Notes from The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord
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The Society of the Spectacle
Guy Debord, Ken Knabb
Chapter 1: The Culmination of Separation
19 Apr 2022 12:53 PM
“But for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, appearance to essence… truth is considered profane, and only illusion is sacred. Sacredness is in fact held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness. ” — Feuerbach, Preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity.
19 Apr 2022 03:50 PM
2: The images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream in which the unity of that life can no longer be recovered. Fragmented views of reality regroup themselves into a new unity as a separate pseudoworld that can only be looked at. The specialization of images of the world evolves into a world of autonomized images where even the deceivers are deceived. The spectacle is a concrete inversion of life, an autonomous movement of the nonliving.
19 Apr 2022 03:51 PM
5: The spectacle cannot be understood as a mere visual excess produced by mass-media technologies. It is a worldview that has actually been materialized, a view of a world that has become objective.
19 Apr 2022 03:52 PM
6: Understood in its totality, the spectacle is both the result and the project of the dominant mode of production. It is not a mere decoration added to the real world. It is the very heart of this real society’s unreality. In all of its particular manifestations— news, propaganda, advertising, entertainment— the spectacle represents the dominant model of life. It is the omnipresent affirmation of the choices that have already been made in the sphere of production and in the consumption implied by that production. In both form and content the spectacle serves as a total justification of the conditions and goals of the existing system. The spectacle also represents the constant presence of this justification since it monopolizes the majority of the time spent outside the production process.
19 Apr 2022 03:55 PM
9: In a world that is really upside down, the true is a moment of the false.
19 Apr 2022 03:57 PM
13: The tautological character of the spectacle stems from the fact that its means and ends are identical. It is the sun that never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the globe, endlessly basking in its own glory.
19 Apr 2022 03:59 PM
The first stage of the economy’s domination of social life brought about an evident degradation of being into having— human fulfillment was no longer equated with what one was, but with what one possessed. The present stage, in which social life has become completely dominated by the accumulated productions of the economy, is bringing about a general shift from having to appearing— all “having” must now derive its immediate prestige and its ultimate purpose from appearances. At the same time all individual reality has become social, in the sense that it is shaped by social forces and is directly dependent on them. Individual reality is allowed to appear only if it is not actually real.
19 Apr 2022 04:01 PM
20: Philosophy— the power of separate thought and the thought of separate power— was never by itself able to supersede theology. The spectacle is the material reconstruction of the religious illusion. Spectacular technology has not dispersed the religious mists into which human beings had projected their own alienated powers, it has merely brought those mists down to earth, to the point that even the most mundane aspects of life have become impenetrable and unbreathable. The illusory paradise that represented a total denial of earthly life is no longer projected into the heavens, it is embedded in earthly life itself. The spectacle is the technological version of the exiling of human powers into a “world beyond”; the culmination of humanity’s internal separation.
19 Apr 2022 04:05 PM
Separation is the alpha and omega of the spectacle. The institutionalization of the social division of labor in the form of class divisions had given rise to an earlier, religious form of contemplation: the mythical order with which every power has always camouflaged itself. Religion justified the cosmic and ontological order that corresponded to the interests of the masters, expounding and embellishing everything their societies could not deliver.
19 Apr 2022 04:10 PM
26: The general separation of worker and product tends to eliminate any direct personal communication between the producers and any comprehensive sense of what they are producing. With the increasing accumulation of separate products and the increasing concentration of the productive process, communication and comprehension are monopolized by the managers of the system. The triumph of this separation-based economic system proletarianizes the whole world.
19 Apr 2022 04:13 PM
The spectacle was born from the world’s loss of unity, and the immense expansion of the modern spectacle reveals the enormity of this loss.
Chapter 2: The Commodity as Spectacle
20 Apr 2022 12:17 AM
37: The world at once present and absent that the spectacle holds up to view is the world of the commodity dominating all living experience. The world of the commodity is thus shown for what it is, because its development is identical to people’s estrangement from each other and from everything they produce.
20 Apr 2022 12:20 AM
38: The loss of quality that is so evident at every level of spectacular language, from the objects it glorifies to the behavior it regulates, stems from the basic nature of a production system that shuns reality. The commodity form reduces everything to quantitative equivalence. The quantitative is what it develops, and it can develop only within the quantitative.
20 Apr 2022 12:23 AM
The abundance of commodities— that is, the abundance of commodity relations— amounts to nothing more than an augmented survival.
20 Apr 2022 12:25 AM
The spectacle is the stage at which the commodity has succeeded in totally colonizing social life. Commodification is not only visible, we no longer see anything else; the world we see is the world of the commodity.
20 Apr 2022 12:27 AM
Once his workday is over, the worker is suddenly redeemed from the total contempt toward him that is so clearly implied by every aspect of the organization and surveillance of production, and finds himself seemingly treated like a grownup, with a great show of politeness, in his new role as a consumer. At this point the humanism of the commodity takes charge of the worker’s “leisure and humanity” simply because political economy now can and must dominate those spheres as political economy. The “perfected denial of man” has thus taken charge of all human existence.
20 Apr 2022 12:28 AM
The spectacle is a permanent opium war designed to force people to equate goods with commodities and to equate satisfaction with a survival that expands according to its own laws.
20 Apr 2022 12:29 AM
45: Automation, which is both the most advanced sector of modern industry and the epitome of its practice, obliges the commodity system to resolve the following contradiction: The technological developments that objectively tend to eliminate work must at the same time preserve labor as a commodity, because labor is the only creator of commodities. The only way to prevent automation (or any other less extreme method of increasing labor productivity) from reducing society’s total necessary labor time is to create new jobs. To this end the reserve army of the unemployed is enlisted into the tertiary or “service” sector, reinforcing the troops responsible for distributing and glorifying the latest commodities; and in this it is serving a real need, in the sense that increasingly extensive campaigns are necessary to convince people to buy increasingly unnecessary commodities.
20 Apr 2022 12:44 AM
46: Exchange value could arise only as a representative of use value, but the victory it eventually won with its own weapons created the conditions for its own autonomous power. By mobilizing all human use value and monopolizing its fulfillment, exchange value ultimately succeeded in controlling use. Usefulness has come to be seen purely in terms of exchange value, and is now completely at its mercy. Starting out like a condottiere in the service of use value, exchange value has ended up waging the war for its own sake.
20 Apr 2022 12:47 AM
48: Use value was formerly understood as an implicit aspect of exchange value. Now, however, within the upside-down world of the spectacle, it must be explicitly proclaimed, both because its actual reality has been eroded by the overdeveloped commodity economy and because it serves as a necessary pseudo-justification for a counterfeit life.
20 Apr 2022 12:48 AM
50: With the achievement of economic abundance, the concentrated result of social labor becomes visible, subjecting all reality to the appearances that are now that labor’s primary product. Capital is no longer the invisible center governing the production process; as it accumulates, it spreads to the ends of the earth in the form of tangible objects. The entire expanse of society is its portrait.
Chapter 3: Unity and Division Within Appearances
20 Apr 2022 12:57 AM
Complacent acceptance of the status quo may also coexist with purely spectacular rebelliousness— dissatisfaction itself becomes a commodity as soon as the economy of abundance develops the capacity to process that particular raw material.
20 Apr 2022 12:58 AM
60: Stars— spectacular representations of living human beings— project this general banality into images of permitted roles. As specialists of apparent life, stars serve as superficial objects that people can identify with in order to compensate for the fragmented productive specializations that they actually live. The function of these celebrities is to act out various lifestyles or sociopolitical viewpoints in a full, totally free manner. They embody the inaccessible results of social labor by dramatizing the by-products of that labor which are magically projected above it as its ultimate goals: power and vacations— the decisionmaking and consumption that are at the beginning and the end of a process that is never questioned. On one hand, a governmental power may personalize itself as a pseudostar; on the other, a star of consumption may campaign for recognition as a pseudopower over life. But the activities of these stars are not really free, and they offer no real choices.
20 Apr 2022 01:01 AM
The admirable people who personify the system are well known for not being what they seem; they attain greatness by stooping below the reality of the most insignificant individual life, and everyone knows it.
Chapter 4: The Proletariat as Subject and Representation
21 Apr 2022 11:14 AM
81: Marx’s theory is closely linked with scientific thought insofar as it seeks a rational understanding of the forces that really operate in society. But it ultimately goes beyond scientific thought, preserving it only by superseding it. It seeks to understand social struggles, not sociological laws. “We recognize only one science: the science of history” (The German Ideology).
21 Apr 2022 11:42 AM
The First International’s initial successes enabled it to free itself from the confused influences of the dominant ideology that had survived within it. But the defeat and repression that it soon encountered brought to the surface a conflict between two different conceptions of proletarian revolution, each of which contained an authoritarian aspect that amounted to abandoning the conscious self-emancipation of the working class.
22 Apr 2022 06:32 PM
At the Tenth Congress, as the Kronstadt soviet was being crushed by arms and buried under a barrage of slander, Lenin attacked the radical-left bureaucrats who had formed a “Workers’ Opposition” faction with the following ultimatum, the logic of which Stalin would later extend to an absolute division of the world: “You can stand here with us, or against us out there with a gun in your hand, but not within some opposition… We’ve had enough opposition. ”
22 Apr 2022 06:41 PM
The Russian bureaucracy then carried this consolidation of power to the next stage by subjecting the peasantry to a reign of terror, implementing the most brutal primitive accumulation of capital in history. The industrialization of the Stalin era revealed the bureaucracy’s ultimate function: continuing the reign of the economy by preserving the essence of market society: commodified labor. It also demonstrated the independence of the economy: the economy has come to dominate society so completely that it has proved capable of recreating the class domination it needs for its own continued operation; that is, the bourgeoisie has created an independent power that is capable of maintaining itself even without a bourgeoisie.
22 Apr 2022 06:44 PM
105: Leninism was the highest voluntaristic expression of revolutionary ideology— a coherence of the separate governing a reality that resisted it. With the advent of Stalinism, revolutionary ideology returned to its fundamental incoherence. At that point, ideology was no longer a weapon, it had become an end in itself. But a lie that can no longer be challenged becomes insane. The totalitarian ideological pronouncement obliterates reality as well as purpose; nothing exists but what it says exists. Although this crude form of the spectacle has been confined to certain underdeveloped regions, it has nevertheless played an essential role in the spectacle’s global development. This particular materialization of ideology did not transform the world economically, as did advanced capitalism; it simply used police-state methods to transform people’s perception of the world.
22 Apr 2022 08:30 PM
When ideology has become total through its possession of total power, and has changed from partial truth to totalitarian falsehood, historical thought has been so totally annihilated that history itself, even at the level of the most empirical knowledge, can no longer exist. Totalitarian bureaucratic society lives in a perpetual present in which whatever has previously happened is determined solely by its police.
22 Apr 2022 08:32 PM
Although fascism rallies to the defense of the main icons of a bourgeois ideology that has become conservative (family, private property, moral order, patriotism), while mobilizing the petty bourgeoisie and the unemployed workers who are panic-stricken by economic crisis or disillusioned by the socialist movement’s failure to bring about a revolution, it is not itself fundamentally ideological. It presents itself as what it is— a violent resurrection of myth calling for participation in a community defined by archaic pseudovalues: race, blood, leader. Fascism is a technologically equipped primitivism.
22 Apr 2022 08:51 PM
124: Revolutionary theory is now the enemy of all revolutionary ideology, and it knows it.
Chapter 5: Time and History
22 Apr 2022 09:00 PM
Myth is the unitary mental construct which guarantees that the cosmic order conforms with the order that this society has in fact already established within its frontiers.
22 Apr 2022 09:09 PM
The monotheistic religions were a compromise between myth and history, between the cyclical time that still governed the sphere of production and the irreversible time that was the theater of conflicts and regroupings among different peoples. The religions that evolved out of Judaism were abstract universal acknowledgments of an irreversible time that had become democratized and open to all, but only in the realm of illusion. Time is totally oriented toward a single final event: “The Kingdom of God is soon to come. ” These religions were rooted in the soil of history, but they remained radically opposed to history.
Chapter 6: Spectacular Time
22 Apr 2022 09:42 PM
149: This pseudocyclical time is in fact merely a consumable disguise of the production system’s commodified time. It exhibits the latter’s essential traits: homogenous exchangeable units and suppression of any qualitative dimension. But as a by-product of commodified time whose function is to promote and maintain the backwardness of everyday life, it is loaded with pseudovalorizations and manifests itself as a succession of pseudoindividualized moments.
23 Apr 2022 12:19 AM
Thus, the time that modern society is constantly seeking to “save” by increasing transportation speeds or using packaged soups ends up being spent by the average American in watching television three to six hours a day.
23 Apr 2022 12:21 AM
As for the social image of the consumption of time, it is exclusively dominated by leisure time and vacations— moments portrayed, like all spectacular commodities, at a distance and as desirable by definition. These commodified moments are explicitly presented as moments of real life whose cyclical return we are supposed to look forward to. But all that is really happening is that the spectacle is displaying and reproducing itself at a higher level of intensity. What is presented as true life turns out to be merely a more truly spectacular life.
Chapter 8: Negation and Consumption Within Culture
24 Apr 2022 12:01 AM
188: When art becomes independent and paints its world in dazzling colors, a moment of life has grown old. Such a moment cannot be rejuvenated by dazzling colors, it can only be evoked in memory. The greatness of art only emerges at the dusk of life.
This is based on a very obsolete interpretation of art.
24 Apr 2022 12:10 AM
191: Dadaism and surrealism were the two currents that marked the end of modern art. Though they were only partially conscious of it, they were contemporaries of the last great offensive of the revolutionary proletarian movement, and the defeat of that movement, which left them trapped within the very artistic sphere whose decrepitude they had denounced, was the fundamental reason for their immobilization. Dadaism and surrealism were historically linked yet also opposed to each other. This opposition involved the most important and radical contributions of the two movements, but it also revealed the internal inadequacy of their one-sided critiques. Dadaism sought to abolish art without realizing it; surrealism sought to realize art without abolishing it. The critical position since developed by the situationists has shown that the abolition and realization of art are inseparable aspects of a single transcendence of art.
24 Apr 2022 12:16 AM
193: As culture becomes completely commodified it tends to become the star commodity of spectacular society. Clark Kerr, one of the foremost ideologues of this tendency, has calculated that the complex process of production, distribution and consumption of knowledge already accounts for 29% of the gross national product of the United States; and he predicts that in the second half of this century the “knowledge industry” will become the driving force of the American economy, as was the automobile in the first half of this century and the railroad in the last half of the previous century.
24 Apr 2022 12:34 AM
207: Ideas improve. The meaning of words plays a role in that improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress depends on it. It sticks close to an author’s phrasing, exploits his expressions, deletes a false idea, replaces it with the right one.