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Guy Debord, Situationism, and the Occupy movement

Lots of pieces in the US press about Kalle Lasn, the brains behind Adbusters, which is the anarchist collective that came up with the idea of Occupy Wall Street. The latest profile of him is this piece the New Yorker. The NYT and the New Republic blogs both also carried profiles of him, and both were kind enough to quote this interview I did with him in 2002, during another financial crisis. Lasn told me in that interview that the chief inspiration for Adbusters was the Situationist movement, a group of French anarchists who provided the philosophical underpinning for the May 1968 protests in Paris. Lasn said:

The Situationist movement…was such a powerful intellectual force in the 1960s, and especially around 1968, when there was almost a world revolution. One of the big things the Situationists talked about was detournement – it’s a French word that means taking an existing situation, and in a deft, Judo-like move, creating a feedback loop that destroys it. So you’re a culture jammer and you’re facing Nike, which is a massive corporation that has all kinds of power on its side. But because you’re fleet of foot, and nimble, you grab them and throw them on the mat with a beautiful, aesthetic, intellectual tour de force that somehow outwits them. Many other activist movements before the Situationists have used that, like Dada for example. They don’t have the money, they don’t have the power, but they use their wits, and they find ways for making people laugh, and think about the paradigm shift just through the power of their wits.

The Situationists inspired many of the posters of Paris 68, which in turn inspired the Occupy movement, like this:

You can see the Situationist tactic of ‘detournement’ in Banksy’s art, and in some of the art at Occupy London, like the giant Monopoly board:

You can also see the influence of Situationism in some of the banners and slogans, like one that says ‘We are fantasy’ – which sounds like the graffiti slogans from Paris 1968.

And the Occupy London strategy of occupying land belonging to the Church of England was a really masterful piece of detournement. Anyway, all of this is a roundabout way of showing this excellent and weird film by Guy Debord of his Situationist book, The Society of Spectacle. You can see how it influenced Adam Curtis’s aesthetic – using archive material to jam people’s consumer sleep and wake them up. Have a look:

Occupy Roundhouse!

I met up with the lovely Victoria Tischler of the University of Nottingham yesterday, who told me about something called the Dialectics of Liberation, a two-week event that took place at the Roundhouse in Camden, in 1967, and that brought together Allen Ginsberg, RD Laing, Herbert Marcuse and Stokely Carmichael of the Black Panthers on one combustible platform. Check it out:

Well, some people are working to recreate the event next January in Kingsley Hall. Look:


Sunday 8th January 2012, 4 pm to 6 pm
Kingsley Hall
Powis Road Bromley-by-Bow E3 3HJ

1967: Vietnam, race riots, the Summer of Love, revolution in the air…

In the Roundhouse, London, a gathering of firebrand activists hippies intellectuals artists
summoned by the famous psychiatrist RD Laing to debate capitalism, racism, the roots of violence, climate change – and how to build a better world at the great Congress of the Dialectics of Liberation

Today there’s another mounting wave of protest; worldwide people are questioning this dysfunctional system and looking for alternatives. Riding the spirit of the times, multi-media event DIALEKTIKON 2012 recreates the essence of the original Congress, its quest for truths to guide us through the mess we’re in, its big open debates, its spirit of play.

DIALEKTIKON 2012 Is designed as a political entertainment that everyone can take part in and that can be put on anywhere; for instance we plan to take it shortly to the Occupy London protesters as street theatre.

DIALEKTIKON 2012 re-enacts five great Congress speeches in their key moments and intersperses them with jazz poetry and contemporary folk-song. Afterwards there will be space for everyone who chooses – participants and audience together – to debate the situation we’re in now and how these great revolutionary ideas from the ’60’s might make sense today.

Actors perform the speeches in a dialectical sequence, starting with radical psychiatrist RD Laing on the violent forces employed against the individual in the treatment of the ‘mad’, and against the ‘other’ in the West’s dealings with the rest of the world. This is picked up by Black Power leader Stokely Carmichael who rages against white violence and claims the right to react with equal force. In response Beat poet Allen Ginsberg teaches the wisdom of Bodhisattva conduct, the recognition that we are all one. Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse analyses the failure of capitalist society and the need for a deep revolution in human behaviour leading to a new world run on socialist/communitarian principles. Finally visionary scientist Gregory Bateson shows the destructive effects of our unwise purposes on the planet’s natural systems.

Ultimately each speaker points in different ways to the same teaching:
Act together Think for yourself Look into your heart

DIALEKTIKON 2012 is lucky to have the participation of co-organisers of the original Congress, friends and colleagues of RD Laing Dr Joseph Berke and Dr Leon Redler,who will introduce the event; also of jazz poet and friend of Allen Ginsberg Michael Horovitz, who took part in the Congress poetry session and will perform for us now from his grand polemic A NEW WASTE LAND, and also poems by Blake. Performing alongside Michael will be folk-singer Pete Morton with a range of songs written specially for this event.

All this will recreate something of the original heady mix of rhetoric and song.

Playing throughout as background will be ANATOMY OF VIOLENCE, the original film of the Congress shot by award-winning documentary film-maker Peter Davis

The venue is Kingsley Hall, the old community centre in the heart of the East End
where Gandhi stayed when he came to London and where RD Laing set up his experiment for psychiatrists and the mentally distressed to live together in a healing community.

A key element is the participation of the audience in an open discussion about how all this relates to today. The subject of the recent riots is one where Stokely Carmichael’s speech is deeply relevant, and we aim to give space to hear the views of people from the neighbourhood on these happenings using his and Allen Ginsberg’s views to illuminate the discussion.

And we hope by the end of the event that with the help of the poet and the singer a mellow atmosphere will lead us all into some kind of shared awareness…

Producer Victoria Childs 07904 514617
Writer/director Jacky Ivimy 07977 501593