First posted on May 16, 2021
“The spectacle is the guardian of sleep”: Guy Debord – ‘But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence… illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness’. Ludwig Feuerbach, Preface to the 2nd edition of The Essence of Christianity
NB: The word image is a favourite with our media and politicians and clever policemen filing FIR’s against democratic activists. It is A Very Bad Thing to Tarnish the Nations’ Image. Criticising the Prime Minister, or his governments’ policies is also Very Bad for the Nations’ Image. Image = appearance, something other than the reality – as in imagination. Our government is very concerned about its image. Many can see this, hence the nick-name Feku.
But the deeper question is Why? Why are we so bothered about our ‘image’? Why is changing social reality less important than manipulating its ‘image’? Because we live in an age wherein the very standards of truth have been relativised and demolished. All that counts now is credibility, not truth. Much can be said about this, but here is analysis dating back to 1967, that described our reality as the Society of the Spectacle
Here are four recent comments on the GoI’s preoccupation with its image:
‘इमेज’: The Emperor’s Order: A Poem on Deaths in the Age of Covid by Puneet Sharma
Shyam Saran: India’s soul has been seared
Vamsee Juluri: What will the PM do with the lie of delusion?
Anupam Kher: “there is much more to life than just image-building”
Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, is available on Marxist Internet Archive. The following extracts are taken from this online PDF, which is annotated and is a more recent translation:
1: In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.
2: The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation. The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself. The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living.
14: The society which rests on modern industry is not accidentally or superficially spectacular, it is fundamentally spectaclist. In the spectacle, which is the image of the ruling economy, the goal is nothing, development everything. The spectacle aims at nothing other than itself.
16: The spectacle subjugates living men to itself to the extent that the economy has totally subjugated them. It is no more than the economy developing for itself. It is the true reflection of the production of things, and the false objectification of the producers.
17: The first phase of the domination of the economy over social life brought into the definition of all human realization the obvious degradation of being into having. The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalized sliding of having into appearing, from which all actual “having” must draw its immediate prestige and its ultimate function. At the same time all individual reality has become social reality directly dependent on social power and shaped by it. It is allowed to appear only to the extent that it is not.
21: To the extent that necessity is socially dreamed, the dream becomes necessary. The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep.
23: The oldest social specialization, the specialization of power, is at the root of the spectacle. The spectacle is thus a specialized activity which speaks for all the others. It is the diplomatic representation of hierarchic society to itself, where all other expression is banned. Here the most modern is also the most archaic.
24: The spectacle is the existing order’s uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue. It is the self-portrait of power in the epoch of its totalitarian management of the conditions of existence. The fetishistic, purely objective appearance of spectacular relations conceals the fact that they are relations among men and classes: a second nature with its fatal laws seems to dominate our environment…..
Though separated from what they produce, people nevertheless produce every detail of their world with ever-increasing power. They thus also find themselves increasingly separated from that world. The closer their life comes to being their own creation, the more they are excluded from that life…
Download The Society of the Spectacle
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