Guy-Ernest Debord (28 December 1931 – 30 November 1994) was a French Marxist theorist, philosopher, filmmaker, critic of work, member of the Letterist International, founder of a Letterist faction, and founding member of the Situationist International. He was also briefly a member of Socialisme ou Barbarie.
Debord is best known for his 1967 essay The Society of the Spectacle.
The Letterists International:
Debord joined the Letterists when he was 18. 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. One of them, the Letterist International, was decidedly led by Debord upon Gil Wolman's 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.
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 (Imperia), Italy, to found the Situationist International, with Debord being 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:
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 Debord.
After the Situationist International:
Published by 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, following which Debord was suspected of his murder. He [Debord] had agreed to have his films released posthumously at the request of the American researcher, Thomas Y. Levin.
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.
Just before Debord's death, he filmed (although did not release) 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 to end the suffering caused by these conditions, Debord died by suicide on 30 November 1994, shooting himself through the heart.
The Collection consists of a range of material relating to Guy Debord himself, the Letterists International, the Situationists International, and the May 1968 Civil Riots.
Language: French and English
Copyright: UCC Library (in the main). Certain copyright may retain with original creator, please check with Archivist.