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Western Philosophy
20th century philosophy

Full name

Guy Ernest Debord

Birth

December 28, 1931
Paris, France

Death

November 30, 1994 (aged 62)
Bellevue-la-Montagne, Haute-Loire, France

School/tradition

Marxism, Situationist

Main interests

Social theory · Reification
Commodity fetishism

Notable ideas

Spectacle
Detournement
Psychogeography
Dérive
Recuperation

Guy Debord

345

Guy Ernest Debord (December 28, 1931 - November 30, 1994) was a French Marxist
theorist, writer, filmmaker, hypergraphist and founding member of the groups Lettrist
International and Situationist International (SI). He was also briefly a member of Socialisme
ou Barbarie.

Life

Guy Debord was born in Paris. His father died early, and he was raised by his grandmother
in a series of Mediterranean towns. He was a headstrong youth, and after graduating high
school he dropped out of the University of Paris where he had been studying law. He
became a revolutionary poet, writer and film-maker founding the Lettrist International
schism with Gil J. Wolman. In the 1960s he led the Situationist International group, which
influenced the Paris Uprising of 1968. His book Society of the Spectacle (1967) is
considered a major catalyst for the uprising.[1]

In the 1970s Debord disbanded the
Situationist International, and resumed filmmaking with financial backing from the movie
mogul and publisher Gerard Lebovici. His two best films date from this period: a film
version of → Society of the Spectacle (1973) and the autobiographical "In Girum Imus Nocte
Et Consumimur Igni" (1978). After the dissolution of the Situationist International, Debord
spent his time reading, and occasionally writing, in relative isolation, although he continued
to correspond on political and other issues, notably with Lebovici and the Italian situationist
Gianfranco Sanguinetti.[2]

and designed a war game [3]

. He was married twice, to Michele

Bernstein and Alice Becker-Ho.
His lifelong steady alcohol consumption began to take a toll on his health. Apparently to
end the suffering from a form of polyneuritis brought on by his excessive drinking, he
committed suicide,[4]

shooting himself in the heart at his property (called Champot) in
Bellevue-la-Montagne, Haute-Loire, on November 30, 1994.
In order to prevent the selling of Debord's archive to Yale University [5]

the French Ministry
of Culture officially declared it to be 'a national treasury', justifying this act by stating 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 20th century"[6]

Works

Part of the Politics series on

Left communism

Communism portal

Guy Debord's best known works are his theoretical books, 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".
In broad terms, Debord's theories attempted to account for the spiritually debilitating
modernisation of both the private and public spheres of everyday life by economic forces

Guy Debord

346

during the post-WW2 modernisation of Europe. He rejected as the twin faces of the same
problem both capitalism of the West and the statism of the Eastern bloc. → Alienation,
Debord postulated, could be accounted for by the invasive forces of the 'spectacle' - "a
social relation between people that is mediated by images". Debord's analysis developed
the notions of "reification" and "fetishism of the commodity" pioneered by Karl Marx and
Georg Lukács. This analysis probed the historical, economic and psychological roots of 'the
media'. 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 which has reached its climax in capitalism.
The Situationist International, 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.
The SI was the fusion of several extremely small avant-garde artistic tendencies: the
Lettrist International, the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus (an off-shoot of
COBRA), and the London Psychogeographical Association in 1957. After an intense period
of theoretical analysis, publication and the expulsion of most of its few members, leading to
the Second Situationist International, the Situationist Antinational and the Situationist
Bauhaus, Debord dissolved the SI in 1972.
Debord's first book, Mémoires, was bound with a sandpaper cover so that it would destroy
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 Beaute du Negatif".
On January 29th 2009, 15 years after his death, the archive of his works have been
classified as "National treasure" by the Minister of Culture, Christine Albanel, in response
to a sale request by Yale University.[7]

Films

•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 Experimentalfilmskompagni)
•Critique de la séparation (Critique of Separation) 1961 (short film, Dansk-Fransk
Experimentalfilmskompagni)
•La Société du spectacle (→ Society of the Spectacle) 1973 (Simar Films)
•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 the Film "The Society of the Spectacle") 1975 (short film, Simar
Films)

•In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (We Turn in the Night, Consumed by Fire)
(Simar Films) 1978 This film was meant to be Debord's last one and is largely
autobiographical. The film script was reprinted in 2007 in No: a journal of the arts.[8]
•Guy Debord, son art, son temps (Guy Debord - His Art and His Time) 1994 (a 'sabotage
television film' by Guy Debord and Brigitte Cornand, Canal Plus)

Guy Debord

347

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.

Popular culture

Debord was the inspiration for the character in the film Waking Life (2001) named "Mr.
Debord", who quotes Robert Louis Stevenson: "Suicide carried off many. Drink and the
devil took care of the rest."

Bibliography

Works by Debord

•Debord, Guy (1957). Report on the Construction of Situations.
•Memoires, 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.
•La Véritable Scission dans L'Internationale, 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, 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, 1985; in English: Considerations on
the Assassination of Gérard Lebovici, TamTam 2001, ISBN 2-85184-156-4.
•Le Jeu de la Guerre, 1987; in English A Game of War, Atlas Press 2008, ISBN
978-1-900565-38-7
•Commentaires sur la société du spectacle, 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" [2002], ISBN 85-87193-77-5.
•"The Proletariat as Subject and as Representation" [9]

Further reading

•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 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, ISBN 0-520-21204-5.
•Guy Debord - Revolutionary, Len Bracken, Feral House 1997, ISBN 0-922915-44-X.
•I situazionisti, Mario Perniola, Roma, Castelvecchi 2005, ISBN 88-7615-068-4.

Guy Debord

348

•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.
•Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Greil Marcus, Harvard
University Press, 1990, ISBN 0-674-53581-2.
•50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International, McKenzie Wark, Princeton
Architectural Press, New York, 2008 ISBN 1568987897
•Los Situacionistas y la Anarquía, Miguel Amoros, Bilbao, Muturreko burutazioak, 2008,
ISBN 978-84-88455-98-7.

See also

•Anti-art
•Situationist International
•Psychogeography
•→ Raoul Vaneigem
•Gerard Lebovici

External links

•Situationist international online [10]
•Libcom.org/library: Guy Debord archive [11]
•A brief biography and several texts, including Society of the Spectacle. [12]
•Comments on the society of the spectacle (1988) [13]
•Guy Debord and the Situationists [14]
•Audio recordings [15]

/ Films [16]

by Guy Debord

•Michael Löwy on Guy Debord [17]

, in Radical Philosophy
•French wikipedia article which has fuller list of works [18]
•The Strange Life of Guy Debord [19]

(French)

•Films [20]

/ Writings [21]

and Literature on Guy Debord [22]
•"Punk Saint of All Things, Useless, Beautiful, and Free" [23]
•On Guy Debord’s Films [24]
•Observations on the English translation of Guy Debord's Oeuvres Cinématographiques
Completes [25]

Guy Debord

349

References

[1]Andreotti, L. "Review: Leaving the twentieth century: The Situationist International." Journal of Architectural
Education, 49(3), p. 197.
[2]Guy Debord (http:/ / www.notbored.org/ debord.html)
[3]Le Jeu de la Guerre : Relevé des positions successives de toutes les forces au cours d'une partie (http:/ / www.
amazon.fr/ Jeu-Guerre-Relevé-positions-successives/ dp/ 2070776514) accessed 14th January 2008
[4]Hussey, Andrew (28 July 2001). " Situation Abnormal (http:/ / www.guardian.co.uk/ books/ 2001/ jul/ 28/
biography.artsandhumanities)". The Guardian. . Retrieved on July 8, 2009.
[5](http:/ / www.guardian.co.uk/ books/ booksblog/ 2009/ mar/ 18/ guy-debord-situationist-international)
[6]Journal Officiel de la Republique Francaise du 12 fevrier 2009 (texte 120)
[7](http:/ / juralibertaire.over-blog.com/ article-28060152.html)
[8](http:/ / www.nojournal.com)
[9]http:/ / prole.info/ articles/ sos_chapter4.html
[10]http:/ / www.cddc.vt.edu/ sionline/ index.html
[11]http:/ / libcom.org/ tags/ guy-debord
[12]http:/ / www.nothingness.org/ SI/ debord.html
[13]http:/ / www.notbored.org/ commentaires.html
[14]http:/ / catless.ncl.ac.uk/ Obituary/ debord.html
[15]http:/ / www.ubu.com/ sound/ debord.html
[16]http:/ / www.ubu.com/ film/ index.html
[17]http:/ / www.radicalphilosophy.com/ default.asp?channel_id=2188&editorial_id=10310
[18]http:/ / fr.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Guy_Debord
[19]http:/ / www.philippesollers.net/ Debord.html
[20]http:/ / members.chello.nl/ j.seegers1/ situationist/ films_debord.html
[21]http:/ / members.chello.nl/ j.seegers1/ situationist/ writings_debord.html
[22]http:/ / members.chello.nl/ j.seegers1/ situationist/ bib_debord.html
[23]http:/ / www.judithfitzgerald.ca/ spectatoes.html
[24]http:/ / www.bopsecrets.org/ SI/ debord.films/ index.htm
[25]http:/ / www.monoculartimes.co.uk/ avantgardening/ observations-oeuvres_1.shtml

Theodore Roszak (scholar)

350

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