The Return Of Paris ’68? Well, in theory at least. . .


“For the second time this spring, New York has witnessed a public reading of a Situationist manifesto.  The first occurred in April, when students at the New School took over a university building and read “On the Poverty of Student Life,” a text which played a key role in the 1968 uprisings in Paris. . .”

This week the Book Bench reports on the recent resurgence of Situationist rhetoric, especially in the continuing student uproar at the New School in New York. In early December of last year, and in mid-April of 2009, dozens of students attempted to occupy New School campus buildings, in protest over the leadership of the school’s president Bob Kerrey. Much of the conflict turned into violent clashes between students and police officers, not unlike Paris in 1968.

Much of the New School student upheaval, and especially the philosophy fueling it, hearkens back to the events of May, 1968 in Paris, which is considered one of the largest wildcat strikes in history, an unprecedented coming together of students, radicals, workers, Marxist and anarchists protesting the repressive regime of the De Gaulle presidency. But they were also protesting capitalism, imperialism, boredom, academia, the Spectacle, lovelessness, etc. Many of the chief Situationist theorists, like Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem, have since become beacons of hope for young radicals.

Having attended that hotbed of radicalism U.C. Santa Cruz and taken countless classes taught by self-avowed Marxists and radicals (who still made 6 figures and drove Land Rovers) I often wonder what place radical theory has today in the United States.  In light of the economic meltdown, rising unemployment, ecological harbingers of disaster, the threat of nuclear apocalypse and other quite real bogeymen, Situationist theory is primed, I dare say to make a comeback. Some of the blogs covering the protests, like this one and that one,  have all the color and flair of Situationist poetics. Even if it would seem that Situationst theory is the sole province of over-educated hipsters (like me), there is a universalism to its demands and a poetic freshness to its language that should find an audience everywhere.

Interested in Situationist texts? The web is full of them and usually for free: Nothingness and Situationst International are the best. And finally there are several sites, like Agora and NotBored devoted to the life and work of a lesser-known, but highly-influential proto-Situationist, Cornelius Castoriadis, whose nearly 50 years of published work is well worth the plunge.

Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →