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.
McKenzie Wark assesses the uses of Walter Benjamin today.
"Benjamin practiced his own version of what I call low theory, in that the production of knowledge was not contemplative and was disinterested in the existing language games of the disciplines. Knowledge has to be communicated in an effective manner. 'The task of real, effective presentation is just this: to liberate knowledge from the bounds of compartmentalized discipline and make it practical.'
"Benjamin has a genius for using the energies of the obsolete. But one has to ask if the somewhat cult-like status Benjamin now enjoys is something of a betrayal of the critical leverage Benjamin thought the obsolete materials of the past could play in the present."
Anarchist thought has lately picked up a rather worrying infestation of reactionary themes, such as a hyper-macho celebration of eternal combat, in which all that matters is the authentic act of aggressive self-assertion. It isn’t the first time. In this case, it’s a matter of paying too much attention to a scholastic, high theory tradition in which known Nazis such as Schmitt and Heidegger are treated with a respect that betrays the utter corruption of continental philosophy in its waning years.