Society of the Spectacle annotated

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The first version of this translation of The Society of the Spectacle was completed and posted online at my “Bureau of Public Secrets" website in 2002. The first print version was published by Rebel Press (London) in 2004 and several other editions were subsequently published in various print and digital formats. Meanwhile I continued to fine-tune the version on my website. Although I will continue to tweak the online version as further improvements occur to me, this new printed edition is probably pretty close to final. There have been several previous English translations of Debord's book. I have gone through them all and have retained whatever seemed already to be adequate. In particular, I have adopted quite a few of Donald Nicholson-Smith's renderings, though I have diverged from him in many other cases. His translation (Zone Books, 1994) and the earlier one by Fredy Perlman and friends (Black and Red, 1970; revised 1977; reprinted by AK Press, 2005) are both still in print, and both can also be found at various online sites. Although I obviously would not have taken the trouble to do this new translation if I had not felt there was room for improvements in those earlier translations, I encourage readers to compare all three versions in order to get a fuller sense of the original text. In many cases the differences are matters of stylistic nuances and it may be debatable which phrasing conveys Debord's meaning most clearly and accurately. Regardless of such differences, I am pleased to note that my friends Lorraine Perlman (Fredy's widow) and Donald Nicholson-Smith have graciously expressed enthusiastic support for the idea of providing annotations.

Many people have told me that they became discouraged by the opening pages of the book and gave up. If this is the case with you, I suggest that you try starting with one of the later chapters. If you have some familiarity with radical politics, try chapter 4. As you see how Debord deals with particular movements and events of modern history, you may get a better idea of the practical implications of ideas that are presented more abstractly in the first three chapters. If you are more familiar with earlier history, or with urban social issues, or with art and culture, you might instead try starting with chapter 5 or 7 or 8.

The book is not, however, as difficult or abstract as it is reputed to be. It is not an ivory-tower “philosophical" dissertation. Nor, as others have sometimes imagined, is it a mere expression of “protest." It is a carefully considered effort to clarify the most fundamental tendencies and contradictions of the society in which we find ourselves and to point out the advantages and drawbacks of various methods for changing it. Every single thesis has a direct or indirect bearing on issues that are matters of life and death.

--from the preface

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