Saturday, January 25, 2003

Aim High, Shoot Low

Well, I’ve finally taken the plunge into comics-blogging, thanks to its twisted advocacy of LS at Amish Tech Support and others. Here begins my contribution:

Ernie's Situationist Comics

This and the subsequent ‘toons are satirical commentaries on the “praxis” of the Situationist International (SI), a group of semi-Marxist theorists concentrated in France from 1958-72. They followed the “revisionism” of Georg Lukacs seminal tome HISTORY AND CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS, which posited that capitalism had an inherent capacity to re-invent and present itself that transcended its status in orthodox Marxist thought as a mere economic system. Since this came close to the revisionism of Bernstein, Lukacs had to spend the rest of his long life dodging and grovelling before the Stalinists. The Situationists had the luxury of being in Western Europe, and so were able to take pot-shots at the bureaucratic nature of “actually existing socialism“ in Russia and China.

In their analysis, the Situationists argued that capitalism had turned all relationships transactional, and that life had been reduced to a "spectacle". The spectacle is the key concept of their theory. In many ways, they merely reworked Marx's view of alienation, as developed in his early writings. The worker is alienated from his product and from his fellow workers and finds himself living in an alien world: The worker does not produce himself; he produces an independent power. The success of this production, its abundance, returns to the producer as an abundance of dispossession. All the time and space of his world becomes foreign to him with the accumulation of his alienated products....

The increasing division of labor and specialization have transformed work into meaningless drudgery. "It is useless," Vaneigem observes, "to expect even a caricature of creativity from a conveyor belt." What they added to Marx was the recognition that in order to ensure continued economic growth, capitalism has created "pseudo-needs" to increase consumption. Instead of saying that consciousness was determined at the point of production, they said it occurred at the point of consumption. Modern capitalist society is a consumer society, a society of "spectacular" commodity consumption. Having long been treated with the utmost contempt as a producer, the worker is now lavishly courted and seduced as a consumer.

At the same time, while modern technology has ended natural alienation (the struggle for survival against nature), social alienation in the form of a hierarchy of masters and slaves has continued. People are treated like passive objects, not active subjects. After degrading being into having, the society of the spectacle has further transformed having into merely appearing. The result is an appalling contrast between cultural poverty and economic wealth, between what is and what could be. "Who wants a world in which the guarantee that we shall not die of starvation," Vaneigem asks, "entails the risk of dying of boredom?"

In place of the society of the spectacle, the Situationists proposed a communistic society bereft of money, commodity production, wage labor, classes, private property and the State. Pseudo-needs would be replaced by real desires, and the economy of profit become one of pleasure. The division of labor and the antagonism between work and play would be overcome. It would be a society founded on the love of free play, characterized by the refusal to be led, to make sacrifices, and to perform roles. Above all, they insisted that every individual should actively and consciously participate in the reconstruction of every moment of life. They called themselves Situationists precisely because they believed that all individuals should construct the situations of their lives and release their own potential and obtain their own pleasure.
Guy Debord and the Situationists

Their practice of “detournment” or sabotage referred to in my strips is derived from the above position. There are two problems with it. First, the Nietzschian one of becoming the monster that you fight by adopting its methods and practices [which motivated Debord to withdraw all of his films from distribution, for example] and the more subtle one of parasitism. You can “pirate” TERRY AND THE PIRATES all you like, but -someone- still has to draw the dang thing. Why should Milt Caniff draw -anything- if it is not his to express, but can be taken up and used as an ideological “wax nose” with a majority vote by a collective?

Still and all, I can‘t say that they would approve of the stupidity going on now, given their opposition to Maoism in the 60‘s and Debord's subsequent prediction of the decay of the European left. Say what you will about the contradictions in their theory, they at least knew a fascist when they saw one.

To learn more about the SI, check out the following:

Here is a somewhat motley collection of information relating to the Situationist International.

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