Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle

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Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle For decades, Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle was only available in English in a so-called "pirate" edition published by Black & Red, and its informative, perhaps essential, critique of modern society languished in the sort of obscurity familiar to political radicals and the avant-garde. Originally published in France in 1967, it rarely receives more than passing mention in some of the fields most heavily influenced by its ideasÑmedia studies, social theory, economics, and political science. A new translation by Donald Nicholson-Smith issued by Zone Books last year, however, may finally bring about some well-deserved recognition to the recently-deceased Debord. Society of the Spectacle has been called "the Capital of the new generation," and the co mparison bears investigation. DebordÕs intention was to provide a comprehensive critique of the social and political manifestations of modern forms of production, and the analysis he offered in 1967 is as authoritative now as it was then. Comprised of nin e chapters broken into a total of 221 theses, Society of the Spectacle tends toward the succinct in its proclamations, favoring polemically poetic ambiguities over the vacuous detail of purely analytical discourse. There is, however, no shortage of justif ication for its radical claims. Hegel finds his place, Marx finds acclaim and criticism, Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg add their contributions, and DebordÕs own insights are convincingly argued. It becomes evident quite quickly that Debord has done his homewor kÑSociety of the Spectacle is no art manifesto in need of historical or theoretical basis. DebordÕs provocations are supported where others would have failed. The first chapter, "Separation Perfected," contains the fundamental assertions on which much of DebordÕs influence rests, and the very first thesis, that the whole of life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that was once directly lived has become mere representation. establishes DebordÕs judgment; the rest attempt to explain it, and to elaborate on the need for a practical and revolutionary resistance. By far DebordÕs most famous work, Society of the Spectacle lies somewhere between a provocative manifesto and a scholarly analysis of modern politics. It remains among those books which fall under the rubric of "oft quoted, rarely read"Ñexcept that few ca
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