The contemplative stance

After the last disappointing encounter with Debord, it is clear to me that I won’t make any progress on him without referring back to earlier Marxist literature that he presupposes a familiarity with. Thankfully, I have some familiarity with Georg LukacsHistory and Class Consciousness (HCC) in which Lukacs expounds upon many of the same concepts that Debord employs.

For example, take this earlier question raised by TSOTS 1:2

(TSOTS-1:2-B-?) “Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation.” What does this mean?

There are a number of parts of Debord’s sentence to unpack here. But I am confident that to get his full meaning, you’ve got to consider that “contemplation” is an important word in the Western Marxist lexicon, as it indicates an important idea in Lukacs’ highly influential critique of capitalism. For example, early in HCC Lukacs writes:

As labour is progressively rationalised and mechanised his lack of will is reinforced by the way in which his activity becomes less and less active and more and more contemplative. The contemplative stance adopted towards a process mechanically conforming to fixed laws and enacted independently of man’s consciousness and impervious to human intervention, i.e. a perfectly closed system, must likewise transform the basic categories of man’s immediate attitude to the world: it reduces space and time to a common denominator and degrades time to the dimension of space. (Georg Lukacs, HCC)

There’s a lot to this paragraph, but the part I want to focus on is the idea of the contemplative stance. The contemplative stance is the attitude one must adopt towards a part of reality–a system–which is closed to one’s input. In HCC, Lukacs claims that the bourgeois class in capitalist society tries to make and think about the world as a system closed in this way (more on this later, I hope), and as a result finds itself incapable of action. Debord’s use of “contemplation” is, it seems, the same as Lukacs’ usage.

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