In December we're joining Aristotelis Nikolaidis to discuss Negation and Consumption in the Cultural Sphere, the eighth chapter of Guy Debord's 1967 book The Society of the Spectacle.
In The Society of the Spectacle Debord draws and reflects on Marx’s analysis of the capitalist mode of production, including key concepts such as commodity fetishism and alienation. The result is the concept of the spectacle, a social relationship between people that is mediated by images, suggests a society where genuine activity is replaced by representation and social life is colonised by commodities. In this respect, the emerging critique focuses on the key role of media culture and consumerism in late capitalism; but, unlike most of the contemporary postmodernist paradigm, it maintains a radical edge rooted in class consciousness and struggle.
Chapter 8, titled Negation and Consumption in the Cultural Sphere, is a potentially useful text to art practice and theory. On the one hand, it is the part of the book where Debord is principally concerned with art’s position in the field of culture; addressing the autonomy of culture and its connection to history in a class-based society, as well as art’s relation to language and communication and its function as a form of dialogue and a practice.
On the other hand, the text constitutes a sophisticated polemic against conventional social theory as well as a fierce defence of the unity between theory and practice; and its argument culminates in the discussion of détournement, a concept signifying the language of anti-ideology and subversive action. Perhaps it is in this respect that Debord echoes Marx most clearly, and his infamous eleventh thesis on Feuerbach more particularly: the point is not just to interpret the world, but to change it.
Aristotelis Nikolaidis studied sociology, completed a PhD in media and communications at Goldsmiths and has been involved in free and self-organised language programmes for migrants and refugees. He is teaching and researching in the field of social theory and media studies from a critical perspective, which is to say that he is at odds with marketization, careerism and precarious labour conditions in the university.
[SYMPOSIUM] is a free and open-access reading group for artists, researchers and anyone interested in the intersections between art practice and critical theory. Everyone can propose a text and facilitate the reading group. Please visit the website to book a place and download the shared document.