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Die Gesellschaft des Spektakels by Guy…

Die Gesellschaft des Spektakels (original 1967; edition 1996)

by Guy Debord

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Title:Die Gesellschaft des Spektakels
Authors:Guy Debord
Info:Edition Tiamat (1996), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:philosophy, politics, france

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Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord (1967)

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Two hundred and twenty-one paragraphs in nine chapters on unnumbered pages, with occasional black-and-white photographs only hieroglyphically related to the text, an anonymous translation from the original French boasting a lack of copyright, my copy of Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle snuggled down into my library and moved with me through seven residences before I finally read it. When I did, it had me from the opening epigram: Ludwig Feuerbach's observation that in modernity "the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness."

This book is penetrating, provocative, prescient, and probably peerless. Although it seems to share many of the same concerns, it gave me a reading experience diametrically opposed to the one that I had recently with Heidegger (The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays). Every sentence in Heidegger seemed to be an invitation to dream, accumulating a load of lofty but cloudy impressions with only a remote analogy to the world of daily life. By contrast, each sentence in Debord demanded that I wake up, and appreciate the urgency of my routine inability to see the real conditions of living in which I am immersed.

One might read a passage on modern alienation like paragraphs 24 and 25 and think that Debord was describing a capitalist phase that the Internet is helping us to transcend--that our 21st-century technologies supply the means of real communication among the proletariat. But in truth, his direst observations are now more true than ever. Digital "social media" atomize society into quantifiable, surveilled packets. The 'net habitué who strives to develop his "personal brand" is the epitome of Debord's paragraph 33: "Separated from his product, man himself produces all of the details of his world with increasing power, and thus finds himself ever more separated from his world. The more his life is now his product, the more he is separated from his life." Caught in the Web, a netizen experiences diminishing dialogue, as it is supplanted by podcast (messages strewn from the virtual pods in which we are encased) and other forms of self-monitoring reportage. Real communication is increasingly impoverished by the economizing of bandwidth: telephoning rather than visiting, texting rather than telephoning, we are more and more removed from the humanity, let alone the full expressions, of our interlocutors.

The title of Chapter 4 "The Proletariat as Subject and Representation" contains a clear nod to Schopenhauer, but the substance of that chapter is a comprehensive and devastating critique of socialism, anarchism, and communism from the left. It supplies a clear-headed historical perspective that must have been up-to-the-minute in 1967, and has lost little of its accuracy as a result of later events and revelations. (Debord can be faulted retrospectively for overvaluing the potential of the "revolutionary workers' Councils" of his own day.)

My reading allows me to infer an intimate relationship of this book to subsequent French philosophy. It appears to supply the foundations of Baudrillard's later work. It explains (or perhaps even determined) Foucault's motives in casting himself as "post-Structuralist" (see paragraphs 201 and 202). While Derrida got the term "deconstruction" from Nietzsche, his actual agenda seems to have been fully forecast by the single-sentence paragraph 205 of this book by Debord, which calls for the "necessary destruction" of "existing concrete concepts" in a dialectical process.

So, perhaps it was important for me to wait so long before reading Society of the Spectacle, a book I've owned for years, so that I could really appreciate its import and consequence. In any case, it's good that the wait is over.
3 vote paradoxosalpha | Jan 6, 2016 |
After years of reading references to it, finally made my way through The Society of the Spectacle. The text is full of gems and retains its relevance, perhaps even more so in our hyper-mediated present. When writing of the Spectacle and the Commodity, Debord is as intellectually stimulating as McLuhan. However, there were a couple chapters in Society that delved deeply into Marxist theory to a degree that the casual reader (or myself for that matter) may find it difficult to follow. Despite this, worth the read. ( )
3 vote Mducman | Apr 22, 2013 |
Sous les pavés, la plage! The very best of summertime, beach blanket reading... ( )
  pessoanongrata | Mar 30, 2013 |
While I wouldn’t exactly describe this book as having the force of a “Das Kapital of the 20th century” [like the cover notes indicate], Society of the Spectacle is surely an important work in the field of modern cultural critique. Originally written in France in 1967 by Guy Debord, an influential member of the Situationists movement, the book’s concepts are still as relevant as ever, as it is with many books that relate to topics of modern capitalism and consumerist “programming.” It starts with a basic outline of the definition of the “spectacle,” which is simply the idea that our conception of legitimate fulfillment (and participation) in our society has shifted to a purely superficial level. The capitalist forces of advertising, marketing, and public relations have transformed the utility of consumption into the “spectacle” of consumption, which drives us to consume and participate in this spectacle in ever intensive ways. The mere idea of consumption has replaced our conceptions of what self-fulfillment should be, and our internal worth is often measured on the “model of life” as reinforced through the capitalist order, to what Debord argues is a quasi-religious degree of reverence. Furthermore, this order is reinforced by our desire to appear “well-connected” with our selection of expensive gadgets, for example, or with our taste for specific stylish clothing brands, projecting our image which is alienated from our specific realities. This is all aided by our “separation” from the physical world of the products we produce, with the separation between worker and product playing an important role in how we feel about commodities in general. All of this results in a general degradation in our quality of life, to say the least. The book also goes on to discuss how our conception of time has changed with the advent of our participation in capitalist production, a section on class struggles against the spectacle, as well as a compelling critique of modern revolutionary ideologies and ideas.

My short summary certainly does not do the entire idea justice, of course. Debord’s profound analysis of the intersection between social phenomena and capitalist consumerism is only the tip of the iceberg. As the book is organized into small passages within larger chapters, many of these verses leap off the page as noteworthy and prescient bits of brilliance. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in consumerism, class struggles, and the state of the modern consciousness. ( )
7 vote jcook818 | Nov 28, 2011 |
Important concept and important book. Rough sledding trying to get through. Just reading the first few pages over and over to get the concept of the totality of what has become the spectacle. The republican party is riding its total embedding into the spectacle to become creatures of astoundingly purified cliche. ( )
  x57 | Aug 2, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Here on terra firma, on the brink of our brave new nirvana six years later, Debord's integrated spectacle — the techno-media juggernaut — looms larger than life. Just prior to his death, the 62-year-old who drank too much and wrote too little had wryly observed, in the "Preface to the Third French Edition" of his uncannily prescient text, that the "same formidable question that has been haunting the world for two centuries is about to be posed again, everywhere: How can the poor be made to work once their illusions have been shattered and once force has been defeated?"

» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Guy Debordprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fulka, JosefTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nicholson-Smith, DonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Siostrzonek, PavelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0942299795, Paperback)

For the first time, Guy Debord's pivotal work Society of the Spectacle appears in a definitive and authoritative English translation. Originally published in France in 1967, Society of the Spectacle offered a set of radically new propositions about the nature of contemporary capitalism and modern culture. At the same time it was one of the most influential theoretical works for a wide range of political and revolutionary practice in the 1960s. Today, Debord's work continues to be in the forefront of debates about the fate of consumer society and the operation of modern social power. In a sweeping revision of Marxist categories, the notion of the spectacle takes the problem of the commodity from the sphere of economics to a point at which the commodity as an image dominates not only economic exchange but the primary communicative and symbolic activity of all modern societies.Guy Debord was one of the most important participants in the activities associated with the Situationist International in the 1960s. Also an artist and filmmaker, he is the author of Memoires and Commentaires sur la société du spectacle. A Swerve Edition, distributed for Zone Books.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:20 -0400)

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