It is not about taking the side of wandering or of the spectacle. They are not in opposition. They have always been, and will always be, intertwined elements in a continuum, like winning and losing. We are always in process in the wandering spectacle, and the urgent question is precisely how do we choose to live our relationship to that, as fluid consumers or as creators.

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