I never went to university—nor did the majority of my friends—and so never received any manner of guidance or instruction, or even bar table theoretical bullshitting, at the academic level to go along with my burgeoning interest in philosophy, politics, and culture. For better and for worse (and mostly the latter) I have carved my own path through the tangled thickets of critical genius and doctrinal snares, a haphazard sampling of great minds from across the ages, non-systematic and initially stemming from the tutelary prose of Bertrand Russell
. For this reason, I found myself coming to the Marxist exponents without a solid grounding in the master's thought—and, thus, ofttimes ended up more confused and/or led down erroneous trails than I presumably would have been with a sounder grasp of the theoretical details. Or not: mayhaps a certain amount of ignorance, or naïveté, actually allowed me to penetrate the occlusions or obfuscations that ensnared more deeply immersed adepts. Who, apart from The Shadow
In any case, Society of the Spectacle
was amongst my first forays into the labyrinthine philosophical-cultural terrain of the postwar twentieth-century. I found it a tantalizing and mysterious conundrum, with moments of a profound and shocking clarity but, overall, quite difficult, a serious challenge to follow, unpack, and comprehend. As Jimmy Cline nicely puts it
: Even for a theoretical text written by an extreme leftist, in the late sixties, in Paris, this is a convoluted read
. The saying goes that life's a circus
, but Debord seems to be addressing what exactly must constitute a (post)modern society such that the triumphal late-capitalist incarnation of the circus—with its gaudily omnipresent cultural, political, and economic performers, venues, and effects—need be generated and configured in order to mold and maintain it as such.
I read this back in the late-nineties, and truth to tell I can hardly remember any clear-cut details. Unless the book really gripped me, my shelf life for reliable reading memory is about, oh, five years, max. I would love to have another go at it soon—perhaps after I have finally
gotten around to ingesting my electronic copy of Sadie Plant's Situationist exposition
—as I would (hopefully) have a better understanding of what
exactly Debord was trying to say and why
he was trying to say it; determining its relevance in the new century—in relation to such a springboard effort as, say, Heath and Potter's collaboration
—should prove an interesting task, especially now that the spectacle
can be both more and less circumscribed with the advent of a vast array of media mediums that operate 24/7. As for the prose
itself—these piquant poetic puzzles and artful allusions, these polished arrangements of a bespectacled, chain-smoking, Gallic sphinx—I trust they have lost none of their Gordian charm to the abrasions of time.