The emptiness of an art separated from politics
Report on the Construction of Situations
I. Revolutionary movement
First, we believe that the world must be changed. We desire the most liberatory possible change of the society and the life in which we find ourselves confined. We know that such change is possible by means of pertinent actions.
During the May 1968 general strike, the Situationists, against the unions and the Communist Party that were starting to side with the de Gaulle government to contain the revolt, called for the formation of workers’ councils to take control of the factories, expelling union leaders and left-wing bureaucrats, in order to keep the power in the hands of the workers with direct democracy.
II. The imbecilization of young people in families and schools
The imbecilization that young people undergo within their families and schools, has then a natural continuation in the “deliberately anticultural production” of novels, films, et cetera, conducted with the means of large-scale industry.
The spectacle as a whole is nothing other than […] the gap between the visions, tastes, refusals and projects that previously characterized this youth and the way it has advanced into ordinary life.
III. Official culture and the trivialization and sterilization of the subversive
For Debord, official culture is a “rigged game”, where conservative powers forbid subversive ideas to have direct access to the public discourse, and where such ideas are integrated only after been trivialized and sterilized.
Debord discusses the close link between revolution and culture and everyday life, and the reason why conservative powers are interested in forbidding them “any direct access to the rigged game of official culture.” Debord recalls that worldwide revolutionary movements that emerged during the 1920s were followed by “an ebbing of the movements that had tried to advance a liberatory new attitude in culture and everyday life,” and that such movements were brought to a “complete social isolation.”
VI. Emptiness of an art separated from politics
Historically, revolutionary ideas have emerged first among artists and intellectuals. For this reason, artists and intellectuals are relegated into specialized, compartmentalized disciplines, defusing their revolutionary potential and imposing unnatural dichotomies such as the “separation of art from politics”. Once artistic-intellectual works are separated from current events and from a comprehensive critique of society, they are sterilized and can be safely integrated into the official culture and the public discourse, where they can add new flavors to old dominant ideas and play the role of a gear wheel in the mechanism of the society of the spectacle.
One of the contradictions of the bourgeoisie […] is that while it respects the abstract principle of intellectual and artistic creation, it resists actual creations when they first appear, then eventually exploits them. This is because it needs to maintain a certain sense of criticality and experimental research among a minority, but must take care to channel this activity into narrowly compartmentalized utilitarian disciplines, dismissing all comprehensive critique and research. In the domain of culture, the bourgeoisie strives to divert the taste for the new, which has become dangerous for it, toward certain degraded forms of novelty that are harmless and confused. […] The people within avant-garde tendencies who distinguished themselves are generally accepted on an individual basis, at the price of vital renunciations: the fundamental point of debate is always the renunciation of comprehensive demands, and the acceptance of a fragmentary work, susceptible to multiple interpretations. This is what makes the very term avant-garde, which in the end is always defined and manipulated by the bourgeoisie, somewhat suspicious and ridiculous. ( pp.2-3 )