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Sui Generis book club #8

The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith

Ha ha. This book was so totally like 90% whoosh, right over my head, man. I'd heard it mentioned in connection with the Situationists and Dadaism, and along with the concept of d├ętournement probably via Adbusters or the like. When something keeps popping up I figure it must be important, and so maybe three years ago I started to search for this book. My library system didn't carry it. I couldn't find it at any local stores. I looked at a copy at Powell's City of Books a while back, but didn't actually buy it until this Christmas with gift certificates.

So I don't know if it's the translation, or the subject matter, or what, but after a promising start I got lost here. I kept reading in hopes that it would begin to coalesce at some point and become clear, but that never happened. There were a few points where I thought I understood something interesting, but then I'd be left behind again and utterly confused. I stuck it out because I actually paid for it. Had I actually read through any of it first, I never would have bothered. It's too bad, because by all accounts it sounds like there are incredible insights contained in this book... but for whatever reason, I couldn't make heads or tails of it. Clearly there is something the matter with me. If you are smart enough to get through this weighty prose, then I applaud you. Otherwise: Two spectacular thumbs down.

To be fair, here's a random sample sentence that gives you a taste of how this reads:

A critical theory of the spectacle cannot be true unless it joins forces with
the practical movement of negation within society; and this negation, which
constitutes the resumption of revolutionary class struggle, cannot for its part
achieve self-consciousness unless it develops the critique of the spectacle, a
critique that embodies the theory of negation's real conditions -- the practical
conditions of present-day oppression -- and that also, inversely, reveals the
secret of negation's potential.

Now okay, I can take some time to parse that and suss out some meaning, but then imagine that this goes on and on for 154 pages. If you like that idea, you'll love the rest of the book!


Janine said...

Have you read Griel Marcus's Lipstick Traces? It's not terribly less confusing than Debord, but I think it's more fun (applies the theory of spectacle to construct a direct lineage from the Situationists right through the Sex Pistols). Then again, I think Lipstick Traces is what gets people to read Debord, not the other way around, so perhaps that's how you wound up here in the first place.

sui generis said...

Hmm, haven't heard of that one! Maybe I'll take a look at it. It sure sounds more fun!