Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Guy Debord/ Society of the Spectacle - summary: chapter 1:" Seperation Perfected"

Society of the Spectacle -chapter 1 - chapter 2 - chapter 3

Chapter one of Guy Debord's "Society of the Spectacle" deals with the changing relation between direct experience and mediated representation in modern times, and it opens with the assertion that"Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation" (thesis 1). Debord has a very negative and critical stance towards these developments which for him serve for the individualization and separation of human beings and the reinforcement of exploitative class society under advanced capitalism.

For Debord the spectacle is not a collection of images, "but a social relation among people, mediated by images" (4) and he assigns the spectacle with reifying capacities, justifying society as it is. However, for Debord there is no separation between material "real life" and the false represented one, the spectacle. They are intertwined to such a degree that "the true is a moment of the false" (9), by displaying life, the spectacle negates them by reducing them to mere appearance. The spectacle's capacity for domination is its self-containment and "The basically tautological character of the spectacle flows from the simple fact that its means are simultaneously its ends."(13). The spectacle aims at nothing other than itself.

One of the key and most famous notions in Debord's "Society of the Spectacle" is "the obvious degradation of being into having… and from having into appearing" (17). And as articulated is the second chapter of "Society of the Spectacle", late capitalism has turned appearance into a commodity, which is the root of all evil in Debord Marxist eyes.

The spectacle has power because It demands obedience, seeing things they way they are represented, but its one-sidedness rules out any possibility of a dialogue.The spectacle, according to Debord, has also a neo-religious aspect to it in being "the technical realization of the exile of human powers into a beyond"(20), meaning that we assign the meaning of our existence to something which is beyond our immediate life which are enslaved to their representation (just think about your Facebook profile).

The spectacle is a vehicle for separation and the creation of the "lonely crowd" and it originates from the loss of unity in the world. It is an exploitative mechanism for in the spectacle, one part of the world represents itself to the world and is superior to it (29). Debord also has a Foucauldian panopticon notion of "What binds the spectators together is no more than an irreversible relation at the very center which maintains their isolation. The spectacle reunites the separate, but reunites it as separate" (29) With people trying to understand themselves through a representation, they in fact lose all hope of coherently and unitarily live their own life. "(the more he accepts recognizing himself in the dominant images of need, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires"(30)) "This is why the spectator feels at home nowhere, because the spectacle is everywhere" (ibid). with representation ruling over "the society of the spectacle", the unified direct human relations are replaced with the fragmented adherence to the spectacle which isolates us.

Society of the Spectacle -chapter 1 - chapter 2 - chapter 3

More by Debord:


  1. not sure what other people are doing but we are very keen to read summaries of the other chapters

  2. Can you elaborate more on "the obvious degradation of being into having… and from having into appearing"?

    1. It's a reference to Karl Marx.

    2. I would it goes from being(simple life conditions and needs, dealt with by you and those close to you), to having( the act of accumulating goods and capital, generating appearance in higher degrees), to appearing(i believe this would be a shift from "having" being the principle donation of "being" to mere appearance, where nothing else matters, and the appearance is not grounded to anything except the spectacle). but i have never read the actual reference by Marx, so i am just theorizing.

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