On the road to a poisoned nirvana

A portrait of the shadow as the spectacle that rules our lives

3rd March 2010

"The ideological-totalitarian class in power is the power of a world turned on its head: the stronger the class, the more forcefully it proclaims that it does not exist, and its strength serves first and foremost to assert its nonexistence. This is as far as its modesty goes, however, for its official nonexistence is supposed to coincide with the perfection of historical development, which is indeed owed to its infallible leadership. Though everywhere in evidence, the bureaucracy is obliged to be a class imperceptible to consciousness, thus making the whole of social life unfathomable and insane. The social organization of the absolute lie reposes on this fundamental contradiction."
 — Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 1967 (106) p. 74

How much faith can you put in a man who puts a bullet in his own head? At most, you proceed with a high degree of suspicion, until what he said that made him do what he did begins to jangle the far synapses in that dark corner of your brain.

It appears that everyone who ever met the legendary French situationist Guy Debord pissed him off. He had a very low tolerance for anything that remotely resonated of hypocrisy, which, when you think about it, applies to just about everything in the world. Geniuses who have something to offer that no one can yet perceive — vanGogh comes to mind — often behave that way.

As the guru of the Situationist movement of the French Revolution of 1968, Debord’s pronouncements triggered a series of mass actions against the government that ultimately changed nothing (similar to what happened with the peace protests in the U.S. during the same period), but introduced some new perspectives into the spectrum of thought that have been pursued by researchers of the arcane like me.

Debord is where I got the idea that the real human future is in the dirt, that the health of any given person can be measured by the amount of productive dirt underneath his fingernails.

How I got to this was because of Debord’s incredibly complex assertion that humanity has become lost in its own abstractions, and has completely missed the boat on what it should be doing, namely, looking after its own health. How it got that way is because it believed its own fairy tales, and built a society based on a lie, what Debord calls “the negation of life become visible.”

Debord himself recalled the events of 1968 shortly before he bailed in 1992: “The biggest dupes of that time have since received a clear object lesson — in the form of their own shattered existences — as to what exactly was meant by the “negation of  life become visible,” by the “loss of quality” associated with the commodity-form or by “the proletarianization of the world.”

In that same letter, he posed a question for the ages: “The same formidable question that has been haunting the world for two centuries is about to be posed again everywhere: How can the poor be made to work once their illusions have been shattered, and once force has been defeated?”

So what is this monster, this Spectacle?

Be prepared for a tectonic shift in the ground of your being.

“1. 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.”

“Reality unfurls as a pseudo-world apart . . . where deceit deceives itself.”

From dawn til drug-induced sleep, we are completely trapped in a world of images. This unreality has become real to us. We are not living real lives. We are being swept down a prefabricated hallway to our own meaningless doom. Every parameter of our lives has been foisted on us by someone with a bad attitude.

“4. The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”

What are our points of reference? Tiger Woods? The Weather Channel? The stock market? All media-created artificialities.

“6. Understood in its totality, the spectacle is both the outcome and the goal of the dominant mode of production. It is not something ADDED to the real world — not a decorative element, so to speak. On the contrary, it is the very heart of society’s real unreality . . .”

“9. In a world that has really been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood.”

“10. Understood on its own terms, the spectacle proclaims the predominance of appearances and asserts that all human life, which is to say all social life, is mere appearance. But any critique capable of apprehending the spectacle’s essential character must expose it as a visible negation of  life . . .”

The Spectacle is . . .

“ 14. . . . the perfect image of the economic order, ends are nothing and development is all — although the only thing into which the spectacle plans to develop is itself.”

“17. . . . social life is completely taken over by the products of the economy . . .”

“19. The spectacle is heir to all the weakness of the project of Western philosophy, which was an attempt to understand activity by means of categories of vision. Indeed, the spectacle reposes on an incessant deployment of the very technical rationality to which that philosophical tradition gave rise. So far from realizing philosophy, the spectacle philosophizes reality, and turns the material life of everyone into a universe of speculation.”

“21. So long as the realm of necessity remains a social dream, dreaming will remain a social necessity. The spectacle is the bad dream of modern society in chains, expressing nothing more than its wish for sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of that sleep.”

“32. The spectacle’s function in society is the concrete manufacture of alienation.”

“33. Though separated from his product, man is more and more, and ever more powerfully, the producer of every detail of his world. The closer his life comes to being his own creation, the more drastically is he cut off from that life.”

“215: The spectacle is the acme of ideology, for in its full flower it exposes and manifests the essence of all ideological systems: the impoverishment, enslavement, and negation of real life . . . This is the supreme stage of an expansion that has turned need against life.”

“218: Imprisoned in a flat universe bounded on all sides by the spectacle’s screen, the consciousness of the spectator has only figmentary interlocutors which subject it to a one-way discourse on their commodities and the politics of those commodities. The sole mirror of this consciousness is the spectacle in all its breadth, where what is staged is a false way out of a generalized autism.”

“221. Self-emancipation in our time is emancipation from the material bases of an inverted truth. This “historic mission to establish truth in the world” can be carried out neither by the isolated individual not by atomized and manipulated masses, but — only and always — by that class which is able to effect the dissolution of all classes, subjecting all power to the disalienating form of a realized democracy — to councils in which practical theory exercises control over itself and surveys its own action. It cannot be carried out, in other words, until individuals are “directly bound to universal history”: until dialogue has taken up arms to impose its own conditions upon the world.”

So this is “The Society of the Spectacle” that caused this irascible French writer to take his own life, after first clearly describing the monster mindset by which we have all allowed ourselves to be kidnapped from the fully developed and honestly constructed lives we could be living.

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