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

IN THE SECOND STAGE of the (First) Situationist International's history, which lasted from 1962 to 1967, the group's emphasis shifted from producing art-based political works to developing the critical theory of the spectacle. Consequently, the situationists' theatre of operations moved from the exhibition space to the university classroom. In 1965, the SI assisted in attacks on renowned cyberneticians who intended to speak at the University of Strasbourg. The following year, the SI wrote On the Poverty of Student Life, the publication of which was, thanks to a group of student radicals at the University of Strasbourg, paid for by their student union (which was not amused). The culmination of this period of agitation among the intelligentsia was the nearly simultaneous publication of two books of situationist theory: Debord's La Societe du Spectacle and Vaneigem's Traite de Savoir-vivre. In these works, and in the essays published in the SI's journal during this period, the best example of what a constructed situation is became a popular insurrection such as the 1871 Commune of Paris, the Kronstadt Rebellion of 1921, or the 1956 Workers' Councils of Budapest.

IT WAS WITH THIS ORIENTATION that the SI went forth into 1968, during which it met and participated in the festival-like Parisian occupations movement of early May 1968, which triggered an unprecedented general wildcat strike that paralyzed all of France for several weeks and almost toppled the French government. Unlike so many others (including no doubt the members of the Second SI), the situationists weren't taken by surprise when this clearly anarchist rebellion broke out and took hold of the populace -- they had been predicting the rebellion's unlikely arrival for more than a decade. As a result, the SI was able to act quickly and yet with confidence and effectiveness during the May Events; its members could plainly see the importance of the event, which so many commentators since then have been determined to dismiss as minor, localized, even nonexistent. Conversely, because the SI's devotion to resuscitating the international revolutionary movement had been unwavering, the rebellion could not fail but to have certain distinctly situationist features (such as the Enrages' use of politico-poetic graffiti and slogans, images taken from and turned against popular culture, and demands for the radical alteration of the patterns of everyday life).

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