In 1957 a few European avant-garde groups came together to form the Situationist International. Picking up where the dadaists and surrealists had left off, the situationists challenged people’s passive conditioning with carefully calculated scandals and the playfully subversive tactic of détournement. Seeking a more fundamental social revolution than was dreamed of by most leftists, they developed an incisive critique of the global spectacle-commodity system and of its Communist pseudo-opposition, and their new methods of agitation helped trigger the May 1968 revolt in France. Since then (although the SI itself was dissolved in 1972) situationist theories and tactics have continued to inspire radical currents all over the world.
The Situationist International Anthology presents a rich variety of articles, leaflets, graffiti, and internal documents, ranging from the situationists’ early experiments in psychogeography to their lucid analyses of the Watts riot, the Vietnam War, the Prague Spring, the Chinese “Cultural Revolution,” and other crises and upheavals of the sixties.
The Society of the Spectacle (Guy Debord)
Originally published in Paris in 1967, The Society of the Spectacle has been translated into more than twenty other languages and is arguably the most important radical book of the twentieth century.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, Debord’s book is neither an ivory tower philosophical discourse nor a mere expression of protest.” It is a carefully considered effort to clarify the most fundamental tendencies and contradictions of the society in which we find ourselves — in order to facilitate its overthrow. This makes the book more of a challenge, but it is also why it remains so pertinent more than half a century after its original publication, while countless other social theories and intellectual fads have come and gone. It has, in fact, become more pertinent than ever, because the spectacle has become more all-pervading than ever — to the point that it is almost universally taken for granted. Most people today have scarcely any awareness of pre-spectacle history, let alone of anti-spectacle possibilities. As Debord noted in his follow-up work, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988), “spectacular domination has succeeded in raising an entire generation molded to its laws.”
Ken Knabb’s new translation is the first edition in any language to include extensive annotations, clarifying the historical allusions and revealing the sources of Debords détournements.”
Debord created six tantalizingly inaccessible films. Following the still-unsolved assassination of the films’ producer in 1984, all of them were withdrawn from circulation for nearly twenty years. This new translation of Debord’s filmscripts (which Ken Knabb was asked to make by Debord's widow) was prepared to accompany the long-awaited rerelease of these astonishing works.
Technically and aesthetically, Debord's films are among the most brilliantly innovative works in the history of the cinema. But they are not so much "works of art" as carefully calculated subversive provocations. One of the films is an adaptation of Debord’s own book, The Society of the Spectacle. Others evoke his adventures in the bohemian underworld of 1950s Paris, which he contrasts with the increasingly ignorant, ugly, and alienated world that has since been produced by modern capitalism. In each case Debord simultaneously attacks the film medium itself, challenging spectators to create their own adventures instead of passively consuming the pseudo-adventures that are presented to them.
Ken Knabb is best known for his meticulous translations of numerous works by Guy Debord and the Situationist International. Public Secrets is a comprehensive collection of his own writings over a period of three decades (1970-1997).
The first half of the book consists of two substantial new texts. The Joy of Revolution is a series of observations on the problems and possibilities of a global antihierarchical revolution. Beginning with a brief overview of the failures of Bolshevism and the inadequacies of reformism, it examines the pros and cons of a wide range of radical tactics, then concludes with some detailed speculations on what a liberated society might be like. Confessions of a Mild-Mannered Enemy of the State is largely concerned with Knabbs situationist activities, but it also includes reminiscences of the sixties counterculture and accounts of his Zen practice and other later ventures. The second half of the book presents a variety of earlier pamphlets, posters, comics, and articles on Wilhelm Reich, Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, radical Buddhists, Japanese anarchists, Chinese dissidents, the 1970 Polish revolt, the 1979 Iranian uprising, the 1991 Gulf war, etc.
Knabb’s writings since Public Secrets, including “We Don’t Want Full Employment, We Want Full Lives!” (1998); “A Look at Some of the Reactions to Public Secrets” (2000); “The Poverty of Primitivism” (2001); “Reflections on the Uprising in France” (2006); “Anti-Prison Resources” (2007); “Ten Years on the Web” (2008); six texts on the Occupy movement (2011-2012); “Out in the Open: Remarks on the Trump Election” (2016); “Pregnant Pause: Remarks on the Corona Crisis” (2020); “The Secret World of French Songs” (2021); “Travel Diaries 1971-2018” (2021); “Inventory of the Ken Knabb Papers at Yale” (2022); and “Rapid Responses” (brief replies to email queries from 1999 to present).
Comics, leaflets, and scandals of three early Bay Area situationist groups (1970-1972).
Although the Vietnam War is still well known, few people are aware of the decades of struggles against the French colonial regime that preceded it, many of which had no connection with the Stalinists (Ho Chi Minhs Communist Party). The Stalinists were ultimately victorious, but only after they systematically destroyed all the other oppositional currents. Ngo Vans In the Crossfire is the story of these other movements and revolts, caught in the crossfire between the French and the Stalinists, told by one of the few survivors. It is one of those rare books like Volines The Unknown Revolution or Orwells Homage to Catalonia that almost single-handedly unveil moments of hidden history sublime moments when people break through the bounds of the possible and strive to create a life worthy of their deepest dreams and aspirations.
A variety of radical documents, old and new, by Karl Marx, Clarence Darrow, Randolph Bourne, Bertolt Brecht, Karl Korsch, Josef Weber, Asger Jorn, Paul Goodman, Gary Snyder, Jo Freeman, Raoul Vaneigem, etc.
A list of over 500 books that Knabb recommends — classic and modern literature, religion and philosophy, science and psychology, humor and comics, history and revolution — with brief comments on why they are worth reading and passages from some of the recommended works.
A huge archive of works by and about the great writer and social critic, who wryly described his main themes as “sex, mysticism, and revolution,” and who was the leading inspiration behind the San Francisco Renaissance of the fifties and sixties. Includes two complete out-of-print books (Communalism: From Its Origins to the Twentieth Century and Camping in the Western Mountains); excerpts from his Autobiography and Classics Revisited; a generous selection of his poems, essays, reviews, and translations; his complete San Francisco journalism (more than 800 columns and articles); and links to dozens of articles about him.
Detourned comic strips in the style invented and developed by the situationists.
Talks and discussions about the situationists, the Occupy movement, Rexroth, etc., including an ongoing Zoom webinar about Debord and the SI.