XXIII THE UNITARY TRIAD: SELF-REALISATION, COMMUNICATION
The repressive unity of power is threefold: coercion, seduction and
mediation. This is no more than the inversion and perversion of an equally
threefold unitary project. The new society, as it develops underground,
chaotically, is moving towards a total honesty - a transparency - between
individuals: an honesty promoting the participation of each individual in the
self-realisation of everyone else. Creativity, love and play stand in the same
relation to true life as the need to eat and the need to find shelter stand in
relation to survival (1). Attempts to realise oneself can only be based on
creativity (2). Attempts to communicate can only be based on love (4). Attempts
to participate can only be based on play (6). Separated from one another these
three projects merely strengthen the repressive unity of power. Radical
subjectivity is the presence - which can be seen in almost everyone - of the
same desire to create a truly passionate life (3). The erotic is the spontaneous
coherence fusing attempts to enrich lived experience (5).
1. - The construction of everyday life fuses reason and passion. The plain confusion to which life has always been subject comes from the mystification covering up the utter triviality of merely continuing to exist. Will to live entails practical organisation. Individual desire for a rich multidimensional life cannot be totally divorced from a collective project. The oppression exercised by human government is essentially threefold: coercion, alienating mediation and magical seduction. The will to live also draws its vitality and its coherence from the unity of a threefold project: self-realisation, communication and participation.
If human history was neither reduced to, nor dissociated from, the history of human survival, the dialectic of this threefold project (in conjunction with the dialectic of the productive forces) would prove sufficient explanation for most things men have done to themselves and to one another. Every riot, every revolution, reveals a passionate quest for exuberant life, for total honesty between people, for a collective form of transformation of the world. Today, one can see, throughout the whole of history, three fundamental passions related to life in the same way that the need to eat and find shelter are related to survival. The desire to create, the desire to love and the desire to play interact with the need to eat and find shelter, just as the will to live never ceases to play havoc with the necessity of surviving. Obviously, the importance of the part played by each element changes from one time to another, but today their whole importance lies in the extent to which they can be unified.
Today, with the Welfare State, the question of survival has become only a
part of the whole problem of life. As we hope to have shown. Life-economy has
gradually absorbed survival-economy, and in this context the dissociation of the
three projects, and of the passions underlying them, appears more and more
clearly as a consequence of a fundamentally erroneous distinction between life
and survival. However, since the whole of existence is torn between two
perspectives - that of separation, of power; and that of revolution, of unity -
and is therefore essentially ambiguous, I am forced to discuss each project at
once separately and together.
The project of self-realisation is born of the passion of creativity, in the moment when subjectivity wells up and wants to reign universally. The project of communication is born of the passion of love, whenever people discover in one another the selfsame will to conquest. The project of participation is born of the passion of playing, whenever group activity facilitates the self-realisation of each individual.
Isolated, the three passions become perverted. Dissociated, the three projects become falsified. The will to self-realisation is turned into the will to power; sacrificed to status and role-playing, it reigns in a world of restrictions and illusions. The will to communication becomes objective dishonesty; based on relationships between objects, it provides the field of operations for semiology, the science of fucked-up communications. The will to participation organises the loneliness of everyone in the lonely crowd; it creates the tyranny of the illusory community.
Isolated, each passion is integrated in a metaphysical vision which makes it
absolute and, as such, leaves it completely out of touch. Intellectuals can be
funny when they try: they pull the plug out and then announce that the
electricity doesn't work. Not in the least abashed they proceed to inform us
that we're really in the dark, and that's just all there is to it. Wherever
everything is separated from everything else, everything really is impossible.
Cartesian analysis can only produce the jerry-built. The armies of Order can
recruit only the crippled.
2. - The project of self-realisation
Assurance of security leaves unused a large supply of energy formerly
expended in the struggle for survival. The will to power tries to recuperate,
for the reinforcement of hierarchical slavery, this free-floating energy which
could be used for the blossoming of individual life (l). Universal oppression
forces almost everyone to withdraw strategically towards what they feel to be
their only uncontaminated possession: their subjectivity. The revolution of
everyday life must create practical forms for the countless attacks on the
outside world launched daily by subjectivity (2).
The historic phase of privative appropriation stopped man being the demiurge he was forced to create in an ideal form and thus to confirm his own real failure. At heart everyone wants to be God. To date we have merely prevented ourselves being so. I have shown how hierarchical social organisation builds up the world by breaking men down; how the perfection of its structure and machinery makes it function like a giant computer whose programmers are also programmed; how, lastly, the cybernetic state is the coldest of all cold monsters.
In these conditions, the struggle for enough to eat, for comfort, for stable employment and for security are, on the social front, so many aggressive raids which slowly but surely are becoming rearguard actions, despite their very real importance. The struggle for survival took up and still takes up an amount of energy and creativity which revolutionary society will inherit like a pack of ravening wolves. Despite false conflicts and illusory activities, a constantly stimulated creative energy is no longer being absorbed fast enough by consumer society. What will happen to this vitality suddenly at a loose end, to this surplus virility which neither coercion nor lies can really continue to handle? No longer recuperated by artistic and cultural consumption - by the ideological spectacle - creativity will turn spontaneously against the very safeguards of survival itself.
Rebels have only their survival to lose. And there are only two ways in which they can lose it: either by living or by dying. And since survival is no more than dying very slowly, there is a temptation containing a very great deal of genuine feeling, to speed the whole thing up and to die a damn sight faster. To 'live' negatively the negation of survival. Or, on the other hand, to try to survive as an anti-survivor, focusing all one's energy on breaking through to real life. To make survival no more than the basis of a systematic quest for happiness.
Self-realisation is impossible in this world. Half demented rebellion
remains, for all its ferocity, a prisoner of the authoritarian dilemma: survival
or death. This half-rebellion, this savage creativity so easily broken in by the
order of things, is the will to power.
The will to power is the project of self-realization falsified - divorced from any attempt to communicate with, or to participate in, the life of others. It is the passion of creating and of creating oneself caught in the hierarchical system, condemned to turn the treadmill of repression and appearances. Accepting being put down because you can put others down in your turn. The hero is he who sacrifices himself to the power of his role and his rifle. And when, finally, he's burnt out, he follows Voltaire's advice and cultivates his garden. Meantime his mediocrity has become a model for the common rule of mortals.
The hero, the ruler, the superstar, the millionaire, the expert... How many times have they sold out all they held most dear? How many sacrifices have they made to force a few people, or a few million people, people they quite rightly regard as complete idiots, to have their photograph on the wall, to have their name remembered, to be stared at in the street?
Yet, for all its bullshit, the will to power does contain traces of an authentic will to live. Think of the virtú of the condottiere, of the Titans of the Renaissance. But the condottiere are dead and buried. All that's left is industrial magnates, gangsters and hired guns, dealers in art and artillery. The adventurer and the explorer are comic-strip characters (Tin-tin and Schweitzer). And it's with these people that Zarathustra dreamt of peopling the heights of Sils-Maria; it's in these abortions he thought he could see the lineaments of a future race. Nietzsche is, in fact, the last master, crucified by his own illusions. His death was a replay, with more brio, and in slightly better taste, of the black comedy of Golgotha. It explains the disappearance of the feudal lords just as the death of Christ explained the disappearance of God. Nietzsche may have had a refined sensibility but the stench of Christianity didn't stop him breathing it in by the lungful. And he pretends not to understand that Christianity, however much contempt it may have poured on the will to power, is in fact its best means of protection, its most faithful bodyguard, since it stands in the way of the appearance of masters who no longer need slaves to be masters. Nietzsche blessed a world in which the will to live is condemned never to be more than the will to power. His last letters were signed 'Dionysus the Crucified'. He too was looking for someone to assume responsibility for his broken zest. You don't mess with the witch-doctor of Bethlehem.
Nazism is Nietzschean logic called to order by history. The question was: what can become of those who wish to live like a lord in a society from which all true rulers have disappeared? And the answer: a super-slave. Nietzsche's concept of the superman, however threadbare it may have been, is worlds apart from what we know of the domestics who ran the Third Reich. Fascism knows only one superman: the State.
The State superman is the strength of the weak. This is why the desires of an isolated individual can always fit I 'n with a role played impeccably in the official spectacle. The will to power is an exhibitionistic will. The isolated individual detests other people, feels contempt for the masses of which he is a perfect specimen himself. He is, in fact, the most contemptible man of all. Showing off, amidst the crassest sort of illusory community, is his 'dynamism'; the rat-race, his 'love of danger'.
The manager, the leader, the tough guy, the mobster know little joy. Ability to endure is their main qualification. Their morale is that of pioneers, of spies, of scouts, of the shock-troops of conformity. "NO animal would have done what I have done..." What is the gangster-trip? A will to appear since one cannot be; a way of escaping the emptiness of one's own existence by running greater and greater risks. But only servants are proud of their sacrifices. Here the part rules the whole: sometimes the artificial being of the role, sometimes the directness of the animal. And the animal does what the man cannot do. The heroes who march past, colours flying, the Red Army, the S.S., the U.S. marines, these are the same people who burnt and cut living flesh at Budapest, at Warsaw, at Algiers. Army discipline is based on the uptightness of the rank and file. Cops know when to snarl and when to fawn.
The will to power is a compensation for slavery. At the same time it is a hatred of slavery. The most striking 'personalities' of the past never identified themselves with a Cause. They just used Causes to further their own personal hunger for power. But as great Causes began to break up and disappear, so did the ambitious individuals concerned. However, the game goes on. People rely on Causes because they haven't been able to make their own life a Cause sufficient unto itself. Through the Cause and the sacrifice it entails they stagger along, backwards, trying to find their own will to live.
Sometimes desire for freedom and for play breaks out among law and order's conscripts. I am thinking of Salvatore Giuliano, before he was recuperated by the landowners, of Billy the Kid, of various gangsters momentarily close to the anarchist terrorists. Legionnaires and mercenaries have defected to the side of Algerian or Congolese rebels, thus choosing the party of open insurrection and taking their desire to play to its logical conclusion: blowing their whole scene sky-high, and jumping into the dark.
I also have teenage gangs in mind. The very childishness of their will to
power has often kept their will to live almost uncontaminated. Obviously the
delinquent is threatened with recuperation. Firstly, as a consumer, because he
wants things he cannot afford to buy; then, as he gets older, as a producer.
But, within the gang, playing remains of such great importance that truly
revolutionary consciousness can never be far away. If the violence inherent in
teenage gangs stopped squandering itself in exhibitionistic and generally
half-baked brawls and rave-ups and only saw how much real poetry was to be found
in a riot, then their gameplaying, as it became increasingly riotous, would
almost certainly set off a chain reaction: a qualitative flash. Almost everyone
is fed up with their life. Almost everyone is sick of being pushed around.
Almost everyone is sick of the lies they come out with all day long. All that is
needed is a spark - plus tactics. Should delinquents arrive at revolutionary
consciousness simply through understanding what they already are, and by wanting
to be more so, then it's quite possible that they could prove the key-factor in
a general social retake on reality. This could be vitally important. Actually,
all that's really necessary is the federation of their gangs.
So far the heart of life has been sought anywhere but in the heart of man. Creativity has always been pushed to one side. It has been suburban; and, in fact, urbanism reflects very accurately the misadventures of the axis around which life has been organised for thousands of years. The first cities grew up around a stronghold or sacred spot, a temple or a church, a point where heaven and earth converged. Industrial towns, with their mean, dark streets surround a factory or industrial plant; administrative centres preside over empty rectilinear avenues. Finally, the most recent examples of town-planning simply have no centre at all. It's becoming increasingly obvious: the reference point they propose is always somewhere else. These are labyrinths in which you are allowed only to lose yourself. No games, No meetings. No living. A desert of plate-glass. A grid of roads. High-rise apartment blocks.
Oppression is no longer centralised because oppression is everywhere. The positive aspects of this: everyone begins to see, in conditions of almost total isolation, that first and foremost it is themselves that they have to save, themselves that they have to choose as the centre, their own subjectivity out of which they have to build a world that everyone else will recognise as their native land.
One can only rediscover other people by consciously rediscovering oneself. For as long as individual creativity is not at the centre of social life, man's only freedom will be freedom to destroy and be destroyed. If you do other people's thinking for them, they will do your thinking for you. And he who thinks for you judges you, he reduces you to his own norm and, whatever his intentions may be, he will end by making you stupid - for stupidity doesn't come from a lack of intelligence, as stupid people imagine it does, it comes from renouncing, from abandoning one's own true self. So if anyone asks you what you are doing, asks you to explain yourself, treat him as a judge - that is to say, as an enemy.
"I want someone to succeed me; I want children; I want disciples; I want a father; I don't want myself". A few words from those high on Christianity, whether the Roman or the Peking brand. Only unhappiness and neurosis can follow. My subjectivity is too important for me to take my lack of inhibition to the point of either asking other people for their help or of refusing it when it is offered. The point is neither to lose oneself in oneself nor to lose oneself in other people. Anyone who realises that his problems are ultimately social in nature must first of all find himself. Otherwise he will find nothing in other people apart from his own absence.
Nothing is more difficult, or more painful, to approach than the question of one's own self-regeneration. In the heart of each human being there is a hidden room, a camera obscura, to which only the mind and dreams can find the door. A magic circle in which the world and the self are reconciled where every childish wish comes true. The passions flower there, brilliant, poisonous blossoms clinging to and thriving on air, thin air. I create a universe for myself and, like some fantastic tyrannical God, people it with beings who will never live for anyone else. One of my favourite James Thurber stories is the one where Walter Mitty dreams that he is a swashbuckling captain, then an eminent surgeon, then a coldblooded killer and finally a war hero. All this as he drove his old Buick downtown to buy some dog biscuits.
The real importance of subjectivity can easily be measured by the general embarassment with which it is approached. Everyone wants to pass it off as their mind 'wandering', as 'introversion', as 'being stoned'. Everyone censors their own daydreams. But isn't it the phantoms and visions of the mind that have dealt the most deadly blows at morality, authority, language and our collective hypnotic sleep? Isn't a fertile imagination the source of all creativity, the alembic distilling the quick of life: the bridgehead driven into the old world and across which the coming invasions will pour?
Anyone who can be open-minded about their interior life will begin to see a different world outside themselves values change, things lose their glamour and become plain instruments. In the magic of the imaginary, things exist only to be picked up and toyed with, caressed, broken apart and put together again in any way one sees fit. Once the prime importance of subjectivity is accepted the spell cast upon things is broken. Starting from other people, one's self-pursuit is fruitless, one repeats the same futile gestures time after time. Starting from oneself, on the contrary, gestures are not repeated but taken back into oneself, corrected and realised in a more highly evolved form.
Daydreaming could become the most powerful dynamo in the world. Modern technological expertise, just as it makes everything considered 'Utopian' in the past a purely practical undertaking today, also does away with the purely fairytale nature of dreams. All my wishes can come true from the moment that modern technology is put to their service.
And even deprived of these techniques, can subjectivity ever stray far from the truth? it is possible for me to objectify all that I have dreamt of being. Everyone, at least once in his life has pulled off the same sort of thing as Lassailly or Nechaev; Lassailly, passing himself off as the author of an unwritten book, ends up by becoming a real writer, author of the Roueries de Trialph; Nechaev, touching Bakunin for money in the name of a nonexistent terrorist organisation, finally does get a real group of nihilists going. One day I must be as I have wanted to seem; the particular spectacular role I have so long wanted to be will become genuine. Thus subjectivity subverts roles and spectacular lies to its own ends: it reinvests appearances in reality.
Subjective imagination is not purely spiritual: it is always seeking its
practical realisation. There can be no doubt that the artistic spectacle - above
all, in its narrative forms - plays on subjectivity's quest for its own
self-realisation, but solely by captivating it, by making it function in terms
of passive identification. Debord's agitational film Critique de la
séparation stresses the point: "Normally, the things that happen to us,
things which really do involve us and demand our attention, leave us no more
than bored and distant spectators. However, almost any situation, once it has
been transposed artistically, awakens our attention: we want to take part in it,
to change it. This paradox must be turned upside down - put back on its feet."
The forces of the artistic spectacle must be dissolved and their equipment pass
into the arsenal of individual dreams. Once armed in this way, there will no
longer be any question of treating them as phantasies. This is the only way in
which the problem of making art real can be seen.
3. Radical Subjectivity
Each subjectivity is different from every other one, but all obey the same
wilt to self-realisation. The problem is one of setting their variety in a
common direction, of creating a united front of subjectivity. Any attempt to
build a new life is subject to two conditions: first, that the realisation of
each individual subjectivity will either take place in a collective form or it
will not take place at all; and, secondly, that "To tell the truth, the only
reason anyone fights is for what they love. Fighting for everyone else is only
the consequence." (Saint-Just)
My subjectivity feeds on events. The most varied events: a riot, a sexual fiasco, a meeting, a memory, a rotten tooth. Reality, as it evolves, sweeps me with it. I'm struck by everything and, though not everything strikes me in the same way, I am always struck by the same basic contradiction: although I can always see how beautiful anything could be if only I could change it, in practically every case there is nothing I can really do. Everything is changed into something else in my imagination, then the dead weight of things changes it back into what it was in the first place. A bridge between imagination and reality must be built. Only a truly radical perspective can give everyone the right to make anything out of anything. A radical perspective grasps men by their roots and the roots of men lie in their subjectivity - this unique zone they possess in common.
You can't make it on your own. You can't live your own life to the full in isolation. But can any individual - any individual who has got anything at all straight about himself and the world - fail to see a will identical to his own among everyone he knows: the same journey leaving from the same place?
All forms of hierarchical power differ from one another and yet all betray a fundamental identity in their oppressive nature. In the same way, all subjectivities are different from one another and yet all reveal a fundamental identity in their will to total self-realisation. Only because of this can one speak of a real "radical subjectivity".
There is a common root to every subjectivity, though all are unique and irreducible: the will to realise oneself by transforming the world, the will to live every sensation, every experience, every possibility to the full. This can be seen in everyone, at different stages of consciousness and determination. Its real power depends on the degree of collective unity it can attain without losing its variety. Consciousness of this necessary unity comes from what one could call a reflex of identity - the diametrically opposite movement to that of identification. Through identification we lose our uniqueness in the variety of roles; through the reflex of identity we strengthen our wealth of individual possibilities in the unity of federated subjectivities.
Radical subjectivity can only be based on the reflex of identlty. One's own quest searches for itself everywhere in others. "While I was on a mission in the state of Tchou", says Confucius, "I saw some piglets suckling their dead mother. After a short while they shuddered and went away. They had sensed that she could no longer see them and that she wasn't like them any more. What they loved in their mother wasn't her body, but whatever it was that made her body live." Likewise, what I am looking for in other people is the richest part of myself hidden within them. Can the reflex of identity spread naturally? One can only hope so. Certainly it's high time for it.
No one has ever questioned the interest men take in being fed, sheltered,
cared for, protected from hardship and disaster. The imperfections of technology
- transformed at a very early date into social imperfections - have postponed
the satisfaction of this universal desire. Today, planned economy allows one to
foresee the final solution of the problems of survival. Now that the needs of
survival are well on the way to being satisfied, at least in the
hyper-industrialised countries, it is becoming painfully obvious, to say the
least of it, that there are also human passions which must be satisfied, that
the satisfaction of these passions is of vital importance to everyone and,
furthermore, that failure to do so will undermine, if not destroy, all our
acquisitions in terms of material survival. As the problems of survival are
slowly but surely resolved they begin to clash more and more brutally with the
problems of life which have been, just as slowly and just as surely, sacrificed
to the needs of survival. The chickens are all coming home to roost:
henceforward, socialist-type planning is opposed to the true harmonisation of
life in common.
Radical subjectivity is the common front of rediscovered identity. Those who can't see themselves in other people are condemned for ever to be strangers to themselves. I can't do anything for other people if they can't do anything for themselves. It's along these lines that concepts such as those of 'cognition' and 're-cognition', of 'sympathy' and 'sympathising', should be re-examined.
Cognition is only of value if it leads to the re-cognition of a common project - to the reflex of identity. To realise radical imagination requires a varied knowledge, but this knowledge is nothing without the style with which it is handled. As the first years of the S.I. have shown, the worst crises within a coherent revolutionary group are caused by those closest by their knowledge and furthest away by their lived experience and by the importance they place upon it. Likewise, 'partisans'. They both identify themselves with the group and get in its way. They understand everything except what is really at stake. They demand knowledge because they are incapable of demanding themselves.
By seizing myself, I break other people's hold over me. Thus I let them see themselves in me. No one can evolve freely without spreading freedom in the world.
"I want to be myself. I want to walk without impediment. I want to affirm
myself alone in my freedom. May everyone do likewise. Don't worry any more about
the fate of the revolution - it will be safer in the hands of everyone than in
the hands of political parties." So said Coeurderoy. I agree one hundred per
cent. Nothing authorises me to speak in the name of other people. I am only my
own delegate. Yet at the same time I can't help thinking that my life isn't
solely my own concern but that I serve the interests of thousands of other
people by living the way I live, and by struggling to live more intensely and
more freely. My friends and I are one, and we know it. Each of us is acting for
each other by acting for himself. Honesty is our only hope.
4. The project of communication
Love offers the purest glimpse of true communication that any of us have
had. But, as communication in general tends to break down more and more, the
existence of love becomes increasingly precarious. It is threatened on every
side. Everything tends to reduce lovers to objects; real meetings are replaced
by mechanical sex: by the posturing of countless Playboys and Bunnies. Really
being in love means really wanting to live in a different world.
Although the three passions underlying the threefold project of self-realisation, communication and participation are of equal importance, they have not been repressed to an equal extent. While creativity and play have been blighted by prohibitions and by every sort of distortion, love, without escaping from repression, still remains relatively the most free experience. The most democratic, all in all.
Love offers the model of perfect communication: the orgasm, the total fusion of two separate beings. It is a glimpse of a transformed universe. Its intensity, its here-and-now-ness, its physical exaltation, its emotional fluidity, its grateful acceptance of the value of change - everything indicates that love will prove the key factor in recreating the world. Our emotionally-dead survival cries out for multidimensional passions. Lovemaking sums up and distils both the desire for, and the reality of, such a way of life. The universe lovers build of dreams and one another's bodies is a transparent universe: lovers want to be at home everywhere.
Love has been able to stay free more successfully than the other passions.
Creativity and play have always 'been granted' an official representation, a
spectacular acknowledgment which did its best to cut them off at their source.
Love has always been clandestine - "being alone together". It turned out to be
protected by the bourgeois concept of private life; banished from the day,
reserved for work and for consumption, and driven into the darkest corners of
the night; lit by the moon. Thus it partly escaped the major mopping-up of daily
activities. The same cannot be said for communication, and it is precisely the
ashes of false (daily) communication that choke the spark of sexual passion. And
today consumer society is extending falsification further and further... into
the reaches of the night...
People who talk about 'communication' when there are only things and their mechanical relations are working on the side of the process of reification that they pretend to attack. 'Understanding', 'friendship', 'being happy together' - so much bullshit. All I can see is exploiters and exploited, rulers and ruled, actors and spectators. And all of them flailed like chaff by Power.
Things aren't necessarily expressionless. Anything can become human if someone infuses it with their own subjectivity. But in a world ruled by privative appropriation, the only function of the object is to justify its proprietor. If my subjectivity overflows, if my eyes make the landscape their own, it can only be ideally, without material or legal consequences. In the perspective of power, people and things aren't there for my enjoyment, but to serve a master; nothing really is, everything functions as part of an order of possessions.
There can't be any real communication in a world where almost everything one
does is ruled by fetishes. The space between people and things isn't empty: it's
packed with alienating mediations. And as power becomes increasingly abstract
its own signals become so numerous, so chaotic, as to demand systematic
interpretation on the part of a body of scribes, semanticians and mythologists.
Brought up to see only objects around him, the proprietor needs objective and
objectified servants. Only subjective truth, as historically it becomes
objective, can withstand this sort of thing. One must start with immediate
experience itself if one wants to attack the most advanced points to which
repression has penetrated.
The main pleasure of the middle class seems to have been degrading pleasure in all its forms. It wasn't enough to imprison people's freedom to fall in love in the squalid ownership of marriage (interlarded of course with the occasional one-night stand). It wasn't enough to set things up so that dishonesty and jealousy were bound to follow. The great thing was to sabotage people on the few occasions they really did meet.
Love's despair doesn't come from sexual frustration. It comes from suddenly losing contact with the person in your arms; of both of you suddenly seeing one another as an object. Swedish social democracy, as hygienic as ever, has already got its own horrible caricature of free love out on the market: one-night stands dealt out like a deck of cards.
How sickening these endless lies one says and hears! How much one wants to be straight with someone! Sex really does seem to be our only break. Sometimes I think that nothing else is as real, nothing else is as human, as the feel of a woman's body, the softness of her skin, the warmth and wetness of her cunt. Even if there were nothing else at all, this alone would be enough for ever.
But even during really magical moments the inert mass of objects can suddenly become magnetic. The passivity of a lover suddenly unravels the bonds which were being woven, the dialogue is interrupted before it really began. Love's dialectic freezes. Two statues are left lying side by side. Two objects.
Although love is always born of subjectivity - a girl is beautiful because I love her - my desire cannot stop itself objectifying what it wants. Desire always makes an object of the loved person. But if I let my desire transform the loved person into an object, have I not condemned myself to conflict with this object and, through force of habit, to become detached from it?
What can ensure perfect communication between lovers? The union of these opposites:
- the more I detach myself from the object of my desire and the more objective strength I give to my desire, the more carefree my desire becomes towards its object;
- the more I detach myself from my desire insofar as it is an object and the more objective strength I give to the object of my desire, the more my desire finds its raison d'etre in the loved person.
Socially, this playing with one's own attitudes could be expressed by changing partners at the same time as one is attached more or less permanently to a 'pivotal' partner. All these meetings would be the communication of a single purpose experienced in common. I have always wanted to be able to say: "I know you don't love me because you only love yourself. I am just the same. So love me."
Love can only be based on radical subjectivity. The time is up for all
self-sacrificial forms of love. To love only oneself through other people, to be
loved by others through the love they owe themselves. This is what the passion
of love teaches; these are the only conditions of authentic communication.
And love is also an adventure; an attempt to breakfree of dishonesty. To approach a woman in any spectacular, exhibitionistic way, is to condemn oneself to a reified relationship from the very first. The choice is between spectacular seduction - that of the playboy - and the seduction exercised by something that is qualitatively different - the person who is seductive because he isn't trying to seduce.
Sade analyses two possible attitudes. On the one hand, the libertines of the 120 Days of Sodom who can only really enjoy themselves by torturing to death the object they have seduced (and what more fitting homage to a thing than to make it suffer?); or, on the other, the libertines of the Philosophy in the Boudoir, warm and playful, who do all they can to increase one another's pleasure. The former are the feudal-type lords, vibrant with hatred and revolt; the latter, the masters without slaves, discovering in one another only the reflection of their own pleasure.
Today, seduction tends to become increasingly sadistic. Sadism is inability to forgive the desired person for being an object. Truly seductive people, on the contrary, contain the fullness of desire in themselves; they refuse to play a part and owe their seductiveness to this refusal. In Sade, this would be Dolmancé, Eugénie or Madame de Saint-Ange. This plenitude can only exist for the desired person if they can recognise their own will to live in the person who desires them. Real seduction seduces only by its honesty. And not everyone is worth seducing. This is what the Beguines of Schweidnitz and their companions (13th century) meant by saying that resistance to sexual advances was the sign of a crass spirit. The Brethren of the Free Spirit expressed the same idea: "Anyone who knows the God inhabiting him carries his own Heaven in himself. By the same token, ignorance of one's own divinity really is a mortal sin. This is the meaning of the Hell which one carries with oneself in earthly life."
Hell is the emptiness left by separation, the anguish of lovers lying side by
side without being together. Non-communication is always like the collapse of a
revolutionary movement. The will to death is installed where the will to life
Love must be freed from its myths, from its images, from its spectacular categories; its authenticity must be strengthened and its spontaneity renewed. There is no other way of fighting its reification and its recuperation in the spectacle. Love can't stand either isolation or fragmentation; it is bound to overflow into the will to transform the whole of human activity, into the necessity of building a world where lovers feel themselves to be free everywhere.
The birth and the dissolution of the moment of love are bound to the dialectic of memory and desire. At first, desire and the possibility of its reciprocation strengthen one another. In the moment of love itself, memory and desire coincide. The moment of love is the space-time of authentic lived experience, a present containing both the past and the future. At the stage of breaking-up, memory prolongs the impassioned moment but desire gradually ebbs away. The present disintegrates, memory turns nostalgically towards past happiness, while desire foresees the unhappiness to come. In dissolution the separation is real. The failure of the recent past cannot be forgotten and desire gradually melts away.
In love, as in every attempt to communicate, the problem is avoiding the stage of breaking up. One could suggest:
- developing the moment of love as far as one can, in as many directions as possible; in other words, refusing to dissociate it from either creativity or play, raising it from the state of a moment to that of the real construction of a situation;
- promoting collective experiments in individual realisation; thus of multiplying the possibilities of sexual attraction by bringing together a great variety of possible partners;
- permanently strengthening the pleasure-principle, which is the life-blood
of every attempt to realise oneself, to communicate or to participate. Pleasure
is the principle of unification. Love is desire for unity in a common moment;
friendship, desire for unity in a common project.
5. The erotic or the dialectic of pleasure
There is no pleasure which is not seeking its own coherence. Its
interruption, its lack of satisfaction, causes a disturbance analogous to
Reichian 'stasis'. Repression keeps human beings in a state of permanent crisis.
Thus the function of pleasure, and of the anxiety born in its absence, is
essentially a social function. The erotic is the development of the passions as
they become unitary, a game of unity and variety, without which revolutionary
coherence cannot exist ("Boredom is always counter-revolutionary" - I.S. no.
Wilhelm Reich attributes most of neurotic behaviour to disturbances of the orgasm, to what he called 'orgastic impotence'. He maintains that anxiety is created by inability to experience a complete orgasm, by a sexual discharge which fails to liquidate all the excitement, all the foreplay, leading up to it. The accumulated arid unspent energy becomes free-floating and is converted into anxiety. Anxiety in its turn still further impedes future orgastic potency.
But the problem of tensions and their liquidation doesn't just exist on the
level of sexuality. It characterises all human relationships. And Reich,
although he sensed that this was so, fails to emphasise strongly enough that the
present social crisis is also a crisis of an orgastic nature. If "the source of
neurotic energy lies in the disparity between the accumulatiorn and the
discharge of sexual energy", it seems to me that the source of energy of our
neuroses is also to be found in the disparity between the accumulation and the
discharge of the energy brought into use by human relationships. Total enjoyment
is still possible in the moment of love, but as soon as one tries to prolong
this moment, to extend it into social life itself, one cannot avoid what Reich
called 'stasis'. The world of the dissatisfactory and the unconsummated is a
world of permanent crisis. What would a society without neurosis be like? An
endless banquet. Pleasure is the only guide.
"Everything is feminine in what one loves", wrote La Mettrie, "the empire of love recognises no other frontiers than those of pleasure". But pleasure itself doesn't recognise any frontiers. If it isn't growing, it is beginning to disappear. Repetition kills it; it can't adapt itself to the fragmentary. The principle of pleasure cannot be separated from the totality.
The erotic is pleasure seeking its coherence. It's the development of passions becoming communicative, interdependent, unitary. The problem is recreating in social life that state of total enjoyment known in the moment of love. Conditions allowing a game with unity and variety, that is to say, free and transparent participation in particular achievements.
Freud defined the goal of Eros as unification or the search for union. But when he maintains that fear of being separated and expelled from the group comes from an underlying fear of castration, his proposition should be inverted. Fear of castration comes from the fear of being excluded, not the other way round. This anxiety becomes more marked as the isolation of individuals in an illusory community becomes more and more difficult to ignore.
Even while it seeks unification, Eros is essentially narcissistic and in love with itself. It wants a world to love as much as it loves itself. Norman O. Brown, in Life Against Death, points out the contradiction. How, he asks, can a narcissistic orientation lead to union with beings in the world? "in love, the abstract antimony of the Ego and the Other can be transcended if we return to the concrete reality of pleasure, to a definition of sexuality as being essentially a pleasurable activity of the body, and if we see love as the relationship between the Ego and the sources of pleasure." One could be more exact: the source of pleasure lies less in the body than in the possibility of free activity in the world. The concrete reality of pleasure is based on the freedom to unite oneself with anyone who allows one to become united with oneself. The realisation of pleasure passes through the pleasure of realisation, the pleasure of communication through the communication of pleasure, participation in pleasure through the pleasure of participation. It is because of this that the narcissism turned towards the outside world, the narcissism Brown is talking about, can only bring about a wholesale demolition of social structures.
The more intense pleasure becomes the more it demands the whole world. "Lovers, seek greater and greater pleasure," said Breton. This is a revolutionary demand.
Western civilisation is a civilisation of work and, as Diogenes observed: "Love is the occupation of the unoccupied." With the gradual disappearance of forced labour, love takes on a greater and greater importance. It has become the major resource to develop. And it poses a direct threat to every kind of authority. Because the erotic is unitary, it is also acceptance of change. Freedom knows no propaganda more effective than people calmly enjoying themselves. Which is why pleasure, for the most part, is forced to be clandestine, love locked away in a bedroom, creativity confined to the back-stairs of culture, and alcohol and drugs cower under the shadow of the outstretched arm of the law...
The morality of survival has condemned both the diversity of pleasures and their union-in-variety in order to promote obsessive repetition. But if pleasure-anxiety is satisfied with the repetitive, true pleasure can only exist in terms of diversity-within-unity. Clearly the simplest model of the erotic is the pivotal couple. Two people live their experiences as honestly and as freely as possible. This radiant complicity has all the charm of incest. Their wealth of common experiences can only lead to a brother and sister relationship. Great loves have always had something incestuous about them; one could deduce that love between brothers and sisters was privileged from the very first, and that it should be worked on in every possible manner. It's high time to break this, the most ancient and ugliest of all taboos, and to break it once and for all. The process could be described as sororisation. A wife and a sister all of whose friends are also my wives and sisters
In the erotic, there is no perversion apart from the negation of pleasure: its distortion into pleasure-anxiety. What matters the spring so long as the water is pure? As the Chinese say: Immobile in one another, pleasure bears us.
And, finally, the search for pleasure is the best safeguard of play. It defends real participation, it protects it against self-sacrifice, coercion and dishonesty. The actual degree of intensity pleasure reaches marks subjectivity's grasp on the world. Thus, flirtatiousness is playing with desire as it is born; desire, playing with passion as it is born. And playing with passion finds its coherence in poetry, whose essentially revolutionary nature can never be over-emphasised.
Does this mean that the search for pleasure is incompatible with pain? On the
contrary, it's a question of re-inventing pain. Pleasure-anxiety is neither
pleasure nor pain; it's just scratching yourself and letting the itch get worse
and worse. What is real pain? A set-back in the game of desire or passion; a
positive pain crying out with a corresponding degree of passion for another
pleasure to construct. A delay in full participation.
6. The project of participation
A society based on organised survival can only tolerate false, spectacular
forms of play. But given the crisis of the spectacle, playfulness, distorted in
every imaginable way, is being reborn everywhere. From now on it has all the
features of social upheaval and, beyond its negativity, the foundations of a
society of real participation can be detected. To play means to refuse leaders,
self-sacrifice and roles, to embrace every form of self-realisation and to be
utterly, painfully, honest with all one's friends (1). Tactics are the polemical
stage of the game. Individual creativity needs an organisation concentrating and
strengthening it. Tactics entail a certain kind of hedonistic foresight. The
point of every fragmentary action must be the total destruction of the enemy.
Industrial societies have to evolve their own specific forms of guerilla warfare
(2). Diversion is the only possible revolutionary use of the spiritual and
material values distributed by consumer society: supersession's ultimate
Economic necessity and play don't mix. Financial transactions are deadly serious: you don't fool around with money. The elements of play contained within feudal economy were gradually squeezed out by the rationality of money exchanges. Playing with exchange means to barter products without worrying too much about strictly standardised equivalents. But from the moment that capitalism forced its commercial relationships on the world, fantasy was forbidden; and the dictatorship of commodities today shows clearly that it intends to enforce these relationships everywhere, at every level of life.
The pastoral relationships of country life in the high Middle Ages tempered the purely economic necessities of feudalism with a sort of freedom; play often took the upper hand even in menial tasks, in the dispensing of justice, in the settling of debts. By throwing the whole of everyday life onto the battlefield of production and consumption, capitalism crushes the urge to play while at the same time trying to harness it as a source of profit. So, over the last few decades, we have seen the attraction of the unknown turned into mass-tourism, adventure turned into scientific expeditions and the great game of war turned into strategic operations. Taste for change now rests content with a change of taste...
Contemporary society has banned all real play. It. has been turned into something only children do. And today children themselves are getting more and more pacifying gadget-type toys rammed down their throats. The adult is only allowed falsified and recuperated games: competitions, T.V. sport, elections, gambling... Yet at the same time it's obvious that this kind of rubbish can never satisfy anything as strong as people's desire to play - especially today when game-playing could flourish as never before in history.
The sacred knows how to cope with the profane and deconsecrated game: witness the irreverent and obscene carvings in cathedrals. Without concealing them, the Church embraced cynical laughter, biting fantasy and nihilistic scorn. Under its mantle the demonic game was safe. Bourgeois power, on the contrary, puts play in quarantine, isolates it in a special ward, as if it wanted to stop it infecting other human activities. Art is this privileged and despised area set apart from commerce. And it will stay that way until economic imperialism refits it in its turn as a spiritual supermarket. Then, hunted down everywhere, play will burst out everywhere.
It was in fact from art that play broke free. The eruption was called Dada. "The dadaist events awoke the primitive-irrational play instinct which had been held down an the audience", said Hugo Ball. On the fatal slope of plague and mockery Art dragged down in its fall the whole edifice which the Spirit of Seriousness had built to the greater glory of the bourgeoisie. So that today the expression on the face of someone playing is the expression on the face of a rebel. Henceforward, the total game and the revolution of everyday life are one.
The desire to play has returned to destroy the hierarchical society which banished it. At the same time it is setting up a new type of society, one based on real participation. It is impossible to foresee the details of such, a society - a society in which play is completely unrestricted - but one could expect to see the following characteristics:
- rejection of all leaders and all hierarchies;
- rejection of self-sacrifice;
- rejection of roles;
- freedom of genuine self-realisation;
- utter honesty.
Every game has two preconditions: the rules of playing and playing with the rules. Watch children at play. They know the rules of the game, they can remember them perfectly well but they never stop breaking them, they never stop dreaming up new ways of breaking them. But for them, cheating doesn't have the same connotations as it does for adults. Cheating is part of the game, they play at cheating, accomplices even in their arguments. What they are really doing is spurring themselves on to create new games. And sometimes they are successful: a new game is found and unfolds. They revitalise their playfulness without interrupting its flow.
The game dies as soon as an authority crystallises, becomes institutionalised and clothed in a magical aura. Even so playfulness, however lighthearted, never loses a certain spirit of organisation and its required discipline. If a play leader proves necessary, his power is never wielded at the expense of the autonomous power of each individual. Rather it is the focus of each individual will, the collective counterpart of each particular desire. So the project of participation demands a coherent organisation allowing the decisions of each individual to be the decisions of everyone concerned. Obviously small intimate groups, micro-societies, offer the best conditions for such experiments. Within them the game can be the sole ruler of the intricacies of communal life, harmonising individual whims, desires and passions. Especially so since this game will reflect the insurrectionary game played by the group as a whole, forced upon them by their intention to live outside the law.
The urge to play is incompatible with self-sacrifice. You can lose, pay the penalty, submit to the rules, spend an unpleasant quarter of an hour, that's the logic of the game, not the logic of a Cause, not the logic of self-sacrifice. Once the idea of sacrifice appears the game becomes sacred and its rules become rites. For those who play, the rules, along with the ways of playing with them, are an integral part of the game. In the realm of the sacred, on the contrary, rituals cannot be played with, they can only be broken, can only be transgressed (not to forget that pissing on the altar is still a way of paying homage to the Church). Only play can deconsecrate, open up the possibilities of total freedom. This is the principle of diversion, the freedom to change the sense of everything which serves Power; the freedom, for example, to turn the cathedral of Chartres into a fun-fair, into a labyrinth, into a shooting-range, into a dream landscape...
In a group revolving around play, manual and domestic chores could be allotted as penalties, as the price one pays for losing a point in a game. Or, more simply. they could be used to employ unoccupied time, as a sort of active rest; assuming, as a contrast, the value of a stimulant and making the resumption of play more exciting. The construction of such situations can only be based on the dialectic of presence and absence, richness and poverty, pleasure and pain, the intensity of each pole accentuating the intensity of the other.
In any case, any technique utilised in an atmosphere of sacrifice and coercion loses much of its cutting edge. Its actual effectiveness is mixed up with a purely repressive purpose, and to repress creativity is to reduce the productivity of the machine repressing it. Work can only be non-alienating and productive if you enjoy doing it.
The role one plays must be the role one plays with. The spectacular role demands complete conviction; a lucid role, on the contrary, demands a certain distanciation. One has to watch oneself over one's own shoulder, in much the same sort of way that professional actors like to swop jokes sotto voce in between two dramatic tirades. Spectacular organisation is completely out of its depth with this sort of thing. The Marx Brothers have shown what a role can become if you play with it. The only pity is that the Marx Brothers were stuck with the cinema. What would happen if a game with roles started in real life?
When someone begins to play a permanent role, a serious role, he either wrecks the game or it wrecks him. Consider the unhappy case of the provocateur. The provocateur is the specialist in collective games. He can grasp their techniques but not their dialectic. Maybe he could succeed in steering the group towards offensive action - for provocateurs always push people to attack here and now - if only he wasn't so involved in his own role and his own mission that he can never understand their need to defend themselves. Sooner or later this incoherence in his attitude towards offensive and defensive action will betray the provocateur, and lead him to his untimely end. Add who makes the best provocateur? The play leader who has become the boss.
Only desire to play can lead to a community whose interests are identical
with those of the individual. The traitor, unlike the provocateur, appears quite
spontaneously in revolutionary groups. When does he appear? Whenever the spirit
of play has died in a group, and with it, inevitably, the possibility of real
involvement. The traitor is one who cannot express himself through the sort of
participation he is offered and decides to 'play' against this participation,.
not to correct but to destroy it. The traitor is an illness of the old age of
revolutionary groups. Selling out on play is an act of treachery which justifies
Tactics. Tactics are the polemical stage of the game. They provide the necessary continuity between poetry as it is born (play) and the organisation of spontaneity (poetry). Of an essentially technical nature, they prevent spontaneity burning itself out in the general confusion. We know how cruelly absent tactics have been from most popular uprisings. And we also know just how offhand historians can be about spontaneous revolutions. No serious study, no methodical analysis, nothing approaching the level of Clausewitz's book on war. Revolutionaries have ignored Makhno's battles almost as thoroughly as bourgeois generals have studied Napoleon's.
A few observations, in the absence of a more detailed analysis.
An efficiently hierarchised army can win a war, but not a revolution; an undisciplined mob can win neither. The problem then is how to organise without creating a hierarchy; in other words, how to make sure that the leader of the game doesn't become just "the Leader". The only safeguard against authority and rigidity setting in is a playful attitude. Creativity plus a machine gun is an unstoppable combination. Villa and Makhno's troops routed the most experienced professional soldiers of their day. But once playfulness begins to repeat itself, the battle is lost. The revolution fails so that its leader can be infallible. Why was Villa defeated at Celaya? Because he fell back on old tactical and strategic games, instead of making up new ones. Technically, Villa was carried away by memories of Ciudad Juarez, where his men had fallen on the enemy from the rear by silently cutting their way through the walls of house after house. He failed to see the importance of the military advances brought about by the 1914-18 war, machine gun nests, mortars, trenches, etc. In political terms, he failed to see the importance of gaining the support of the industrial proletariat. It's no coincidence that Obregon's victorious army which wiped out Villa's Dorados included both workers' militias and German military advisers.
The strength of revolutionary armies lies solely in their creativity. Frequently the first days of an insurrection are a walk-over simply because nobody paid the slightest attention, to the rules by which the enemy played the game: because they invented a new game and because everyone took part in its elaboration. But if this creativity flags, if it becomes repetitive, if the revolutionary army becomes a regular army, then you can see blind devotion and hysteria try in vain to make up for military weakness. Infatuation with past victories breeds terrible defeats. The magic of the Cause and the Leader replaces the conscious unity of the will to live and the will to conquer. In 1525, having held the princes at bay for two years, 40,000 peasants whose tactics had given way to religious fanaticism, were hacked to pieces at Frankenhaussen; the feudal army only lost three men. In 1964, at Stanleyville, hundreds of Mulélists, convinced they were invincible, allowed themselves to be massacred by throwing themselves on to a bridge defended by two machine guns. Yet these were the same men who previously had captured trucks and arms consignments from the A.N.C. by pitting the roads with elephant traps.
Hierarchical organization and its counterpart, indiscipline and incoherence,
are equally inefficient. In a traditional war, the inefficiency of one side
overcomes the inefficiency of the other through purely technical superiority; in
revolutionary war, the tactical poetry of the rebels steals from the enemy both
their weapons and the time in which to use them, thus robbing them of their only
possible superiority. But if the guerillas begin to repeat themselves, the enemy
can learn the rules of their game; at which point counter-guerilla can, if not
destroy, at least badly damage a popular creativity which has already hobbled
If troops are to refuse to kow-tow to leaders, how can the discipline necessary for warfare be maintained? How can disintegration be avoided? Revolutionary armies tend to oscillate between the Scylla of devotion to a Cause and tile Charybdis of untimely pleasure seeking.
Stirring pleas, in the name of freedom, for restraint and renunciation lay the foundations of future slavery. But equally, premature rejoicing and the quest for small pleasures are always followed closely by the mailed fist of the bloody weeks of "restoring order". Discipline and cohesion can only come from the pleasure principle. The search for the greatest possible pleasure must always run the risk of pain: this is the secret of its strength. Where did the old troopers of the ancien régime find the strength to besiege a town, be repulsed ten times and still attack ten times more? In their passionate expectation of festivity - in this case, it must be admitted, largely looting and rape - of pleasure all the sweeter for having been attained so slowly. The best tactics go hand in hand with anticipation of future pleasure. The will to live, brutal and unrestrained, is the fighter's deadliest secret weapon. A weapon which should be used against anyone who endangers it: a soldier has every reason to shoot his officers in the back. For the same reasons, revolutionary armies will be stronger if they make each man a resourceful and independent tactician; someone who takes his pleasures seriously..
In the coming struggles, the desire to live life to the full will replace pillage as a motive. Tactics will merge with the science of pleasure - for the search for pleasure is already pleasure itself. Lessons in these tactics are given free every day. Anyone who is ready to learn, from his everyday experience, what undermines his independence and what makes him stronger, will gradually earn his colours as a tactician.
However, no tactician is isolated. The will to destroy this sick world calls
for a federation of the tacticians of everyday life. It's just such a federation
that the S.I. intends to equip technically without delay. Strategy is
collectively building the launching-pad of the revolution on the tactics of
individual everyday life.
The ambiguous concept of 'humanity' sometimes causes spontaneous revolutions to falter. All too often the desire to make man the heart of a revolutionary programme has been invaded by a paralysing humanism. How many times have revolutionaries spared the lives of their own future firing-squad, how many times have they accepted a truce which meant no more to their enemies than the opportunity of gathering reinforcements? The ideology of humanity is a fine weapon for counter-revolution, one which can justify the most sickening atrocities (the Belgian paras in Stanleyville).
There can be no negotiation with the enemies of freedom, there's no quarter which can be extended to man's oppressors. The annihilation of counter-revolutionaries is the only 'humanitarian' act which can prevent the ultimate inhumanity of an integrally bureaucratised humanism.
Lastly: power must be totally destroyed by means of fragmentary acts. The Struggle for purely economic emancipation has made survival possible for everyone by making anything beyond survival impossible. But the traditional workers movement was clearly struggling for more than that: for a total change in people's way of life. In any case, the wish to change the whole world at one go is a magical wish, which is why it can so easily degenerate into the crudest reformism. Apocalypticism and demands for gradual reform end up by merging in the marriage of reconciled differences. It isn't surprising that pseudo-revolutionary parties always end by pretending that compromises are the same as tactics.
The revolution cannot be won either by accumulating minor victories or by an all-out frontal assault. Guerilla war is total.
This is the path on which the S.I. is set: calculated harrassment on every
front - cultural, political, economic and social. Concentrating on everyday life
will ensure the unity of the combat.
Diversion. In its broadest sense, diversion is an all embracing re-entry into play. It is the act by which play grasps and reunites beings and things which were frozen solid in a shattered hierarchic array.
One evening, as night fell, my friends and I wandered into the Palais de Justice in Brussels. The building is a monstrosity, crushing the poor quarters beneath it and guarding, like a sentry, the fashionable Avenue Louise - out of which, some day, we will make a breathtakingly beautiful bombsite. As we wandered through the labyrinth of corridors, staircases, and suite after suite of rooms, we discussed what could be done to make the place habitable; for a time we occupied the enemies' territory; through the peer of our imagination we transformed the thieves den into a fantastic fun-falr, into a sunny pleasure dome, where the most amazing adventures would, for the first time, be really lived. In short, diversion is the basic expression of creativity. Day-dreaming diverts the world. People divert, just as Jourdain did with prose and James Joyce did with Ulysses, spontaneously and with considerable reflection.
It was in 1955 that Debord, struck by Lautréamont's systematic use of diversion, first drew attention to the virtually unlimited possibilities of the technique. In 1960, Jorn was to write: "Diversion is a game which can only be played as everything loses its value. Every element of past culture must either be reinvested in reality or be scrapped." Debord, in Internationale Situationniste no. 3, developed the concept still further: "The two basic principles of diversion are the loss of importance of each originally independent element (which may even lose its first sense completely), and the organisatlon of a new significant whole which confers a fresh meaning on each element." Recent history allows one to be still more precise. From now on it's clear that:
- as more and more things rot and fall apart, diversion appears spontaneously. Consumer society plays into the hands of those who want to create new significant wholes;
- culture is no longer a particularly privileged theatre. The art of diversion can be an integral part of any rebellion against the nature of everyday life;
- since part-truths rule our world, diversion is now the only technique at
the service of a total view. As a revolutionary act, diversion is the most
coherent, most popular and the best adapted to revolutionary practice. By a sort
of natural evolution - the desire to play - it leads people to become more and
more extreme, more and more radical.
Our experience is falling to pieces about our ears, and its disintegration is a direct consequence of the development of consumer society. The phase of devaluation, and thus the possibility of diversion, is the work of contemporary history. Diversion has become part of the tactics of supersession; an essentially positive act.
While the abundance of consumer goods is hailed everywhere as a major step forward in evolution, the way these goods are used by society, as we know, invalidates all their positive aspects. Because the gadget is primarily a source of profit for capitalism and the socialist bureaucracies, it cannot be used for any other ends. The ideology of consumerism acts like a fault in its manufacture, it sabotages the commodity coated in it; it turns what could be the material equipment of happiness into a new form of slavery. In this context, diversion broadcasts new ways of using commodities; it invents superior uses of goods, uses by which subjectivity can strengthen itself with something that was originally marketed to weaken it. The problems of tactics and strategy revolve around our ability to turn against capitalism the weapons that commercial necessity has forced it to distribute. Methods of diversion should be spread as an ABC Of The Consumer Who Wishes To Stop Being So.
Diversion, which forged its first weapons from art, has now become the art of handling every sort of weapon. Having first appeared amidst the cultural crisis of the years 1910-25, it has gradually spread to every area touched by social decomposition. Despite which, art still offers a field of valid experiment for the techniques of diversion; and there's still much to be learnt from the past. Surrealism failed because it tried to reinvest dadaist anti-values which had not been completely reduced to zero. Any other attempt to build on values which have not been thoroughly purged by a nihilistic crisis will end in the same way; with recuperation. Contemporary cyberneticians have taken their 'combinatory' attitude towards art so far as to believe in the value of any accumulation of disparate elements whatsoever, even if the particular elements haven't been devalued at all. Pop Art or Jean-Luc Godard, it's the same apologetics of the junk-yard.
Diversion, self-critical language, is our only possible means of communication. There are no limits to creativity. There is no end to diversion.
Read The Revolution of Everyday Life here.
Read Debord's The Society of the Spectacle here.