Sunday, September 18, 2005

Debord - Society of the Spectacle (1967/1983)

Spectacle, for Debord, refers broadly to the convergence of representation, media, the proliferation of image-objects, and visually gripping mass circulations given to commodity: "a monopoly of appearances" (12).  Debord spearheaded the Situationist International movement which was resolutely actionist, performative, politically motivated, and theoretically sophisticated (expansive of avant-garde, from Dada to surrealism).  In Society of the Spectacle, Debord issues a series of relatively short vignettes--manifesto-like blurbs each attending to the effects of the spectacle, from the separations of workers and their products to widespread isolationism.  Debord was concerned with the implications of the massification of the image, consumerist patterns, and the spread of disillusionment pushed by the complacent and consenting bourgeois profiteers.  Among the multiple definitional turns, Debord writes, "spectacle is the opposite of dialogue" (18).

Elsewhere, Debord identified "a growing multitude of image-objects" as one cause for the rise of spectacle and its many accompanying conditions: lonely crowds (28), commodity fetishism (36), and quantitative triviality (62).  The spectacle is, in yet another sense, the "epic poem of the struggle of every commodity to assert itself everywhere" (66); and thus, the rise in ambivalent consumption is at the heart of any spectaclist trend. 

Debord briefly discusses spectacle in terms of a totalizing world map (without reference to Borges, however), and this resonates with Baudrillard's opening reference in Simulacra and Simulation to a map/territory framework. Debord: "The spectacle is the map of this new world, a map which exactly covers its territory" (31). It seems that the Borges-Debord-Baurdillard segment and the related map-matches-territory concept has ripened in the wake of the many mapping technologies that have sprung forth in recent months (Google Maps and Google Earth w/ API; MSN Virtual Earth, whatever can be said of it, a time-warped territory).  In another spot, Debord (where'd I read, Debord as postmodern before pomo was fashionable?)--on systems and structuralism: he acknowledges the problem of a strict structural view of systems and the "freeze" required to treat the system as a structure (hold still, Shifty!) (201).  I also want to hang onto Debord's stance on the give-take of plagiarhythm: "Ideas improve. The meaning of words participated in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author's phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea" (207).

And finally, I've been revisiting Anderson's work on the Long Tail for a talk coming up next month, so I was starting to think about the possibility that the head of the curve (its long ears? calling it the head of the curve seems off somehow) appeases or accommodates spectacle in ways that the long tail does not--not in quite the same way, at least.  So when we apply Pareto's Law to systems of networked writing, let's say, I'd argue that the head--top 20%, if you want a number--is somehow more hospitable to spectacle than the tail.  We could even go so far as to describe the head as spectacle, no? But of course, please, tell me why I'm wrong about this.

Returnables MEc: illusion of encounter (217), tradition and innovation (181), nadir of writing (204), banalization (59), celebrity (60-61), systems (201), falsification of social life (68), illusory community (78), collection of souvenirs (189), concentrated/diffuse spectacle and misery (63)

Spectacle crusher: "To effectively destroy the society of the spectacle, what is needed is men putting a practical force into action" (203).

Bookmark and Share Posted by at September 18, 2005 10:00 AM to Reading Notes