Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 8/24

It was only a matter of time before I posted a quote from Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. Few seem to realize it but this text has had a considerable influence on the way that most people conceive of our post-internet/post-mass-media environment. At this point, it almost goes without saying that our perception of the world is necessarily colored by the various fictions and illusions which emerge as a result of the existence of all sorts of obscured semiotic and economic processes and the functioning of all sorts of discreet networks of heterogeneous objects (greedy businessmen, gadget-crazed teenagers, iPhones, eco-friendly cars, the ozone layer, fast food, etc.); right?

So, the Debordian grand thesis has at least partially been recognized and appropriated by today’s public (example: the widespread mistrust of the American mainstream news media, a sentiment that’s particularly prevalent among nutty right-wingers who claim the New York Times is unacceptably ideological and loaded with agenda-influenced bias, despite being the source which most of the American public receives its news from each day). But what hasn’t been accepted as readily is the Debordian thesis regarding art and art’s function in the context of modern society.

You never would’ve guessed it, but Debord argued that art contributed to the perpetuation of the massive lie that is human consciousness in capitalist society; in fact, for Debord, the harder that art tries to shed its function of aiding the master (capitalist society) in regulating the lives of the enslaved (everyone), the deeper it digs its own hole. Debord had some rather eccentric views concerning how specific types of art might be engineered which could rescue artists and audiences alike from the ideological quicksand we call culture, but that’s another post. For now, here’s Debord on the failures of the avant-garde, those artists who explicitly present themselves as opponents of the status quo:

Art in the period of its dissolution, as a movement of negation in pursuit of its own transcendence in a historical society where history is not yet directly lived, is at once an art of change and a pure expression of the impossibility of change. The more grandiose its demands, the further from its grasp is true self-realization. This is an art that is necessarily avant-garde; and it is an art that is not. Its vanguard is its own disappearance. (Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle)

Hmm, could Debord have been referring, in part, to the politically-oriented filmmakers of the 1960s, filmmakers like Godard? Oh, wait:

This acceptance of devaluation is now being extended to a method of combining neutral and indefinitely interchangeable elements. Godard is a particularly boring example of such a use without negation, without affirmation, and without quality. (This quote is taken from “The Role of Godard”, a Situationist International text published in 1966 and available here.)


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