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The Situationists – Part 3

(This is the third and final quotation from Kalle Lasn’s chapter “The Revolutionary Impulse of his book “Culture Jam,” paperback edition, pp. 105-107.)

Whatever else you may think of Guy Debord – that he was wildly idealistic and extreme in his views – he did walk the walk. He created a life free of spectacle. He never had a job; he spent his time in taverns, arguing philosophy, drinking and writing. He consistently refused interviews with the press and wrote only six slim volumes. “I wrote much less than most people who write, but drank much more than most people who drink,” he once remarked. For him life really was an eternal festivel. He believed passionately in his own destiny and that of his friends. Our kind will be the first to blaze a trail into a new life,” he boasted.

The heroes of the Situationsts’ era  were unbridled and anarchical, pure vessels of poetic expression, living somehow out of time. They were the polar opposite of the people often held up as examples in our own age of workaholism – competitive, ambitious folks who, as Welsh historian L.T.C Rolt put it, “believe in faster trains and more traffic, who ravage the landscape while claiming to protect it, who disintegrate the family while assuring us it is their priority, who sanctify work while increasing unemployment. All this because they have jettisoned faith in the true spiritual nature of the human being and have not the courage to risk being real, but must always be striving to become superior to their competitors.” …

… What does this have to do with revolution and culture jamming? Everything. Interrupting the stupefyingly comfortable patterns we’ve fallen into isn’t pleasant or easy. It’s like crawling out of your warm bed in your dark room one December morning at five A.M. and plunging into a tub of ice water. It shocks the system. But sometimes shock is what a system needs. It’s certainly what our bloated, self-absorbed consumer culture needs.

Culture jamming is, at root, just a metaphor for stopping the flow of spectacle long enough to adjust your set. Stopping the flow relies on an element of surprise. That’s why a Zen master may suddenly throw you a wildly cryptic, inappropriate, even obscure answer to your harmless query. He might answer your question by removing his shoe and placing it on top of his head, or throwing it at you, or telling you that if you meet Buddha on the road you must kill him. The Zen master is trying to break your trance. He’s showing you a new path to the waterfall. Debord called this kind of thing “breaking the old syntax,” and replacing it with a new one. The new syntax carries the instructions for a “whole new way of being in the world.”

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Jim Moss

Jim Moss