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Guy Debord (1931 - 1994)

Lifespan: 1931 - 1994

Related: anti-art - philosophy of boredom - May 1968 - Marxism - Situationist International - radical - spectacle - French philosophy

Primary texts: Guy Debord films - Society of the Spectacle (1967)

Secondary texts: Lipstick Traces, a Secret History of 20th Century (1989)

Photo of Guy Debord, credit unidentified

Guy Debord was the spokesperson for the Situationists International, social critics who, in the 1960s, were the first to suggest that image was the real commodity in our society and that image would replace more traditional goods in the economy of the future. To understand image as commodity, just consider the entire world of television -- from the advertisers conflating their every product with sex, to the stars, their PR firms, and the gossip industry that makes them who we think they are. Also consider the consumer of television images and what he or she is purchasing from the couch. The Situationist concept of the "society of the spectacle" -- in which living is replaced by viewing -- maps perfectly to our culture of virtuality. The Situationists might be considered partly responsible for the smug superiority and intolerance of today's politically correct. --R.U. Sirius


Guy Debord (December 28, 1931-November 30, 1994) was a member of the Lettrist International, Socialisme ou Barbarie and the founder and chief theorist of the Situationist International (SI).

Debord was the son of Paulette Rossi and Martial Debord. His best known works are Society of the Spectacle and Comments on the Society of the Spectacle.

In broad terms, Debord's theories attempted to account for the spiritually debilitating modernisation of both the private and public spheres of everyday life by the forces of market capitalism during the post-WW2 modernisation of Europe. Feelings of alienation, Debord postulated, could be accounted for by the invasive forces of the 'spectacle' - the seductive nature of consumer capitalism. Debord's analysis applied the critique of commodification by Karl Marx and Georg Lukács to what is superficially called 'the media' and claimed that alienation was more than an emotive description, but an historically determined outcome of capitalism. The SI attempted to create a series of strategies that drew directly on the traditions of Dada and Surrealism.

The SI initially drew membership from the Lettrists - a post-Surrealist group of writers and poets dedicated to the destruction of bourgeois values by reducing the written word to onomatopoeic syllables. However, the SI broke with the formal aims of the Lettrists and, after subsuming much of their membership, were fully established in their own right by 1965 after an intense period of theoretical analysis, publications and expulsions of various members.

The SI are often attributed as being one of the key ideological catalysts for the May 1968 revolution centered around Paris.

The original edition of Debord's earliest books, Memories, was bound with a sandpaper cover so that it would destroy other books placed next to it.

He committed suicide on November 30, 1994. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Debord [Apr 2005]


"There is nothing they won't do to raise the standard of boredom" was a famous Situationist slogan of the day. Debord can be credited with reintroducing the notion of boredom to critical thinking about contemporary culture. Drawing on Baudelaire and Schopenhauer, Debord saw boredom as the state that inevitably results once the necessities of food and shelter have been resolved in industrial society. In this he was fundamentally a pessimist. --Vivian Southwood



Guy Debord (1999) - Anselm Jappe, Donald Nicholson-Smith

Guy Debord - Anselm Jappe, Donald Nicholson-Smith [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

This is the first serious intellectual biography of Guy Debord, prime mover of the Situationist International (1957-1972) and author of The Society of the Spectacle, perhaps the seminal book of May 1968 in France. Anselm Jappe rejects recent attempts to set Debord up as a "postmodern" icon, arguing that he was a social theorist in the Hegelian-Marxist tradition not a precursor of Jean Baudrillard but an heir of the young Georg Lukacs of History and Class Consciousness (1923). Neither hagiographical nor sectarian, Guy Debord places its subject squarely in his historical context: the politicizing Letterist and Situationist "anti-artists" who, in the European aftermath of World War II, sought to criticize and transcend the Surrealist legacy. The book offers a lively, critical, and unusually reliable account of Debord's "last avant-garde" on its way from radical bohemianism to revolutionary theory. Jappe also discusses Debord's films, which are largely inaccessible at present. This English language edition of the book has been revised by the author and features an updated critical bibliography of Debord and the Situationists. --Book Description via Amazon.com

With a foreword by T. J. Clark

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