Basic Banalities (II)
Summary of Part 1
The vast majority of people have always had to devote all their energy to SURVIVAL, thereby denying themselves any chance to LIVE. They continue to do so today as the WELFARE STATE imposes the elements of this survival in the form of technological conveniences (appliances, preserved food, prefabricated cities, Mozart broadcast for the masses).
The organization controlling the material equipment of our everyday life is such that what could potentially enable us to construct it richly plunges us instead into a poverty of abundance. Alienation becomes all the more intolerable as each convenience promises freedom and turns out to be only one more burden. We are enslaved by the means of liberation.
To be understood, this problem must be seen in the clear light of hierarchical power. But perhaps it isn’t enough to say that hierarchical power has preserved humanity for thousands of years like alcohol preserves a fetus — by arresting either growth or decay. It should also be specified that hierarchical power represents the highest stage of private appropriation, and historically is its alpha and omega. Private appropriation can be defined as appropriation of things by means of appropriation of people, the struggle against natural alienation engendering social alienation.
Private appropriation entails an ORGANIZATION OF APPEARANCES by which its radical contradictions can be dissimulated: the servants must see themselves as degraded reflections of the master, thus reinforcing, through the looking glass of an illusory freedom, everything that increases their submission and passivity; while the master must identify himself with the mythical and perfect servant of a god or of a transcendence which is nothing other than the sacred and abstract representation of the TOTALlTY of people and things over which he wields power — a power all the more real and unquestioned as he is universally credited with the virtue of his renunciation. The mythical sacrifice of the boss corresponds to the real sacrifice of the underling; each negates himself in the other, the strange becomes familiar and the familiar strange, each fulfills himself by being the inversion of the other. From this common alienation a harmony is born, a negative harmony whose fundamental unity lies in the notion of sacrifice. This objective (and perverted) harmony is sustained by myth — this term being used to designate the organization of appearances in unitary societies, that is, in societies where slave, tribal or feudal power is officially consecrated by a divine authority and where the sacred allows power to seize the totality.
The harmony originally based on the “GIFT of oneself” contains a form of relationship that was to develop, become autonomous and destroy it. This relationship is based on partial EXCHANGE (commodity, money, product, labor power...), the exchange of a part of oneself, which underlies the bourgeois notion of freedom. It arises as commerce and technology become preponderant within agrarian-type economies.
When the bourgeoisie seized power the unity of power was destroyed. Sacred private appropriation became secularized in capitalist mechanisms. Freed from the grip of power, the totality once again became concrete and immediate. The era of fragmentation has been nothing but a succession of attempts to recapture an inaccessible unity, to reconstitute some ersatz sacred behind which to shelter power.
A revolutionary moment is when “everything reality presents” finds its immediate REPRESENTATION. All the rest of the time hierarchical power, increasingly deprived of its magical and mystical regalia, strives to make everyone forget that the totality (which has never been anything other than reality!) is exposing its fraudulence.
By directly attacking the mythical organization of appearances, the bourgeois revolutions unintentionally attacked the weak point not only of unitary power but of any hierarchical power whatsoever. Does this unavoidable mistake explain the guilt complex that is one of the dominant traits of bourgeois mentality? In any case, the mistake was undoubtedly inevitable.
It was a mistake because once the cloud of lies covering private appropriation was pierced, myth was shattered, leaving a vacuum that could be filled only by a delirious freedom and a splendid poetry. Orgiastic poetry, to be sure, has not yet destroyed power. Its failure is easily explained and its ambiguous signs reveal the blows struck at the same time as they heal the wounds. And yet — let us leave the historians and aesthetes to their collections — one has only to pick at the scab of memory and the cries, words and gestures of the past make the whole body of power bleed again. The whole organization of the survival of memories will not prevent them from dissolving into oblivion as they come to life; just as our survival will dissolve in the construction of our everyday life.
And it was an inevitable process: as Marx showed, the appearance of exchange-value and its symbolic representation by money opened a profound latent crisis in the heart of the unitary world. The commodity introduced into human relationships a universality (a 1000-franc bill represents anything I can obtain for that sum) and an egalitarianism (equal things are exchanged). This “egalitarian universality” partially escapes both the exploiter and the exploited, but they recognize each other through it. They find themselves face to face, confronting each other no longer within the mystery of divine birth and ancestry, as was the case with the nobility, but within an intelligible transcendence, the Logos, a body of laws that can be understood by everyone, even if such understanding remains cloaked in mystery. A mystery with its initiates: first of all priests struggling to maintain the Logos in the limbo of divine mysticism, but soon yielding to philosophers and then to technicians both their positions and the dignity of their sacred mission. From Plato’s Republic to the Cybernetic State.
Thus, under the pressure of exchange-value and technology (what we might call “mediation at your fingertips”), myth was gradually secularized. Two facts should be noted, however:
- As the Logos frees itself from mystical unity, it affirms itself both within and against that unity. Rational and logical structures of behavior are superimposed on the old magical and analogical ones, simultaneously negating and preserving them (mathematics, poetics, economics, aesthetics, psychology, etc.).
- Each time the Logos, the “organization of intelligible appearances,” becomes more autonomous, it tends to break away from the sacred and become fragmented. In this way it presents a double danger for unitary power. We have already seen that the sacred expresses power’s seizure of the totality, and that anyone wanting to accede to the totality must do so through the mediation of power — the repression of mystics, alchemists and gnostics is sufficient proof of this. This also explains why present-day power “protects” specialists (though without completely trusting them): it vaguely senses that they are the missionaries of a resacralized Logos. Various historical movements represent attempts within mystical unitary power to found a rival unitary power based on the Logos: Christian syncretism (which makes God psychologically explainable), the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment.
The masters who strove to maintain the unity of the Logos were well aware that only unity can stabilize power. Examined more closely, their efforts can be seen not to have been as vain as the fragmentation of the Logos in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would seem to prove. In the general movement of atomization the Logos has been broken down into specialized techniques (physics, biology, sociology, papyrology, etc.), but at the same time the need to reestablish the totality has become more imperative. It should not be forgotten that all it would take would be an all-powerful technocratic power in order for there to be a totalitarian domination of the totality, for myth’s domination of the totality to be succeeded by the Logos’s unitary cybernetic power. In such an event the vision of the Encyclopédistes (strictly rationalized progress stretching indefinitely into the future) would have known only a two-century postponement before being realized. This is the direction in which the Stalino-cyberneticians are preparing the future. In this context, peaceful coexistence should be seen as a preliminary step toward a totalitarian unity. It is time everyone realized that they are already resisting it.
- La survie moyenne garantie est, en dernière analyse, toujours antagonique à une recherche de la vraie vie. Ce qu’énonce assez bien la formule : « Il n’est pas donné à tout le monde d’avoir une mort heureuse ».
- (ici, en 1936, des Franquistes vont abattre ce qu’ils ont capturé d’une milice ouvrière).
We know the battlefield. The problem now is to prepare for battle before the pataphysician, armed with his totality without technique, and the cybernetician, armed with his technique without totality, consummate their political coitus.
From the standpoint of hierarchical power, myth could be desacralized only if the Logos, or at least its desacralizing elements, were resacralized. To attack the sacred was at the same time supposed to liberate the totality and thus destroy power. (We’ve heard that one before!) But the power of the bourgeoisie — fragmented, impoverished, constantly contested — maintains a relative stability by relying on the following ambiguity: Technology, which objectively desacralizes, subjectively appears as an instrument of liberation. Not a real liberation, which could be attained only by desacralization — that is, by the end of the spectacle — but a caricature, an imitation, an induced hallucination. What the unitary worldview transferred into the beyond (above), fragmentary power pro-jects (literally, “throws forward”) into a state of future well-being, of brighter tomorrows proclaimed from atop the dunghill of today — tomorrows that are nothing more than the present multiplied by the number of gadgets to be produced. From the slogan “Live in God” we have gone on to the humanistic motto “Survive until you are old,” euphemistically expressed as: “Stay young at heart and you’ll live a long time.”
Once desacralized and fragmented, myth loses its grandeur and its spirituality. It becomes an impoverished form, retaining its former characteristics but revealing them in a concrete, harsh, tangible fashion. God doesn’t run the show anymore, and until the day the Logos takes over with its arms of technology and science, the phantoms of alienation will continue to materialize and sow disorder everywhere. Watch for those phantoms: they are the first signs of a future order. We must start to play right now if we want to avoid a future condemned to mere survival, or even a future in which survival itself will become impossible (the hypothesis of humanity destroying itself — and with it obviously the whole experiment of constructing everyday life). The vital objectives of a struggle for the construction of everyday life are the key, sensitive points of all hierarchical power. To build one is to destroy the other. Caught in the vortex of desacralization and resacralization, we aim above all to abolish (1) the organization of appearances as a spectacle in which everyone denies himself; (2) the separation on which private life is based, since it is there that the objective separation between owners and dispossessed is lived and reflected on every level; and (3) sacrifice. These three elements are obviously interdependent, just as are their opposites: participation, communication, and realization. The same applies to their respective contexts: nontotality (a bankrupt world, a controlled totality) and totality.
The human relationships that were formerly dissolved in divine transcendence (the totality crowned by the sacred) settled out and solidified as soon as the sacred stopped acting as a catalyst. Their materiality was revealed. As Providence was replaced by the capricious laws of the economy, the power of men began to appear behind the power of gods. Today a multitude of roles corresponds to the mythical role everyone once played under the divine spotlight. Though their masks are now human faces, these roles still require both actors and extras to deny their real lives in accordance with the dialectic of real and mythical sacrifice. The spectacle is nothing but secularized and fragmented myth. It forms the armor of a power (which could also be called essential mediation) that becomes vulnerable to every blow once it no longer succeeds in disguising (in the cacophonous harmony where all the cries drown each other out) its nature as private appropriation, and the greater or lesser dose of misery it allots to everyone.
Roles have become impoverished within the context of a fragmentary power eaten away by desacralization, just as the spectacle represents an impoverishment in comparison with myth. They betray its mechanisms and artifices so clumsily that power, to defend itself against popular denunciation of the spectacle, has no other alternative than to initiate such denunciation itself by even more clumsily replacing actors or ministers, or by organizing pogroms of prefabricated scapegoats (agents of Moscow, Wall Street, the Judeocracy or the Two Hundred Families). Which also means that the whole cast has been forced to become hams, that style has been replaced by mannerisms.
Myth, as a motionless totality, encompassed all movement (pilgrimage can be considered as an example of adventure and fulfillment within immobility). On the one hand, the spectacle can seize the totality only by reducing it to a fragment or a series of fragments (psychological, sociological, biological, philological and mythological worldviews); on the other, it is situated at the point where the process of desacralization converges with the efforts at resacralization. Thus it can succeed in imposing immobility only within the real movement, the movement that changes it despite its resistance. In the era of fragmentation the organization of appearances makes movement a linear succession of motionless instants (this notch-to-notch progression is perfectly exemplified by Stalinist “Dialectical Materialism”). Under what we have called “the colonization of everyday life,” the only possible changes are changes of fragmentary roles. In terms of more or less inflexible conventions, one is successively citizen, parent, sexual partner, politician, specialist, professional, producer, consumer. Yet what boss doesn’t himself feel bossed? The proverb applies to everyone: You may sometimes get a fuck, but you always get fucked!
The era of fragmentation has at least eliminated all doubt on one point: everyday life is the battlefield where the war between power and the totality takes place, with power having to use all its strength to control the totality.
What do we demand in backing the power of everyday life against hierarchical power? We demand everything. We are taking our stand in a generalized conflict stretching from domestic squabbles to revolutionary war, and we have gambled on the will to live. This means that we must survive as antisurvivors. Fundamentally we are concerned only with the moments when life breaks through the glaciation of survival, whether those moments are unconscious or theorized, historical (e.g. revolution) or personal. But we must also recognize that we are prevented from freely following the course of such moments (except during the moment of revolution itself) not only by the general repression exerted by power, but also by the requirements of our own struggle and tactics. We have to find ways of compensating for this “margin of error” by broadening the scope of these moments and demonstrating their qualitative significance. What prevents what we say about the construction of everyday life from being coopted by the cultural and subcultural establishment (Arguments, academic thinkers with paid vacations) is the fact that all situationist ideas are faithful extensions of acts attempted constantly by thousands of people to try and prevent a day from being nothing but than twenty-four hours of wasted time. Are we an avant-garde? If so, to be avant-garde means to move in step with reality.
We don’t claim to have a monopoly on intelligence, but only on its use. Our position is strategic, we are at the heart of every conflict. The qualitative is our striking force. People who half understand this journal ask us for an explanatory monograph thanks to which they will be able to convince themselves that they are intelligent and cultured — that is to say, idiots. Someone who gets exasperated and chucks it in the gutter is making a more meaningful gesture. Sooner or later it will have to be understood that the words and phrases we use are still lagging behind reality. The distortion and clumsiness in the way we express ourselves (which a man of taste called, not inaccurately, “a rather irritating kind of hermetic terrorism”) comes from our central position, our position on the ill-defined and shifting frontier where language captured by power (conditioning) and free language (poetry) fight out their infinitely complex war. To those who follow behind us we prefer those who reject us impatiently because our language is not yet authentic poetry — not yet the free construction of everyday life.
Everything related to thought is related to the spectacle. Almost everyone lives in a state of terror at the possibility that they might awake to themselves, and this fear is deliberately fostered by power. Conditioning, the special poetry of power, has extended its dominion so far (all material equipment belongs to it: press, television, stereotypes, magic, tradition, economy, technology — what we call captured language) that it has almost succeeded in dissolving what Marx called the undominated sector, replacing it with another, dominated one (see below our composite portrait of “the survivor”). But lived experience cannot so easily be reduced to a succession of empty roles. Resistance to the external organization of life, i.e. to the organization of life as survival, contains more poetry than any volume of verse or prose, and the poet (in the literary sense of the word) is one who has at least understood or sensed this fact. But such poetry is in a most dangerous situation. Certainly poetry in the situationist sense of the word is irreducible and cannot be coopted by power (as soon as an act is coopted it becomes a stereotype, something conditioned by the language of power). But it is encircled by power. Power contains the irreducible by isolating it. But such isolation cannot last; something has to give. The two pincers are, first, the threat of disintegration (insanity, illness, destitution, suicide), and second, remote-controlled therapeutics. The first grants death, the second grants a lifeless survival (empty communication, “togetherness” of family or friends, psychoanalysis in the service of alienation, medical care, ergotherapy). Sooner or later the SI must define itself as therapeutic: we are ready to defend the poetry made by all against the false poetry contrived by power (conditioning). Doctors and psychoanalysts better get it straight too, or they may one day, along with architects and other apostles of survival, have to take the consequences for what they have done.
All unresolved, unsuperseded antagonisms weaken. Such antagonisms can evolve only by remaining imprisoned in previous, unsuperseded forms (anticultural art within the cultural spectacle, for example). Any radical opposition that fails or that is partially successful (which amounts to the same thing) gradually degenerates into reformist opposition. Fragmentary oppositions are like the teeth on cogwheels, they mesh with each other and make the machine go round — the machine of the spectacle, the machine of power.
Myth maintained all antagonisms within the archetype of Manicheanism. But what can function as an archetype in a fragmented society? The memory of previous antagonisms, presented in obviously devalued and unaggressive forms, appears today as the last attempt to bring some coherence into the organization of appearances, so great is the extent to which the spectacle has become a spectacle of confusion and equivalences. We are ready to wipe out all trace of those memories by harnessing all the energy contained in previous antagonisms for a radical struggle soon to come. All the springs blocked by power will one day burst through to form a torrent that will change the face of the world.
In a caricature of antagonisms, power urges everyone to be for or against Brigitte Bardot, the nouveau roman, the 4-horse Citroën, Italian cuisine, mescal, miniskirts, the UN, the classics, nationalization, thermonuclear war and hitchhiking. Everyone is asked their opinion about every detail in order to prevent them from forming one about the totality. However clumsy this maneuver may be, it might have worked if the salesmen in charge of peddling it from door to door were not themselves waking up to their own alienation. To the passivity imposed on the dispossessed masses is added the growing passivity of the directors and actors subjected to the abstract laws of the market and the spectacle and exercising less and less real power over the world. Signs of revolt are already appearing among the actors — stars trying to escape publicity, rulers criticizing their own power (Brigitte Bardot, Fidel Castro). The tools of power are wearing out; their desire for their own freedom is a factor that should be taken into account.
At the moment when slave revolts threatened to overthrow the power structure and reveal the relationship between transcendence and the mechanism of private appropriation, Christianity appeared with its grandiose reformism, whose central democratic demand was for the slaves to accede not to the reality of a human life — which would have been impossible without denouncing the exclusionary aspect of private appropriation — but rather to the unreality of an existence whose source of happiness is mythical (the imitation of Christ as the price of the hereafter). What has changed? Anticipation of the hereafter has become anticipation of a brighter tomorrow; the sacrifice of real, immediate life is the price paid for the illusory freedom of an apparent life. The spectacle is the sphere where forced labor is transformed into voluntary sacrifice. Nothing is more suspect than the formula “To each according to his work” in a world where work is the blackmail of survival; to say nothing of “To each according to his needs” in a world where needs are determined by power. Any constructive project that tries to define itself autonomously and thus partially, and does not take into account that it is in fact defined by the negativity in which everything is suspended, becomes reformist. It is trying to build on quicksand as though it were a cement foundation. Ignoring or misunderstanding the context set by hierarchical power can only end up reinforcing that context. The spontaneous acts we see everywhere forming against power and its spectacle must be warned of all the obstacles in their path and must find a tactic taking into account the strength of the enemy and its means of cooption. This tactic, which we are going to popularize, is détournement.
- Inscription à l’entrée du camp de concentration d’Auschwitz :
- (« Le travail, c’est la liberté »).
Sacrifice must be rewarded. In exchange for their real sacrifice the workers receive the instruments of their liberation (comforts, gadgets), but this liberation remains purely fictitious since power controls the ways in which the material equipment can be used. Power uses to its own ends both the instruments and those who use them. The Christian and bourgeois revolutions democratized mythical sacrifice, the “sacrifice of the master.” Today there are countless initiates who receive crumbs of power for putting to public service the totality of their partial knowledge. They are no longer called “initiates” and not yet “priests of the Logos”; they are simply known as specialists.
On the level of the spectacle their power is undeniable: the contestant on “Double Your Money” and the postal clerk chattering all day about all the mechanical features of his car both identify with the specialist, and we know how production managers use such identification to bring unskilled workers to heel. The true mission of the technocrats would be to unify the Logos — if only (due to one of the contradictions of fragmentary power) they weren’t so absurdly compartmentalized and isolated. Each specialist is alienated by being out of phase with the others; each knows everything about one fragment and no one grasps the totality. What real control can the atomic technician, the strategist or the political specialist exercise over a nuclear weapon? What ultimate control can power hope to impose on all the gestures developing against it? The stage is so crowded with actors that chaos is the only master of the show. “Order reigns and doesn’t govern” (Internationale Situationniste #6 [Unconditional Defense]).
To the extent that the specialist takes part in the development of the instruments that condition and transform the world, he is preparing the way for the revolt of the privileged. Until now such revolt has been called fascism. It is essentially an operatic revolt — didn’t Nietzsche see Wagner as a precursor? — in which actors who have long been pushed aside and see themselves becoming less and less free suddenly insist on playing the leading roles. Clinically speaking, fascism is the hysteria of the spectacular world pushed to the point of climax. In this climax the spectacle momentarily ensures its unity while at the same time revealing its radical inhumanity. Through fascism and Stalinism, which constitute its romantic crises, the spectacle reveals its true nature: it is a disease.
We are poisoned by the spectacle. All the elements necessary for a detoxification (that is, for our own construction of our everyday lives) are in the hands of specialists. We are thus highly interested in all these specialists, but in different ways. Some are hopeless cases: we are not, for example, going to try and show the specialists of power, the rulers, the extent of their delirium. On the other hand, we are ready to take into account the bitterness of specialists imprisoned in roles that are constricted, absurd or ignominious. We must confess, however, that our indulgence has its limits. If, in spite of all our efforts, they persist in putting their guilty conscience and their bitterness in the service of power by fabricating the conditioning that colonizes their own everyday lives; if they prefer an illusory representation in the hierarchy to true fulfillment; if they persist in ostentatiously brandishing their specializations (their painting, their novels, their equations, their sociometry, their psychoanalysis, their ballistics); finally, if, knowing perfectly well — and soon ignorance of this fact will be no excuse — that only power and the SI hold the key to using their specialization, they nevertheless still choose to serve power because power, battening on their inertia, has chosen them to serve it, then fuck them! There’s a limit to our generosity. They should understand all this, and especially the fact that the revolt of nonruling actors is henceforth linked to the revolt against the spectacle (see below the thesis on the SI and power).
The general disparagement of the lumpenproletariat stemmed from the use to which it was put by the bourgeoisie, which it served both as a regulating mechanism for power and as a source of recruits for the more dubious forces of order (cops, informers, hired thugs, artists ...). Nevertheless, the lumpenproletariat embodies a remarkably radical implicit critique of the society of work. Its open contempt for both lackeys and bosses contains a good critique of work as alienation, a critique that has not been taken into consideration until now, not only because the lumpenproletariat was an ambiguous sector, but also because during the nineteenth and early twentieth century the struggle against natural alienation and the production of well-being still appeared as valid justifications for work.
Once it became known that the abundance of consumer goods was nothing but the flip side of alienation in production, the lumpenproletariat took on a new dimension: it expressed a contempt for organized work which, in the age of the Welfare State, is gradually taking on the proportions of a demand that only the rulers still refuse to acknowledge. In spite of the constant attempts of power to coopt it, every experiment carried out on everyday life, that is, every attempt to construct it (an activity that has been illegal since the destruction of feudal power, where it was limited and reserved for the ruling minority), is concretized today in the critique of alienating work and the refusal to submit to forced labor. So much so that the new proletariat can be negatively defined as a “Front Against Forced Labor” bringing together all those who resist cooption by power. This is our field of action, the arena where we are gambling on the ruse of history against the ruse of power, backing the worker (whether steelworker or artist) who — consciously or not — rejects organized work and life against the worker who — consciously or not — accepts working at the dictates of power. In this perspective, it is not unreasonable to foresee a transitional period during which automation and the will of the new proletariat leave work solely to specialists, reducing managers and bureaucrats to the rank of temporary slaves. With the extension of automation, the “workers,” instead of supervising machines, could devote their attention to watching over the cybernetic specialists, whose sole task would be to increase a production that, through a reversal of perspective, will have ceased to be the priority sector, so as to serve the priority of life over survival.
- Programme préalable au mouvement situationniste.
- Cette inscription, sur un mur de la rue de Seine, remonte aux premiers mois de 1953 (une inscription voisine qui relève de la politique traditionnelle aide à dater avec la plus sûre objectivité le tracé de celle qui nous intéresse : appelant à une manifestation contre le général Ridgway, elle ne peut donc être postérieure à mai 1952). L’inscription que nous reproduisons ici semble être la plus importante trace jamais relevée sur le site de Saint-Germain-des-Prés, comme témoignage du mode de vie particulier qui a tenté de s’afﬁrmer là.
Unitary power strove to dissolve individual existence in a collective consciousness so that each social unit subjectively defined itself as a particle with a clearly determined weight suspended as though in oil. Everyone had to feel overwhelmed by the omnipresent evidence that everything was merely raw material in the hands of God, who used it for his own purposes, which were naturally beyond individual human comprehension. All phenomena were emanations of a supreme will; any seemingly unexplainable perturbation was presumed to be a means toward some larger, hidden harmony (the Four Reigns, the Wheel of Fortune, trials sent by the gods). One can speak of a collective consciousness in the sense that it was simultaneously for each individual and for everyone: consciousness of myth and consciousness of particular-existence-within-myth. The power of the illusion was such that authentically lived life drew its meaning from what was not authentically lived. This is the reason for the priestly condemnation of life, the reduction of life to pure contingency, to sordid materiality, to vain appearance and to the lowest state of a transcendence that became increasingly degraded as it escaped mythical organization.
God was the guarantor of space and time, whose coordinates defined unitary society. He was the common reference point for all mankind; space and time came together in him just as in him all beings became one with their destiny. In the era of fragmentation, man is torn between a time and a space that no transcendence can unify through the mediation of any centralized power. We are living in a space-time that is out of joint, deprived of any reference point or coordinate, as though we were never going to be able to come into contact with ourselves, although everything invites us to.
There is a place where you create yourself and a time in which you play yourself. The space of everyday life, of one’s true realization, is encircled by every form of conditioning. The narrow space of our true realization defines us, yet we define ourselves in the time of the spectacle. To put it another way: our consciousness is no longer consciousness of myth and of particular-being-within-myth, but rather consciousness of the spectacle and of particular-role-within-the-spectacle. (I pointed out above the relationship between all ontology and unitary power; it should be recalled here that the crisis of ontology appears with the movement toward fragmentation.) Or to put it yet another way: in the space-time relation in which everyone and everything is situated, time has become the imaginary (the field of identifications); space defines us, although we define ourselves in the imaginary and although the imaginary defines us qua subjectivities.
Our freedom is that of an abstract temporality in which we are named in the language of power (these names being the roles assigned to us), our only margin of choice being limited to finding officially accepted synonymss for ourselves. In contrast, the space of our authentic realization (the space of our everyday life) is under the dominion of silence. There is no name to name the space of lived experience except in poetry — in language liberating itself from the domination of power.
By desacralizing and fragmenting myth, the bourgeoisie was led to demand first of all independence of consciousness (demands for freedom of thought, freedom of the press, freedom of research, rejection of dogma). Consciousness thus ceased being more or less consciousness-reflecting-myth. It became consciousness of successive roles played within the spectacle. What the bourgeoisie demanded above all was the freedom of actors and extras in a spectacle no longer organized by God, his cops and his priests, but by natural and economic laws, “capricious and inexorable laws” defended by a new team of cops and specialists.
God has been torn off like a useless bandage and the wound has stayed raw. The bandage may have prevented the wound from healing, but it justified suffering, it gave it a meaning well worth a few shots of morphine. Now suffering has no justification whatsoever and morphine is far from cheap. Separation has become concrete. Anyone at all can put their finger on it, and the only answer cybernetic society has to offer us is to become spectators of the gangrene and decay, spectators of survival.
The drama of consciousness to which Hegel referred is actually the consciousness of drama. Romanticism resounds like the cry of the soul torn from the body, a suffering all the more acute as each of us finds himself alone in facing the fall of the sacred totality and of all the Houses of Usher.
The totality is objective reality, in the movement of which subjectivity can participate only in the form of realization. Anything separate from the realization of everyday life rejoins the spectacle — a hibernation in which survival is frozen and served out in slices. There can be no authentic realization except in objective reality, in the totality. Anything else is a farce. The objective realization that functions within the mechanism of the spectacle is nothing but the success of power-manipulated objects (the “objective realization in subjectivity” of famous artists, stars, celebrities of Who’s Who). On the level of the organization of appearances, every success — and even every failure — is inflated until it becomes a stereotype, and is broadcast as though it were the only possible success or failure. So far power has been the only judge, though its judgment has been subjected to various pressures. Its criteria are the only valid ones for those who accept the spectacle and are satisfied to play a role in it. But there are no more artists on that stage, there are only extras.
The space-time of private life was harmonized in the space-time of myth. Fourier’s harmony responds to this perverted harmony. As soon as myth no longer encompasses the individual and the partial in a totality dominated by the sacred, each fragment sets itself up as a totality. The fragment set up as a totality is, in fact, the totalitarian. In the dissociated space-time that constitutes private life, time — made absolute in the form of abstract freedom, the freedom of the spectacle — consolidates by its very dissociation the spatial absolute of private life, its isolation, its constriction. The mechanism of the alienating spectacle wields such force that private life reaches the point of being defined as that which is deprived of spectacles: the fact that someone escapes roles and spectacular categories is felt as an additional deprivation, a distressful feeling which power uses as a pretext to reduce everyday life to insignificant gestures (sitting down, washing, opening a door).
The spectacle that imposes its norms on lived experience itself arises out of lived experience. Spectacular time, lived in the form of successive roles, makes the space of authentic experience the area of objective powerlessness, while at the same time the objective powerlessness that stems from the conditioning of private appropriation makes the spectacle the ultimate of potential freedom.
Elements born of lived experience are acknowledged only on the level of the spectacle, where they are expressed in the form of stereotypes, although such expression is constantly contested and refuted in and by lived experience. The composite portrait of the survivors — those whom Nietzsche referred to as the “little people” or the “last men” — can be conceived only in terms of the following dialectic of possibility/impossibility:
- Possibility on the level of the spectacle (variety of abstract roles) reinforces impossibility on the level of authentic experience.
- Impossibility (that is, limits imposed on real experience by private appropriation) determines the field of abstract possibilities.
Survival is two-dimensional. Against such a reduction, what forces can bring out what constitutes the daily problem of all human beings: the dialectic of survival and life? Either the specific forces the SI has counted on will make possible the supersession of these contraries, reuniting space and time in the construction of everyday life; or life and survival will become locked in an antagonism growing weaker and weaker until the point of ultimate confusion and ultimate poverty is reached.
Lived reality is spectacularly fragmented and labeled in biological, sociological or other categories which, while being related to the communicable, never communicate anything but facts emptied of their authentically lived content. It is in this sense that hierarchical power, imprisoning everyone in the objective mechanism of private appropriation (admission/exclusion, see section #3), is also a dictatorship over subjectivity. It is as a dictator over subjectivity that it strives, with limited success, to force each individual subjectivity to become objectivized, that is, to become an object it can manipulate. This extremely interesting dialectic should be analyzed in greater detail (objective realization in subjectivity — the realization of power — and objective realization in objectivity — which enters into the praxis of constructing everyday life and destroying power).
Facts are deprived of content in the name of the communicable, in the name of an abstract universality, in the name of a perverted harmony in which everyone realizes himself in an inverted perspective. In this context the SI is in the line of contestation that runs through Sade, Fourier, Lewis Carroll, Lautréamont, surrealism and lettrism — at least in its least known currents, which were the most extreme.
Within a fragment set up as a totality, each further fragment is itself totalitarian. Individualism treated sensitivity, desire, will, intelligence, good taste, the subconscious and all the categories of the ego as absolutes. Today sociology is enriching the categories of psychology, but the introduction of variety into the roles merely accentuates the monotony of the identification reflex. The freedom of the “survivor” will be to assume the abstract constituent to which he has “chosen” to reduce himself. Once any real fulfillment has been put out of the picture, all that remains is a psycho-sociological dramaturgy in which interiority functions as a safety-valve to drain off the effects one has worn for the daily exhibition. Survival becomes the ultimate stage of life organized as the mechanical reproduction of memory.
Until now the approach to the totality has been falsified. Power has parasitically interposed itself as an indispensable mediation between man and nature. But the relation between man and nature is based only on praxis. It is praxis which constantly breaks through the coherent veneer of lies that myth and its replacements try to maintain. It is praxis, even alienated praxis, which maintains contact with the totality. By revealing its own fragmentary character, praxis at the same time reveals the real totality (reality): it is the totality being realized by way of its opposite, the fragment.
In the perspective of praxis, every fragment is totality. In the perspective of power, which alienates praxis, every fragment is totalitarian. This should be enough to wreck the attempts that cybernetic power will make to envelop praxis in a mystique, although the seriousness of these attempts should not be underestimated.
All forms of praxis enter our project. They enter with their share of alienation, with the impurities of power; but we are capable of filtering them. We will elucidate the force and purity of acts of refusal as well as the manipulative maneuvers of power, not in a Manichean perspective, but as a means of developing, through our own strategy, this combat in which everywhere, at every moment, the adversaries are seeking to come to grips with one another but only clashing accidentally, lost in irremediable darkness and uncertainty.
Everyday life has always been drained to the advantage of apparent life, but appearance, in its mythical cohesion, was powerful enough to repress any mention of everyday life. The poverty and emptiness of the spectacle, revealed by all the varieties of capitalism and all the varieties of bourgeoisie, has revealed both the existence of everyday life (a shelter life, but a shelter for what and from what?) and the poverty of everyday life. As reification and bureaucratization grow stronger, the debility of the spectacle and of everyday life is the only thing that remains clear. The conflict between the human and the inhuman has been transferred to the plane of appearances. As soon as Marxism became an ideology, Marx’s struggle against ideology in the name of the richness of life was transformed into an ideological anti-ideology, an antispectacle spectacle. (Just as in avant-garde culture the antispectacular spectacle is restricted to actors alone, antiartistic art being created and understood only by artists, so the relationship between this ideological anti-ideology and the function of the professional revolutionary in Leninism should be examined.) Manicheanism has thus found itself momentarily revived. Why did St. Augustine attack the Manicheans so relentlessly? It was because he recognized the danger of a myth offering only one solution, the victory of good over evil; he saw that the impossibility of such a solution threatened to provoke the collapse of all mythical structures and bring into the open the contradiction between mythical and authentic life. Christianity offered a third way, the way of sacred confusion. What Christianity accomplished through the force of myth is accomplished today through the force of things. There can no longer be any antagonism between Soviet workers and capitalist workers or between the bomb of the Stalinist bureaucrats and the bomb of the non-Stalinist bureaucrats; there is no longer anything but unity in the chaos of reified beings.
Who is responsible? Who should be shot? We are dominated by a system, by an abstract form. Degrees of humanity and inhumanity are measured by purely quantitative variations of passivity. The quality is the same everywhere: we are all proletarianized or well on the way to becoming so. What are the traditional “revolutionaries” doing? They are struggling to eliminate certain distinctions, making sure that no proletarians are any more proletarian than all the others. But what party is calling for the end of the proletariat?
The perspective of survival has become intolerable. What is weighing us down is the weight of things in a vacuum. That’s what reification is: everyone and everything falling at an equal speed, everyone and everything stigmatized with an equal value. The reign of equal values has realized the Christian project, but it has realized it outside Christianity (as Pascal surmised) and more importantly, it has realized it over God’s dead body, contrary to Pascal’s expectations.
The spectacle and everyday life coexist in the reign of equal values. People and things are interchangeable. The world of reification is a world without a center, like the new prefabricated cities that are its decor. The present fades away before the promise of an eternal future that is nothing but a mechanical extension of the past. Time itself is deprived of a center. In this concentration-camp world, victims and torturers wear the same mask and only the torture is real. No new ideology can soothe the pain, neither the ideology of the totality (Logos) nor that of nihilism — which will be the two crutches of the cybernetic society. The tortures condemn all hierarchical power, however organized or dissimulated it may be. The antagonism the SI is going to revive is the oldest of all, it is radical antagonism and that is why it is taking up again and assimilating all that has been left by the insurrectionary movements and great individuals in the course of history.
So many other banalities could be examined and reversed. The best things never come to an end. Before rereading this text (which even the most mediocre intelligence will be able to understand by the third attempt) the reader would be well advised to pay careful attention to the following points — points as fragmentary as the preceding ones, but which must be discussed in detail and implemented. They concern a central question: the SI and revolutionary power.
Being aware of the crises of both mass parties and “elites,” the SI must embody the supersession of both the Bolshevik Central Committee (supersession of the mass party) and of the Nietzschean project (supersession of the intelligentsia).
- Every time a power has presented itself as directing a revolutionary upsurge, it has automatically undermined the power of the revolution. The Bolshevik Central Committee defined itself simultaneously as concentration and as representation. Concentration of a power antagonistic to bourgeois power and representation of the will of the masses. This duality led it rapidly to become no more than an empty power, a power of empty representation, and consequently to merge into a common form (bureaucracy) with a bourgeois power that was being pressured (by the Bolshevik threat) into following a similar evolution. The conditions for a concentrated power and mass representation exist potentially in the SI when it notes that it possesses the qualitative and that its ideas are in everyone’s mind. Nevertheless we refuse both concentrated power and the right of representation, conscious that we are now taking the only public attitude (for we cannot avoid being known to some extent in a spectacular manner) enabling those who find that they share our theoretical and practical positions to accede to revolutionary power: power without mediation, power entailing the direct action of everyone. Our guiding image could be the Durruti Column, moving from town to village, liquidating the bourgeois elements and leaving the workers to see to their own self-organization.
- The intelligentsia is power’s hall of mirrors. Opposing power, it never offers anything but passive cathartic identification to those whose every gesture gropingly expresses real opposition. The radicalism — not of theory, obviously, but of gesture — that could be glimpsed in the “Declaration of the 121,” however, suggests some different possibilities. We are capable of precipitating this crisis, but we can do so only by entering the intelligentsia as a power against the intelligentsia. This phase — which must precede and be contained within the phase described in paragraph (a) — will put us in the perspective of the Nietzschean project. We will form a small, almost alchemical, experimental group within which the realization of the total man can be started. Nietzsche could conceive of such an undertaking only within the framework of the hierarchical principle. It is, in fact, within such a framework that we find ourselves. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we present ourselves without the slightest ambiguity (at the group level, the purification of the nucleus and the elimination of residues now seems to be completed). We accept the hierarchical framework in which we are placed only while impatiently working to abolish our domination over those whom we cannot avoid dominating on the basis of our criteria for mutual recognition.
- Tactically our communication should be a diffusion emanating from a more or less hidden center. We will establish nonmaterialized networks (direct relationships, episodic ones, contacts without ties, development of embryonic relations based on sympathy and understanding, in the manner of red agitators before the arrival of revolutionary armies). We will claim radical gestures (actions, writings, political attitudes, works) as our own by analyzing them, and we will consider that our own acts and analyses are supported by the majority of people.
Just as God constituted the reference point of past unitary society, we are preparing to create the central reference point for a new unitary society now possible. But this point cannot be fixed. As opposed to the ever-renewed confusion that cybernetic power draws from the inhuman past, it stands for the game that everyone will play, “the moving order of the future.”