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Len Bracken Reviews Recent Books
on the Situationist International

  • La Tribu by Jean-Michel Mension (Allia, Paris, 1998) is a pleasurable melange of photos, quotes from diverse sources and interviews with Mension conducted by the publisher, Gerard Berreby, at various Parisian bars. You'll find two great shots of Chtcheglov by Garans and new details on the exploits of the Lettrist International in these 141 pages.

  • In L'Amere victoire du situationnisme (Sulliver, Arles, 1998), the Italian anarchist Gianfranco Marelli covers the history of the SI in 400 pages of pure text. On its face, this is a strange thing for someone who explicitly denies the existence of experts on "situationism" to do. Clearly he must have some expertise, no? What he's trying to say in his flowery preface to this French edition is that anyone who now appropriates elements of situationist theory and practice is on the side of the spectacle. Harsh words for a professional teacher who presumably makes a spectacle of himself before his students on a daily basis; hypocritical words for a professional journalist who directly participates in the spectacle. Yet after 400 pages, this is Marelli's lame conclusion - pro-situs, whom he paints with a broad brush (never mentioning names or publications), are everything Debord and Sanguinetti called them. After this big windup, I expect documentation to prove his point (the Italian experience as revealed in Autobiography of a Generation and elsewhere would have been particularly interesting). Marelli apparently fails to understand that the legitimate influence of the SI on the education of generations of radicals naturally places them in a post-situationist context. I'm sorry, Gianfranco, the anarchist experience during and after May '68 just doesn't measure up to the situationist example. Many of us are anarchists ourselves, who, like you, understand the SI in its historical context and abhor aspects of the organization; we may also prefer to think in more purely Marxist terms of commodity fetishism rather than spectacular reification; and we may even have anti-work projects that draw more on Lafargue and Gortz than Vaneigem and Debord, but you can't take situationist strategies out of the radical playbook with the charge of spectacular corruption. The SI itself was never as pure as the sun.

  • Guy Debord ou la beaut‚ du n‚gatif by Shigenobu Gonzalvez (Mille et Une Nuits, Paris, 1998). A concise (60 pages), well-done account of Debord's life and work, followed by a much longer and highly informative bibliography/chronology. I was particularly interested in the record Gonzalvez provides of Debord's correspondence as a possible preview of his letters, forthcoming from Fayard.

  • In The Situationist City (MIT, Cambridge, 1998) Simon Sadler gives the reader 164 pages of British commentary on, and scores of illustrations mostly related to, "situationist architectural theory" (limited to the early years and extracted from the SI's revolutionary program). His "fastidiously academic book" opens by taking a shot at Mike Peters (Here and Now) for echoing a "Maoist" tone in a warning against professorial recuperation. The author then defends his use of the word "situationism" as part of the "autopsy and preservation" of the SI, but concludes that given their "virtual incomprehensibility" in architectural terms, "Situationists were nearer the mark than they realized when they said that 'situationism' did not exist." A decidedly snide take on a fragment of the situationist project that is useful for its quotes, and to those so inclined, for its mercifully brief architectural history.

  • Acid: the secret history of LSD by David Black(Vision, London, 1998) is a fascinating account of the acid scene and its most nefarious protagonist, Ron Stark. Black doesn't claim to have all the answers, but he asks provocative questions about Stark's involvement with the Weathermen, Italian terrorism and British Situationists. You'll want to check this one out for yourself along with Tendler and May's account of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love to expand your understanding of the Sixties and Seventies.

  • Samuel Applebaum's poetry collection: Chtcheglov (Paradise, Asylum, 1998) is "a provisional, reflexive text, evoking the unrehabilitated subject arousing its sympathy: the perpetually disquieting dematerialization, nearly fifty years ago, of Ivan Chtcheglov." Winter follows spring in the arid world/Police Day mid-river traffic backed up/Bannisters collapse in faded brown houses/I'm here for you she says her black hair loose/Slipping under stalls with a sex-bristle brush/Between us the weight of the muzzle/Citizens on both banks point us out/To the proper authorities/For this is where we ruined our civilization/Finger to lips the smothered actress smiles its sympathy: the perpetually disquieting dematerialization.

    --LEN BRACKEN
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