Internationale Situationiste #1

First issue of the journal of the Situationist International

The Situationists and automation

Asger Jorn on automation in modern society.

It's rather astonishing that practically no one, until now, dared pursue the logic of automation to its ultimate implications. As a result, we have no real perspectives on it. It seems more like the engineers, scientists, and sociologists are trying to fraudulently sneak automation into society.

Automation, however, is now at the center of the problem of socialist control of production and of the preeminence of leisure over work time. The question of automation is the most heavily charged with positive and negative possibilities.

The goal of socialism is abundance -- the greatest amount of goods to the greatest number of people, which, statistically, implies the reduction of unforseen events to the level of improbable. An increase in the number of goods reduces the value of each. This devalorisation of all human goods to the level of "perfect neutrality," so to speak, will be the unavoidable consequence of a purely scientific socialist development. It is unfortunate that most intellectuals never get past this idea of mechanical reproduction, and are preparing man for this bleak, symmetric future. Likewise artists, specialized in the study of the unique, are turning in greater numbers, with hostility, against socialism. On the flip side, the socialist politicians are suspicious of any manifestation of artistic power or originality.

Attached to their conformist positions, one after another displays a certain bead mood with regard to automation, which risks jeopardizing their cultural and economic conceptions. There is, in every "avant-garde" tendency, a self-defeating attitude towards automation or, at best, an under-estimation of the positive aspects of the future, the proximity of which is revealed by the early stages of automation. At the same time, the reactionary forces flaunt an idiotic optimism.

An anecdote is pertinent here. Last year, in the journal [i]Quatrième Internationale[/i], the militant marxist Livio Maitan reported that an Italian priest had already proposed the idea of a second weekly Mass, necessitated by the increase in free time. Maitan responded: "The error consists in believing that man in the new society will be the same as in the present society, though in reality he will have needs so different from ours that it's almost too difficult to imagine." But Maitan's error is to leave to a vague future the new needs which are "almost too difficult to imagine." The dialectical role of the spirit is to incline the possible towards desirable forms. Maitan forgets that "the elements of a new society are formed within the old society," always, as the Communist Manifesto states. The elements of a new life should already be in formation among us -- in the realm of culture --, and it's up to us to help ourselves in order to raise the level of the debate.

Socialism, which tends towards the most complete liberation of the energies and potential in each individual, will be obligated to see in automation an anti-progressive tendency, rendered progressive only by its relation to new provocations capable of exteriorizing the latent energies of man. If, as the scientists and technicians claim, automation is a new means of liberating man, it ought to imply the transcendence of precedent human activity. This requires man's active imagination to transcend the very realization of automation. Where can we find such perspectives, which render man master and not slave of automation?

Louis Salleron explains in his study on "Automation" that it, "as nearly always happens with matters of progress, adds more than it replaces or suppresses." What does automation, in itself, add to the possibility of action? We have learned that it completely suppresses it within its domain.

The crisis of industrialization is a crisis of consumption and production. The crisis of production is more important than the crisis of consumption, the latter being conditioned by the former. Transposed on the individual level, this is equivalent to the thesis that it is better to give than to receive, to be capable of adding rather than suppressing. Automation is thus possessed of two opposing perspectives: it deprives the individual of any possibility of adding something personal to automated production, which is a fixation of progress, while at the same time sparing human energies now massively liberated from reproductive and uncreative activities. The value of automation thus depends on projects which transcend it, and which release new human energies at a superior level.

Experimental activity in culture [is] today in this incomparable field. And the self-defeating attitude here, the resignation before the possibilities of the epoch, is symptomatic of the old avant-garde who remain content, as Edgar Morin wrote, "to chew on the bones of the past." A surrealist named Benayoun says in No. 2 of Surréalisme Même, the latest expression of the movement: "The problem of leisure is already tormenting sociologists... We no longer put faith in scientists, but in clowns, lounge singers, ballerinas, plastic people. One day of work for six of rest: the balance between the serious and the frivolous, between slacking and laboring, is at great risk of being upset. The 'worker,' in his unemployment, will be lobotomized by a convulsive, invasive television short on ideas and scarce on talent." This surrealist doesn't see that a week of six days of rest will not lead to an "upset of the balance" between the frivolous and the serious, but a change in nature of the serious as well as of the frivolous. He hopes only for mistaken identities, a ridiculous return to the given world, which he perceives, like an aging surrealist, as a sort of intangible vaudeville. Why will this future be the solidification of present-day vulgarities? And why will it be "short on ideas?" Does this mean it will be short on 1924 surrealist ideas updated for 1936? Probably. On does it mean that imitation surrealists are short on ideas? We know it well.

New leisures seem like a chasm that current society knows no better way to bridge than to proliferate jury-rigged pseudogames. But they are, at the same time, the base on which the greatest cultural construction ever imagined could be erected. This goal is obviously outside the circle of interest of the partisans of automation. If we want to have a discussion with engineers, we must enter their field of interest. Maldonado, who currently directs the Hochschule f?r Gestaltung at Ulm, explains that the development of automation has been compromised because there is little enthusiasm amongst the youth to follow the polytechnic path, except for specialists in automation itself, gutted of a general cultural perspective. But Maldonado, who, of all people, should display such a general perspective, is completely unaware of it: "automation will only be able to develop rapidly once it establishes as its goal a perspective contrary to its own establishment, and once we can realize such a perspective in the course of its development."

Maldonado proposes the opposite: first establish automation, then its uses. We could argue with this method if the goal were not precisely automation, because automation is not an action in a domain, which would provoke an anti-action. It is the neutralization of a domain, which would come to neutralize the outside as well if the opposing actions were not undertaken at the same time.

Pierre Drouin, speaking in the January 5, 1957 Le Monde on the growth of hobbies as the realization of virtualities which workers can no longer find use for in their professional activity, concludes that in every man "there is a creator sleeping." This old cliché burns with truth today, if we link it back to the real material possibilities of our time. The sleeping creator must awaken, and his state of waking could well be called situationist.

The notion of standardization is an attempt to reduce and simplify the greatest number of human needs to the greatest degree of equality. It is up to us as to whether standardization opens more interesting realms of experience than it closes. Depending on the result, we could end up with a total degradation of human life, or the possibility of perpetually discovering new desires. But these desires will not come about on their own, in the oppressive frame of our world. Communal action must be taken to detect, manifest, and realize them.

Asger Jorn (June 1958)

Translated 1995 by a.h.s. boy

Action in Belgium against the international assembly of art critics

The text of a leaflet distributed by the Situationists at a gathering of art critics.

On April 12, two days before the gathering in Brussels of an international assembly of art critics, the situationists widely distributed an address to that assembly signed -- in the name of the Algerian, Belgian, French, German, Italian and Scandinavian sections of the SI -- by Khatib, Korun, Debord, Platschek, Pinot-Gallizio and Jorn:

To you, this gathering is just one more boring event. The Situationist International, however, considers that while this assemblage of so many art critics as an attraction of the Brussels Fair is laughable, it is also significant. Inasmuch as modern cultural thought has proved itself completely stagnant for over twenty-five years, and inasmuch as a whole era that has understood nothing and changed nothing is now becoming aware of its failure, its spokesmen are striving to transform their activities into institutions. They thus solicit official recognition from the completely outmoded but still materially dominant society, for which most of them have been loyal watchdogs. The main shortcoming of modern art criticism is that it has never looked at the culture as a whole nor at the conditions of an experimental movement that is perpetually superseding it. At this point in time the increased domination of nature permits and necessitates the use of superior powers in the construction of life. These are today's problems; and those intellectuals who hold back, through fear of a general subversion of a certain form of existence and of the ideas which that form has produced, can no longer do anything but struggle irrationally against each other as defenders of one or another detail of the old world -- of a world whose day is done and whose meaning they have not even known. And so we see art critics assembling to exchange the crumbs of their ignorance and their doubts. We know of a few people here who are presently making some effort to understand and support new ventures; but by coming here they have accepted being mixed up with an immense majority of mediocrities, and we warn them that they cannot hope to retain the slightest interest on our part unless they break with this milieu. Vanish, art critics, partial, incoherent and divided imbeciles! In vain do you stage the spectacle of a fake encounter. You have nothing in common but a role to cling to; you are only in this market to parade one of the aspects of Western commerce: your confused and empty babble about a decomposed culture. History has depreciated you. Even your audacities belong to a past now forever closed. Disperse, fragments of art critics, critics of fragments of art. The Situationist International is now organizing the integral artistic activity of the future. You have nothing more to say. The Situationist International will leave no place for you. We will starve you out.

Our Belgian section carried out the necessary direct attack. Beginning April 13, on the eve of the opening of the proceedings, when the art critics from two hemispheres, led by the American Sweeney, were being welcomed to Brussels, the text of the situationist proclamation was brought to their attention in several ways. Copies were mailed to a large number of critics or given to them personally. Others were telephoned and read all or part of the text. A group forced its way into the Press Club where the critics were being received and threw the leaflets among the audience. Others were tossed onto the sidewalks from upstairs windows or from a car. (After the Press Club incident, art critics were seen coming out in the street to pick up the leaflets so as to remove them from the curiosity of passersby.) In short, all steps were taken to leave the critics no chance of being unaware of the text. These art critics did not shrink from calling the police, and used their World Exposition influence in order to block the reprinting in the press of a text harmful to the prestige of their convention and their specialization. Our comrade Korun is now being threatened with prosecution for his role in the intervention.


Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).


constructed situation

A moment of life, concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of unitary environment and the free play of events.


Relating to the theory or practical activity of constructing situations. One who engages in the construction of situations. A member of the Situationist International.


A word totally devoid of meaning, improperly derived from the preceding term. There is no situationism, which would mean a theory of interpretation of existing facts. The notion of situationism was obviously conceived by anti-situationists.


The study of the precise effects of geographical setting, consciously managed or not, acting directly on the mood and behaviour of the individual.


Relating to psychogeography. That which manifests the direct effect of geographical setting on mood.


One who studies and reports on psychogeographical realities.


An experimental mode of behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique for hastily passing through varied environments. Also used, more particularly, to designate the duration of a prolonged exercise of such an experiment.

unitary urbanism

The theory of the combined use of art and technology leading to the integrated construction of an environment dynamically linked to behavioural experiments.


Used as an abbreviation for the formula: détournement of prefabricated aesthetic elements. The integration of past or present artistic production into a superior environmental construction. In this sense, there cannot be situationist painting, or music, but a situationist use of these media. In a more primitive sense, détournement from within old cultural spheres is a form of propaganda, which lays witness to the depletion and waning importance of these spheres.


The reflection and prefiguration at any given historical moment, of the possible organization of daily life; the complex of mores, aesthetic, and feelings by which a collective reacts to a life which is objectively given to it by its economy. (We define this term only from the perspective of the creation of values, and not of their teaching.)


The process by which traditional cultural forms have destroyed themselves, under the effects of the appearance of superior means of dominating nature, permitting and requiring superior cultural constructions. We distinguish between an active phase of decomposition, effective demolition of older superstructures -- which ends around 1930 -- and a phase of repetition, which has dominated since then. The delay in passing from decomposition to new constructions is tied to the delay in the revolutionary liquidation of capitalism.

(June 1958)

Translated 1995 by a.h.s. boy

The sound and the fury

An article on the emerging youth culture in the late 1950s that expressed some disillusionment with society.

There is a lot of talk these days about angry, raging youth. The reason people are so fond of talking about them is that, from the aimless riots of Swedish adolescents to the proclamations of England's would-be literary movement, the "Angry Young Men," there is the same utter innocuousness, the same reassuring flimsiness. Products of a period in which the dominant ideas and lifestyles are decomposing, a period that has seen tremendous breakthroughs in the domination of nature without any corresponding increase in the real possibilities of everyday life, reacting, often crudely, against the world they find themselves stuck in, these youth outbursts are somewhat reminiscent of the surrealist state of mind. But they lack surrealism's points of leverage in culture, and its revolutionary hope. Hence the tone underlying the spontaneous negativity of American, Scandinavian and Japanese youth is one of resignation. Saint-Germain-des-Prés had already, during the first years after World War II, served as a laboratory for this kind of behavior (misleadingly termed "existentialist" by the press); which is why the present intellectual representatives of that generation in France (Françoise Sagan, Robbe-Grillet, Vadim, the atrocious Buffet) are all such extreme caricatural images of resignation.

Although this intellectual generation exhibits more aggressiveness outside France, its consciousness still ranges from simple imbecility to premature self-satisfaction with a very inadequate revolt. The rotten egg smell exuded by the idea of God envelops the mystical cretins of America's "Beat Generation" and is not even entirely absent from the declarations of the Angry Young Men (e.g. Colin Wilson). These latter have just discovered, thirty years behind the times, a certain moral subversiveness that England had managed to completely hide from them all this time; and they think they're being daringly scandalous by declaring themselves antimonarchists. "Plays continue to be produced," writes Kenneth Tynan, "that are based on the ridiculous idea that people still fear and respect the Crown, the Empire, the Church, the University and Polite Society." This statement is indicative of how tepidly literary the Angry Young Men's perspective is. They have simply come to change their opinions about a few social conventions without even noticing the fundamental change of terrain of all cultural activity so evident in every avant-garde tendency of this century. The Angry Young Men are in fact particularly reactionary in attributing a privileged, redemptive value to the practice of literature, thereby defending a mystification that was denounced in Europe around 1920 and whose survival today is of greater counterrevolutionary significance than that of the British Crown.

In all this pseudorevolutionary sound and fury there is a common lack of understanding of the meaning and scope of surrealism (itself naturally distorted by its bourgeois artistic success). A continuation of surrealism would in fact be the most consistent attitude to take if nothing new arose to replace it. But because the young people who now rally to surrealism are aware of surrealism's profound demands while being incapable of overcoming the contradiction between those demands and the stagnation accompanying its apparent success, they take refuge in the reactionary aspects present within surrealism from its inception (magic, belief in a golden age elsewhere than in history to come). Some of them even take pride in still standing under surrealism's arc de triomphe, so long after the period of real struggle. There they will remain, says Gérard Legrand proudly (Surréalisme même #2), faithful to their tradition, "a small band of youthful souls resolved to keep alive the true flame of surrealism."

A movement more liberating than the surrealism of 1924 -- a movement Breton promised to rally to if it were to appear -- cannot easily be formed because its liberativeness now depends on its seizing the more advanced material means of the modern world. But the surrealists of 1958 have not only become incapable of rallying to such a movement, they are even determined to combat it. But this does not eliminate the necessity for a revolutionary movement in culture to appropriate, with greater effectiveness, the freedom of spirit and the concrete freedom of mores demanded by surrealism.

For us, surrealism has been only a beginning of a revolutionary experiment in culture, an experiment that almost immediately ground to a practical and theoretical halt. We have to go further. Why is becoming a surrealist no longer a meaningful option? Not because of the ruling class's constant encouragement of "avant-garde" movements to dissociate themselves from the scandalous aspects of surrealism. (This encouragement is not made in the name of promoting originality at all costs -- how could it be, when the ruling order has nothing really new to propose to us, nothing going beyond surrealism? On the contrary, the bourgeoisie stands ready to applaud any regressions we might lapse into.) If we are not surrealists, it is because surrealism has become a total bore.

Decrepit surrealism, raging and ill-informed youth, well-off adolescent rebels without perspectives (though certainly not without a cause) -- boredom is what they all have in common. The situationists will execute the judgment that contemporary leisure is pronouncing against itself.


Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).

If we are not surrealists, it is because surrealism has become a total bore.
Situationist International

No Useless Leniency (excerpts)

"Intellectual" or "artistic" collaboration in a group devoted to the type of experimentation we are engaged in involves our everyday life. It is always accompanied with a certain friendship.

Consequently, when we think of those who have participated in this joint activity and then been excluded from it, we are obliged to admit that they were once our friends. Sometimes the memory is pleasant. In other cases it's ridiculous and embarrassing.

On the whole, later developments have confirmed the correctness of our reproaches and the irredeemability of the people who have not been able to remain with us. A few of them have even ended up joining the Church or the colonial troops. Most of the others have retired to one or another little niche in the intelligentsia. [...]

The recent formation of the Situationist International has given a new relevance to the questions of accord and breaks. A period of discussions and negotiations on a footing of equality between several groups, beginning with the Alba Congress, has been concluded with the formation at Cosio d'Arroscia a disciplined organization. The result of these new objective conditions has been to force certain opportunist elements into open opposition, leading to their immediate elimination (the purging of the Italian section). Certain wait-and-see attitudes have also ceased to be tolerable, and those of our allies who have not seen fit to join us immediately have thereby unmasked themselves as adversaries. It is on the basis of the program since developed by the majority of the SI that all the new elements have joined us, and we would risk cutting ourselves off from these elements, and especially from those we will meet in the future, if we consented to pursue the slightest dialogue with those who, since Alba, have demonstrated that their creative days are over.

We have become stronger and therefore more seductive. We don't want innocuous relationships and we don't want relationships that could serve our enemies. [...]

It should be clearly understood that all the situationists will maintain the enmities inherited from the former groupings that have constituted the SI, and that there is no possible return for those whom we have ever been forced to despise. But we don't have an idealist, abstract, absolutist conception of breaks. It is necessary to recognize when an encounter in a concrete collective task becomes impossible, but also to see if such an encounter, in changed circumstances, does not once again become possible and desirable between persons who have been able to retain a certain respect for each other. [...]

As I said at the beginning, a collective project like we have undertaken and are pursuing cannot avoid being accompanied by friendship. But it is also true that it cannot be identified with friendship and that it should not be subject to the same weaknesses. Nor to the same modes of continuity or looseness.


Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).

Preliminary Problems in Constructing a Situation

"The construction of situations begins beyond the ruins of the modern spectacle. It is easy to see how much the very principle of the spectacle -- nonintervention -- is linked to the alienation of the old world. Conversely, the most pertinent revolutionary experiments in culture have sought to break the spectators' psychological identification with the hero so as to draw them into activity. . . . The situation is thus designed to be lived by its constructors. The role played by a passive or merely bit-part playing 'public' must constantly diminish, while that played by those who cannot be called actors, but rather, in a new sense of the term, 'livers,' must steadily increase."

--Report on the Construction of Situations

Our conception of a "constructed situation" is not limited to an integrated use of artistic means to create an ambiance, however great the force or spatiotemporal extent of that ambiance might be. A situation is also an integrated ensemble of behavior in time. It is composed of actions contained in a transitory decor. These actions are the product of the decor and of themselves, and they in their turn produce other decors and other actions. How can these forces be oriented? We are not going to limit ourselves to merely empirical experimentation with environments in quest of mechanistically provoked surprises. The really experimental direction of situationist activity consists in setting up, on the basis of more or less clearly recognized desires, a temporary field of activity favorable to these desires. This alone can lead to the further clarification of these simple basic desires, and to the confused emergence of new desires whose material roots will be precisely the new reality engendered by situationist constructions.

We must thus envisage a sort of situationist-oriented psychoanalysis in which, in contrast to the goals pursued by the various currents stemming from Freudianism, each of the participants in this adventure would discover desires for specific ambiances in order to fulfill them. Each person must seek what he loves, what attracts him. (And here again, in contrast to certain endeavors of modern writing -- Leiris, for example -- what is important to us is neither our individual psychological structures nor the explanation of their formation, but their possible application in the construction of situations.) Through this method one can tabulate elements out of which situations can be constructed, along with projects to dynamize these elements.

This kind of research is meaningful only for individuals working practically toward a construction of situations. Such people are presituationists (either spontaneously or in a conscious and organized manner) inasmuch as they have sensed the objective need for this sort of construction through having recognized the present cultural emptiness and having participated in recent expressions of experimental awareness. They are close to each other because they share the same specialization and have taken part in the same historical avant-garde of that specialization. It is thus likely that they will share a number of situationist themes and desires, which will increasingly diversify once they are brought into a phase of real activity.

A constructed situation must be collectively prepared and developed. It would seem, however, that, at least during the initial period of rough experiments, a situation requires one individual to play a sort of "director" role. If we imagine a particular situation project in which, for example, a research team has arranged an emotionally moving gathering of a few people for an evening, we would no doubt have to distinguish: a director or producer responsible for coordinating the basic elements necessary for the construction of the decor and for working out certain interventions in the events (alternatively, several people could work out their own interventions while being more or less unaware of each other's plans); the direct agents living the situation, who have taken part in creating the collective project and worked on the practical composition of the ambiance; and finally, a few passive spectators who have not participated in the constructive work, who should be forced into action.

This relation between the director and the "livers" of the situation must naturally never become a permanent specialization. It's only a matter of a temporary subordination of a team of situationists to the person responsible for a particular project. These perspectives, or the provisional terminology describing them, should not be taken to mean that we are talking about some continuation of theater. Pirandello and Brecht have already revealed the destruction of the theatrical spectacle and pointed out a few of the requirements for going beyond it. It could be said that the construction of situations will replace theater in the same sense that the real construction of life has increasingly tended to replace religion. The principal domain we are going to replace and fulfill is obviously poetry, which burned itself out by taking its position at the vanguard of our time and has now completely disappeared.

Real individual fulfillment, which is also involved in the artistic experience that the situationists are discovering, entails the collective takeover of the world. Until this happens there will be no real individuals, but only specters haunting the things anarchically presented to them by others. In chance situations we meet separated beings moving at random. Their divergent emotions neutralize each other and maintain their solid environment of boredom. We are going to undermine these conditions by raising at a few points the incendiary beacon heralding a greater game.

In our time functionalism (an inevitable expression of technological advance) is attempting to entirely eliminate play. The partisans of "industrial design" complain that their projects are spoiled by people's playful tendencies. At the same time, industrial commerce crudely exploits these tendencies by diverting them to a demand for constant superficial renovation of utilitarian products. We obviously have no interest in encouraging the continuous artistic renovation of refrigerator designs. But a moralizing functionalism is incapable of getting to the heart of the problem. The only progressive way out is to liberate the tendency toward play elsewhere, and on a larger scale. Short of this, all the naïve indignation of the theorists of industrial design will not change the basic fact that the private automobile, for example, is primarily an idiotic toy and only secondarily a means of transportation. As opposed to all the regressive forms of play -- which are regressions to its infantile stage and are invariably linked to reactionary politics -- it is necessary to promote the experimental forms of a game of revolution.


Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).