November 21, 2010

The Situation

In Moe's I pick up Simon Ford's "The Situationist International: A User's Guide" (Black Dog, 2005). The guy behind the counter wonders out aloud what Debord would have made of a Situationist user manual; me, I say I'm sure he'd be ostentatiously contemptuous, in that gnomic self-aggrandizing way of his.

I never could quite get over the blatant totalitarianism and monomaniacal exclusiveness dripping from so much of the SI and its history, nor the sort of hypocrisies that come with all that — the one-man-band masquerading as a democracy, the absolutist claims to relativist epistemologies, the nostalgia for a past-that-never-was, the disingenuous self-mythologising disavowal of mythology….

Still, I can't deny that what I understood of it all was (and still is) seductive and suggestive, and influenced me and a bunch of us all back then in Sydney in ways that were probably neither wanted nor intended by the originals (I'm sure Debord would say that claiming to be influenced by the SI is a sure sign that someone's missed the point). I think part of the problem was that whatever you claimed to understand about the SI, someone else would come along and claim you'd completely missed the point, and quote some third-hand poorly-translated jargon-ridden pamphlet at you and you'd just sit there wondering what the hell it all meant — or whether, more subversively, it was meant to be meaningless (someone's bound to do that to this post). Hence, maybe, The User Manual, which turns out to be a nice bit of work, subtly sarcastic about Debord's blatant hypocrisies while giving a succinct and readable overview of the history and legacies of the SI and why anyone should (or shouldn't) care.

But as Jamie Reid (yes, yes) is quoted as saying in the User Manual somewhere:
I was never involved with the Situationists to the fullest extent because I couldn't understand half of what they had written. I found Situationist texts to be full of jargon — almost victims of what they were trying to attack — and you had to be really well-educated to be able to understand them. [...] The slogans, for instance, were so much better than the texts.
This sort of encapsulates a lot of my feelings about it, after having read a lot of SI originals and commentaries over the years; sometimes the SI project just looks like a cartoon of some good ideas unwittingly self-d├ętourned by the cultural and political jargon and blinkers of the sixties.

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