Whether everything in the work is agreed upon or not is not the beauty of this book. The dialectic is played with constantly here to stimulate our active processors. Any who complain that you need to engage with this work are simply admiring their passivity. Indeed it is hard to read. But after re-reading it, it is fantastic. Learning actually works when you engage with the text…
This book is geared towards the underworked proletariat, the unemployed, the privileged and the artisans, of which the author claims to have been the core of past revolutions. The idea here is that the spectacle’s strategy is that of distracting these groups of potential revolutionaries, by giving them more free time and consumable images, rather them keep them overworked and focussed on survival. The fact that our free time has diminished spectacularly since then must be taken into account before jumping on this bandwagon.
However the author was right that the spectacle was taking over our consumption patterns. He also suggests that this spectacle can only be temporary, and it will inevitably lead to violent revolution. And indeed the decade or so following the publication of theses ideas (along with Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle) it may have seemed prophetic. (I think it was Vaneigem that said that radical works are necessarily pre (or post) revolution). But the spectacle still dominates us 44 years later…especially since the advent of neoliberalism starting in 1980.
In this book, many classic antagonisms of modern life are played with and inverted. Sometimes the author brilliantly succeeds, less often he misses out.
Some possible issues:
The individual vs. the collective.
A false dichotomy that the author points out. Although at times it seems he glorifies the individual, what he is really doing is making sure we don’t sacrifice our subjective creativity for the collective, something he sees many a failed revolution as having done.
The rational and objective vs. feeling:
another false dichotomy that he works through… he even equates the rational and objective to technocracy… he later contradicts this.
He exposes the dichotomy between feeling and rationality as a lie. We must be rational AND passionate.
Evolution of ideas in the text is rampant, another example: he starts out by glorifying sexual libertinism and Wilhem Reich’s ‘orgastic impotency’ but he then critiques Reich and sexuality and concludes that the problem of tensions and liquidation don’t just exist on the level of sexuality, while still acknowledging the importance of sexuality.
He also progresses from a critique of Organization in general … to one of hierarchical organization.
What appears at first to be a glorification of childhood becomes: The weapons of criticism (individual organization) + childlike vigour= a revolutionary life.
Still another: First we must hate things? All things? Comes across a bit primitivistic, but then he says that we need to use things to free us.
His everday life solutions are simple, yet not at all simplistic:
Open dialogue, sensual speech, poetry, dialectic.
Active nihilism + transcendence = real wealth = consciousness of decomposition + historical consciousness.
He turns traditional ideas of nihilism on their head completely...and suggests that nihilists will be the greatest friends of the revolutionaries.
Conclusions he might have missed:
A false dichotomy between reform and revolution? To concede a fraction is to give up everything…a bit ridiculous.
Every type of specialization is totalitarian?
This book is specialized…
What happens if capitalism can absorb creative energy for its own purposes(he suggests it no longer could, so far he has been quite wrong)?
Game-playing could flourish as never before in history (and it has… in the negative sense (video games)). Capitalism is using diversion negatively to divert us. We aren’t using diversion positively, (at least not yet).
According to Vaneigem, the only way the inevitable revolution will be stopped:
‘If ever social organization extends its control to our ideal world within ourselves, its domination will no longer be exercised over anything but robots or corpses’. That makes me seriously wonder why 44 years later why we haven't been anywhere near revolution...has the spectacle somehow managed to control our ideal worlds? ...It makes me wonder if indeed propaganda has entered our dreams...and if we really are just robots and corpses....terrifying.
But the fact that this book still inspires indicates at least a few of us have some capacity at revolt, and I can see how he hits a chord on innumerable ideas. Amongst other things it made me wonder if the obsession that modern-day spectacle consumers have on zombies, vampires, apocalypses may just finally symbolize the decomposition of the spectacle…or is just the spectacle of decomposition?
A work of genius that makes us engage. It doesn’t even matter that it is flawed, it is that good.