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The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International

The acclaimed, readable history of the Situationist International by the author of A Hacker Manifesto

Over fifty years after the Situationist International appeared, its legacy continues to inspire activists, artists and theorists around the world. Such a legend has accrued to this movement that the story of the SI now demands to be told in a contemporary voice capable of putting it into the context of twenty-first-century struggles.

McKenzie Wark delves into the Situationists’ unacknowledged diversity, revealing a world as rich in practice as it is in theory. Tracing the group’s development from the bohemian Paris of the ’50s to the explosive days of May ’68, Wark’s take on the Situationists is biographically and historically rich, presenting the group as an ensemble creation, rather than the brainchild and dominion of its most famous member, Guy Debord. Roaming through Europe and the lives of those who made up the movement—including Constant, Asger Jorn, Michèle Bernstein, Alex Trocchi and Jacqueline De Jong—Wark uncovers an international movement riven with conflicting passions.

Accessible to those who have only just discovered the Situationists and filled with new insights, The Beach Beneath the Street rereads the group’s history in the light of our contemporary experience of communications, architecture, and everyday life. The Situationists tried to escape the world of twentieth-century spectacle and failed in the attempt. Wark argues that they may still help us to escape the twenty-first century, while we still can.

Reviews

  • “Wark is a marvellous guide to the micro-society of the Situationists ... He brings to the task a necessary sympathy, an encyclopedic knowledge, and a certain stylistic irrepressibility.”
  • “Wark is a fine aphorist ... Playful, angry, depressed, celebratory, this is a book for anyone not convinced that there is no alternative to the way we live now.”
  • “Wark’s readable explanation of the movement’s ideas ... is the best I have read.”
  • “[A] smart overview of the situationist movement.”
  • “A sexy book for a sexy movement... This is a beautifully written, exciting and broad study, one that may perhaps become a definitive introduction to the SI for many.”
  • “A playful, smart and occasionally epigrammatic study of the Situationists ... [a] brilliant account ... an essential work for our own times.”
  • “Fascinating.”
  • “The book I read three times back to back was McKenzie Wark’s brilliant study of the Situationists, ”
  • “This is no ordinary history. Instead, ‘it’s a question of retrieving a past specific to the demands of the present.’ The Beach Beneath the Street rereads that past in a way that prefers not to smooth out its messier edges, refuses to reify (to pick up the jargon) what made it radical, what still makes it relevant.”
  • “Covering the SI’s adventures in philosophy, art, architecture, literature and cinema (and suggesting that we should do away with many of the distinctions between these categories), Wark traces a lineage we have apparently lost.. The author’s primary proposal is that although we live in serious times we should still have fun with time. We should treat history as a user’s manual. This history of the SI shifts with gay abandon between past, present and future tenses, and constantly rattles the boundaries.”
  • “In an alienated, all too knowing world absent of God, art and revolution, Wark’s book dares us to keep our spirits up, asking us to think about how to maintain creative resistance, how to keep fidelity with some detournéed idea of the Marxist and Situationist past, and, following their goal of ideas in action, how best to practise our passionate ‘solidarity without faith.’”
  • “Wark’s history is timely ... with the age of austerity promising more trouble, the Situationists, those alienated prophets of the media age, still tout the most adventurous analysis of 21st-century life – and what happens next.”
  • “McKenzie Wark’s engaging narrative could not have come at a better time – last week’s riots demonstrated tragically the profound alienation, even despair, of swathes of urban poor and destitute and minorities’ worrying descent into hellish criminality.”
  • “One of the best aspects of his pithy, often self-consciously lapidary, book is his intriguing investigation of some of the byways of Situationist historiography ... . the Situationists’ attitude towards intellectual property is hugely relevant in an era when digital reproduction has dragged information towards the ‘free’ model, and Wark addresses this well in sections on the implications of détournement—the re-use and modification of fragments of already existing texts and images in the creation of new works—for political practice.”
  • “What sets Wark’s book apart from those many other failed histories is in its resistance to merely telling the easy story. The familiar watchwords of the SI – dérive, detournément, potlatch – appear as one would expect, but Wark presents them as breathing, charged ideas, not some dead terms once again dusted off and rehashed. When we relegate events to pure history we rob moments, situations, of their power to change. We turn specifics into constants, tactics into rules, and ultimately render radical gestures impotent. Wark wants to give these moments a different history: to show that those theories and practices of the Situationist International aren’t done with us yet.”

Blog

  • "A Situationist ethnography has its own distinct methods" - an extract from The Beach Beneath the Street

    The below is an extract from The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International by McKenzie Wark - currently 50% off on our website as part of our Political Guide to Walking.


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  • Immanuel Kant the, errrr, Walker?

    Immanuel ‘the Königsberg clock’ Kant was renowned for his strict (and rather austere) daily routines. Having been born in Königsberg in 1724, he never left the small German city, dying there in 1804 aged 79 never having once gone further than the city’s limits. Yet despite his somewhat limited empirical knowledge of the world, the intellectual founder of the German Enlightenment had a lifelong passion for knowledge of all kinds. He gained much of his insight  into the world outside of Königsberg from his walks through the docks where he would discuss philosophy, politics, science and travel with Scottish merchants and tradesmen.

    In the second of our extracts from A Philosophy of Walking, (the first one is here) Frederic Gros reflects upon the influence of walking for Kant’s life and thought. Following this, we have a short excerpt from a conversation between the great German playwright Heiner Müller and filmmaker, theorist and writer Alexander Kluge which shows that Kant’s daily life was perhaps a little less puritanical than often assumed, and that his passion for walking allowed him to indulge in more *ahem* exotic pursuits.

     

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  • "The Passion for Escape – Rimbaud" an extract from Frédéric Gros' A Philosophy of Walking

    As part of our week of walking we bring you an exclusive extract from Frédéric Gros' celebrated A Philosophy of Walking. Mixing fascinating vignettes on famous walkers (from Kant's regular-as-clockwork rambles about Königsberg to Neitzsche's mountain trails) and the author's own meditations on walking, A Philosophy of Walking is an entertaining and insightful manifesto for putting one foot in front of the other. Now out in paperback, this book features on our Guide to Political Walking - all the books featured are 50% off until Friday 1st May! 

    In this extract, Gros discusses Rimbaud's famous teenage treks across Paris and the influence work had on the great poet.



    I can’t give you an address to reply to this, for I don’t know personally where I may find myself dragged next, or by what routes, on the way to where, or why, or how!

    Arthur Rimbaud, Letter from Aden, 5 May 1884

    Verlaine called him ‘the man with soles of wind’. The man himself, when still very young, had described himself thus: ‘I’m a pedestrian, nothing more.’ Rimbaud walked throughout his life. 
Obstinately, with passion. Between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, he walked to reach great cities: the Paris of literary hopes, to become known in Parnassian circles, to meet poets like himself, desperately lonely and longing to be loved (read his poems). To Brussels, to pursue a career in journalism. Between twenty and twenty-four, he several times tried the route to the South, returning home for the winter. Preparation for travel ... There were incessant shuttles between Mediterranean ports (Marseille or Genoa) and Charleville; walking towards the sun. And from the age of twenty-five until his death, desert roads.

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Other books by McKenzie Wark