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Spectacular Developments: Guy Debord's Parapolitical Turn

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  • Economics
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science


Following the attacks of September 11th, 2001, Guy Debord’s concept of ‘the spectacle’ re-emerged in the work of a variety of theorists as a critical prism through which the attacks and subsequent ‘War on Terror’ could be approached. Debord’s first book on the spectacle (1967) was written in the context of France’s post-war boom; his later reflections, contained in a series of minor works written throughout the seventies and eighties, are heavily influenced by Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’ and a broader geopolitical climate of armed struggle, terrorism, counter-insurgency and espionage. Nearly all post-9/11 invocations of Debord’s concept draw on the version elucidated in Debord’s 1967 book, with its emphasis on commodity fetishism, ideology, and alienation, and fail to engage his later work and its focus on terrorism, secrecy, and conspiracy. Among those that do in fact reference Debord’s later work are several writers whose work could pejoratively be labelled ‘conspiracy theory’. Looking at Debord’s oeuvre as whole, and investigating how it combines a critique of late capitalism in its totality with parapolitcal concerns of ‘systemic clandestinity’, Spectacular Developments: Guy Debord’s Parapolitical Turn provides a bolstered conception of the spectacle that aims to reconfigure the conceptual foundations of this debate. This conception of the spectacle allows one to approach the 9/11 attacks and all that followed in their wake with both a precision and a breadth lacking in these other works, demonstrating the superficiality of readings that make the concept synonymous with the mass media or that attempt to unravel nefarious conspiracies of power. Simultaneously, this approach foregrounds the epistemological and strategic challenges faced by researchers, politicians and activists working in and on the society of the spectacle.

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