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Abolish everything!

Andrew Hussey: Situationist International

2 September 1999
The Situationist City 
by Simon Sadler.
MIT, 248 pp., £24.95, March 1998, 0 262 19392 2
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... art and, above all, the tendency of cultures of mass production to turn real life into an endless series of frozen gestures or ‘spectacles’. Their originality lay in the claim made in 1967 by GuyDebord in The Society of the Spectacle that the forces of ‘spectacular domination’ could be fought and defeated on their own terms. Unlike their close contemporaries in the postwar French Left ...

Umbah-Umbah

Jerome McGann

22 June 1989
Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century 
by Greil Marcus.
Secker, 496 pp., £14.95, June 1989, 0 436 27338 1
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... Marcus is a peculiarly 20th-century preoccupation: ‘art and revolution playing [themselves] out in a realm of amusements and commodities’. From the vantage of (any) realpolitik, Johnny Rotten, GuyDebord and the Cabaret Voltaire represent brief epiphenomenal waves on the powerful surge of human events – at most minor indices of greater and more important human struggles. Indeed, they ...
25 March 1993
Panegyric. Vol. I 
by Guy Debord, translated by James Brook.
Verso, 79 pp., £29.95, January 1993, 0 86091 347 3
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The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Post-Modern Age 
by Sadie Plant.
Routledge, 226 pp., £40, May 1992, 0 415 06222 5
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... Literary Supplement. Running in French, just below the much larger announcement of a ‘Search for the Director of the Bancroft Library’ at the University of California at Berkeley, the ad read: GUYDEBORD Judging it necessary to disavow the new Editions Lebovici, SEEKS LITERARY AGENT or highly-placed independent editor for books that will expose the modernisation of the society of the ...

Crack Open the Shells

Hal Foster: The Situationist Moment

12 March 2009
Correspondence: The Foundation of the Situationist International (June 1957-60) 
by Guy Debord, translated by Stuart Kendall and John McHale.
Semiotext(e), 397 pp., £12.95, February 2009, 978 1 58435 055 2
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... are now the stuff of legend: one of those rare avant-gardes whose art and politics were not only radical but also forged together in radical fashion. Yet, as these early letters of the young GuyDebord, the leader of the group, make clear, they were the stuff of legend from the start. In late July 1957, in a little town in the Ligurian Alps called Cosio d’Arroscia, Debord met with a motley crew ...

Paris, 18 October

Alexander Zevin: The New ’68ers

29 November 2007
... to students in scattershot French about how you’ve come to Paris to defend the left in this difficult moment: ‘Like Dombrovski . . . I’m like Iaroslav Dombrovski, you know . . . the guy who, when exiled from Poland, came to defend liberty in France? A great general!’ Incomprehension, blown out cheeks. ‘During the Commune, the Commune of Paris . . . you know, 1871!’ One ...

Watermonster Blues

William Wootten: Edwin Morgan

18 November 2004
Edwin Morgan: Inventions of Modernity 
by Colin Nicholson.
Manchester, 216 pp., £40, October 2002, 0 7190 6360 4
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Beowulf 
translated by Edwin Morgan.
Carcanet, 118 pp., £6.95, November 2002, 1 85754 588 5
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Cathures 
by Edwin Morgan.
Carcanet, 128 pp., £6.95, November 2002, 1 85754 617 2
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... through all the styles and years. Nicholson expands on Morgan’s nationalism, his political radicalism, his belief in modernity and his homosexuality, helped along by references to Julia Kristeva, GuyDebord and the like, couched in cluttered criticalese; but he leaves it unclear how Morgan’s beliefs have determined his poetics. Reading Morgan’s most recent collection, Cathures (the old name ...

A Bit of Ginger

Theo Tait: Gordon Burn

5 June 2008
Born Yesterday: The News as a Novel 
by Gordon Burn.
Faber, 214 pp., £15.99, April 2008, 978 0 571 19729 3
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... near the McCanns’ Leicestershire home. Born Yesterday is hard to categorise or characterise. At times it seems like a piece of conceptual art, a brashly clever take on the Society of the Spectacle (GuyDebord: ‘Everything that was directly lived has moved away into representation’). At other times, it’s more like a grand essay in what might be called the Marshall McLuhan tradition, making ...

Where’s the omelette?

Tom Nairn: Patrick Wright

23 October 2008
Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War 
by Patrick Wright.
Oxford, 488 pp., £18.99, October 2007, 978 0 19 923150 8
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... simply does not occur to us to think about how it might end or, more to the point, how we would like it to end.’ The Iron Curtain was by now a double-sided ‘spectacle’ in the sense described by GuyDebord. At the very moment the new managers in the East hoped to ‘demonstrate its superiority on the terrain of capitalism’, socialism ‘reveals itself to be a poor cousin of capitalism ...
12 December 1996
Histoire de ‘Tel Quel’, 1960-82 
by Philippe Forest.
Seuil, 656 pp., frs 180, October 1995, 2 02 017346 8
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The Time of Theory: A History of ‘Tel Quel’ (1960-83) 
by Patrick ffrench.
Oxford, 318 pp., £37.50, December 1995, 0 19 815897 1
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The Making of an Avant Garde: ‘Tel Quel’ 
by Niilo Kauppi.
Mouton de Gruyter, 516 pp., August 1994, 3 11 013952 9
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... to something like a decade, more or less coinciding with the now largely accepted dating of the so-called Sixties as running from about 1963 to the oil crisis of 1973. Let me here repeat the words of GuyDebord, quoted by ffrench, which raise the question of the mortality of an avant garde, a matter that seems oddly to obsess these books, more than does another mystery, which is the coming into being ...

Why all the hoopla?

Hal Foster: Frank Gehry

23 August 2001
Frank Gehry: The Art of Architecture 
edited by Jean-Louis Cohen et al.
Abrams, 500 pp., £55, May 2001, 0 8109 6929 7
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... exclusive than democratic. Rather than ‘forums of civic engagement’ (the catalogue again), his cultural centres appear as sites of spectacular spectatorship, of touristic awe. Thirty years ago GuyDebord defined spectacle as ‘capital accumulated to such a degree that it becomes an image’. With Gehry and other architects the reverse is now true as well: spectacle is an image accumulated to ...

Aberdeen rocks

Jenny Turner: Stewart Home

9 May 2002
69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess 
by Stewart Home.
Canongate, 182 pp., £9.99, March 2002, 9781841951829
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... respectful literary reviews. But having opted for the literary genre, there was no way his books could really rock. He wasn’t going to pick up a hard-core following or sell over the long term like GuyDebord or William Burroughs. He had no devoted readership and little chance of remaining in print for long, let alone being republished in thirty or forty years’ time. In short, a typical midlist ...

Vindicated!

David Edgar: The Angry Brigade

16 December 2004
The Angry Brigade: The Cause and the Case 
by Gordon Carr.
ChristieBooks, 168 pp., £34, July 2003, 1 873976 21 6
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Granny Made Me an Anarchist 
by Stuart Christie.
Scribner, 423 pp., £10.99, September 2004, 0 7432 5918 1
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... by the Situationist concept of a consumerist ‘spectacle’ which distracted, confused and bought off the masses (Christie himself downplays the importance of the Situationists, not least because GuyDebord was a ‘total arsehole in his everyday relationships’). In addition to attacking the homes of senior politicians and policemen, the Angry Brigade claimed responsibility for targeting an ...

In the Châtelet

Jeremy Harding

20 April 1995
François Villon: Complete Poems 
edited by Barbara Sargent-Bauer.
Toronto, 346 pp., £42, January 1995, 0 8020 2946 9
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Basil Bunting: Complete Poems 
edited by Richard Caddel.
Oxford, 226 pp., £10.99, September 1994, 0 19 282282 9
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... departure, he drafted his Lais, or ‘Legacy’, a series of sardonic bequests, roughly three hundred lines long, prompted by a jilting and ending with a parody of Aristotelian composure. In 1457, Guy Tabarie, one of Villon’s accomplices, was remanded in connection with the robbery and supplied names to the authorities, but Villon was already out of reach. After a few years wandering in the ...
30 October 1997
Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection 
by Norman Rosenthal.
Thames and Hudson, 222 pp., £29.95, September 1997, 0 500 23752 2
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... by a world in which the boundaries between gallery art, media, advertising, digital imaging, fashion, film, graphics and display have begun to dissolve. The ‘society of the spectacle’, as GuyDebord dubbed it in the Sixties, has engulfed every facet of visual communication. At the same time, the speed and scope of communication have intensified so that images of every type are disseminated much ...
6 January 2000
Adventures in Wonderland: A Decade of Club Culture 
by Sheryl Garratt.
Headline, 335 pp., £7.99, May 1999, 0 7472 7680 3
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Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey 
by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton.
Headline, 408 pp., £14.99, November 1999, 0 7472 7573 4
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Saturday Night For Ever: The Story of Disco 
by Alan Jones and Jussi Kantonen.
Mainstream, 223 pp., £9.99, April 1999, 9781840181777
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DJ Culture 
by Ulf Poschardt.
Quartet, 473 pp., £13, January 1999, 0 7043 8098 6
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Energy Flash: A Journey through Rave Music and Dance Culture 
by Simon Reynolds.
Picador, 493 pp., £12.99, July 1998, 0 330 35056 0
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More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction 
by Kodwo Eshun.
Quartet, 208 pp., £10, March 1998, 0 7043 8025 0
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... for example, are misguided. He’s gathered some rich and illuminating material which can do without the supposed gravitas or intellectual kudos provided by references to Adorno, Benjamin and GuyDebord. Unnecessarily, Poschardt also insists on invoking Pink Floyd as a touchstone for the progressive and creative: the group gets 17 mentions in a book about DJs (more than Paul Oakenfold, Todd Terry ...

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