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  • Writer's pictureDave Stanley

English 876: Week 4- Situationist International

Discussion Question:

For this week, we are trying to get a general sense of the Situationist International, a loose movement often attributed to the philosophical insights of Guy Debord, but in reality, a much more sprawling set of lineages with a more nuanced and polyvocal history. SI is often viewed as a kind of eccentric political philosophy, or an art historical development of Dada & Surrealism, or a set of proto media theory actions, tactics and observations, or an anarchistic series of political hijinks. Find an angle within these possibilities, and analyze some concepts or figures from the Wark book (and other readings and viewings) that you find interesting. Think of this as a cartographical exercise, trying to get the “lay of the land” through walking a specific pathway.


The thing that most directly draws my attention when thinking about the political hijinks of Situationist International is Angela Nagle's 2017 book Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right. She makes the claim that the online trolls, attention seekers, and shock artists that inhabit the darker corners of the internet, specifically places like 4chan's /b/ and /pol/ boards, are engaged in a sort of Sadeian catharsis that is made possible by the anonymity of the internet. While I question if casting the active creation of hate speech and the amassing of fascist political power and rhetoric as a simple outlet of negative emotion, as being perhaps too generous, I see this a possible direction that the total disregard for social and political institutions might bring. I am not claiming that SI was headed the same direction as the Alt-Right, far from it actually.

Image Credit: Forum post on /Pol/ on 4chan, Link omitted for disturbing content

To disscuss McKenzie Wark, and The Beach Beneath the Street in some more detail, and connect it to my seemingly outlandish invocation of 4chan, I look to the détournement of play seen so often in spaces that are otherwise places of labor that Wark evokes. The idea of 4chan as a Sadeian space of release without consequence, that has since been capitalized into a space of ideological reproduction by members of the farthest right circles in our society, echos, in reverse, the use of play to enhance productivity seen in the office party, the work gym, the break room pinball machine. This particular tension between play and labor, often turning the affective work of play and fandom into capital producing work for corporations, is seen in a variety of modern spaces, from casinos to corporate offices. Even in our digital spaces, such as the digital world of Second Life which was intended to create a world of total control and enjoyment for its occupants, has been transformed, in some palces, into a libertarian nightmarescape of free enterprise, as spaces are either trolled relentlessly, or filled with vendors selling pornographic content stolen from other users for "real world" money.

Image credit: Nils Island Store on Second Life

To make sense of this looking back at SI, the Kabouters, and other political movements that prize the mockery and disruption of political and social systems, but who are also convicted of their rhetoric, and held accountable to the actions they promote. SI, and their work around the spectacle, seem to be the antidote to the mixing of play and labor of late capitalism. By calling out the work of authoritarian institutions of power, and the rhetoric they use to disguise that power, SI really realized a way of working around the seemingly unknowable, and therefore unbreakable, choke hold of noeliberal capitalism. In this same way, by owning the moments of daily life and demphasizing spectacle , the Sadiean shock of places like 4chan can no longer own its rhetoric and call it a joke too.

I feel as if I have argued two different points here, and failed to connect them successfully, but they seem, in my mind, as deeply intermingled in our modern political and social era. Perhaps more thinking and serious writing would be of benefit to me.

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