Non serviam

Omne enim spectaculum sine concussione spiritus non est. Tertullian

McKenzie Wark is full of shit. Confronted with a denunciation of him,[1] he will exclaim, “Oh, have some wit or imagination for once.” But then, a minute later, he will say of the title of that same denunciation, “That’s a good one” and call out to his admirers, like he was a trained parrot, “Let’s all retweet that!” He will dismiss the text of such a denunciation as “pro-situ posturing,” but will then claim that it “warms my heart that somebody still cares, and holds debordiana sacred. Keepers of the flame, etc.”[2] “Yes i respect the fact that there's people vigilant about the memory of all things Situationist.”[3]

Wark is so full of shit that he linked to our denunciation of him (pretending that it is a “petition” of some sort) and then said, in response to his own posting of it, “I’d sign it myself. Agree with the sentiments.” He linked to another article that denounces him and crowed, “The pro-situ crowd are annoyed. What makes them think i disagree with any of this?” In fact, “yes, i quite agree with many of their sentiments.”[4]

In other words, though he makes his money as a professor of liberal arts, Wark is a politician: we will say anything to get elected, and will say anything to stay in office. What office has he been elected to? He is the representative of “situationism,” which of course only exists in the minds of people who either know nothing about or hate the situationists. Wark both represents “situationism” to his students and readers and, when he goes abroad, he represents American “situationism.” Having written three books on the subject, he is a specialist in the field, despite or precisely because the situationists detested specialists.[5]

Since he knows nothing about and hates the situationists, he has published his books through commercial publishing houses that, in addition to publishing his books, publish all kinds of trash, but chiefly Leftist (or even Maoist and Trotskyite) bullshit. And, as we have already seen, he uses the most degraded forms of spectacular communication to publicize those books,[6] makes alternatively arrogantly dismissive and “candid” comments about his critics, and basks in the glow of his admirers, sycophants and fellow politicians.

His message is simple. To conclude “Who dares to dodge Google's information tax?” a self-serving opinion piece published in the 22 May 2013 issue of The Guardian, he says,

It’s 45 years since the failure of May ’68, that last attempt to rock the old kind of state. Afterwards the situationists, who gave us the concept of the spectacle, disbanded.[7] But they did not go silent. They pioneered ways of discreetly carving out spaces where other codes apply, protected by cryptic passwords. Perhaps some of their subtle arts might work within the belly of this new digital beast, so that we might live within it, but not give it our undivided attention.

The only assertion in these five sentences that isn’t bullshit is the fact that forty-five years have elapsed since “May ’68,” that is to say, since France was paralyzed by the first general wildcat strike in history. (If that is a “failure,” then I’d like to see the capitalist world suffer from many more of them.) In the decade after May ’68, several other European States were either shaken to their foundations or completely swept away by revolutionary movements: Italy; Greece; Portugal; and Spain. Wark’s chronology suggests the situationists must have disbanded soon after May ’68: later that year, in 1969 or in 1970. But the Situationist International continued until 1972 – and then, except for the paranoid fantasies of the Italian political police, who managed to discern the continued existence of the SI into the late 1970s, the SI did in fact “go silent.” Ex-members of the organization continued to speak and act, but the SI itself did not make a sound: there were no anthologies, no self-congratulatory retrospectives, nothing. According to both The Veritable Split in the International and recent statements made to me by Gianfranco Sanguinetti, that was the whole point of the group’s dissolution, which came after almost three years of silence: to disappear, to become obscure, to prevent people just like McKenzie Wark from having the good ol’ SI to depend upon, year after year.

But the key point is this: despite the assertion by Wark (and so many other apologists for capitalism), it is impossible to “live within it.” All one can do in a capitalist society, especially capitalism in its spectacular stage, is survive. And this is precisely why people like Wark – and all those who are attached to the meager privileges and rewards that this society has given them in exchange for their services as prostitutes, apologists and representatives[8] – must do everything they can to recuperate, denigrate or even destroy Guy Debord.

On the one hand, Debord was one of the fiercest and most lucid critics of the intellectual, spiritual, psychological and moral bankruptcy of the people who try to avert their eyes from this society’s most objectionable aspects (in Wark’s words: “not give it our undivided attention”). Without Debord, that is to say, without the bad conscience that Debord represents for such people, they can get on with the business of enjoying their survival.

On the other hand, Debord was a great believer in the desirability and possibility of social revolution. Indeed, the mission of both Debord as a person and the Situationist International as an organization was to put revolution back on the agenda. But politicians like Wark do not want revolution to ever be on the agenda: it’s not that he believes that revolution is impossible; it’s the fact that revolutions put politicians out of work.[9] This explains why Wark wants people to believe that May ’68 was a “failure,” when it was actually a near-success, and it also explains why he is so comfortable with extolling “Occupy Wall Street,” an explicitly reformist movement that famously made no demands because the only demand to be made today is for revolution.

What Wark stands for, what Wark accomplishes, is a regression in modern revolutionary theory. In an interview published on 24 May 2013 with Furtherfield, a spectacular blog about “Arts, Technology and Social Change,” Wark says,

when one reads the Society of the Spectacle, it is the second-to-last chapter that is the one that counts. The second-to-last chapter is about détournement, it's about the way that you appropriate and use the whole of poetry and technology as always and already belonging to all of us. You act on that basis, self-consciously. That's the struggle, that's the strategy [...] To me, the key to Debord is détournement. It's all about Lautreamont, not Marx. Debord absorbs all these Marxist elements into this avant-garde practice of détournement.

This is truly what marks Wark as a recuperator: his inversion of Debord's real achievement, which was to absorb the avant-garde practice of détournement into revolutionary Marxism. In Wark's neutering of Debord, revolutionary Marxism and the fourth (and longest) chapter in Spectacle (“The Proletariat as Subject and Representation”) are systematically erased. Without these truly central elements, all that remains of the situationist project are the masturbatory efforts of individual artists; we remain deprived of what was needed in 1967 and still need today: effective collective action. “For the society of the spectacle to be effectively destroyed,” Debord says in Thesis 203, “one must have men [and women] putting a practical force into action. A critical theory of the spectacle is only true if it joins forces with the practical movement of negation within society.” And if it doesn't join forces with the practical movement of negation within society, that is to say, with revolutionary workers, then it is false and, like all ideologies, the enemy of revolutionary theory.

For these reasons, one can only be appalled by some self-avowed anarchists, who are happy to pretend to find Wark’s bullshit amusing and to join him in dismissing the “pro-situs” as out of date. Though “pro-situs” (they are actually post-situs, but this is like explaining Shakespeare to a monkey) may be irascible and quarrelsome, they still believe that revolution – not reformism – is the order of the day. The only conclusion one can derive from the behavior of smug hipsters such as Aragorn Bang (snickering about the “pro-situs” within the confines of Facebook and posting our declaration to website with the tag “LOL” and “drama”) is that they, too, are not revolutionaries. For them, “anarchism” is what “postmodernism” is for Wark: a way of showing that, at the very least, they are not pro-Obama social democrats. But they might as well be: they share with them the laughable conceit that the only way to “change” the system is to “work within it,” using digital technology, naturally.

For the last several years, I have contented myself with writing and publishing short denunciations of this faker, this whore, this preening fop – someone for whom Guy Debord and the other situationists (or any other true revolutionary) would have had nothing but contempt. And if Michele Bernstein and Jacqueline de Jong are willing to share a podium with him, and if other ex-situationists were willing to help him put together his most recent book, this simply shows that, despite or precisely because of their accomplishments in the past, they have become what the Surrealists had become in the 1950s, when the SI first started: obstacles in the way of the revolutionaries of today.

No more needs to be said. “Some actual critical thought” on his production of a figurine of Guy Debord “would be quite welcome,” he “tweeted” on 21 May 2013. He wants something “other than spectacle! recuperation! everything!”[10] But, unfortunately for us, that’s all that Wark and his books and his little statue of Debord are: no actual critical thought, just spectacle and recuperation. And so all he’s going to get from me is scorn and insults. I refuse to serve.

[1] Stunted Publicity, written by me and signed by four other situationist-inspired people.

[2] All quotes from Wark’s Twitter feed 19-22 May 2013.

[3] Wark’s Twitter feed 24 May 2013.

[4] All quotes from Wark’s Facebook page 22 May 2013.

[5] “It is only specialists, whose individual power depends on the power of a whole society of specialization, who have abandoned the critical truth of their various disciplines in order to enjoy the more positive wages of their function.” (Internationale Situationniste, #7, 1963).

[6] Let me be clear about this, because one of Wark's most cynical defenses is to point to other people's use of the Internet and say “See? It's all spectacle. There is no avoiding the spectacle.” With a single exception, all of the books I have published have been self-published (the exception was published by a very small independent press). I would not have it any other way, and have in fact turned down publishing contracts offered by bourgeois publishers. I do not have a Twitter feed nor a Facebook account in my name. Though I run this website, it is far from technologically sophisticated: I handcode every entry myself. And, once again, I would not have it any other way, and I have turned down dozens of self-interested offers to have this site spectacularized.

[7] In the original article, the word “situationist” carried a hypertext link that brought the reader to the on-line archives of situationist materials maintained by “Libcom,” an ultra-Leftist website. Though its administrators, members and viewers don’t seem at all interested in adding new material (which it desperately needs), Libcom’s archive is still technically active. And so it made a better choice for a hypertext link that the ones provided by either Wark himself or the person who edited the interview with him that was published in that well known organ of radical thinking, The New Statesman, which sent its readers to two sites that have not been updated in ten years.

[8] “Well, I am obviously not concerned with being inconsistent because not only am I a tenured professor, I was also associate dean for two years, so I am about as institutional as you can get, even if at that strangely marginal place that is the New School for Social Research.” McKenzie Wark, interviewed 1 September 2011 by The New Significance.

[9] Note added 27 May 2013: with respect to what he calls “the failed revolution of 1968 and 1969 in France and Italy” (note that there is only one, and it existed, self-same and identical, in two very different countries), Wark states, “Whether such a revolution was possible or even desirable at that moment is a question best left aside” (The Spectacle of Disintegration, p. 15). But the simple fact of the matter is that those who speak of the situationists without explicitly mentioning revolution have a corpse in their mouths.

[10] Note added 27 May 2013: confirming my image of him as a trained parrot, Wark is still repeating this refrain: “We'd all like to see some critical thought on #3Debord [his Debord figurine], rather than the old posturing” (Tweet @Mark_Kauri and @InfoshopDotOrg dated 27 May 2013). He just doesn't understand or refuses to understand that he is getting precisely what he deserves.

Bill Not Bored
24 May 2013

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