Revolution in the Service of Poetry
The definitive biography of the author of The Society of the Spectacle and a compelling account of his war against inauthenticity
Writer, artist, filmmaker, revolutionary, and impresario of the Situationist International, Guy Debord shunned the apparatus of publicity he dissected brilliantly in his most influential work, The Society of the Spectacle. In this ambitious and innovative biography, Vincent Kaufmann places Debord's hostility toward the inquisitive gaze at the center of an investigation into his subject's diverse output—from his earliest films to his landmark works of social and political provocation.
This book demands attention.
Writer, artist, filmmaker, provocateur, revolutionary, and impresario of the Situationist International, Guy Debord shunned the apparatus of publicity he dissected so brilliantly in his most influential work, The Society of the Spectacle. In this ambitious and innovative biography, Vincent Kaufmann places Debord's very hostility toward the inquisitive, biographical gaze at the center of an investigation into his subject's diverse output—from his earliest films to his landmark works of social theory and political provocation—and the poetic sensibility that informed both his work and his life.
Instead of providing a conventional day-to-day account of Debord's life, Kaufmann deftly locates his subject within the historical and intellectual context of the radical social, political, and artistic movements in which he participated. He traces Debord's development as an intellectual: his involvement with the lettrist movement in the early 1950s, his central role in the Situationist International from 1957 to 1971 and in the events of May 1968, and the productive and frequently misunderstood period between the dissolution of the situationists and his suicide, during which time Debord clarified the rules of his war against inauthenticity.
As Kaufmann makes clear, for Debord political thought and action were inseparable from aesthetics and poetic expression. Whether envisioning the recovery of a lost, protocommunist age of authenticity and transparency in The Society of the Spectacle or critically assessing the possibility of revolution against postmodern capitalism two decades later, Debord advocated and practiced an art of defiance, a concurrently martial and melancholic poetics. Avoiding the mythologies about Debord that both admirers and critics have cultivated, Kaufmann provides a groundbreaking and generous assessment of Debord and his uncompromising struggle against a corrupt civilization.
A Choice Outstanding Academic Title
This book demands attention.
The strength of this book lies in its description of Debord’s fascinating adventure, the beauty of its setbacks, failure and limits, up to his suicide.
French Book News
Kaufmann’s analysis is illuminating and succeeds in unifying the disparate strands of ‘a life devoted to the repudiation of society’s inquisitorial stare,’ revealing a man whose thinking remains both provocative and original.
Times Literary Supplement
An inspired rereading of material rendered stagnant by the fealty to received critical opinion.
Without recourse to pop psychology or gossip, Kaufmann discovers that the man was no flash in the pan, but rather a remarkable consistent man.
By rejecting clichés and engaging in ‘a multitude of inquiries and excavations,’ Kaufmann succeeds in revealing the true Debord. Extensive bibliography.
Of the numerous biographies of Debord and books about Situationists, Kaufman’s is among the best, most thorough, and makes a great introduction to his work and their world.
Introduction: A Reader without Qualities ix
1. Lost Children 1
Origins; Scratched Negatives and the Game of Appearances; Passing through Lettrism; Having Boarded at Night the Lightest of Crafts; I wanted to Speak the Beautiful Language of My Century; The Golden Age; Bernard, Bernard, This Bloom of Youth Will Not Last Forever; My Child, My Sister…; No Turning Back; Whatever Was Directly Experienced Has Been Distanced through Representation
2. An Art Without Works 79
The End of Art; Cartes du Tendre; The Poetics of the Dérive; Psychogeography and Psychoanalysis; Unitary Urbanism: Between Utopia and Architecture
3. The Light Brigade 149
Means of Communication; The Poetics of Revolution; From Strasbourg to Seovia; the Greater the Fame of Our Arguments, the Greater Our Obscurity; The Last Guardian
4. Strategy 209
The moving Surface of the River of Time; Descriptions of Battle; How to Be Disliked; Refutations; Considerations on an Assassination; Against Interpretation; Shadows, Secrets, and Mirrors; The Game of War, Gondi
Conclusion: Debord, Against Type 271