McKenzie Wark, author of A Hacker Manifesto
and Gamer Theory
, has turned his attention to the Situationist International
In an interview with 3am magazine titled "no one wants to be here"
, Wark spans a diffuse breadth of topics touching on figures such as Debord, TJ Clark, Ranciere, Badiou, Kenneth Goldsmith (ubu.com) and Leonard Cohen:
: I think you say in The Spectacle of Disintegration that détournement is perhaps the Situationists’ greatest strategic legacy, but I wonder whether you’d agree that the dérive is a useful strategy for negotiating the networked environment, or what you called the coming ‘topological world’?
: Yes, the dérive resonated with me as someone who wandered the streets of both Sydney and New York excessively. I can’t really do it anymore. I was born with club-feet so I hobble around now. The great tragedy of my life is that I can’t dérive like I used to. The other thing that was really important for me was the Internet. You know, from the eighties when you’d stick your phone on the modem and connect up through the phone line. It was this exciting space. People called it surfing the Internet. You don’t hear that anymore, no one surfs the Internet. I thought about it through the dérive. One of my personal experiences of avant-garde energy was nettime.org in the nineties and how it connected to all these media theories, politics, avant-gardes all over the world. Its main mission was to cross the divide between Eastern and Western Europe, to find languages and create networks. It was our Dada, in a way.
I wanted to write about the 90’s, but it’s very rhizomatic and I thought ‘well how do you write a book about that?’ Then I re-read The Society of the Spectacle and I thought ‘holy crap, that’s not the book I thought it was.’ Its most important chapter is the second last one on détournement, not the stuff on the spectacle. That was a prequel for writing about this stuff. So for me in the 90’s there was this great global derive going on and it’s bifurcated, it has two layers. One is the internet itself which was a kind of wild west area, and the other was about networking together across various cities, we’d travel around and visit each other and form temporary associations. You know, like ‘we’re all in Amsterdam next Tuesday, let’s get a book done’, that sort of thing. A sort of détournement of art fairs. We’d be paid to go there for one reason or another, but really we were taking over little corners to plot our own work.
colliding and clashing, fucking and fighting:
:And are emergent ‘para-academic’ sites (say, The Public School, or aaarg.org) examples of ‘low theory’ at work, or not?
: A lot of readers are quite shocked by this. Apparently one can be irreverent about just about anything these days except the Great Philosophers
. Makes one wonder what role the notion of a Great Philosopher plays in the culture. And of course for a thinker to be Great they have to become a Philosopher. Marx, Freud and Nietzsche are now, apparently, philosophers. This would be enormously surprising to Marx, of course, who was anything but.
It would appear critical theory retreated so far into the academy that it became legitimate to simply accept its conventions and protocols without question. This might not be tactically wise. Universities are complicated beasts that serve a lot of functions, not all of them terribly friendly to critical thought and practice, as the Situationists well knew.
I’m interested in what one can do within universities. I inhabit one myself. The internal politics of universities is a pretty vast and complicated terrain. And yes, I am interested also in para-universities, in the re-invention of knowledge practices outside of it. But perhaps more important is the relationship between the two. Aaarg.org or The Public School depend on universities, and I would argue, universities benefit from these para-institutional sites as well. (Marx, Freud and in some ways Nietzsche came back to the university from without.) Critical theory and practice requires a tactics of invention, a détournement of available resources.
: Wark explained the twenty-first century relevance of the SI’s critical approach towards technology, culture and capital:
There’s an absolute failure to perform the critical task in relation to technology. There’s a kind of “No, I don’t like the iPhone.” Well, what the fuck do you like then? What do you want?
Describe another world. Describe it to me. For seven billion people. Among the Situationists, someone like Constant Nieuwenhuys did exactly that, he imagined an entire other planet based on mid 20th Century technology.
who had a brief, early, interest in the SI
recently penned For A Left With no Future
for the LRB, noting: Left intellectuals, like most intellectuals, are not good at politics; especially if we mean by the latter, as I shall be arguing we should, the everyday detail, drudgery and charm of performance. Intellectuals get the fingering wrong. Up on stage they play too many wrong notes. But one thing they may be good for: sticking to the concert-hall analogy, they are sometimes the bassists in the back row whose groaning establishes the key of politics for a moment, and even points to a possible new one. And it can happen, though occasionally, that the survival of a tradition of thought and action depends on this—on politics being transposed to a new key. This seems to me true of the left in our time.
Demand the Impossible!
: The moment of revolt
, which means now, is hallowing out for us in the hard rock of our daily lives, days that miraculously retain the delicious colours and the dreamlike charm which - like an Aladdin's cave, magical and prismatic in an atmosphere all its own - is inalienably ours. The moment of revolt
is childhood rediscovered, time put to everyone's use, the dissolution of the market and the beginning of generalised self-management.
The long revolution is creating small federated microsocieties, true guerilla cells practising and fighting for this self-management. Effective radicality authorises all variations and guarantees every freedom. That's why the Situationists don't confront the world with: "Here's your ideal organisation, on your knees!" They simply show by fighting for themselves and with the clearest awareness of this fight, why people really fight each other and why they must acquire an awareness of the battle.
Four passages from The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International
: “Philosophy,” says Simon Critchley, “begins in disappointment.” After the death of God, the end of Art, the failure of the Revolution, there’s nothing left but philosophy, the moment of contemplation of the ruins. For Jacques Rancière, it is not that literature arises out of failed revolutions, but that revolutions are failed literature. Certainly the high theory of the post-’68 era was born of the disappointments, not just of May but of the red decade of 1966-1976, of which May was the high water mark. If other failed revolutions gave us Hegel and Stendhal, Marx and Baudelaire, this one gave us Foucault and Deleuze, Derrida and Lyotard. Whatever interest such thoughts may once have held, they are now no more than the routine spasms of an era out of love with itself.
Low theory returns in moments, not of disappointment, but of boredom. We are bored with these burn offerings, these warmed-up leftovers. High theory cedes too much to the existing organization of knowledge and art. It is nothing more than the spectacle of disintegration extending into knowledge itself. Rather a negative theory that reveals the gap between this world and its promises. Rather a negative action that reveals the void between what can be done and what is to be done. Rather a spirited invention of genuine forms within the space of everday life, than the relentless genuflection to the hidden God that is power. For such experiments the Situationist legacy stands ripe for a détournement that has no respect for those who claim proprietary rights over it. There is plenty of fruit to be gleaned from the vine.