Saturday, January 15, 2022

Society of the Spectacle, Chapter 6


Chapter 6: Spectacular Time


After rehearsing his theory of the history of time in the previous chapter, Debord here turns to the role of time in today's spectacle. He begins by drawing an opposition between irreversible commodity time (apparently the time of labor-value), that is, universally equivalent clock-time; and consumable time, which is the reappearance of the cyclical but in a consumable form as "pseudo-cyclical time.” An interesting reversal is involved: whereas cyclical time in the past had been non-individualizing, but irreversible time had been the time of unique individuals; in today's reversed spectacle, it is the irreversible time of commodity production (through the expenditure of labor time) that is non-individualized (quantitative rather than qualitative), and pseudo-cyclical time which is the lived time of unique experience (of the consumer). 

He spends several paragraphs expanding on the role of pseudo-cyclical time in the spectacle. It has two aspects: as "the time of consumption of images," and as "the image of consumption of time;" that is, it is both the time of consumption (of the modern spectacle and commodities), but also the image and meaning of such consumption, the spectacle itself. The vacation replaces the festival as the focus of pseudo-cyclical time, and the vacation then becomes the image of "real life" which the rest of existence is merely the build-up to [cf. "working for the weekend," or Jack Vance's story of a society of people who are aristocrats one day a week, and servants the rest.] "Here this commodity is explicitly presented as the moment of real life, and the point is to wait for its cyclical return” (153).

"Vulgarized pseudo-festivals" take the place of ancient cyclical ones (154). Whereas ancient cyclical time was in tune with the labor and natural processes of reproduction, the new pseudo-cyclical time exists in a contradiction with the "abstract irreversible time" of production [and this is why it is "pseudo"] (155). 

Because everything that is real is seen to happen to other people (celebrities) or to yourself only when outside of your own life (on vacation), your real everyday lived life "has no history" (157). That is, the "general historical life," as it exists during the spectacle, leaves no room for, and denies, individual life. Your actual experience of your own life is "without language, without concept," because all meaning is recuperated by the spectacle. This private life of the unique individual is forgotten. This is all part of the "false consciousness of time" (158). Debord notes that this was all made possible because back at the beginning of the capitalist era there was a primitive accumulation of the time that had belonged to individual workers [an interesting interpretation of time as a means of production].

There is also a denial of the underlying biological aspect of life and labor. Death is something denied and/or not dealt with. Whereas Hegel had argued that time is a necessary alienation, whereby we become other to ourselves and thus realize ourselves, this is denied us in spectacular time. Also, the sequence of fashions, commodities, etc in pseudo-cyclical time obscures the "obvious and secret necessity of revolution" (162). The real point of history, and of generalized historical time, has been denied – that is, "the revolutionary project of realizing a classless society ... a withering away of the social measure of time, to the benefit of a playful model of irreversible time of individuals and groups, a model in which independent federated times are simultaneously present " (163). [i.e., as we called it in Yellow #5, "everybody doing their own shit at the same fucking time”]. Debord defines communism as that "which suppresses 'all that exists independently of individuals'" (163; according to the Bureau of Public Secrets, the line is from the German Ideology).

Debord makes an ending reference to dream, reminiscent of Benjamin: "The world already possesses the dream of a time whose consciousness it must now possess in order to actually live it" (164).

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