Keith Sanborn on 25 Feb 2001 15:17:44 -0000

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Re: <nettime> In Defence of Cultural Studies aka Debord and nostalgia

If one wants to understand the economy, one has to use all
of the theoretical tools available. Not just Marx but Keynes,
Marshall, and on into the late 20th century. Social democracy
has to get over its romantic nostalgia for failed revolutions.
And no matter how 'theoretically sophisticated' Debord may
be, its pretty sterile as an approach to political action. People
want results.

The following is a response to the summary paragraph of McKenzie 
Wark's recent nettime post, immediately above.

Though it is hardly to be argued against that one may use all the 
tools at ones disposal, there is certainly no inherent virtue in mix 
and match in the intellectual mall of revolutionary theory. Some 
tools don't work as well as others, and whatever the drawbacks of his 
theory, Debord retained what many have gladly handed over in a search 
for mere complexity at any cost: a coherent sense of history.

That Debord was an enemy of Social Democrats, there is little doubt, 
but it is simply inaccurate and ungrammatical- to treat Debord as a 
"sterile" " approach."

Debord actually participated in the events of 1968 and the social 
life that lead up to those events. He did not participate as a 
"social democrat" or an academic Marxist, but as a revolutionary in 
the street and as one who had theorized existing social conditions 
with a great degree of accuracy. Though Debord recalled, somewhat 
modestly, in a parallel which he draws explicityly: "The Soviet was 
not a discovery of theory." It was no accident that the walls and 
streets and the interiors of buildings were emblazoned with many 
situationist bywords. No accident because their ideas "were in 
everyone's heads" and because they painted many of the slogans there 
themselves. But slogan painting does not a revolution make; the 
situationists and Debord among them participated in those evenings at 
the Sorbonne which very nearly gave rise to Council Communism in 

Debord, and the situationists, in fact developed many tactics which 
fall under the strategic heading of "detournement," which have many 
offspring, in the us and elsewhere, in the basic forms of current 
visible forms of resistance to the State. To name only a few: 
billboard alteration, video hacking, sticker campagns, and various 
aspects of tactical media.

Being nostalgic is not the same as having a sense of history, though 
there are some--Baudrillard, for example, and his followers--who 
would have us believe it does.

Keith Sanborn

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