As the year draws to a close, newspapers have been asking the great and the good which books have most impressed them in 2011. Here we have collected the Verso books that were featured.
In the New Statesman, Guardian and Observer Books of the Year round ups, Hari Kunzru selected two Verso books as standing out from other books published this year. He explained the appeal of the titles to the New Statesman:
With the Occupy movement gaining ground throughout the world, McKenzie Wark's smart overview of the situationist movement, The Beach Beneath the Street: the Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International, feels particularly timely. For years, Laura Oldfield Ford, who is very influenced by situationism, has produced a fanzine, based on her derives around London, with words and beautiful, confrontational line drawings of the city's forgotten people and neglected places. Now, Savage Messiah has been collected in book form. It is a wake-up call to anyone who can only see modern cities through the lens of gentrification.
In the Guardian feature on the Best Books of 2011, a number of Verso titles were selected by those asked.
Among the 2011 books that came my way I particularly welcomed Owen Jones's Chavs, a passionate and well-documented denunciation of the upper-class contempt for the proles that has recently become so visible in the British class system.
I loved two very different books of criticism...[one was] Owen Hatherley's furiously pro-Modernist A Guide to the New Ruins of Britain
Liberalism: A Counter-History by Domenico Losurdo stimulatingly uncovers the contradictions of an ideology that is much too self-righteously invoked.
I'm reading Chris Harman's A People's History of the World. It's really helpful to zoom out from time to time when you're living massive events at very close quarters.
In the age of the Occupy movement, Situationism has become "the stuff of legend," for it was "one of those rare avant-gardes whose radical arts and radical politics were forged in unison," Alex Danchev writes in a review of McKenzie Wark's The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International for the Times Literary Supplement. According to Danchev, the book is a "marvellous guide to the microsociety of the Situationists." "A devil for the provocative judgement," Wark is able to outline the contours of the Situationist history with "a necessary sympathy, an encyclopaedic knowledge, and a certain stylistic irrepressibility," Danchev points out. Wark's account is "excellent on détournement" and "suitably eccentric," because it focuses not just on big names, but also some less famous figures such as the Danish artist theorist Asger Jorn and the Situationist successor of Tristan Tzara, Isidore Isou.
McKenzie Wark is one of the contributors, together with Franco Berardi and Slavoj Žižek, to the special issue of the journal Theory and Event, devoted to Occupy Wall Street. His piece is vividly entitled 'This Shit is Fucked Up and Bullshit,' after one of the banners of the Occupy protesters. In the article, Wark examines the reasons why the Occupy slogan "We are the 99%" has grabbed so much attention:
It's a way of saying: we are not the ruling class. Our solidarity, that fragile thing, orbits what it is not. ... Nobody is quite ready to call the 1% what they are: a ruling class. Nor are they quite ready to identify what kind of ruling class they are: a rentier class. It's not important. It is only ever a minority who are attracted to an analytical language to explain their circumstances. Popular revolt run on affect, and affect runs on images and stories. Still the instincts of Occupy Wall Street have been pretty keen. It has identified its own problems: jobs and debt. It has provisionally identified the problem causing their problems: the 1%.
Andrew Blake of the Independent has reviewed The Beach Beneath the Street, a fresh history of the Situationist International, commending its account of situationism as "a far more comprehensive overview than the usual defence of its best-known publication, Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle". Praising Wark's clarity in showing that "there was far more to Situationism than one clever book", Blake argues that Situationist ideas are still as relevant today as at its founding:
Neither the Tottenham looter or the "kid with the BitTorrent account" identified by Wark may be consciously opposed to the Society of the Spectacle, but their challenges indicate that we should continue to take Situationism seriously in thought, word, and deed.
In a piece on Occupy Wall Street for Asia Times Online, Pepe Escobar also recommends Situationism and The Beach Beneath the Street for their relevance to contemporary political movements.
At Zuccotti Park - Occupy Wall Street's headquarters in lower Manhattan - there's a free public library, with books donated by everyone who feels like it. A good first step would be for people to supply a good many copies of The Beach Beneath the Street, by McKenzie Wark, a gripping history of the Situationists - the key conceptual group led by Guy Debord at the heart of May 1968.
McKenzie Wark's history of the Situationist International, The Beach Beneath the Street, gets more coverage. In an inspiring interview with David Winters for 3:AM, the author explains how his writing style aims "to give a sense of the immediacy of ideas to everyday life, and of the role that different forms of social interaction play in producing this self-critical everyday life." In fact, the Situationist idea of détournement is not just discussed, but also performed, in the book:
The Beach Beneath the Street applies the concept of détournement to the legacy of the Situationist International itself. For critical theory not to lapse into hypocritical theory, but to give rise to a critical practice, then it has to broach questions of how knowledge is practiced. There's probably a pdf of the book circulating out there by now. That too is détournement. That too is part of the practice of memory.
On his whirlwind tour through the UK, McKenzie Wark (author of The Beach Beneath The Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International) has given a number of fascinating interviews on the contemporary relevance of Situationist thought and practice. In an interview with STIR, over a game of Guy Debord's own Game of War no less, Wark suggests revisiting the Situationist canon in order to make sense of the commodity form (both virtual and real) and resist the institutionalization of knowledge:
So, why look at this stuff again? Well, if you are interested in how to think critically about everyday life, how to think and act outside of institutionalized forms of knowledge, in ways of inventing practices that are at least partially outside of the commodity system, then they are great precursors for dozens of things happening now such as Copy Left and Creative Commons on one side and forms of autonomous organizations in the media on the other.