"The art of the future will be the overthrow of situations, or nothing."
-- Guy Debord
Guy Earnest Debord was a noted French
thinker (though virtually unknown in the US) who was de-facto leader of the Situationist
s. His most important work is the book "The Society of the Spectacle
", a sweeping, merciless critique of modern capitalist civilization
Debord was born in Paris on 28 December, 1931. In 1952 he joined the Lettrist International (LI), a group of Bohemian artists and intellectuals founded by Isidore Isou in 1945 which was a precursor to the much more well-known Situationist International (SI). The LI "saw the culture and commerce of the West as... Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer had seen it... a single system of suffocation and domination." Their goal was to reinvent the world through Art.
In 1957, Debord created a book called "Mémoires", made entirely of collages, and bound in heavy sandpaper, so that it would destroy other books it was put next to. The volume was intended as a partial history of the LI and explanation of the origins of the SI.
Debord wrote many influential essays along with his fellows in the LI and the SI, helping to develop such key Situationist concepts as the dérive and detournement. He also made films, such as Sur le Passage de quelques Personnes à Travers une Assez Unité de Temps (On the Passage of a Few People Through a Rather Brief Moment in Time); a film version of "The Society of the Spectacle"; and the infamous Hurlements en Faveur de Sade (Howlings in favor of de Sade), which caused riots in Paris when it was first shown in 1952. Of the latter film DeBord said "I have destroyed cinema, because it was easier than shooting passerby", a reference to the famous Surrealist saying of Andre Breton about firing a gun into a crowd.
The ideas of Debord and his associates in the SI were instrumental in bringing about the revolt of May 1968 in Paris, which began with students enamoured with Debord's theories and slogans, and spread to workers all over the city. In the 70s the SI fell into inner conflict between members and then into obscurity.
Guy Debord, who had abused alcohol for years, took his own life with a gunshot through his heart in 1994. At a memorial service held in San Francisco, Greil Marcus is said to have openly wept.
Note: Many of the facts mentioned here are taken from the excellent book by Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces. News of Marcus' crying is courtesy of The Tape-beatles.