In Situ: Guy Debord, Raoul Vaneigem, and the Situationist Moment
Wednesday, October 24, 2018, 7 pm, City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
with Donald Nicholson-Smith with Anselm Jappe
on the occasion of the release by PM Press of
Guy Debord - by Anselm Jappe
Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith • Foreword by T.J. Clark
Letters to My Children and the Children of the World to Come - by Raoul Vaneigem
Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith
about Guy Debord:
This is the first and best intellectual biography of Guy Debord, prime mover of the Situationist International (1957–1972) and author of The Society of the Spectacle , perhaps the seminal book of the May 1968 uprising in France. Anselm Jappe offers a powerful corrective to the continual attempts to incorporate Debord's theoretical work into "French theory." Jappe's focuses, to the contrary, on Debord's debt to the Hegelian-Marxist tradition, to Karl Korsch and Georg Lukács, and more generally to left-Marxist currents of council communism. His close reading of Debord's magnum opus supplies a superb gloss that has never been rivaled despite the great flood of writing on the Situationists in recent decades.
At the same time, Debord is placed squarely in context among the Letterist and Situationist anti-artists who, in the aftermath of World War II, sought to criticize and transcend the legacy of Dada and Surrealism. Jappe's book offers a lively account of the Situationists' theory and practice as this "last avant-garde" made its way from radical bohemianism to revolutionary agitprop.
Guy Debord has been translated into many languages. This PM reprint edition benefits from a new author's preface and a bibliographical update.
"A clear-headed account . . . far and away the best we have so far."
"The only book on Debord in either French or English that can be unreservedly recommended . . . particularly useful for its extensive treatment of the Marxian connection that is usually ignored in culture-oriented accounts of the Situationists."
"Jappe successfully gets to grips with the content of Debord's and the SI's activity in a way that is accessible and doesn't require a vast amount of prior knowledge or an extensive vocabulary of obscure jargon in order to understand it. Debord has got a somewhat undeserved reputation for having an impenetrable and complex writing style—a myth which Jappe goes a long way towards refuting by examining the major concepts in Society of the Spectacle and other works, and putting them in the context of a wider historical basis and in terms of the SI as a whole."
"Political writing is always instrumental as well as utopian. Debord's is no exception. Only sometimes writing has to reconcile itself to the idea that its time of instrumentality—its time as a weapon—lies a little in the future. Jappe's book is true to its subject, above all, because it reads Debord, and helps us read him, with that future in mind."
about Letters to My Children and the Children of the World to Come:
Readers of Vaneigem's now-classic work The Revolution of Everyday Life, which as one of the main contributions of the Situationist International was a herald of the May 1968 uprisings in France, will find much to challenge them in these pages written in the highest idiom of subversive utopianism.
Some thirty-five years after the May "events," this short book poses the question of what kind of world we are going to leave to our children. “How could I address my daughters, my sons, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” wonders Vaneigem, “without including all the others who, once precipitated into the sordid universe of money and power, are in danger, even tomorrow, of being deprived of the promise of a life that is undeniably offered at birth as a gift with nothing expected in return?”
Letters to My Children provides a clear-eyed survey of the critical predicament into which the capitalist system has now plunged the world, but at the same time, in true dialectical fashion, and “far from the media whose job it is to ignore them,” Vaneigem discerns all the signs of “a new burgeoning of life forces among the younger generations, a new drive to reinstate true human values, to proceed with the clandestine construction of a living society beneath the barbarity of the present and the ruins of the Old World.”
“In this fine book, the Situationist author, whose writings fueled the fires of May 1968, sets out to pass down the foundational ideals of his struggle against the seemingly all-powerful fetishism of the commodity and in favor of the force of human desire and the sovereignty of life.”
“A startling and invigorating restatement for the present ghastly era of humanity's choice: socialism or barbarism.”
Anselm Jappe was born in Bonn in 1962. He is an independent scholar currently teaching art history and political and economic theory at the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris and at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Sassari in Sardinia. He is the author of several works of critical theory. A collection of his essays translated by Alastair Hemmens is The Writing on the Wall: On the Decomposition of Capitalism and Its Critics (London: Zero, 2017).
Born in Manchester, England, Donald Nicholson-Smith is a longtime resident of New York City. A sometime Situationist (1965-67), he has translated Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle (Zone) and Henri Lefebvre's The Production of Space (Blackwell), as well as works by Guillaume Apollinaire, Antonin Artaud, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Thierry Jonquet, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, etc. His film work includes the English-language version of René Viénet's anti-Maoist classic Peking Duck Soup (1977).