The Situationist International was active from the late-mid 1950’s until the early 1970’s, though one could argue that, while the organization itself may have dissolved, it theories and ideologies live onward. McKenzie Wark’s The Spectacle of Disintegration: Situationist Passages out of the Twentieth Century explains the Situationist International’s work from 1968 and onward.
Initially, I had one large issue delving into the book: The Spectacle of Disintegration is a follow up of her previous book, The Beach Beneath the Street, so I had the initial impression that I was already going to be missing some key aspects I would need to understand. This proved to be true rather quickly, as I had to spend significant time looking into various terms and groups to get a grasp of what I was reading. While I can understand that being the case since this book is essentially a sequel, were this to be the first book or the only book, I would be disappointed that more background information were not provided. In fact, even reading under the impression that I was missing the first half of the text, I wanted more background to be provided, if nothing more than as a refresher to what had previously been discussed.
With that lens being cleared through additional research, I still found the book a bit hard to get through despite being one of the more entertaining books I have read in a while (perhaps because it was, in many instances, so metaphorical and amusing in terms of stories). I found the book to be a bit odd, sometimes actually laughing at the strangeness of some of the comparisons that I at first saw little connection between their relevance and the group. With more thought and time, I was able to draw connections, but I still found the book relatively inaccessible – it was difficult to wade through the anecdotes that changed with every chapter. It would take several pages and rereadings of passages to determine the point of a specific chapter, and though this makes sense as a type of reading for such a theoretical book, I would have almost preferred a more blunt approach, or at least a better idea starting off as to what I would be getting myself into with each chapter. Each chapter became more and more exhausting to decipher, though I applaud the creativity of the situations used to elaborate upon each point, as it kept me interested enough to continue to want to pursue understanding.
However, moving on to the idea of this book’s utility for understanding participatory culture, I can see one clear link. The Situationist International group’s members sought to provoke or use “spectacles” to make statements, or, as we may see it, to participate in culture. Though the term spectacle was considered negative, it has an ideology of turning something into something else, something that can be used for a greater purpose or critique. It is in this way that participatory culture can be linked – through the use of whatever medium, individuals can come to use the public sphere and participate in participatory culture. Following from that, the group was incredibly critical, in a way that I see can be intertwined with participatory culture: when one is participating, one may become more aware of issues that need to be critiques, and one may become even more critical of the input of others, wanting to be sure the ideologies put forth are fully understood before expressing agreement or disagreement. When engaging in participatory culture, as we are through this class, we must be vigilant in critiquing the views and opinions around us to see to come to some form of knowledge or truth. The book helped highlight how a previous group of intellectuals did just that.
Finally, and perhaps most universally applicable, is the idea in the book that, regardless of the happening, it should be recorded that some things did actually happen. This is another aspect of participatory culture: that individuals share experiences and happenings with others, whether for critique or validation, and it through this sharing in the public sphere that we are able to truly act in a meaningful manner in a participatory culture.