“At night we walk in a circle and are consumed by fire”
Guy Debord Obituary by Michel Comte, published in Alien Underground 0.1, 1995
The individual deeply marked by that impoverished spectacular thought, and more than any other element of its formation, stands from the outset on duty for the established order, whereas his subjective intention could have been totally opposed to that result. He will follow for the essential the language of the Spectacle, for it is the only familiar to him: the one in which he was raised to speak. No doubt he’s willing to appear as the enemy of its rhetoric, but he will use its syntax. It is one of the most important points on the success obtained by the spectacular domination. [Commentaires, p.40 Lebovici édition] The change that is the most important in what has happened in the last 20 years lies in the continuity of the Spectacle. This importance does not hold an improvement of its mediatic instrumentation, that had already reached a most advanced development: it is simply that spectacular domination could raise a generation submitted to its laws. [Commentaires]
Who is in complicity with actual mediocrity, who’s opposing it, who attempts a conciliation? that’s a question about techno music; perhaps it is an essential techno question regarding spectacle techniques, its technology we are condemned to use at its garbage level to fight against it. And it is a situationist question from 1963. By then L’Internationale Situationiste existed for 6 years, and Guy-Ernest Debord being its most brilliant theoretician.
“The writer and film maker Guy Debord […] committed suicide Wednesday, november 30th, by the end of the afternoon, in his house in Champot, at Bellevue–la-Montagne (Haute Loire). The mayor of Bellevue indicates a permit to hinter was issued.” (Le Monde 1/12/94)
He was one of the last non spectacular personalities, as he wrote in his 1988 Commentaires. And truly very little was known about him; one may encounter nowadays philosophy students in Paris who never heard of Guy Debord neither of his 1967 book La Societé de Spectacle, a total criticism of the entire existing world, i.e. all aspects of modern capitalism and its general system of illusions, the Spectacle, that evolved from concentrated spectacle (bureaucratic Stalinism and Fascism), to diffuse Spectacle (the wanted United States capitalism) then to the present integrated Spectacle (mainly produced in France and Italy).
Mediawise, Debords first concern was film making, until he issued his Complete Cinematographic Works in 1978.
Debord meets the poet Isidore Isou and his Lettrist friends by the late forties. The Lettrist Wolman makes the film L’Anticoncept in 1951. A lifeless monologue is heard, while on the screenblack and white circles on a meteorologic balloon alternate. Application of the principle of “discrépance”, i.e. the disjunction of sound and image tracks. A year later, in June 1952, Debord presents his first film, Hurlements en Faveur de Sade (Yellings in favor of Sade). One of the four voices from the soundtrack says at the very beginning: “When the projection was about to start, Guy-Ernest Debord was supposed to climb on stage to pronounce some introducing words. He would have simply said: there is no film. Cinema is dead. There can be no films.” The film is an alternation of black and white sequences. Text is heard during whites, and blacks are silent. The ultimate one lasts 24 minutes.
At this time he was still a member of the Lettrist International, running its publication, Potlatch.
It’s only in 1957, july 27th, in an Italian village, that avant garde artists from Cobra (Copenhagen, Bruxelles, Amsterdam), lettrists, partisans of the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus (founded by the danish Asger Jorn) and the London Psychogeographical Society, founded L’International Situationiste, a subversive formula to bring down a world upside down, in which the true is a moment of the false. Later Guy Debord produced short movies like On the Passage of some people through a rather brief period of time, and criticism of separation.
Meanwhile La Societé du Spectacle becomes the first detonator of 1968 rebellion in France (Debord was accused of having commanded it), as well as the situationist activities like détournements, games, insults (the count of insults in the journal L’internationale Situationiste went to 540, among them Sartre, unspeakable, and Nazi Heidegger).
Other Situationists are Raoul Veneigem, Mustapha Khayati, René Viénet; the group claims flirtation with Hegel’s dialectics, Sun-Tse’s Art of War, young Marx, Clausewitz, Balthazar Gracian, the court adviser, and is actively anti-maoist.
It became ungovernable, this earth spoiled where new sufferings are disguised under the name of ancient pleasures; and where people are so afraid… they wake up alarmed and grove around for life.
Five years after the ’68 “revolution” in Paris [infact a revolt that programmed a time bomb, about to explode in a new century, built up shouting: Be Cruel! or Run Comrade, the old world is after you!), Debord makes a film after La Société du Spectacle constructing it with bits ripped from news or fictions, with a predilection for political and social representations, daily life, but also empty screen and ironically shifted editing. The soundtrack is a reading of excerpts from the book; the 1973 film is followed in1975 by Réfutation de tous les Jugements, tant élogieux qu’hostiles qui ont été jusqu’ici portés sur le film La Société du Spectacle. Debord shows in it the complicity of powers that represent themselves as antagonistic. The film uses détournement. His last film, In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni, which is a palindrome (sentence readable both ways), is a tough loop against the infinite vulgarity of a reality where advertising imagery is the main reference. More than in any other films, his melancholic presence is felt, in Venice. In his autobiography Panégyrique he depicts himself lazy and alcoholic as a Diogen, but demonstrates his rigour, his pride, his touching loneliness along erudite metaphors.
It is ironically on TV that La Société du Spectacle and Refutation are shown, on Canal + january 9th (programmed before Debords death). Debord’s filmworks have been considered as a pessimistic death report for moving pictures. It should be said his statement on cinema – as well as Jean-Luc Godard’s – are truly opening new possibilities of making films. Their statement is aimed at the show cinema, the famous recipe of Pathé d’Hollywood a la mode de Babelsberg sauce Korda, that runned so rich that it is dying of indigestion; of course neither Debord nor Godard are responsible for its death they deplore.
So if the hopes conceived for cinema failed, killed by the merchandise, Debord’s films drive to another perception of moving pictures. The video generation, readers and watchers of Debord’s works often fell into pomp and kitsch state supported productions, art of Vacuum close to Power’s taste for the Empty, in a pseude-zen mode, as a caricature of the integrated spectacle. But the present offers, with virtual editing, one of the first tools for home film making, a revolution on production, completing the musical home studio, after some delay, as image more expensive than sound to manipulate. Large experimenting becomes available for those who wish to give their own perception of time and telling.
Most articles printed in the traditionally left wing newspaper Le Monde show a curious manoeuvre: How to push somebody out of a sheet of paper. Debord the writer is over-shown as a brillant stylist; as a filmmaker he is presented as the author of that “oxymoron” (contradiction in terms): A cinema without Spectacle, reducing the large field of Schopenhauer’s world as desire and representation to show-business.None of the media could hardly write or talk about Debord without giving themselves up. No one gets interested in Debord’s work if he’s not an enemy of the society of the spectacle; or pretty soon it turns into one. The spectacular media hypocritically praise Debord’s famous style, the language of the 17th century, close to Pascal and Cardinal de Retz. But in fact the style is not archaic at all, this is exactly as if talking clear was defined as and called an archaism, a sublime and deceased value. The Spectacle denies here the genial possibility. More is told about Debord and the situationists, and more a mutation is progressing; Spectacle accuses itself and loses territory, so the media escape, as much as they can, evoking Debord, bitterly giving him the mediatic discretion he always, arrogantly, observed and asked for, with a dignity regarded as an insolence. But Debord’s position stands for long.