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Guy Debord

Page history last edited by Jeff Martinek 7 years, 10 months ago

Guy Debord: French Marxist theorist, filmmaker & writer

 

Guy Ernest Debord (December 1931-November 1994)


Biography

     Guy Ernest Debord was born in Paris, France in the year 1931 to Martial and Paulette Debord. [2] His father, Martial, died in 1939 of tuberculosis, just prior to the German occupation of France. [2] After the German occupation, Debord and his mother moved to Nice, France to live with his maternal grandmother, Lydie Rossi. While living in Nice, Guy's mother fell in love with an Italian driving-school prinicipal, Domenico Bignoli. [3] Their affair culminated two half-siblings for Guy, Michele who was born in 1940 and later passed away in 1976 due to an overdose of alcohol and drugs, and Bernard, Michele's twin. Guy spent most of his childhood with his maternal grandmother, being raised in a series of Mediterranean villages throughout France. He was a model student in his youth, but became more headstrong with age. After graduating from high school in 1948, Guy headed off to the University of Paris to study law. [4] Guy detested the school, and finally decided to leave the school in 1950. He went on from there to become a revolutionary writer and filmmaker. Debord had a keen interest in poetry, and with the help of Isidore Isou and Gil J. Wolman, he founded the Lettrist International schism in 1950. [1] The Lettrists were attempting to solder music and poetry to greatly transform the urban landscape of America. In the year 1957, the Lettrist International joined another group of avant-garde artists, the Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, to consummate the Situationist International. [4] These two groups also contrived a magazine, the Situationiste Internationale. Guy served as the chieftain of the magazine, and took the helm in maintaining the highest ideals for the group. Debord had a major role in unifying the Situationist practice, but due to his headstrong approach, prevented its expansion into areas he felt would undermine his goals for the group. [5]


Situationiste Internationale

     The Situationiste Internationale consisted mainly of Parisian intellectuals, theorists, and artists who were molded by the Surrealist and Dada movements. The group remained forever small with only twelve members in attendance. [2] This is not to say that the group was not popular; dozens of members were swiftly admitted into the group, but were promptly expelled when their intentions went against the goals of the group. By 1963 all the original members of the group had left or had been expelled, including one of its most world-renowned members, Asger Jorn. [3] The main goal, at it's founding, was to contravene "the boundary separating art and culture from the everyday and make them part of common life." [3] There theory was that Capitalism had the profound effect of suppressing creativity, driving social classes into consumers and producers, barnstormers and bystanders. [4] The Situationiste Internationale viewed poetry and art as a creation by all individuals, and believed that this was a way to make art the sovereign force rather than having dominion rest in the hands of a small group of designated men. The group fought for "divertissement" and were harshly against work. [5] By the mid 1960's the group was applying their doctrine to all areas of capitalist society, refusing to be limited to purely the arts and culture. The group was inspired by the anarchist movement, and looked towards the First International, Kronstadt, the Makhnovists, and Spain in their research. [4] The group never identified fully with the anarchists, retaining some Marxist elements in their practice, though. [5]


Society of the Spectacle

     In the year 1967, Guy Debord published his first book entitled, Society of the Spectacle. His book has been hypothesized to serve as the catalyst for the Paris Uprising of 1968. [1] In his book, Guy takes the stance that the spectacle, or in other words, the domination of life by images and icons, has encompassed all other forms of domination. Guy argues that the history of social life can best be explained as the deterioration of being into having, and having into purely emerging. [1] Debord referred to this "condition," as the "historical moment when commodity completes its colonization of social life." [1] In his book, he attacks wage labor and commodity engineering, proclaiming that they "continue to wield power only in their subsumption into the spectacle." [2] He believed that the spectacle becomes capital to such a high degree of accumulation, that it becomes an image, and that images themselves are the lucre of contemporary society.

     As stated above, Society of the Spectacle, had a profound influence on the student rebellion in Paris, France in 1968. Many quotes from this book, were displayed, by means of grafitti, on the exterior walls of Paris during this period. In the year 1973, Debord made a short film-version of Society of the Spectacle, and in the year 1989, he updated his writings, producing Commentaries on Society of the Spectacle. Commentaries on Society of the Spectacle, reinforced his beliefs on culture imperialism, capital and mediation in society. [1] His belief that life has been reduced to pure spectacle, as the result of all alliances becoming business-minded in a capitalist society, can be compared with Marx's early writing on the alienation of society. [3] The difference between Marx's theory and the Situationist's philosophy is that the Situationist's recognized pseudo-needs as an important foundation to ensure increased consumption. They diverted cognizance from its determination at the point of production to the point of consumption, seeing modern capitalism as purely a consumer society. [3] From there standpoint, the worker, is no longer perceived as a manufacturer, but rather as a consumer.


Society of the Spectacle: an updated version Marx's original theory of the commodity craze in an

                                                                                                          "electronically-mediated"world.


 

"Everything which was once lived has moved into it's representation."

 

     A pivotal quote from Guy Debord's book, Society of the Spectacle, which was displayed upon the walls of numerous businesses in Paris, France, in the year 1968, served to reinforced Debord's belief, that it is necessary to think of the existing moment as the highest potential for change, and that to release oneself is to revolutionize society by effecting power relations.


Famous Works

    Along with his prized works, Society of the Spectacle and Commentaries on Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord published numerous other autobiographical books including Memoires, a book detailing the period in Guy's life when he left the Lettrists and set up the Lettrism International, Pangyrique, Guy's autobiography that discusses the tale of a life that refused to adjust to the dominant malignancies or viciousness of the time, and Cette Mauvaise. [5] The book Memoires foreshadowed his first true film masterpiece produced in 1952, Hurlements en Faveur de Sadeor in English, Howling in Favour of Sade. [5] This film, which was free from imagery, played in a pure white background during periods of speaking on the soundtrack, and flashed in black during periods of silence. [2] The film, which was highly controversial during the 1950's, highlighted his theory that the spectacle is always permanent. Memoires was creatively designed with a sandpaper cover so as to destroy all other books placed next to it. [5] Other famous works that Debord is known for include, Reputation, Considerations sur L'assassinat de Gerard Lebovici, and numerous short pieces he penned for the journals, Potlatch, Les Levres Nues, and Internationale Situationniste. [3] Guy also served as the subservient for numerous biographies, songs, pieces of artwork, and works of fiction.

     All of Debord's works shared the same theme of rejecting capitalism in the West and statism, or in other words, the concentration of universal political, economic, and related controls in the state at the price of individual freedoms and liberty, in the Eastern confederation. Debord emphasizes in his works, the power of alienation. He hypothesized that alienation could be justified by the aggressive forces of the "spectacle," or, the social relations between people that is moderated by images and one's outright appearance. [1] Alienation, from his viewpoint, is more than an emotive description of an individual's way of thinking, but rather, it is a reaction of the commercial form of social organization which has extended its climax or summit in capitalism. Debord built his dynamic analysis based on the ideas of Karl Marx and Georg Lukacs. [2] These two men developed the profound concepts of "fetishism of the commodity" and "reification." [3] Reification can best be described as the process of regarding or treating "an abstraction," as if it had concrete or material being. "An abstraction," in broad terms, is an object or being that is viewed from it's broad or general characteristics, thus separated from its concrete or definitive realities. Debord's analysis scrutinized the economic, historical, and psychological origin of "the media." Debord described the system that is a convergence of advanced capitalism, or in other words, the mass media, and the different forms of government who favor the mass media, as the "spectacle." [1] Guy candidly described the spectacle as the overturned image of society in which relations between goods have replaced relations between groups of people, and in which submissive identification with the spectacle replaces true enterprise. [1] From his viewpoint, the "spectacle" is not purely a collection of images, but rather, it is a social alliance between groups of people that is moderated by images and icons.

     When Guy examined society, he noted a quality of life that lacked true authenticity, where human perceptions were negatively affected, and where degradation of knowledge predominated. Guy also noted a theme of hindered critical thinking capabilities. Debord rationalized that the spectacle prevents individuals from comprehending that the society of spectacle is only a quick moment in time or history, and can easily be upset through anarchy or turmoil. [1] Guy's main goal in writing Society of the Spectacle, was to "wake-up spectators who had been drugged by spectacular images." [1]


 

 

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  Situationist International Clip-Guy Debord's Impact


Guy Debord's Theories on Society [3]

     1. In civilizations governed by contemporary conditions of provision, life is staged as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All things that presently live have regressed into a representation.

     2. The images and icons separated from every facet of life join to form a common stream in which the harmony of life can no longer be restored. Broken views of reality regroup themselves into a new harmony as a single pseudo-world that can only be observed. "The specialization of images of the world evolves into a world of autonomised images where even the deceivers are deceived." The spectacle is a concrete and solid reversal of life, a sovereign progression of the nonliving.

     3. The spectacle itself, cannot be viewed as a simple visual deception formulated by mass-media technologies, but rather, it is world-view that has been embodied. It is a view of the world that has become objective.

     4. The fetishism of the commodity, that is the domination of society by tangible and intangible things, acquires its decisive perfection in the spectacle, whereas the real world is traded for a grouping of images which are projected above it, yet which at the same moment benefit in making themselves observed as the epitome of reality.

     5. "Once society discovers that it depends on the economy, the economy in fact depends on the society."

     6. The spectacle's main social affair is the explicit manufacturing of alienation. The advancement produced by the development of the economy for its own personal benefit can be nothing more than the growth of the alienation that was at its creation.


   "I love my camera, for it helps me live. It allows me to record the best moments of

                                                                                                    my existence. It reveals my need for brightness and passion in the world."

                                                                                                           -My camera saves me and without the image it portrays, I am no one.


Debord's Final Contributions

     In the year 1987, Guy composed the book, The Game of War, which was later formulated into a board game, and in the year 1989, Guy published Commentaries on the Society of the Spectacle, which largely expanded on his earlier writings. [2] In Commentaries, Guy focused on the new, deceptive, and "integrated" spectacle, which had encompassed society as a whole. Guy, due to his heavy alcohol consumption, developed a form of polyneuritis, a disease affecting numerous sets of nerves throughout the body. [4]  In the year 1994, after numerous suicide attempts, Guy died in the Upper Loire division of France, in the village of Champot, after sustaining a gun shot to the heart. [4] This was not Guy's first attempt with suicide, having tried to asphyxiate himself in the year 1955. [3] Guy was creamated and his ashes were scattered on one of the natural islands off the Seine River in France. At the time of his death, Guy was, without hesitation, deemed a celebrity in the eyes of the French papal. Prior to his death, Guy's works and contributions to society had never been fully acknowledged. After his death, the significance of the Situationist Internationale and his various works gained public approval. Since his death, Guy has become the icon for various films, books, and documentaries. [3] He also has become the subject of numerous works of fiction, artworks, songs, and biographies. [3] One of the most well-known and accredited biographies catalogued under his name is "Guy Debord ou la Beaute du Negatif," or in other words, "Guy Debord or the Beauty of the Negative," by Shigenobu Gonzalves. [4] Guy served as the inspiration for the character, Mr. Debord, in the film, Waking Life, which was released in the year 2001. [4]  The major tagline of Mr. Debord in this film, "Suicide carried off many. Drink and devil took care of the rest," was a direct correlation with Guy's social habits that most bystanders had become accustomed to during Guy's later years. [4]


References

 

[1] Debord, G. (1977). Society of the Spectacle, The culmination of separation.

London, England: Rebel Press.

 

[2] Hussey, A. (2001). The Game of War: The Life and Death of Guy Debord.

          United Kingdom: Pimlico.

 

[3] Mc Donough, T. (2002). Guy Debord and the Situationist International.

     `    Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

 

[4] Jappe, A. (1999). Guy Debord, Concept of the Spectacle.

         Berkely, CA: University of California Press.

 

[5] Debord, G., Jorn, A. (2004). Memoires, June 1952.

Brooklyn, New York: Zone Books.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (1)

Jeff Martinek said

at 9:29 pm on Aug 12, 2012

References should always be to the subject's last name. Not "Guy's contributions" but "Debord's contributions." There is a lot of informality, especially in the last paragraph.

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