capitalism, consumerism, Debord, marxism, May 68, Society of the Spectacle

Debord: Society of the Spectacle Notes (Part 2)

Society of the Spectacle 3. Unity and Division within Appearances

A lively new polemic about the concepts ‘one divides into two’ and ‘two fuse into one’ is unfolding on the philosophical front in this country. This debate is a struggle between those who are for and those who are against the materialist dialectic, a struggle between two conceptions of the world: the proletarian conception and the bourgeois conception. Those who maintain that ‘one divides into two’ is the fundamental law of things are on the side of the materialist dialectic; those who maintain that the fundamental law of things is that ‘two fuse into one’ are against the materialist dialectic. The two sides have drawn a clear line of demarcation between them, and their arguments are diametrically opposed. This polemic is a reflection, on the ideological level, of the acute and complex class struggle taking place in China and in the world.
–Red Flag (Peking), 21 September 1964
54. Spectacle and modern society are united and divided, but the unity is grounded in a split—however, the spectacle inverts the image and presents division as unity, unity as division.
55. Struggles between forces to run the same socioeconomic system are passed off as real antagonisms—these struggles actually partake of a real unity.
56. The spectacle is able to portray other politico-economic systems (colonial, semi-colonial, despotic, etc.) as radically distinct social systems, but they are merely sectors under a universal system whose tendency is capitalism.
57. Thus there is a society of the spectacle—this society frames the agenda of a ruling class and offers false models of revolution at the local level—even if the spectacle takes on a local manifestation of totalitarianism, from the global point of view it’s all about the worldwide division of spectacular tasks.
58. Though destined to maintain the existing order, the spectacle is rooted in the economy and owes its allegiance to it and not the State.
59. Banalizing trend of the spectacle—pseudo-gratifications that still embody repression. A smug acceptance of what exists is a purely spectacular rebelliousness wherein dissastisfaction itself becomes a commodity to be reterritorialized.
60. Media stars distill the essence of the spectacle’s banality into images of possible roles:
Themselves incarnations of the inaccessible results of social labor, they mimic by-products of that labor, and project these above labor so that they appear as its goal. The by-products in question are power and leisure—the power to decide and the leisure to consume which are the alpha and the omega of a process that is never questioned. In the former case, government power assumes the personified form of the pseudo-star; in the second, stars of consumption canvas for votes as pseudo-power over life lived (39).
61. The individual in stardom’s spotlight is in fact the opposite of an individual and the enemy of the individual in himself as well as the individual in others. Kennedy the orator survives himself his speech writer continues to write in the same vein for future presidents.
62. Spectacular abundance and the roles signified by and embodied in objects—vulgar rankings in the hierarchies of consumption with a magical ontological superiority. Youth and age applied to things in capitalism: things rule and vie with each other and usurp one another’s place.
63. Spectacular antagonisms conceal the unity of poverty—the spectacle may be concentrated or diffuse depending upon the particular stage of poverty—the spectacle is merely the semblance of harmony.
64. Concentrated form of the spectacle normally associated with bureaucratic capitalism—commodity production is also concentrated in form—the bureaucracy appropriates the totality of social labor and sells back to society its survival. Dictatorship of the bureaucracy must be attended by permanent violence. To quote Debord:
For this figure [the dictator] is the master of not-being-consumed, and the heroic image appropriate to the absolute exploitation constituted by the primitive accumulation accelerated by terror. If every Chinese has to study Mao, and in effect be Mao, this is because there is nothing else to be. The dominion of the spectacle in its concentrated form means the dominion, too, of the police (42).
65. Diffuse form of the spectacle—apologetic catalogue for the grandeur of commodity production in general—the automobile entails a deterritorialization of the old city centers, but also a conservation and reterritorialization of these centers into museums.
66. Each individual commodity fights for itself as though it were alone—the spectacle is the epic poem of this strife. The commodity’s becoming worldly turns the world into commodity—thus where particular commodities wear themselves out, commodity as abstract form continues on its way to absolute self-realization.
67. The satisfaction that the commodity in its virtue can no longer supply is now sought in acknowledgement of its value qua commodity. Enthusiasm for particular products—the fad item shows that as commodities get more absurd, absurdity itself becomes a commodity—collecting the commodity’s indulgences—the use in evidence here is the use of submission to commodity fetishism.
68. Commodity’s mechanical accumulation unleashes a limitless artificiality in which living desire is disarmed.
69. Image of blissful unification of society through consumption—The would-be singularity of an object-commodity can be offered to eager hordes only if it has been mass produced.
70. Continual process of replacement—false gratifications are exposed as objects and means of production change. Each new lie of the advertising industry is implicitly acknowledges the one before.
71. Whatever lays claim to the permanence in the spectacle must change according to the spectacle’s foundation—There is nothing dogmatic in the spectacle—it shows itself to have no stable dogma.
72. The unreal unity of the spectacle masks the real unity on which the capitalist mode is based:
What brings together men liberated from local and national limitations is also what keeps them apart. What pushes for greater rationality is also what nourishes the irrationality of hierarchical exploitation and repression. What creates society’s abstract power also creates its concrete unfreedom (46).

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One thought on “Debord: Society of the Spectacle Notes (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Notes to Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle: Chapters 1 and 2 « Fractal Ontology

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