Monday, August 17, 2015

Wark Book Review


            The Spectacle of Disintegration is about the Situationist International, an international organization of social revolutionaries including avant-garde artists, intellectuals, and political theorists. Wark focuses on the concept of the spectacle, a crucial aspect of situationist theory. The spectacle is a critique of capitalism where the core motive is a growing concern over the inclination to express and facilitate social relations through objects. The situationists believed that the quality of human life was affected by an individual’s ability to define oneself based on commodities or material possessions as opposed to lived experiences. Situationist theory was a mode of counteracting the spectacle where people felt the freedom and adventure of everyday life. At the beginning of the Situationist International there was primarily an artistic focus that later changed into revolutionary and political theory. In his book, Wark discusses the society of the spectacle and the Situationist’s critique of modernity.
            Situationism consists of the belief that there are no perfect ideas or criticisms. It is the participation of each individual that is significant in the advances against consumerism. This is where participatory culture plays an important role, as it is an important aspect of defining the spectacle. As Debord puts it, “The spectacle is a social relationship between people mediated by images (5).” Wark follows this by saying that “The trick is not to be distracted by the images, but to inquire into the nature of this social relationship (5).” When analyzing this quote an important theme arises, that which distinguishes necessity and desire. Desire is the strong feeling that tempts people towards consumerism, a concept that goes against Wark’s Marxist ideals.
            In evaluating Wark’s Spectacle of Disintegration against modern day ideals and theories in America, it is very relevant. Some of the ideas expressed about how the advancement of capitalism in areas such as technology, wealth, and the convenience of everyday life do not necessarily outweigh the social consequences that it has brought about. Wark states that “The landscape of leisure emerges as the symbolic field for the conflicts of a spectacular identity. At stake are the forms of freedom, of accomplishment, naturalness, individuality” (36). In this context leisure is referred to as vacation or an escape from the everyday busy life capitalism imposes on us. However, Wark is arguing that even leisure is filled with stress; it is a place of tension similar to work itself. In addition, leisure is a mode of economical advance. In his book, Wark provides the example of nightclubs. Although people go there for leisure they are spending money to receive it. The nightclub is a business that is motivated by profit; therefore, they are seeking to provide leisure in a way that best benefits them. As a result, leisure can often be a business. This is one of the disappointments that capital produces according to Wark.
In examining different forms of art throughout history, Wark comes to conclusions that are often times unconvincing or hard to comprehend. With the anecdotes given, Wark extrapolates the evidence into a theory that is often times difficult to understand. The reader is left to his own interpretation and evaluation of the purpose of Wark’s writing. Even the anecdotal passages are, at times, hard to appreciate due to the reader’s unfamiliarity with the context. The Spectacle of Disintegration is a challenging first read if you are not familiar with the Situationist movement and events of that period in time. That said, if you have experience or knowledge of the topic then Wark’s Spectacle of Disintegration seems to be an eye-opening read.

When reading this book I was able to discern the importance of participatory culture to the Situationist movement. The active participation of a group of people is important to any movement and to inflict change. In the case of the Situationist movement as a stand against certain features of capitalism it was especially important that those who shared the same beliefs came together. Without people voicing their opinion progress would not be made. Change was the primary motive behind the participatory culture involved in the Situationist movement. Social events, word of mouth, the media, and other sources helped to spread the beliefs that the Situationist shared. This is also visible in modern day America. Participatory culture is part of everyday life whether it is through social media, school, sports, or any part of life where people come together and unite under a common cause or even share differences, along as people are participating and collaborating with one another.

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