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6. Yet Another Introduction to the Situationist International . . . Bill Brown

PERHAPS A CONCRETE EXAMPLE of a situation that was actually constructed would help clarify the issue. But this, precisely, was the SI's problem (and its greatest strength, because the problem allowed the SI to adapt to changing circumstances over the course of 15 years): though it could find a great many historical examples, the SI was never in complete agreement on what an ideal constructed situation really was. As a result, the SI could never quite agree on the precise nature of the situations its members, and the organization as a whole, should be engaged in constructing. But rather than letting this fact become an obstacle to action, the SI produced all kinds of passageways that might lead to a constructed situation, whatever that might be.

FOR CLARITY'S SAKE, LET US POSTULATE, as others have done, that the history of the SI has three distinct stages. (Note, this postulation is rejected by Thomas F. McDonough in his article "Rereading the Situationists, Rereading Debord.") In the first stage (1957 to 1961), the members of the organization dedicated themselves to creative expressions of the new hybrid of art and politics. Over the course of these few years, they produced a staggering quantity and variety of art-based political ("synthetic") works: issues of their journal, tracts, pamphlets, scrapbooks, tape-recorded presentations and lectures, conferences, exhibitions, paintings, drawings, architectural models and plans, films, boycotts, disruptions of "spectacular" cultural events, etc. etc. In this first stage, a constructed situation was akin to what became known in the United States as a "happening" -- an interactive performance that was politically radical to the extent that it was a synthesis of all available means for the sole purpose of satisfying real, human desires -- though the situationists expected their happenings to encompass, fill and transform entire neighborhoods, and not just entire performance spaces. In other words, the construction of a situation was something that required the cooperation and participation of relatively large groups of people.

AROUND 1962, THE MEMBERSHIP and direction of the SI began to change, in part as a result of the organization's strict policy of excluding and breaking with people who seemed more interested in avant garde art than in radical politics, and in part as a result of the new types of people who approached the SI with the intent of joining it. Stated crudely but accurately: radically experimental artists were out and radically experimental theorists were in. The scission or break was so deep that a group of more than half a dozen excluded situationists (the so-called Nashists) constituted themselves as the Second Situationist International. Under this name, these ex-situationists continued to be active for several years, publishing The Situationist Times from Amsterdam. But very little attention was or has recently been given to the Second International, which incidentally was never officially disbanded.

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