Guy Debord’s THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE, originally published in 1967, is easily the most important radical book of the twentieth century. Contrary to popular misconceptions, Debord’s book is neither an ivory tower “philosophical discourse” nor an impulsive “rant” or “protest.” It is an effort to clarify the nature of the situation in which we find ourselves and the advantages and drawbacks of various methods for changing it. It examines the most fundamental tendencies and contradictions of the present society — what is really going on behind the spectacular surface phenomena that we are conditioned to perceive as the only reality. This means that it needs to be reread many times, but it also means that it remains as pertinent as ever while countless radical and intellectual fads have come and gone. As Debord noted in his later “Comments on the Society of the Spectacle” (1988), in the intervening decades the spectacle has become more pervasive than ever, to the point of repressing virtually any awareness of pre-spectacle history or anti-spectacle possibilities: “Spectacular domination has succeeded in raising an entire generation molded to its laws.” Debord’s strategy is to cut through the mass of false solutions so as to open the way for real ones. His method may seem negative and abstract, but his aim is positive and concrete. No matter how many times you read his book, you will never really understand it until you use it. Which means using your imagination and experimenting for yourself. The purpose of the book is to help you do just that.
Ken Knabb’s translation of THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE is online at http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/
The translation is also available in book form
A new PDF version is online at
Debord also made a film of his book, which is available in various formats — http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/
Related texts by Debord and other members of the Situationist International are online at http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/
“Guy DEBORD. Calls himself a filmmaker. Member of the Situationist International, of which he was one of the founders in 1957. For a long time, the responsible party for the publications of the SI in France. Also now and then involved in the different activities of this organization in several countries where situationist agitation was propagated, notably in Germany, England and Italy (sometimes calling himself Gondi or Decayeux). In 1967 published The Society of the Spectacle. The following year, a figure among the leaders of the most extreme current at the time of the troubles of May 1968. Following these events, his theses acquired a great influence in European and American ultra-Leftism. French. Born in 1931, in Paris.” – Autobiographical note in detourned style for the Champ Libre edition of The Society of the Spectacle.
“In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation. The images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream in which the unity of that life can no longer be recovered. Fragmented views of reality regroup themselves into a new unity as a separate pseudoworld that can only be looked at. The specialization of images of the world evolves into a world of autonomized images where even the deceivers are deceived.
The spectacle is a concrete inversion of life, an autonomous movement of the nonliving. The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as society itself, as a part of society, and as a means of unification. As a part of society, it is the focal point of all vision and all consciousness. But due to the very fact that this sector is separate, it is in reality the domain of delusion and false consciousness: the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of universal separation.
The spectacle is not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images. Understood in its totality, the spectacle is both the result and the goal of the dominant mode of production. It is not a mere decoration added to the real world. It is the very heart of this real society’s unreality. In all of its particular manifestations — news, propaganda, advertising, entertainment — the spectacle represents the dominant model of life. It is the omnipresent affirmation of the choices that have already been made in the sphere of production and in the consumption implied by that production.” – Excerpts from the film , translated by Ken Knabb