Archive for the 'the society of the spectacle' Category

18
Feb
08

Revisiting Debord 1:2 on contemplation

Earlier, I wrestled with this hermeneutic question:

(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?

I think that with the new concepts and theory from Lukacs, we can make a first pass at a restating of this claim.

Recall that according to (CSTANCE-RAT-HET), one must take the contemplative stance towards a fully rational, heterological system. Assuming that Debord is drawing in part of Lukacs’ theory, it would be consistent with the text to infer that Debord is talking about bourgeois conditions of life here. With the rationality of systemic thought being a given under capitalism (according to the Marxist tradition), and the hetorological tendencies of bourgeois systematization, reality is both (a) “considered partially” (because it excludes the phenomena that relate to the subject’s powers of intervention on the contents of the system, and (b) “an object of mere contemplation.”

What about the bit about “in its own general unity”?

I want to refer back to the Lukacs passage quoted here. For Lukacs, “modern rationalism” is unique in that attempts to create a system that is both fully rational and total. In the case where this system is also heterological, this is a doomed mission. But doomed or not, there is a “general unity” to the rational system that is total with the possible exception of its own subject. It is this general unity that makes the contemplative stance so pervasive and pernicious.

With that, I think I’ll hold onto this elaborated version of the Debord passage:

(TSOTS-1:2-B-v1.0) [Under the rationalism that comes with capitalism,] reality considered [heterologically and hence] partially unfolds, in its own general unity [characterized by a system that is total except for its subject], as a pseudo-world apart, an object [towards which one must take the contemplative stance].
That makes for some pretty slow progress on Debord. But I think the concepts gleaned from Lukacs will come up again–I know Habermas uses them, for example. Hopefully tackling Debord will get easier as I read through TSOTS.

26
Jan
08

The Society of the Spectacle, 1:2

The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation. The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself. The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living. (TSOTS, 1:2)

WTF?

I have no idea what Debord is talking about. What should one do in this situation?

But since we are experimenting with methodology here, let’s try this: just as before we have kept a record of the propositions we have gleaned from our sources, let’s keep track of the questions our sources raise in a similar way. Here is my list for this section:

(TSOTS-1:2-A-?) “The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished.” What does this mean?

(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?

(TSOTS-1:2-C-?) “The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself.” What does this mean?

(TSOTS-1:2-D-?) “The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living.” What does this mean?

This may not look like progress, but I am guessing this sort of record keeping may aid us in the future.

21
Jan
08

The Society of the Spectacle, 1:1

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation. (TSOTS, 1:1)

Debord has packaged The Society of the Spectacle (TSOTS for short here) in a long series of of roughly paragraph-or-two length sections, which happens to be the perfect length for a blog quotation plus commentary. There isn’t a lot to go on with this one. Having looked ahead, I can say that this passage prefigures some of what is to come. But coming into this cold, I can’t say I know what he means by “spectacle” at this point, which is clearly the key term.

What I can say is that the Wikipedia article on the book says it’s a Marxist text, and so it should be no surprise that his first words about the means of production. Moreover, Debord is saying that their are some terrible metaphysical consequences to the economic conditions of his time. “Representation” is a philosophically loaded word; for a long time philosophy has struggled with the idea that what we perceive is not the world as it really exists, but merely representations of it. The theory says: we have a kind of mental theatre of images–an image of a horse, say–which we have access to, and it is by virtue of these representations that we come to know what lies outside our minds–actual horses.

The problem is that when we try to use this kind of model of perception, we always wind up plunging ourselves into skepticism about the world. Who is to say the images of horses we see indicate the existence of an actual horse in the world? Couldn’t we just be a brain in a vat?

An alternative, then, is to say that our world isn’t mediated by representation. Rather, it is directly lived.

If this reading of Debord is correct, then saying that “everything that was directly lived has moved away into representation” is a heavy condemnation of the conditions that have brought on this predicament–i.e. capitalist conditions, in Debord’s view.