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The Society of the Spectacle [Paperback]

Guy Debord , Donald Nicholson-Smith
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 23 1995

For the first time, Guy Debord's pivotal work Society of the Spectacle appears in a definitive and authoritative English translation. Originally published in France in 1967, Society of the Spectacle offered a set of radically new propositions about the nature of contemporary capitalism and modern culture. At the same time it was one of the most influential theoretical works for a wide range of political and revolutionary practice in the 1960s. Today, Debord's work continues to be in the forefront of debates about the fate of consumer society and the operation of modern social power. In a sweeping revision of Marxist categories, the notion of the spectacle takes the problem of the commodity from the sphere of economics to a point at which the commodity as an image dominates not only economic exchange but the primary communicative and symbolic activity of all modern societies.Guy Debord was one of the most important participants in the activities associated with the Situationist International in the 1960s. Also an artist and filmmaker, he is the author of Memoires and Commentaires sur la société du spectacle. A Swerve Edition, distributed for Zone Books.


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Review

"In all that has happened in the last twenty years, the most important change lies in the very continuity of the spectacle. Quite simply, the spectacle"s domination has succeeded in raising a whole generation moulded to its laws. The extraordinary new conditions in which this entire generation has lived constitute a comprehensive summary of all that, henceforth, the spectacle will forbid; and also all that it will permit." Guy Debord (1988)

About the Author

Writer, filmmaker, and cultural revolutionary, Guy Debord (1931--1994) was a founding member of the Lettrist International and Situationist International groups. His films and books, including Society of the Spectacle (1967), were major catalysts for philosophical and political changes in the twentieth century, and helped trigger the May 1968 rebellion in France.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The master of Marx May 31 2003
Format:Paperback
Marx remains the ne plus ultra of anti-capitalist thought. He criticized capitalism so strongly that to this day every time he is mentioned in the capitalist press, he is immediately denounced as a villain. Debord thought this is because he was mostly right. After all, if you are a ruler, you don't want people telling the people ruled that they should lop off your head because you're really a thug. (In both senses.)
The leading Situationist was not out to win friends and influence people. He was the Andre Breton of the Situationists and excommunicated people from the group because he didn't like their looks. He was also an alcoholic who committed suicide when the booze started to sap his health.
Regardless, his theory of the spectacle remains the only political idea in post-modernism that actually has some practical political uses. (Giorgio Agamben makes quite effective use of it in his Homo Sacer, even if he only mentions it twice.)
What is the spectacle? Debord writes that it is a social relation mediated by images. What the heck does that mean? If you look at modern consumer societies, immense efforts are undertaken by the people in them to keep up appearances, to look healthy and upright. (There are best sellers with titles like How to Win Friends and Influence People.) Debord, like WS Burroughs, says it's all hogwash. It's sort of like in JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, where the protagonist's main complaint about everybody is that they're phony. This remains a vital insight and will last. If you listen to the gangsta rappers right, they're making the same point. (They're just murdering the wrong people. (Just joking, we should ALL get along.))
As for Nicholson-Smith's translation, I can't say I actually like it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Modern Critique of our Consumer Society June 15 2002
Format:Paperback
"Religion served the interests of the masters, expounding and embellishing what society could not deliver. Power as a separate realm has always been spectacular, but mass allegiance to frozen religious imagery was originally acknowledgment of loss, an imaginary compensation for a poverty of real social activity...the modern spectacle, by contrast, depicts what society can deliver..."
And the Promised Land, as Debord sees it, is TOTAL CONSUMPTION. This is the edict and goal of contemporary consumer society. The fact that it has grown out of and usurped religious feeling makes the SPECTACLE a competitive product to formal religion. Certainly, Islam feels its power and threat. Certainly, the Middle East is reacting to it, through individual and state sponsored terrorism against the West.
Debord is a difficult read, but ultimately worth it. His insights are penetrating, remarkable, and have proven to be more acute with the passing of time. Private and public over consumption has become a disease and the hallmark of an age that has debt financed prosperity for too long.
For me, Debord's has number of chief insights that signify trouble ahead for our current economic system. One of them is the apparent and obvious falling use values for goods in abundance (many of them psuedo goods - things we don't really need). Having long fulfilled our need for food, clothing, and shelter, our current economic growth is contingent upon consistently manufacturing psuedo needs that must feed upon the boundless desires of persons in an unending pursuit of gratification through purchasing new products and services.
The problem appears when the next disillusionment, Debord tells us, occurs not with religion or politics but within the commodity itself.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Modern Critique of our Consumer Society June 15 2002
Format:Paperback
"Religion served the interests of the masters, expounding and embellishing what society could not deliver. Power as a separate realm has always been spectacular, but mass allegiance to frozen religious imagery was originally acknowledgment of loss, an imaginary compensation for a poverty of real social activity...the modern spectacle, by contrast, depicts what society can deliver..."
And The Promised Land, as Debord sees it, is TOTAL CONSUMPTION. This is the edict and goal of contemporary consumer society. The fact that it has grown out of and usurped religious feeling makes the SPECTACLE a competitive product to formal religion. Certainly, Islam feels its power and threat. Certainly, the Middle East is reacting to it, through individual and state sponsored terrorism against the West.
Debord is a difficult read, but ultimately worth it. His insights are penetrating, remarkable, and have proven to be more acute with the passing of time. Private and public over consumption has become a disease and the hallmark of an age that has debt financed prosperity for too long.
For me, Debord's has number of chief insights that signify trouble ahead for our current economic system. One of them is the apparent and obvious falling use value for goods in abundance (many of them pseudo goods - things we don't really need). Having long fulfilled our need for food, clothing, and shelter, our current economic growth is contingent upon consistently manufacturing pseudo needs that must feed upon the boundless desires of persons in an unending pursuit of gratification through purchasing new products and services.
The problem occurs when the next disillusionment, Debord tells us, takes place not with religion or politics but within the commodity itself.
Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant critique by a brilliant mind
I consider "The society of spectacle" as one of human greatest mental (and not only) achievements. Read more
Published on Jan. 29 2005
5.0 out of 5 stars Society of the Spectacular
The economic system founded on isolation is a circular production of isolation. The technology is based on isolation, and the technical process isolates in turn. Read more
Published on Feb. 23 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Primarily of Historical Interest
Guy Debord was a major figure in the student revolutions of 1968 Paris -- a French Abbie Hoffman, if you will, albeit far more intellectual ... as the French are wont to be. Read more
Published on April 29 2003 by Kenaz Filan
4.0 out of 5 stars hegelian/marxist dialectic is hard to follow, but great
if you're not very familiar with the dialectic of hegel and marx, a lot of this book will be lost on you, but the effort is worth it when you realize the enormity of what debord is... Read more
Published on March 4 2002 by J from NY
5.0 out of 5 stars Never work!
The only new beauty is the beauty of situations.
Published on April 22 2000 by L. Hillsbery
5.0 out of 5 stars evolution of Marxism
Society of Spectacle has sometimes been characterized as a kind of dated meditation on consumer society and media, a diatribe on popular culture and pop psychology. Read more
Published on Sept. 9 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing book...
...though perhaps not one for the faint-hearted (good lord, and to think someone translated this prose from French?! Read more
Published on July 21 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars A radical & influental critique of modern culture
A brilliant critique on our materialistic, culture of consumption. Every bit as authoritative now as it was when it was first published in 1967. Read more
Published on Jan. 29 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars situationist source
This version is the more accurate translation of the seminal text of the mid-century French radical movement known as the Situationist International. Read more
Published on Dec 4 1998
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