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

A fresh 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 ...

The book’s jacket folds out into a poster, Totality for Beginners, a collaborative graphic essay employing text selected by McKenzie Wark with composition and drawings by Kevin C. Pyle.

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 ... 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 into a collaborative graphic essay.”
  • “Fascinating.”
  • “The book I read three times back to back was McKenzie Wark’s brilliant study of the Situationists, The Beach Beneath the Street.
  • “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.”
  • “[Wh]at 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

  • Bogdanov for the win!



    This is a famous picture of Lenin playing chess with Alexander Bogdanov while Gorky looks on. Bogdanov won. According to Gorky, Lenin was a bit of a sore loser about it. But then Lenin did manage to checkmate Bogdanov's influence in the Bolshevik faction and have him thrown out, so in the long run Lenin won everthing.

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  • Charles Fourier's Queer Theory



    Constant's New Babylon is about the infrastructure of the future of our desires, but one has to look elsewhere for a vision of its everyday life. In this extract from The Spectacle of Disintegration, I take up Charles Fourier's New Amorous World, a book only known in France since 1967 and still scandalously untranslated. (Although Raoul Vanegeim edited and introduced a lovely little French edition). 

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  • Baroque with Expensive Taste



    To celebrate the launch of Franco (Bifo) Berardi's new book Heroes, here is an extract in which he writes about the baroque ethos of post-bourgeois semiocapitalism:

    Semiocapital and the Ethics of Baroque

    Franco Berardi

    Crime used to be a secret act. In the age of repression and industriousness, when the morality of the bourgeoisie was reigning, crime wanted to be secret. Law aimed at preventing crime, and it encouraged investigations of criminals in order to punish them.

    This order of things has irrevocably changed in the last turn of time, especially since the advent of the semiocapitalist regime.

    Semiocapitalim occupies the sphere of randomness of value, as well as the sphere of randomness of law and of moral judgement.

    “The entire strategy of the system lies in this hyper-reality of floating values. It is the same for money and theory as for the unconscious. Value rules according to an ungraspable order: the generation of models, the indefinite chaining of simulation. Cybernetic operationality, the genetic code, the random order of mutations, the principle of uncertainty, and so on: all of these replace a determinist and objectivist science, a dialectical vision of history and consciousness.” (Baudrillard)

    Baudrillard is talking of value in economic terms. In the post-Fordist transition, the relation between work-time and value is jeopardized, as immaterial production and cognitive work are difficult to properly gauge. But the random effect is not limited to the sphere of the economy, as it spreads both to the sphere of social relations and to that of ethics.

    The current, generalized perception of widespread corruption is neither a superficial impression, nor the effect of a deterioration of the moral character of people. It is a systemic effect of the randomization of value. When value can no longer be determined by the precise relation to work-time, its determinant factors become deception, swindle, violence. Mafia ceases to be a marginal phenomenon of lawlessness, instead becoming the prevailing force of emerging capitalist economies like Russia and Mexico. At the same time, fraud is legalized and organized in the global financial market as a systemic feature.

    As it becomes increasingly institutionalized, crime loses its secrecy and demands access to the spectacle. The visibility of crime becomes part of the effectiveness and persuasiveness of power. Competition is all about subduing, cheating, predating. Blaming the victims is part of the game: you are guilty of your inability to subdue, to cheat and to plunder, therefore you will be submitted to the blackmail of debt and to the tyranny of austerity.

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Other books by McKenzie Wark