The Spectacle of Disintegration: Situationist Passages out of the Twentieth Century

Acclaimed author follows the work of the Situationist International after May 1968.
Following his acclaimed history of the Situationist International up until the late sixties, The Beach Beneath the Street, McKenzie Wark returns with a companion volume which puts the late work of the Situationists in a broader and deeper context, charting their contemporary relevance and their deep critique of modernity. Wark builds on their work to map the historical stages of the society of the spectacle, from the diffuse to the integrated to what he calls the disintegrating spectacle. The Spectacle of Disintegration takes the reader through the critique of political aesthetics of former Situationist T.J. Clark, the Fourierist utopia of Raoul Vaneigem, René Vienet’s earthy situationist cinema, Gianfranco Sangunetti’s pranking of the Italian ruling class, Alice-Becker Ho’s account of the anonymous language of the Romany, Guy Debord’s late films and his surprising work as a game designer.

At once an extraordinary counter history of radical praxis and a call to arms in the age of financial crisis and the resurgence of the streets, The Spectacle of Disintegration recalls the hidden journeys taken in the attempt to leave the twentieth century, and plots an exit from the twenty first.

The dustjacket unfolds to reveal a fold-out poster of the collaborative graphic essay combining text selected by McKenzie Wark with composition and drawings by Kevin C. Pyle.


  • “Wark's readable explanation of the movement's ideas is the best I have read. ”
  • “A playful, smart and occasionally epigrammatic study of the Situationists ... this brilliant account is not only an essential work for our own times; it also comes with a cover that, with the minimum of manual dexterity, folds out intoa  collaborative graphic essay. ”
  • “Wark’s two books work sequentially, although they also loop around the same figures and concepts. They could be treated as histories of the Situationist milieu and its aftermaths, but to do so would miss entirely what makes them such compelling and, at times, hilarious reading. [...] What really drives The Beach Beneath the Street and The Spectacle of Disintegration is their impatience with contemporary cultural and intellectual institutions that, for all of their posturing, are largely complicit with the prevailing political order.”


  • Debord 20 Years Later

    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.

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  • A Christmas Carol: Dedicated to Scrooge, And His Art Collection

    “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.”

    --Oscar Wilde



    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.

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  • 'The Spectacle Today'—McKenzie Wark on Expanding Mind

    McKenzie Wark, author of The Spectacle of Disintegration, made a recent radio appearance on Expanding Mind with Erik Davis. Wark and Davis waxed philosophical on the Situationist International, the radical possibilities of play and gaming, and the anxiety and boredom that accompany modernity. Wark reflected:  

    "In some ways, the great danger for this commodified universe is our boredom with it ... There is this sort of dialectic that you could tease out, that even in this overdeveloped late-capitalist world, that boredom was still this kind of critical energy that you could work on and try to theorize and then act on, to find other kinds of belonging, other kinds of desire, other kinds of life."

    Visit Progressive Radio Network to listen to the interview in full.

Other books by McKenzie Wark