Guy Louis Debord (French: [gi dəbɔʁ]; 28 December 1931 – 30
November 1994) was a French
Marxist theorist, philosopher, filmmaker,
member of the Letterist International, founder of a Letterist faction,
and founding member of the
Situationist International (SI). He was
also briefly a member of Socialisme ou Barbarie.
1 Early life
2 Involvement with the Letterists
3 Founding of the Situationist International
4 Political phase of the Situationist International
5 After the Situationist International
8 Written works
12 Further reading
13 External links
Guy Debord (also known as "Debord Guy") was born in
Paris in 1931.
Debord's father, Martial, was a pharmacist who died due to illness
when Debord was young. Debord's mother, Paulette Rossi, sent Guy to
live with his grandmother in her family villa in Italy. During World
War II, the Rossis left the villa and began to travel from town to
town. As a result, Debord attended high school in Cannes, where he
began his interest in film and vandalism. As a young man, Debord
actively opposed the French war in Algeria and joined in
Paris against it. Debord studied Law at the
University of Paris, but left early and did not complete his
university education. After ending his stint at the University of
Paris, he began his career as a writer.
Involvement with the Letterists
Debord joined the
Letterist International when he was 19. The
Letterists were led dictatorially by
Isidore Isou until a widely
agreed upon schism ended Isou's authority. This schism gave rise to
several factions of Letterists, one of which was decidedly led by
Debord upon Gil Wolman's unequivocal recommendation. In the 1960s,
Debord led the
Situationist International group, which influenced the
Paris Uprising of 1968, during which he took part in the occupation of
the Sorbonne. Some consider his book The Society of the Spectacle
(1967) to be a catalyst for the uprising, although perhaps a more
immediately significant text was Mustapha Khayati's "On the Poverty of
Student Life", published in November 1966.
Founding of the Situationist International
In 1957, the Letterist International, the International Movement for
an Imaginist Bauhaus, and the London Psychogeographical Association
gathered in Cosio d'Arroscia (Cuneo), Italy, to found the Situationist
International, with Debord having been the leading representative of
the Letterist delegation. Initially made up of a number of well-known
artists such as
Asger Jorn and Pinot Gallizio, the early days of the
SI were heavily focused on the formulation of a critique of art, which
would serve as a foundation for the group's future entrance into
further political critiques. The SI was known for a number of its
interventions in the art world, which included one raid against an
international art conference in Belgium during 1958 that included a
large pamphlet drop and significant media coverage, all of which
culminated in the arrest of various situationists and sympathizers
associated with the scandal. In addition to this action, the SI
endeavored to formulate industrial painting, or, painting prepared en
masse with the intent of defaming the original value largely
associated with the art of the period. In the course of these actions,
Debord was heavily involved in the planning and logistical work
associated with preparing these interventions, as well as the work for
Internationale Situationniste associated with theoretical defense of
the Situationist International's actions.
Political phase of the Situationist International
In the early 1960s Debord began to direct the SI toward an end of its
artistic phase, eventually expelling members such as Jorn, Gallizio,
Troche, and Constant—the bulk of the "artistic" wing of the SI—by
1965. Having established the situationist critique of art as a social
and political critique, one not to be carried out in traditional
artistic activities, the SI began, due in part to Debord's
contributions, to pursue a more concise theoretical critique of
capitalist society along
With Debord's 1967 work, The Society of the Spectacle, and excerpts
from the group's journal, Internationale Situationniste, the
Situationists began to formulate their theory of the spectacle, which
explained the nature of late capitalism's historical decay. In
Debord's terms, situationists defined the spectacle as an assemblage
of social relations transmitted via the imagery of class power, and as
a period of capitalist development wherein "all that was once lived
has moved into representation". With this theory,
Debord and the SI would go on to play an influential role in the
revolts of May 1968 in France, with many of the protesters drawing
their slogans from Situationist tracts penned or influenced by
After the Situationist International
Éditions Gérard Lebovici
Éditions Gérard Lebovici (1990)
In 1972, Debord disbanded the
Situationist International after its
original members, including
Asger Jorn and Raoul Vaneigem, quit or
were expelled. (Vaneigem wrote a biting criticism of Debord and the
International.) Debord then focused on filmmaking with financial
backing from the movie mogul and publisher, Gérard Lebovici
(éditions Champ Libre), until Lebovici's mysterious death. Debord was
suspected of Lebovici's murder. Distraught by the accusations and his
friend's death, Debord took his films and writings out of production
until after his death. He had agreed to have his films released
posthumously at the request of the American researcher, Thomas Y.
Levin. Debord's two most recognized films are Society of the
Spectacle (1973) and "In girum imus nocte et consumimur
igni (fr)" (1978).
After dissolving the Situationist International, Debord spent his time
reading, and occasionally writing, in relative isolation in a cottage
at Champot with Alice Becker-Ho, his second wife. He continued to
correspond on political and other issues, notably with Lebovici and
the Italian situationist Gianfranco Sanguinetti. He focused on
reading material relating to war strategies, e.g. Clausewitz and Sun
Tzu, and he designed a war game with Alice Becker-Ho.
Debord married twice, first to
Michèle Bernstein and then Alice
Becker-Ho. Debord had affairs with other women, including Michèle
Mochot-Bréhat. Bernstein wrote a vaguely fictional but detailed
account of the open relationships Mochot and she had with Debord in
her novel All The King's Horses.
Just before Debord's death, he filmed (although did not publish) a
documentary, "Son art et son temps" ("His Art and His Times"), an
autobiography of sorts that focused primarily on social issues in
Paris in the 1990s. It has been suggested that his dark depiction of
this period was a suicide note of sorts. Both Debord's depression and
alcohol consumption had become problematic, resulting in a form of
polyneuritis. Perhaps in order to end the suffering caused by these
conditions, Debord committed suicide by shooting himself in the head
(or possibly heart) on 30 November 1994. This was not the first time
he attempted to end his life.
Debord's suicide is as controversial as it is unclear. Some assert
it was a revolutionary act related to his career. Due to his
involvement with the radical
Situationist International (SI), as well
as his sadness at 'the society as a spectacle' being considered a
cliché in later life, many think that Debord felt hopeless about the
very society he was trying to shed light on. Debord was said to be
"victim of the Spectacle he fought". Among the many commentaries
on Debord's demise, one scholar noted: “
Guy Debord did not kill
himself. He was murdered by the thoughtlessness and selfishness of
so-called scholars (primarily trendy lit-criters) who colonized his
brilliant ideas and transformed his radical politics into an academic
status symbol not worth the pulp it's printed on…”
On 29 January 2009, fifteen years after his death, Christine Albanel,
Minister of Culture, classified the archive of his works as a
"national treasure" in response to a sale request by Yale
University. The Ministry declared that "he has been one of the
most important contemporary thinkers, with a capital place in history
of ideas from the second half of the twentieth century."
Similarly, Debord once called his book, The Society of the Spectacle,
"the most important book of the twentieth century".
He continues to be a canonical and controversial figure particularly
among European scholars of radical politics and modern art.[citation
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List of left communist organizations by country
Guy Debord's best known works are his theoretical books, The Society
of the Spectacle and Comments on the Society of the Spectacle. In
addition to these he wrote a number of autobiographical books
including Mémoires, Panégyrique, Cette Mauvaise Réputation..., and
Considérations sur l'assassinat de Gérard Lebovici. He was also the
author of numerous short pieces, sometimes anonymous, for the journals
Potlatch, Les Lèvres Nues, Les Chats Sont Verts, and Internationale
Situationniste. The Society of the spectacle was written in an
"interesting prose", unlike most writings in that time or of that
nature. For Debord, the Spectacle is viewed as false representations
in our real lives. The Spectacle is a materialized worldview. The
spectacle 'subjects human beings to itself'.
Debord was deeply distressed by the hegemony of governments and media
over everyday life through mass production and consumption. He
criticized both the capitalism of the West and the dictatorial
communism of the Eastern bloc for the lack of autonomy allowed to
individuals by both types of governmental structure. Debord postulated
that Alienation had gained a new relevance through the invasive forces
of the 'spectacle' - "a social relation between people that is
mediated by images" consisting of mass media, advertisement, and
popular culture. The spectacle is a self-fulfilling control
mechanism for society. Debord's analysis developed the notions of
"reification" and "fetishism of the commodity" pioneered by Karl Marx
and Georg Lukács. Semiotics was also a major influence, particularly
the work of his contemporary, Roland Barthes, who was the first to
envisage bourgeois society as a spectacle, and to study in detail the
political function of fashion within that spectacle. Debord's
analysis of "the spectaclist society" probed the historical, economic,
and psychological roots of the media and popular culture. Central
to this school of thought was the claim that alienation is more than
an emotive description or an aspect of individual psychology: rather,
it is a consequence of the mercantile form of social organization that
has reached its climax in capitalism, as theorized by Herbert Marcuse
of the Frankfurt School.
Part of a series on
Refusal of work
Cost the limit of price
Really Really Free Market
Francisco Ferrer Guardia
Ricardo Flores Magón
Sacco and Vanzetti
Diego Abad de Santillán
Stepan Maximovich Petrichenko
Marinus van der Lubbe
C. L. R. James
Grace Lee Boggs
Alfredo M. Bonanno
Philosophies and tendencies
Left-wing market anarchism
Assassination of William McKinley
Bavarian Soviet Republic
German Revolution of 1918–1919
Ukrainian War of Independence
Left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks
Left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks (Kronstadt uprising)
1953 East German uprising
1956 Hungarian Revolution
May 1968 in France
Left communism in China
1999 Seattle WTO protests
Kurdisk-Turkish conflict (2015 rebellion)
Situationist International (SI), a political/artistic movement
organized by Debord and his colleagues and represented by a journal of
the same name, attempted to create a series of strategies for engaging
in class struggle by reclaiming individual autonomy from the
spectacle. These strategies, including "dérive" and "détournement,"
drew on the traditions of Lettrism. As founder of the SI, it has been
suggested that Debord felt driven to generalize and define the values,
ideas, and characteristics of the entire group, which may have
contributed to his hand-picking and expulsion of members. The
hierarchical and dictatorial nature of the SI existed, however, in the
groups that birthed it, including the Letterists and the Surrealists.
Debord's first book, Mémoires, was bound with a sandpaper cover so
that it would damage other books placed next to it.
Debord has been the subject of numerous biographies, works of fiction,
artworks, and songs, many of which are catalogued in the bibliography
by Shigenobu Gonzalves, "
Guy Debord ou la Beauté du Negatif."
Often, it is suggested that Debord was opposed to the creation of art,
however, Debord writes in the
Situationist International magazine
("Contre le Cinema") that he believes that "ordinary" (quotidian)
people should make "everyday" (quotidian) art; art and creation should
liberate from the spectacle, from capitalism, and from the banality of
everyday life in contemporary society. In "The Society of the
Spectacle," Debord argues that it is the price put on art that
destroys the integrity of the art object, not the material or the
creation itself. It is important to note that Debord does not equate
art to "the spectacle."
Debord began an interest in film early in his life when he lived in
Cannes in the late 1940s. Debord recounted that, during his youth, he
was allowed to do very little other than attend films. He said that he
frequently would leave in the middle of a film screening to go home
because films often bored him. Debord joined the Lettrists just as
Isidore Isou was producing films and the Lettrists attempted to
sabotage Charlie Chaplin's trip to
Paris through negative criticism.
Overall, Debord challenged the conventions of filmmaking; prompting
his audience to interact with the medium instead of being passive
receivers of information. As a matter of fact, his film Hurlements
exclusively consists of a series of black and white screens and
silence with a bit of commentary dispersed throughout. Debord
directed his first film, Hurlements en faveur de Sade in 1952 with the
Michèle Bernstein and Gil Wolman. The film has no images
represented; instead, it shows bright white when there is speaking and
black when there is not. Long silences separate speaking parts. The
film ends with 24 minutes of black silence. People were reported to
have become angry and left screenings of this film. The script is
composed of quotes appropriated from various sources and made into a
montage with a sort of non-linear narrative.
Later, through the financial support of
Michèle Bernstein and Asger
Jorn, Debord produced a second film, Sur le passage de quelques
personnes à travers une assez courte unité de temps, which combined
scenes with his friends and scenes from mass media culture. This
integration of Debord's world with mass media culture became a running
motif climaxing with "The Society of the Spectacle". Debord wrote the
The Society of the Spectacle
The Society of the Spectacle before writing the movie. When asked
why he made the book into a movie, Debord said, "I don't understand
why this surprised people. The book was already written like a
script". Debord's last film, "Son Art et Son Temps", was not produced
during his lifetime. It worked as a final statement where Debord
recounted his works and a cultural documentary of "his time".
Hurlements en faveur de Sade (Howls for Sade) 1952
Sur le passage de quelques personnes à travers une assez courte
unité de temps (On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather
Brief Unity of Time) 1959 (short film, Dansk-Fransk
Critique de la séparation (Critique of Separation) 1961 (short film,
La Société du spectacle (Society of the Spectacle) 1973 (Simar
Réfutation de tous les judgements, tant élogieux qu'hostiles, qui
ont été jusqu'ici portés sur le film " La Société du spectacle "
(Refutation of All the Judgements, Pro or Con, Thus Far Rendered on
Film "The Society of the Spectacle") 1975 (short film, Simar
In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (fr) (a Latin palindrome
meaning "We Go Round and Round in the Night, Consumed by Fire") (Simar
Films) 1978 - This film was meant to be Debord's last and is largely
autobiographical. The script was reprinted in 2007 in No: A Journal of
Guy Debord, son art, son temps (
Guy Debord - His Art and His Time)
1994 (a "sabotage television film" by
Guy Debord and Brigitte Cornand,
Complete Cinematic Works (AK Press, 2003, translated and edited by Ken
Knabb) includes the scripts for all six of Debord's films, along with
related documents and extensive annotations.
Debord, Guy (1957). Report on the Construction of Situations.
Mémoires, 1959 (co-authored by Asger Jorn), reprinted by Allia
(2004), ISBN 2-84485-143-6.
La société du spectacle, 1967, numerous editions; in English: The
Society of the Spectacle, Zone Books 1995, ISBN 0-942299-79-5.
Society of the Spectacle, Rebel Press 2004, ISBN 0-946061-12-2.
The Society of the Spectacle: Annotated Edition, Bureau of Public
Secrets, 2014, ISBN 978-0-939682-06-5.
La Véritable Scission dans L'Internationale, Champ Libre, 1972
(co-authored by Gianfranco Sanguinetti); in English: The Real Split in
the International, Pluto Press 2003, ISBN 0-7453-2128-3.
Œuvres cinématographiques complètes, Champ Libre, 1978, new edition
in 1994; in English: Complete Cinematic Works: Scripts, Stills, and
Documents, AK Press 2003, ISBN 1-902593-73-1.
Considérations sur l'assassinat de Gérard Lebovici, éditions
Gérard Lebovici, 1985; in English: Considerations on the
Assassination of Gérard Lebovici, TamTam 2001,
Le Jeu de la Guerre, 1987; in English A Game of War, Atlas Press 2008,
Commentaires sur la société du spectacle, éditions Gérard
Lebovici, 1988; in English: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle,
Verso 1990, ISBN 0-86091-302-3.
Panégyrique volume 1, 1989; in English: Panegyric, Verso 2004,
reprinted 2009, ISBN 1-85984-665-3; in Portuguese: "Panegírico"
, ISBN 85-87193-77-5.
All the Guy Debord's books and films as well as unpublished texts were
gathered in a volume of Œuvres, éditions Gallimard, collection
Quarto, Paris, 2006.
"The Proletariat as Subject and as Representation"
^ "Dead Bored: Debord's Dead!
Andrew Hussey on the death of a
turbulent thinker". Philosophynow.org. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
^ Bourseiller, Christophe. "Vie et Mort de Guy Debord". Agora.
^ "Pierre Guillaume Remembers Guy Debord". Notbored.org. Retrieved 27
^ a b Jappe, A (1999). Guy Debord, Concept of the Spectacle. Berkely,
CA: University of California Press.
^ Bourseiller, ibid
^ Andreotti, L. "Review: Leaving the twentieth century: The
Situationist International." Journal of Architectural Education,
49(3), p. 197.
^ Internationale Situationniste No. 1, June 1958, pages 29-30,
^ Debord, Guy. Correspondence: The Founding of the Situationist
International. Semiotext(e). 2008.
^ Knabb, Ken.
Situationist International Anthology. Bureau of Public
^ a b c Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Zone Books, 1995.
^ "The Veritable Split in the SI", 1972
^ Guy Debord, "Reflections of the Death of Gérard Lebovici"
^ "Guy Debord". Notbored.org. Retrieved 27 December 2014.
^ "Le Jeu de la Guerre: RelevÃ© des positions successives de toutes
les forces au cours d'une partie - Guy Debord,
Alice Becker-Ho -
Livres". Amazon.fr. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
^ McDonough (2002).
Guy Debord and the Situationist
^ Andrew Hussey. "The suicide of
Guy Debord Books". The Guardian.
Retrieved 14 July 2017.
^ Baker (August 2001). "The Game of War: The Life and Death of Guy
Debord". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
^ "Transgressions: A Journal of Urban Exploration [1995-2001]".
Situationnisteblog.wordpress.com. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 October 2009.
Retrieved 19 May 2009.
^ Gallix, Andrew (18 March 2009). "The resurrection of Guy Debord".
The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
^ Journal Officiel de la Republique Francaise du 12 fevrier 2009
^ Debord, Guy (2002). The Society of the Spectacle. Canberra :
^ Philippe Sollers "L'antifascisme de Barthes", Le Monde //
Hors-Série Roland Barthes, Juillet-Août, 2015
^ "the new shelton wet/dry". Newshelton.com. 10 January 2013.
Retrieved 14 July 2017.
^ "Howls for Guy Debord".
Film Quarterly. 62 (4): 14–15.
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 September 2007.
Retrieved 24 May 2007.
Mario Perniola, An Aesthetic of the Grand Style: Guy Debord, in
"Substance", 1999, n.90.
Internationale situationniste, Paris, 1958-1969. Réédition
intégrale chez Van Gennep, Amsterdam 1972, chez
Champ Libre 1975, et
chez Fayard 1997, ISBN 2-213-59912-2; complete translations are
available in German: Situationistische Internationale, Gesammelte
Ausgabe des Organs der Situationistischen Internationale, Hamburg: MaD
Verlag 1976-1977, ISBN 3-921523-10-9; and in Spanish:
Internacional situacionista: textos completos en castellano de la
revista Internationale situationniste (1958-1969), Madrid: Literatura
Gris [1999-2001], ISBN 84-605-9961-2.
Situationist International by Simon Ford, Black Dog Publishing,
Debord: Le naufrageur, Jean-Marie Apostolidès, Flammarion, 2016.
Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Greil
Marcus, Harvard University Press, 1990, ISBN 0-674-53581-2.
Situationist International Anthology, translated and edited by Ken
Knabb, Bureau of Public Secrets 1981; Revised and Expanded Edition
2006, ISBN 978-0-939682-04-1.
Guy Debord, Anselm Jappe, University of California Press 1999,
Guy Debord - Revolutionary, Len Bracken, Feral House 1997,
I situazionisti, Mario Perniola, Roma, Castelvecchi 2005,
Della critica radicale - bibliografia ragionata sull' Internazionale
situazionista - con documenti inediti in italiano, Gianluigi Balsebre,
Bologna, Grafton 9, 1995.
The Game of War: The Life and Death of Guy Debord., Andrew Hussey,
Cape 2001, ISBN 0-224-04348-X.
Guy Debord and the Situationist International, edited by Tom
McDonough, MIT Press 2002, ISBN 0-262-13404-7.
"The Beautiful Language of my Century": Reinventing the Language of
Contestation in Postwar France, 1945-1968, Tom McDonough, MIT Press
2007, ISBN 0-262-13477-2.
Guy Debord, Andy Merrifield, Reaktion 2005, ISBN 1-86189-261-6.
50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International, McKenzie
Wark, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2008
Los Situacionistas y la Anarquía, Miguel Amorós, Bilbao, Muturreko
burutazioak, 2008, ISBN 978-84-88455-98-7.
Debord ou la Diffraction du temps, Stéphane Zagdanski, Gallimard,
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Guy Debord and the Situationists
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Michael Löwy on Guy Debord, in Radical Philosophy
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Emily Nussbaum (January 2015). "Button-Pusher: The seductive dystopia
of "Black Mirror"". The New Yorker. Quote: "Anyone who has
skimmed Guy Debord’s page or watched the American Music
Awards could condemn our culture as a masquerade, a spectacle of
24-hour news cycle
Cult of personality
Managing the news
Theodor W. Adorno
Influence of mass media
The Lonely Crowd
Concentration of media ownership
Freedom of speech
Society of the Spectacle
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