In favor of simply executing it, I excised my note on method in an early draft of my book on Debord. It's true, as one reviewer noticed, that I relied primarily on original documents by, or directly related to, the subject. Debord's personal history, gleaned from these documents, is placed in the context of world history. His texts are further illuminated by relevant intellectual history. Where necessary, I give brief accounts of the historical events or thinkers under discussion. This is, in my opinion, the strength of my book—it should be comprehensible to budding American radicals in the late XXth-century despite the epidemic of inattention related to the conditions of modern life.
A moment may arise when biographies of a Statist like Che, whose simplistic and always disastrous strategy based on seizure of State power by a party elite, are forsaken in favor of Guy Debord—Revolutionary. If the book seems somewhat didactic, compare it with books written and read by revolutionaries in the XIXth-century, or read Debord himself; he can be quite didactic at times, insisting in his last film: "I write my thoughts with order. If they're true, the first to come will be a consequence of the others. It's the real order." When so many supposedly well-informed people are so wrong about a man, it seemed necessary to demystify him by presenting a very direct and objective perspective on his project, which is to say, on his life. This essay claims that's Debord deserves to be discussed in his own terms, and that the phrase "reversible connecting factor" is not one of his terms.
My debt to Greil Marcus' Lipstick Traces for his interviews is obvious and acknowledged very directly in Guy Debord—Revolutionary, much more so than those of my other sources, most of whom didn't want to be identified. Marcus' interviews were also referenced, unlike the extensive interviews conducted by the French press, both print and radio, which I did not note in all instances, simply giving credit to the speaker when I didn't simply appropriate relevant and credible material into my narrative. Yet my regard for Lipstick Traces is not high enough for some of my early internet reviewers. This paper is, in part, a response to the review of my Guy Debord—Revolutionary in an unsigned internet posting on Not Bored! (attributable to Bill Chairman of Debord Brown, long-time editor of this zine). Brown was critical of my criticism of Lipstick Traces and even went so far as to call it "confused." I had anticipated as much and foresaw the need to go beyond my initial footnote, which was what initiated a limited dialogue with Gruel (as his detractors sometimes call him—just kidding, he's been great in playing along with all this). Now that Marcus has informed me of the source and the French original for "reversible connecting factor," I'm more convinced than ever that Lipstick Traces has somehow cast a spell on Brown (receptive to it as he is given his acknowledged assistance to Marcus). And this spell has evidently clouded Brown's critical faculties. I too, was once a fan of Lipstick Traces, but careful examination of Marcus' use of the "reversible connecting factor" demonstrates a remarkable degree of misunderstanding of dialectics and historicity. What I came to resent about the book was its confusionism, which is not limited to, but seems to thrive, in the postsituationist microcommunity. According to Brown, the major shortcoming of my book is that it doesn't "make anyone FEEL what Debord felt." Should—I'd like to ask—my book make one feel the way a sensationalist treatment might make one feel? No. This criticism of my reluctance to pull the reader's emotional strings is misguided: Debord is known for his dispassionate, lucid, objective critique. I chose to remain relatively loyal to Debord and, to a certain extent, transmit his example as if I were a mere transmission unit in his game of war (not so much considering him the same way he considered himself, as if I really could do that, rather reporting on his very healthy ego along with the rest). I don't want people to necessarily feel the necessity of social revolution, rather to arrive at this conclusion through a logical analysis of historical conditions, conditions one must feel for oneself, not be made to feel using the charms and arms of the spectacle. Besides, a man like Guy Debord is so far superior to me that to make the sort of emotional appeal that Brown advocates, in a book on Debord, would invite still more confusionism between distinct projects. I write about my life, my friends and my revolutionary fantasies in my novels, especially my latest, Snitch Jacket. My more programmatic, activist and theoretical work apart from Debord is available in The Arch Conspirator, where I cover a great deal of ground in relatively few pages (a call for the universal cancelation of debt, a concise history of workers' councils that I think could be advanced by zeroworker councils that render much of what is now work illicit, and so on). I try to provide a good example by describing how I published a pamphlet of Aphorisms Against Work on the eve of Labor Day and gave a copy to the Secretary of Labor, purportedly one of great one's here on the earth, after her work sermon at the National Cathedral, receiving considerable solidarity from bystanders in the process. But to in any way confuse my protest with the life's work of a man like Guy Debord would be confusionist and hence detrimental to the advances made by Debord in radical theory and praxis. If I am mildly critical about aspects of the use of reification, ideology and false consciousness in Debord's writing, it is with the recognition that these concepts were used in an effective praxis that has not been surpassed in any other industrialized country (to limit one's critique of Debord to the realm of theory is also confusionist because pra is takes Marx and Debord out of the realm of philosophy).
Marcus' treatment of Debord is either intentionally confusionist or hopelessly confused or both. As good as rock and punk has or hasn't been for Debord or for the receptiveness to the idea of revolution more generally (leaving aside the fact that Johnny Rotten was always good Christian boy, even in the Sex Pistols), I'd hoped that my book would take Debord out of the realm of rock criticism. In other words, there is a great deal of Greil Marcus in Lipstick Traces that taints the subject under discussion, at least when the subject under discussion is Debord (although he also gave unjustifiably gave short shrift to Picabia by lumping him in with the others he erroneously identified as late-coming imitators—Cravan and Duchamp?—in his description of the early history of Dada). In the process of looking at Marcus' use of "the reversible connecting factor," a patently false category, I found numerous instances where Marcus was confusionist; so many instances, in fact, that I would say that confusionism is his method.
Other than this confusionism, which I take seriously, I don't have anything against Greil Marcus. Marcus' success as a writer isn't matched, in my mind, by Debord, Sanguinetti and Vaneigem; or novelists such as Orwell, Traven and Tenin—don't think that envy has anything to do with my criticism; I don't aspire to be a crock critic. While in Manchester for the Hacienda conference I kept thinking back to the comment some guy made to his wife at a Virginia bar: "That's Engels," he said with a laugh, pointing at me. Of course I failed in my effort to be the Engels to Debord. But as Picabia says, there are only failures and unknowns in this world. Imply that I'm an opportunist if you want, Bill Brown, but I know who I am. It doesn't surprise me in the least that someone as confident in his knowledge as you wouldn't learn anything new from me. Brown made up his mind long ago about Debord the same way he'd made up his mind about me when I sent him the first issue of Extraphile: he sent it back, angrily pronouncing me guilty of association with Bob Black. In part, this essay is designed to instruct Bill Brown to go back and learn what he thinks he knows from scratch, the way anyone who wants to master something should do from time to time.
Anyway, I once spoke to Greil on the phone about the link between Bataille and Debord; he led me to Gérard Berreby's Documents relatifs a la fondation de l'internationale situationniste for a copy of Potlatch (one of the fruits of my research was finding the relevant thesis in Society of the Spectacle related to Bataille's conception of potlatching waste). During our brief conversation, I picked up the vibe that Marcus didn't want to be bothered by the likes of me—he seemed to be afraid that I would try to break into his house to steal his books. This is reasonable enough given the times in which we live. I assured him that I live on the other coast and never called again. I thanked him in notes that went along with the first few issues of my zine Extraphile.
In a stratagem calculated to elicit a response to my book from Marcus, I wrote a long footnote in Guy Debord—Revolutionary on his use of the phrase "reversible connecting factor" in the context of my discussion of Debord's interpretation of history. Of course I could only pretend to have read all of Debord's work—I mention, for example, that I failed to find his message to the Portuguese revolutionaries. My statement "nowhere does Debord use the phrase 'reversible connecting factor' as Marcus claims" was a gambit. To use a boxing metaphor, I was ready to take a punch to pick a fight on the broader issue brought into the ring. Yet it turns out that I wasn't incorrect, as I will demonstrate below. Besides, "What fun?" I asked Marcus, "is it to write about Debord without polemicizing a little?" especially when there are fundamental issues at stake.
First, the question of the confusionist references in Lipstick Traces: although the index cites the "reversible connecting factor" as appearing first on page 237 (where one finds the outrageous photograph of cadavers at Buchenwald, April 24, 1945), Marcus actually first mentions the "reversible connecting factor" on page 141. At no point on page 141 does he give any indication that he made an end note on the phrase. How would a reader know to look for the note without a number or an asterisk or some other sign? I suppose it would be wrong to blame Marcus for the erroneous index, but the combined effects of the lack of any indication of an end note and the index error amount to hiding a needle in a proverbial pile of hay.
Why does Marcus cover his tracks like this? Is it because he took a phrase from one of Debord's minor essays that, when properly translated, means nothing more or less than "revolution," although in Debord's case it could probably be better expressed as smashing the spectacle to bits in a revolutionary explosion of life. To my mind, Marcus used this poorly translated euphemism in a mystifying way. It surprises me that the supposedly informed readers of Lipstick Traces have failed to recognize the completely unacknowledged methodenstreit (the conflict of opposing ideologies) between Marcus' ahistorical work and that of Debord. What I'm saying is that if you believe what Marcus has to say about Debord and the "reversible connecting factor," you've been had because Debord's conception of history is based on the principle of historical change as being irreversible, not a "reversible connecting factor."
Here is the original paragraph and my translation of Debord's relatively minor essay, "The Situationists and New Forms of Action in Politics and Art" ("Les Situationistes et les nouvelles formes d'action dans la politique ou l'art") containing the original use of the so-called "reversible connecting factor."
Reprendre ainsi le radicalisme implique naturellement aussi un approfondissement considérable de toutes les anciennes tentatives libératrices. L'expérience de leur inachèvement dans l'isolement, ou de leur retournement en mystification globale, conduit à mieux comprendre la cohérence du monde à transformer—et, partir de la cohérence retrouvée, on peut sauver beaucoup de recherches partielles continuées dans le passé récent, qui accèdent de la sorte à leur vérité. L'appréhension de cette cohérence réversible du monde, tel qu'il est et tel qu'il est possible, dévoile le caractère fallacieux des demi-mesures, et le fait qu'il y a essentiellement demi-mesure chaque fois que le modèle de fonctionnement de la société dominante—avec ses catégories de hiérarchisation et de spécialisation, corollairement ses habitudes ou ses goôts—se reconstitue à l'intérieur des forces de la négation.
My translation and emphasis:
To revive radicalism naturally implies considerable deepening of all past liberatory initiatives. The experience of their failure in isolation or their transformation into total mystification, leads to greater understanding of the coherence of the world that needs to be transformed. And through a newly found coherence, one can salvage much partial research that was continued in the recent past and can thus be verified. The apprehension of this reversible coherence of the world [emphasis added], such as it is and is possible, unmasks the fallacious character of half-measures. And the fact is, half-measures exist every time the dominant model for the functioning of society—with its hierarchical categories and specialization, and as a corollary, its habits and tastes—is reconstituted inside the forces of negation.
As you can see, in my version, Debord's "cette cohérence réversible du monde," not his most eloquent formulation, becomes "this reversible coherence of the world"—not "this reversible connecting factor." What follows is the portion of the SI translation, graciously forwarded by Greil Marcus:
To revive radicalism naturally also involves considerable research work, with a view to all the earlier attempts at freedom. Experience concerning how they have ended in isolation or turned into global mystification leads to a greater understanding of the continuity in the world that is to be changed—and by means of this understanding it is possible to salvage many of the single results that research in the most recent past has reached and which can thus be verified. This understanding of the reversible connecting factor in the world exposes—to the extent that it exists and is possible—the false character of halfway measures...(SI trans.)
Note that where Debord uses cohérence, a cognate with the English "coherence," the SI translators use continuity, understanding and connecting. Compare their variation with my repetition of the cognate "coherence"—the meaning is much more clear: he's talking about opposing the totality of the existing order with a total critique and a total practice: in short, revolution. I read this cohérence as a stylistic variant on Debord's use of the concept of totality, especially when succeeded by du monde. The coherence of the world to be reversed is what Debord calls the spectacle. Part of the confusion, apparently unforeseen by the original translator's abandonment, three times in a row, of coherence, is that it makes little difference if "a" is connected to "b" or "b" to "a"—what's important about a connection is if it's made or not, or else broken. The notion of the "coherence of the world," on the other hand, can, at least theoretically, be "reversed." For example, the separation that holds the existing world together is reversed and the unity of what was separate becomes the world's cohesive force. Such a reversal, on a global scale, has never taken place—the May-June 1968 occupations, riots and other more limited protests that erupted around world were as close as history has come to experiencing what Debord was getting at when he wrote about reversing "coherence of the world," and it was still a long way from realizing a complete reversal of the existing order.
Leaving aside the notion of reversibility, my literal translation "coherence of the world" (something akin to the spectacle), is translated as a "connecting factor" in the SI translation. I haven't done a word count on the use of "coherence" in all of Debord's work—the word surely appears from time to time, but Debord doesn't rely on it to develop a "theory of coherence" akin to the theory of truth developed by Neurath and Carnap, which is systematic in scientific and mathematical ways, and if he did, the "reversible connecting factor" was not one of his initial axioms. It figures that Marcus wouldn't use a more literal translation because "coherence" denotes orderly, logical connections and a degree of consistency that is absent in Lipstick Traces. This isn't a malicious attack but a statement of fact. As one Extraphile reader put it: "When reading Marcus, I get a buzz, but I don't really know what's going on." To put it another way, the reasoning in Marucs' discourse is incoherent; nor does he cohere, which is to say connect naturally and logically, with the work of Debord.
Marcus may have read into the word connecting the internal connection in dialectics that makes a continuous whole of the process of all life and things. If that were the case, why not use the word dialectics? It was good enough for Hegel, Marx and Debord. As for presenting a dialectical perspective akin to Debord, Marcus is, in my opinion, off the mark: "Nothing that actually happens becomes real until it is represented in the spectacle that is social life—after which it becomes unreal, and passes into its opposite." (pp 140-141) I would put it the other way around: Everything that happens is real until it takes its place in the spectacle, where it becomes unreal, but, given the unreality of the spectacle, it is real. This dialectical process isn't a "reversible connecting factor;" every category is historical, and nowhere else but in Marcus and the poor translation do we find a reference to a "reversible connecting factor" in the analysis of Debord and his concepts. Not in the French, English or American literature on the subject; nor, to my knowledege, in the Italian.
It doesn't help that Marcus takes Debord's line "even the true is a moment of the false" out of context, as he does on page 328 to demonstrate that the "reversible connecting factor" is also the use of genitive inversions (this example isn't a genitive inversion, nor is, as I demonstrate below, Marcus' other example, a quote from Marx). I say that it doesn't help our understanding because one of the basics aspects of contradiction is that a proposition cannot be simultaneously false and true—in a specific example, however, something that is true can be describing the way an object is false. Perhaps Debord is simply characterizing this process with a little rhetorical flourish. To take Debord out of context like this is mystifying and it might be better to learn one's cases before attempting to invert them. For all of Marcus' love of the "taste of negation," he completely disregards the notion that negation is a logical operation whereby a new proposition is inferred from a given proposition. Instead, he proceeds like a Burroughs cut up caught in a tornado. To put it another way, if Debord's propositions are true, Marcus' negations of them are false, and thus self-negating in a dialectical way. The time is at hand for a repetition at a higher level of some of the features of the original project.
The translation of "factor" ("the reversible connecting factor in the world") presents still more problems. Marcus makes the point that "Debord was a mathematician" (p 141), which is erroneous; he was a logician, and a Hegelian one, which is to say that he was a dialectician. Even the math in Debord's board game (the various coefficients for numerous maneuvers in different positions calculated for both sides, offense and defense), are, he makes clear in the rules to the game, secondary to strategic intuition. Whereas the of the world phrase denotes the concept of totality that is central to Debord's thought, one factor implies other factors of more or less importance. As Martin Nicolaus points out in his forward to Marx's Grundrisse, Hegel and Marx used "the term 'moment' to refer to what in a system at rest would be called 'element' or 'factor.'" My guess is that if Debord had carefully considered the translation, he would've objected to the use of factor due to the connotation of a Weberian theory of factors that describes social, technical and cultural factors in their external interactions. This is a mechanistic methodology alien to Debord, modeled as it is on the empirical sciences.
These structuralist schools split most dramatically with Debord on the issue of historicity, which recognizes the irreversible and successive nature of change in a way that is alien to structuralists who seek to reveal the intrinsic, timeless properties of objects under investigation and the interrelation of elements, usually in a hierarchy. Part of Debord's appeal is his ability to consider capitalism as being historically transient—without this sense of historicity, his entire project would be senseless: "the project of the domination by all people of their own history, at all levels." Debord engaged in a dialectical analysis of history, not an antihistorical approach to structure.
The act of either reversing or disrupting this coherence of the world, is a moment of real history and thus constitutes the movement of irreversible time. To inflate the importance of a minor phrase in a minor essay as Marcus does is misleading because it fails to even allude to Debord's conception—central to his major work—of irreversible time.
Marcus' use of the "reversible connecting factor" on page 238 equates his reversible connecting factor with Jung's activation of archetypes in Nazi Germany:
This was Jung's account of Nazism. In it was the power principle Debord would grasp: the reversible connecting factor, the idea that the empty repetitions of modern life, of work and spectacle, could be detourned into the creation of situations, into abstract forms that could be infused with unlimited content.
As I say in my footnote: to say that Debord found a "power principle" akin to one exploited by Nazis is a smear, especially when it was Jung who wanted a German, "non-Jewish," psychology in Germany, a psychology that engendered the storm troopers, concentration camps, mass anti-Semitism and ARBEIT MACHT FREI. Moreover, the idea of abstract forms infused with unlimited content would reek so badly of structuralism to Debord that Marcus should've at least hinted that Debord would object to this interpretation on the fundamental grounds of historicity. When Debord is writing about the "coherence of the world" he's clearly stressing his Marxist interpretation of capitalism, from its economic base to its corresponding superstructure, from its historical development to its internal logic (the unity of the historical and the logical always being first expressed in the historical, which contains in it, the logical). This has nothing to do with abstract forms; the groups who have attempted to reverse this coherence sprang up in their own unique historical conditions and applied their own logic to the task of transforming history, of creating an event that would disrupt the flow of non-history, that is the reproduction of daily life in a modern capitalist economy.
The logic that Debord proposes in his essay on new action forms, is the logic based on the necessity of total change, rather than half-measures, which is to say the creation of a total history. This total logic and conception of the totality of history exemplify the degree to which Debord's logic was wedded to his historicity, only released from it's concrete forms and presented in the paragraph in question in a generalized, theoretical way. The dialectics of the logical and the historical were what Debord was about, not the activation of archetypes, which is blatantly structuralist. Debord was a particularly harsh critic of structuralism: "the apology for the spectacle institutes itself as the thought of non-thought, as the official amnesia of historical practice."
This amnesia is carried over into Jung's personal complicity with the Nazi regime when he presided over the Nazified German section of the International Society for Psychotherapy and co-edited a journal, the Zentralblatt fur Psychotherapie with Goering's cousin. Even books sponsored by the Jung Foundation, such as the Lingering Shadows anthology (Boston: Shambala, 1991) make all this very clear—from the introduction: "It was in this publication [the journal mentioned above], in late 1933, that a manifesto appeared by Matthais Goering—with the consent of Jung who had thought that it was to be published only in a special German edition—which called for a rallying by professional colleagues to the racial colors of Nazi Germany. To compound matters, appearing in this same issue of the journal was Jung's essay 'On the State of Psychotherapy Today,' in which he starkly reiterated the differences between German and Jewish psychologies that he had posited some years earlier. In addition, his article compared Jews unfavorably to 'nomads' and women, and criticized Freud and Adler for stressing pathology while failing to appreciate the creative aspects of psychological life."
To take, as Marcus does, the analysis of Nazism from someone so involved with it, and impute his analysis of the Nazi technique of the activation of archetypes on Debord, without acknowledging Debord's theoretical opposition to Jung's methodology, is extremely misleading—to put is nicely. To support misidentifications like this, as Bill Brown does, is to stomp on Debord's back with jackboots.
In Debord's major work, The Society of the Spectacle, rather than referring to the "coherence of the world" as he did once in an early, minor essay, he uses the expression "unified irreversible time" to describe the same thing.
* With the development of capitalism, irreversible time is unified on a world scale.
He comes back to the concept repeatedly:
* (...) the class which organizes the social labor and appropriates the temporal surplus value of its organization of time: it possesses for itself the irreversible time of the living.
* From then on [from the time of the great technological revolutions] the succession of generations leaves the sphere of pure cyclical nature in order to become an event-oriented succession of powers.
* The chronicle [of history] is the expression of the irreversible time of power...
* Eternity is the element which holds back the irreversibility of time...
* History, which until then had seemed to be only the movement of individuals of the ruling class, and thus was written as the history of events, is now understood as the general movement...
* The triumph of irreversible time is also its metamorphosis into the time of things...
* Thus the bourgeoisie made known to society and imposed on it an irreversible historical time, but kept its use from society.
* The irreversible time of production is, first of all, the measure of commodities.
Irreversible time is intricately linked with Debord's vision of revolution—a moment when time is used differently by various individuals and groups (rather than as the time of production and consumption as it is today). But this time is also used the same way by the whole of the proletariat in the sense that historical life becomes generalized and everyone has access to the irreversible time of history:
* The revolutionary project of realizing a classless society, a generalized historical life, is the project of a withering away of the social measure of time, to the benefit of a playful model of irreversible time of individuals and groups—a model in which independent federated times are simultaneously present.
In Marcus' ahistorical, historico-comparative method, the outward resemblances of cultural forms of the Beatles in Hamburg and Debord in the lower depths of Paris, all in black leather, are the reversible connecting factor. If this doesn't break the bounds of credulity, why not go further and say that situationist provocations, rarely going beyond the level of insult except in extreme instances such as the riots of May '68, are based on the same "activation of archetypes" as Nazi massacres. These limitations of Marcus' book have been obscured by the way that the whole is cut up and reshuffled to provide still more obfuscation.
For Marcus, it's all a question of form—on p. 328 he equates the "insurrectional style," with the reversible connecting factor when discussing Marx's inversion of the genitive. There is no inversion of the genitive in the Marx quote given by Marcus to illustrate it: the illusion in the genitive construct is simply rephrased in the objective case: "To call on them to give up their illusion about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.") Marcus: "...his rhythm, his new way of talking. In microcosm it was also the reversible connecting factor: 'the insurrectional style,' Debord called it as he took it as his own ('even the true is a moment of the false')." These rhetorical expressions of the cognitive aspect of dialectics must be linked with a moment of activity in order to be verified, a moment of real history where a revolutionary event takes place: not simply a total critique, but a moment of total history, of irreversible time that both creates humans and the world they live in. To fail to recognize the necessity of the link between cognition and action runs the risk whereby the energetic process of cognition falls into the trap of contemplativeness. Or, as Censor (Gianfranco Sanguinetti) put it in his Debordist Real Report on the Last Chance to Save Capitalism in Italy: "...we do not believe that it is possible to solve real problems in writing." As I demonstrate in my discussion of Society of the Spectacle, the insurrectional style was merely one element in a vast, strategic interpretation of history that centers on the proletariat as the subject of history and a pointed denunciation of all insufficiently radical perspectives. Compare that with the following reductionism, on page 357, of Lipstick Traces: "As an attempt to reveal all the contradictions of the geopolitical and world-historical, to find the string of the reversible connecting factor and then pull it, the work of the SI could always be boiled down to crude slogans, to 'I TAKE MY DESIRES FOR REALITY BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN THE REALITY OF MY DESIRES,' to 'I want to destroy passersby.'" I was unaware that the latter was an SI line. Again on page 357, the "reversible connecting factor" is "simply the right graffiti on the right wall, at the right time, in the right place." There is no stylistic string that one can pull to reverse the coherence of the world as Marcus would have it: "Detournement—which finally meant applying the reversible connecting factor to any posited subject or object—was a way of fighting off boredom, and of criticizing it." (pp 363-364) Debord's "reversible coherence of the world," becomes a factor that can be applied to anything, like a bumper sticker. Debord's radical call for people to make their own history and his noble attempt to embody this call becomes a matter of culture studies: In the pictures of the early Beatles in Hamburg, "one can watch the invention of pop culture, its reception and its instant reinvention: a form of reversible connecting factor. An image of negation is made in a song, in a movie (the first film to exploit the Spivs, precursors of the Edwardians, appeared in 1950), in a novel, in the cut of a coat, in a gesture; the new media transmit the image, and suddenly people all over the world are living it out. But because the content of the reversible connecting factor remains unexamined, not the sign of a new world but simply a sign of separation from the old, one can also watch the instant self-destruction of pop culture, and see cool freeze." (p. 379) As far as Marcus is concerned, style is content. For Debord, the raw material of thought is history. Yes, the SI had its style in opposition to commodified style (negating them with diversions and then, later, being recommodified in a negation of the negation). Yes, the SI produced big effects with slight gestures, but no style, no archetype, could effect the sort of reversal of the coherence of the world that Debord alludes to in his essay on action forms. Styles are always already recuperated given the law of the negation of the negation whereby the motion of the material world is the negation of one of its states by another state: the negated state isn't eliminated, rather transformed—from Hegel to Marx to Debord, negation is a constant process that proceeds according to the logic of dialectics. The point that Debord was making is that half-measures (and here fashions, by themselves, are not even significant enough to be half-measures, except as commodities to be despised) that don't contest the content of the totality of social relations are doomed from the start.
To further confuse matters, Marcus writes about the "reversible connecting factor" on page 385 as the "instant route to total change" after citing the Lettrist International's articles on the Albigensian Crusade and Jack the Ripper's London as if there were some factor connecting them, presumably the psychogeography of violence, in reverse. I will point out, once again, that Marxist historicity is not fixated on any and every change, but on change that reflects the formation of the essential properties and connections that effect historical change in an irreversible and successive way—the sort of big change entailed in a reversal of the coherence of the world, i.e., in revolutions such as the French revolution, or the Industrial Revolution.
When I think of the way Debord used the revolutions of the past—particularly the Fronde and the Commune—I'm reminded of the opening passages of Marx's 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte where he describes the way "Luther donned the mask of the Apostle Paul," and numerous other examples of using the past by "magnifying the given task in imagination, not of fleeing from its solution in reality; of finding once more the spirit of revolution, not of making its ghost walk about again."
The social revolution of the XIXth Century cannot draw its poetry from the past, but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped off all superstition in regard to the past. Earlier revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to drug themselves concerning their own content. In order to arrive at its own content, the revolution of the XIXth Century must let the dead bury their dead. There the phrase went beyond the content; here the content goes beyond the phrase.
Debord wasn't duped into believing in the supremacy of form over content. Didn't Marcus pick up on the revolutionary content of Debord's writing? Does he really think that there is an equivalence between Situationist activity and Nazi acts of atrocity? as the "reversible connecting factor"? The content is clearly of little importance to Marcus, hence the revolutionary Situationists, who never killed anyone that we know of, suddenly use the same power principles as the Nazis? How off can Marcus be?
Even on the first and last times that Marcus uses the "reversible connecting factor"—regarding the Paris Commune and the Strasbourg University scandal surrounding the publication of The Poverty of Student Life—when the meaning does relate to what Debord meant when he wrote about "reversible coherence of the world," it is misleading to use this rhetoric, used once in a minor essay, when the irreversible nature of historical change is such a fundamental Marxist concept so central to Debord. The Paris Commune and the Strasbourg scandal were events, historical events that were irreversible in sense that they existed in their time and space. As Debord said, nothing can be any different than it was.
How is it that the Paris Commune was not the "reversible connecting factor"? Consider this quote from the SI on the subject: "Engels' phrase: 'Look at the Paris Commune—that was the dictatorship of the proletariat' should be taken seriously as the basis for recognizing what is not the dictatorship of the proletariat (i.e. the various forms of dictatorship over the proletariat, in the name of the proletariat)." To these "various forms" mentioned in the third of the SI's "Theses On the Paris Commune" should, perhaps, be added "the reversible connecting factor" because it is not the Paris Commune, nor is the "factor" the toppling of the Vendôme Column, as Marcus claims. In their "Theses on the Paris Commune," which Marcus mentions by name, the Situationists don't mention the destruction of the Vendôme Column—once again, Marcus juggles ideas and distorts what was said by making what is perhaps the most spectacular event in the Commune the most important. The SI makes it clear that what didn't happen is particularly significant: the half-measures and timidity were what doomed this reversal of the coherence of the world, if you insist, to failure—more of a glorious defeat for the SI because of the lack of leaders and because of its festival atmosphere. While this point about half-measures clearly picks up on the same theme mentioned in Debord's "The Situationists and New Forms of Action in Politics and Art," Debord wasn't talking about the Paris Commune, he was talking about new forms, mentioning, in particular, some revolutionary art thieves in Caracas and the Spies for Peace in England. In point of fact, for the Communards to have stopped with the Column, was just such a half-measure—the spectacle isn't "concentrated in a single point," as Marcus claims, rather spread out throughout society. Moreover, the spectacle as Debord conceived it didn't even exist in 1871. Marcus would have to wait at least another fifty years to find an event to illustrate this erroneous point with a historical example. This reminds me of Korsch's comments about historical specificity, the method that distinguishes the eternal values of the bourgeois economists from Marx's analysis of commodities in his time (and Marx from Debord's subsequent take on the commodity-spectacle). As Korsch put it, historical specificity constitutes "an offensive arm in the political struggle, an arm that opposes the apologetic tendency defending the existing order with a critique of society, a revolutionary tendency." And when Marcus writes about the Commune's toppling of the Vendôme Column, he throws us off track again with phrases such as: "To Haussmann's 'Ecce homo!' the Communards offered Shelley's 'Ozymandias.'" The Communards could've cared less about a pretentious poem about some ruins in far off desert sands. If Marcus had wanted to write about the SI's propositions on the Paris Commune, he could've done so—instead he wrote about the "reversible connecting factor" and the Vendôme Column as if they had something to do with the SI's propositions on the Paris Commune, when in fact, they don't.
Did the SI call the Strasbourg scandal "the reversible connecting factor" as Marcus does? No. They called it a "scandal" in " Nos buts et nos méthodes dans le scandale de Strasbourg" (Internationale Situationiste #11, October 1976). The distribution of so many copies of On the Poverty of Student Life was a moment (their word) when a real youth movement began to understand the SI's unified theory that was identified with a unified practice, and in many countries as the pamphlet was translated and widely distributed. The effects of propaganda are difficult to gauge, but it may well be that this pamphlet, at least in part, indirectly inspired the occupations and riots and protests, not just in Nanterre and Paris in 1968, which is beyond dispute, but also in Bonn, Milan, Madrid, Dower, Rome, Berkeley, New York, West Berlin, Frankfurt, Santiago, Vancouver and a dozen other cities around the world.
The Spies for Peace were a spoof on the Atoms for Peace campaign. They represented one of the new forms of action in the essay containing the reversible coherence of the world quote when they raided a secret government bomb shelter, and are also mentioned in the Misery of Student Life . What was once a "decisive contribution" in the struggle against the idea of nuclear hibernation and secrets in general, a contribution that the SI wanted to extend to other countries with their "Destruction of R.S.G. 6" protest in Denmark, was later criticized in Misery of Student Life for not having a truly radical, but only a partial critique centered on an antibomb perspective which, in part, would account for the group's isolation—it didn't link up with the working class or press for the revolution of everyday life. This hardening of position on the part of the SI, by insisting on a totalizing critique, is perhaps a minor point, but it is indicative of a trend that is part of the real history of the group. In any case, it apparently needs to be said that The Spies for Peace weren't Nazis or in any way like Nazis; nor were the students of Strasbourg Nazis!
In his response to my footnote, Marcus included this excerpt from the San Francisco Chronicle (July 23, 1997):
...I have a conversation...that I find I have a connection to. Tales abound of close encounters with Cunanan in bars and discos and at tony dinner parties, and many gay men have expressed shock and distress at just how widely known and popular—the suspected killer appears to have been. 'Cunanan is the Patient Zero of serial killers,' said San Francisco writer David Israels. 'Patient Zero was supposedly everywhere and connected to everyone, and this guy was also everywhere and connected to everyone. He's been seen in more places than Elvis.' The case also taps into the darkest nightmare of many gay men—that the sexy, affable guy they chatted up in the bar was not at all what he seemed. And it explodes the stereotype that most people, including gay men, have of serial killers as visibly disturbed loners.
This excerpt almost defies commentary. My first reaction is to point out that the Patient Zero hypothesis has been thoroughly discredited: the guy in question had traveled a great deal and had had many sexual contacts so he was arbitrarily chosen to be Patient 0 in the Center for Disease Control numbering system and then unfairly characterized in the media as the main disease vector. Patient Zero is just more spectacular disinformation. What can be said about Cunanan, except to underscore the reality of individuality in crazed people like him? The archetype of iconoclasm is a contradiction in terms. As for Gruel's beloved Elvis, my understanding is that he was connected all right, connected with the mafia and the Nixon White House.
Marcus has not responded to the real content of my substantive objections to his treatment of Debord, nor have any of the people who have thus far commented on my book. To my mind, this shows me the degree to which Marcus and his readers are either ignorant of Marxist dialectics and historicity, or the degree to which they are such rabid structuralists that they would seek to censor these concepts. It's pretty damned dishonest to fail to mention the concept of irreversible time in Debord's Marxist historicity as outlined in Society of the Spectacle and then use the poorly translated reversible connecting factor from a minor essay to support a structuralist analysis such as Jung's activation of archetypes. This dishonesty is compounded when the alien principle of the activation of archetypes is said to be Debord's. One would think that the editors of an academic press like Harvard University Press would be more scrupulous than to allow such an erroneous identification and, perhaps even more importantly, lack of identification. In winding this up, I'll repeat I once loved Lipstick Traces—especially his interviews (reconstructed from notes, according to Greil, not taped), and for them, I'm grateful that Marcus and his traces exist. I too made mistakes in Guy Deobrd—Revolutionary, but only minor ones (mostly typos due to the fact that I was in Paris when the book went to press and never saw the galleys—these typos and minor errors will be rectified in the second edition).
As for Brown's prediction of the imminent obsolescence of my book, I will answer the points raised in turn:
1. Kristen Ross' interview with Henri Lefebvre, published in October 79, was interesting in that the interviewer didn't challenge Lefebvre with Debord's much more plausible side of the story regarding the way the last fourteen paragraphs in Lefebvre's book on the Paris Commune corresponded, word for word, with the fourteen numbered theses authored by Debord, Kotanyi and Vaneigem. Kristen Ross' Fast Cars, Clean Bodies was very helpful to me in regard t "the reordering of French culture," as she puts it, in the fifties and sixties.
2. Debord isn't being recuperated by the right as Brown erroneously charges. Although I don't know the man, or much about him, my sources in France tell me that Pierre Guillaume may have an ulterior motive in writing about Debord when he tries to imply that Debord supported the gas chambers because he didn't speak of them. Think about it Bill. In Louis Janover's Nuit et brouillard du révisionnisme, the fellow travellers of the Guillaume's Old Mole bookshop, now allegedly a center of revisionism and negationism, are dismissed as "sulfurous" and worse. I write a little about this in Liquid Zinc, a journal of my May 1997 trip to Paris, but not much because I'm too far removed from this gossip to get bogged down in it. I look forward to Brown's full report on the topic, so long as it doesn't amplify the importance of someone so discredited as Guillaume.
3. The publication of Guy Debord's photographic Panegyrique II (which Brown conceded, probably wouldn't be very relevant to biographers), hasn't made my Debord for Beginners obsolete any more than the English translation of the Jappe's Guy Debord. I recommend Jappe's book, which I found instructive on several points, such as Debord's almost Platonic sense of truth. But he's unfortunate to have Donald Nicholson-Smith, a "pseudo-pederast" according to Debord, as his translator—see my Turning Gold into Lead for a critique of Nicholson-Smith's atrocious translations of Society of the Spectacle and Revolution of Daily Life. Incidentally, Nicholson-Smith and Jappe have responded to my letters and gifts with the counter-revolutionary response of non-communication. Nor do they show any signs that I am aware of, of wanting to participate in bringing situationistic activity into the next millennium. In any case, I attempted to provide more world history, intellectual history and history of the SI in my narrative than previous books on the subject because I didn't take for granted knowledge of the origins of the topics under discussion. This approach, I believe, gives my book a fullness and comprehensibility that is unsurpassed in the literature on Debord and the SI. I'll leave it to others to decide if my exposition of historical facts and analysis of the fundamental concepts is more illuminating than Jappe's academic analysis of esoteric points of philosophy. That said, I'm well aware that my book isn't the definitive take on Debord. When a more useful book on the topic comes along, trust me, I'll be the first to sing its praises.
My final reply to the charge of obsolesce is that Bill Brown's Not Bored! web site apparently hasn't keep pace with fundamental aspects of Marxist theory, dating back to the XIX th-century and reappearing in a coherent and consistent way in Debord. If I'm wrong, he should be able to tell me where the "reversible connecting factor" has been used as a weapon in a revolutionary struggle. The use of empty phrases like the reversible connecting factor makes it easier for the spectacle to suppress efforts to build a new revolutionary force based on the SI legacy. I'm not slavish to ready-made Marxist terminology, but I think that Debord deserves to be discussed in his own terms, and besides, why reinvent the wheel? Concepts must be given their proper names; to do otherwise is misleading. Why be deceptive when such disinformation is allied with the spectacle? Dialectics dates to Zeno of Elea, or at least Heraclitus—it was good enough for Aristotle and Plato, and again Diderot, Rousseau and Descartes. This is no place for a discourse on dialectics, rather where I'd like to respectfully suggest that Bill Brown devote less time to learning catch phrases such as the "reversible connecting factor" and think through what he believes in. In backing Greil Marcus, Bill Brown becomes a tool of the spectacle—he swaggers, but deep down he knows that my method is more honest. The bitter truth is that Marcus is very good at blowing soap bubbles that pop under inspection. It's too bad if this essay has been painful for some of you. Believe me when I say that I don't want to punish you for having illusions, rather to free you from them.
As you learn this lesson, how bitter do the words "nothing new" taste, Bill Brown? What tactics, albeit propaganda tactics, strengthen the connection between relatively isolated poles of instigation? Confusionism or objectivity? What sort of appeal is useful for those who don't want to be tools of the spectacle—emotional or rational? Behind Brown's screen of words we hear his resentment and indignation that someone else would write about Debord, which, when combined with his childish wish for more emotion, is pathetic. As the recent death of Diana demonstrated, children of all ages love beautiful fairy tales, but should serious revolutionaries fall for them? Debord is dead and no novelistic narratives or interviews will bring him back to life. The only thing that can bring Debord back to life is the anarchistic aspect of the SI's activity; here is where Bill Brown may well play a part. But he'll have to learn, along with me and all the rest of us, how to raise the stakes of this game to the level of the world historic. In other words, if one wants to play the game of history the way Debord did, one should understand his take on historicity. My goal in Guy Debord—Revolutionary was to communicate what was vital about Debord's example and, secondarily, correct a few errors. Who knows? the "reversible connecting factor" may serve as a valuable lesson by proving that no amount of sophistry and pretension can mask fundamental errors and misconceptions.