Friday, January 21, 2022

Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, Part 3


Summary of final 11 theses:

The subject of the mafia, and how it exemplifies conditions under the integrated spectacle, continues. Secrecy, assassinations, hidden operatives, falsification undertaken not only by government, mafia, terrorists, etc. but by corporations and even state corporations, in pursuit of their own interests; "conspiracies" or "plots" in the defense of the established order. Debord captures in some ways the sense of the "post-truth" moment with his reference to this disabling discourse regarding conspiracies, and the lack of a revolutionary alternative, or at least a clearly recognizable one. He also discusses the role of "pacemakers," who would now be called “influencers.” Nevertheless his argument is that there is even more of a clear ruling class than before, who control the spectacle or at least society (they themselves are to some degree controlled by the spectacle was well.) The question is whether he overstates the "integration" and control by this faction. His vision contrasts with those of others, e.g. Foucault on the rise of neoliberalism, and Graham and Marvin as well on how neoliberalism takes down the "integrated ideal" – though perhaps Debord would agree with part of this, the point is that his state-centric or at least power-elite-centric explanation fails to provide as subtle or deep an analysis; he seems to be focusing on surface phenomena.

Debord's integrated spectacle seems to be derived primarily from Italy as his premier model. My first thought is that Debord has failed to make the insight Foucault had made over a decade earlier, about the impending growth in influence of neoliberalism. From this perspective, the integrated spectacle reads as an alternate potential path for late-20th century modernity, if it hadn't gone to neoliberalism; or perhaps instead, as an alternate competing form that existed at that time in states like Italy (Mexico and other semi-peripheral states come to mind as well). Then again, there is the history of the neoliberal form as something organized by think tanks in leading core states, imposed first on unwilling victims in the periphery and semi-periphery, and then imported back into the core; in this case the integrated spectacle is a competing form or perhaps related in some way as an effect. So either 1) Debord’s integrated spectacle identifies a variant and competing form of late modernity, or 2) it identifies an effect of neo-liberalism which Debord is failing to recognize as such, because he is distracted by the idea of the union of his "diffuse" and "consolidated" spectacles. THEN AGAIN something could be said of the idea of neoliberalism as not just an outgrowth of the diffuse spectacle, but as a union of it with the consolidated spectacle; this connects to my idea of neoliberalism as "artefact" and methinks might be hinted at in the name of the documentary series, Commanding Heights. I am also reminded of my own observations of Mexico City in relation to the theory by Graham and Marvin of the "integrated ideal," [here ironically the opposite of Debord's "integrated spectacle," or is it?] But anyway Debord's integrated spectacle reminds me of the dissolved, or only haphazardly applied integrated ideal I wrote about in regard to urban space in Mexico City.

Debord notes that in the past, one only “conspired” against established power; now conspiracy in favor of power is an established profession (74). This is admittedly a very broad use of "conspire," and yet it opens to what is perhaps Debord's key insight in this book, as far as it seems relevant to the present day, that the idea of just who is "conspiring" becomes something debated. Trumpists (for example) claim that covid, etc. is a conspiracy by the state against their "freedoms;" the reply is that obviously their whole conspiracy including the attack on DC is a conspiracy in the name of power, and certainly not revolutionary. Perhaps the loss of history as Debord puts it [the revolutionary ideal, what I have called the "eye of history"] has been marginalized enough that now all factions/movements can in fact be argued/seen as having powerful interests behind them, working in the name of the spectacle: both sides see the others as conspiracies in the name of power, because that is at once the only way things can be seen; and yet it still remains an insult or an undercutting to be named in that way. Nevertheless people still believe there is an alternative, because that is what they believe their own side to be.

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