50 Years of Recuperation….

“The newspapers are devolving, bit by bit, into shopping guides. The ‘quality’ magazines are just coded investment advice. One turns with hope to the blogosphere, only to find that it mostly just mimics the very media to which it claims to be an alternative. Alternative turns out just to mean cheaper…” McKenzie Wark 50 Years of Recuperation… (Princeton Architectural Press, New York 2008, page 4).
McKenzie Wark is probably best known as a cyber-theorist, but 5o Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International is an amusing essay he’s written on the Situationists with some groovy illustrations at the back. In his text Wark stresses the importance of the 2nd Situationist International, Asger Jorn and others from outside the Parisian circles centred on Guy Debord. Obviously I’m sympathetic to Wark’s line that it is useful to reignite the dialectical tensions between various aspects of Situationist activity that were rent asunder when the movement split into rival factions 1962; this position is after all close to the line on the subject that I have been taking for some time.
I am also in basic agreement with Wark’s contention that: “…for me the interesting things are not so much the works of scholarship about the Situationists as the attempts to plunder the treasures of this material for contemporary purposes. The Situationists created the theory and practice of detournement, of sampling past cultural products and integrating them into new creations, and hence the reverential quotation of Situationist texts or art is always necessarily outside the spirit of the thing. Hence my attraction to works by the Bernadette Corporation, DJ Rabbi, DJ Spooky, Critical Art Ensemble, the Association for the Advancement of Illegal Knowledge, the Luther Blissett Project, the Neoist Alliance and the Radical Software Group. These different outfits, in their various ways, treat the Situationist International as common property. They appropriate from it as they see fit, in precisely the manner of ‘literary communism’ that the Situationists themselves advocated. My interest in the Situationists is in part a prolegomenon to an account of such groups….” (page 9).
Wark has an easy-to-read writing style and excels at taking positions and practices from outside the academy and getting those within it to take them seriously. He is in many ways a populariser who carefully picks his way through material, making it accessible to those whose knowledge of what goes on outside the walls of universities is sketchy. Thus while there are undoubtedly differences between my positions and those expounded by Wark, they are generally narrower than they appear at first glance. For example, the Lettrists and Situationists may have come up with the term ‘detournement’ but the literary communism Wark writes about can already be found in Marx (The Communist Manifesto can be viewed as an adroit compendium of earlier revolutionary slogans) or even Thomas de Quincey (a notorious ‘plagiarist’). Wark knows this, he is simply adopting a tactical position because there are severe limits as to how far thinking within the academy can be manoeuvred by a single book. Likewise, what needs to be synthesised and/or placed back into dialectical tension with this material is not just the fragmented aspects of the original Situationist practice but elements of Fluxus and Auto-Destructive Art etc. too.
Wark cites and quotes from a wide range of sources including both Greil Marcus and me. Not wishing to alienate Marcus, Wark specifically cites the 2nd edition of my book The Assault On Culture, not the first edition that dates from 1988, the year before Marcus published Lipstick Traces. Marcus is obsessed with the idea that he was the first person to write a book in this area, and so citing the 2nd and not the 1st edition of Assault On  Culture is Wark’s means of placating Marcus (who is influential in institutions Wark wishes to effect). That said, other books had already covered this area well before mine, even if much of the material was not at that time readily available in English. In doing this, Wark demonstrates how he’s been influenced by Guy Debord’s Game of War: “In  the war of position, tactics are dictated from above by strategic concerns with taking and holding institutions across the landscape of state and civil society. The Game of War refutes this territorial conception of space and this hierarchical relation between strategy and tactics. Space is always partially unmarked: tactics can sometimes call a strategy into being. Some space need not be occupied or contested at all; every tactic involves a risk to one’s positions..” (page 32).
Wark deploys sources many academics would miss. To give one example, in the case of Howard Slater’s Divided We Stand, he makes good use of a text that hasn’t gained the readership it deserves because the prose is rather heavier than contemporary taste dictates. However, one potentially key source appears to me to be conspicuously missing here: Fabian Tompsett/Richard Essex prefigured many of Wark’s positions on Asger Jorn and Debord’s Game of War in his texts for both Unpopular Books and the journal Transgressions, not to mention his activity with the revived London Psychogeographical Association and the ongoing series of Class War Games. I’d guess that Wark hasn’t come across Tompsett/Essex, although many of those he cites (including of course me) have learnt a trick or two from him.
50 Years of Recuperation… is a fast and fun read, and summaries a lot of other material fantastically well. You probably won’t want to buy a copy, since it is rather expensive, but that shouldn’t put you off reading it!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – http://www.stewarthomesociety.org/ – you know it makes (no) sense!


Comment by Istvan Kantor on 2009-01-11 13:55:27 +0000

50 Years of RecupAration… is a fast and fun read hahaha

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-01-11 15:28:28 +0000

but 50 Years of Recaptioning is probably the most fun you can have with the theory of detournement…. regardless of whether your clothes are off or on….

Comment by Mister Anonymous on 2009-01-11 16:29:54 +0000

At the theoretical level, Wark’s writing can be seen in the context of three currents: British Cultural Studies, German Critical Theory and French Poststructuralism. His earlier works combined British and French influences to extend Australian cultural studies to encompass questions of globalization and new media technology. His later works draw more from Critical Theory and much revised Marxism. Through his experimentation with new media forms, starting with listservers such as nettime.org and later with web interfaces such as the one developed for Gamer Theory, his works intersect with other new media theorists such as Geert Lovink and Mark Amerika.

Comment by McKenzie Wark on 2009-01-11 17:00:25 +0000

Yes, it does owe quite a bit to various Brit writers, including Slater and and Home. I came across Fabian Tompsett a bit too late to include in the book. I have a large but still incomplete collection of Brit pro and post Situ stuff that i started gathering 20 years ago. Would be worth a study in itself.
It cites the second edition of Assault on Culture because that’s the one i have. But you are right that i would not want to alienate Marcus, or anyone for that matter. Not very interested in the insult as genre.

Comment by Istvan Kantor on 2009-01-11 17:56:15 +0000

you owe me a few bob for proof-reading your chef-d’oeuvre, Michael-Stewart K. Home-Trippy

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-01-11 19:47:38 +0000

Hey McKenzie, I really enjoyed the book precisely because it seemed immediately to be a part of debates I’ve been involved in for years… I’ve known Fabian since the late seventies, and Howard since the mid-eighties… Another connection here to take it outside the UK is the Copenhagen Free University, the book felt like a nice addition to a lot of things people I know well but you probably don’t have been talking about for a long time… but next time you’re in London I’ll try to see you meet some of them…

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-01-11 19:55:40 +0000

Istvan, you failed the test, you missed most of the typos…..

Comment by Istvan Kantor on 2009-01-11 20:34:04 +0000

excuses, excuses, Trippy. Typical!

Comment by Sally on 2009-01-11 21:14:47 +0000


Comment by Stewart Home on 2009-01-11 21:36:26 +0000


Comment by Spanker on 2009-01-11 21:57:21 +0000

am I disturbing you?

Comment by McKenzie Wark on 2009-01-11 22:13:35 +0000

You could read 50 Years as a sort of provocation to re-read the SI stuff through the more interesting debates that happened in Europe in the 80s, 90s and 00s, rather than through the more doctrinaire pro-situ stuff, or through its assimilation to certain art world institutions, particularly in the US.
One such debate was centered on nettime.org and i was part of that one. I only know about the stuff you mention second hand, through reading the documents. Eventually what’s called for is an account of all these things together. Sometimes you have to take two steps back to make three steps forward.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-01-12 00:57:55 +0000

Agreed, we’ve got the tactics, and it looks like they’ll dictate the stragegy! You’re definitely gonna have fun next time you come to London…..

Comment by Observe on 2009-01-12 03:02:08 +0000

oh, you lot — don’t you know there’s a guy called Stewart Home who has already written a good book on Situationism — it’s called “Assault on Culture”
I just checked it on Amazon, and a character called Redeyes reviewed it as follows :
“I have been reading around , and studying the post Futurist/Dada avant garde scene for nearly 25 years, and Home’s work is as good as it gets.
Ignore the other reviewers who read Home’s work as a “fun hip book”, but shallow and flawed. Such judgments prove how little the American audience understand European art movements of the 20th century — Home’s work is far far deeper, and along with the source texts from Debord, Vaneigem etc — this book will set the benchmark for this area.
This is no idle commentary on Debord’s work, neither is it a book of adulation, or simplistic analysis — Home has a sharp, perceptive mind, that ADDS SIGNIFICANTLY to an understanding of Dada, Futurism, Situationists, the Lettrists, and even to an understanding of medieval mystic heretics, Rimbaud and Baudelaire’s place in the lineage. And, he is not afraid to be scathingly , perceptively critical either — see his pertinent dismissal of certain aspects of Tzara, Adorno and Debord’s contradictory theory and snobbery.
Along with SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE and REVOLUTION OF EVERY DAY LIFE and Richter’s DADA ART AND ANTI ART and the FUTURIST MANIFESTOES — Home’s work is THE definitive analytic, critical text.
Home’s work is essential reading for anyone at all interested in 20th Century art, and by association, the field of knowledge the key Post Modernists (Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard) went on to exploit.
The other reviews here show so very little understanding of the entire field Home investigates so critically, and so very well.”

Comment by Sceptic on 2009-01-12 08:05:25 +0000

conclusion: read S. Home’s books and to hell with Tolstoy and Dickens?

Comment by shrieking toad howling wizard on 2009-01-12 10:34:33 +0000

Tolstoy’s nihilist period is bleak, his Anarcho Mystical period extraordinary. Read the “Assyria” short story.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-01-12 12:26:48 +0000

But Dickens is a sentimental bourgeois shithead… Oh nice review from Amazon… I hadn’t seen that one…. And to think Home was only 25 when he wrote Assault in 1987 (first published in 1988)…. I think might go fall through a wormhole so that I can be 25 again…. The Assault on Culture did stress the importance of the 2nd Situationist International which got ignored in the Anglo-American world pretty much after that when Debordom became trenady… But 50 Years… is part of a broader move away from that and to looking at the Situationists in a less reductive way. There is some nice stuff about Bernstein, and it does sumarise a lot of the debate going on around non-Debordist situationism in an easy to read way…… Oh and the pictures at the back are lovely! So I think it is worth a look. They have it in the Tate Modern bookshop and you could read it in there while waiting to meet a friend….

Comment by Observe on 2009-01-12 14:09:39 +0000

“But Dickens is a…. bourgeois shithead”
I am jumping into my own disparate connections now Mr Home, but so was Adorno — I loved “Enlightenment as Mass Deception” but have you ever read such pretentious middle class snobby rubbish as “Minima Moralia/Reflections from a Damaged Life?” My God, it changed my view of Adorno, it is so bloody pretentious……It leads me to think pehraps Horkheimer’s contribution was the part I really dug in the co written “Dilalectic of Enlightenment” and not Adorno, who was the more famous of the two….

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-01-12 18:01:11 +0000

Oh I agree with you about Adorno….just look at his ridiculous take on the so called negative function of art….

Comment by Observe on 2009-01-13 02:01:01 +0000

“just look at his ridiculous take on the so called negative function of art….”
What did he say ? I know his “negative dialectics” get so convoluted it’s ridiculous…..I far preferred Lukacz’ take on Hegelian dialectics. Lukacz on reification and mediation is wonderful, and all these chapters are avaialable online which it so good.
Again re. Adorno — I just feel suspicious of someone who relentlessly refers to themselves as an “intellectual”, which I believe Adorno did…..I mean, why is a philosopher or painter any more “intellectual”, than , say, a mechanic or electrician? It’s a ridiculous word. If anything, the electrician carries out a far more mystic or miraculous process than some dour faced college Professor “intellectual.”

Comment by shrieking wizard howling toad on 2009-01-13 06:20:02 +0000

i dont like intellectuals either — must be going — i retreat to my cave!

Comment by SardBrook on 2009-01-13 10:00:28 +0000

I think you are thinking like sukrat, but I think you should cover the other side of the topic in the post too…

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-01-13 11:10:05 +0000

Frankfurt school ‘intellectuals’ like Adorno and Marcuse incorrectly argued the oppositional status of the artist lies in their capacity to be alienated from the tough-minded positivism of the world of finance and its reality principle. That the negative function of art is threatened by the prosperous, administered society that absorbs the esstwhile dissatisfied and desiring artist into its own desublmated logic of pleasure…. It should go without saying that such Frankfurt school guff fails to take on board the self-evident fact that art is ideological propaganda produced by and for the bourgeoisie….

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