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September 24, 2008 9:00 PM   Subscribe

In the early days of the occupation of Iraq, a "gathering of antagonists to capital and empire" known as the Retort Collective published Afflicted Powers, a contentious analysis of September 11th and its aftermath grounded in the Situationist concepts developed by Guy Debord in The Society of the Spectacle. Two lengthy excerpts can be read online: an introduction to the war as a "struggle for mastery in the realm of the image", and a critique of the "Blood for Oil" argument.

Afflicted Powers inspired two significant responses in the New Left Review: Gopal Balakrishnan's "States of War" is particularly interesting for its discussions of Israel and of Retort's proposed link between Salafist terrorism and Leninism (a link which has also been made by George Bush); Julian Stallabrass specifically addressed Retort's concept of the Spectacle in "Spectacle and Terror". AP got a kind review from Michael Hardt (co-author of Empire and Multitude) and a brutally sectarian one from a rival Situationist group, thus proving the vitality of the Situationist International's tradition of splits, expulsions, and fratricidal polemic. The Society of the Spectacle is available in full online -- both the original book and the NSFW movie version.

Compare Baudrillard on The Spirit of Terrorism. "Debord and the Postmodern Turn" (pdf) discusses Baudrillard's debt to Situationism.

Debord and Situationism on Metafilter: Overview, Debord's Board Game, Bureau of Public Secrets.
posted by stammer (26 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
"getting Iraq ready for Wal-Mart"
And
"Rather, what the Iraq adventure represents is less a war for oil than a radical, punitive restructuring of the conditions necessary for expanded profitability – it paves the way, in short, for new rounds of American-led dispossession and capital accumulation."

Funny how you know this. But it takes a certain depth of exploration to smooth it out on the table and look at it.

Not light reading.

Thanks!
posted by Smedleyman at 10:11 PM on September 24, 2008


Thanks. I needed this. When in doubt, all you need is love ... and the cutting edge of confusionism.
posted by philip-random at 10:14 PM on September 24, 2008


Is intellectual a bad word?

[discuss]
posted by humannaire at 10:47 PM on September 24, 2008


What I love most about Marxism is that it produces an endlessly self-referential, self-repeating dialogue that has no connection with anything the "real world" might offer. Go ahead, Julian Stallabrass, keep talking about "the movement." As if anyone but comfortable pseudo-rebellious academic intellectuals even cared about it or supported its vanguard. Anti-globo protests, the Zapatistas, internet revolution--all utterly worthless, as little capable of producing revolutionary change as Joe Lieberman's fart. If Marx were still around to see these impotent, angry little men talk about their "multitude," he would have vomited all over himself. The "Radical Left," a hobby for idiots.

"Keep your mouth shut until you have changed something." - Ulrike Meinhof's suicide note.
posted by nasreddin at 10:50 PM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Anti-globo protests, the Zapatistas, internet revolution--all utterly worthless

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:22 PM on September 24, 2008


What I love most about Marxism is that it produces an endlessly self-referential, self-repeating dialogue that has no connection with anything the "real world" might offer.

I think you show up in one of the threads linked saying that Debord is still shockingly fresh and relevant! Anyway, with social theory, I think your options are either useless or evil.
posted by stammer at 11:38 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


REVOLUTION IS THE OPIATE OF THE INTELLECTUALS

This is a situation, not a revolution.
posted by philip-random at 12:16 AM on September 25, 2008


"Keep your mouth shut until you have changed something." - Ulrike Meinhof's suicide note.

so, nasreddin, your mouth is obviously wide open - what have you changed in the world lately?
posted by jammy at 5:17 AM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


what have you changed in the world lately?

I ate a sandwich. It was delicious.

I think you show up in one of the threads linked saying that Debord is still shockingly fresh and relevant! Anyway, with social theory, I think your options are either useless or evil.


I like Debord a lot, yes. I think what he says is true, though often misunderstood. But at that point you need to find a way to move on, to think in a productive direction. And endless debates about how this or that aspect of US imperialism is spectacularized and EVIL! are just ways of highlighting the fact that you're at a dead end: revolution is impossible, reformism is counterproductive, and the status quo is intolerable. Look for ways to escape the trap, don't just wallow in your own "revolutionary" indignation.

One of these things is not like the others,

They're all fads. What has internet revolution done for you lately? Stallabrass handwaves: "online activity has become less and less about computing in an isolated sense, as the technology has become more accessible and popular. It is about using the capabilities of the technology to produce political change, in part by revolutionizing the ways in which people interact." What political change? If he means "electing Barack Obama," then he's a bourgeois accommodationist who's sold out to reformism.
posted by nasreddin at 5:48 AM on September 25, 2008


mmm... sandwiches!

i'm confused, though: the Zapatistas are a fad? a fad that's been going on since 1994? or do you mean interest by "pseudo-rebellious academic intellectuals" in the Zapatistas is a fad?
posted by jammy at 6:03 AM on September 25, 2008


Bourgeois accommodationalist who's sold out to reform

Do you honestly mean that, nasreddin? Who precisely is the pseudo-rebellious academic intellectual here?
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:15 AM on September 25, 2008


The 'Critique' link is easily the best analysis of the Iraq war I've read in print, I think. It's still a little glib and I think it underestimates the role of the public in beating the drum for war (as cynical as I am -- and that's a lot -- the public's attitudes and support of war play a huge role in U.S. policy; it's not all smoke-filled rooms, as nice as that explanation may be, since it lets John and Jane America off the hook), but it's closer to plausibility than just about anything else I've run across.

You don't really even need to go to the complex gyrations that the article goes through to disprove the Blood For Oil hypothesis -- even back in 2002 when the war was going well, conservative estimates for its cost were well above what most people speculated would have been required to buy Saddam's cooperation and ensure access to the oil supplies. The Hussein regime was at the end of the day a pragmatic one, and I don't doubt a deal could have been brokered if the U.S. had really been interested in the oil exclusively.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:16 AM on September 25, 2008


Do you honestly mean that, nasreddin? Who precisely is the pseudo-rebellious academic intellectual here?

Well, first of all, I'm coming from his own point of view--unless I'm mistaken, and Stallabrass isn't a Marxist at all. That said, I do think reformism is as much a dead end as revolution is.

i'm confused, though: the Zapatistas are a fad? a fad that's been going on since 1994? or do you mean interest by "pseudo-rebellious academic intellectuals" in the Zapatistas is a fad?


Yes, that's what I mean. The Zapatistas were very fetishized in the '90s as some kind of prototypical postmodern revolutionary movement that wasn't plagued by any of the nasty problems of traditional revolutionary Marxism, like mass executions and that kind of thing. As far as I know, their own claims for themselves were rather more modest.
posted by nasreddin at 7:08 AM on September 25, 2008


Incidentally, the rival Situationist group's attack on Retort linked to in the FPP is spot on.
posted by nasreddin at 7:48 AM on September 25, 2008


Um, except for the truther undercurrent, of course.
posted by nasreddin at 7:50 AM on September 25, 2008


thanks for the clarification! i guess i misunderstood you when you said they were "utterly worthless" & "as little capable of producing revolutionary change as Joe Lieberman's fart"
posted by jammy at 8:14 AM on September 25, 2008


As far as I know, their own claims for themselves were rather more modest.

That is like a sign saying up to 50% off.
posted by srboisvert at 8:29 AM on September 25, 2008


That is like a sign saying up to 50% off.

Well, read their manifesto. It doesn't condemn capitalism, imperialism, or the State. It doesn't demand a radical restructuring of social and economic relations. It doesn't even reference the broader "struggle" in the world outside Mexico.
posted by nasreddin at 8:39 AM on September 25, 2008


Which is not to say that these things weren't part of Zapatista ideology, just that the Zapatistas were always a local, indigenous autonomy movement first and a general anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, revolutionary movement second. (Unlike, say, revolutionary Marxists in the early 20th century, who saw world revolution as their fundamental goal.) I'm not questioning the achievements of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, I'm just saying that it's silly to take them for something more than they were--and it's especially silly to believe that their experience can be replicated on a substantially larger scale.
posted by nasreddin at 8:52 AM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not "were," of course--"are."
posted by nasreddin at 8:54 AM on September 25, 2008


"The tactics of terrorism are to provoke an excess of reality and to make the system collapse under the weight of this excess"

Intriguing.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:58 AM on September 25, 2008


Someone does not understand the difference between Marxist social critique and Marxist political theory.
posted by absalom at 11:48 AM on September 25, 2008


re: the EZLN - you could also try reading the six declarations that have been issued since 1993, which definitely do address the need for a radical restructuring of global social and economic conditions and which continually reference the "broader struggle"

not in the totalizing terms that early 20th century european Marxists might approve of, but still...

p.s. sorry for the continued derail, stammer - good post!
posted by jammy at 1:28 PM on September 25, 2008


Someone does not understand the difference between Marxist social critique and Marxist political theory.

What does this mean? Is it something like "social critique doesn't imply a praxis"? Well, for Debord it certainly did.
posted by nasreddin at 2:07 PM on September 25, 2008


Nasreddin - thanks for the clarification.

And between you and jammy, I now know more about the Zapatistas than I ever thought I'd want to.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:35 PM on September 25, 2008


And between you and jammy, I now know more about the Zapatistas than I ever thought I'd want to.

yay! high five, nasreddin! the internet revolution proceeds apace!

who's for a sandwich?
posted by jammy at 5:53 PM on September 25, 2008


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