File name: Plant_Sadie_The_Most_Radical_Gesture_The_Situationist_International_in_a_Postmodern_Age.pdf
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Author: Sadie Plant
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Title: The most radical gesture: The Situationist International in a postmodern age
739 kB, 237 pages
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Started reading the first pages of The most radical gesture by Sadie Plant, former member of the CCRU. It's her dissertation from 1992 and written before she even went to Warwick. Yet I expect it to reveal connections between situationist thinking/practice and that of the CCRU.
A good subsumption of postmodernism is given in there right at the start:
Of course, the situationists’ attempt to transform everyday life has been defeated, although their involvement with the upheavals of 1968 made them believe they had succeeded in helping it on its way. Neither have there been any further projects of the scale of that perpetrated by the SI and, in the present fin de millénium atmosphere of postmodernity, such all-encompassing revolutionary theories are said to be no longer possible. They bear the illegitimate arrogance of political totalitarianism, depending on unsupportable beliefs and assuming the possibility of ascertaining the way the world really is, regardless of the vicissitudes of appearance or the ambiguities of meaning. On this reading, the situationists’ attempt to construct a unified theory of capitalism merely brought them within the totality they thought they were opposing. But in spite of the radical opposition of situationist and postmodern thought, all theoretisations of postmodernity are underwritten by situationist theory and the social and cultural agitations in which it is placed. The situationist spectacle prefigures contemporary notions of hyperreality, and the world of uncertainty and superficiality described and celebrated by the postmodernists is precisely that which the situationists first subjected to passionate criticism.
This continuity is not coincidental. The philosophers most closely associated with postmodern thought, Jean-François Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard, both emerged from the same political milieu as the situationists. Baudrillard’s work is informed by his contacts with the situationist Guy Debord, and Lyotard was involved with Socialisme ou Barbarie and the mouvement du 22 mars, probably the groups whose political ideas and activities were closest to those of the SI. Allusions to the situationists are to be found in the work of both authors, and although postmodernism turns situationist theory against itself, the traces, even the tyre-tracks of the style, vocabulary, and scope of the situationist project run across postmodernism. Poetry, pleasures, cities, and subversions are themes common to both frameworks, and in their hostility to the Left, their attacks on the complacency and complicity of established forms of radicalism, their desire to collapse distinctions between the aesthetic and the everyday, and their search for the loci of social power in relations of language, knowledge, and everyday experience, the situationists provided postmodernism with much of the ammunition for its attacks on established genres of thought and s o c i a l o rganisation. Moreover, the tactics with which postmodernism makes these attacks were already present in the situationist armoury: pastiche and deconstruction, subversive violence from within systems of social organisation or thought, playful irreverence towards respected theories, and the exposure of every hidden allusion and resonance.
Postmodernism uses all this to convey our departure from the modern period in which we experienced ourselves as autonomous subjects capable of making judgements, expressing desires, and acting upon the world. In Jean Baudrillard’s work, it suggests that modern society has become hyperreal, a world in which the spectacle defines, circumscribes, and becomes more real than reality itself. Baudrillard describes the seductive power of images which fool us into believing a reality persists beyond this hyperreality, and suggests that subjectivity is produced by a host of networks of social relations and discursive constructions so complex that it cannot be unravelled to reveal causes, directions, or meanings. There is no such thing as a social whole or a theoretical unity: the notion of society is a myth belying the essential discontinuity of social relations, and the development of theory is the totalitarian exercise of power on the world’s dynamic fragments. The individual and the world are decentred: there is no core, no soul, no God, and no economic imperative. Alienation is not a problem peculiar to capitalism, but an inevitable feature of life to which we might as well develop a positive attitude, and the search for authenticity betrays a hopeless nostalgia for a unity which never existed in the first place. We live in the midst of codes, messages, and images which produce and reproduce our lives. These may have had their origins in commodity production, but have since won their independence and usurped its role in the maintenance of social relations. All that remains is the pleasure of playing in the fragments, the disruption and resistance of the codes in which we live, the jouissance of realising that the search for meaning is endlessly deferred and has no point of arrival and, in the absence of new movements, styles, or genres, the continual reiteration of those of the past In the postmodern imagination, alienation is everywhere and is therefore nowhere; power is dispersed and so impossible to seize. We will only ever feel at home, liberated, and content if we give up looking for a world more real, a social organisation more free, and a happiness more profound than those provided for us. There is no subject of history digging capitalism’s grave, and no Elysian field on the other side of the barricade.
Considered in these terms, postmodernism is a manual for survival, and a very good one, in a capitalist world which seems immune to transformation. Building on the failure of the social revolution which has been just around every twentieth-century corner, it cultivates an attitude which enables one to cope with the continual refurbishment of buildings, opinions, cities, and fashions, and its reassurance that it is quite natural to feel lost, confused, and uncertain of the solidity of the ground beneath one’s feet is welcome news to the shaky survivor of the late twentieth century. But, full of advice about surviving in the here and now, it tells us little about the possibilities of transforming it: of metaphorically and literally leaving the twentieth century behind. And this was the intention of the situationist analysis, which was not a treatise on survival, but an indication of the possibilities of living in a world for which the imperatives of survival have long since disappeared. It was not an account of how to have as much fun as possible in this social environment— although in this respect it rivals postmodernism—but the theoretical transcription of attempts to have as much fun as possible changing it.