McKenzie Wark on Mon, 24 Mar 1997 03:29:25 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> Nettime: situnecrophilia

Anyone who talks about the situationists speaks with a corpse up
their ass. But if you're going to perform an act of cultural
necrophila, it might as well be fun, rather than merely career
enhancing. OCTOBER magazine's winter '97 issue is on Guy Debord
and the Internationale situationiste. Half of it is a selection
of translated situ texts on 'visual culture and urbanism'. While
grateful for the material, we must remember that this kind of
*selection* is the worst kind of necrophilia, and OCTOBER should
be roundly chastised for fucking up the situs in this unseemly
manner. In future, we want this material selected at random rather
than according to the tastes of cultural historians and other
corpse-fuckers. OCTOBER is here party to an act of disgusting
dismemberment, cutting up the situ past to suit itself. 

For those not familiar with OCTOBER, its mission is to make the
avant garde safe for art historians. Only art and theory well and
truly dead is ever dealt with -- the special issue devoted to
Walter Benjamin's Moscow Diary is a fine example. Our heartfelt
sympathy for those like Alexander Kluge, to whom a whole issue
was devoted, as this constitutes a most terrible kind of pre-
mature burial. Since 1989, the very name OCTOBER has been an
anacronism, and perhaps its time to change it. I suggest DEATH as
a suitable replacement, for that is the main purpose of publication.

OCTOBER has certain difficulties with the situs, for while Guy
Debord has passed on, certain elements of the situ project may be
alive and well and living a safe distance away from art historians
and their grad students. In his introduction, Thomas McDonough
twice refers to punk and post-punk situ style moments as 'juvenile'.
Which of course provides more insight into the tepid nature of
uncle Tom's imagination than it does into contemporary avant garde
culture. T. J. Clark and Donald Nicholson Smith contribute a spirited
rant. They are entitled to their sour grapes and feeble japes simply
through having outlived practically everyone else associated with
the situs. Claire Gilman contributes an earnest paper that, like
McDonough's introduction, is a worthy corpse-fuck. The essential
element of *bad behaviour* is discounted in the first two paragraphs
on grounds to specious to mention. Like McD, she can't quite cope
with Sadie Plant's take on the situs as an ongoing practice of *bad
fun*. On all essential facts, Gilman is quite proper and correct, which
is why its all the more laughable. Yet more death on the installment
plan of OCTOBER -- in quarterly payments. 

Fortunately, its possible to rip the front half off the journal and just
keep the back part, provided one keeps in mind that selected texts
leave out a lot of the funny stuff that took up so much space in situ
journals. But the must-read part is in between -- an interview by
Kristin Ross with Henri Lefebvre. 

HL talks fondly about the Dutch connection in early situ, particularly
Constant's utopian architecture, and his book _For An Architecture of
Situations. He talks about the parallel between this early conception
of the 'situation' and his own notion of 'moments' -- an early formulation
of the virtual side of culture. HL claims that one of Constant's early
experiments in creating a situation involved the use of walkie-talkies
in Amsterdam -- unitary urbanism as creating a conection between different
parts of the city that have become alientated from each other. Not to
unify the city but to connect it in a kind of flux. He speaks with some
bitterness about his personal break with Debord. "everything gets mixed 
up: political history, ideology, women...". He claims Debord was 
immitating Andre Breton when he began expelling people from the movement.
(Including T. J. Clark, who later wrote some very fine histories of
modern French art). There's a wonderful account of the chaos at Nanterre
in May 68, a classic 'moment', 'situation' or irruption of the virtual
into the everyday. "And at about 3 in the morning -- in complete bedlam,
there was noise from all directions -- a radio guy handed the microphone
to Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who had the brilliant idea of simply saying
"general strike, general strike, general strike...". And that was the
decisive moment..."

It was with some difficulty that I stole my copy of OCTOBER No. 79, but
i urge all Nettime readers who may naturally be interested in these
matters that under no circumstances is it acceptable to buy a copy. Use
a public library if you must, but don't support corpse-fuckers with
your money. I have nothing against intellectual history or art history --
both very useful enterprises. The problem is with the desire to deal
with something dangerous and still living in avant garde culture as if
it were something safely dead that can be poked and prodded from a safe
place. That kind of thing needs severe chastisement. Please note that
Thomas McDonough's doctoral thesis is on the nice safe topic of "the
solitary promeneur in 19th century Paris." Claire Gilman is writing
hers on "pre and postwar Italian avant gardes." Fine. But its a pity
niether appears in an issue of DEATH called something like: 'Just a
few blocks from here: black avant gardes in contemporary New York'. Now
that might be dangerous. 

By all means, stay out of danger. I sure as hell try to. Just don't fuck
with dangerous stuff. It really is the most unpalatable spectacle watching
art historians getting their rocks off on the remains of poor dead Guy. If
his ghost is watching this, he really would top himself, perhaps for the
second time. I wrote in my obituary for Debord that he will not be
forgiven for exposing our duplicity and cant to the cold light of his 
serene refusal. Unfortunately, that prediction just proved dead right.

(a very pissed off) McKenzie Wark
New York, 23rd March 1997
Netletter #11

McKenzie Wark
Visiting Professor, American Studies Program, New York University
"We no longer have origins we have terminals"

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