…Guy Debord / La Société du Spectacle III…



  • The performances and images of ‘le spectacle‘,  like modern society itself, are at one and the same time a coherent whole, and fractured and fragmented. Like modern society, they build their unity on division and tearing people apart. But all this social contradiction, when it emerges into view in these performances and images, is in its turn contradicted by the upending of its meanings: – – –  all the division and divisiveness that is displayed becomes clearly part of a larger whole, with a certain coherence…  but at the very same time, the coherence that [the system actually intends to be] on display is clearly seen to be fractured and divided.

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  • It is the struggle between these two Powers – which have come into being to the administer and manage this single socio-economic system – which is deployed as the ‘official’ contradiction in our global society…  but they belong, in fact, to a real unity:  both on the global scale, and internally in [the conventional left-right politics of] every nation.

* – * – *

It is entirely natural that, as we transitioned to the Information Age, the geographical centers of that supposedly “other” Power should become more and more visibly part of the global socio-economic system:  with the gradual evolution of China, and with the fall of the Soviet Union…  And all the ‘official’ contradictions we are deluged with, today, are themselves merely ‘spectacle‘… and you will find that the best place to ground yourself against them is in the ‘practical’ – in human ‘sensed and felt’ activity: “menschliche sinnliche Thätigkeit: Praxis“.

Budo – what you’re doing – is totally, absolutely  p r a c t i c a l .

It is of no use if it’s not practical.  That is not to say, that practicality isn’t the gateway to the divine and the most deep and the most penetrating awarenesses, the most beauty, the most deeply real, the best kind of relationships…

Whereas that abstract, abstraction-y appearances world is false and leads to nothing but more false… until people don’t know that there ever was an actual smell or taste of anything.

And then their biology rebels and creates schizophrenia.

Because their biology knows what it’s doing. It knows what a proper kind of relationship is with the world, and with other people.

And part of this is that it knows the practicality of your relationships with enemies. The realities of social contradiction.

There are enemies. I’m not saying you should make enemies in your mind. There are beings who already desire what you have, who are driven by the tyranny of the urgent, or ambition, or some great picture in their head. And they, by themselves, without you labeling them anything,  are your enemies.

You do not need to segregate them. You don’t even need to make a class called “the enemies.” You don’t need to lead your life in fear of “enemies”.  But there are people who will, by the natures of their desires and the natures of their framework, et cetera,  lead to you suffering.  Simple.

There are many ways to deal with this problem. Some of it is meeting in some sort of harmony with them in the sense of “what do they need? ” “Can we get there?” “Can they get what they need without everyone being murdered?”

T h a t   is intelligence and culture and creativity and a good part of a solution.

There’s also recognition.

The word ‘enemy’ has been linked to ‘hatred’. It is not the same thing. You can have enemies, and you don’t hate them. I’ve learned in my life that all kinds of people were doing s*** to me… I didn’t need to hate them back. That debilitates me and makes me dark. Sucks energy out of my soul… it feeds Cthulhu in his cavern underneath the vice-president’s house…

On the other hand, I can say that if anyone tried to harm you and I was present, they would probably find that their life had changed drastically in an instant. Now, I wouldn’t think murderously, but I certainly would try to have your back – even if you got yourself into it…even if your nature and moods and growth, had put yourself into a place where you got yourself into a bad place.

Your true friends don’t judge you. They step in and have your back. They also talk to you: “What’s going on here, dude? How did you get yourself into this hole?” And if you love your friends, if you believe in them, because you’ve seen them as they really are, and you don’t run them through the distorted mirror of society-right-now – they’re  n o t  going to throw you under the bus… these are the people who didn’t throw you under the bus –   t h e n  it’ll change your soul.

And you’ll realize that the teenager who was angry and was trying to… well, this is a biological function. Strictly biology. There’s an imperative to separate – on a power level – from your parents… to be autonomous, but you also need to  n o t  separate from your tribe.  N o t   separate from your support system.

This society keeps people retarded. It holds them in this point because they’re so marketable to, they’re so vulnerable. It’s so easy to take someone who’s angry, and convince them of anything.

So, in practice, in our dojo, I try to get you past this, gently, so you’re no longer susceptible to this kind of provocation. So that “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” don’t make you crazy.

But first things first: budo is infinitely practical, grounded in reality. From that, the magic and the sublime world are easily accessed.

Sir John Colville records that Winston Churchill, when it was suggested that the canvasses in the National Gallery should be evacuated to Canada, was emphatic for keeping them at home: “No. Bury them in caves and cellars. None must go. We are going to beat them.”  Because you fight for the beauty, you fight for your family, you fight for love, you fight for the times of peace, you fight for the trees…

And all you’re really trying to do is suspend the insanity.

So this requires courage. To determine first, that you’re going to become infinitely practical.

This practical does not sacrifice beauty or metaphor or any of that other stuff.

It makes it possible for that to register, in the real world, in a place that’s true: that you can really love the poem, because you have the right kind of mind, the mind that can do that. And no-one can turn you into a cynic.

Because that’s the soul-murdering thing: to make you stop believing in good things… because of the ‘practical’.  Using that as the excuse.

Well, I have noticed, being a farmer, at one time in my life: corn… it is so beautiful. The practical part is it must live, you must plant it, it must grow, you must take care of it… All that… But I did notice that people made little corn, big corn, red corn, green corn… all of which taste different, and did different things, and some of it made whisky, and some of it was good for the Fourth of July, and some of it made cornmeal…  It was beautiful and infinitely practical.

I would suggest to you: even the most intensely provoking and somewhat meaningless kind of job – and I’ve had plenty –  can be a vehicle to find your practical base, and build a life of practical beauty.

That is the nature of what you’re seeing when you look at some Zen-like sumi-e, or some Shaker furniture… it is so simple.  But it is so dramatically, practically precise and raw, that it freezes you in kyo.

Once you determine that your budo needs to be practical – and knowing that the practical will come to naturally support, cradle, nurture, develop the beautiful – when you get that, I can show you stuff.

Why do we do this movement a million times…

Because there’s something needed… It’s like training your senses, to listen for a note till you have perfect pitch… and it’s infinite, yes? And infinitely beautiful once you determine that “I love the practicality of my practice.” It’s as if practicality and practice seem to be somehow word-related… do you think?

Practice and practicality.

I lived for a time when my life was necessarily only practical because I didn’t want to starve. And I was pretty youthful and resilient, full of Spring, and I could live on nothing. Ramen and coffee. And I learned something about being beautiful. Being beautiful myself. Not beautiful for other people.

Beautiful so that my life had value.

It wasn’t something I told someone else I was doing, I just felt it.

And then I knew that if I died at that very moment, I was still in a place that I admire, and that I think makes life worthwhile for me.  And you may have a similar little bit of this in you.

Make sense?

There’s the deal…

* – * – *


  • The culture that sustains these performances and images not only dominates – by its economic hegemony – the ‘under-developed’ regions of the world.  It dominates them   AS   a society of performances and images.  In those areas where the material basis is not yet in place, modern [global] culture has already invaded the thin layer of society that covers every continent. It defines the program of the ruling class, and controls its make up. In the same way that it presents pseudo-goods to desire and pursue, it also offers the revolutionaries of these localities false models of revolution.  The performances and images put out by the bureaucratic power that controls some of the industrialized countries is – in fact – nothing but a particular portion of the global collection of performances and images, and supports it in the role of its all purpose pseudo-negation. If these performances and images, viewed in their diverse locales, show obvious signs of totalitarian control of discourse and social structures, these signs – at a global level – are just a specialized part of the functioning of the global system – they are one face of a world-wide ‘division of labor’ of the tasks relating to the global ensemble of performances and images.

* – * – *

And now we are fifty years further on…  …and the ‘division of labor’ of tasks related to the global ensemble of performances and images has proliferated and fragmented…

…and all the performances and images are fast dissolving the traditional structures they reference. And degrading the status of the traditional signs of reasoned meaning – difference,  contrast,  obvious structure. To the point that we will have to evolve beyond our old mental habits in responding to them….

…deeper meaning, of course, is still to be found in repetition and gentle, curious exploration…

…and what history teaches us is that the thing that will replace the incoherent and unstable structure of these performances and images will be compounded of things that large numbers of people already do  a w a y   from these performances and images.

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  • The process of banalisation which – behind the eye candy and seductive distractions of these performances and images – dominates globally the society of today, dominates, in particular, everywhere that the ongoing consumption of consumer goods has resulted in an apparent multiplication of roles and objects to choose from.  The remnants of bourgeois religion and family – which are still the principal manifestation of that particular heritage of class-based power – and so the moral repression that they ensure – tend to combine together to affirm as one – over and over again – that you must enjoy  t h i s  world [as it is] – ‘this’ world having being produced, precisely, as pseudo-enjoyment that has hidden away inside it:  repression.   
  • To this happy acceptance of the way things are, can sometimes be added  – as simply more of the same – a purely appearances-based revolt. And this represents the simple fact that dissatisfaction itself has become a consumer item, just as soon as economic abundance was able to extend its productive abilities to the manipulation of such a raw material. 

* – * – *

You cannot think like a consumer.  There is no transformation if you think like a consumer.

There are many ways of thinking.  And enjoying the variety and restless energy of these many ways  is the real virtue that comes along with thinking like an artist.  And then – when you wish – being able to turn them all off.  And settle into the Way, the Tao.

Because practice and practicality will open you up to the physical world (the ‘manifest’ world), and the dharma world (the world of the emotions), and to the ‘divine’ world: kannagara, the restless flow of energies.

And then you should approach the virtual world with a sense of play, and of poetry.  And you will find yourself functioning well in the virtual world if you try to bring into it the best of all these other three worlds.

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  • So, because she or he concentrates in herself the image of a particular perceived role [in society], the celebrity – the visible, on display, performative image of a living woman or man – concentrates in herself this same banality.  To be a ‘celebrity’ is to be someone who specializes in having a life that is merely  a p p a r e n t ,  it is to accept to be identified with – and to have – an  a p p a r e n t  life that is without depth.  And it is the celebrity’s place in life to compensate the rest of us for the fragmented, broken nature of the specialized productive tasks that we actually get to live.  Celebrities exist to embody and represent various possible ways of life, and ways of understanding society – and they are free to do anything, anywhere.  They incarnate the inaccessible – to us – results of our work in society,  by mimicking the human by-products of this work (again: us) but magically transferred to a more elevated realm of existence (that more elevated place that the products of our labor are, in fact, destined for) :  where they are always  e m p o w e r e d  and, apparently, on a permanent   v a c a t i o n .  Showing us, then the freedom of decision, and the consumerism, that respectively precede and follow on from a period of employment and its associated work-process – which latter remain unspoken and un-portrayed. 
  • So in the former case, it is a real power of self-determination which is mimicked by an actor, and in the latter, it is a genuine consumerist celebrity who is given choices that add up to a false sense of power over their own life.  But, precisely because the scope of the things a celebrity does are   n o t   truly “anything, anywhere”, they are, on the whole, lacking in variety, and, if truth be told: banal. 

* – * – *

And with the fragmentation of the world of these performances and images, what we are seeing is that everyone, now, has the opportunity to re-create themselves as a “mini-celebrity”…   …but then, also, in time, to discover the absences at the heart of this “mini-celebrity”.  Just as they take their Facebook leave-of-absence…

I listened, one time, as a quietly celebrated theatre director warned two young actors, a few years out of college,  against pursuing the twin chimerata of “fame” and “success”…  When you achieve them, he said, “it is like making love to a psychopath”.

And when you have learned that, you have understood the heart of the culture.

And what happens then?

But for most people, there is an incipient and potential class system adumbrated here: is, or is not, your work “sexy” enough to feature in your Facebook postings? And if it is not, then the first, the most immediate and obvious hollowness and absence, is when you experience in your own body the elision of your work-hours from your self-image as a “mini-celebrity”.  Not that your work-hours are absent from the virtual world: more likely they are very much present in the virtual world, but completely segregated from the on-line aggregate of your “mini-celebrity”.  So your body, your physical sensations, are absent from this “mini-celebrity”, and the virtual world realities of your work-life are also absent from this “mini-celebrity”.  But more: the hakke, the eight trigrams that map the energy-world, are absent from your “mini-celebrity”.

This is to accept a well-written software interface as “truth”.  The real truth is: that the work that went into writing any software interface was hard and complicated. And the work that goes on, but is hidden behind any software interface, is hard and complicated.

Work is hard and complicated, and it has certain energies.

But a well-written software interface makes it seem simple.

And the elision of work from our self-image is at the heart of our failure to know who we are. And the seduction of this simplicity over the energies of work is a main tactic le spectacle uses to keep us from having what used to be called “class-consciousness”…

This is not a stable situation.

Not at all.

* – * – *

Honoring and clearly seeing the hardness and complexity of work is a way of getting past the delusional qualities of these performances and images.

And it is also so, so interesting that the position of a starting-out elementary school teacher, asking her Facebook friends to help imagine and provide her and her class with classroom supplies, seems to escape these contradictions entirely…

– – – Guy Debord,  Paris 1967

– – – Takeharu Yoshi Renshi


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