Writer, artist, filmmaker, provocateur, revolutionary, and impresario of the Situationist International, Guy Debord shunned the apparatus of publicity he dissected so brilliantly in his most influential work, The Society of the Spectacle. In this ambitious and innovative biography, Vincent Kaufmann places Debord's very hostility toward the inquisitive, biographical gaze at the center of an investigation into his subject's diverse output—from his earliest films to his landmark works of social theory and political provocation—and the poetic sensibility that informed both his work and his life.
Instead of providing a conventional day-to-day account of Debord's life, Kaufmann deftly locates his subject within the historical and intellectual context of the radical social, political, and artistic movements in which he participated. He traces Debord's development as an intellectual: his involvement with the lettrist movement in the early 1950s, his central role in the Situationist International from 1957 to 1971 and in the events of May 1968, and the productive and frequently misunderstood period between the dissolution of the situationists and his suicide, during which time Debord clarified the rules of his war against inauthenticity.
As Kaufmann makes clear, for Debord political thought and action were inseparable from aesthetics and poetic expression. Whether envisioning the recovery of a lost, protocommunist age of authenticity and transparency in The Society of the Spectacle or critically assessing the possibility of revolution against postmodern capitalism two decades later, Debord advocated and practiced an art of defiance, a concurrently martial and melancholic poetics. Avoiding the mythologies about Debord that both admirers and critics have cultivated, Kaufmann provides a groundbreaking and generous assessment of Debord and his uncompromising struggle against a corrupt civilization.
Vincent Kaufmann is professor of French language and literature at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland.
Robert Bononno, a teacher and translator, lives in New York City.show more