Twenty years ago, on 30 November 1994, Guy Debord put his affairs in order and shot himself through the heart, ending one of the most brilliant and original careers in modern European history. In his sixty-three years he had co-founded the Situationist International, the last of the historic avant-gardes. He had written some enduring revolutionary texts, including his best known, The Society of the Spectacle. And he had made several remarkable avant-garde films. For someone who managed to live up to his early slogan “Never Work!” he was remarkably busy.
He is now something of a canonical figure in literature, cinema and the art world. It has become commonplace to refer to the media sphere as a spectacle, and the cut and mix practices of today’s aesthetics appeals to the apparently similar Situationist practice of détournement for legitimation. He has been, as he might say, recuperated back in to spectacular commodity production. Such is the fate of all avant-gardes.
“Property not merely has duties, but has so many duties that its possession to any large extent is a bore. In the interest of the rich we must get rid of it.”
Let’s start with a defense of Xmas, or of what is essential to it: that there is a tree, and a gift for a child under a tree, that is “from Santa.” It is a way to enact for a child the opposite of Nietzsche's theory of universal debt. An adult, usually a parent, enacts the possibility that the child owes the world nothing. On the contrary the world can make for the child at least one moment of joy. Something will come from the world for the child.
For the child, Xmas has nothing to do with 'consumerism'. The gift just appears. Its a bit of what the surrealists called the marvelous. For the adult, it is a way to give to the child without expecting the child to be grateful to the parent. Rather, it is so the child can know that world itself could be generous. Nothing is owed in return. At least not yet. Later, the child can be let in on the secret: that we are staging a marvelous ritual about how the world itself could be experienced as bounty and plentitude, but we do so in a long loop through the generations. The gift the child will owe does not come until much later, when the child grows up, and owes a gift in turn to another child. Such long loops are what constitute the plural subject ‘we.’
That the critique of Xmas as 'consumerism' is a pseudo-critique is easily seen. What is supposedly wrong is the 'excessive' consumption of Xmas. This lets supposedly normal consumption off the hook. Genuine critique would of course start from the reverse premise: Only excessive consumption is of any interest because it is outside the realm of calculation. So-called 'normal' consumption is what calls for critique. The purely excessive, aesthetic consumption, the gift from nowhere, is the only defensible form, and not only of consumption, but also of the gift.
#whatif the rich paid the same taxes as everybody else?
#whatif we just circulated ideas rather than respond to the demand to make ‘demands'?
#whatif nobody had to go homeless?
#whatif we declared war on poverty rather than on other countries?
#whatif we occupied twitter with a questioning of our needs and desires?
#whatif all children had access to free quality health care?
#whatif the banks served the economy; rather than the economy the banks?
McKenzie Wark, author of The Beach Beneath the Street, spoke to the Occupy Washington Square Park Teach In on 6th November. The original text of his speech is below:
There is a specter haunting Wall St, the specter of a people. We've got them spooked—that unholy alliance of closet fascists and pseudo-liberals who deny we exist: Bloomberg and Fox News, David Brooks and Larry Summers. Its high time that we speak for ourselves, that we take the mic and pass it around.
Those who talk about the 99% without talking about what they really love, what they really desire, what everyday life is a struggle about—they are speaking with a corpse in their mouth. The struggle to live unites us all—in all our differences.
Our ideas are on everybody's minds. Be impossible, demand the realistic. There is tenderness only in the crudest demands. Nobody should go hungry. Nobody should go homeless. Or be crushed by debt.
The confrontations with the police usually get the most attention, but they're not the only thing going on at Occupy Wall Street. I went down to Zuccotti Park at about 9PM on Wednesday, 5th October after putting the kids to bed. I was alarmed by stuff on the twitter feed that detailed incidents of contact with the police but which were not clear about the location. I wanted to make sure our Park was still there.
Just off the subway, and heading down Church Street, I caught a glimpse of a march going North, up the street parallel to the east. I saw a mass of closely ranked bodies and banners and heard some vigorous chants. I wasn't sure where they'd be going, as Wall street is to the south. I decided to keep going down Church to Zuccotti Park and maybe catch up with that group later.