In his newest book, The Spectacle of Disintegration, McKenzie Wark continues the situationist-centered dialogue he established in his preceding book, The Beach Beneath the Street. Both books serve as analyses of the Situationist International, delving into their history, beliefs, and practices. Founded in 1957, the Situationist International (SI) was an international organization composed of social revolutionaries. Membership was extremely exclusive. The demographics of the members themselves varied - the organization was composed of artists, political theorists, intellectuals, and more. However, the one thing that united the members of the Situationist International was their shared social ideology.
In The Beach Beneath the Street, Wark recounts the first two aspects or phases of the Situationist International - the artistic phase during the 1950s, and the political action phase in the 1960s. He also elaborated on the first two facets of the spectacle. The first facet was concentrated spectacle. This was the period when society, and power by extension, was organized around a central personality. Later, the diffuse spectacle emerged. This type of spectacle influenced society by the use of icons and advertising in order to sell commodity. Additionally, the idea that the meaning of life could be achieved via consumption was emphasized and built upon.
In The Spectacle of Disintegration, he goes on to elaborate on the third and most current phase of the organization - the phase of the spectacle known as the integrated spectacle. Although misconceived as the end of the SI movement, Wark argues that it is simply a re-manifestation of the core ideals, adapted to today’s society. In other words, Wark connects the past decades’ situationist theory and practice to today’s ideals. To do so, he focuses on situationists and their work. For instance, he analyzes the painter T.J. Clark, commending him for “restoring to view the life of the image and an anarchist vision” (48). Wark then goes on to the figure of Raoul Vaneigem, a Belgian member of the Situationist International from 1961 to 1970 whose main concern was the concept of utopia as well as dystopia.
Wark continues in chapter 9, exploring the society of the spectacle in the context of artistic pieces, namely the obscure Viénet film, Can Dialectics Break Bricks. It is here that Wark makes an argument that films such as these are simply remixes of films that had already existed. From this, Wark goes on to refer the audience to other Situationist pieces that stemmed from other existing artistic forms, thereby undermining their originality. He emphasizes the re-working and remanifestation of artistic elements into new constructions, yet simultaneously and confusingly asserts that nothing is innovative.
Finally, Wark explores Guy Debord, who was a French Marxist theorist and a founding member of the Situationist International. For some reason, the aspect of Debord’s life that Wark chooses to expand on is the development of the board game, Game of War, developed by Debord and his wife, Alice Becker-Ho. The connection between Wark’s extensive development of the board game and the Situationist International is unclear and extremely vague, making it difficult to understand.
Overall, I would not recommend this text as a source for teaching participatory culture. The writing itself is very cryptic and dense, making it fairly inaccessible to a general audience, even more so to those who are not well-versed in the realm of situationist theory. In addition to the difficulty of reading the text, Wark’s main tool in his writing is the use of endless quotes. While reading, it felt like I was simply reading the work of the people Wark described in his book, simply stitched together. By doing so, Wark failed to contribute any original information or insight into the Situationist theory community, and merely summarized and repeated the thoughts of situationists who had already expressed their views. Even if Wark did contribute original insight, it would have been lost in the sea of quotes by other figures who actually did, thereby undermining Wark’s nonexistent arguments. Thus, although Wark is skilled in synthesizing information about the SI, I would not recommend this text if you are looking for new, original, and revolutionary information and insight into the Situationist International.