In an articulate concluding statement at Pussy Riot’s trial in Moscow this week, one of their members Maria Alyokhina invoked Franz Kafka (1883-1924) and Guy Debord (1931-1994). The reference to show trials, menace and bureaucracy out-of-control in Kafka’s The Trial is obvious.
Debord’s writing seems to be available more freely online than that of other activists and critics of his era, especially his Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency’s Conditions of Organization and Action.
The radical and fraught art group known as the Situationalist International (SI) asserted the need to reclaim the city by accessing its emotional qualities, against the “bourgeois zone”, ie “the confused reign of reactionary imbecility.”
The SI claimed the ground for thinking of mood as a feature of the city. In heroic style, Guy Debord affirmed the importance of “momentary ambiences of life and their transformation into a superior passional quality.”
Ambience is one of the words for “mood.” According to Debord, the activist must construct “collective ambiences, ensembles of impressions determining the quality of a moment.”
The activist who wishes to influence and exploit the mood needs to take “into account the knowledge and material means we have at our disposal, to study what organization of the place, what selection of participants and what provocation of events are suitable for producing the desired ambience.” By most accounts Debord was not much more specific than this.
Pussy Riot has certainly connected with the mood and means of the times, the medium for which is not just the streets but channels of digital communication. According to Maria Alyokhina
We are not guilty; the whole world says so. The whole world says it at concerts, the whole world says it on the internet, the whole world says it in the press.
It’s interesting that Debord’s work can be taken in at least two directions: radical and dangerous activism that puts people in gaol, or a safer, sideways architectural look at the city inspired by activism from the sidelines: mapping out the mood of a place and making cities more interesting.
- Debord, Guy. 1957. Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency’s Conditions of Organization and Action. Trans. K. Knabb. Pamphlet. “Rapport sur la construction des situations” was one of the preparatory texts for the July 1957 conference at Cosio d’Arroscia, Italy, at which the Situationist International was founded. This translation is from the Situationist International Anthology (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2006). Available from various sources.
- Debord, Guy. 1983. The Society of the Spectacle. Detroit, Michigan: Black and Red.
- Mavros, Panos. 2011. Emotional Urbanism: Dissertation for MSc by Research in Digital Media and Culture. University of Edinburgh: http://panosmavros.com
- McDonough, Tom (ed.). 2002. Guy Debord and the Situationalist International: Texts and Documents. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
- McGarrigle, Conor. 2010. The construction of local situations: locative media and the Situationist International, recouperation or redux? Digital Creativity, (21) 1, 55-62.
- Stephen Fry’s letter to Pussy Riot
- See translator’s note about theatre
- See Ken Knab’s translations from Guy Debord and the Situationist International
- One of Pussy Riot’s songs also invokes the living philosopher Slavoj Žižek.
- See also We are all entertainers.