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RA lu’ A 

wi' ew pr ce by the author - 


The Revolution of 
Everyday Life 

The Revolution of 
Everyday Life 

Raoul Vaneigem 

new translation by Donald Nicholson-Smith 
with a preface by the author 

The Revolution of Everyday Life 
Raoul Vaneigem 

Originally published as Traite de savoir-vivre a Vusage des jeunes generations by Editions 
Gallimard (Paris). Copyright © 1967 by Editions Gallimard. 

Author’s preface to the first French mass-market (Folio) edition copyright © 1992 by Editions 

An earlier version of this translation first published in 1983 by Rebel Press (London) and Left 
Bank Books (Seattle); second edition, 1994. 

First PM Press edition, 2012. 

All rights reserved 

English translation copyright © 2012 by Donald Nicholson-Smith. 

The publication of this work has been facilitated by financial support from the French 
Community of Belgium. 

Cet ouvrage publie dans le cadre du programme d’aide a la publication beneficie du soutien du 
Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres et du Service Culturel de l’Ambassade de France represente 
aux Etats-Unis. This work received support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and 
the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States through their publishing 
assistance program. 

Published by: 

PM Press 
PO Box 23912 
Oakland, CA 94623 

Cover illustration by Jean-Marie Pierret 
Cover design by Francois Rabet 
Interior design by briandesign 

ISBN: 978-1-60486-678-0 

Library of Congress Control Number: 2009912461 

10 987654321 

Printed in the USA on recycled paper, by the Employee Owners of Thomson-Shore in 

Dexter, Michigan. 


Translator’s Acknowledgements vii 

Author’s Preface to the Present Edition ix 

The Revolution of Everyday Life 

Introduction 3 

PART ONE Power's Perspective 

I The Insignificant Signified 6 

The Impossibility of Participation: Power as Sum of Constraints 

II Humiliation 14 

hi Isolation 23 

iv Suffering 29 

v The Decline of Work 37 

vi Decompression and the Third Force 41 

The Impossibility of Communication: Power as Universal Mediation 

vii The Age of Happiness 50 

viii Exchange and Gift 58 

ix Technology and Its Mediated Use 66 

x The Reign of Quantity 71 

xi Mediated Abstraction and Abstracted Mediation 77 

The Impossibility of Fulfilment: Power as Sum of Seductions 

xii Sacrifice 90 

xiii Separation 100 

xiv The Organization of Appearances 106 

xv Roles 114 

xvi The Fascination of Time 133 

Survival and Its Pseudo-Negation 

xvii Survival Sickness 138 

xviii Unbuttressed Refusal 143 

PART TWO Reversal of Perspective 

xix Reversal of Perspective 162 

xx Creativity, Spontaneity and Poetry 166 

xxi Masters Without Slaves 179 

xxii The Space-Time of Lived Experience and the Rectification 

of the Past 194 

xxiii The Unitary Triad: Fulfilment, Communication, 

Participation 210 

xxiv The Interworld and the New Innocence 240 

xxv You Won’t Fuck with Us Much Longer! 244 

postscript (1972) A Toast to Revolutionary Workers 247 

appendix 1 Author’s Preface to the First French Mass-Market 

Edition (1992) 253 

appendix 2 Concerning the Translation 260 



Translator's Acknowledgements 

Once again I am most grateful to Raoul Vaneigem for his unstinting help. 
My great thanks, too, to Jean-Marie Pierret and Francois Rabet for the 
cover art and cover design respectively, and to all at PM Press, especially 
for their patience. The eagle eyes of John McHale and Jim Brook must be 
credited for the elimination of many an error. I am indebted to T. J. Clark 
and Chris Winks for their encouragement. Mia Nadezhda Rublowska has 
contributed immeasurably to this new edition, and there is no way for 
me to thank her enough. 

In memoriam Chris Gray (1942-2009), one of Raoul Vaneigem’s earliest 
translators (in the broadest sense of the word). 

D. N.-S., June 2012 

Authors Preface to the Present Edition 

Long known as the New World, the United States of America is now 
viewed by Europeans as a paradoxically archaic country. Its technological 
achievements would warrant only admiration were they not belied by a 
mental stagnation that allows the ‘icy waters of egotistical calculation’ 
to preside over an inhumanity cynically defended in the name of profit. 

I am not speaking of the Americans themselves. It takes a repellent 
contempt and stupidity to place what are unique individuals under the 
abstract rubric of a national identity, no matter how prone those indi- 
viduals may be to relinquishing their creative powers and embracing 
mass conformity. What I have in mind, rather, is the dismal succession 
of American administrations, all brought to power by plain old graft, 
which in their ever more risible arrogance care nothing for growing 
immiseration, know nothing of social solidarity, degrade the environ- 
ment, destroy the earth for financial gain and, armed with an ignomini- 
ously clear conscience, promote a Calvinism that treats financial success 
as a divine dispensation. 

Of course the Europeans, no less arrogant, have a grand old time 
pointing the finger at these would-be paragons of formal democracy 
who practise capital punishment, embrace the idiotic fad for creation- 
ism, tolerate a woefully inadequate social safety net that scorns workers’ 
rights and skimps on unemployment benefits and pensions, and cede 
immense power to the military and to barbarity— in which last depart- 
ment they are indeed champions. 

But so-called left-wing public opinion in France, as fond as it is of 
draping itself in the robes of the Revolution of 1789, even of the Paris 
Commune, and to citing those events as object lessons for others, has not 
only fallen over the years for every conceivable false vision of emancipa- 
tion-liberalism, socialism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism, Castroism— 
but offers not the slightest objection to the reversal of progressive social 
gains: the slashing of social security and cultural budgets, the dismem- 
berment of the health-care system, the reduction of education to a form 


of battery farming, and, in general, the growing impoverishment of 
existence— source of the despair from which the managers of economic 
collapse wring their last profits. 

Ever since consumerism spread patronage everywhere and harnessed 
the lies of ideology to the needs of merchandising, the free-for-all of 
market democracy has obliterated any consciousness of the need to fight 

The crimes committed in the name of the liberation of the proletar- 
iat have helped in no small measure to spread a spirit of apathy and fatal- 
ism highly conducive to that suicidal impulse which, with or without 
religious buttressing, works for a universal and apocalyptic death. The 
plunder of existential and terrestrial resources carried on with impunity 
by state and private mafias fuels a creeping dread, a state of funk that 
is absurd inasmuch as Europeans no longer need to fear tanks in the 
streets or brutal and systematic police intrusion. This internalized terror 
is, quite simply, a fear of living, of autonomy, of self-creation. 

But no matter how exhausted the life forces grow, a moment 
always comes when consciousness rouses itself, reasserting its rights and 
retrieving its outgoing exuberance. I have always wagered on a reversal 
of perspective which, razing a past dominated by contempt for human 
beings, will usher in a new society founded on the creative capacities of 
individuals and on an irrepressible desire to revel in oneself and in the 

We are in the midst of a civilizational shift, one that the Occupations 
Movement of May 1968 in France illuminated in that it strove to acceler- 
ate it, thus hastening the collapse of consumer society and the emergence 
of a society committed to life. 

Just as the agrarian economy of the ancien regime was an atrophied 
formation fated, thanks to the Revolution of 1789, to be swept away by 
the surging free- market system, so the investment-driven and speculative 
capitalism whose crisis we are now witnessing is about to give way to a 
newly dynamic form driven by the production of ‘green’, nonpolluting 
kinds of energy, by an appeal to use-value, by organic farming, by a 
hurried makeover of the public sector and by a spurious ethical reform 
of trade. 

We are confronted not by an economic crisis but by a crisis of the 
economy as such. Strife rages between two forces within the capital- 
ist system, the one moribund, the other still young: on the one hand a 



system dating back thousands of years whose basis is the exploitation 
of nature and of human beings; on the other a rejigged version seeking 
to establish itself by investing in natural forces and making us pay very 
dear (once new means of production have been put in place) for things 
hitherto free: wind, sun, water, and the energy that resides in the plant 
world and in the earth itself. 

The Traite de savoir-vivre made no prophecies. It merely pointed out 
what many people, blinded by the past, refused to see. It sought to show 
how the will to emancipation, reborn with each succeeding generation, 
might take advantage of the seismic convulsions which under the impact 
of consumerism were shaking a supposedly eternal authoritarian power 
to its very foundations. And it demonstrated the irreversibility of the 
break with patriarchal values— with work, the exploitation of nature, 
exchange, predatory relationships, separation from the self, sacrifice, 
guilt, the renunciation of happiness, the fetishism of money and power, 
hierarchical authority, contempt for and fear of women, the corruption 
of childhood, intellectual pedigrees, military and police despotism, reli- 
gion, ideology, and repression (and lethal ways of relieving repression). 

By counting on the inevitable disintegration of the patriarchal order, 
the Traite was able to embody a commitment to life which, co-optation 
notwithstanding, has now become commonplace: women, children, 
animals, nature, desire, and the quest for happiness and gratification 
freed from fear and guilt— all now enjoy a status granted them never 
before in history. But the most radical part of my wager was confidence 
in the vital force that spreads surreptitiously from one individual to 
the next when the consciousness of the wish to live and of its possible 
fulfilment stymies the death reflex which is its reverse; when, throwing 
despair itself into despair, one finds oneself to be a human being capable 
of constructing one’s own happiness while at the same time nourishing 
that of others. 

It is my belief, despite all the dillydallying— as the barbarism of old 
continues, thanks to inertia, to tyrannize over the present— that a new 
society is being built in secret, that genuinely human relationships are 
coming into being— without replying to oppressive violence by a like 
violence (albeit directed at the oppressor)— relationships able to create 
zones of freedom where existence can free itself from the diktats of the 
commodity, banishing competition in the name of emulation and work 
in the name of creativity. 


This is not a matter of observation but of continuing practical expe- 
rience. All that is called for is more vigilance, greater consciousness, and 
firmer allegiance to the life forces. We must provide ourselves with a new, 
solid human foundation for the rebuilding of a world laid waste by the 
inhumanity of the cult of the commodity. 

Failing to jettison economic reality and create a human reality means 
giving the commodity yet another chance to perpetuate its barbaric reign. 

The Traite laid the groundwork for a project which most of my writ- 
ings since have sought to refine and correct, even as changing political, 
social, economic and existential conditions have continued to demon- 
strate its pertinence. Amid the awful turbulence of the struggle between 
obscurantism and enlightenment, I persist (with an obstinacy likely to 
aggravate the resigned among us) in relying on the action of the life 
forces to smash the age-old rituals of death blow by blow. 

It is now easier to see how vigorous still, despite the reversals inflicted 
upon it by ideologies and their military extensions, is the radical current 
that links the communalist uprisings of twelfth-century Europe to the 
libertarian communities of the Spanish Revolution; this is the current 
that likewise informed the French Revolution, the Paris Commune, and 
the Occupations Movement of May 1968. 

I still think, despite the bewilderment of oppressors and oppressed 
alike in face of the collapse of the old world, that individual and social 
emancipation is the only way out. Identification with an ethnic or 
national community, with a religion, ideology, or any abstraction is 
nothing but a blood-soaked delusion. There is only one identity: that of 
men and women with what is most vital and human within them. 

The future belongs to self-managed communities which, not content 
merely to place the production of goods at the service of the whole society, 
will decree that the happiness of all must depend on the happiness of 
each. This principle is the basis of a direct democracy that will put to rout 
those destructive shadows of tyranny and universal corruption which 
parliamentary democracy continues to spread— ever more visibly— across 
the globe. 

R.V., 29 January 2010 

The Revolution of 
Everyday Life 


My aim is not to make the real experience contained in this book compre- 
hensible to readers who have no real interest in reliving it. I fully expect 
this experience to be lost— and rediscovered— in a general alteration of 
consciousness, just as I am convinced that the present conditions of our 
lives will one day be no more than a memory. 

The world is going to be remade, not reconditioned. All its would-be 
renovators are powerless to stop this. If these experts do not understand 
me, so much the better; I certainly have no desire to understand them. 

As for my other readers, I beg their indulgence with a humility that 
should not be hard to see. I would have wished a book such as this one 
accessible to minds quite unschooled in the jargon of ideas. I hope I have 
not failed entirely. Out of this confusion will one day come formulations 
capable of firing point-blank on our enemies. In the meanwhile, let 
sentences remembered here or there have what effect they may. The path 
of simplicity is the most tortuous of all and, especially here, it seemed 
better not to wrench commonplaces from the many roots that make it 
possible to transplant them to other soils and cultivate them to our own 

I have never claimed to have anything new to say; I am not trying to 
launch novelties on the culture market. One tiny adjustment in what is 
essential has much greater import than a hundred incidental improve- 
ments. The only truly new thing here is the direction of the stream that 
carries commonplaces along. 

Since humans came upon the earth, and read Lautreamont, every- 
thing has been said, yet few have taken advantage of it. Since all our 
knowledge is fundamentally banal, it can be of value only to minds that 
are not. 

The modern world has to learn what it already knows, become what 
it already is, through a great exorcism of obstacles, through practice. 
We can escape the commonplace only by manipulating it, controlling 
it, thrusting it into our dreams or surrendering it to the free play of our 


subjectivity. I realize that I have given subjective will an easy time in 
this book, but let no one reproach me for this without first considering 
the extent to which the objective conditions of the contemporary world 
advance the cause of subjectivity day after day. Everything starts from 
subjectivity, but nothing stays there. Today less than ever. 

The struggle between subjectivity and everything that corrupts it 
is widening the battleground of the old class struggle, revitalizing that 
struggle and making it more bitter. The desire to live is a political deci- 
sion. Who wants a world where the guarantee of freedom from starva- 
tion means the risk of death from boredom? 

The man of survival is a man ground up in the machinery of hier- 
archical power, caught in a net of crossed purposes, a chaos of oppres- 
sive techniques whose ordering awaits only patient programming by 
programmed minds. 

The man of survival, however, is also the unitary man, the man of 
absolute refusal. Not a moment passes without each one of us experienc- 
ing, on every level of reality, the contradiction between oppression and 
freedom; without each one of us being caught up and weirdly twisted by 
two antagonistic perspectives simultaneously: the perspective of power 
and the perspective of supersession. So, although the two parts of this 
book deal in turn with each of these perspectives, they should not really 
be treated as separate. Instead the reader must imagine that they are 
synchronic; for description of the negative underpins the positive project, 
and the positive project attests to negativity. Ideally a book would have 
no order to it, and the reader would have to discover his own. 

My shortcomings as a writer also reflect on the reader— as a reader 
and even more as a human being. If the element of boredom I experi- 
enced in writing finds an echo in the reader, here is but one more proof 
of our failure to live. For the rest, the gravity of the times must excuse the 
gravity of my tone. Levity always lies either before words or beyond them. 
For our purposes irony will consist in never forgetting this. 

This work is part of a subversive current of which the last has not yet 
been heard. It constitutes one contribution among others to the recon- 
struction of the international revolutionary movement. Its significance 
should escape no one; in any case, as time will show, no one is going to 
escape its conclusions. 

< CD 

Q. Q_ 

The Insignificant Signified 

Because of its increasing triviality, everyday life has gradually 
become our central preoccupation [1], No illusion, sacred or secular 
[2], collective or individual, can now hide the poverty of our day-to- 
day actions [3], The enrichment of life calls for an unblinking 
analysis of the new forms taken by poverty and the perfecting of old 
weapons of refusal [*)]. 


The history of our time calls to mind those cartoon characters who rush 
madly over the edge of a cliff without seeing it: the power of their imagi- 
nation keeps them suspended in midair, but as soon as they look down 
and see where they are, they fall. 

Contemporary thought, like Bosustov’s heroes, can no longer rest 
on its own delusions. What used to hold it up, today brings it down. It 
rushes full tilt in front of the reality that will crush it: the reality that is 
lived every day. 


Is this dawning lucidity essentially new? I don’t think so. Everyday life 
always produces the demand for a brighter light, because of the need felt by 
all to walk in step with history. There are more truths in twenty-four hours 
of an individual’s life than in all the philosophies. Even a philosopher 
cannot ignore it, for all his self-contempt— that same self-contempt that 
the very comfort of philosophy has taught him. After somersaulting onto 
his own shoulders to shout his message to the world from a greater height, 
the philosopher finishes by seeing the world upside down; and everything 
in it obligingly goes askew, and walks on its head, to persuade him that 
he is standing upright. But he is the centre of his delusional state, and 
struggling to contest it merely renders his delusion more uncomfortable. 

The moralists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries presided 
over a vast stock of platitudes, but so active were their efforts to conceal 



this fact that a veritable stuccoed palace of speculation arose above it, 
an ideal palace to shelter and imprison real experience. From its gates 
emerged a conviction and sincerity quickened by a sublime tone and 
by the fiction of the ‘universal man’ but contaminated by a breath of 
permanent anxiety. The analytic approach of these philosophers sought 
to escape the gradual atrophying of existence by attaining some essential 
profundity; and the further into alienation their philosophy led them by 
embracing the age’s dominant imagery (the feudal image in which God, 
monarchy, and the world are indivisibly united), the more their lucid- 
ity photographed the hidden face of life, the more it ‘invented’ everyday 

Enlightenment philosophy accelerated the descent into the concrete, 
for the concrete was in some ways brought to power along with the revo- 
lutionary bourgeoisie. From the ruins of Heaven, humanity fell into the 
ruins of its own world. What happened? Something like this: ten thou- 
sand people are convinced that they have seen a fakir’s rope rise into the 
air, while so many cameras prove that it hasn’t moved an inch. Scientific 
objectivity exposes mystification. Very good, but what does it show us? 
A coiled rope of absolutely no interest. I have little inclination to choose 
between the doubtful pleasure of being mystified and the tedium of 
contemplating a reality which does not concern me. A reality which I 
have no grasp of— isn’t this just the old lie recycled, the highest stage of 

From now on the analysts are in the streets. Fucidity is not their 
only weapon. Their thinking is no longer in danger of being imprisoned, 
either by the false reality of gods or by the false reality of technocrats. 


Religious beliefs concealed humans from themselves, a Bastille walling 
them up in a pyramidal world with God at the summit and the king just 
below. Alas, there was not enough freedom to be found on that four- 
teenth of July among the ruins of unitary power to prevent those ruins 
themselves from becoming another prison. Behind the rent veil of super- 
stition appeared, not naked truth, as Meslier dreamed, but the slime 
of ideologies. The prisoners of fragmented power have but a shadow of 
freedom as their only refuge from tyranny. 

Today no action and no thought evades the web of received ideas. The 
slow fall-out of particles from the old myth, now exploded, spreads the 



dust of the sacrosanct everywhere, choking the spirit and the will to live. 
Constraints have become less occult, more blatant; less powerful, more 
numerous. Docility is no longer ensured by priestly magic; it results from a 
mass of minor hypnoses: news, culture, city planning, advertising, mecha- 
nisms of conditioning and suggestion ready to serve any order, established 
or to come. We are like Gulliver, stranded on the Lilliputian shore, with 
every part of his body tied down; determined to free himself, he looks 
keenly around him: the smallest detail of the landscape, the smallest 
contour of the ground, the slightest movement, everything becomes a sign 
on which his escape may depend. The surest chances of liberation lie in 
what is most familiar. Was it ever otherwise? Art, ethics, philosophy bear 
witness: under the crust of words and concepts, the living reality of malad- 
justment to the world is always crouched ready to spring. Since neither 
gods nor words can any longer decently cover it up, this commonplace 
creature roams naked in railway stations and vacant lots; it confronts 
you at each self-evasion, it grasps your shoulder, catches your eye, and the 
dialogue begins. You go down with it, or make your escape with it. 


Too many corpses strew the paths of individualism and collectivism. 
These seemingly contrary principles cloak one and the same gangsterism, 
one and the same oppression of the isolated individual. The hand that 
smothered Lautreamont returned to strangle Sergei Esenin; one died 
in the lodging-house of his landlord Jules-Francois Dupuis, the other 
hanged himself in a nationalized hotel. Everywhere the same law holds 
good: ‘There is no weapon of your individual will which, once appropri- 
ated by others, does not turn against you.’ If anyone says or writes that 
practical reason must henceforth be based on the rights of the individual 
and the individual alone, he negates his own proposition if he does not 
incite his audience to make this statement true for themselves. Such a 
proof can only be lived, grasped from within. That is why everything in 
the notes that follow should be tested and corrected by everyone’s imme- 
diate experience. Nothing is so valuable that it need not be started afresh, 
nothing is so rich that is it has no need of continual enrichment. 


Just as we distinguish in private life between what a man thinks and 
says about himself and what he really is and does, everyone has learned 



to distinguish the rhetoric and messianic pretensions of political parties 
from their organization and real interests; what they think they are, 
from what they are. A man’s illusions about himself and others are not 
basically different from the illusions which groups, classes, and parties 
cultivate about themselves and within themselves. Indeed they come 
from the same source: the dominant ideas, which are the ideas of the 
dominant class, even when they take an antagonistic form. 

The world of -isms, whether it envelops the whole of humanity or 
a single person, is never anything but a world drained of reality, a terri- 
bly real seduction by falsehood. The three crushing defeats suffered by 
the Commune, the Spartakist movement and Kronstadt-the-Red (1921) 
showed once and for all what bloodbaths could be precipitated by three 
ideologies of freedom, namely liberalism, socialism and Bolshevism. 
Before this was universally understood and admitted, however, bastard 
or hybrid forms of these ideologies had to vulgarize their initial atrocity 
with even weightier evidence: concentration camps, Lacoste’s Algeria, 
Budapest. The great collective illusions, anaemic from shedding the blood 
of so many, have since given way to the thousands of prepacked ideolo- 
gies sold by consumer society like so many portable brain-scrambling 
machines. Will it take as much bloodshed to prove that a hundred thou- 
sand pinpricks kill as surely as a couple of blows with a club? 


What could I possibly do in a group of militants who ask me to leave 
in the cloakroom, not a few ideas— for if anything ideas would be the 
reason for my signing up— but the dreams and desires which never leave 
me, the wish to live authentically and without restraint? What is the 
use of exchanging one isolation, one monotony, one lie for another? 
Once a change has been exposed as illusory, merely replacing it with 
another illusion is intolerable. Yet such is precisely our situation: the 
economy cannot stop making us consume more and more, and to 
consume without respite is to change illusions at an accelerating pace 
which eventually dissipates the illusion of change. We find ourselves 
alone, unchanged, frozen in the void created by the cascade of gimmick- 
objects, Volkswagens, and paperback books. 

People without imagination are beginning to tire of the importance 
attached to comfort, to culture, to leisure, to all that destroys the imagi- 
nation. This is not to say that people are tired of comfort, culture, and 



leisure, but merely of the use to which they are put, which is precisely 
what stops us enjoying them. 

The affluent society is a society of voyeurs. To each his own kalei- 
doscope: a slight movement of the fingers and the picture changes. You 
can’t lose: two fridges, a Renault Dauphine, a TV set, a free gift, time to 
kill . . . But then the monotony of the images we consume gets the upper 
hand, reflecting the monotony of the action which produces them, the 
slow rolling motion of finger and thumb that rotates the kaleidoscope. 
There was no Dauphine, only an ideology almost unconnected with auto- 
mobiles. Flushed with Johnny Walker, whisky of the elite, we savour a 
strange cocktail of alcohol and class struggle. Nothing surprises us any 
more, there’s the rub. The monotony of the ideological spectacle reflects 
the passivity of life, of survival. Beyond all the prefabricated scandals— 
Scandale girdles, scandal in high places— a real scandal appears, the 
scandal of actions drained of their substance to bolster an illusion that 
becomes more odious by the day as its attraction wanes; actions weak- 
ened and dulled by having had to nourish dazzling imaginary compen- 
sations, impoverished from enriching lofty speculations to which they 
play flunkey while being ignominiously categorized as ‘trivial’ or ‘banal’; 
actions now freed up but feeble, prone to stray once more, or expire 
from sheer exhaustion. There they are, in every one of you: familiar, sad, 
newly returned to the immediate living reality which is their ‘spontane- 
ous’ environment. And here you are too, bewildered and lost in a new 
prosaicness, in a perspective where near and far are one and the same. 

In its concrete and tactical form, the concept of class struggle constituted 
the first marshalling of responses to the shocks and injuries which people 
experience as individuals; it was born in the whirlpool of suffering which 
the reduction of human relationships to the mechanisms of exploitation 
created everywhere in industrial societies. It issued from a will to trans- 
form the world and change life. 

Such a weapon needed constant adjustment. Yet we see the First 
International turning its back on artists by making workers’ demands 
the sole basis of a project which Marx had nevertheless shown to concern 
all those who sought, in the refusal to be slaves, a full life and a complete 
humanity. Lacenaire, Borel, Lassailly, Buchner, Baudelaire, Holderlin— 
wasn’t this also poverty and its radical refusal? Perhaps the mistake was 



excusable then: I neither know nor care. What is certain is that it is sheer 
madness a century later, when the economy of consumption is absorb- 
ing the economy of production and the exploitation of labour power is 
being subsumed by the exploitation of everyday creativity. A single energy, 
wrested from the workers as easily now during their leisure time as 
during their hours on the shopfloor, drives the turbines of Power which 
the custodians of the old theory blithely lubricate with their purely 
formal opposition. 

Anyone who talks about revolution and class struggle without refer- 
ring explicitly to everyday life— without grasping what is subversive about 
love and positive in the refusal of constraints— has a corpse in his mouth. 

The Impossibility of Participation: 
Power as Sum of Constraints 

The mechanisms of attrition and destruction: humiliation (n), 
isolation (hi), suffering (iv), work (v), decompression (vi). 



^ The economy of everyday life is based on a ceaseless exchange 
^ of humiliations and aggressive attitudes. It conceals a technique 

Travelling through a busy village one day, Rousseau was mocked by a 
yokel whose barbs delighted the crowd. Confused and discountenanced, 
Jean-Jacques could not think of a word in reply and was forced to take 
to his heels amid the jeers of the villagers. By the time he had finally 
regained his composure and thought of a thousand possible retorts, any 
one of which would have silenced the taunter at a stroke, he was two 
hours’ distance from the village. 

What are most of the trivial incidents of everyday life but this misad- 
venture writ small, in an attenuated and diluted form, reduced to the 
duration of a step, a glance, a thought, experienced as a muffled impact, a 
fleeting discomfort barely registered by consciousness and leaving in the 
mind only a dull irritation at a loss to discover its own origin? The endless 
minuet of humiliation and responses to it lends human interaction an 
obscene hobbling rhythm. In the ebb and flow of crowds sucked up and 
squashed together by shuttling commuter trains, then spewed out into 
streets, offices and factories, there is nothing to be seen but cringing and 
flinching, brutal aggression, smirking faces, and cat-scratches delivered 
for no apparent reason. Soured by unwanted encounters, wine turns to 
vinegar in the mouth. Don’t talk to me about innocent and good-natured 
crowds. Look how people bristle, threatened on every side, isolated deep 
in enemy territory and far, very far, from themselves. Lacking knives, 
they learn to use their elbows and their eyes as weapons. 

of attrition itself subject to the gift of destruction, which 

paradoxically it provokes [1], The more humans are treated as 
objects, the more social they become [2], Decolonization has 
not yet begun [3], It is about to give a new meaning to the old 
principle of sovereignty [4], 




There is no remission, no truce between attackers and attacked. 
A flux of barely perceptible signs assails the stroller, who is anything 
but solitary. Remarks, gestures, glances tangle and collide, miss their 
aim, ricochet like stray bullets, and kill just as surely by the unrelent- 
ing nervous tension they produce. All we can do is enclose ourselves in 
embarrassing parentheses, as witness these fingers of mine (I am writing 
this on a cafe terrace) slipping a tip across the table, and the fingers of 
the waiter which pick it up, while the faces of the two of us, as if anxious 
to conceal the infamy to which we have consented, maintain an expres- 
sion of utter indifference. 

From the point of view of constraint, everyday life is governed by an 
economic system in which the production and consumption of insults 
tend to balance out. The old dream of the theorists of free trade is thus 
fulfilled in the customs of a democracy granted a new lease on life by the 
lack of imagination of left-wing thought. Is it not strange, at first sight, to 
see the fury with which ‘progressives’ attack the ruined edifice of liberal- 
ism, as if the capitalists, its official demolition gang, had not themselves 
already planned liberalism’s nationalized reconstruction? But it is not 
so strange, in fact, for the deliberate purpose of keeping all attention 
fastened on criticisms already overtaken by events— after all, anybody 
can see that capitalism is coming to maturity as a planned economy of 
which the Soviet model is nothing but a primitive form— is to conceal 
the fact that the only reconstruction of human relationships envisaged 
is one based precisely on an economic model which, being obsolete, is on 
offer at a knock-down price. Who can fail to notice the alarming persist- 
ence with which ‘socialist’ countries continue to organize life along bour- 
geois lines? Everywhere it’s hats off to family, marriage, sacrifice, work, 
inauthenticity, while simplified and rationalized homeostatic mecha- 
nisms reduce human relationships to a ‘fair’ exchange of deference and 
humiliation. And soon, in the ideal democracy of the cyberneticians, 
everyone, without apparent effort, will earn their portion of indignity 
that they will be at leisure to share out in the most equitable possible way. 
Distributive justice will reach its apogee. Good luck to the old people who 
live to see that day! 

For me— and for some others, I dare to think— there can be no real 
homeostasis in a pathological situation. Planning is merely the other face 
of the free market. The only thing planned is exchange — along with the 
mutual sacrifices it entails. But if the word ‘innovation’ means anything 



it means supersession— not camouflage. Indeed, a truly new reality can be 
founded only on the principle of the gift. In the historical experiment of 
workers’ councils (1917, 1921, 1934, 1956), their errors and their slender 
means notwithstanding, and in the pathetic search for friendship and 
love, I see a single and inspiring reason not to despair over the circum- 
stances of the present. Everything conspires to keep the positive character 
of such experiences secret; doubt is cunningly maintained as to their real 
importance, even their existence. By a strange oversight, no historian has 
ever taken the trouble to study how people actually lived during the most 
extreme revolutionary moments. At such times the will to make an end 
of free trade in human behaviour is spontaneously revealed, albeit in 
negative ways: pathology challenged by an even greater, more substantial 
pathology collapses under the onslaught. 

In that negative sense, Ravachol’s bombs or, closer to our own time, 
the epic of Caraquemada leave no possible doubt regarding the will- 
manifested in varying degrees, but manifested everywhere— to utterly 
reject relationships based on exchange and compromise. I am quite sure, 
having experienced it so many times, that anyone who passes a single 
hour in the cage of such constraining relationships must feel a deep 
empathy for Pierre-Francois Lacenaire and his passion for crime. I make 
no apology for anarchist terrorism, but it should be recognized as a form 
of action, at once pitiful and noble, with the power to sabotage and 
thereby expose the self-regulating mechanisms of a hierarchical social 
community. Murder is inherent in the logic of an unlivable society, and 
in this sense it invariably appears as the dark side of the gift: as that 
absence of a fiercely wished-for presence that Mallarme spoke of— the 
same Mallarme who at the Trial of the Thirty ( 1894 ) called the anarchists 
‘angels of purity’. 

My sympathy for the solitary killer ends where tactics begins; but 
perhaps tactics needs scouts motivated by individual despair? However 
that may be, the new revolutionary tactics— which will be based indis- 
solubly on historical tradition and on the techniques, so widespread and 
so disregarded, of individual self-fulfilment— will have no time for people 
who merely mimic the acts of a Ravachol or a Bonnot. All the same, 
tactics will be condemned to theoretical hibernation if it fails, using 
other means, to effect the collective seduction of individuals whom isola- 
tion and hatred for the collective lie have driven to the rational decision 
to kill and to kill themselves. No murderers— and no humanists either! 



The former accept death, the latter impose it. Let ten people meet who are 
set on the lightning of violence rather than the agony of survival: that is 
precisely where despair ends and tactics begins. Despair is the infantile 
disorder of the revolutionaries of everyday life. 

Today I still feel my adolescent admiration for outlaws, less out of a 
regressive romanticism than because they expose the justifications social 
power uses to avoid being directly implicated. Hierarchical social organ- 
ization is like a gigantic racket whose secret, so clearly highlighted by 
anarchist terror, is to place itself out of reach of the violence it provokes by 
using up everybody’s life forces in a host of dubious struggles. (A ‘human- 
ized’ Power can no longer allow itself to rely on the old methods of war 
and genocide.) The witnesses for the prosecution here can hardly be 
suspected of anarchist tendencies. The biologist Hans Selye, for example, 
notes that, ‘As specific causes of disease (microbes, malnutrition) disap- 
pear, a growing proportion of people die of what are called stress diseases, 
or diseases of degeneration caused by stress, that is, by the wear and tear 
resulting from conflicts, shocks, nervous tension, frustrations, debilitat- 
ing routines, etc.’ From now on, no one can escape the need to conduct 
their own investigation into the criminal racket that pursues them even 
into their thoughts, hunts them down even in their dreams. The smallest 
details take on a major importance. Irritation, fatigue, rudeness, humili- 
ation . . . cui bonoP Who profits by them? And who profits by the stere- 
otyped answers— really just so many excuses— that Big Brother Common 
Sense peddles as reasonable? Why should I settle for explanations that kill 
me when I have everything to win at the very place where all the cards 
are stacked against me? 


The handshake ties and unties the knot of encounters. A gesture at once 
curious and trivial which we quite accurately say is exchanged: is it not 
in fact the simplest expression of the social contract? What guarantees 
are they trying to seal, these hands clasped to the right, to the left, every- 
where, with a liberality that seems like a compensation for a complete 
lack of conviction? That agreement reigns, that social harmony exists, 
that life in society is perfect? What could be more disturbing than this 
need to convince ourselves of these lies, to believe them out of habit, to 
reaffirm them with the strength of our grip? Our glances convey nothing 
of these accommodations, affecting not to see the exchange. When our 



eyes meet someone else’s they become uneasy, as though discerning their 
own empty, soulless reflection in the other person’s pupils. Hardly have 
they met than they slip aside and try to dodge the other’s gaze; their 
fugitive sight lines intersect virtually at an angle whose width conveys 
nothing so much as the divergence, the deeply felt lack of harmony 
between us. Just occasionally unison is achieved and eyes connect: the 
beautiful parallel gaze of royal couples in Egyptian statuary or the misty, 
melting gaze, brimming with eroticism, of lovers: eyes devouring one 
another from afar. But most of the time eyes give the lie to the superficial 
agreement sealed by the handshake. All the backslapping that goes on 
could not be more phoney. Its commercial overtones are not hard to find, 
of course: the handshake clinches a deal. More important, though, is the 
fact that this energetically reiterated affirmation of social harmony is an 
attempt to trick our senses— to blunt our perception and habituate it to 
the emptiness of the spectacle. ‘You have to face up to things’, people used 
to say; the common wisdom of consumer society has given this sentiment 
a new force, for now things are the only reality we can see. 

Become as insensitive (and hence as easy to handle) as a brick! That 
is what the social order benevolently asks everyone to do. The bourgeoi- 
sie has managed to mete out frustrations more fairly, allowing a greater 
number of people to suffer them according to ‘rational’ norms, in the 
name of concrete, specialized imperatives (economic, social, political, 
legal, etc.). Once split up in this way, constraints in turn fragment the 
cunning and energy customarily devoted to reversing or breaking them. 
The revolutionaries of 1793 were great because they dared to wrest the 
government of human beings from God’s grip; the greatness proletar- 
ian revolutionaries struggled for, on the other hand, could scarcely have 
been wrested from their bourgeois adversaries, for their strength derived 
from themselves alone. 

A whole ethic based on market value, the utile dulci, the dignity 
of labour, moderation of desire, and survival, and on their opposites, 
pure value, the gratuitous, parasitism, instinctive brutality, and death- 
such is the foul stew in which human faculties have been bubbling for 
nearly two centuries. From these ingredients— refined a little of course— 
the cyberneticians dream of cooking up the human being of the future. 
Can we even be sure that we have not already achieved the security of 
perfectly adapted beings, moving about as uncertainly and unconsciously 
as insects? For quite some time now experiments have been going on 



with subliminal advertising in which single frames (lasting one twenty- 
fourth of a second) are inserted into films; though seen by the eye, they 
are not registered by the conscious mind. The first slogans give more than 
a glimpse of what is to come: ‘Don’t drive too fast’ and ‘Go to church’ . But 
what does a minor improvement like this represent in comparison with 
the whole immense conditioning machine, each of whose cogs— city plan- 
ning, advertising, ideology, culture— is capable of hundreds of comparable 
improvements? Once again, knowledge of the conditions which will inev- 
itably continue to be imposed on people if they do not take action is of less 
consequence than the actual experience of such degradation in the here- 
and-now. Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984 and Yves Touraine’s 
Cinquieme Coup de Trompette (The Fifth Trumpet Blast) all consign to the 
future the shudder which a single glance at the present can produce; but 
only the present nurtures consciousness and the will to refuse. Compared 
with my present incarceration the future holds no interest for me. 


The feeling of humiliation is simply the feeling of being an object. 
Once this is grasped, it can become the basis of an aggressive lucidity 
thanks to which the critique of the organization of life can no longer be 
detached from the immediate inception of the project of living otherwise. 
Construction can begin only on the foundation of individual despair and 
of its supersession: the very efforts made to disguise such despair and 
manipulate it under new packaging are sufficient proof of that. 

What seductive illusion prevents me from seeing the collapse of 
values, the disintegration of the world, inauthenticity, nontotality? Could 
it be the belief that I am happy? Hardly! Such a belief withstands neither 
analysis nor the anxiety that assails me. No, I find rather that it is a belief 
in the happiness of others, an inexhaustible source of envy and jealousy, 
which gives me, in a negative way, the feeling that I exist. I envy therefore 
I am. To define oneself by reference to others is to perceive oneself as other. 
And the other is always object. So humiliation is the measuring-rod of 
life. The more you choose your own humiliation, the more you ‘live’: the 
more, that is to say, you live the orderly life of things. This is the cunning 
of reification, the way it passes undetected, like arsenic in the jam. 

The predictable gentleness of such methods of oppression goes a long 
way to explaining the perverse attitude that prevents me from crying 
out, as in Andersen’s tale, ‘The emperor has no clothes’ every time the 



wretchedness of my sovereignty over everyday life is exposed. Not that 
police brutality is on the wane. Far from it! Wherever it rears its head 
the kindly souls of the Left quite rightly condemn it. But what do they 
do about it? Do they urge people to arm themselves? To take appropriate 
reprisals? Do they encourage cop-hunts like the one which in 1956 deco- 
rated the trees of Budapest with the most loyal servants of the AVO, the 
Hungarian secret police? No: they organize peaceful demonstrations at 
which their trade-union police force treats anyone who questions their 
orders as an agent provocateur. Meanwhile the new-style police are already 
with us, waiting to take over. Social psychologists need no truncheons, 
no morgues. Oppressive violence is about to be transformed into a host 
of equitably distributed pinpricks. The same high-minded people who 
denounce police-state brutality would have us all live in a state of well- 
policed brutality. 

Humanism upholsters the machine described in Kafka’s ‘In the 
Penal Colony’. Less grinding and shouting! You can’t stand blood? Never 
mind: let humans be bloodless. The promised land of survival will be a 
land of peaceful death; the gentle death that the humanists are fight- 
ing for. No more Guernicas, no more Auschwitzes, no more Hiroshimas, 
no more Setifs. Hooray! But what about the impossibility of living, this 
stifling mediocrity, this absence of passion? This jealous fury to which we 
are driven when the rankling of never being ourselves makes us imagine 
that others are happy? This feeling of never really being inside your own 
skin? Let nobody say these are minor details or secondary considerations. 
There are no benign irritants: gangrene can start in the slightest graze. 
The crises that shake the world do not differ fundamentally from the 
conflicts in which my actions and thoughts confront the hostile forces 
that entangle and deflect them. (How could what goes for my everyday 
life fail to apply to history when history, in the last reckoning, is only 
important to me insofar as it impinges on my own existence?) Sooner or 
later the continual division and redivision of aggravations will split the 
atom of unlivable reality and liberate a nuclear energy which nobody 
suspected behind so much passivity and gloomy resignation. That which 
produces the common good is always terrible. 


From 1945 to i960, colonialism was a sugar daddy to the Left. With this 
new enemy on the scale of fascism, the Left never had to define itself 



(there was nothing there); it could assert itself by merely negating some- 
thing else, and thus accept itself as a thing within a system where things 
are at once all and nothing. 

For a long time nobody dared hail the end of colonialism for fear 
that it would spring up again everywhere like a jack-in-the-box not prop- 
erly shut. Once the collapse of colonial power revealed the colonialism of 
all power exercised over human beings, the issues of race and skin colour 
became about as significant as a crossword competition. What purpose 
was served, then, by all the Left’s trotting about on its pet anti-racist and 
anti-antisemitic hobbyhorses? In the final analysis, all it did was smother 
the cries of all those who were not Jews or blacks— starting with the Jews 
and blacks themselves. Far be it from me to contest the spirit of gener- 
osity that inspired antiracism in times still not far distant. But since I 
cannot alter the past it holds scant interest for me. I am speaking in the 
here and now, and nobody can persuade me, in the name of Alabama or 
South Africa and their spectacular exploitation, to forget that the epicen- 
tre of such problems lies within me, and within every human being who 
is humiliated and scorned by every aspect of a society that prefers to think 
of itself as ‘well policed’ rather than as the police state that it clearly is. 

I shall not relinquish my share of violence. 

It is scarcely possible, when it comes to human relationships, to 
speak of more or less tolerable conditions or more or less acceptable 
indignities. Quantification does not add up in this context. Do insults 
like ‘wog’ or ‘nigger’ hurt more than a call to order? Does not everyone, 
when stopped, dressed down or ordered about by a policeman, a boss, or 
some other authority, feel deep down, in the clear light of a transient 
reality, like ayid, a darkie, or a chink? 

The old colonials gave us a perfect identikit portrait of Power when 
they predicted a descent into bestiality and wretchedness for those who 
found their presence undesirable. Safety first and foremost, says the 
guard to the prisoner. The opponents of the colonialism of yesterday are 
now out to humanize the colonialism of Power in general: cleverly, they 
become its watchdogs by yapping against the effects of an inhumanity 
now past. 

Before aspiring to a leadership role in Martinique, Aime Cesaire 
famously remarked that ‘The bourgeoisie has found itself unable to solve 
the major problems which its own existence has produced: the colonial 
problem and the problem of the proletariat.’ He forgot to add: ‘For they 



are one and the same problem, a problem which anyone who separates 
them will fail to grasp.’ 

Gouy tells us that ‘The slightest insult to the King meant immediate 
death’ (Histoire de France). According to the American Constitution the 
people are sovereign. For Pouget’s paper Le Pere Peinard, ‘Kings get fat 
off their sovereignty, while we are starving on ours’. Corbon’s Secret du 
peuple notes that ‘The people today means the mass of men to whom all 
respect is denied.’ Here we have, in just a few lines, the vicissitudes of 
the principle of sovereignty. 

Monarchism called the objects of its arbitrary will ‘subjects’— clearly 
an attempt to disguise the radical inhumanity of its domination as the 
humanity of idyllic bonds. The respect due to the King’s person cannot 
in itself be criticized. It is odious only because it is based on the right to 
humiliate others by subordinating them. Contempt was what caused 
the thrones of kings to rot. But what about the sovereignty of citizens, 
meaning rights multiplied by bourgeois vanity and jealousy, sovereignty 
distributed like a dividend to each individual? What happens when the 
principle of monarchy is shared out democratically? 

Today France contains twenty-four million mini-kings, of which 
the greatest— the bosses— are great only in their absurdity. The sense of 
respect has degenerated to the point where humiliation is all it requires. 
Democratized into public functions and roles, the monarchical principle 
floats belly up, like a dead fish: only its most repulsive aspect is visible. Its 
will to be unrestrictedly and absolutely superior has disappeared. Instead 
of basing our lives on our sovereignty, we now try to base our sovereignty 
on other people’s lives. Such are the manners of slaves. 


Para no sentirme solo 
Por los siglos de los siglos 


All we have in common is the illusion of being together. Against 
the illusory official remedies for isolation the only countervailing 
force is a general will to break its bonds [1], Neutral relationships 
are the no-man's-land of isolation. Isolation is a death sentence 
signed and passed by the present organization of society on 
itself [2]. 


It was as if they were in a cage whose door might as well have been 
wide open, for they could not escape. Nothing outside the cage had any 
significance, for nothing else existed any more. They stayed in the cage, 
estranged from everything except the cage, without so much as a flicker 
of desire for anything outside the bars. It would have been peculiar— 
indeed impossible— to break out into a place with neither reality nor 
significance. Absolutely impossible. Inside the cage, in which they had 
been born and in which they would die, the only tolerable framework 
of experience was the real, which amounted to an irresistible instinct 
to act so that things should have significance. Only if things had signifi- 
cance could one breathe, and suffer. It was as though there was an under- 
standing between things and the silent dead that it should be so, for the 
habit of acting so that things should be significant had become a human 
instinct, and a seemingly eternal one. Life was the important thing, and 
the real was part of the instinct that gave life some slight meaning. The 
instinct did not try to imagine what might lie beyond the real, because 
there was nothing beyond it. Nothing significant. The door stayed open 
and the cage became more and more painful in its reality, which was 
significant for countless reasons and in countless ways. 

We have never left the age of the slave traders. 



On public transport, where they are thrown against one another 
with statistical indifference, people assume an unbearable expression of 
disillusion, pride, and contempt— an expression much like the natural 
effect of death on a toothless mouth. The atmosphere of false communica- 
tion makes everyone the policeman of their own encounters. The fight- 
or-flight response haunts the knights-errant of wage-labour, who now 
depend on rapid transit and suburban trains for their pitiful wanderings. 
If human beings have mutated into scorpions who sting themselves and 
each other, is it not really because nothing has happened, and human 
beings with empty eyes and flabby brains have ‘mysteriously’ become 
mere shadows of humans, ghosts of humans, and are now in some ways 
no longer human save in name? 

All we have in common is the illusion of being together. Certainly 
the seeds of an authentic collective life lie dormant within that illusion 
itself— there is no illusion without a real basis— but real community has 
yet to be created. The power of the lie sometimes manages to erase the 
bitter reality of isolation from our minds. In a crowded street we can 
occasionally forget that suffering and separation are still in force. And 
since it is only the lie’s power that makes us forget, suffering and sepa- 
ration are thus reinforced; but in the end the lie is hoisted by its own 
petard, for a moment comes when no illusion can match the enormity 
of our distress. 

The malaise assails me as the crowd around me grows. The conces- 
sions I have made to stupidity, under the pressure of circumstances, rush 
to meet me, surging around me in hallucinatory waves of faceless heads. 
Edvard Munch’s famous picture The Scream gives me a feeling I experi- 
ence ten times a day. Carried along by a crowd which only he can see, 
a man suddenly screams out in an attempt to break the spell, to call 
himself back to himself, to get back inside his own skin. All the tacit 
compliance, all the fixed smiles, lifeless words, cowardice and humilia- 
tion strewn along his path suddenly coalesce and possess him, driving 
him out of his desires and his dreams and exploding the illusion of ‘being 
together’. People rub shoulders without meeting; isolation accumu- 
lates but is never totalized; emptiness pervades people as their density 
increases. The crowd drags me out of myself and allows thousands of tiny 
surrenders to colonize my empty presence. 

Everywhere neon signs blink out the dictum of Plotinus: All beings 
are together though each remains separate. But we only need to hold out 



our hands to touch one another, raise our eyes to meet one another, and 
thanks to such simple actions everything will become at once close and 
far away, as if by magic. 


Like the crowd, like drugs or love, drink has the special power to bewitch 
the most lucid mind. It can make the concrete wall of isolation seem like 
the kind of paper curtain that actors can tear open at will, for alcohol 
places everything on the stage of a private theatre. A generous illusion— 
and all the more deadly for that. 

In a gloomy bar where everyone is bored to tears, a drunken young 
man breaks his glass, then picks up a bottle and smashes it against the 
wall. Nobody gets excited; disappointed in his expectations, the young 
man lets himself be thrown out. Yet everyone there was in silent sympa- 
thy with his gesture. He alone made the thought concrete, crossing the 
first radioactive belt of isolation, namely inner isolation, the inward- 
looking separation between self and outside world. Nobody responded to 
a sign which he thought was explicit. He remained alone like the hooli- 
gan who burns down a church or kills a policeman, at one with himself 
but condemned to exile as long as other people remain exiled from their 
own existence. He has not escaped from the magnetic field of isolation; 
he is suspended in a zone of zero gravity. All the same, the indifference 
which greets him allows him to hear the sound of his own cry; and even 
if this revelation torments him, he knows that he will have to start again 
in another register, more loudly— more coherently. 

A common doom will be the only thing people share so long as 
isolated human beings refuse to understand that a free gesture, however 
weak and clumsy, always embodies an authentic communication, an 
adequate personal message. The repression that comes down on the anar- 
chist comes down on everyone: the blood of all flows with the blood of a 
murdered Durruti. When freedom retreats an inch, there is a hundred- 
fold increase in the weight of the order of things. Excluded from authen- 
tic participation, human actions are waylaid either by the fragile illusion 
of being together, or else by its opposite, a brutal, total refusal of all social 
life. They swing from one to the other like a pendulum turning the hands 
on the clock-face of death. 




As for love, it too fertilizes the illusion of unity. In general it miscar- 
ries or sinks into triviality. Fear of taking the well-trodden and only too 
familiar path to solitude, whether as a couple or as a small group, casts a 
chilling pall over love’s symphonies. What drives us to despair is not the 
immensity of our unsatisfied desires, but the moment when our fledg- 
ling passion discovers its own emptiness. Insatiable desire for passionate 
knowledge of one pretty girl after another stems from anxiety and from 
fear of love, so afraid are we of never encountering anything but objects. 
The dawn when lovers leave each other’s arms is the same dawn that 
breaks on the execution of revolutionaries without a revolution. Isolation 
a deux cannot prevail over the isolation of all. Pleasure is broken off 
prematurely and lovers find themselves naked in the world, their actions 
suddenly ridiculous and feeble. No love is possible in an unhappy world. 

The boat of love breaks up on the reefs of ordinary life (Mayakovsky). 
Are we ready, so that our desire may never come to grief— are we ready to 
breach the reefs of the old world? Lovers must love their pleasure with 
more earnestness, and with more poetry. It is said that Prince Shekur 
captured a city and presented it to his favourite in exchange for a smile. 
A few of us at least have fallen in love with the pleasure of loving without 
reservations— passionately enough to offer love the sumptuous bed of a 


Adapting to the world is a trick coin-toss where heads always comes up: it 
is decided a priori that the negative is positive and that the impossibility 
of living is a prerequisite of life. Alienation never takes such firm root as 
when it passes itself off as an inalienable good. In its positive disguise, the 
consciousness of isolation is simply the private consciousness, the unfor- 
sakable shard of individualism that respectable people drag around like a 
piece of cumbersome but cherished property. A sort of pleasure-anxiety 
prevents us from settling thoroughly into the illusion of community yet 
keeps us locked up in the dungeons of isolation. 

The no-man’s-land of neutral relations is the territory between 
the blissful acceptance of bogus communities and the total rejection 
of society. Its moral principles are those of the shopkeeper: ‘One hand 
washes the other’; ‘There are good people everywhere’; ‘Things are not 
too bad. Not too good either. It’s up to us.’ In short, politeness— the art- 
for-art’s-sake of noncommunication. 



Let’s face it: human relationships being what social hierarchy has 
made of them, neutrality is the least tiring form of contempt. It allows 
us to pass without needless friction through the hopper of daily contacts. 
But it does not prevent us from dreaming— far from it— of such supe- 
rior forms of civility as the courtliness of Lacenaire, on the eve of his 
execution, urging a friend: ‘Above all, please convey my gratitude to 
Monsieur Scribe. Tell him that one day, suffering from the pangs of 
hunger, I presented myself at his house to worm some money out of him. 
He complied with my request with admirable deference; I am sure he 
will recall. Tell him that he acted wisely, for I had in my pocket, ready to 
hand, the means of depriving France of a dramatist.’ 

The innocuousness of neutral relations, however, offers no more 
than a moment of dead time in the ceaseless battle against isolation, a 
brief stopping-place on the road that seems to lead towards communi- 
cation but that in fact leads far more often to the illusion of commu- 
nity. Which probably explains my reluctance to stop a stranger for the 
time of day, for directions, or simply to exchange of couple of words, for 
I am loath to seek contact in this dubious fashion. The pleasantness of 
neutral relations is built on sand, and empty time never does me any 

Living is made impossible with such cynicism that even the balanced 
pleasure-anxiety of neutral relations may function as a cog in the 
machinery that destroys people. It seems better in the end to go straight 
to a radical and tactically worked-out rejection rather than knock politely 
on every door looking to swap one kind of survival for another. 

‘It would irk me to die so young,’ wrote Jacques Vache two years 
before his suicide. If the desperation of survival fails to join forces with a 
new consciousness and transform the years ahead, only two ‘options’ will 
be left for the isolated individual: the potty-chair of political parties and 
pataphysico-religious sects, or immediate death with Umour. A sixteen- 
year-old murderer recently explained: ‘I did it because I was bored.’ 
Anyone who has felt the drive to self-destruction welling up inside him 
knows with what jaded insouciance he might just happen to kill the 
organizers of his boredom. One day. If he was in the mood. 

After all, if individuals refuse either to adapt to the violence of the 
world or to embrace the violence of the maladapted, what path is still 
open to them? Unless they elevate their will to achieve perfect union 
with the world and with themselves to the level of consistent theory 



and practice, the vast silence of social space will surely confine them to 
a palace of solipsism and delusion. 

From the depths of their prisons those who have been convicted 
of mental illness add the screams of their strangled revolt to the sum 
of negativity. What a Fourier in potentia was consciously destroyed in a 
patient described by the psychiatrist Volnat: ‘He began to lose all capac- 
ity to distinguish between himself and the external world. Everything 
that happened in the world also happened in his body. He could not put 
a bottle between two shelves in a cupboard because the shelves might 
come together and break the bottle. And that would hurt inside his 
head, as if his head was wedged between the shelves. He could not shut 
a suitcase, because pressing the effects in the case would exert pressure 
inside his head. If he walked into the street after closing all the doors 
and windows of his house, he felt uncomfortable, because his brain was 
compressed by the air, and he had to go back home to open a door or a 
window. “For me to be at ease”, he would say, “I must have wide open 
space in front of me. ... I have to be free in my space. It’s a battle with the 
things all around me.’” 

The Consul paused, turning. He read the inscription: ‘No se puede 
vivirsin amax’ (Lowry, Under the Volcano). 


The suffering of natural alienation has given way to that of social 
alienation, while remedies have become justifications [1], Where 
there is no justification, exorcism takes its place [2). But no 
subterfuge can now hide the fact that suffering is organized, and as 
such contributes to a social organization based on the distribution 
of constraints [3). Consciousness reduced to the consciousness of 
constraints is an anteroom to death. The despair of consciousness 
makes murderers in the name of order; the consciousness of 
despair makes murderers in the name of disorder (*!]. 


A symphony of spoken and shouted words animates the urban landscape. 
Against a basso continuo, dark or light themes develop from raucous or 
singsong voices and endless evocative fragments of speech. A sonorous 
architecture thus overlays the web of streets and buildings, reinforcing 
or counteracting the attractive or repellent feel of a particular district. 
But from the Place de la Contrescarpe to the Champs-Elysees the basic 
chords are the same: their sinister resonance has sunk so deeply into 
everyone’s mind that it no longer surprises us. ‘That’s life’, ‘You can’t 
change human nature’, ‘That’s the way it goes’, ‘You have to take the 
rough with the smooth’ , Every day can’t be a holiday’— this lament whose 
weft unites the most diverse conversations has so perverted our sensibil- 
ity that it passes for the commonest of human attitudes. Where despair 
is not acknowledged, it disappears from view. Nobody seems concerned 
that joy has been absent from European music for nearly two centuries— 
which says everything. Consume, consume— in both senses of the word: 
we take ashes for fire. 

What is the origin of the significance now claimed by suffering 
and its rites of exorcism? Its roots probably lie in the harsh conditions 
of survival imposed on the first humans by a hostile nature permeated 
by cruel and mysterious forces. In the face of such danger, social bonds 



offered vulnerable early mankind not only protection but also a way of 
cooperating with nature, of making a truce with it and even transform- 
ing it. In the course of the struggle against natural alienation— against 
death, sickness and suffering— alienation became social. And hence, 
strange as it may seem to some, death, sickness and suffering likewise 
became social. We escaped the rigours of exposure, hunger and discom- 
fort only to fall into the trap of slavery. We were enslaved by gods, by 
human beings, by language. And that slavery had its positive side: there 
was a kind of grandeur about living in terror of a god who also made one 
invincible. This mixture of human and inhuman might, it is true, suffice 
to explain the ambiguity of suffering, its way of appearing throughout 
human history as at once a shameful ill and a salutary one— as a good 
thing, after a fashion. But this would be to overlook the ignoble slag of 
religion, especially Christian mythology, which devoted all its genius to 
perfecting a morbid and depraved precept: protect yourself against muti- 
lation by mutilating yourself! 

‘Since Christ’s coming, we are delivered not from the evil of suffer- 
ing but from the evil of suffering uselessly’, writes Father Charles of 
the Society of Jesus. How right he is: Power’s problem has never been 
to abolish itself but rather to resign itself not to oppress ‘uselessly’. By 
marrying humanity to suffering, whether on grounds of divine grace 
or of natural law, Christianity, that pathological therapy, contrived its 
masterstroke. From prince to manager, from priest to expert, from father 
confessor to social worker, it is always the principle of useful suffering and 
willing sacrifice that forms the most solid basis for hierarchical power. 
Whatever reason is invoked— a better world, the next world, a socialist 
world, or pie in the sky— suffering willingly accepted is always Christian— 
always. Today the clerical vermin have made way for the missionaries 
of a Christ dyed red. Everywhere official pronouncements bear as their 
watermark the disgusting image of the crucified Christ, everywhere 
the comrades are urged to sport the idiotic halo of the martyr-militant. 
But their blood will serve the kitchen-hands of the Good Cause well as 
they knead the sausage-meat of the future: less cannon-fodder, more 


At first, bourgeois ideology seemed determined to go after suffering as 
relentlessly as it went after the religions it so hated. Infatuated with 



progress, comfort, profit, well-being, reason, it had enough weapons— 
if not real weapons, then at least the weapons of illusion— to convince 
everyone of its will to put an end, with the help of science, to the evil 
of suffering and the evil of faith. As we know, all it did was invent new 
analgesics and new superstitions. 

With God gone, suffering became ‘natural’— inherent in ‘human 
nature’; an end was put to this notion, but only at the cost of more, 
compensatory suffering: martyrs of science, victims of progress, lost 
generations. But this very tendency exposed the social origin of the 
idea of natural suffering. With Human Nature gone, suffering became 
social, inherent to ‘being-in-society’. Revolutions, of course, proceeded 
to demonstrate that social evil was not a metaphysical principle: that 
a form of society could exist from which the ills of life were banished. 
History shattered the social ontology of suffering, but suffering, far 
from disappearing, found new pretexts for its existence in the require- 
ments of history, itself suddenly trapped in its famous one-way street. 
China prepares children for the classless society by teaching them love 
of country, family and work. Historical ontology gathers up the dregs 
of all the metaphysical systems, all the an sich, of the past: God, Nature, 
Man, Society. From now on, people will have to make history by fighting 
History itself, because History has become the last ontological bulwark 
of Power, the last ruse whereby, behind the promise of a long weekend, it 
conceals its will to endure until a Saturday that will never come. Beyond 
this fetishized history, suffering may be seen to derive from the hierarchi- 
cal organization of society. And when the will to put an end to hierarchi- 
cal power has sufficiently aroused human consciousness, everyone will 
have to admit that armed freedom and the burden of constraints have 
nothing metaphysical about them. 


Even as it placed happiness and freedom on the agenda, technological 
civilization was inventing the ideology of happiness and freedom. It thus 
doomed itself to creating no freedom save the freedom of apathy, no 
happiness save that of passivity. But at least these inventions, perverted 
though they were, gave the lie on a universal scale to the notions that 
suffering was an intrinsic aspect of the human condition and that such 
an inhuman condition had anything eternal about it. That is why bour- 
geois thought fails when it tries to provide consolation for suffering; none 



of its justifications are as powerful as the hope aroused by its initial wager 
on technology and well-being. 

Desperate fellowship in sickness is the worst thing that can befall 
a civilization. It is not so much death that terrifies twentieth-century 
humanity as the absence of real life: the lifeless gestures, the mecha- 
nized, specialized gestures that steal portions of life hundreds, thou- 
sands of times a day until mind and body are exhausted, until an end 
comes that is less the end of life than an absence at saturation point. This 
is what lends such a dangerous allure to apocalypse, vast destruction, 
complete annihilation, and brutal death, hygienic and total. Auschwitz 
and Hiroshima are indeed the ‘solace of nihilism’. Let impotence in the 
face of suffering become a collective feeling, and the demand for suffer- 
ing and death can sweep a whole community. Consciously or not, most 
people would rather die than live a life forever unfulfilled. On anti- 
nuclear marches, for instance, all I ever see— aside from an active minor- 
ity of radicals— are penitents trying to exorcise their desire to disappear 
along with the rest of humanity. They would deny it, of course, but their 
miserable expressions betray them. The only real joy is revolutionary. 

Perhaps it is to ensure that a universal desire to perish does not take 
hold of humanity that such a production is made of particular suffer- 
ings and misfortunes. A kind of philanthropy, presumably in the public 
interest, urges each of us to find consolation for our own woes in the 
contemplation of the woes of others. 

Manifestations of this phenomenon range from disaster photo- 
graphs, sagas of cuckolded singers, catchy tunes in the manner of a 
Berthe Sylva, and all the pathetic bilge that fills the pages of France- 
Soir, to the spectacle of hospitals, asylums and prisons— real museums of 
suffering for those whose fear of being confined there makes them rejoice 
to be on the outside. I sometimes feel such a diffuse pain everywhere in 
me that I find relief in the chance misfortune that can concretize and 
justify it, offering it a legitimate outlet. Nothing will dissuade me of one 
thing: the sadness I feel after a break-up, a failure, a bereavement does 
not reach me from the outside like an arrow, but wells up from inside 
like a spring freed by a landslide. There are wounds that let the spirit utter 
a long-stifled cry. Despair never lets go its prey; it is just that the prey 
seizes upon a love lost or a child’s death to see despair in what is really 
but despair’s cast shadow. Mourning is a pretext, a convenient way of 
ejaculating nothingness in small drops. The tears, the cries and howls of 



childhood remain imprisoned in the hearts of human beings. Forever? 
In you too the emptiness continues to grow. 


Another word about the rationales of Power. Suppose a tyrant took pleas- 
ure in throwing prisoners, who had been flayed alive, into a small cell; 
suppose that to hear their screams and see them scramble each time 
they brushed against one another amused him no end, while prompting 
him to meditate on human nature and the curious behaviour of human 
beings. Suppose that at the same time and in the same country there 
were philosophers and wise men who explained to the worlds of science 
and art that suffering had to do with the collective life of human beings, 
with the inevitable presence of Others, with society as such— would we 
not be right to look upon these people as the tyrant’s henchmen? A 
brand of existentialism, by underwriting such claims, has killed two 
birds with one stone, paradoxically exposing not only the collusion of left 
intellectuals with Power, but also the crude trick whereby an inhuman 
social organization ascribes responsibility for its cruelty to its victims. A 
nineteenth-century commentator noted that ‘Throughout contempo- 
rary literature we find the tendency to regard individual suffering as a 
social evil and to make the organization of our society responsible for the 
misery and degradation of its members. This is a profoundly new idea: 
suffering is no longer treated as a matter of destiny.’ This ‘new’ and viable 
idea seems to have given startlingly little pause to certain respectable 
thinkers imbued with fatalism, as witness Sartre’s hell-is-other-people, 
Freud’s death instinct or Mao’s historical necessity. What is the differ- 
ence, when all is said and done, between these doctrines and a stupid tag 
such as ‘It’s just human nature’? 

Hierarchical social organization is like a system of hoppers equipped 
with sharp blades. While it flays us alive, Power makes a point of persuad- 
ing us that we are flaying each other. It must be granted that merely 
writing these words is to court a new fatalism; but I certainly intend in 
writing them that nobody should merely read them. 


Altruism is simply the reverse of ‘hell-is-other-people’, though here the 
mystification occurs in its positive form. It is high time to jettison this 
boy-scout mentality. For other people to interest me I must first find in 



myself the energy for such an interest. What binds me to others must 
stem from what binds me to the richest and most demanding part of my 
will to live— not the other way round. It is always myself that I seek in 
other people— my enrichment, my fulfilment. Once everyone grasps this, 
the logic of ‘every man for himself, carried to its logical conclusion, will 
be transformed into the logic of ‘all for each’. The freedom of one will be 
the freedom of all. A community not grounded in individual demands 
and their dialectic must needs reinforce the oppressive violence of Power. 
The Other in whom I do not recognize myself is nothing but a thing, and 
altruism clearly leads me to love things— and to love my isolation. 

The viewpoint of altruism— or of solidarity, which is what the Left 
calls it— turns the meaning of equality on its head. Equality becomes 
nothing but the common distress of social isolates humiliated, fucked 
over, beaten down, betrayed— and contented: the distress of monads 
aspiring to join together not in reality but in a mystical unity. Anything 
will do: the Nation, the workers’ movement— no matter what, so long as 
it purveys that drunk-Saturday-night feeling of ‘we are all brothers and 
sisters’. Equality in the great family of man reeks of incense, of religious 
mystification. You would need a stuffed-up nose not to be sickened by it. 

For myself, I recognize no equality except that which my will to 
live according to my desires recognizes in the will to live of others. 
Revolutionary equality will be inseparably individual and collective. 

From Power’s perspective there is but one horizon: death. And life goes 
so often to this well of despair that eventually it drowns. Wherever the 
running water of everyday life begins to stagnate, the features of the 
drowned reflect the faces of the living: the positive, looked at closely, 
turns out to be negative, the young are already old, and everything we 
are building is already a ruin. Under the sway of despair, lucidity blinds 
as easily as falsehood. We may die of not knowing, struck down from 
behind. Foreknowledge of the death that awaits us merely increases the 
torture and hastens the agony. The erosive effect of the continual slowing, 
shackling and prohibition of our acts eats away at us more surely than 
a cancer, but nothing spreads the disease like a keen awareness of the 
process. I am convinced that nothing can save someone continually 
confronted by the question: do you see the hand that, ever so courte- 
ously, is killing you? Gauging the impact of every tiny insult, resorting 



to Artaud’s pese-nerfs to weigh each constraint, is enough to consign the 
hardiest individual to a single overwhelming feeling of horrible weak- 
ness, utter powerlessness. The plague of constraints arises from the very 
depths of the mind; nothing human can resist its onslaught. 

Sometimes I feel as if Power is imparting its traits to me: a great force 
on the point of collapsing, a rage unable to explode, a yearning for whole- 
ness suddenly calcified. An impotent order can survive only by ensuring 
the impotence of its slaves. Franco and Batista demonstrated this with 
brio by castrating captured revolutionaries. As for those regimes jokingly 
referred to as democratic, they merely humanize castration. At first sight, 
to hasten the onset of old age might seem less feudal than the use of knife 
and ligature. But only at first sight— for once a lucid mind grasps the fact 
that that powerlessness stems from the mind itself, it is very tempting 
to throw in the towel. 

There is a kind of consciousness that Power allows because it serves 
its ends. To see things in the light of Power reveals only the darkness of 
despair, and amounts to nourishing one’s truth with lies. In aesthetic 
terms the choice is clear: death against Power or death in Power’s bosom. 
On the one hand Arthur Cravan or Jacques Vache; on the other, the SS, 
the French paratrooper in Algeria, or the hired killer. For all of them 
death is a logical and natural outcome, proof supreme of a perma- 
nent state of affairs and end-point of a lifeline upon which, ultimately, 
nothing was written. All who fail to resist Power’s well-nigh universal 
attraction meet the same fate: the stupid and confused always, the intel- 
ligent very often. The same chasm confronted Drieu La Rochelle and 
Jacques Rigaut, but they came down on different sides: the impotence 
of the first was moulded by submission and servility; the rebellion of 
the second ran straight into the brick wall of impossibility. The despair 
of consciousness makes murderers in the name of order; the conscious- 
ness of despair makes murderers in the name of disorder. The relapse 
into conformity of the so-called anarchists of the Right parallels and 
obeys the same gravitational pull as the fall of archangels into the iron 
jaws of suffering. The crypt of despair resounds with the croaking call of 

Suffering is the malady that constraints bring on. Yet a single 
moment of unalloyed joy, no matter how fleeting, can keep it at bay. 
Stoking real joy and festivity is tantamount to fomenting a general 



These days people are urged to engage in a gigantic search-and-destroy 
operation aimed at myths and received ideas. But make no mistake, they 
are sent out unarmed— or worse, armed only with the paper weapons of 
pure speculation— into the swamp of constraints, ever ready to swallow 
them up. Which is why a foretaste of pleasures to come will perhaps be 
achieved by pushing the ideologues of demystification ahead of us, to 
see how they fare, and either exploiting their success or advancing over 
their dead bodies. 

As Rosanov says, people are crushed under the wardrobe. If the 
wardrobe it not lifted it will be impossible to deliver whole peoples from 
endless and unbearable suffering. It is terrible that just one person should 
be crushed under such a weight: that they should want to breathe, and 
not be able to. The wardrobe weighs down on everyone, and everyone 
tries to raise it, but not all with the same conviction, not all with the 
same strength. An odd, groaning civilization. 

Thinkers ask themselves: ‘What? People under the wardrobe? How 
ever did they get there?’ But get there they did. And if someone comes 
along and proves in the name of objectivity that the burden can never 
be removed, their every sentence, their every word adds to the weight of 
the wardrobe— the object that they claim to describe thanks to the univer- 
sality of their ‘objective consciousness’. And the whole Christian spirit 
is here, has made sure to be here, fondling suffering like a good dog and 
handing out photographs of crushed but smiling people. ‘The logic of the 
wardrobe is always the best’, proclaim the thousands of books published 
every day and duly placed in the wardrobe. And all the while everyone 
wants to breathe and no one can breathe, and many say ‘We will breathe 
later’, and most do not die because they are already dead. 

It is now or never. 


The Decline of Work 

The obligation to produce alienates the passion to create. 

Productive labour is a function of law and order. Work time 
diminishes as conditioning tightens its grip. 

In an industrial society that conflates work and productivity, the need 
to produce has always stood opposed to the desire to create. What spark 
of humanity, which is to say possible creativity, can remain alive in a 
being dragged from sleep at six every morning, jolted about in commuter 
trains, deafened by the racket of machinery, bleached and steamed by 
speed-up and meaningless gestures and production quotas, and tossed 
out at the end of the day into great railway-station halls— temples of 
arrival and departure for the hell of weekdays and the nugatory paradise 
of the weekend, where the masses commune in brutish weariness? From 
adolescence to retirement age, relentlessly, every twenty-four-hour cycle 
helps lengthen all the cracks— like those in a broken window pane— that 
work inflicts in the shape of mechanical repetition, time-that-is-money, 
submission to bosses, boredom, exhaustion, and so on. From the shat- 
tering of youthful vitality to the yawning chasm of old age, life splinters 
in every direction under the blows of forced labour. Never has a civili- 
zation achieved such a degree of contempt for life; never, though, has 
a generation, overwhelmed by revulsion, experienced such a wild urge 
to live. Those threatened by slow-motion murder in labour’s mecha- 
nized slaughterhouses are suddenly debating, singing, drinking, dancing, 
making love, taking to the streets, picking up weapons, and inventing a 
new poetry. Already the front against forced labour is forming; already 
its acts of refusal are shaping the consciousness of the future. Every call 
for productivity under the conditions imposed by capitalist and Soviet 
economies alike is a call to slavery. 

Arguments for the necessity of producing are so easy to find that even 
a hack like Jean Fourastie can fill a dozen tomes with them. Unfortunately 
for the economism of such neotheorists, their justifications date from 




the nineteenth century, harking back to a time when the poverty of the 
working classes made the right to work analogous to the right to slavery 
claimed at the dawn of history by prisoners about to be massacred. A 
time when the main thing was to avoid physical elimination— simply to 
survive. The imperatives of productivity are the imperatives of survival; 
but now people want to live, not just survive. 

The t ripalium is an instrument of torture. The Latin word labor means 
‘suffering’. We do well to bear in mind these origins of the words ‘travail' 
and ‘labour’. It must be said for the nobles that they never forgot either 
their dignity or the lack thereof that characterized their bondservants: 
the aristocratic contempt for work reflected the master’s contempt for the 
subject classes; work was the expiation to which serfs were condemned 
for all eternity by the divine decree which, for impenetrable reasons, 
had willed their inferiority. Work had its place, among the sanctions of 
Providence, as the punishment for poverty, and because it determined 
future salvation such a punishment could paradoxically take on a joyful 
aspect. At bottom, though, work was less important than submission. 

The bourgeoisie for its part does not dominate. It exploits. It does not 
subject people so much as wear them out. Why has nobody noticed that 
the principle of productivity was simply a replacement for the principle 
of feudal authority? Why has nobody wanted to understand this? 

Is it because work improves the human condition and saves the 
poor, at least illusorily, from eternal damnation? Very likely so, but today 
it would seem that the carrot of happier tomorrows in this world has 
readily replaced the carrot of salvation in the next. In either case the 
present lies under the heel of oppression. 

Is it because work transforms nature? Perhaps, but what good to me 
is a nature ordered according to profits, a world where an inflation of tech- 
nology masks a deflation in the use-value of life? Besides, just as the sexual 
act is not intended to procreate, but makes children by accident, work as 
organized at present transforms the face of continents not intentionally 
but as a spin-off effect. Work to transform the world? What nonsense! The 
world is being transformed as a function of the existence of forced labour, 
not vice versa— which is why it is being transformed so badly. 

Could humanity ever find fulfilment through forced labour? In the 
nineteenth century the connotations of work still included vestiges of 
creativity. Zola describes a nailsmiths’ contest in which workers applied 
their skill to the making of tiny masterpieces. Love of craft and the now 



daunting challenge of deploying some measure of creativity certainly 
helped people to endure ten- or fifteen-hour days— which would surely 
have been impossible had not some sort of pleasure entered into them. 
The survival of the craft approach gave workers a chance to contrive a 
precarious comfort for themselves in the hell of the factory. But Taylorism 
dealt the death-blow to attitudes carefully fostered by early forms of capi- 
talism. It is vain to expect even a caricature of creativity from work on the 
conveyor belt. Today the love of a job well done and belief in the rewards 
of hard work signal nothing so much as spineless and stupid submission. 
And wherever submission is required, the stink of ideology hangs in the 
air, from the Arbeit Macht Frei of the concentration camps to the homilies 
of Henry Ford and Mao Tse-tung. 

So what is the function of forced labour? The myth of power exer- 
cised jointly by the master and by God drew its coercive force from the 
unity of the feudal system. Destroying the unitary myth, the fragmented 
power of the bourgeoisie, flying the flag of crisis, ushered in the reign 
of ideologies, which can never, separately or in combination, achieve a 
fraction of the effectiveness of myth. The dictatorship of productive work 
stepped conveniently into this breach. Its mission was to weaken the 
majority of people physically, to castrate and stupefy them collectively 
and to make them receptive to the least significant, least vital, most senile 
ideologies in the history of falsehood. 

At the beginning of the nineteenth century most of the proletariat 
had been physically diminished, systematically broken by the torture of 
the workshop. Revolts arose among small craftspeople or among privi- 
leged or unemployed workers rather than among workers demolished 
by fifteen-hour days. It is surely rather disturbing to note that the reduc- 
tion of working hours eventually came just as the ideological variety 
show devised by consumer society was ready to provide an effective 
replacement for the feudal myths destroyed by the ascendant bourgeoi- 
sie. (People have worked really hard for a refrigerator, a car, a television 
set. Many still do— ‘invited’ as they are to consume the passivity and the 
empty time that the ‘necessity’ of production ‘offers’ them.) 

Statistics published in 1938 indicated that the use of the most 
modern technology would reduce necessary working time to three hours 
a day. Not only are we very far from that with our seven hours, but after 
wearing out generations of workers by promising them the happiness 
sold to them today on the instalment plan, the bourgeoisie (and its Soviet 



counterpart) now pursue the destruction of workers beyond the shop- 
floor. Tomorrow they may be expected to suffer five hours of necessary 
wear and tear with ‘creative time’, which is bound to increase as fast as 
they can fill it with the impossibility of creating anything (this is what 
is meant by the ‘planning of leisure’). 

It has been pointed out, correctly, that ‘China faces gigantic economic 
problems; for her, productivity is a matter of life and death’. Nobody 
would dream of denying it. What I find troubling is not economic imper- 
atives but the manner of responding to them. The Red Army of 1917 was 
a new kind of organization. The Red Army of the 1960s is an army just 
like any army in a capitalist country. Events have shown that its effective- 
ness falls far short of that of revolutionary militias. In the same way, the 
planned Chinese economy, by refusing to allow federated groups to organ- 
ize their work autonomously, has doomed itself to become just another 
example of the perfected form of capitalism called socialism. Has anyone 
bothered to study the approaches to work of primitive peoples, the impor- 
tance of play and creativity, the incredible yield obtained by methods 
which the application of modern technology would make a hundred 
times more efficient? Apparently not. Every appeal for productivity comes 
from above, but only creativity is spontaneously rich. Productivity can 
never ensure a rich life, nor can it ever power an enthusiastic collective 
response to economic demands. One is at a loss for words in face of the 
cult of work in Communist countries from Cuba to China. How perfect 
the virtuous pages of a Guizot would sound if read at a May Day parade! 

To the extent that automation and cybernetics foreshadow the 
massive replacement of workers by mechanical slaves, forced labour is 
exposed as simply one belonging purely to the barbaric practices needed 
to maintain order. Power manufactures the dose of fatigue necessary 
for the passive assimilation of its televised diktats. What carrot is worth 
working for, at this point? The game is up; there is nothing more to 
lose, not even illusion. The organization of work and the organization of 
leisure are the twin blades of castrating shears whose job is to improve the 
race of fawning dogs. One day, perhaps, we shall see strikers demanding 
automation and a ten-hour week, and deciding, instead of picketing, to 
make love in the factories, offices and cultural centres. Only program- 
mers, managers, union bosses and sociologists would be surprised— and 
worried. For good reason: their hides will be on the line. 

Decompression and the Third Force 

Until now tyranny has merely changed hands. By virtue of their like 
respect for the principle of the ruler, antagonistic powers have 
always contained the seeds of their future coexistence. [When the 
organizer of the game assumes the power of a leader, the revolution 
dies along with the revolutionaries.] Unresolved antagonisms 
fester, hiding real contradictions. Decompression is the permanent 
control of antagonists by a ruling caste. The third force radicalizes 
contradictions, and leads towards their supersession in the name 
of individual freedom and against all forms of constraint. Power 
has no recourse but to smash or co-opt the third force without 
acknowledging its existence. 

Let us take stock. A few million people lived in a huge building with 
no doors or windows. The feeble light of countless oil lamps vied with 
the ever-present obscurity. As had been the custom since Antiquity in 
its wisdom, the upkeep of the lamps was the duty of the poor, so the 
oil supply rose and fell in precise accord with the ups and downs of 
calm and rebellion. One day a general insurrection broke out, the most 
violent that this people had ever known. The rebel leadership demanded 
a fair allocation of the costs of lighting; a large number of revolutionar- 
ies said that what they considered a public utility should be free; a few 
extremists went so far as to clamour for the destruction of the building, 
which they claimed was unhealthy, even unfit for human habitation. As 
usual, the more reasonable elements found themselves helpless in face 
of the violence of the conflict. During a particularly lively clash with law 
enforcement, a stray projectile breached the thick wall, creating a gap 
through which daylight streamed in. After a moment of stupefaction, 
this flood of light was greeted with cries of victory. The solution had been 
found: all that was needed was to make more openings. The lamps were 
thrown away or put in museums, and power fell to the window-makers. 
The partisans of complete destruction were forgotten, and even their 



discreet liquidation seemingly went unnoticed. (Everyone was arguing 
about the number and placing of the windows.) Then, a century or 
two later, their names were remembered when the people, that eternal 
malcontent, having grown accustomed to large picture-windows, took 
to asking extravagant questions: ‘To drag out your days in an air-condi- 
tioned greenhouse,’ they began to ask, ‘you call that living?’ 


In our time consciousness fluctuates between that of someone completely 
walled up and that of a prisoner in a cell. For each of us this fluctuation 
takes the place of freedom: we go back and forth between the blank wall 
of our cell and the barred window that bespeaks escape. Any chink that 
is opened lets in not only light but also hope. The hope of escape, which 
prisons deliberately foster, can ensure good behaviour from convicts. By 
contrast, an individual facing a wall with no exit can only feel a raging 
impulse to knock it down or smash his head against it, which is inevita- 
bly undesirable from the point of view of efficient social control. (This is 
true even if the suicide, failing to emulate the admirable example of the 
Oriental prince who immolates all his slaves along with himself, does not 
resolve to take a few others with him from the ranks of judges, bishops, 
generals, policemen, psychiatrists, philosophers, managers, experts and 

Someone walled up alive has nothing to lose; the prisoner still has 
hope to lose. Hope is the leash of the submissive. Whenever Power is in 
danger of exploding, it opens a safety-valve to lower the pressure. At such 
times it is said to have changed hands, but in fact it has merely adapted, 
thus resolving its difficulties. 

Against any established power another always arises that is similar but 
flies the flag of opposition. Nothing is more threatening to the principle of 
hierarchical government, however, than merciless confrontation between 
two opponents each driven by a like rage for the total annihilation of the 
other. In such a conflict, the tidal wave of fanaticism sweeps away the most 
stable values, turning the entire territory in dispute into a no-man’s-land 
and ushering in everywhere the interregnum of ‘nothing is true, every- 
thing is permitted’. History, be it said, offers not a single instance of a 
titanic conflict of this kind not defused in good time and turned into a 
comic-opera battle. What is the origin of this process of decompression? It 
stems from a tacit agreement of principle between the belligerents. 



The principle of hierarchy is indeed espoused by the true believers 
on both sides. Conflicts are never unleashed with impunity, nor are they 
ever innocent. The capitalism of Lloyd George and the Krupps was chal- 
lenged by the anticapitalism of Lenin and Trotsky. From the mirror of 
the masters of the present, the masters of the future are already smiling 
back. As Heinrich Heine wrote: 

Ldchelnd scheidet der Tyran 
Derm er weiss, nach seinem Tode 
Wechselt Willkur nur die Hdnde 
Und die Knechtschaft hat kein Ende. 

The tyrant dies smiling, for he knows that after his death tyranny will 
merely change hands, and slavery will never end. Leaders differ just as 
the ways they dominate differ, but they are always leaders— proprietors 
of a power exercised as a private entitlement. (Lenin’s greatness certainly 
has to do with his romantic refusal to assume the position of absolute 
master implied by the ultrahierarchical organization of his Bolsheviks; 
it is this same greatness, be it said, that the workers’ movement has to 
thank for Kronstadt 1921, for Budapest 1956, and for Batiuchka Stalin.) 

The common ground of the opponents thus becomes the site of 
decompression. To identify the enemy with Evil and crown one’s own 
side with the halo of Good has the strategic advantage of ensuring unity 
of action by channelling the energy of the combatants. But such a strat- 
egy calls for the enemy’s annihilation. Moderates baulk at such a prospect, 
especially inasmuch as the radical destruction of the enemy would include 
the destruction of what their own side has in common with that enemy. 
The logic of Bolshevism demanded the heads of the leaders of Social 
Democracy; those leaders hastily sold out, and they did so qua leaders. 
The logic of anarchism demanded the liquidation of Bolshevik power, 
which rapidly crushed the anarchists, and did so qua hierarchical power. 
The same predictable sequence of betrayals delivered Durruti’s anarchists 
to the rifles of the Republican alliance of Socialists and Stalinists. 

As soon as the organizer of the game turns into a leader, the prin- 
ciple of hierarchy is preserved, and the revolution, now in power, can 
preside over the execution of the revolutionaries. We must never forget 
that the insurrectionary project belongs to the masses alone; organizers 
help it— leaders betray it. The real struggle occurs, to begin with, between 
organizers and leaders. 



The revolutionary careerist measures the balance of forces in quanti- 
tative terms, just as any soldier gauges an officer’s rank by the number of 
men under his command. The leaders of insurrectionary parties real or 
supposed abandon qualitative criteria on the grounds that quantitative 
ones are more realistic. But had the ‘Reds’ been blessed with half a million 
more troops and modern weaponry, the Spanish Revolution would still 
have been lost. It died under the heel of the People’s Commissars. The 
speeches of La Pasionaria already sounded like funeral orations; pathos- 
laden cries drowned out the language of deeds, the spirit of the collec- 
tives of Aragon— the spirit of a radical minority determined to cut off at 
a single stroke not just the Fascist head but all the heads of the hydra. 

Never, and for good reason, has an absolute confrontation been 
fought through to the end. So far, the ‘last fight’ has had only false starts. 
Everything must be begun afresh. History’s only justification is to help 
us do so. 


Once subjected to decompression, seemingly irreconcilable opponents 
grow old side by side, becoming frozen in a purely formal antagonism, 
losing their substance, neutralizing each other and mouldering away 
together. Who could discern the Bolshevik with a knife between his 
teeth in the Gagarinism of a doting Moscow? Today, by some ecumeni- 
cal miracle, the slogan ‘Workers of the World, Unite’ cements the union 
of the world’s bosses. What a charming picture: what the antagonists 
had in common— the seeds of a power that radical struggle would have 
rooted out— has matured to the point of reconciling the warring brothers. 

Could it really be so simple? Of course not— the farce would lose 
its bounce. On the international stage, those two old hams, capitalism 
and anticapitalism, continue with their repartee. How the spectators 
shudder at the prospect of a falling-out, how they stamp with glee when 
peace blesses the loving pair! Is interest flagging? A brick is added to the 
Berlin Wall; or the awful Mao gnashes his teeth against the backdrop of 
a Chinese children’s choir singing paeans to fatherland, family and work. 
Patched up like this, the old Manichaeanism continues on its merry 
way. To keep current, the ideological spectacle is continually launching 
new pseudo-antagonisms: are you for or against Brigitte Bardot, Johnny 
Hallyday, Citroen 3CVS, young people, nationalization, spaghetti, old 
people, the United Nations, miniskirts, Pop Art, thermonuclear war, 



hitch-hiking? There is no one who is not accosted at some moment of 
the day by an advertisement, a news item or a stereotyped image that 
summons them to take sides over one or other of the prefabricated trifles 
that work relentlessly to obstruct all sources of everyday creativity. Under 
the sway of Power’s icy fetishism, particles of antagonism form a magnetic 
field whose function is to distort the individual’s compass, to abstract 
individuals from themselves and scramble all their points of reference. 

Decompression, in short, is the manipulation of antagonisms by 
Power. The opposition of two terms is usually made meaningful by the 
intervention of a third. As long as there are only two poles, they cancel 
each other out, since each derives its significance from the other; and 
since it is impossible to choose between them, we are led into the realm 
of tolerance and relativity that is so dear to the bourgeoisie. How easy it 
is to understand the importance for the apostolic Roman hierarchy of 
the dispute between Manichaeanism and Trinitarianism. In the wake 
of a true fight to the death between God and Satan, what would be left 
of ecclesiastical authority? Nothing— as the millenarian crises clearly 
showed. That is why the secular arm performed holy offices, why the 
pyres crackled alike for God-loving and devil-loving mystics, as for any 
theologian rash enough to question the principle of the Three in One. The 
temporal masters of Christianity were determined that they alone should 
adjudicate the struggle between the Master of Good and the Master of 
Evil. They were the great intermediaries through which the choice of 
one side or the other had to pass; they controlled the paths of salva- 
tion and damnation, a control more important to them than salvation 
and damnation themselves. On earth, they set themselves up as judges 
without appeal, while submitting themselves to judgement solely in an 
afterlife whose laws were of their own devising. 

The Christian myth defanged the bitter Manichaean conflict by 
offering believers the chance of individual salvation; this was the breach 
opened up by the Hairy Man of Nazareth. In this way mankind escaped 
the rigours of a clash that would lead inevitably to the destruction of 
values, to nihilism. But by the same token it lost the chance to reclaim 
itself by means of a general upheaval, the chance to take its proper place 
in the universe by chasing out the gods and the afflictions they brought. 
The essential function of decompression would therefore appear to be 
the shackling of humanity’s deepest desire, the desire to be itself and 
itself alone. 



In all conflicts pitting two antagonistic forces against each other, an 
intractable upsurge of individual demands comes into play and often 
succeeds in imposing its dangerous requirements. So much so, in fact, 
that one may reasonably speak of a third force. This force is to the indi- 
vidual perspective what the force of decompression is to the perspective 
of Power. A spontaneous by-product of every struggle, the third force radi- 
calizes insurrections, exposes false problems, and threatens Power in its 
very structure. Its roots are omnipresent in everyday life. It is what Brecht 
was referring to in one of his Mr Keuner stories: ‘When a proletarian was 
brought to court and asked if he wished to take the oath in the ecclesi- 
astical or the lay form, he replied “I’m out of work’’.’ The third force 
initiates not the withering away of constraints but rather their superses- 
sion. If prematurely crushed or co-opted, its energy can be turned in 
the opposite direction and enlisted by decompression. The salvation of 
the soul is thus nothing but the will to live co-opted by myth, mediated, 
and emptied of its real content. By contrast, their peremptory demand 
for a full life explains the hatred incurred by certain Gnostic sects or by 
the Brethren of the Free Spirit. During the decline of Christianity, the 
struggle between Pascal and the Jesuits mobilized the reformist doctrine 
of individual salvation and compromise with heaven against the project 
of achieving godliness through the nihilistic destruction of the world. 
Once rid of the dead wood of theology, the third force went on to inspire 
Babeuf s struggle against the million dore, the Marxist project of the whole 
man, the dreams of Fourier, the unleashing of the Paris Commune, and 
the violence of the anarchists. 


Individualism, alcoholism, collectivism, activism— the very variety of 
-isms shows that there are a hundred ways of being on the side of Power. 
There is only one way to be radical. The wall to be knocked down is 
immense, but it has been breached so many times that before long a single 
cry will be enough to bring it crashing to the ground. May the formida- 
ble reality of the third force— all the individual passions that have fuelled 
the insurrections of the past— emerge at last from the fog of history. It 
will then become clear that everyday life embodies an energy which can 
move mountains and abolish distances. The long revolution will soon 
make its mark on reality, tossing its unknown or nameless authors pell- 
mell into the ranks of Sade, Fourier, Babeuf, Marx, Lacenaire, Stirner, 


Lautreamont, Lehautier, Vaillant, Henry, Villa, Zapata, Makhno, of the 
Communards, the insurrectionaries of Hamburg and Kiel, Kronstadt 
and Asturias— in short, of all those precursors who have not yet played 
their last cards in a game that we have only just joined: the great gamble 
on freedom. 

The Impossibility of Communication: 
Power as Universal Mediation 

Under Power’s sway , mediation is the fake necessity 
that teaches human beings how to lose themselves in a 
rational way. This alienating capacity of mediations is 
strengthened, yet at the same time brought into question 
by the dictatorship of consumption (vn), by the priority of 
exchange over gift (vm), by the application of cybernetics 
(ix), and by the reign of the quantitative (x). 


The Age of Happiness 

In anachronistic fashion, the modern welfare state provides the 
guarantees of survival once demanded by the disinherited members 
of the former production-based society [1). Affluent survival means 
the impoverishment of life [2). Purchasing power is a licence 
to purchase power, to become an object in the order of things. 
Oppressor and oppressed alike fall prey— albeit at different rates— 
to the self-same dictatorship of consumption [3], 


The face of happiness ceased to appear like a watermark in works of art 
and literature the moment it began to be reproduced endlessly, as far as 
the eye could see, on walls and hoardings, offering each individual passer- 
by universal images with which to identify. 

With Volkswagen your problems are over! Live worry- free with 
Balamur! The man with good taste is savvy too: he chooses Mercedes-Benz! 

Three cheers for Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham! Happiness is 
not a myth! ‘The more we produce, the better we shall live’, writes the 
humanist Jean Fourastie, and another genius, General Eisenhower, takes 
up the refrain: ‘To save the economy we must buy— buy anything, but 
buy!’ Production and consumption are the tits of modern society. Thus 
suckled, humanity grows stronger and more beautiful. A higher standard 
of living, countless conveniences, entertainment galore, culture for all- 
in short, a once undreamt-of level of comfort. Meanwhile, on the horizon 
of the Khrushchev Report, the rosy dawn of Communism is breaking at 
last, a new age heralded by two revolutionary decrees: the abolition of 
taxes and free transport for all. Yes, the golden age is in sight— indeed 
within spitting distance. 

Conspicuously absent from this picture of transformation is the 
proletariat. Could it have vanished into thin air? Taken to the hills? 
Been put in a museum? Sociologi disputant. Some say that in the 
advanced industrial countries the proletarian is no more, as witness an 



avalanche of fridges, TVs, Renault Dauphines, public housing develop- 
ments, and people’s theatres. Others denounce all this as hocus-pocus 
and point meaningfully to a few remaining workers whose low wages 
and wretched conditions indisputably evoke the nineteenth century. 
‘Backward sectors,’ comes the retort. ‘Pockets still in the process of inte- 
gration. Surely you won’t deny that the trend of economic development 
is towards Sweden, Czechoslovakia, the welfare state, and not towards 

The black curtain rises: the search for the hungry, for the last of the 
proletarians, is on. Hurrah for whoever sells him a car and a blender, a 
basement bar or a home library; for whoever teaches him to see himself 
in the smiling character in the ever so reassuring ad: ‘Happiness is a 
Lucky Strike.’ 

And happy, happy humanity, so soon to receive the care packages 
addressed to it at such great cost by the rebels of the nineteenth century! 
How very lucky the insurgents of Lyons and Fourmies have turned out 
to be— albeit posthumously! The millions of human beings shot, impris- 
oned, tortured, starved, brutalized and systematically humiliated must 
surely be at peace, in their cemeteries and mass graves, to know how 
history has made sure that the struggle in which they died has enabled 
their descendants, isolated in their air-conditioned apartments, to learn 
from their daily dose of TV how to repeat that they are happy and free. 
‘The Communards went down, fighting to the last man, so that you too 
could buy a Philips hi-fi.’ A fine legacy indeed— one that must surely 
warm the cockles of all those revolutionaries of the past. 

Only the present is short-shrifted in this accounting. Ungrateful 
and uncouth, the younger generation cares nothing for a glorious past 
offered as a free gift to every consumer of Trotskyoid- reformist ideology. 
They claim that making demands means making demands for the here 
and now. They insist that the sense of past struggles was rooted in the 
present of those who fought them— a present, however, which despite 
changed historical circumstances they themselves still inhabit. In short, 
if we are to believe them, a single unchanging project underlies all radical 
revolutionary currents, namely the project of the whole human being, 
powered by that will to total life which Marx was the first to equip with 
a scientific tactical plan. But these are pernicious theories which the 
holy churches of Christ and Stalin have never missed an opportunity to 
stigmatize. Higher wages, more refrigerators, more holy sacraments and 



more National Popular Theatres— surely these should suffice to quell the 
revolutionary hankerings of today? 

Is the welfare state inevitable? Naturally, right-thinking people are 
bound to deplore the forms taken by opposition to an agenda approved by 
everyone from Khrushchev to Albert Schweitzer, from the Pope to Fidel 
Castro, from Louis Aragon to the late Mr Kennedy. In December 1956, for 
example, a thousand young people ran wild in the streets of Stockholm, 
setting fire to cars, demolishing neon signs, slashing advertising posters, 
looting department stores. At Merlebach, during a strike called to force 
owners to bring up the bodies of seven miners killed by a cave-in, the 
workers directed their fury at the cars parked at the pit-head. In January 
1961, strikers in Liege burned down the Guillemins railway station and 
destroyed the premises of the newspaper La Meuse. Concerted onslaughts 
on seaside resorts on the English and Belgian coasts were mounted by 
hundreds of juvenile delinquents in March 1964. In Amsterdam in 1966 
the workers held the streets for several days. Not a month goes by without 
a wildcat strike pitting workers against employers and union bosses alike. 
Welfare state? The people of Watts have given their answer. 

The words of a worker in Esperance-Longdoz encapsulate the clash 
between his point of view and that of such sociological watchdogs of our 
future as Jean Fourastie, Peter Berger, Louis Armand and Abraham Moles: 
‘Since 1936 I have been fighting for higher wages. My father before me 
fought for higher wages. I’ve got a TV, a fridge and a VW. If you ask me, 
it’s been a dog’s life from start to finish.’ 

The words and deeds of the new poetry have no room for the welfare 


The nicest radios within everyone’s reach (a). You too can join the great 
family of DAF drivers (b). Carven means quality. Choose freely from our 
product range (c). 

In the kingdom of consumption the citizen is king. A democratic 
monarchy: equality in consumption (a), fraternity via consumption 
(b), liberty as per consumption (c) . The dictatorship of consumption has 
completed the abolition of barriers of blood, lineage and race; this would 
be great cause for celebration were it not for the fact that consump- 
tion, with its logic of things, prohibits all qualitative differentiation and 
permits only quantitative differences between values and human beings. 



The distance between those who possess the most and those who 
possess a small (if ever-increasing) amount has not shrunk; but the inter- 
mediate levels have multiplied, and so to speak brought the two extremes, 
rulers and ruled, closer to the same mediocrity. To be rich nowadays 
means to possess a large number of impoverished objects. 

Consumer goods tend to lose all use-value. Their nature is to be 
consumable at all costs, as witness the recent American fad for the 
‘nothing box’— an object with no conceivable utility. And as General 
Eisenhower explained in all candour, the present economic system can 
be rescued only by turning human beings into consumers, conflating 
them with the largest possible number of consumable values— which is 
to say nonvalues, empty, fictitious, abstract values. After being ‘the most 
precious kind of capital’, in Stalin’s happy phrase, human beings must 
now become the most highly prized of consumer goods. Stereotyped 
images— movie star, poor person, Communist, murderer-out-of-love, 
law-abiding citizen, rebel, bourgeois— are about to replace humanity 
with a punch-card system of categories arranged in accordance with an 
irrefutable robotic logic. Already the idea of ‘teenager’ tends to identify 
buyers and what they buy, reducing their real variety to a still varied but 
circumscribed range of commodities (records, guitars, Levis, etc.). You 
are no longer as old as you feel or as old as you look, but as ‘old’ as what 
you buy. The time of production, of ‘time is money’, is giving way to the 
time of consumption (in both the figurative and the material senses of 
the word), a time measured in terms of products bought, worn out and 
thrown away— the time of that premature old age which is the eternal 
youth of trees and stones. 

The theory of pauperization is strikingly confirmed today— not, as 
Marx expected, in terms of goods necessary for survival, since these, far 
from becoming scarce, have become more and more abundant, but rather 
in terms of survival itself, which is ever the enemy of real life. Modern 
comforts seemed at first to promise everyone a life richer even than the 
dolce vita of the feudal aristocracy. But in fact they turned out to be mere 
offshoots of capitalist productivity, offshoots doomed to premature old 
age as soon as the distribution system transformed them into nothing 
but objects of passive consumption. Working to survive, surviving by 
consuming and for the sake of consuming: the hellish cycle is complete. 
According to the logic of the-economy-rules, survival is both necessary and 
sufficient. This is the basic reality of the bourgeois era. But it is also true 



that a historical period based on such an antihuman reality must needs 
be a period of transition, an intermediate stage between the life genu- 
inely lived, if less than transparently, by the feudal masters and the life 
that will be constructed rationally and passionately by masters without 
slaves. We have only thirty-odd years left in which to prevent this tran- 
sitional period of slaves without masters from reaching its bicentennial. 


From the point of view of everyday life, the bourgeois revolution has not 
a few counterrevolutionary aspects. Rarely, on the market of human 
values, has the conception of existence suffered such a sharp devaluation. 
Proclaimed so defiantly to the whole universe, the bourgeoisie’s pledge to 
usher in the reign of liberty and well-being served merely to underscore 
the mediocrity of a life which the aristocracy had managed to fill with 
passion and adventure but which, once made accessible to all, resembled 
nothing so much as a palace split up into servants’ quarters. Thereafter 
hate would give way to contempt, love to attachment, the ridiculous to 
the stupid, passion to sentimentality, desire to envy, reason to calculation, 
and lust for life to desperation to survive. The utterly despicable ethos of 
profit replaced the utterly detestable ethos of honour; the mysterious and 
perfectly ridiculous power of birth and blood gave way to the perfectly 
Ubuesque power of money. The inheritors of the formal abolition of 
feudalism on 4 August 1789 elevated bank balances and turnover figures 
to the status of coats of arms, transforming the mystery of nobility into 
the mystery of the account book. 

What is the mystery of money? The clear answer is that money 
represents a sum of beings and things that can be appropriated. The 
nobleman’s heraldic shield expresses God’s choice and the real power 
exercised by his chosen; money is no more than a sign of what might be 
acquired: a draft on power, a possible choice. The feudal God, apparently 
the foundation of the social order, was really only the pretext for it, its 
glorious rationale. Money, that odourless god of the bourgeois, is likewise 
a mediation, a social contract. A god swayed no longer by prayers or oaths 
but by specialized science and technology. A deity whose mystery resides 
no longer in a dark, impenetrable totality but rather in the sum of an 
infinite number of partial certainties; no longer in the unique value of 
lordship but rather in the value of all the beings and venal things that a 
million dollars, say, puts within reach of its possessor. 



In an economy driven by the production requirements of free- trade 
capitalism, wealth alone confers power and honour. As master of the 
means of production and of labour power, wealth ensures by extension, 
thanks to the development of productive forces and of consumer goods, 
that its owners enjoy a wealth of choice among the fruits of never-ending 
progress. But to the extent that this form of capitalism is transformed 
into an antithetical form, namely a state-planned economy, the pres- 
tige of the capitalist playing the market with his millions fades away, 
and with it the caricature of the pot-bellied, cigar-puffing merchant of 
human flesh. Today’s managers draw their power from their organizing 
skills— even if computer technology already holds them up to ridicule 
by providing a model that they can never emulate. They are rich in their 
own right, certainly, but can they vaunt their wealth by having it signify 
the potential choices available to them? Can they build a Xanadu, main- 
tain a harem, or cultivate filles-fleurs? Alas, no— for how could money 
retain its symbolic force when it is continually solicited and hampered by 
the imperatives of consumption? Under the dictatorship of consumption 
money melts away like snow in the sunshine, its significance passing to 
objects with more representational value— more tangible objects better 
adapted to the welfare state and its spectacle. The function of money has 
surely already been sidelined by the market in consumer goods, which, 
duly wrapped in ideology, have become the true signs of power. Before 
long, money’s only remaining justification will be the quantity of objects 
and useless gadgets it enables one to acquire and wear out at an ever- 
accelerating pace; only the quantity and the pace matter, for mass distri- 
bution and standardization automatically wipe out quality and rarity. 
The ability to consume faster and faster, to change your car, your drink, 
your house, your TV or your girlfriend ever more frequently, is now the 
only index of how much power you can lay claim to in the social hier- 
archy. From the preeminence of blood to the power of money, from the 
preeminence of money to the power of novelties, Christian and socialist 
civilization has now attained its highest stage: a civilization of the prosaic 
and the trivial. The perfect dwelling-place for Nietzsche’s Tittle man’. 

Purchasing power is a licence to purchase power. The old proletariat 
sold its labour power in order to subsist; what little leisure time remained 
proletarians spent as best they could in conversation, arguments, tavern 
games, country matters, going on the tramp, festivity and riot. The new 
proletariat sells its labour power in order to consume. When they are not 



too busy working themselves to death in hopes of a promotion, workers 
are invited to buy objects— a car, a suit and tie, some culture— that will 
signal their social rank. We have reached the point where the ideology 
of consumption becomes the consumption of ideology. Never underesti- 
mate the importance of East- West exchanges ! In the West, homo consu- 
mator buys a bottle of whiskey and receives the lie that comes with it; in 
the East, Communist man buys ideology and gets a bottle of vodka for 
free. Paradoxically, Soviet and capitalist regimes are on the same path, 
the one by virtue of a production-driven economy, the other by virtue of 
a consumption-driven one. 

In the USSR, the surplus labour of a worker does not, strictly speak- 
ing, enrich the comrade-manager of the enterprise. It merely increases 
that manager’s power as organizer and bureaucrat. The surplus value 
here is a surplus value of power. (But this new-fangled surplus value is 
nevertheless subject to the tendency for the rate of profit to fall: Marx’s 
laws of economic life are now borne out in the economy of life.) The 
manager earns his surplus power not from money-capital, but from a 
primitive accumulation of confidence-capital generated thanks to the 
passive absorption of ideology. The car and the dacha thrown in as a 
bonus to reward services to country, proletariat, output and the Cause 
clearly prefigure a form of social organization in which money will 
indeed have disappeared, giving way to honorific distinctions, ranks, 
a mandarinate of muscle and specialization. (Think of the privileges 
granted to Stakhanovites, to ‘heroes of space’, to scrapers of violin strings 
and champions of the production quotas.) 

In capitalist countries, meanwhile, the material profit reaped by 
the employer from both production and consumption remains distinct 
from the ideological profit which the employer is not alone in deriving 
from the organization of consumption. This is all that prevents us from 
reducing the difference between a manager and a worker to the differ- 
ence between a new Ford every year and a Dauphine lovingly maintained 
for five. The fact remains that planning— towards which, no matter how 
confusedly, everything now points— serves to quantify social differences 
in terms of ability to consume and make others consume. As differences 
grow in number and shrink in significance, the real distance between 
rich and poor diminishes, and mankind is levelled into mere variations 
on poverty. The logical culmination of this process would be a cybernetic 
society composed of specialists ranked hierarchically according to their 



aptitude for consuming— and having others consume— the doses of power 
necessary for the functioning of a gigantic social apparatus of which 
they themselves would be at once the programme and the outcome. A 
society of exploiters/exploited where some slaves would be more equal 
than others. 

This leaves the ‘third world’. The old forms of oppression. That the 
serfs of the latifundia should be the contemporaries of the new proletar- 
iat seems to me a perfect formula for an explosive mix from which total 
revolution will emerge. Who would seriously suggest that the peons and 
Indians of South America will be satisfied with land reform and fully 
equipped kitchens and lay down their arms when the best paid workers 
in Europe are demanding a radical change in their way of life? No, the 
revolt against the welfare state will set the minimum demands for revo- 
lutions worldwide. Those who forget this will learn the hard way what 
Saint-Just meant when he observed that ‘those who make revolutions by 
halves will have merely dug their own graves’. 

VIII Exchange and Gift 

Both the nobility and the proletariat conceive human 
relationships on the model of the gift, but the proletarian way 
of giving supersedes the feudal. The bourgeoisie, the class of 
exchange, is the lever which enables the feudal project to be 
overthrown and superseded in the long revolution [1], History 
is the continuous transformation of natural alienation into 
social alienation, and also, paradoxically, the continuous 
strengthening of a countervailing movement which is destined 
to overcome all alienation. The historical struggle against 
natural alienation transforms natural into social alienation, but 
the disalienating movement of history eventually affects social 
alienation itself, and reveals that it is based on magic. This 
magic has to do with privative appropriation. It is expressed 
through sacrifice. Sacrifice is the archaic form of exchange. The 
extreme quantification of exchange reduces human beings to 
objects. From this rock bottom a new type of human relationship, 
involving neither exchange nor sacrifice, can arise [2], 


The bourgeoisie presides over a precarious and none-too-glorious inter- 
regnum between the sacred hierarchy of feudal lords and the anarchistic 
order of the classless societies of the future. The bourgeois no-man’s-land 
of exchange is the uninhabitable region separating the old, unhealthy 
pleasure of giving oneself, in which the aristocrats indulged, from the 
pleasure of giving out of self-love, which new generations of proletarians 
are little by little beginning to discover. 

That there is no such thing as something for nothing is a mantra for 
both capitalism and its seemingly antagonistic progeny. When the USSR 
‘donates’ hospitals and technicians, or the USA ‘donates’ investments and 
good offices, they do so in the same sense that breakfast cereals offer free 
gifts in every box. 



The fact is that the meaning of the gift has been uprooted from 
our minds, our feelings and our actions. Think of Andre Breton and his 
friends handing out roses to the pretty girls on the Boulevard Poissonniere 
and immediately arousing the suspicion and hostility of the public. 

The blighting of human relationships by exchange and compensa- 
tion is obviously tied to the existence of the bourgeoisie. The fact that 
exchange persists in a part of the world where society is said to be class- 
less suggests at the very least that the bourgeoisie continues to rule even 
under the red flag. Meanwhile, wherever industrial working classes are 
to be found, the pleasure of giving marks a clear dividing-line between a 
world of calculation and a world of exuberant festivity. The proletarian 
way of giving is radically at odds, too, with the nobility’s bestowing of 
prestige, hopelessly compromised by the notion of sacrifice. The proletar- 
iat is the genuine bearer of the project of human fulfilment, the project 
of total life; a project which the aristocracy failed— though in the most 
magnificent way— to realize. To give the devil his due, it was the histori- 
cal presence and mediation of the bourgeoisie that opened this future 
up to the proletariat. After all, it is thanks to the technical progress and 
the productive forces developed by capitalism that the proletariat is now 
poised, armed with a scientifically designed plan for a new society, to 
actualize egalitarian visions, utopian dreams of omnipotence and the 
desire to live without dead time. Today everything points up the mission, 
or rather the historical opportunity, of the proletariat: the destruction 
and supersession of feudalism. This it will achieve by trampling the bour- 
geoisie underfoot. The bourgeoisie is fated to have embodied no more 
than a transitional phase in the development of humanity, albeit one 
without which no supersession of the feudal project would have been 
conceivable— an essential phase, therefore, constituting the lever needed 
to topple unitary power, or more specifically to invert and redirect it in 
accordance with the project of the whole human being. The system of 
unitary power was already a world made for the whole human being— as 
the invention of God demonstrates— but for a whole human being stand- 
ing on his head. Humanity had merely to be set back on its feet. 

No liberation was possible prior to the reign of the economic; yet 
under this reign the only economy possible is the abstract economy of 
survival. Spurred by these two truths the bourgeoisie is leading mankind 
on towards the supersession of the economy, towards a point beyond 
history. Putting technology at the service of poetry will not have been 



the meanest of the bourgeoisie’s achievements. This class will never have 
been so great as at the moment of its disappearance. 


Exchange is bound up with the survival of primitive hordes in the same 
way as privative appropriation: together, these two factors are the bedrock 
of the history of mankind up to now. 

When the first humans found that it afforded them greater secu- 
rity in face of a hostile nature, the marking off of hunting grounds laid 
the foundation for the social arrangements that have held us captive 
ever since (see Raoul and Laura Makarius, The Origin of Exogamy and 
Totemism). Early mankind’s unity with nature was essentially magical. 
Humanity truly separated itself from nature only by transforming it 
technologically, and thus deconsecrating it. But the use of technology is 
subordinate to social organization. The advent of tools marked the birth 
of the social, indeed social organization itself was the first viable tool in 
the struggle against nature. Hierarchical in character because it was based 
on privative appropriation, social organization gradually destroyed the 
magical bond between humanity and nature, but it deployed magic for 
its own purposes, creating a mythical unity between itself and humanity 
modelled on humanity’s earlier participation in the mystery of nature. 
Constrained by the ‘natural’ relations of prehistoric times, human social 
organization slowly dissolved this defining and confining framework. 
Seen in this light, history is simply the transformation of natural alien- 
ation into social alienation— a process of disalienation transformed in 
its turn into social alienation: a movement of liberation checked, then 
completely arrested, until such time as the human will for emancipation 
mounts an attack on the entire edifice of paralysing mechanisms, that 
is to say on social organization founded on privative appropriation. This 
new disalienating movement is destined at once to undo history and to 
realize it in new forms of social life. 

The bourgeoisie’s rise to power heralded humanity’s victory over the 
forces of nature. But by the same token hierarchical social organization, 
made necessary by the struggle against hunger, sickness and want, lost 
all justification, and must be held fully responsible for the malaise of 
industrial civilization. Today human beings no longer blame their woes 
on the hostility of nature, but on the tyranny of a perfectly inadequate 
and perfectly anachronistic social system. By destroying the magical 



power of the feudal lords, the bourgeoisie passed judgement on the magic 
of hierarchical power as such. The proletariat will carry out the sentence. 
What the bourgeoisie began in accordance with history will now be 
completed in a way quite at odds with that class’s narrow conception 
of history. But it will once again be a historical struggle, a class struggle, 
that realizes history. 

The principle of hierarchy is the spell that has blocked humanity’s 
path to emancipation and hexed its historical struggles for freedom. 
Henceforward, no revolution will be worth the name if it does not at the 
very least imply the radical elimination of all hierarchy. 


As soon as a band of humans marked out a hunting ground and claimed 
exclusive ownership of it, they found themselves confronted by a hostil- 
ity which was no longer that of wild animals, harsh weather, inhospi- 
table territory, or disease, but rather that of other human groups now 
deprived of the use of the preserve. The law of the animal kingdom— 
destroy the rival group or be destroyed by it— was successfully circum- 
vented by human genius. The chance of survival for primitive commu- 
nities came to depend on pacts, contracts and exchange. Between the 
‘hunting and gathering’ stage and the coming of agriculture, human 
clans were of necessity beholden to three kinds of exchange: the exchange 
of women, the exchange of food, and the exchange of blood. This system 
involved magical thinking, for the invocation of a supreme planner, a 
master of exchange, a power beyond and beneath the contracting parties. 
The birth of gods coincided with the twin birth of sacred myth and hier- 
archical power. 

Of course the exchange was never of equal benefit to the two clans. 
The problem, after all, was to ensure the neutrality of the excluded clan 
without actually giving it access to the hunting preserve. Agricultural 
societies refined these tactics. The excluded, tenants before being 
enslaved, were allowed into the landowning group not as landowners, 
but as their degraded reflection (as witness the notorious myth of the 
Fall), as a mediation between the land and its masters. Their submis- 
sion was obtained through the consistent hold over them of a myth. This 
myth masked not a deliberate intention of the masters (to say so would 
be to credit those masters with a rationality still foreign to them), but 
rather the cunning of exchange— the imbalance in the sacrifice which 



each side agreed to make. To the landowners the excluded made a real 
sacrifice of a significant part of their lives, accepting the owners’ author- 
ity and labouring for them. To the dominated group the masters for 
their part made a mystical sacrifice of their authority and their power as 
owners: they were ready to pay for the well-being of their people. God 
was the underwriter of the transaction and the guardian of the myth. 
He punished those who broke the contract, while those who kept to it 
he rewarded with power: mythical power for those who really sacrificed 
themselves, real power for those who did so mythically. (History and 
mythology both show that the master could go so far as to sacrifice his 
own life to the mythical principle. Paying the price for the alienation 
that he imposed on others indeed strengthened his divine aspect. Before 
long, however, a make-believe execution, or one in which he was replaced 
by a surrogate, released the master from such a hard bargain. When the 
God of the Christians delegated his son to the human world, he supplied 
generations of bosses with a perfect model with which to authenticate 
their own supposed sacrifice.) 

Sacrifice is the archaic form of exchange. It is a magical exchange, 
neither quantified nor rational. It held increasing sway over human 
relations, including commercial ones, until market capitalism with its 
money as measure-of-all-things had carved out such a large sphere of 
influence in the contexts of slavery, feudalism and ultimately bourgeois 
society that the economy emerged as an autonomous zone, a domain split 
off from life. The element of exchange in the feudal gift prevailed with 
the rise of money. The sacrifice-gift or potlatch— the game of exchange or 
loser-takes-all, in which the size of the gift determines the prestige of the 
giver— had barely any place in a rationalized trading economy. Driven out 
of sectors ruled by economic imperatives, the gift found refuge in values 
such as hospitality, friendship and love— oases doomed to disappear as the 
dictatorship of quantified exchange (market value) colonized everyday 
life and turned that too into a market. 

Mercantile and industrial capitalism accelerated the quantification 
of exchange. The feudal gift was rationalized strictly according to the 
model of commerce. Exchange-as-gamble was replaced by calculation. 
The Roman pledge to sacrifice a cock to the gods in exchange for a safe 
voyage was based on a playful principle. Market logic could never grasp 
such disparity in the things being exchanged. Small wonder that the age 
in which a man like Fouquet could ruin himself in order to shine more 



brightly in the eyes of his contemporaries (and to outshine Louis XIV) 
was able to produce a poetry that has disappeared from our times, whose 
model of a human relationship is the exchange of 12.80 francs for 750 
grams of meat. 

So sacrifice came to be quantified, rationalized, weighed and quoted 
on the stock market. But what became of the magic of sacrifice in a world 
of market values? And what became of the magic of power, the sacred 
terror that still impels the model employee to tip his hat to the office 

In a society where the accumulation of novelties and ideologies 
reflects quantities of power consumed, assumed and used up, magical 
relations evaporate and leave hierarchical power as the sole target of 
opposition. The fall of the last bastion of the sacred will mean the end of 
a world— or else the end of the world. That bastion must be brought down 
before it takes humanity down with it in its collapse. 

Systematically quantified (first by money and then by what might 
be called ‘sociometric units of power’), exchange corrupts all human rela- 
tionships, feelings and thoughts. Wherever exchange rules, only things 
remain in a world of human objects frozen in place in the organigrams 
of the cybernetic powers-that-be: a world of reification. Yet paradoxically 
this world can become the launching pad of a complete restructuring of 
all our patterns of life and thought: a zero point whence everything can 
truly begin. 


The feudal mind apparently conceived of the gift as a sort of haughty 
refusal to exchange— a will to deny interchangeability. This attitude went 
hand in hand with a contempt for money and for any common measure. 
True, the principle of sacrifice excluded the pure gift, yet the appeal of 
play, of the gratuitous, of humanity was so powerful that inhumanity, 
religion and solemnity often took second place when it came to such 
preoccupations as war, love, friendship, or hospitality. 

By virtue of the gift of self, the nobility firmly hitched their power 
to the totality of cosmic forces while simultaneously claiming hegemony 
over the totality hallowed by myth. The bourgeoisie for its part bartered 
being for having, destroying the mythical unity of being and the world 
as the basis of Power; the totality fell to pieces. Quasi-rational exchange 
under a production-driven system implicitly equated creativity, reduced 



to labour power, with an hourly wage-rate; quasi-rational exchange 
under the consumption-driven system implicitly equates consumable 
life— life reduced to the activity of consumption— with the quantity of 
power needed to lock consumers into their places in the org charts. The 
sacrifice of the masters was therefore followed by the last stage in the 
history of sacrifice: the sacrifice of experts. In order to consume, the 
expert has others consume according to a cybernetic programme whose 
hyperrational system of exchange will abolish sacrifice— and humanity 
to boot. The day pure exchange comes to regulate the modes of existence 
of the robotic citizens of a cybernetic democracy, sacrifice will cease to 
exist. Objects need no justification to make them obedient. Sacrifice is no 
more part of the programme of machines than it is of the diametrically 
opposed project of the whole human being. 


The crumbling of those human values for which the mechanisms of 
exchange are responsible leads to the crumbling of exchange itself. The 
inadequacy of the feudal gift means that new human relationships must 
be built on the principle of the pure gift. We need to rediscover the pleas- 
ure of giving: giving out of a surfeit of riches, a superabundance of posses- 
sions. What magnificent potlatches the affluent society will witness once 
the exuberant younger generation discovers the pure gift! (The growing 
passion for stealing books, clothes, food, weapons or jewellery for the 
sheer pleasure of giving them away offers a glimpse of what the will to 
live has in store for consumer society.) 

Prefabricated needs call forth the unitary demand for a new way 
of life. Art, which is an economy of lived moments, has been absorbed 
by business. Desires and dreams are now the raw material of market- 
ing. Everyday life has disintegrated into a succession of instants as inter- 
changeable as the gadgets that define them: mixers, stereos, diaphragms, 
euphorimeters, sleeping pills. Everywhere equal particles shimmer in the 
equitably distributed light of Power. So much for equality and justice. An 
exchange of nullities, of restrictions and prohibitions. Nothing happens; 
dead time passes. 

We must renew our acquaintance with the shortcomings of feudal- 
ism— not to correct them but to supersede them. We need to redis- 
cover the harmony of unitary society while stripping it of its divine 
phantom and its sacrosanct hierarchy. What I call the new innocence 



(see Chapter xxiv) is not so very far removed from God’s ordeals and 
judgements; and the inequality of bloodlines is closer to the equality of 
free individuals, irreducible to one another, than to bourgeois equality. 
The cramped style of the aristocracy was nothing but a crude sketch of the 
grand style to be invented by masters without slaves— yet what a world 
away it was from the wretched survival that ravages so many lives today! 

Technology and Its Mediated Use 

Contrary to the interests of those who control its use, technology 
deconsecrates. The democratic reign of consumption strips 
gadgetry of all magical force. Similarly, the reign of the 
technological organization of technology strips the new productive 
forces of their ability to transform and seduce. Organization in 
this sense is thus manifestly nothing but the organization of 
authority [1], Alienated mediations weaken humanity by making 
themselves indispensable. A social mask conceals people and 
things, transforming them, under the present conditions of 
privative appropriation, into dead things— into commodities. Nature 
is no more. Nature cannot be rediscovered— only reinvented as a 
worthy adversary thanks to the construction of new social relations. 
The pathological growth of material paraphernalia bursts the shell 
of the old hierarchical society [2], 


The same shortcomings affect nonindustrial civilizations where people 
still die of hunger and automated civilizations where people already die 
of boredom. Every paradise is artificial. The life of a Trobriand Islander, 
rich in spite of ritual and taboo, is at the mercy of a smallpox epidemic; 
the average Swede’s life, impoverished in spite of its creature comforts, 
is at the mercy of suicide and survival sickness. 

Rousseauism and pastoral dreams accompanied the first throbbings 
of the industrial machine. The ideology of progress of an Adam Smith 
or a Condorcet stemmed from the old myth of the four ages. Just as the 
iron age was thought to lead back into the golden age, it seemed ‘natural’ 
that progress too should embody a recurrence— the return to a prelapsar- 
ian state of innocence. 

Belief in the magical power of technology coexisted not infrequently 
with its opposite, the tendency towards deconsecration. The machine was 
the model of intelligibility: there was no mystery, nothing obscure in its 



drive-belts, cogs and gears, and everything about it could be explained 
perfectly. But the machine was also the miracle supposed to transport 
humanity into a realm of happiness and freedom. This ambiguity, more- 
over, was useful to the machine’s masters: mystical claims about glori- 
ous tomorrows served in various ways to rationalize the exploitation of 
human beings in the present. Thus it was less a desanctifying logic that 
shook people’s faith in progress than the inhuman application of techno- 
logical possibilities and the cheap mystique surrounding it. So long as the 
labouring classes and underdeveloped peoples presented the spectacle of 
a material poverty gradually being relieved, the enthusiasm for progress 
continued to draw ample fodder from the troughs of liberal ideology and 
its extension, socialism. But a century after the spontaneous demystifi- 
cation effected by the loom-breaking workers of Lyons, a general crisis 
erupted, springing this time from the problems of large-scale industry. 
This was the regression known as fascism, with its asinine fantasies of a 
return to craft production and corporatism and its Ubuesque notion of 
an Aryan ‘noble savage’. 

What was once promised by a production-driven society now 
rains down on us in a torrent of consumer goods that nobody is likely 
to mistake for manna from heaven. To hail the magic of gadgetry as 
formerly the magic of productive forces was hailed is a hopeless enter- 
prise. There is something of a laudatory literature on the steam-hammer. 
It is hard to imagine much of the kind on the cake-mixer. The mass 
production of labour-saving devices— all equally revolutionary, accord- 
ing to the ad-men— has given even the most unsophisticated person the 
right to pass judgement on the marvels of technological innovation in 
a way as casually appreciative as a man’s pat on a willing girl’s backside. 
The first landing of humans on Mars will barely distract the attention of 
people at a village fair. 

True, the yoke and harness, the steam engine, electricity, or the 
advent of nuclear energy all disturbed and altered the infrastructure of 
society (even if they were discovered, when all is said and done, almost 
by chance). But today it would be futile to expect the new productive 
forces to transform the mode of production. The blooming of technol- 
ogy has given rise to a synthesizing supertechnology which may prove 
as significant as that first technological synthesis, the social community, 
achieved at the dawn of human history. Even more significant, perhaps— 
for, once wrested from its present masters, cybernetics might well be 



capable of liberating human societies from labour and from social aliena- 
tion. Capable, in other words, of fulfilling the project of Charles Fourier, 
conceived in an age when utopia was still feasible. 

But the gap between Fourier and the cyberneticians in operational 
control of the organization of technology is the gap between freedom 
and slavery. Naturally the cyberneticians will claim that their science is 
already sufficiently developed to solve all the problems raised by any new 
technology. Nothing is less certain. 

In the first place, nothing is to be expected from the ever-evolving 
productive forces, nor from the ever-proliferating mass of consumer 
goods. We hear no dithyrambs to musical air-conditioners, no cantatas 
to the latest solar-powered oven. A fatigue is already setting in, a lassi- 
tude that will obviously, sooner or later, evolve into a critical challenge 
to technological organization itself. 

Secondly, for all its flexibility, the cybernetic synthesis will never 
succeed in hiding the fact that it synthesizes and supersedes nothing 
save all previous forms of authority over human beings— that it is in fact 
merely the highest stage of such authority. How could it ever conceal an 
inherent alienation that no power has ever managed to protect from 
the arms of criticism and the criticism of arms? The relative intelligence 
of the crocodiles in the water makes no difference to the canoeist under 
attack. In seeking to perfect Power, the cyberneticians will only encour- 
age competition among those set on perfecting the rejection of that 
Power. Their programming of new technology will come to grief when 
that technology is repurposed by another kind of organization. A revo- 
lutionary organization. 


Technocratic organization elevates technological mediation to its most 
coherent form. It has long been known that masters appropriate the 
objective world thanks to their slaves, and that tools alienate workers only 
so long as they belong to the bosses. Similarly, in the realm of consump- 
tion, it is not goods per se that alienate but the conditioning that leads 
buyers to choose them, and along with them the ideology in which they 
are packaged. The tool in the case of production and the conditioning 
of choice in that of consumption are the mainstays of deception— the 
mediations which entice humans as producers or consumers into illu- 
sory action and real passivity, so transforming them into essentially 



dependent beings. Commandeered mediations separate individuals from 
themselves, their desires, their dreams and their will to live, nourishing 
the legend that no one can do without them— or without the Power that 
controls them. Where Power fails to paralyse by constraint, it does so by 
suggestion, forcing everyone to use crutches of which it is the sole owner 
and purveyor. As the sum of alienating mediations, Power is counting 
on baptism by the cyberneticians to promote it to the status of a total- 
ity. But there is no such thing as total Power; there are only totalitarian 
powers. Nor could this system ever be consecrated by such risible priests. 

Held captive as it is by alienated mediations (tools, thoughts, false 
needs), the objective world— or nature, if you prefer— is now surrounded 
by a sort of screen which paradoxically makes it more alien to human 
beings even as they transform it— and themselves. The natural world 
is inextricably veiled by social relations. What we call natural today 
is about as natural as ‘natural’ foundation cream. The instruments of 
praxis do not properly belong to the agents of praxis, namely the workers, 
which clearly explains why the opaque zone that separates humanity 
from itself and from nature is itself part of humanity and nature. There 
is no nature waiting to be rediscovered, merely a nature to be remade, 

The quest for a true nature, for a natural life diametrically opposed 
to the lies of social ideology, is one of the most touching naiveties of a 
good part of the revolutionary proletariat, of the anarchists and even of 
such remarkable thinkers as the young Wilhelm Reich. 

So long as exploitation of man by man endures, any real transfor- 
mation of nature presupposes a real transformation of the social lie. At 
no point in their conflict have mankind and nature ever been truly face 
to face. Instead, they have been at once bound together and kept apart 
by the mediation of hierarchical social power and its organization of 
appearances. Transforming nature meant socializing it, but it was badly 
socialized. If all nature is social, it is because history has never known a 
society without Power. 

Is an earthquake a natural phenomenon? It affects people, but it 
affects them only as alienated social beings. What is an earthquake-in- 
itself? What if at this moment, as I write, a seismic tremor alters the 
surface of Sirius but will remain forever unknown to us? What can I do 
with this question except leave it to the doddering metaphysicians in the 
academy or other centres of pure thought? 



And consider death, which likewise strikes people socially. This is not 
just because all the energy and resources swallowed up by military deba- 
cles and by the general anarchy of capitalist and bureaucratic systems 
could meet the desperately needed requirements of the scientific strug- 
gle against death. It is also— and above all— because the death-nurturing 
cauldron of culture is kept on the bubble, with science’s blessing, in 
society’s vast laboratory (stress, nervous tension, social conditioning, 
mystification, toxic therapies, etc.). Only animals are still entitled to die 
a natural death— some of them, at least. 

Could it be that, having detached themselves from the higher animal 
world by virtue of history, humans might actually come to envy animals’ 
closeness to nature? Such is, I think, the rather puerile idea underlying 
the current quest for the ‘natural’. Once refined and redirected, however, 
the basic wish expressed here is for the positive supersession of thirty 
thousand years of history. 

The challenge is to join battle with a nature newly conceived as a 
worthy adversary, or in other words to resocialize nature by liberating 
technology from the toils of alienation, by wresting it from the grip of 
leaders and experts. Only at the end of a process of social disalienation 
will nature become that worthy opponent, in a civilization ‘a thou- 
sand times superior’, where human creativity no longer runs up against 
humanity itself as the first obstacle to its growth. 


Technological organization will not succumb to external forces. Its 
collapse will result from inner decay. So far from being punished for 
its Promethean aspirations, it is dying for never having surpassed the 
master-slave dialectic. Even if the cyberneticians should ever come to 
power, their rule would be far too precarious. Their rosiest vision of their 
own prospects already brings to mind these words from a black worker to 
a white boss: ‘When we first saw your trucks and planes we thought you 
were gods. Then, after a few years, we learnt how to drive your trucks, just 
as we shall soon learn how to fly your planes, and we realized that your 
main concern was manufacturing trucks and planes and making money. 
For us the main thing is using them. Now you are just our blacksmiths.’ 
(Presence Africaine, 1956) 

The Reign of Quantity 

Economic imperatives seek to impose the standardized measuring 
system of commodities on the whole of human activity. Very 
great quantity ought to generate quality, but now even quantity 
is relativized and rationed. Myth is based on quality, ideology on 
quantity. Ideological saturation means an atomization into small 
antagonistic quantities which can no more avoid destroying one 
another than being smashed by the qualitative negativity of popular 
rejection [1], The quantitative and the linear are inseparable. A line 
and measure of time and a line and measure of life define survival: a 
succession of interchangeable instants. These lines are part of the 
ambiguous geometry of Power [2], 


The system of commercial exchange has now come to govern all of 
people’s everyday relations with themselves and with their fellows. Every 
aspect of public and private life is dominated by the quantitative. 

The Merchant in Brecht’s The Exception and the Rule confesses: ‘I 
don’t know what a man is. Only that every man has his price.’ To the 
extent that individuals accept Power and enable it to exist, Power applies 
its own measure to them: it reduces and standardizes them. What is 
the individual to an authoritarian system? A point duly located in its 
perspective. A point that it recognizes, certainly, but recognizes only in 
mathematical terms, in terms of its exact position as plotted relative to 
x- and y- axes. 

The calculation of a human’s capacity to produce or make others 
produce, to consume or make others consume, is the perfect concrete 
expression of the idea so dear to the philosophers (and so revealing as 
to their function) of the measure of man. Even the simple pleasure of a 
drive in the country is widely assessed in terms of miles on the clock, 
speeds reached and petrol consumed. Given the rate at which economic 
imperatives gobble up feelings, desires and needs, and pay cash to corrupt 



them, people will soon be left with nothing but the memory of having 
once existed. History, in which we shall live retrospectively, will be our 
sole consolation for our condition of survival. How can real joy exist in a 
space-time that is measurable and continually measured? Not so much 
as a hearty laugh. At best, the dull satisfaction of the person-who’s-got- 
his-money’s- worth, and who exists by that standard. Only objects can be 
measured, which is why all exchange reifies. 


Any remnants of passionate tension between sexual pleasure and the 
adventurous quest for it are fast disintegrating into a panting succes- 
sion of mechanically repeated gestures whose rhythm offers no hope of 
approaching so much as a semblance of orgasm. The quantitative Eros 
of speed, rapid change, and love-against-the-clock everywhere disfigures 
the face of real pleasure. 

The qualitative is slowly taking on the aspect of a quantitative infin- 
ity, an endless continuum any temporary interruption of which is always 
a negation of pleasure, the fundamental lack of satisfaction of a Don Juan. 
What if, per mirabile, our society were actively to foster such dissatisfac- 
tion, giving full rein to the insatiable appetite for complete licence and 
allowing it to run riot and exert its wild appeal? Who could fail to see a 
certain charm in the life of the idler, a trifle cynical perhaps, but enjoying 
at his leisure everything that can make passivity sweet: a seraglio of beau- 
tiful women, witty and sophisticated friends, refined drugs, exotic meals, 
fiery liquors and sultry perfumes? The style of someone, in other words, 
less inclined to change life than to take refuge in its greatest attractions: 
a sensualist in the grand tradition (as opposed to pigs, who merely give 
the outward appearance of gratification). But not so fast! Today no one 
at all has any such option, for both Eastern and Western societies ration 
quantity itself. Many a captain of industry given just a month to live 
would still refuse to sink his entire fortune into a huge orgy. The morality 
of exchange and profit does not easily release its prey. Capitalist econom- 
ics, even in a jumbo-size package, means parsimony. 

What a stroke of good fortune for mystification that quantity could 
be dressed as quality, and the shining illusion sustained that the construc- 
tion of a multidimensional world was of the order of the possible. But to 
let exchange be subsumed by the gift, to open all doors between heaven 
and earth to every kind of adventure (from that of a Gilles de Rais to 



that of a Dante) was precisely what the bourgeoisie was forbidden to 
do. Precisely what it destroyed in the name of industry and commerce. 
But what an immense nostalgia it thus condemned itself to! A poor yet 
vital catalyst— at once everything and nothing— thanks to which a class- 
less, nonauthoritarian society will realize the dreams of an aristocratic 

In the act of faith, the unitary societies of tribal and feudal times 
possessed a qualitative element of myth and mystification of the great- 
est import. No sooner had the bourgeoisie shattered the unity of Power 
and God than it set about striving to drape in unity’s raiment what in 
its hands was no longer anything but fragments and crumbs of power. 
Without unity, alas, there can be no quality. The triumph of democracy 
meant social atomization. Democracy is the limited power of the great- 
est number— and the power of the greatest number limited. The great 
ideologies quickly abandon faith for numbers. What is the nation? Today 
it amounts to a few thousand war veterans. And what is what Marx and 
Engels used to call ‘our party’? A few million voters and a few thousand 
bill-posters: a mass party. 

In fact ideology’s essence is drawn from quantity: ideas reproduced 
again and again in time (Pavlovian conditioning) and in space (once 
consumers take up the refrain). Ideology, the news media, and culture- 
all tend gradually to shed their content and become pure quantity. The 
less importance a news item has, the more it is repeated, and the more it 
distracts people from their real problems. We are a long way from the Big 
Lie of which Goebbels said that it was the easiest to swallow. Ideological 
hyperbole evinces equal conviction to pitch a hundred books, a hundred 
washing powders, a hundred political ideas, each of which it promotes 
in turn as far and away the best. Even in the ideological realm quantity 
is destroyed by quantity itself: conditioning is inevitably eroded by its 

Could this possibly open an avenue back to power of the qualita- 
tive, a power that can move mountains? Far from it: self-contradictory 
conditioning is prone to produce trauma, inhibition, or a radical refusal 
to be brainwashed further. True, ideology can parry this by leaving condi- 
tioned individuals choices between lies, by raising spurious questions, 
false dilemmas. But such feeble distractions count for precious little 
in view of the survival sickness to which consumer society exposes its 



At any instant boredom can breed an unanswerable rejection of 
uniformity. Recent events in Stockholm, Amsterdam, and Watts have 
shown how the merest pretext can precipitate salutary uprisings. What 
an immense quantity of oft-repeated lies can be swept away by a single 
burst of revolutionary poetry! From Villa to Lumumba, from Stockholm 
to Watts, qualitative agitation— agitation that radicalizes the masses 
because its source is the radicalism of the masses— effectively pushes back 
the frontiers of submission and brutishness. 


In unitary regimes the sacred was the mortar of a social pyramid in 
which each particular being, from lord to serf, had their assigned place 
in accordance with the will of Providence, the order of the world and 
the King’s pleasure. The cohesion of this structure was doomed to disap- 
pear, dissolved by the corrosive criticism of the youthful bourgeoisie, 
but as we know the shadow of the divine hierarchy lingered on. The 
dismantling of the pyramid, so far from eliminating inhumanity, merely 
fragmented it. A myriad of diminutive beings emerged, each seemingly 
absolute: little ‘citizens’ set in motion by the process of social atomiza- 
tion. An inflated egocentric imagination turned the substance of a single 
point into a universe in its own right, likewise thousands of other points, 
loose monads, all free, equal and fraternal, scurrying hither and thither 
like so many ants whose elegant labyrinthine nest has been overturned. 
There were severed lines everywhere, haywire since the disappearance 
of God deprived them of a point of convergence, lines getting entangled 
or breaking up in apparent disorder; but apparent only, for, make no 
mistake, despite the anarchy of competition and individualistic isola- 
tion, class and caste interests soon solidified and framed a new geometry 
able to rival the old divine one and chafing to achieve a like coherence. 

But the coherence of unitary power, while based on the divine 
principle, is a palpable one, experienced intimately by each individual. 
Paradoxically, the material principle of fragmentary power can support 
only an abstract coherence. How could the organization of economic 
survival possibly be a seamless replacement for an immanent, omnipres- 
ent God incessantly called upon to vet acts as trivial as breaking bread or 
sneezing? Even if we grant that a secular government, with some help 
from the cyberneticians, might vie with the omnipotence (in any case 
quite relative) of the feudal mode of domination, what could replace 



(and how?) the mythic and poetic ambience that once enveloped the life 
of socially cohesive communities, providing them in some sense with a 
third dimension? No, the bourgeoisie is well and truly caught in the trap 
of its own semirevolution. 

Ill III 

The quantitative and the linear are inseparable. Quality is polyvalent, 
quantity unequivocal. The life we have now is broken up— a broken line. 

The radiant ascent of the soul towards heaven has given way to a 
ridiculous preoccupation about the future. No moment radiates now 
as moments did in the cyclical time of earlier societies. Time for us is a 
thread: from cradle to grave, from memories of the past to anticipations 
of the future, an endless survival strings out its succession of instants 
and hybrid presents, all gnawed at by the time that slips away and the 
time yet to come. The feeling of living in symbiosis with cosmic forces— a 
sense of simultaneity— vouchsafed joys to our forebears that our way of 
passing through the world can scarcely provide. What remains of such a 
joy? All we have is the headiness of our transit, of our efforts to keep in 
step with the times. You must move with the times— or so we are told by 
those who profit if we do. 

Not that we should lament the cyclical time of old, which emanated 
from a mystical source. Rather, we should refocus it: centre it in the 
human being, not in the Divine Animal. At present man is not the centre 
of time, but merely a point in it. Time is made up of a succession of such 
points, each taken, independently of all the others, as an absolute, but an 
absolute endlessly repeated and rehashed. Because they are located along 
the same line, all actions and all moments assume equal importance. An 
epitome of the prosaic. Under the reign of quantity, everything is much 
of a muchness. These absolutized fragments are all quite interchangeable. 
Detached from one another— and hence separated from human beings 
themselves— the moments of survival follow and resemble one another 
just like the specialized attitudes that correspond to them, namely roles. 
Making love or riding a motorcycle— it’s all the same. Each moment 
follows a stereotype, and fragments of time carry off fragments of human 
beings into an unalterable past. 

What is the good of stringing pearls to make a necklace of memories? 
If only the weight of the pearls would snap the thread! But no: moment 
by moment, time deepens its pit; everything is lost, nothing is created . . . 



What I want is not a succession of instants but one huge moment. A 
totality that is lived, and lived in innocence of duration. Time in which 
I merely endure is no more than the time of my growing old. And yet, 
since one must survive in order to live, virtual moments, possibilities, 
are necessarily rooted in that time. By striving to federate moments, to 
invest them with pleasure, to release their promise of life, we are already 
learning to ‘construct situations’. 


Individual survival-lines cross, collide and cut one another off. Each 
imposes its limits on the freedom of others; projects cancel one another 
out in the name of their autonomy. Such is the basis of the geometry of 
fragmentary power. 

We think we are living in the world, when in fact we are taking our 
place in a perspective: no longer the simultaneous perspective of primi- 
tive painters, but that of the rationalists of the Renaissance. It is hardly 
possible for looks, thoughts and gestures to resist the attraction of the 
distant vanishing point which orders and alters them, situating them in 
its spectacle. Power is the great city planner. It lets off survival in public 
and private parcels, buys up cleared lots cheap, and permits no construc- 
tion that does not meet its standards. Its own constructions are designed 
to strip individuals of everything. Its monolithic style is the envy of its 
actual builders of cities, who ape it assiduously as they replace the old 
mumbo-jumbo architecture of the sacred hierarchy with stockbroker 
belts, white-collar districts and workers’ housing projects (like Mourenx). 

The reconstruction of life and the rebuilding of the world: the self- 
same quest. 

XI Mediated Abstraction and 
Abstracted Mediation 


Reality is imprisoned in metaphysics today just as it was once 
imprisoned in theology. The way of seeing which Power imposes 
'abstracts’ mediations from their original function, which is to 
extend the requirements of lived experience into the real world. But 
mediation never completely loses contact with direct experience: 
it resists the magnetic pull of the authoritarian principle. The point 
where resistance begins is the look-out post of subjectivity. Until 
now, metaphysicians have merely organized the world in various 
ways; our problem is to change it in opposition to them [1], The 
reign of guaranteed survival is slowly undermining belief in Power's 
necessity [2], This signals a growing rejection of the forms which 
govern us, a rejection of their ordering principle (3). Radical theory, 
which is the only guarantee of the coherence of such a rejection, 
penetrates the masses by extending their spontaneous creativity. 
'Revolutionary' ideology is radical theory co-opted by the rulers. 
Words lie at the frontier between the will to live and its repression; 
their meaning is determined by the way they are employed; the way 
they are employed is governed by history. The historical crisis of 
language foreshadows its supersession by the poetry of action, by 
the great game over signs [*)]. 


What is it that diverts me when, in search of myself, I end up losing 
my way? What is this supposedly protective screen that separates me 
from myself? And how can I ever find myself in the mass of fragments 
of which I am composed? I am beginning to experience some kind of 
doubt that I shall ever properly grasp my own self. It is as though my 
path were already marked out in front of me, as though my thoughts 
and feelings were cleaving to the forms of a mental landscape which they 
fancy they are creating, but which is in fact moulding them. An absurd 
force— all the more absurd for being part of the rationality of the world 



and hence seemingly incontestable— obliges me to leap continually for 
a solid ground that my feet have never left. And this vain reaching for 
myself effectively robs me of my present: for the most part I live out of 
step with what I am, in harmony only with a dead time. 

People are far too unperturbed, it seems to me, by the way in which 
the world, in certain periods, assumes the forms of the prevailing meta- 
physics. No matter how bizarre belief in God and the Devil may be, this 
phantom pair become a living reality the moment a social group deems 
them sufficiently present to inspire the text of its laws. In the same 
way, the obtuse distinction between cause and effect has been able to 
govern societies where human behaviour and phenomena in general 
are analysed in such terms. Even now nobody should underestimate the 
power of the misbegotten dichotomy between thought and action, theory 
and practice, real and imaginary . . . Such ideas have organizational force. 
The world of falsehood is a real world; people kill and get killed there, and 
we had best not forget it. Scoff as we may at the degeneration of philoso- 
phy, the philosophers of today can continue to smirk at us from behind 
their mediocre ideas, secure in the knowledge that the world is still a 
philosophical construction, a huge ideological junk-room. We survive 
in a metaphysical landscape. The abstract, alienating mediation that 
estranges me from myself is terribly concrete. 

Grace, a feature of God bestowed upon man, has outlived God 
himself. Secularized, metaphysical now rather than theological, it is 
still implanted in the individual like a guiding spirit, an internalized 
government agency. By hanging the monstrous Superego above the 
doorway of the ego, Freudian imagery fell prey less to oversimplifica- 
tion than to a refusal to look further and identify the social origin of 
constraints. (Reich for his part understood this well.) Oppression rules 
because humans are divided not only among themselves but also within 
themselves. What separates us from our selves and weakens us attaches 
us artificially to Power, which, taken as protector and as father, is much 

‘Mediation’, says Hegel, ‘is nothing other than self-moving identity 
with self.’ But self-movement can also mean self-loss. And when he adds, 
‘It is the moment of dying and becoming’, not a word needs changing for 
the formulation to have radically different meanings depending on the 
perspective in which it is placed: that of totalitarian Power or that of the 
whole human being. 



No sooner does mediation escape my control than steps I had felt to 
be mine lead me into strange and inhuman territory. Engels discerningly 
showed that a stone, a fragment of nature alien to man, became human 
as soon as it extended the hand by serving as a tool (and the stone in its 
turn humanized the hand of the hominid). Yet, once appropriated by a 
master, an employer, a planning commission or a governing body, the 
tool’s meaning is changed: it deflects the action of its user towards other 
purposes. And what holds for tools holds for all mediations. 

Just as God served as a looking-glass for human beings, the magnet- 
ism of the principle of authority succeeds in capturing the largest possi- 
ble number of mediations. Power is the sum of alienated and alienating 
mediations. It fell to science (scientia theologiae ancilla) to convert the 
divine illusion into operational information, into organized abstraction— 
thus underscoring the etymology of the word: ab-trahere, to draw out of. 

The energy expended by individuals in pursuit of self-fulfilment, as 
they seek to project themselves into the world according to their desires 
and dreams, is suddenly braked, suspended, switched onto other tracks, 
co-opted. The normal stage of accomplishment is forced onto another 
plane, out of the realm of lived experience into that of the transcendental. 

But the mechanism of abstraction is never purely and simply compli- 
ant with the principle of authority. However diminished humans may be 
by the theft of their mediations, they still enter the labyrinth of Power 
armed with the aggressive will of a Theseus. If they lose their way, it is 
because they have already lost the sweet Ariadne’s thread that attaches 
them to life, to the will to be oneself. Only a continuous relationship 
between theory and living praxis can sustain the hope of ending all duali- 
ties, ushering in the era of totality, and abolishing the power exercised 
by man over man. 

The human course is not diverted towards inhumanity without 
resistance, without a fight. As for the field of combat, it is always to be 
found where direct experience is extended in the immediate— in sponta- 
neity. I am not saying that the ‘abstraction’ of mediations must be coun- 
tered by some wild or so to say ‘instinctive’ spontaneity; that would be 
merely to reproduce on a higher level the fatuous choice between pure 
speculation and mindless activism, the disjunction of theory and prac- 
tice. Rather, the appropriate tactical response is to attack at the precise 
spot where the plunderers of lived experience lie in wait, at the frontier 
between the initiation of the act and its perverted outcome, at the very 



moment when spontaneous action is gobbled up by misinterpretation 
and misunderstanding. At such moments the briefest imaginable over- 
view is opened up, a crystallization of consciousness that illuminates 
both the demands of the will to live and the fate that social organization 
has in store for them: lived experience and its co-optation by the authori- 
tarian machine. The point where resistance begins is the look-out post 
of subjectivity. For identical reasons, my knowledge of the world exists 
effectively only from the moment when I transform that world. 


Power’s mediation bludgeons the immediate continually. Of course, the 
idea that an act cannot be carried through in the totality of its implica- 
tions faithfully reflects the reality of a deficient world, a world of nonto- 
tality; but at the same time it strengthens the metaphysical view of the 
facts— i.e., the official misrepresentation of them. Common sense has 
embraced such claims as ‘You have to have leaders’, ‘Without authority 
mankind would sink into barbarism and chaos’, and so on and so forth. 
So thoroughly, indeed, has habit mutilated human beings that they 
mistake self-mutilation for obedience to a law of nature. And perhaps the 
suppression of the memory of self-loss is what clamps them most tightly 
into the pillory of submission. At all events, it befits the slave mentality 
to equate Power with the only possible form of life, namely survival. And 
naturally it suits the masters’ purposes to encourage such sentiments. 

In mankind’s struggle for survival, hierarchical social organization 
unquestionably marked a decisive step forward. At one point in history 
human groups secured their best, perhaps their only prospect of self- 
preservation by cohering around a leader. But survival was ensured only 
at the price of a new alienation: the safeguard was a prison, preserving 
life but preventing growth. Feudal regimes displayed this contradiction 
with brutal clarity: serfs, half-human and half-beast, existed side by side 
with a privileged caste a handful of whose members aspired as individu- 
als to a genuinely exuberant and vigorous life. 

The feudal worldview cared little about survival as such: famines, 
plagues and massacres swept millions of beings from that best of all 
worlds without unduly disturbing generations of literati and refined 
hedonists. For the bourgeoisie, by contrast, survival is the raw material 
of its economic interests. Nourishment and material subsistence are 
the inevitable drivers of trade and industry. Indeed it is not excessive to 



view the primacy of the economy— that axiom of bourgeois thought— as 
the very source of that class’s renowned humanism. If the bourgeoisie 
prefers human beings to God, it is because only human beings produce 
and consume, supply and demand. The divine universe, which is preeco- 
nomic, has as much reason to incur bourgeois disapprobation as the 
posteconomic world of the whole human being. 

By sating survival needs, however, and even artificially inflating 
them, consumer society awakens a new appetite for life. Once both 
survival and work are guaranteed, the old safeguards become obstacles. 
Not only does the struggle to survive prevent us from living, but once it 
becomes a struggle without real demands it begins to challenge survival 
itself: what was paltry becomes precarious. Survival has grown so fat 
that if it doesn’t shed its skin it will be asphyxiated, and smother us all 
in the process. 

The protection once guaranteed by feudal lords lost its raison d’etre 
as soon as the mechanical solicitude of gadgetry brought the necessity for 
slavery, at least theoretically, to an end. The deliberately fostered terror of 
a thermonuclear apocalypse is the ultima ratio of today’s leaders. Peaceful 
coexistence underwrites their existence, but the existence of the rulers 
by no means guarantees the continued existence of humanity. Power no 
longer protects the people; rather, it protects itself against each and every 
individual. A spontaneous creation of inhumanity by human agency, 
Power is now nothing more than an inhuman barrier to creativity. 


Whenever the total and immediate consummation of an action 
is deferred, Power is confirmed in its function of grand mediator. 
Spontaneous poetry, on the other hand, is antimediation par excellence. 

Broadly speaking, it is true to say that the characterization of the 
bourgeois or Soviet forms of fragmentary power as a ‘sum of constraints’ 
is becoming less and less apt as these systems come to depend increas- 
ingly upon alienating mediations. Ideological hypnosis is replacing the 
bayonet. This perfected mode of government bears a marked resemblance 
to the computers of the cyberneticians. Following the prudent directives 
of the Left’s technocrats and specialists, an electronic Argus is doing away 
with small-time intermediaries— with spiritual leaders, putschist gener- 
als, Stalino-Francoists and other descendants of Ubu— as it plans and 
constructs its absolutism of well-being. But the more mediations are 



alienated, the more the thirst for immediacy rages— and the more the 
savage poetry of revolution tramples down frontiers. 

At its highest stage, authority will achieve the union of abstract and 
concrete. The guillotine may still be at work, but Power is already busy 
abstracting. The very face of the world, as illuminated by Power, is being 
reorganized according to a metaphysics of reality; and what manna from 
heaven for Power to have the ever-dutiful philosophers lining up in their 
new uniforms as technocrats, sociologists, and experts in this or that. 

The pure form haunting social space is the now clear prospect of the 
death of humanity. This is the neurosis before necrosis, survival sick- 
ness spreading slowly as lived experience is replaced by images, forms, 
objects— as alienated mediations reify lived experience like madrepores 
building a reef. It is a man or a tree or a stone— to borrow Lautreamont’s 
prescient words. 

Gombrowicz for his part pays well-deserved homage to Form, Power’s 
old procuress, now promoted to the place of honour among agencies of 
government: ‘. . . you have never managed properly to appreciate, or 
to make others appreciate, the role, and the important role, of form in 
your own lives. Even in psychology you have not given form the place 
to which it is entitled. Hitherto we have always considered the feelings, 
instincts, or ideas which govern our conduct, and regarded form as at the 
most a harmless, ornamental accessory. When a widow weeps behind 
her husband’s hearse, we think she does so because she feels her loss so 
keenly. When an engineer, doctor, or lawyer murders his wife, his chil- 
dren, or a friend, we think that he was driven to it by violent and blood- 
thirsty instincts. When a politician in a public speech expresses himself 
stupidly, deceitfully, or pettily, we say he is stupid because he expresses 
himself stupidly. But the real situation is this: a human being does not 
externalize himself directly and immediately in conformity with his own 
nature; he invariably does so by way of some definite form; and that form, 
style, way of speaking and responding, do not derive solely from him, 
but are imposed on him from without— and the same man can express 
himself sometimes wisely, sometimes foolishly, bloodthirstily or angeli- 
cally, maturely or immaturely, according to the form, the style presented 
to him by the outside world, the pressure put on him by other men . . . 
The time has come, the hour has struck on the clock of ages. Try to set 
yourself against form, try to shake free of it. Cease to identify yourself 
with that which defines you.’ ( Ferdydurke ) 




In his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx writes that ‘theory also 
becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses. Theory is 
capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem, 
and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. To be 
radical is to grasp the root of the matter. But, for man, the root is man 

In short, radical theory grips the masses because it emanates from 
them in the first place. As a repository of spontaneous creativity, its task 
is to ensure the striking power of that creativity: revolutionary technique 
at the service of poetry. Any analysis of insurrections past or present that 
does not incorporate a will to resume the struggle more coherently and 
more effectively plays willy-nilly into the hands of the enemy, joining 
forces with the dominant culture. Talk of revolutionary moments that 
does not help generate more such moments in short order is simply not 
pertinent— a criterion well worth applying, incidentally, to the wander- 
ing bellringers of the ‘planetary’ Left led by the likes of Kostas Axelos 
and company. 

Those who call a halt to revolutions are always the first in line to 
explain why to revolution’s architects. They have reasons for explaining 
themselves just as good, to put it mildly, as their reasons for aborting 
the process. When theory escapes the makers of a revolution, it ends up 
barring their way. Instead of gripping them, it dominates and conditions 
them. Whatever the people fail to advance by force of arms advances 
the forces of those who disarm them. The revolution as ‘explained’ by 
gunfire to the Kronstadt sailors or the followers of Makhno— that too was 
Leninism. Not theory but ideology. 

Whenever leaders monopolize theory, it changes in their hands into 
ideology, into an ad hominem argument against mankind itself. Radical 
theory stems from the individual, in being qua subject, gripping the 
masses through what is most creative in each person, through subjec- 
tivity, through the will to self-fulfilment. Ideological conditioning, by 
contrast, is the technical manipulation of the inhuman, of the weight of 
things. It turns human beings into objects with no meaning external to 
the Order in which they have their place. It assembles them in order to 
isolate them, making the crowd into a multiplicity of solitudes. 

Ideology is false language, radical theory true language. The conflict 
between them— the conflict between humans and the element of 



inhumanity that humanity secretes— presides over the transformation 
of the world into human reality but also over its transmutation into 
metaphysical reality. Everything that human beings do and undo passes 
through the mediation of language. The semantic realm is one of the 
main battlefields in the struggle between the will to live and the spirit 
of submission. 


The fight is unfair. Words are better servants of Power than human beings 
are users of words; words serve Power more faithfully than most humans, 
and more scrupulously than other mediations— space, time, technol- 
ogy and so on. For all supersession depends on language and develops 
as a system of signs and symbols (words, dance, ritual, music, sculpture, 
architecture, etc.). When a half-completed action which has suddenly 
been obstructed seeks to proceed in a new form that should sooner or 
later eventuate in its completion and realization— rather as a genera- 
tor transforms mechanical energy into electrical energy that will then 
be reconverted into mechanical energy by a motor miles away— at this 
very moment language swoops down on lived experience, takes it captive, 
robs it of its substance: in sum, it abstracts it. And language always has 
categories ready and waiting to render incomprehensible and nonsensical 
whatever does not fit into them and to usher whatever resides in the void, 
because it still has no place in the reigning Order, into existence under 
Power’s aegis. The repetition of familiar signs is the foundation of ideology. 

At the same time, nonetheless, people strive to use words and signs 
to complete their aborted actions. Because they do so, there is such a 
thing as poetic language: a language of lived experience which, for me, is 
inseparable from the radical theory which grips the masses and becomes 
a material force. Even co-opted and turned against its initial aims, poetry 
finds sooner or later finds its way to fulfilment. The watchword ‘Workers 
of the World Unite!’ may have helped construct the Stalinist state, yet 
one day it will underpin the classless society. No poetic sign is ever defini- 
tively commandeered by ideology. 

The language that diverts radical actions, creative actions— human 
actions par excellence — from their fulfilment becomes antipoetry, which 
defines Power’s linguistic function, its information technology. The 
information produced in this way is a model of false communication, 
the communication of the inauthentic, the nonlived. We may safely 



say, it seems to me, that the moment language fails to obey the push 
towards fulfilment it falsifies communication, no longer communicat- 
ing anything save the false promise of truth that we call a lie. But this 
lie is the truth of what destroys me, infects me with its virus of submis- 
sion. Signs are the vanishing points of the two opposed perspectives 
which carve up the world and define it: the perspective of power and the 
perspective of the will to live. Each word, idea or symbol is a double agent. 
Some, like the word ‘fatherland’, or the policeman’s uniform, usually 
work for authority; but make no mistake, when ideologies clash or simply 
begin to wear out, the most mercenary sign can become a good anarchist 
(think of the splendid title that Bellegarigue chose for his newspaper: 
L’Anarchie, Journal de I’Ordre). 

For the dominant semiological system— which is that of the domi- 
nant castes— all signs are mercenary signs, and, as Humpty Dumpty says, 
when the master makes a word do a lot of work he pays it extra. But, deep 
down, every mercenary dreams of killing the King some day. Condemned 
as we are to a diet of lies, let us learn to spike them with a drop of acid 
truth. Let our model be the agitator, who invests his words and signs so 
forcefully with living reality that all the others are pulled along in their 
wake: an exemplary repurposing of language. 

In a general way, the fight for language is the fight for the freedom 
to live. For a reversal of perspective. The battle is between metaphysical 
facts and real facts, which is to say between facts conceived of as static, as 
part of a system of interpretation of the world, and facts grasped in their 
unfolding by a praxis that transforms them. 

Power cannot be overthrown as a government is overthrown. A 
united front against authority covers the whole spectrum of everyday 
life and enlists the vast majority of people. Savoir-vivre means knowing 
how not to give an inch in the struggle against renunciation. Let nobody 
underestimate Power’s ability to force-feed its slaves with words to the 
point where they become slaves to those words themselves. 

What weapons does each of us have at our disposal to defend our 
freedom? Here are three: 

(a) ‘Information’ revised, converted into poetry: the news decoded, 
official terminology translated (so that ‘society’, in the anti-Power 
perspective, becomes a ‘racket’ or a ‘zone of hierarchical power’); this 
might eventually give rise to a glossary or encyclopaedia— Diderot was 
well aware of the value of such a project, as were the Situationists. 



(b) Free dialogue, which is the language of the dialectic: open-ended 
and all nonspectacular kinds of discussion. 

(c) What Jakob Boehme called ‘sensual speech’ (sensualische Sprache), 
because it was ‘an unclouded mirror of the senses’. The author of The Way 
to Christ goes on: ‘Spirits speak to each other only in sensual speech, and 
have no need for any other form of speech, because this is the Speech of 
Nature.’ In the context of what I have called the re-creation of nature, the 
language Boehme talks of may clearly be seen as the language of sponta- 
neity, of ‘doing’, of individual and collective poetry; language centred on 
the project of self-fulfilment, leading lived experience out of the ‘caverns 
of history’. There is a connection here too with what Paul Brousse and 
Ravachol meant by ‘propaganda by the deed’ . 


There is a silent communication; it is well known to lovers. In this arena 
language seems to lose its importance as essential mediation, thought is 
no longer a distraction (in the sense of leading us away from ourselves), 
and words and signs become a sort of bonus, a luxury, an extravagance. 
Think of lovers billing and cooing, of the baroque quality of their cries 
and caresses— so absurd to those who do not share the intoxication. 
Lehautier was also referring to a sort of direct communication when 
the judge asked him which anarchists he knew in Paris: ‘Anarchists’, he 
replied, ‘don’t need to know one another to think the same thing.’ In 
radical groups able to reach the highest level of theoretical and practi- 
cal consistency, words will, just occasionally, come to operate as they do 
in play or in lovemaking, suggesting an identity between the erotic and 

An aside. It has often been noted that history sometimes proceeds 
backwards, and this is confirmed once more when words become super- 
fluous, as in language-play. A baroque current runs through the history 
of thought, making fun of words and signs with the subversive intention 
of disturbing the semiological order and indeed Order in general. The 
tradition of assaults on language which stretches from the fatraisies of 
the Middle Ages to Jean-Pierre Brisset by way of the iconoclast hordes was 
most fully epitomized by the Dadaist explosion. In 1916, the desire to have 
it out with signs, thought and words catalysed a real crisis of communica- 
tion for the first time. The liquidation of language, so often undertaken 
in a speculative way, now at last found the way to its historical realization. 



So long as the age kept a solid faith in the transcendent force of 
language and in God, master of all transcendence, any doubt raised over 
signs was tantamount to terrorism. But once the crisis in human rela- 
tions shattered the unitary web of mythical communication, the attack 
on language took on a revolutionary cast. So much so that it is tempting 
to say, as Hegel might have, that the degeneration of language chose Dada 
as the medium through which to reveal itself to human consciousness. 
Under unitary regimes the self-same desire to play with signs had had no 
repercussions; it was betrayed, so to speak, by history. By denouncing the 
falsity of communication, Dada opened the era of language’s superses- 
sion in the quest for poetry. Today both the language of myth and the 
language of spectacle are surrendering to the reality which underlies 
them: the language of facts. This language, embodying the critique of all 
modes of expression, also embodies its own self-criticism. Pity the poor 
sub-Dadaists ! Because they have not understood the supersession that 
Dada necessarily implies, they continue to complain that we are engaged 
in a dialogue of the deaf. (Naturally, their complaining guarantees them 
a well- filled trough in the spectacle of cultural degeneration.) 


The language of the whole man will be a whole language: perhaps even 
the end of the old language of words. Inventing such a language means 
reconstructing human beings right down to their unconscious. The total- 
ity is hacking its way through the fractured nontotality of thoughts, 
words and actions towards itself. But we shall have to go on speaking 
until facts allow us to be silent. 

The Impossibility of Fulfilment: 
Power as Sum of Seductions 

As constraint breaks people , and mediation makes fools 
of them, the seduction of Power makes their wretchedness 
attractive. In consequence people forgo their true riches (a) for 
a cause that cripples them (xn); (b) for a fictitious unity that 
fragments them (xiii); (c) for appearances that reify them 
(xiv); for roles that wrest them from authentic life (xv); 
and for a time that slips away, taking them with it (xvi). 

XII Sacrifice 

There is such a thing as a reformism of sacrifice that is really just a 
sacrifice to reformism. Humanist self-mutilation and fascist self- 
destruction both leave us nothing— not even the option of death. 

All causes are equally inhuman. But the will to live raises its voice 
against this epidemic of masochism wherever there is the slightest 
pretext for revolt: beneath what appear to be partial demands, 
that will is at work preparing a nameless revolution, the revolution 
of everyday life [1], The refusal of sacrifice is the refusal to be 
bartered: human beings are not exchangeable. As of now, three 
areas have been prepared as fall-back positions for the defence 
of voluntary self-sacrifice, namely art, grand human virtues of the 
past, and the present [2], 


Where people are not broken— and broken in— by force and fraud, they are 
seduced. As a means of seduction Power deploys internalized constraints 
based on lies and cloaked in a clear conscience: the masochism of the 
model citizen. To this end castration had perforce to be called selflessness, 
and a choice of servitudes freedom. The feeling of ‘having done one’s 
duty’ makes everyone into their own honourable executioner. 

As I showed in ‘Basic Banalities’ ( Internationale Situationniste 7-8, 
1962-63), the master-slave dialectic implies that the mythical sacrifice 
of the master subsumes the real sacrifice of the slave: masters makes a 
spiritual sacrifice of their real power to the general interest, while slaves 
make a material sacrifice of their real life to a Power of which they 
partake in appearance only. The framework of generalized appearances 
or, if you prefer, the essential lie required initially for the development 
of privative appropriation (the appropriation of things by means of the 
appropriation of beings) is an intrinsic aspect of the dialectic of sacri- 
fice, and the root of the notorious separation that it entails. The mistake 
of the philosophers was that they built an ontology and the notion of 



an unchanging human nature on the basis of a mere social accident, a 
purely contingent necessity. History has been seeking to eliminate priva- 
tive appropriation ever since the conditions which called for it ceased 
to exist. But the metaphysical maintenance of the philosophers’ error 
continues to work to the advantage of the masters, the ‘eternal’ ruling 


The misfortune of sacrifice is inseparable from that of myth. Bourgeois 
thought exposes the materiality of myth, deconsecrating and fragment- 
ing it. It does not abolish it, however, for otherwise the bourgeoisie 
would cease to exploit— and hence to exist. The fragmentary spectacle 
is simply one phase in the disintegration of myth, a process accelerated 
today by the dictatorship of the consumable. Similarly, the old sacrifice- 
gift ordained by cosmic forces has shrivelled into a sacrifice-exchange 
minutely metered in terms of social security and social-democratic 
justice. And sacrifice attracts fewer and fewer devotees, just as fewer and 
fewer people are seduced by the miserable show put on by ideologies. The 
fact is that today’s tiny private masturbations are a feeble replacement 
indeed for the orgiastic heights offered by eternal salvation. How could 
hoping for a promotion conceivably vie with the wild dream of life ever- 
lasting! Our only gods are heroes of the fatherland, heroes of the shop- 
floor, heroes of the Frigidaire, heroes of fragmented thought. How are 
the mighty fallen! 

Nevertheless. The knowledge that an ill’s end is in sight is cold 
comfort when you still have to suffer it in the moment. And the praises 
of sacrifice are still sung on every side. The air is filled with the sermon- 
izing of red priests and ecumenical bureaucrats. Vodka mixed with holy 
water. Instead of a knife between our teeth we have the drool of Jesus 
Christ on our lips. Sacrifice yourselves joyfully, brothers and sisters! For 
the Cause, for Order, for the Party, for Unity, for Meat and Potatoes! 

The old socialists were wont to say, ‘You think you are dying for 
your country, but really you are dying for Capital’. Today their heirs are 
berated in similar terms: ‘You think you’re fighting for the proletariat, 
but really you die for your leaders’. ‘You are not building for the future; 
men and steel are the same thing in the eyes of the Five-Year Plan.’ And 
yet, what do today’s Young Turks of the Left do after chanting such 
slogans? They enter the service of a Cause— the ‘best’ of all Causes. The 



time they have for creative activity they squander handing out leaflets, 
sticking up posters, demonstrating, or heckling local politicians. They 
become militants, fetishizing action because others are doing their think- 
ing for them. Sacrifice has an endless succession of tricks up its sleeve. 

The finest Cause is one in which individuals can lose themselves 
body and soul. The principles of death are just the denial of the princi- 
ples of the will to live. But either death or life must prevail. There is no 
middle way, no possibility of compromise between them on the level 
of consciousness. One must be entirely for the one or entirely for the 
other. The fevered supporters of an absolute Order— Chouans, Nazis, 
Carlists— have always shown with unwavering consistency that they are 
on the side of death. As a party line, the slogan iViva la Muerte! could 
hardly be clearer. By contrast, our reformists of death in small doses— our 
ennui-promoting socialists— cannot even claim the dubious honour of 
an aesthetic of total destruction. All they can do is mitigate the passion 
for life, stunting it to the point where it turns against itself and changes 
into a passion for destruction and self-destruction. They oppose concen- 
tration camps, but only in the name of moderation— moderate power 
and moderate death. 

Great scorners of life that they are, the partisans of absolute self- 
sacrifice to State, Cause or Fuhrer do have one thing in common with 
those whose passion for life challenges the ethos and techniques of renun- 
ciation: though antithetical, their sense of jubilation is equally acute. For 
them it is as though life, being so festive in its essence but tormented by 
a monstrous asceticism, resolves to end it all by distilling all the splen- 
dour of which it has been robbed into a single instant: legions of puritans, 
mercenaries, fanatics, death squads— all experience a moment of bliss as 
they die. But this is a fete macabre, frozen, caught for eternity in a camera 
flash, aestheticized. The paratroopers that Marcel Bigeard speaks of leave 
this world through the portal of aesthetics: they are statue-like figures, 
mineralized, conscious perhaps of their ultimate hysteria. For aesthet- 
ics is carnival paralysed, petrified, as cut off from life as a Jibaro head: 
the feast of death. The aesthetic element here, moreover, the element of 
pose, corresponds to the element of death secreted by everyday life. Every 
apocalypse is beautiful, but this beauty is dead. Remember the Song of 
the Swiss Guard that Louis-Ferdinand Celine taught us to love. 

The end of the Commune was no apocalypse. The difference between 
the Nazis dreaming of bringing the world down with them and the 



Communards leaving Paris to the flames is the difference between total 
death brutally affirmed and total life brutally denied. The Nazis merely 
activated a mechanism of logical annihilation already set up by human- 
ists preaching submission and abnegation. The Communards knew that 
a life once constructed with passion cannot be reduced piece by piece; 
that there is more satisfaction in destroying such a life than in seeing 
it mutilated; and that it is better to go up in flames with a glad heart 
than to give an inch, when giving an inch is the same thing as complete 
surrender. ‘Better die on our feet than live on our knees!’ Despite its 
repulsive source— the lips of the Stalinist Ibarruri— it seems to me that 
this cry eloquently expresses the legitimacy of a particular form of suicide, 
a good way of taking leave. And what was right for the Commune holds 
good for individuals. 

Let us have no more suicide from weariness, which comes like a final 
sacrifice crowning all those that have gone before. Better one last laugh 
a la Cravan, or one last song a la Ravachol. 


Revolution ceases to exist from the moment one must sacrifice oneself 
for it. From the moment one must lose oneself in it and fetishize it. 
Revolutionary moments are carnivals in which the individual life cele- 
brates its unification with a regenerated society. The call for sacrifice in 
such a context is a death knell. Jules Valles was unworthy of himself when 
he wrote: ‘So long as the submissive live no longer than the rebellious, 
one might as well rebel in the name of an idea.’ For a militant can only 
be a revolutionary in spite of the ideas he has agreed to serve. The real 
Valles was the Valles who fought for the Commune— the sometime child, 
sometime student making up in one long Sunday for the endless weeks 
of his past. Ideology is the rebel’s tombstone. Its purpose is to prevent his 
coming back to life. 

When rebels start believing that they are fighting for a higher good 
the authoritarian principle is bolstered. Humanity has never been short 
of justifications for giving up the human. In fact some people possess a 
veritable reflex of submission, an irrational terror of freedom; this maso- 
chism is everywhere visible in everyday life. With what galling ease we 
give up a wish, a passion, the most essential parts of ourselves. With what 
passivity, what inertia, we accept living or acting for something, or rather 
some thing — a word whose dead weight seems to prevail everywhere. It 



is hard to be oneself, so we give up readily, seizing on whatever pretext 
we can: love of children, of reading, of artichokes, etc, etc. The wish for a 
remedy evaporates in face of the abstract generality of the ill. 

And yet the impulse to freedom also knows how to make use of 
pretexts. Even a strike for higher wages or a riot in the streets can awaken 
the carnival spirit. As I write, thousands of workers around the world 
are downing tools or picking up guns, ostensibly in obedience to direc- 
tives or principles, but actually, at the profoundest level, in response to 
their passionate desire to change their lives. The unstated agenda of every 
insurrectionary movement is the transformation of the world and the 
reinvention of life. No theorist formulates these demands; rather, they 
are the sole foundation of poetic creativity. Revolution is made every day 
despite, and indeed in opposition to the specialists of revolution. This 
revolution is nameless, like everything that springs from lived experience. 
Its explosive integrity is forged continuously in the everyday clandestin- 
ity of acts and dreams. 

No problem bothers me so much as an issue I confront all day long: 
how can I invent a passion, fulfil a wish or construct a dream in the 
daytime in the way my mind does spontaneously as I sleep? What haunts 
me are my unfinished actions, not the future of the human race, nor 
the state of the world in the year 2000, nor the future conditional, nor 
polishing up abstractions. If I write, it is not, as they say, ‘for others’; 
nor is it to be exorcised of others’ demons. I string words together as a 
way of getting out of the well of isolation, because I need others to pull 
me out. I write out of impatience, and with impatience. I am seeking 
to live without dead time. I want to know nothing of others save that 
which concerns me directly. Let them free themselves of me just as I free 
myself of them. We have a common project. But it is out of the question 
that the project of the whole human being should require individuals 
to be diminished. There are no gradations in castration. The apolitical 
violence of the younger generation, and their contempt for the inter- 
changeable goods on offer in the supermarkets of culture, art and ideol- 
ogy, are a concrete confirmation of the fact that individual fulfilment 
depends on the application of the principle of ‘every man for himself, 
although this has to be understood in collective terms— and above all in 
radical terms. 

At that stage in a piece of writing where we used to look for explana- 
tions, I would like us from now on to find a settling of scores. 




The refusal of sacrifice is the refusal to be bartered. There is nothing in 
the world of things, exchangeable for money or not, that is equivalent to 
a human being. The individual is irreducible: subject to change but not 
to exchange. The scantest examination of movements for social reform 
shows that they have never demanded anything beyond a purification of 
exchange and sacrifice, making it a point of honour to humanize inhu- 
manity and make it attractive. But whenever slaves try to make their 
slavery more bearable they come to the rescue of their masters. 

The ‘road to socialism’ consists in this: as people become more and 
more tightly shackled by the sordid relations of reification, the pressure 
from humanitarians to cripple them in an egalitarian fashion grows 
ever more insistent. And while the deepening crisis of the virtues of self- 
abnegation and dedication spurs us on towards radical refusal, there are 
sociologists— those policemen of modern society— eager to erect a barrier 
in the shape of a subtler kind of sacrifice, namely art. 


The great religions succeeded in turning people’s wretched earthly exist- 
ence into a time of voluptuous expectation: at the end of this valley of 
tears lay life eternal in God. Art, in the bourgeoisie’s conception of it, is 
more entitled than God to bestow eternal glory. The art-in-life-and-in- 
God of unitary social systems (Egyptian statuary, African art, etc.) was 
succeeded by an art which complemented life and sought to make up for 
the absence of God (fourth-century Greece, Horace, Ronsard, Malherbe, 
the Romantics, etc.). The builders of cathedrals cared no more for poster- 
ity than did Sade. Their salvation was guaranteed by God, as Sade’s was 
guaranteed by himself: neither needed a place in the museum of history. 
Both strove for a supreme state of being, not for the temporal survival of 
their work or for the admiration of centuries to come. 

History is the earthly paradise of bourgeois spirituality. This realm 
is reached not through commodities but through apparent gratuity, 
through the sacrifice attending the work of art, through activity not 
constrained by any immediate need to increase capital. The philan- 
thropist does good works; the patriot performs heroic deeds; the soldier 
contrives victory; the poet or scholar creates works of literary or scientific 
value; and so on. But there is an ambiguity in the very idea of ‘creating 
a work of art’, for it embraces both the lived experience of the artist and 



the abandonment of this experience to an abstraction of substantial crea- 
tion, namely the aesthetic form. The artist sacrifices the lived intensity 
of the creative moment in exchange for the durability of what he creates, 
so that his name may live on in the funereal glory of the museum. But 
is not the desire to produce a durable work the very thing that prohibits 
the creation of imperishable instants of life? 

As a matter of fact, setting aside strictly academic art, artists never 
fall entirely prey to aesthetic co-optation. Though they may abdicate 
their immediate experience for the sake of beautiful appearances, all 
artists (and anyone who tries to live is an artist) are driven by the desire 
to increase their tribute of dreams to the objective world of others. In this 
sense they entrust the thing they create with the mission of completing 
their personal fulfilment within their social group. And in this sense 
creativity is revolutionary in its essence. 

The function of the ideological, artistic and cultural spectacle is to 
turn the wolves of spontaneity into the sheepdogs of knowledge and 
beauty. Literary anthologies are replete with insurrectionary writings, 
the museums with calls to arms. So thoroughly does history pickle them 
in durability, however, that we omit to see or hear them. But in this area 
consumer society has abruptly stepped in to perform a salutary task of 
dissolution. Today art can construct only plastic cathedrals. The dictator- 
ship of consumption ensures that every aesthetic collapses before it can 
produce any masterpieces. Premature demise is fundamental to consum- 
erism; the imperfection of an automobile ensures its rapid replacement. 
For art work to be a sudden aesthetic sensation, it has merely to offer 
some transient novelty to the spectacle of artistic disintegration. Bernard 
Buffet, Georges Mathieu, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Pop Art, pop music— all are 
available for casual purchase in the department stores. Betting on the 
perennial value of an art work is much like betting on the eternal value 
of stock in Standard Oil. 

When the most forward-looking sociologists finally grasped the fact 
that the worth of the art object was now nothing but its market price, and 
that the once vaunted creativity of the artist was now beholden to the 
norms of profitability, they decided that we should return to the source of 
art, to everyday life— not in order to change it, of course, for such was not 
their mandate, but rather to make it the raw material for a new aesthetic 
that would defy packaging techniques and so remain independent of 
buying and selling. As though there were no such thing as consuming 



on the spot! The result? Sociodramas and happenings which supposedly 
allow spectators to participate in an unmediated way. All they partici- 
pate in, however, is an aesthetic of nothingness. The only thing that can 
be expressed in the mode of the spectacle is the emptiness of everyday 
life. And indeed, what better commodity than an aesthetic of emptiness? 
Has not the accelerating disintegration of values itself become the only 
available form of entertainment? The trick is that the spectators of the 
cultural and ideological vacuum are here enlisted as its organizers, thus 
filling the spectacle’s vacuousness by forcing its spectators— passive agents 
par excellence— to play their part. The ultimate logic of the happening 
and its derivatives is to supply the society of masterless slaves which the 
cyberneticians have planned for us with the spectatorless spectacle it will 
require. For artists in the strict sense, the road to complete co-optation 
is well posted: they have merely to follow Georges Lapassade and his ilk 
into the great corporation of specialists. They may be sure that Power will 
reward them well for applying their talents to the job of dressing up the 
old conditioning to passivity in seductive new colours. 

From Power’s perspective, everyday life is just a latticework of renun- 
ciations and mediocrity. A true void. An aesthetic of everyday life would 
make us all into artists responsible for organizing this nothingness. The 
final spasm of official art will be the attempt to lend therapeutic features 
to what Freud, in a dubious simplification, referred to as the death 
instinct— in other words rapturous submission to authority. The cruci- 
fied Toad of Nazareth casts his shadow wherever the will to live fails to 
spring spontaneously from individual poetry. Regression to artistic forms 
defined by the spirit of sacrifice can never awaken the artist in every 
human being. Everything has to be begun again from the beginning. 


The Surrealists— or some of them at any rate— understood that the only 
genuine supersession of art lay in direct experience, in works that no 
ideology could assimilate into its internally consistent lie. They came to 
grief, of course, precisely because of their complaisant attitude towards 
the cultural spectacle. Admittedly, the current decay of thought and art 
has made the danger of aesthetic co-optation much less than it was in the 
1930s. The present state of affairs can only favour Situationist agitation. 

Much wailing has gone on— since Surrealism’s demise, in fact— over 
the disappearance of idyllic relationships such as friendship, love and 



hospitality. But make no mistake: all this nostalgia for the more human 
virtues of the past answers to one thing and one thing only, namely the 
impending need to revive the idea of sacrifice, which has been coming 
under too heavy a fire. The fact is that there will never be any friendship, 
or love, or hospitality, or solidarity, so long as self-abnegation rules— and 
enhances the attraction of inhumanity. Here is an anecdote of Brecht’s 
that makes the point perfectly. To illustrate the proper way of doing a 
service for friends, and to entertain his listeners, Herr K. used to tell the 
following story. Three young men once came to an old Arab and said: ‘Our 
father is dead. He left us seventeen camels, but he laid down in his will 
that the eldest son should have a half, the second son a third, and the 
youngest a ninth part of his possessions. Try as we might, we cannot agree 
on how to divide up the camels. So we should like to leave it up to you to 
decide.’ The old man thought it over before replying: ‘I see that you need 
another camel before you can share them out properly. I have mine, just 
one, but take it, divide the beasts up, and bring me back whatever you 
have left over.’ The young men thanked him for his kind offer, took his 
camel and divided up the eighteen animals as follows: the eldest took a 
half, which was nine camels, the second son took a third, which was six, 
and the youngest took his ninth, which was two. To everyone’s surprise, 
there was still one camel remaining, and this they promptly returned 
with renewed thanks to their old friend. According to Herr K., this was 
the perfect example of the correct way to do a friend a service, because 
nobody had to make a sacrifice. Here is a model which should be made 
axiomatic and strictly applied to everyday life as a whole. 

It is not a question of opting for the art of sacrifice as opposed to 
the sacrifice of art, but rather of putting an end to sacrifice as art. The 
triumph of an authentic savoir-vivre and of the construction of authenti- 
cally lived situations exists everywhere as a potentiality, but everywhere 
these tendencies are perverted by distortions of the human. 


The sacrifice of the present may well turn out to be the last stage of a rite 
that has maimed humanity since its beginnings. Our every moment 
crumbles into bits and pieces of past and future. We never really give 
ourselves over completely to what we are doing, except perhaps in orgasm. 
Our present is defined by what we are going to do and what we have 
done: we construct it against a background of endless dissatisfaction. 



In collective as in individual history, the cult of the past and the cult 
of the future are equally reactionary. Everything that has to be built 
has to be built in the present. According to a popular belief, the drown- 
ing man relives his whole life at the instant of his death. For my part I 
am convinced that we have intense flashes of lucidity which distil and 
remake our entire lives. Future and past are docile pawns of history 
which merely cover up the sacrifice of the present. I want to exchange 
nothing— not for a thing, not for the past, not for the future. I want to 
live intensely, for myself, grasping every pleasure firm in the knowledge 
that what is radically good for me will be good for everyone. And above 
all I would offer one watchword: Act as though there were no tomorrow.’ 

XIII Separation 

Privative appropriation, the basis of social organization, keeps 
individuals separated from themselves and from others. Artificial 
unitary paradises seek to conceal this separation by more or less 
successfully co-opting people's prematurely shattered dreams of 
unity. To no avail. Between the pleasure of creation and the pleasure 
of destruction there is nothing but an oscillation that destroys Power. 

People live separated from one another, separated from what they are in 
others, and separated from themselves. The history of humanity is the 
history of one basic separation which precipitates and determines all the 
others: the social distinction between masters and slaves. By means of 
history human beings strive to join together and achieve unity. The class 
struggle is but one stage, though a decisive one, in the struggle for the 
whole human being. 

Just as the ruling class has every reason in the world to deny the 
existence of the class struggle, so the history of separation is necessarily 
indistinguishable from the history of its concealment. This mystification 
results less from a deliberate intent than from a long-drawn-out and 
confused battle in which the desire for unity is transformed more often 
than not into its opposite. Whatever fails to end separation completely 
reinforces it. When the bourgeoisie came to power, it shed fresh light on 
the factors which divide humanity in this most essential way by laying 
bare separation’s social and material character. 


What is God? The guarantor and quintessence of the myth that justifies 
the domination of man by man. This repellent invention has no other 
raison d’etre. As myth disintegrates and gives way to the stage of the spec- 
tacle, what Lautreamont called the Great External Object is shattered by 
the forces of social atomization and degenerates into a God-for-intimate- 
use-only— a sort of salve for social diseases. 



At the high point of the crisis brought on by the end of classical 
philosophy and of the ancient world, Christianity’s genius successfully 
subordinated a newly conceived mythic system to one fundamental prin- 
ciple: the doctrine of the Trinity. What is the meaning of this dogma of 
the Three in One, which caused so much ink and blood to flow? 

In soul man belongs to God, in body to the temporal authority, 
and in mind or spirit to himself. His salvation depends on his soul, his 
freedom on his mind, and his earthly existence on his body. The soul 
envelops body and mind, and without the soul these are as nothing. 
This surely seems on closer inspection to be an analogy for the union of 
master and slave under the principle of man envisaged as a divine crea- 
ture. The slave is the body, the labour-power appropriated by the lord; 
the master is the mind, which as governor of the body invests it with a 
small part of its higher essence. The slave sacrifices himself in body to 
the power of the master, while the master sacrifices himself in spirit to 
the community of his slaves (the king serves his people: de Gaulle serves 
France: the Church washes the feet of the poor). The slave abdicates his 
earthly life in exchange for the feeling of being free, that is, for the spirit 
of the master come down into him. Consciousness mystified is conscious- 
ness of myth. The master makes a notional gift of his master’s power to 
all those whom he governs. By drowning the alienation of bodies in the 
subtler alienation of the spirit, he economizes on the amount of violence 
needed to maintain servitude. Thus the slave identifies in spirit, or at least 
he may, with the master to whom he gives up his life force. But whom 
can the master identify with? Not with his slaves qua possessions, qua 
bodies, certainly: rather, with his slaves qua emanation of the spirit of 
mastery itself, of the master supreme. Since the individual master must 
sacrifice himself on the spiritual plane, he must find something within 
the coherent mythic system to serve as recipient of his sacrifice, an idea 
of mastery-in-itself of which he partakes and to which he submits. The 
historically contingent class of masters had thus to create a God to bow 
down to spiritually and with whom to identify. God validated both the 
master’s mythic sacrifice to the public good and the slave’s real sacri- 
fice to the master’s private and privative power. God is the principle of 
all submission, the night which makes all crimes lawful. The only truly 
illegal crime is the refusal to accept a master. God is a harmony of lies, an 
ideal form uniting the slave’s voluntary sacrifice (Christ), the consent- 
ing sacrifice of the master (the Father; the slave as the master’s son), and 



the indissoluble link between them (the Holy Spirit). The same tripartite 
model underlies the ideal picture of man as a divine, unitary and mythic 
creature with which humanity is supposed to identify: a body subordi- 
nated to a guiding spirit working for the greater glory of the soul — the soul 
being the all-embracing synthesis. 

We thus have a type of relationship in which two terms derive their 
meaning from an absolute principle, from an obscure and inaccessible 
norm of unchallengeable transcendence (God, blood, holiness, grace, etc). 
Innumerable dualities of this type were kept bubbling for century after 
century like a good stew on the fire of mythic unity. Then the bourgeoi- 
sie took the pot off the fire and was left with nothing but a vague nostal- 
gia for the warmth of the unitary myth and a set of cold and flavourless 
abstractions: body and spirit, being and consciousness, individual and 
society, private and public, general and particular, etc., etc. Paradoxically, 
driven by its class interests, the bourgeoisie destroyed the unitary myth 
and its tripartite structure to its own detriment. The aspiration to unity, 
so cleverly fobbed off by the mythic thinking of unitary regimes, did not 
disappear along with those regimes: on the contrary, it became all the 
more urgent as the material nature of separation became clearer and 
clearer in people’s consciousness. By laying bare the economic and social 
foundations of separation, the bourgeoisie supplied the arms destined to 
end separation once and for all. At the same time, the end of separation 
means the end of the bourgeoisie along with all hierarchical power. This 
is why no ruling class or caste finds it possible to effect the transforma- 
tion of feudal unity into real unity, into genuine social participation. 
This mission can be accomplished only by the new proletariat, which 
must forcibly wrest the third force (spontaneous creation, poetry) from 
the gods, and keep it alive in the everyday life of all. The transient period 
of fragmentary power will then be seen in its true light as a moment of 
insomnia in a long slumber, as the zero point prerequisite to the reversal 
of perspective, as the purchase needed for the leap of supersession. 


History bears witness to the struggle waged against the unitary princi- 
ple and to the ways in which a dualistic reality began to emerge. The 
challenge was voiced to begin with in a theological language, the official 
language of myth. Later the idiom became that of ideology, the idiom of 
the spectacle. In their preoccupations, the Manichaeans, the Cathars, the 



Hussites, the Calvinists and all the rest have much in common with such 
figures as Jean de Meung, La Boetie or Vanino Vanini. We find Descartes 
desperately locating the soul, for want of any better place, in the pineal 
gland. The Cartesian God is a funambulist balancing for some perfectly 
unaccountable reason atop a perfectly intelligible world. Pascal’s, by 
contrast, hides himself from view, so depriving humanity and the world 
of a foundation without which they are reduced to meaningless confron- 
tation, each being gauged by reference to the other, or in other words by 
reference to nothing. 

By the close of the eighteenth century the fabric was rending in all 
directions as the process of disintegration began to speed up. This was 
the beginning of the era of Tittle men’ in competition. Fragments of 
human beings claimed the status of absolutes: matter, mind, conscious- 
ness, action, universal, particular— what God could mend all this broken 

The spirit of feudal lordship found an adequate justification in 
transcendence. But a capitalist God is an absurdity. Whereas lordship 
implied a trinitarian system, capitalist exploitation is dualistic. Moreover, 
it cannot be severed from the material nature of economic relations. 
The economic realm is no mystery: the nearest things to miracles here 
are the element of chance in the functioning of the market and the 
perfect agency of computerized planning. Calvin’s rational God has far 
less drawing power than the loans with interest that Calvinism author- 
izes so readily. As for the God of the Anabaptists of Munster and of the 
revolutionary peasants of 1525, he was a primitive expression of the irre- 
pressible thrust of the masses towards a society of whole human beings. 

The mystical leader did not simply turn into a factory owner; the 
feudal lord did not mutate into a boss. Once the mysterious superiority 
of blood and lineage was abolished, nothing remained but a mechanics 
of exploitation and a race for profit with no justification but themselves. 
Boss and worker are separated not by any qualitative distinction of birth 
but merely by quantitative distinctions of money and power. Indeed, 
what makes capitalist exploitation so repulsive is the very fact that it 
occurs between ‘equals’. The rule of the bourgeoisie— quite unintention- 
ally, needless to say— justifies every kind of revolution. People no longer 
mystified no longer obey. 




Fragmented Power separates to the point where even the human beings 
over which it holds sway are split asunder. Simultaneously the unitary 
lie breaks down. The death of God democratizes the consciousness of 
separation. What was the despair of the Romantics if not an agonized 
outcry against this rift? Today we see it in every aspect of life: in love, 
in the human gaze, in nature, in our dreams, in reality. The tragedy of 
consciousness evoked by Hegel would be more accurately described as a 
consciousness of tragedy. We find such a consciousness in revolutionary 
form in Marx. Far less dangerous, from Power’s point of view, is Peter 
Schlemiel going in search of his own shadow so as to forget that he is 
really a shadow in search of a body. The bourgeoisie’s invention of artifi- 
cial unitary paradises is a more or less successful defensive reflex meant to 
retrieve the old enchantment and revive prematurely shattered dreams 
of unity. 

Thus in addition to the great collective onanisms— ideologies, illu- 
sions of being together, herd mentalities, opiums of the people— we are 
offered a whole range of marginal solutions lying in the no-man’s-land 
between the permissible and the forbidden: individualized ideology, 
obsession, monomania, unique (and hence alienating) passions, drugs 
and other highs— alcohol, the cult of speed and rapid change, of rarefied 
sensations, etc. All these pursuits allow us to lose ourselves completely 
while preserving the impression of fulfilment; their corrosiveness stems 
above all from their partial character. The passion for play is no longer 
alienating if the person who gives himself up to it seeks play in every 
aspect of life— in love, in thought, or in the construction of situations. In 
the same way, the wish to kill is no longer megalomania if it is combined 
with revolutionary consciousness. 

Unitary palliatives thus entail two risks for Power. In the first place 
they fail to satisfy, and in the second they tend to foster the will to build 
a real social unity. Mystical elevation towards unity led only to God; by 
contrast, horizontal historical progression towards a dubious spectacular 
unity is infinitely finite. It creates an unlimited appetite for the absolute, 
yet its quantitative nature is limiting by definition. Its mad rush, there- 
fore, must sooner or later debouch into the qualitative, whether in a 
negative way or— should a revolutionary consciousness prevail— through 
the transformation of negativity into positivity. Granted, the negative 
road does not lead to self-fulfilment: rather, it plunges us into self-disso- 
lution. Madness deliberately sought, the voluptuousness of crime and 



cruelty, the convulsive lightning of perversity— such are the enticing 
paths open to those prepared to embrace self-destruction unhesitatingly. 
To take them is to align oneself with unusual zeal to the gravitational 
pull of Power’s own tendency to dismember and destroy. But if it is to 
endure, Power must shackle its destructiveness: a good general may lead 
his men towards annihilation, but not the whole way. It remains to be 
seen whether nothingness can be doled out drop by drop. Rationing 
the pleasure to be derived from self-destruction bids fair to bring down 
the very Power that sets the limits. We have only to consider Stockholm 
or Watts to see that negative pleasure is forever on the point of tipping 
over into total pleasure— a little shove, and negative violence releases its 
positivity. I firmly believe that all pleasure embodies the search for total, 
unitary satisfaction, in every sphere— a fact which I doubt Huysmans had 
the humour to see when he solemnly described a man with an erection 
as ‘insurgent’. 

The complete unchaining of pleasure is the surest route to the revo- 
lution of everyday life, to the construction of the whole human being. 

XIV The Organization of Appearances 

The organization of appearances is a system for shielding the facts. 
A racket. It represents the facts in a mediated reality to prevent 
immediate reality from presenting them. Unitary power organized 
appearances as myth. Fragmentary power organizes appearances 
as spectacle. Under fire, the coherence of myth became the 
myth of coherence. Worsened by history, the incoherence of the 
spectacle turned into the spectacle of incoherence [thus Pop Art 
is at once a current example of consumable degeneracy and the 
expression of the current degeneration of consumption] [1], The 
poverty of 'the drama' as a literary genre goes hand in hand with 
the colonization of social space by theatrical attitudes. Enfeebled 
on the stage, theatre battens on everyday life and attempts to 
dramatize everyday behaviour. Roles are moulds into which lived 
experience is poured. The job of enhancing roles is assigned to 
specialists [2], 


According to Nietzsche, the ‘ideal world’ is a construct based on a lie: 
‘Reality has been deprived of its value, its meaning, its veracity to the 
same degree as an ideal world has been fabricated. . . . The lie of the ideal 
has hitherto been the curse of reality; through it mankind itself has 
become mendacious and false down to its deepest instincts— to the point 
of worshipping the inverse values to those which alone could guarantee 
it prosperity and a future, the exalted right to a future.’ What can the 
lie of the ideal be if not the truth of the masters? When theft needs legal 
justification, when authority waves the banner of the general interest 
in order to pursue private ends with impunity, is it any wonder that 
the lie captures minds, so distorting people by shaping them to its Taws’ 
that their very deformity comes to resemble a natural human attitude? 
It is true that human beings lie because in a world governed by lies they 
cannot do otherwise: they are themselves false, and shackled by their 



falsehood. As for common sense, it supports nothing except the decree 
against the truth promulgated in everyone’s name. Common sense is the 
lie codified and vulgarized. 

All the same, nobody lies groaning under the yoke of inauthentic- 
ity twenty-four hours a day. In the case of the most radical thinkers, the 
mendacity of words may secrete revelatory flashes of truth; similarly, 
there are very few everyday alienations that are not dispelled at least for 
an instant, for an hour, for the duration of a dream, by subjective rebut- 
tal. Just as no one is ever completely hoodwinked by what is destroying 
them, words are never utterly in thrall to Power. Merely prolonging tran- 
sient moments of truth, the tip of the iceberg of subjectivity, will suffice 
to sink the Titanic of the lie. 


After shattering myth, the tide of material reality has washed the frag- 
ments out to sea. Once the driving force of this tide, the bourgeoisie will 
end up as so much foam drifting out along with all the other flotsam. 
When he describes the backlash effect whereby the King’s hired assassin 
returns in due time to carry out his orders upon the one who gave them, 
Shakespeare seems to give us a curiously prophetic account of the fate 
reserved for the class that killed God. Once the hired killers of the estab- 
lished order lose their faith in the myth, or, if you will, in the God who 
legalizes their crimes, the machinery of death no longer recognizes its 
master. In this sense revolution was the bourgeoisie’s finest invention. It 
is also the running noose which will help it take its leap into oblivion. It 
is easy to see why bourgeois thought, strung up as it is on a rope of radi- 
calism of its own making, clings with the energy of desperation to every 
reformist solution, to anything that can lengthen its reign, even though 
its own weight must inevitably drag it down to its doom. Fascism is in a 
way the herald of this ineluctable fall. It resembles the aesthete dreaming 
of dragging the whole world down with him into the abyss, lucid as to 
the death of his class but a sophist when he announces the inevitability 
of universal annihilation. Today this mise en scene of death chosen and 
refused lies at the core of the spectacle of incoherence. 

The organization of appearances aspires to the immobility of the 
shadow of a bird in flight. But this aspiration, bound up with the ruling 
class’s efforts to solidify its power, amounts to no more than a vain hope 
of escaping from the course of history. There is, however, an important 



difference between myth and its fragmented, deconsecrated avatar, the 
spectacle, with respect to the way each resists reality’s critique. The 
varying importance assumed in unitary systems by artisans, merchants 
and bankers explains the continual oscillation in these societies between 
the coherence of myth and the myth of coherence. With the triumph of the 
bourgeoisie something very different happens: by introducing history 
into the arsenal of appearances, the bourgeois revolution historicizes 
appearances and thus makes the shift from the incoherence of the spectacle 
to the spectacle of incoherence an irreversible one. 

In unitary societies, whenever the merchant class, with its disre- 
spect for tradition, threatened to deconsecrate values, the coherence of 
myth would give way to the myth of coherence. What does this mean? 
What had hitherto been taken for granted had suddenly to be vigor- 
ously reasserted. Spontaneous faith gave way to loudly professed faith 
and respect for the great of this world had to be preserved by resort to 
the principle of absolute monarchy. I hope closer study will be given to 
those paradoxical interregnums of myth during which the bourgeoisie 
may be seen striving to sanctify its rise by means of a new religion and 
by self-ennoblement, while the nobility embraces the directly opposite 
strategy of wagering on an impossible transcendence (I am thinking of 
the Fronde here, and also of Heraclitean dialectic and Gilles de Rais). The 
aristocracy had the elegance to turn its last words into a witticism; the 
bourgeoisie’s disappearance from the scene will be accompanied only 
by the solemnity of bourgeois thought. As for the forces of revolution- 
ary supersession, surely they have more to win from light-hearted death 
than from the dead weight of survival. 

Undermined by the critical effect of the fascism of the facts, the 
myth of coherence has proved unable to establish a new mythic coher- 
ence. Appearances— the mirror in which human beings hide their 
own choices from themselves— shatter into a thousand pieces and fall 
into the public realm of individual supply and demand. The demise 
of appearances means the end of hierarchical power— a facade ‘with 
nothing behind it’. There can be no doubt as to this final outcome. The 
French Revolution was barely over before God-substitutes turned up at 
deep-discount prices. First came the Supreme Being and the Bonapartist 
concordat, and then, hard on their heels, nationalism, individualism, 
socialism, national socialism, and a host of neo- isms— not to mention the 
individualized dregs of every imaginable hand-me-down Weltanschauung 



and the thousands of portable ideologies offered as free gifts every time 
you buy a TV, a cultural artefact or a box of detergent. In due course the 
disintegration of the spectacle entails the resort to the spectacle of disin- 
tegration. It is in the logic of things that the last actor should film his 
own death. As it happens, the logic of things is the logic of what can be 
consumed, and sold as it is consumed. Pataphysics, sub-Dada, and the 
mise-en-scene of impoverished everyday life line the road that leads us 
with many a twist and turn to the last graveyards. 


The development of the drama as a literary genre repeatedly illuminates 
the question of the organization of appearances. After all, a play is the 
simplest form of that organization, and, in a sense, a set of instruc- 
tions for it. The earliest theatrical productions were indeed nothing else, 
intended as they were to reveal the mystery of transcendence to mankind. 
The gradual desanctification of theatre produced the template for later, 
spectacular stage management. Aside from the machinery of war, all 
ancient machines were responses to the needs of the theatre. The crane, 
the pulley and other hydraulic devices started out as theatrical parapher- 
nalia; only much later did they revolutionize production relations. It is a 
striking fact that, no matter how far we go back in time, the domination 
of the earth and of human beings seems to depend on techniques which 
serve the purposes not only of work but also of illusion. 

The birth of tragedy was already a narrowing of the arena in which 
early humans and their gods faced off in a cosmic dialogue. It meant a 
distancing, a putting in parentheses, of magical participation, which was 
now organized according to a refracted version of the principles of initia- 
tion, and no longer according to the rites themselves. What emerged was 
a spectaculum, a thing seen, while the gradual relegation of the gods to 
the role of mere props seemed to presage their eventual eviction from the 
social scene as a whole. Once mythic relationships had been dissolved by 
secularizing tendencies, tragedy was superseded by drama. Comedy is a 
good indicator of this transition: with all the vigour of a completely new 
force, its corrosive humour devastated tragedy in its dotage. Moliere’s 
Don Juan and the parody of Handel in John Gay’s Beggar's Opera bear 
eloquent testimony to this. 

With the rise of the drama, human society replaced the gods on the 
stage. And while it is true that nineteenth-century theatre was merely 



one form of entertainment among others, we must not let this obscure 
the fact that during this period theatre left the theatre, so to speak, and 
colonized the entire social arena. The cliche which likens life to a play seems 
to evoke a fact so obvious as to need no examination. The carefully main- 
tained conflation of life and play-acting brooks no discussion. Yet what 
is natural about the fact that I stop being myself a hundred times a day 
and slip into the skin of people whose concerns and significance I have 
really not the slightest desire to assume? Not that I might not choose to 
be an actor on occasion— to play a role for diversion or pleasure. But this 
is not the type of role-playing I have in mind. The actor supposed to play 
a condemned man in a realist play is quite free to remain himself: herein 
lies, in fact, the paradox of fine acting. The freedom he enjoys obviously 
stems from the fact his physical being is not threatened by any sneering 
executioner; the threat is directed solely at the stereotypical image that 
he creates by means of his dramatic technique and flair. The roles played 
in everyday life, by contrast, permeate individuals, distancing them from 
what they are and what they really want to be; they are nuclei of aliena- 
tion embedded in the flesh of lived experience. At this point the game is 
over: there is no more ‘playing’. The function of stereotypes is to dictate to 
each person on an individual (even an ‘intimate’) level the same things 
that ideology imposes collectively. 


Piecemeal conditioning has replaced the ubiquitous conditioning of 
divinity, for Power must now call upon a host of minor forms of brain- 
washing in its attempt to attain the quality of the law and order of old. 
This means that prohibitions and lies have been personalized, and bear 
down hard on each individual to force them into an abstract mould. 
It also means that from one point of view— that of the government of 
human beings— progress in human knowledge improves the mechanisms 
of alienation: the more we see ourselves through official eyes, the greater 
our alienation. Science is a rationale for the police. It teaches how much 
torture people can endure before they die, and above all to what degree a 
person may be turned into a heautontimoroumenos, a dutiful self-torturer. 
It teaches how to become a thing while still retaining a human appear- 
ance, and this in the name of a certain appearance of humanity. 

The greatest victories of cinema and its personalized version, tele- 
vision, are not won on the battlefield of ideas. They have little effect 



on public opinion. Their influence works in a quite different way. An 
actor on the stage impresses the audience by the general thrust of his 
gestures and by the conviction with which he delivers his lines; on the 
big or little screen, the same character is broken down into a sequence of 
exact details each of which affects the spectator in a separate and subtle 
way. This is a school of perception, a lesson in dramatic art in which a 
particular facial expression or motion of the hand supplies thousands 
of viewers with a supposedly adequate way of expressing particular feel- 
ings, wishes, and so on. Through the still rudimentary technology of 
the image, individuals thus learn to model their existential attitudes on 
identikit portraits cobbled together by psycho-sociologists. Their most 
personal tics and idiosyncrasies become the means whereby Power inte- 
grates them into its schemata. The poverty of everyday life reaches its 
nadir when choreographed in this way. Just as the passivity of consum- 
ers is an active one, so the passivity of spectators lies in the ability to 
assimilate roles and fill them according to official norms. The repetition 
of images and stereotypes offers a set of models from which everyone is 
urged to fashion a role. The spectacle is a museum of images, a show- 
room of stick figures. It is also an experimental theatre. The human 
being as consumer lets himself be conditioned by the stereotypes (passive 
aspect) upon which he then models his behaviour (active aspect). The 
task of dissimulating passivity by inventing new variants of spectacular 
participation and enlarging the range of available stereotypes falls to our 
happeners, Pop Art practitioners and sociodramatists. The machines of 
production-based society are increasingly pressed into the service of the 
spectacle: the computer as art object. We are returning in this way to the 
original conception of theatre, to a general participation in the mystery 
of divinity. But thanks to technology this now occurs on a higher level, 
and by the same token embodies possibilities of supersession that could 
not exist in high antiquity. 

Stereotypes are simply debased forms of the old ethical categories: 
knight, saint, sinner, hero, felon, faithful servant, honnete homme, etc. 
The images which drew their effectiveness within the mythic system of 
appearances from their qualitative force work in the context of spec- 
tacular appearances solely by virtue of the frequency of their iteration 
as conditioning factors (slogans, photos, stars, catchwords and so on). 
As we have seen, the technical reproduction of magical relationships 
such as faith or identification eventually dissipated magic. Coupled 



with the demise of the great ideologies, this development precipitated 
the chaos of stereotypes and roles. Hence the new demands placed upon 
the spectacle. 

Real events reach us only as empty scripts. We get their form, never 
their substance. And even their form is more or less clear according to 
how often it is repeated and according to its position in the structure 
of appearances. For as an organized system appearances are a vast filing 
cabinet in which events are broken up, isolated from one another, labelled 
and arbitrarily classified: lonely hearts columns, political affairs, wining 
and dining, etc. Suppose a stroller on the Boulevard Saint-Germain is 
killed by a young hoodlum. What are we told by the press? We are given 
a preestablished scenario designed to arouse pity, indignation, disgust or 
envy. The event is broken down into abstract components that are really 
just cliches: youth, delinquency, crime in the streets, law and order, etc. 
Images, photographs and styles are prefabricated and systematically 
combined so as to constitute a sort of automatic dispenser of ready-made 
explanations and emotions. Real people reduced to roles serve as bait: the 
Strangler, the Prince of Wales, Louison Bobet, Brigitte Bardot, Francois 
Mauriac— they all make love, get divorced, think thoughts and pick 
their noses for thousands of people. The dissemination of prosaic details 
invested with significance by the spectacle makes for strange bedfellows 
among roles. The husband who murders his wife’s lover competes for 
attention with the Pope on his deathbed, and Johnny Hallyday’s jacket 
is on a par with Khrushchev’s shoe. It’s all one: everything is equivalent 
to everything else in the perpetual spectacle of incoherence. The fact is 
that the structures of the spectacle are in crisis, because so many balls 
have to be kept in the air at the same time. The spectacle has to be every- 
where, so it is watered down and inconsistent. The old, ever-serviceable 
Manichaeanism is tending to disappear. The spectacle is not beyond 
good and evil: it falls short of them. The Surrealists were quite mistaken 
when, in 1930, they hailed the act of the exhibitionist as subversive. They 
were merely adding the sort of spice to the spectacle of morality that it 
needed to recover its vigour. Behaving in effect exactly like the gutter 
press. Scandal is the bread and butter of news, along with black humour 
and cynicism. The real scandal consists in the rejection and sabotage of 
the spectacle— something which Power can hope to postpone only by 
revamping and rejuvenating the structures of appearance. Perhaps this 
will turn out in the end to have been the structuralists’ chief function. 



The fact remains that poverty cannot be offset by widening its sphere. The 
spectacle’s degeneration is in the nature of things, and the dead weight 
that enforces passivity is bound to lighten; the resistance put up by lived 
experience and spontaneity must eventually lance the boil of inauthen- 
ticity and pseudo-activity. 

XV Roles 

Stereotypes are the dominant images of the era, the images of the 
dominant spectacle. The stereotype is the model of the role; the role 
is a model form of behaviour. The repetition of an attitude creates 
a role; the repetition of a role creates a stereotype. The stereotype 
is an objective form into which it is the role's task to induct people. 
Skill in playing and handling roles determines rank in the spectacular 
hierarchy. The disintegration of the spectacle multiplies stereotypes 
and roles, which by the same token become risible, and converge 
perilously upon their own negation, namely spontaneous action [1, 2). 
Access to roles is ensured by identification. The need to identify is 
more important to Power's stability than the models identified with. 
Identification is a pathological state, but only bungled identifications 
are officially classed as mental illness. The function of roles is to 
suck the blood of the will to live [3], They represent lived experience 
but reify it, offering consolation for this impoverishment of life by 
supplying a surrogate, neurotic gratification. We must break free of 
roles by restoring them to the realm of play [4). A role successfully 
adopted guarantees promotion in the spectacular hierarchy, the rise 
from a given rank to a higher one. This is the process of initiation, as 
manifested notably in the cult of names and the use of photography. 
Specialists are those initiates who supervise initiation. Their 
cumulated inconsistencies constitute the consistency of Power, at 
once destructive and self-destructive [5], The crumbling of the 
spectacle makes roles interchangeable. The proliferation of spurious 
variations creates the preconditions for a unique and real change, a 
truly radical change. The weight of inauthenticity eventually elicits a 
violent and quasi-biological reaction from the will to live [6], 


Our efforts, our troubles, our failures, the absurdity of our actions— all 
stem largely from the imperious necessity in our present situation of 



playing hybrid parts, parts which appear to answer our desires but which 
are really antagonistic to them. ‘We would live,’ says Pascal, ‘according 
to the ideas of others; we would live an imaginary life, and to this end 
we cultivate appearances. By striving to beautify and preserve this imagi- 
nary being we neglect our real being.’ This was an original thought in 
the seventeenth century: at a time when the system of appearances was 
still hale, its coming crisis was apprehended only in the intuitive flashes 
of the most lucid. Today, amid the disintegration of all values, Pascal’s 
observation is a banality, obvious to all. By what magic do we attribute 
the vivacity of human passions to lifeless forms? Why do we succumb to 
the seduction of borrowed attitudes? What are roles? 

Is what drives people to seek power not the very weakness to which 
Power reduces them? The tyrant is irked by the duties the very subjec- 
tion of his people imposes on him. The price he pays for the divine conse- 
cration of his authority over human beings is perpetual mythic sacri- 
fice, a permanent humiliation before God. The moment he quits God’s 
service, he no longer ‘serves’ his people— and his people are immedi- 
ately released from their obligation to serve him. What vox populi, vox 
dei really means is: ‘What God wants, the people want.’ Slaves are not 
willing slaves for long if they are not compensated for their submission 
with a shred of authority: all subjection entails the right to a measure 
of power, and there is no power without submission. This is why some 
agree so readily to be governed. Wherever it is exercised, on every rung 
of the ladder, power is partial, not absolute. It is ubiquitous, thus ever 
open to challenge. 

The role is a consumption of power. It locates one in the representa- 
tional hierarchy, and hence in the spectacle: at the top, at the bottom, 
in the middle— but never outside the hierarchy, whether short of it or 
beyond it. It falls to roles to integrate individuals into the mechanisms 
of culture; this is a form of initiation. It is also the medium of exchange 
of individual sacrifice, and in this capacity performs a compensatory func- 
tion. And lastly, as a precipitate of separation, roles strive to construct a 
behavioural unity; in this endeavour they rely on identification. 


The original, restricted meaning of the expression ‘to play a role in 
society’ clearly indicates that roles were at first a distinction reserved for 
a chosen few. Roman slaves, mediaeval serfs, agricultural day-labourers or 



proletarians brutalized by a thirteen-hour day do not have roles— or such 
rudimentary roles that refined people treat them as animals rather than 
human beings. There is of course such a thing as a poverty from which 
it is impossible to rise to the level of the spectacle’s poverty. By the nine- 
teenth century the distinction between good worker and bad worker had 
begun to gain ground as a popular notion, just as the master-slave idea 
had spread, under the mythic system, with the coming of Christ. True, 
the currency of this new idea was achieved with less effort, and it never 
acquired the importance of the master-slave scheme (although Marx 
deemed it worthy of his derision). Like mythic sacrifice, roles have been 
democratized. Inauthenticity for everyone: the triumph of socialism. 

Consider a thirty-five-year-old man. Each morning he starts his car, 
drives to the office, pushes papers, has lunch in town, plays poker, pushes 
more papers, leaves work, has a couple of drinks, goes home, greets his 
wife, kisses his children, eats a steak in front of the TV, goes to bed, makes 
love and falls asleep. Who reduces a man’s life to this pathetic sequence 
of cliches? A journalist? A cop? A market researcher? A populist author? 
Not at all. He does it himself, breaking his day down into a series of poses 
chosen more or less unconsciously from the range of prevalent stere- 
otypes. Taken over body and consciousness by the blandishments of a 
succession of images, he turns away from authentic pleasure and makes 
an emotionally arid asceticism the basis of a satisfaction so attenuated yet 
so ostentatious that it can only be a facade. The assumption of one role 
after another, provided he mimics stereotypes successfully, is titillating 
to him. The satisfaction of a well-played role is fuelled by his eagerness to 
remain at a distance from himself, to deny and sacrifice himself. 

What omnipotence masochism can boast! Just as others were Count 
of Sandomir, Palatine of Smirnoff, Margrave of Thorn, Duke of Courlande, 
our Everyman can bestow a quite personal majesty upon his gestures as 
motorist, employee, superior, subordinate, colleague, customer, seducer, 
friend, philatelist, husband, paterfamilias, television viewer, or citizen. 
And yet such a man is not just the idiot machine, the lethargic stooge that 
all this suggests. For brief moments his everyday life generates an energy 
which, of only it were not co-opted, dispersed and squandered in roles, 
would suffice to overthrow the universe of survival. Who can gauge the 
striking-power of an impassioned daydream, of pleasure taken in love, of 
a nascent desire, of a rush of sympathy? Everyone seeks spontaneously to 
prolong such brief instants of genuine life; at bottom, everyone wants to 



extend them to the whole of their everyday experience. But condition- 
ing succeeds in making most of us pursue these moments in exactly the 
wrong way— by way of the inhuman— and lose them forever the very 
instant we reach them. 


Stereotypes have a life and death of their own. An image whose allure 
makes it a model for thousands of individual roles will eventually 
crumble and disappear in accordance with the laws of consumption, 
the laws of novelty and obsolescence. So how does spectacular society 
develop new stereotypes? It does so thanks to injections of real creativity 
that prevent some roles from conforming to aging stereotypes (rather as 
language gets a new lease on life by assimilating popular forms). Thanks, 
in other words, to that element of play which transforms roles. 

To the extent that it conforms to a stereotype, a role tends to congeal, 
to take on the static nature of its model. Such a role has neither present, 
nor past, nor future, because its time is that of the pose, and is, so to 
speak, a pause in time: time compressed into the dissociated space-time 
which is the space-time of Power (once again according to the principle 
that Power’s strength resides in its ability to effect both real separation 
and false union). The role might well be compared to the cinematic 
image, or rather to a feature of cinema, namely one of the predeter- 
mined attitudes which, repeated over and over in quick succession, and 
with minimal variation, make up a sequence. In the case of roles, repro- 
duction is ensured by the rhythms of the advertising and news media, 
whose capacity to stimulate word of mouth is prerequisite to a role’s 
promotion to the status of a stereotype (Brigitte Bardot, Francoise Sagan, 
Bernard Buffet, James Dean, etc.). But no matter how much or how 
little weight roles attain on the scales of the conventional wisdom, their 
main purpose is always adaptation to social norms— the integration of 
people into the well-policed universe of things. Which is why the hidden 
cameras of celebrity are always ready to catapult the most pedestrian of 
lives into the spotlight of instant fame. Broken hearts fill columns and 
stray hairs become an aesthetic issue. By disguising a jilted lover as a 
discount Tristan, marketing a tattered derelict as a piece of nostalgia, or 
turning a drudging housewife into a good fairy of the kitchen, the spec- 
tacle, battening on everyday life, has long been way ahead of Pop Art. 
It was to be expected that people would model themselves on collages 



(always profitable) of smiling spouses, crippled children or do-it-yourself 
geniuses. The fact remains that by stooping to such ploys the spectacle is 
manifestly approaching a critical stage— the last stage before the eruption 
of everyday reality itself. Roles have drawn perilously close to their own 
negation: already failures are hard put to it to play their role properly, 
while the maladjusted shun theirs altogether. As the spectacular system 
falls apart, it scrapes the barrel: trawling the most deprived areas of 
society, it is reduced to feeding on its own refuse. Thus tone-deaf singers, 
talent-free artists, reluctant laureates and pallid stars of all kinds peri- 
odically cross the firmament of the media, their rank in the hierarchy 
reflected in the frequency with which they achieve this feat. 

Which leaves the hopeless cases— those who reject all roles and those 
who theorize and practise that rejection. It is undoubtedly from such 
maladjustment to spectacular society that a new poetry of real experience 
and a reinvention of life will spring. The deflation of roles precipitates the 
decompression of spectacular time in favour of lived space-time. What is 
living intensely if not the redirection of the current of time, so long lost 
in appearances? Are not the happiest moments of our lives glimpses of 
an expanded present that rejects Power’s accelerated time, which flows 
away year after empty year for as long as it takes to grow old? 

3. Identification 

The principle of Szondi’s test is well known. The patient is asked to choose, 
from forty-eight photographs of people in various types of paroxysmal 
crisis, those facial expressions which evoke sympathy in him and those 
which evoke aversion. Subjects invariably prefer expressions suggest- 
ing instinctual feelings which they accept in themselves, while reject- 
ing those suggesting feelings that they repress. They define themselves, 
in other words, by means of positive and negative identifications. The 
results enable the psychiatrist to draw up an instinctual profile of a 
patient which can help determine whether they should be discharged 
or sent to the air-conditioned crematorium known as a mental hospital. 

Consider now the needs of consumer society, where the essence 
of the human being is to consume— to consume Coca-Cola, literature, 
ideas, emotions, architecture, TV, power, etc. Consumer goods, ideolo- 
gies, stereotypes— all resemble photos in a gigantic version of Szondi’s 
test in which each of us is supposed to take part, not only by making a 
choice, but also by making a commitment, and by engaging in practical 



activity. This society’s need to market objects, ideas and model forms of 
behaviour calls for a decoding centre where an instinctual profile of the 
consumer can be developed to help in product design and improvement, 
and in the creation of new needs better suited to the consumer goods on 
offer. Market research, motivation techniques, opinion polls, sociological 
surveys and structuralism all contribute to this project, no matter how 
anarchic or feeble their efforts may be as yet. If we give them free rein, 
our cyberneticians can be counted on to remedy the lack of coordination 
and rationalization. 

At first glance the main thing would seem to be the choice of the 
‘consumable image’. The housewife-who-uses-Fairy-Snow is different (and 
the difference is measured in profits) to the housewife-who-uses-Tide. The 
Labour voter differs from the Conservative voter, and the Communist 
from the Christian Democrat, in much the same way. But such differences 
are increasingly hard to discern. The spectacle of incoherence ends up 
putting a value on the zero point of values. Eventually identification with 
anything at all, like the need to consume anything at all, becomes more 
important than brand loyalty to a particular type of car, idol, or politician. 
The essential thing, surely, is to alienate people from their desires and pen 
them in the spectacle, in the policed zone. Good or bad, honest or crimi- 
nal, left-wing or right-wing— what does the mould matter, so long as we 
are engulfed by it? Let those who cannot identify with Khrushchev iden- 
tify with Yevtushenko— and the hooligans will be kept well under control. 
And indeed it is only the third force that has nothing to identify with— no 
opposition leader, no pseudo-revolutionary leader. The third force is the 
force of identity — in the sense of the identity in which each individual can 
recognize and discover him- or herself. A sphere where nobody decides for 
me, or in my name; where my freedom is the freedom of all. 


There is no such thing as mental illness. It is merely a convenient label 
for grouping and banishing cases where identification has not worked 
properly. Those whom Power can neither govern nor kill, it taxes with 
madness. The category includes extremists and megalomaniacs of the 
role, as well as those who deride roles or refuse them. It is the isolation of 
such individuals that singles them out. Let a general identify with France, 
with the support of millions of voters, and an opposition immediately 
springs up which takes his pretensions seriously enough to contest them. 



Was not Hanns Horbiger promoting a ‘Nazi physics’ hailed far and wide? 
As were General Edwin Walker and Barry Goldwater for contrasting supe- 
rior, white, divine and capitalist man on the one hand to black, diabolical, 
Communist man on the other? And Franco for communing with God 
and begging him for guidance in tyrannizing Spain? And tyrants the 
world over for arguing from their ice-cold delusions that human beings 
are machines in need of regulation? Identification, not isolation, is what 
makes for madness. 

The role is a self-caricature that we carry about with us everywhere, 
and which brings us everywhere face to face with an absence. An absence, 
though, which is structured, dressed up, prettified. The roles of paranoiac, 
schizophrenic, or sadistic killer do not carry the seal of social utility; in 
other words, they are not distributed under the label of Power, as are the 
roles of cop, boss, or army officer. But they are useful in specific places, 
notably in asylums and prisons, which are museums of a sort, serving 
the double purpose, from Power’s point of view, of confining dangerous 
opponents while supplying the spectacle with negative stereotypes. Bad 
examples and their exemplary punishment add spice to the spectacle 
and protect it. If identification were somehow encouraged and isolation 
increased, the false distinction between mental and social alienation 
would quickly dissolve. 

At the opposite extreme from absolute identification is a particular 
way of putting a distance between the role and one’s self, of establish- 
ing a zone of free play, a breeding ground for attitudes disruptive of the 
spectacular order. Nobody is ever completely swallowed up by a role. 
Even turned upside-down, the will to live retains a potential for violence 
liable to divert individuals from the paths laid down for them. The faith- 
ful lackey who has always identified utterly with his master may slit his 
throat at an opportune moment. A time comes when his right to bite like 
a dog arouses his desire to strike back like a human being. Diderot has 
described this well in Rameau's Nephew— and. the case of the Papin sisters 
is even more eloquent in this regard. The fact is that identification, like all 
manifestations of inhumanity, has its roots in the human. Inauthentic 
life feeds on authentically felt desires. And identification through roles 
is doubly successful in this respect. In the first place, it co-opts the play 
of metamorphoses, the pleasure of putting on masks and being every- 
where in every guise. Secondly, it appropriates mankind’s ancient love of 
mazes, of getting lost solely in order to find one’s way again: the pleasure 



in simply wandering and changing. Roles also lay under contribution 
the reflexive search for identity— the desire to find the richest and truest 
part of ourselves in others. Play then ceases to be a game, and is reified 
because the players can no longer make up the rules. The quest for iden- 
tity degenerates into identification. 

Let us reverse the perspective for a moment. A psychiatrist tells us 
that ‘Recognition by society leads the individual to discharge his sexual 
impulses in pursuit of cultural goals, and this is the best way for him to 
defend himself against those impulses’. Read: the aim of roles is to absorb 
vital forces, to exhaust erotic energy by means of permanent sublimation. 
The less erotic reality there is, the more abundant sexualized forms in the 
spectacle become. Roles— Reich would say ‘armouring’— ensure orgastic 
impotence. Conversely, true pleasure, joie de vivre and orgastic potency 
shatter body armour and roles. If individuals could only stop seeing the 
world through the eyes of the powers-that-be, and look at it from their 
own point of view, they would have no trouble discerning which actions 
are really liberating, which moments are lived the most authentically— 
lightning flashes in the dark night of roles. Real experience can illumi- 
nate roles— can x-ray them, so to speak— in such a way as to redirect the 
energy invested in them, to extricate the truth from the lies. This task is 
at once individual and collective. Though all roles alienate equally, some 
are more vulnerable than others. It is easier to escape the role of a liber- 
tine than the role of a cop, executive, or priest. A fact to which everyone 
should give a little thought. 

4 . Compensation 

How is it that people may come to place a higher value on roles than on 
their own life? The answer is that their lives have no value in the sense, 
the ambiguous sense, that life is beyond price, meaning that it cannot be 
given a price tag or offered for sale in any way; and that by the lights of 
the spectacle such riches can only be described as intolerable poverty. For 
consumer society poverty is whatever cannot be consumed. The reduc- 
tion of people to consumers is thus an enrichment: the more things we 
have, the more roles we play, the more we are. So decrees the organization 
of appearances. But from the point of view of lived reality every increase 
in power so acquired is paid for by a corresponding sacrifice of the will 
to authentic self-fulfilment. What is gained on the level of appearances 
is lost on the levels of being and of what-ought- to-be. 



Lived experience is always the raw material of the social contract, 
the coin in which the entry fee is paid. Life is sacrificed, and the loss 
compensated through the dazzling manipulation of appearances. The 
poorer everyday life becomes, the greater the appeal of inauthenticity; 
the greater the sway of illusion, the greater the impoverishment of every- 
day life. Ousted from its essential place by the bombardment of prohibi- 
tions, constraints and lies, lived reality seems so trivial that appearances 
get all our attention. We live our roles better than our own lives. Given 
the prevailing state of things, compensation alone confers weight. The 
role compensates for a lack: the inadequacy of life— or the inadequacy 
of another role. A worker covers up his prostration by assuming the role 
of Secret Agent OSS 117, and the poverty of that role itself beneath the 
incomparably superior image of a Peugeot 403 owner. But all roles are 
paid for by injury (overwork, the forgoing of life’s comforts, survival, etc.). 
The role serves as an unreliable stopgap after the expulsion of the self 
and of real life. Its brutal removal exposes a gaping wound. It is at once a 
threat and a protective shield. Its threatening aspect is felt only negatively, 
however, and does not exist officially. Officially, the only danger lies in the 
loss or devaluation of the role: in loss of honour, loss of dignity, or (happy 
phrase!) loss of face. This ambiguity accounts to my mind for people’s 
addiction to roles. It explains why roles stick to our skin, why we wager 
our lives on them: they impoverish lived experience but they also protect 
it against any awareness of that intolerable impoverishment. An isolated 
individual may well fail to withstand such a brutal revelation. Roles 
contribute to organized isolation, to separation and false union; compen- 
sation, like alcohol, is the drug that ensures the realization of all the 
potential of inauthentic being. Identification can be highly intoxicating. 

Survival and its protective illusions form an inseparable whole. Roles 
perish, of course, when survival comes to an end (even if the names of 
the dead may sometimes be linked to stereotypes). To survive without 
roles is to be officially dead. Just as we are condemned to survival, so we 
are condemned to ‘cutting a fine figure’ in the realm of the inauthen- 
tic. Armouring inhibits freedom of gesture but simultaneously deadens 
blows. Beneath this carapace we are completely vulnerable. We still 
have one recourse, however: we can always play ‘let’s pretend’— and be 
cunning with roles. 

Rozanov’s approach is not a bad one: ‘Externally, I decline. 
Subjectively, I am quite indeclinable. I don’t agree. I am a kind of adverb.’ 



In the end, of course, it is the world that should be modelled on subjectiv- 
ity, the world that should concur with me so that I can then concur with 
it. But, right now, throwing out all roles like a bag of old clothes would 
amount to denying the fact of separation and plunging into mysticism 
or solipsism. I am in enemy territory, and the enemy is within me. I do 
not want that enemy to kill me, which is why I let the armour of roles 
protect me. I work, I consume, I know how to be polite, and never make a 
scandal. All the same, this world of pretence has to be destroyed, which is 
why intelligent people let roles play among themselves. Seeming to have 
no responsibility is the best way of behaving responsibly towards oneself. 
All jobs are dirty— so do them dirtily! All roles are lies, so let them contra- 
dict one another! I love the arrogance of Jacques Vache when he writes: ‘I 
wander from ruins to village with my crystal monocle and an unsettling 
theory of painting. Turn by turn I have been a lionized author, a famous 
drawer of pornography and a scandalous Cubist painter. Now I am going 
to stay at home and let others explain and debate my character in the 
light of the above particulars.’ 

I feel it suffices to be absolutely honest with those who are on my 
side, those who genuinely defend authentic life. The more detached one 
is from a role, the easier it is to turn it against an adversary. The more 
effectively one avoids the weight of things, the easier it is to achieve light- 
ness of movement. Real friends care little for forms. They argue openly, 
confident in the knowledge that they can inflict no wounds. Where 
communication is genuinely sought, misunderstandings are no crime. 
But if you accost me armed to the teeth, understanding agreement only 
in terms of a victory for you, then you will get nothing out of me but an 
evasive pose, and an eloquent silence signalling that discussion is ended. 
Duels between roles deprive dialogue of any interest from the outset. 
Only the enemy would want to enter the lists of the spectacle and joust 
on the ground of roles. It is hard enough keeping one’s own demons at 
bay without so-called friendships adding fuel to the fire. If only biting 
and barking could wake people up to the dog’s life roles force them into— 
wake them up to the importance of their own selves! 

As luck would have it, the spectacle of incoherence is obliged to 
introduce an element of play into the world of roles. By preaching that 
‘black is white and white is black’, it dispels all seriousness. Such a face- 
tious attitude to roles plunges them into a sea of sameness. Hence the 
distinctly unhappy efforts of our reorganizers of appearances to boost the 



play element by means of television game shows and the like, to press 
a carefree attitude into the service of consumption. Distantiation from 
roles is only reinforced by the crumbling of appearances. Some roles, 
being dubious or ambiguous, embody their own self-criticism. Nothing, 
in the long run, can prevent the spectacle from being repurposed as a 
collective game, and everyday life, seizing whatever means are to hand, 
will inevitably lay the groundwork for that game’s endless expansion. 

5. Initiation 

As it seeks to safeguard the poverty of survival while loudly protesting 
against it, the compensatory tendency bestows upon each individual a 
certain number of formal possibilities of participating in the spectacle— 
a sort of permit for the scenic representation of one or more slices of 
life— private or public, no matter. Just as God used to bestow grace on all 
human beings, leaving each free to choose salvation or damnation, so 
modern social organization grants everyone the right to gain entrance— 
or fail to do so— into the social world. But whereas God alienated human 
subjectivity in one fell swoop, the bourgeoisie breaks it down into a host 
of partial alienations. In a sense, then, subjectivity, which was nothing, 
becomes something: it attains its own truth, its mystery, its passions, its 
rationality, its rights. This official recognition requires its subdivision 
into components graded and pigeonholed according to Power’s norms. 
The subjective is integrated into the objective forms known as stereotypes 
by means of identification. It makes its entry in pieces, in would-be- 
absolute fragments, and ridiculously denuded (think of the Romantics’ 
grotesque view of the self— and its antidote, humour). 

I possess badges of power, therefore I am. In order to be someone 
the individual must, so to speak, pay things their due. He must keep his 
roles in order, polish them up, put them back on the stocks repeatedly, 
initiating himself little by little until he qualifies for promotion in the 
spectacle. The conveyor belts called schools, the advertising industry, the 
conditioning mechanisms essential to any Order— all conspire to lead 
the child, the adolescent and the adult as painlessly as possible into the 
great family of consumers. 

There are stages of initiation. Established social groups do not all 
enjoy the same measure of power, nor is that measure equally distrib- 
uted within each group. From president to party workers, from star to 
fans, or from representative to voters, the ladder of promotion is long. 



Some groups are rigidly structured, while others are very loose, but all 
are founded on the illusion of participation shared by group members 
whatever their standing. The illusion is fostered through meetings, insig- 
nia, the assignment of minor tasks and responsibilities, etc. The resulting 
cohesiveness is spurious— and often friable. Yet this appalling boy-scout 
mentality generates its own stereotypes at each level: each field has its 
own martyrs, heroes, models, geniuses, thinkers, faithful servants, great 
successes and so on. For example: Danielle Casanova, Cienfuegos, Brigitte 
Bardot, Mathieu, Kostas Axelos, a veteran boules champion, President 
Wilson, and so on. (Readers are invited to assign these figures to their 
proper categories.) 

Can the collectivization of roles successfully replace the lapsed power 
of the grand ideologies of an earlier time? Let us remember that Power 
stands or falls with its organization of appearances. The fission of myth 
into particles of ideology has produced roles as fallout. The poverty of 
Power now has no other means of self-concealment than its shattered 
lie. The prestige of a film star, a head of household, or a chief executive 
is no longer worth a Bronx cheer. Nothing can obviate the effects of this 
nihilistic process of disintegration except its supersession. The triumph of 
technocracy, by blocking such a supersession, dooms people to meaning- 
less activity, rites of initiation into nothing, pure sacrifice, the assump- 
tion of vacuous roles, and systematic specialization. 

The specialist indeed prefigures the ghostly being, cog, or mechan- 
ical thing embedded in the rationality of a perfected social order of 
zombies. Specialists are everywhere— among politicians, among hijack- 
ers. Specialization is in a sense the science of roles, the science of endow- 
ing appearances with the eclat formerly bestowed by nobility, wit, extrava- 
gance, or a large bank account. The specialist does more than this, however, 
by assuming the role of role-assigner. He is the vital link between the tech- 
niques of production and consumption and the technique of spectacular 
representation. Yet he is, so to speak, an isolated link— a monad. Knowing 
everything about a fragment, he enlists others to produce and consume 
within the confines of this area so that he himself may receive a surplus- 
value of power and enlarge the footprint of his hierarchical image. He 
knows, if need be, how to give up a multitude of roles for one only, how to 
concentrate his power instead of spreading it around, how to make his life 
unilinear. In so doing he becomes a manager. His misfortune is that the 
sphere he controls is always too restricted, too partial. He is in the position 



of a gastroenterologist who cures a gut but destroys the rest of the body 
in the process. Certainly, the comparative significance of the group he 
lords it over may allow him the illusion of power, but the anarchy is such, 
the partial interests so contradictory and contentious, that he is bound 
to realize eventually how powerless he really is. Rather like heads of state 
with the power to unleash thermonuclear war who succeed only in para- 
lysing one other, so specialists, working at cross-purposes, end up build- 
ing and operating a gigantic machine— Power, social organization— which 
dominates them all and crushes them with varying degrees of considera- 
tion, gently or not so gently, according to their place in the apparatus. 
They build and operate the machine blindly, because it is simply an aggre- 
gate of their crossed purposes. It is to be expected, therefore, that most 
specialists, when they suddenly become aware of their own disastrous 
passivity, and consider how hard and long they have fought in its name, 
will be all the more eager to embrace an authentic will to live. It is likely 
too that others, those who have been longer or more intensely exposed 
to the radiation of authoritarian passivity, will be obliged to follow the 
example of the officer in Kafka’s ‘In the Penal Colony’ and perish along 
with the machine, tormented to the end by its last spasms. Every day the 
crossed purposes of those with power, the specialists, make and unmake 
the tottering majesty of Power. We have seen with what results. Let us 
now try to imagine the glacial nightmare into which we would be plunged 
were the cyberneticians able so effectively to pool their efforts as to achieve 
a rational organization of society, eliminating or at least controlling the 
effects of crossed purposes. They would have no rivals for the Nobel Prize, 
save perhaps the proponents of thermonuclear suicide. 


The commonest use of name and photograph, as in what are oddly 
referred to as ‘identification’ papers, is rather obviously tied to the police 
function in modern societies. But the connection is not merely with the 
vulgar police work of search and seizure, surveillance, harassment, the 
third degree, or methodical killing. It also involves much more occult 
forces of law and order. The frequency with which an individual’s name 
or image passes through the printed and audio channels of communica- 
tion is an index of that individual’s rank and category. It goes without 
saying that the name most often uttered in a neighbourhood, town, 
country, or in the world has a powerful fascination. Charted statistically 



for any given time and place, this information would supply a perfect 
relief map of Power. 

Historically, however, the deterioration of roles goes hand in hand 
with the increasing meaninglessness of names. The aristocrat’s name 
crystallizes the mystery of birth and pedigree. In consumer society the 
spectacular exposure of the name of a Bernard Buffet can serve to trans- 
form a very ordinary talent into a famous painter. The manipulation of 
names fabricates leaders in exactly the same manner as it sells hair tonic. 
But this also means that a famous name is no longer the attribute of the 
one who bears it. The label ‘Buffet’ does not designate anything (to para- 
phrase Napoleon) but a thing in a silk stocking. A fragment of power. 

The humanists make me laugh when I hear them whining about the 
reduction of people to numbers, to ciphers. As if the destruction of people 
complete with tricked-up names were somehow less inhuman than their 
destruction as a string of figures. I have already said that the confused 
conflict between so-called progressives and reactionaries comes down to 
the issue of whether people should be broken by the carrot or the stick. 
As for the carrot of a famous name, thank you for nothing! 

But so many things get names these days that beings get fewer and 
fewer of them. To reverse the perspective, though, I like reminding myself 
that no name can ever exhaust or subsume what I am. My pleasure is 
nameless: those all too rare moments when I create myself afford no 
purchase to external manipulation. Only by virtue of self-dispossession 
do I risk petrification amid the names of the things that oppress us. This 
is the sense too in which I would wish Albert Libertad’s burning of his 
identification papers to be understood. His act— echoed much later by the 
black workers of Johannesburg— was more than just a rejection of police 
control: he was also giving up one name so as to have the pick of a thou- 
sand. Such is the admirable dialectic of the change in perspective: since 
prevailing conditions forbid me to bear a name which is— as it was for the 
feudal lord— a true emanation of my own strength, I refuse to be called by 
any name, and suddenly, beneath the unnameable, I discover the wealth 
of lived experience, inexpressible poetry, the preconditions of superses- 
sion. I enter the nameless forest where Lewis Carroll’s Gnat explains to 
Alice: ‘If the governess wanted to call you for your lessons, she would call 
out “Come here—”, and there she would have to leave off, because there 
wouldn’t be any name for her to call, and of course you wouldn’t have to 
go, you know.’ How blissful is the forest of radical subjectivity! 



To my mind, Giorgio de Chirico, displaying a fine consistency, found 
his own pathway to Alice’s forest. What holds for names holds too for 
the representation of the face. The photograph is the expression par excel- 
lence of the role, of the pose. It imprisons the soul and offers it up for 
interpretation— which is why a photograph is always sad. We examine 
it as we examine an object. Is it not obvious that to identify oneself with 
a range of facial expressions, no matter how varied a range, is to make 
oneself into an object? The God of the mystics at least had the good sense 
to avoid this trap . But let me come back to Chirico— a near contemporary 
of Libertad’s. (Were it a human being, Power would have every reason 
to congratulate itself on the host of rich encounters it has managed to 
prevent.) The blank faces of Chirico’s figures are a perfect charge-sheet 
against inhumanity. His deserted squares and lithified decor are the back- 
drop to personages dehumanized by the things they have made— things 
which, frozen in an urban space that distils the oppressiveness of ideolo- 
gies, rob them of their substance and suck their blood. (I forget who 
described a painting as a vampiric landscape— Andre Breton perhaps.) 
More than this, the very absence of facial features seems to conjure up 
new faces, to materialize a presence capable of investing the very stones 
with humanity. For me this ghostly presence is that of collective creation: 
because they have no one’s face, Chirico’s figures have everyone’s face. 

In striking contrast to the fundamental tendency of modern culture, 
which goes to great lengths to express its own nothingness and concocts 
a semiology from its nullity, Chirico gives us paintings where absence 
opens the door wide to what lies beyond it, namely the poetry of reality 
and the realization of art, of philosophy, of mankind. As the sign of a 
reified world, the blank space is incorporated into the canvas at the 
crucial spot, and implies that the countenance is no longer part of the 
representational universe, but is about to become part of everyday praxis. 

Some day the peerless richness of the decade between 1910 and 1920 
will become apparent. The immense genius and chaos of those years 
sought for the first time to bridge the gulf between art and life. I think we 
may safely say that, the Surrealist adventure aside, nothing was achieved 
in the period between the demise of this vanguard of supersession and 
the inception of the current Situationist project. The disenchantment of 
an older generation, which has been marking time for the last forty years 
with respect to art and revolution alike, merely reinforces this view. The 
Dadaist movement, Malevich’s White on White, Joyce’s Ulysses, Chirico’s 



canvasses— all of them ushered the presence of the whole human being 
into the void of human beings reduced to the status of things. Today 
the whole human being is simply the project on which the majority of 
human beings are working for the sake of a forbidden creativity. 


In the unitary world, under the serene gaze of the gods, adventure 
and pilgrimage were paradigms of change in an unchanging universe. 
Inasmuch as this world was given for all time there was really nothing to 
be discovered, but revelation awaited the pilgrim or knight-errant at the 
crossroads. The truth was that revelation lay within each individual: one 
would travel the world seeking it in oneself, seeking it in far lands, until 
suddenly it would surge forth, a magical spring released by the purity of 
a gesture at the very place where an ill-starred seeker would have found 
nothing. The spring and the castle dominate the creative imagination of 
the Middle Ages. The symbolism here is plain: beneath movement lies 
immutability, and beneath immutability, movement. 

The greatness of a Heliogabalus, a Tamerlane, a Gilles de Rais, a 
Tristan, or a Perceval lies in this: defeated, they withdraw into a living 
God; they identify with the demiurge, relinquishing their unfulfilled 
humanity in order to reign and die under the mask of Christ’s divine 
terror. This death of human beings in an unchanging God allowed life 
to bloom beneath the shadow of its scythe. Our dead God weighs more 
heavily than that living God of old; the fact is that the bourgeoisie did 
not really rid us of God, but managed only to air-condition his corpse. 
Romanticism was the stench of that putrefying God, a disgusted wrin- 
kling of the nostrils at the conditions of survival. 

The bourgeoisie is a class, rent by contradictions, that founds its 
dominion on world-transformation yet refuses to transform itself. It 
is thus movement wishing to avoid movement. In unitary societies the 
image of changelessness subsumed movement; in fragmented societies 
change strives to reproduce the absence of change: wars (or the poor, or 
slaves), it claims, will always be with us. The bourgeoisie in power can 
tolerate change only if it is empty, abstract, cut off from the totality: 
partial change, or changes of parts. Now although the habit of change is 
intrinsically subversive, it is also the main prerequisite to the functioning 
of consumer society. People have to change cars, fashions, ideas, etc., all 
the time. If they did not, a more radical change would occur, putting an 



end to a form of authority which has no other choice, if it is to endure, 
than to put itself up for sale— to consume itself and consume each of us 
to boot. Sad to say, in this headlong rush towards death, this desperate 
and would-be endless race there is no real future: ahead lies only the past, 
hastily reoutfitted and thrust ahead into the future. For almost a quarter 
of a century now, the self-same ‘novelties’ have been turning up in the 
marketplace of fad and fancy with but the barest attempt to conceal 
their decrepitude. The same goes for the marketing of roles. How could 
a range of roles be offered that was varied enough to compensate for 
the loss of the qualitative force of the role as conceived in feudal times? 
The task is hopeless for two reasons. In the first place, the quantitative 
character of roles is a limitation by definition, and calls inevitably for a 
conversion into quality; secondly, the poverty of the spectacle gives the 
lie to all claims of renewal. Serial role-changing uses up costumes. And 
the proliferation of trivial changes titillates the desire for real change but 
can never satisfy it. By precipitating changes of illusion, Power inevitably 
exposes itself to the reality of radical change. 

It is not just that the multiplication of roles tends to make them 
indistinguishable: it also fragments them and makes them ludicrous. 
The quantification of subjectivity has created spectacular categories for 
the most prosaic acts and the most ordinary attributes: a certain smile, a 
chest measurement, a hairstyle. Great roles are scarcer and scarcer; walk- 
ons are two a penny. Even the Ubus— the Stalins or Hitlers or Mussolinis— 
have but the palest of progeny. Most people are well acquainted with the 
malaise that accompanies any attempt to join a group and make contact 
with others. This feeling amounts to stage fright, the fear of not playing 
one’s part properly. Only with the crumbling of officially controllable 
attitudes and poses will the true source of this anxiety become clear to 
us. For it arises not from our clumsiness in handling roles but from the 
loss of self in the spectacle, in the reigning order of things. In his book 
Me'decine et homme total, Doctor Pierre Solie has this to say about the 
alarming spread of neurotic disorders: ‘There is no such thing as disease 
per se, no such thing, even, as a sick person per se; there is only authen- 
tic or inauthentic being-in-the-world.’ The rechanneling of the energy 
siphoned off by appearances back towards the will to live authentically 
is a function of the dialectic of appearances itself. The refusal of inau- 
thenticity triggers a near-biological defensive reaction which because 
of its violence has every prospect of destroying those who have been 



orchestrating spectacular alienation for so long. This fact should give 
pause to all who pride themselves on being idols, artists, sociologists, 
thinkers, or specialists of every kind of stage-management. Explosions 
of popular anger are never accidental in the sense that the eruption of 
Krakatoa is accidental. 


According to a Chinese philosopher, ‘Confluence is the approach to the 
void. In total confluence presence stirs’. Alienation extends to all human 
activities and separates them to the maximum. But in the process it is 
itself divided and becomes everywhere more vulnerable. In the disin- 
tegration of the spectacle we may discern what Marx called ‘the new life 
which becomes conscious of itself, destroys what is already destroyed, 
and rejects what is already rejected’. Beneath dissociation lies unity; 
beneath fatigue, concentrated energy; beneath the fragmentation of the 
self, radical subjectivity. In short, the qualitative. But wanting to remake 
the world as you might make love to your sweetheart does not suffice. 

As the factors responsible for the desiccation of everyday life become 
exhausted, the life forces tend to get the upper hand over the power of 
roles. This is the beginning of the reversal of perspective. The new revo- 
lutionary theory should concentrate its efforts here so as to open the 
breach that will lead to supersession. The era of calculation and the era 
of suspicion, as ushered in by capitalism and Stalinism respectively, are 
already being challenged by a clandestine tactical phase of the construc- 
tion of an era of play. 

The degenerate state of the spectacle, individual experience, and 
collective acts of refusal need to combine and generate practical tactics 
for dealing with roles. Collectively, it is quite possible to abolish roles. 
The spontaneous creativity and festive atmosphere unleashed in revo- 
lutionary moments afford ample evidence of this. Once the spirit of the 
people is filled with joy, no leader, no mise-en-scene can recapture it. Only 
by starving the revolutionary masses of joy can they be subdued and their 
advance and the extension of their gains brought to a halt. Even now it 
is possible for a group dedicated to theoretical and practical actions, such 
as the Situationists, to infiltrate the political and cultural spectacle as a 
subversive force. 

Individually, however— and thus in a strictly temporary way— we 
must learn how to sustain roles without nourishing them to the point 



where they harm us. How to use them as a protective shield while at the 
same time protecting ourselves against them. How to retrieve the energy 
they absorb and actualize the illusory power they dispense. How to play 
the game of a Jacques Vache. 

If your role imposes roles on others, assume a power that is not you, 
then set this phantom loose. Nobody wins contests for status, so eschew 
them. Down with pointless quarrels, vain discussions, forums, confer- 
ences and Weeks for Marxist Thought! When the time comes to strike 
for your real liberation, strike to kill. Words don’t kill. 

Do people come up and want to discuss things with you? Do they 
admire you? Spit in their faces. Do they make fun of you? Help them 
recognize themselves in their mockery. Roles are inherently ridiculous. 
Do you see nothing but roles around you? Treat them to your noncha- 
lance, your humour, your distance. Play cat and mouse with them, and 
there is a good chance that one or two people about you will wake up to 
themselves and discover the prerequisites for real dialogue. Remember: 
all roles alienate equally, but some are less despicable than others. The 
range of stereotyped behaviour includes alienating forms that only barely 
conceal lived experience and its requirements. To my mind, temporary 
alliances are permissible with certain attitudes, with certain revolution- 
ary images, just so long as a glimmer of radicalism shines through the 
ideological screen which they presuppose. A good example is the cult 
of Lumumba among young Congolese revolutionaries. In any case, so 
long as one bears in mind that the only proper treatment for others, as 
for oneself, is a higher dose of radicalism, it is impossible to go wrong or 
come to grief. 

XVI The Fascination of Time 

By virtue of a monstrous bewitchment, people believe that time 
slips away, and this belief is the basis of time actually slipping away. 
Time is the work of attrition of that adaptation to which human 
beings must resign themselves so long as they fail to change the 
world. Age is a role, an acceleration of 'lived' time on the plane of 
appearances, an attachment to things. 

The worsening of civilization’s discontents is pushing therapeutic meas- 
ures towards a new demonology. At one time invocation, sorcery, posses- 
sion, exorcism, black sabbaths, metamorphoses and talismans enjoyed 
the ambiguous power to heal and hurt; now, similarly (and more effec- 
tively), the consolations of the oppressed— medicine, ideology, compensa- 
tory roles, modern conveniences and world-transforming technology— all 
serve to buttress oppression itself. That the order of things is sick is what 
our leaders would conceal at all costs. In a fine passage in The Function of 
the Orgasm, Wilhelm Reich relates how after long months of psychoana- 
lytic treatment he managed to cure a young Viennese working woman. 
She was suffering from depression brought on by the conditions of her 
life and work. Once she was well Reich sent her back home. A fortnight 
later she killed herself. Reich’s intransigent honesty, as we know, would 
doom him to exclusion from the psychoanalytic establishment, to isola- 
tion, delusion, and death in prison: the duplicity of our demonologists 
cannot be exposed with impunity. 

Those who organize the world organize both suffering and the pain- 
killers for dealing with it; this much is common knowledge. Most people 
live like sleepwalkers, torn between the wish to awake and the fear of 
doing so, trapped between their neurotic state and the traumatic pros- 
pect of a return to real life. Things are now reaching the point, however, 
where maintaining survival calls for doses of anaesthetics so high that the 
organism is saturated and what magic-workers call a backlash occurs. The 
imminence of such an upheaval and its nature are what make it possible 




to speak of the present conditioning of human beings as a monstrous 

Bewitching of this kind presupposes a spatial network linking up the 
most distant objects sympathetically, according to specific laws: formal 
analogy, organic coexistence, functional symmetry, symbolic affiliation, 
and so on. Such correspondences are established through the endlessly 
repeated association of given forms of behaviour with related signals. 
This constitutes a generalized system of conditioning. The current vogue 
for loudly condemning the role of conditioning, propaganda, advertis- 
ing and the mass media in modern society must surely be understood as 
a sort of partial exorcism designed to maintain and to deflect suspicion 
from a vaster and more essential bewitchment. Outrage at the tabloid 
France-Soir goes hand in hand with subservience to the more elegant 
lies of Le Monde. Media, language, time— such are the giant claws with 
which Power manipulates humanity and forces it into its perspective. 
These claws are not very adept, admittedly, but their effectiveness is enor- 
mously increased by the fact that people are unaware that they can resist 
them, and often do not even know the extent to which they are already 
spontaneously doing so. 

Stalin’s show trials proved that it only takes a little patience and 
perseverance to get a man to accuse himself of every imaginable crime 
and appear in public begging to be executed. Now that we are aware of 
such techniques, and on our guard against them, how can we fail to see 
that the set of mechanisms controlling us uses the very same insidious 
persuasiveness— though with more powerful means at its disposal, and 
with greater persistence— when it lays down the law: ‘You are weak, you 
must grow old, you must die.’ Consciousness acquiesces, and the body 
follows suit. I like to take a remark of Artaud’s in a materialist sense: 
‘We do not die because we have to die,’ he says. ‘We die because one day, 
and not so long ago, our consciousness was forced to deem it necessary.’ 

In an unfavourable soil, plants die. Animals adapt to their environ- 
ment. Human beings transform theirs. Thus death is not the same thing 
for plants, animals and humans. In favourable soil, the plant lives like 
an animal: it can adapt. Where humans fail to change their surround- 
ings, they are likewise in the situation of an animal. Adaptation is the 
law of the animal world. 

For Hans Selye, the theorist of stress, the general adaptation system 
has three stages: the alarm reaction, the stage of resistance and the stage 



of exhaustion. On the level of appearances, human beings have been able 
to fight for eternal life, but in terms of real life they have not surpassed 
animal adaptation: spontaneous reactions in childhood, consolidation 
in maturity, exhaustion in old age. And today, the harder people try to 
find salvation in appearances, the more emphatically does the spectacle’s 
ephemeral and inconsistent nature remind them that they live like dogs 
and die like tufts of dry grass. Can the day really be far off when human 
beings face the fact that the social organization they have constructed to 
bend the world to their wishes no longer serves this purpose— that it is 
nothing more, in practice, than a system for blocking the deployment, 
in accordance with the requirements of a superior, yet to be created form 
of organization, of the techniques of liberation and individual self-fulfil- 
ment they have developed during the history of privative appropriation, 
of exploitation of man by man, of hierarchical authority? 

We now live in a closed, suffocating system. Whatever we gain in 
one sphere we lose in another. Mortality, for instance, though quantita- 
tively defeated by the progress of sanitation, has reemerged qualitatively 
in the form of survival. Adaptation has been democratized, made easier 
for everyone, but only by abandoning the essential— namely the adapta- 
tion of the world to human needs. 

A struggle against death exists, of course, but it takes place within 
the adaptation system— thus making death part of the remedy for death. 
Significantly, therapeutic efforts concentrate on the exhaustion phase, 
as though the main aim were to extend the stage of resistance as far as 
possible, even into old age. Thus shock treatment is tried only once weak- 
ness and impotence have done their work, for, as Reich understood well, 
any all-out attack that really targeted the attrition wreaked by adapta- 
tion would imply a direct onslaught on social organization— which is 
what bars any supersession of the adaptation system. Partial cures are 
preferred because they leave the overall social pathology untouched. But 
what will happen when the proliferation of such partial cures ends up 
spreading the malaise of inauthenticity to every last corner of everyday 
life? And when the essential role of exorcism and bewitchment in the 
maintenance of a sick society becomes plain for all to see? 


The question ‘How old are you?’ is never asked without an immediate 
reference to power. Dates themselves serve to pigeonhole and constrain 



us. Is not the passage of time always marked off from the establishment 
of some authority or other— from the year of the instatement of a god, 
messiah, leader or conquering city? To the aristocratic mind, moreover, 
such accumulated time was a guarantor of authority: the prepotency 
of the lord was increased both by his own age and by the length of his 
lineage. At his death the noble bequeathed a vigour to his descendants 
that was underpinned by the past. The bourgeoisie, for its part, has no 
past— or at any rate recognizes none, for its fragmented power does not 
depend on heredity. It retraces the steps of the nobility in a parodic 
manner, seeking identification with forebears in nostalgic fashion by way 
of photos in the family album; and its identification with cyclical time, 
with the time of the eternal return, is nothing but a blind identification 
with scraps, with a succession of rapid passages of linear time. 

The link between age and the starting-post of measurable time is 
not the only telling sign of age’s kinship with power. I maintain that 
people’s measured age is nothing but a role, a speeding-up of lived time 
in the mode of nonlife— on the plane, therefore, of appearances, and in 
accordance with the dictates of adaptation. To acquire power is to acquire 
age. In earlier times power was exercised only by the old, whether old in 
nobility or old in experience. Today the young are granted the dubious 
privilege of aging. Indeed consumer society fosters premature senility; 
after all, it invented teenagers as a new target group for conversion into 
consumers. To consume is to be consumed by inauthenticity, nurturing 
appearances to the benefit of the spectacle and the detriment of real life. 
Consumers die with the things they attach themselves to, because those 
things— commodities, roles— are dead. 

Whatever you possess possesses you in return. Everything that makes 
you into an owner adapts you to the order of things— and makes you old. 
Time-which-slips-away is what fills the void left by the absent self. The harder 
you run after time, the faster time goes: this is the law of the consumable. 
Try to stop it, and it will wear you out and age you all the more easily. 
Time must be caught on the wing, in the present— but the present has 
yet to be constructed. 

We were born never to grow old, never to die. But all we can hope 
for is the awareness of having come too soon— and a certain contempt for 
the future that can already grant us a generous helping of life. 

Survival and Its Pseudo-Negation 

Survival is life reduced to economic imperatives. In the present 
period, therefore, survival is life reduced to what can he 
consumed ( xvii ) . Reality addresses the problem of supersession 
before our so-called revolutionaries have even formulated 
it. Whatever is not superseded rots, and whatever is rotten 
cries out to be superseded. Unbuttressed refusal, oblivious to 
both these tendencies, speeds up the process of disintegration 
and becomes an integral part of it. It thus makes the task 
of supersession easier— but only in the sense in which we 
sometimes say of a murdered man that he made his murderer’s 
task easier. Survival is nonsupersession become unlivable. 

The mere refusal of survival dooms us to impotence. It is 
imperative to retrieve the core of radical demands abandoned 
by initially revolutionary movements of the past (xvm). 

XVII Survival Sickness 

Capitalism has demystified survival. It has made the poverty of 
everyday life intolerable in view of the growing abundance of 
technical possibilities. Survival has become an economizing on 
life. The civilization of collective survival increases dead time in 
individual lives to the point where the forces of death threaten to 
overwhelm collective survival itself. Unless, that is, the passion for 
destruction is replaced by the passion for life. 

Until now human beings have merely adapted to a system of world-trans- 
formation. The task now is to adapt that system to the transformation 
of the world. 

The organization of human societies has changed the world, and the 
world in changing has brought upheaval to the organization of human 
societies. But while hierarchical organization struggles to control nature, 
and is itself transformed by that struggle, the share of freedom and crea- 
tivity falling to the individual is drained away by the necessity of adapt- 
ing to various kinds of social norms. This is true, at any rate, so long as 
no generalized revolutionary moment occurs. 

The time belonging to the individual in history is for the most part 
dead time. Only a rather recent awakening of consciousness has made 
this fact intolerable to us. For with its revolution the bourgeoisie does 
two things. On the one hand, it proves that mankind can accelerate 
world transformation, and that it can improve individual lives (where 
improvement means accession to the ruling class, to wealth, to capitalist 
success). But at the same time the bourgeois order nullifies the individ- 
ual freedom by interference: it increases the dead time in everyday life 
(imposing the need to produce, consume, calculate); and it capitulates 
before the haphazard laws of the market, before the inevitable cyclical 
crises with their burden of wars and impoverishment, and before the 
strictures of common sense (‘You can’t change human nature’, ‘The 
poor will always be with us’, etc.). The politics of the bourgeoisie, as of 



the bourgeoisie’s socialist successors, resembles the action of a driver 
pumping the brake with the accelerator jammed fast to the floor: the 
more his speed increases, the more frenetic, perilous and useless become 
his attempts to slow down. The helter-skelter pace of consumption is set 
at once by the rate of the disintegration of Power and by the imminence 
of the construction of a new order, a new dimension, a parallel universe 
born of the collapse of the Old World. 

The changeover from the aristocratic system of adaptation to the 
‘democratic’ one brutally widened the gap between the individual’s 
submissiveness and the social dynamism that transforms nature— the 
gap, in other words, between individual powerlessness and the power 
of new technology. The contemplative attitude was perfectly suited to 
the feudal myth, to a virtually motionless world circumscribed by its 
eternal Gods. But how could the spirit of submission possibly adjust to 
the energetic vision of merchants, manufacturers, bankers and discov- 
erers of riches— men acquainted not with the revelation of the change- 
less, but rather with the ever-shifting economic world, its insatiable 
hunger for profit and its need for continual innovation. Yet wherever 
the bourgeoisie’s action succeeded in popularizing and placing value 
on the temporary, the transient, and the sense of hope, it simultane- 
ously sought, qua Power, to imprison real human beings within them. 
The bourgeoisie replaced the old theology of stasis with a metaphysics of 
motion. Although both these pictures of the world hinder the forward 
march of reality, the first does so more effectively and more harmoni- 
ously than the second, for it is more consistent, more unified. To press 
an ideology of change into the service of what does not change creates 
a paradox which nothing can now either conceal from consciousness or 
justify to consciousness. In our universe of expanding technology and 
modern conveniences we see people turning in upon themselves, shrivel- 
ling up, living trivial lives and dying for details. It is a nightmare where 
we are promised absolute freedom but granted a miserable square inch 
of individual autonomy— a square inch, moreover, that is strictly policed 
by our neighbours. A space- time of mean-spiritedness and low thoughts. 

Under the Ancien Regime, the prospect of death in a living God lent 
everyday life an illusory dimension which achieved the fullness of a 
multifaceted reality. It is arguable that mankind has never come closer 
to fulfilment while still shackled to inauthenticity. But what is one to say 
of a life lived out in the shadow of a God that is dead— the decomposing 



God of fragmented power? The bourgeoisie has dispensed with God by 
economizing on human lives. It has turned economics into a sacred 
imperative and life into an economic system. This is the model that our 
future programmers are preparing to rationalize, to submit to proper 
planning— in a word, to humanize. And, never fear, cybernetic program- 
ming will be no less irresponsible than the corpse of God. 

Kierkegaard describes survival sickness well: ‘Let others bemoan the 
maliciousness of their age. What irks me is its pettiness, for ours is an 
age without passion. . . . My life comes out all one colour.’ Survival is life 
reduced to bare essentials, to life’s abstract form, to the level of activity 
required for the individual’s participation in production and consump- 
tion. The entitlement of a Roman slave was rest and sustenance. As bene- 
ficiaries of the Rights of Man we receive the wherewithal to nourish and 
cultivate ourselves, enough consciousness to play a role, enough initia- 
tive to acquire power, and enough passivity to flaunt its insignia. Our 
freedom is the freedom to adapt after the fashion of higher animals. 

Survival is life in slow motion. (Just think of the energy needed to 
keep up appearances! ) The media gives wide currency to a whole personal 
hygiene of survival: avoid strong emotions, watch your blood pressure, 
eat less, drink in moderation, survive in good health so that you can 
continue playing your role, ‘overwork: the executive’s disease’, ran 
a recent headline in Le Monde. We must handle survival cautiously, for 
it wears us down; live it as little as possible, for it belongs to death. In 
former times one died a death quickened by the presence of God. Today 
our respect for life prohibits us from touching it, reviving it, or snap- 
ping it out of its lethargy. We die of inertia, whenever the quota of death 
that we carry within us reaches saturation point. What scientific insti- 
tute could measure the intensity of the deadly radiation that kills our 
everyday actions? In the end, by dint of identifying ourselves with what 
we are not, of switching from one role to another, from one fragment 
of power to another, and from one age to another, how can we avoid 
ourselves becoming part of that endless transition which is the process 
of disintegration? 

The presence within life itself of a mysterious yet tangible death so 
misled Freud that he postulated an ontological curse in the shape of a 
death instinct. First pointed out by Reich, this mistake of Freud’s has now 
been glaringly exposed by the phenomenon of consumption. The three 
aspects of the death instinct— Nirvana, the repetition compulsion and 



masochism— turn out to be simply three tools for the exercise of Power: 
constraint passively accepted, the seduction of conformity, and media- 
tion perceived as an ineluctable law. 

As we know, the consumption of goods— which comes down always, 
in the present state of things, to the consumption of power— carries 
within itself the seeds of its own destruction, the conditions of its own 
supersession. The consumer cannot and must not ever attain satisfac- 
tion: the logic of the consumable object demands the creation of fresh, 
false needs, yet the accumulation of such needs aggravates the malaise 
of people strictly confined (albeit with increasing difficulty) to the sole 
status of consumers. What is more, wealth in consumer goods impover- 
ishes authentic life, and this in two ways. First, it replaces authentic life 
with things. Secondly, it makes it impossible, with the best will in the 
world, to become attached to these things, precisely because they have to 
be consumed, which is to say destroyed. Whence an ever more oppressive 
absence of life, a self-devouring dissatisfaction. Which said, the need to 
live remains ambivalent, and this is a site where the perspective can be 

In the consumer’s manipulated view of things— the view produced 
by conditioning— the absence of life appears as a shortfall in the consump- 
tion of power and a failure to let oneself be consumed for the sake of 
power. As a palliative to the absence of real life we are offered death on 
the instalment plan. A world that condemns us to a bloodless death is 
naturally obliged to propagate the taste for blood. Where survival sick- 
ness reigns, the desire to live lays hold spontaneously of the weapons of 
death: senseless murder and sadism flourish. When the passion for life is 
destroyed, it is reborn as the passion for destruction. If these conditions 
persist, no one will survive the era of survival. Already the despair is so 
great that many people would concur with Antonin Artaud: ‘I bear the 
stigma of an insistent death that strips real death of all terror for me.’ 

Human beings under the conditions of survival are creatures of 
Reich’s pleasure anxiety, incomplete, mutilated. How could they find 
themselves in the endless self-loss into which everything draws them? 
They are wanderers in a labyrinth with no centre, a maze of mazes. They 
drag themselves through a world of equivalents. Does suicide beckon? 
Killing oneself, though, implies some feeling of resistance: one must be 
endowed with a value that can be destroyed. Where there is nothing, 
destructive acts themselves crumble to nothing. You cannot hurl a void 



into a void. ‘If only a rock would fall and kill me,’ wrote Kierkegaard, ‘at 
least that would be a way out.’ I doubt if there is anyone today who has 
not been touched by the horror of a thought of that kind. Inertia is the 
surest killer, the inertia of those who settle for senility at eighteen, plung- 
ing eight hours a day into degrading work and feeding upon ideologies. 
Beneath the miserable tinsel of the spectacle there are only gaunt figures 
yearning for, yet dreading Kierkegaard’s ‘way out’, so that they might 
never again have to desire what they dread and dread what they desire. 

At the same time, the passion for life emerges as a biological need, 
the reverse side of the passion for destroying and letting oneself be 
destroyed. ‘So long as we have not managed to abolish any of the causes 
of human despair we have no right to try and abolish the means whereby 
men attempt to get rid of despair.’ The fact is that human beings possess 
both the means to eliminate the causes of despair and strength enough 
to deploy those means. No one has the right to ignore the fact that the 
sway of conditioning accustoms them to survive on one hundredth of 
their potential for life. So general is survival sickness that any greater 
concentration of lived experience cannot fail to unite most of human- 
ity in a common will to live; that the refusal of despair must initiate the 
construction of a new life; and that economizing on life will perforce lead 
to the death of the economy and carry us beyond the realm of survival. 

XVIII Unbuttressed Refusal 


A moment of supersession must come, historically determined at 
once by the strength and weakness of Power, by the fragmentation 
of the individual into mere atoms of subjectivity, and by the intimacy 
of everyday life with what destroys it. This supersession will be 
general, undivided, and constructed by subjectivity [1], Once they 
abandon their initial radicalism, revolutionary elements are doomed 
to reformism. A well-nigh general abandonment of the revolutionary 
spirit today subtends the reforms of the regime of survival. It 
behoves any new revolutionary organization to identify the kernels 
of supersession in the great movements of the past. In particular, it 
must rediscover and carry through the project of individual freedom, 
perverted by liberalism; the project of collective freedom, perverted 
by socialism; the project of the rediscovery of nature, perverted 
by fascism; and the project of the total human being, perverted 
by Marxist ideologies. This last project, though expressed in the 
theological terms of the time, also informed the great mediaeval 
heresies, with their anticlerical rage, whose recent exhumation is so 
apt in our own century with its new priestly caste of 'specialists' [2], 
The man of ressentiment is the perfect survivor— the man devoid of 
the consciousness of possible supersession, the man of the age of 
disintegration [3], By becoming aware of spectacular disintegration, 
the man of ressentiment becomes a nihilist. Active nihilism is 
prerevolutionary. There is no consciousness of the necessity of 
supersession without consciousness of disintegration. Juvenile 
delinquents are the legitimate heirs to Dada [4], 

1 . The Question of Supersession 

Refusal is multiform; supersession is one. Faced by modern dissatisfac- 
tion and called by it to testify, human history stands quite simply as the 
history of a radical refusal that always foreshadows supersession and 
always tends towards its own self-negation. The multifaceted nature 


of this refusal fails to obscure the basic identity of the dictatorships 
of a God, a monarch, a leader, a class or a social organization. What 
fool was it who spoke of revolt having its own ontology? The movement 
of history, by transforming natural alienation into social alienation, 
teaches human beings freedom in slavery; it teaches revolt and submis- 
sion alike. Revolt needs metaphysics less than metaphysicians need revolt. 
Hierarchical power, which has been with us for millennia, provides a 
perfectly adequate explanation both for the permanence of rebellion and 
for the repression that breaks that rebellion. 

The overthrow of feudalism and the creation of masters without 
slaves are one and the same project. The partial failure of this project 
in the French Revolution has continued to render it more familiar and 
more attractive, even as later revolutions, each in its own way abortive 
(the Paris Commune, the Bolshevik Revolution), have at once clarified 
its contours and deferred its realization. 

All philosophies of history without exception collude with this failure, 
which is why consciousness of history can no longer be divorced from 
consciousness of the necessity of its supersession. 

How is it that the moment of supersession is increasingly easy to 
discern on the social horizon? The question of supersession is a tactical 
one. In broad outline, it may be characterized as follows: 

1. (a) Anything that does not kill Power strengthens it; anything that 
Power does not kill weakens it. 

(b) As the requirements of consumption subsume the requirements 
of production, so government by constraint gives way to government by 

(c) With the democratic extension of the right to consume comes 
a corresponding extension to the largest number of the right to exercise 
authority (in varying degrees, of course). 

(d) Once seduced by Authority, people are weakened and their 
capacity for refusal withers. Power is reinforced thereby, certainly, but 
it has meanwhile been reduced to the level of the consumable, and is 
indeed consumed, dissipated and, inevitably, made vulnerable. 

The point of supersession is one moment in this dialectic of strength 
and weakness. While it is undoubtedly the task of a radical critique to 
locate this point and work tactically to fortify it, we must not forget 
that it is the facts all around us that provoke such a radical critique. 
Supersession straddles a contradiction that haunts the modern world, 



fills the headlines and shapes most of our behaviour. This is the contra- 
diction between ineffectual refusal, or reformism, and extreme refusal, 
or nihilism (two types of which, the active and the passive, should be 

2. As it crumbles, hierarchical power extends its reach but loses its 
fascination. Fewer people live on the margins of society, as tramps for 
instance, and fewer respect an employer, a prince, a leader, or a role; 
more survive within society, yet more hold the system in contempt. 
Everyone is at the centre of this conflict in their everyday life. This has 
two consequences: 

(a) The individual is the victim not only of social atomization but 
also of fragmented power. Now that subjectivity is conspicuous, and 
under fire, it has itself become the most crucial revolutionary demand. 
Henceforward the construction of a harmonious society will require a 
revolutionary theory founded not on communitarianism but rather on 
subjectivity— founded, in other words, on specific cases, on the direct 
experience of individuals. 

(b) Paradoxically, an extremely fragmented refusal lays the ground- 
work for a global one. The new revolutionary society will emerge by virtue 
of a chain reaction from one subjectivity to the next. The construction 
of a community composed of complete individuals will inaugurate the 
reversal of perspective without which no supersession is possible. 

3. Lastly, the very notion of a reversal of perspective is gaining wide 
currency. People are too close for comfort to what negates them. The 
life forces rebel. The allure of distant objects fades as the eye gets closer, 
and the same goes for the perspective. By imprisoning human beings in 
its decor of things, and by clumsily insinuating itself into individuals, 
Power spreads only anxiety and malaise. Vision and thought get muddled, 
values blur, forms become vague, and anamorphic distortions confuse us 
as though we were looking at a painting with a nose pressed against the 
canvas. Incidentally, the change in pictorial perspective exemplified by 
an Uccello or a Kandinsky paralleled the shift in social perspective. The 
rhythms of consumption thrust the mind into that interregnum where 
far and near coincide. The facts themselves will soon come to the aid of 
the mass of human beings in the longstanding struggle to experience the 
state of freedom aspired to (though they lacked the means to attain it) by 
the Swabian heretics of 1270 mentioned by Norman Cohn in his Pursuit 
of the Millennium, who ‘said that they had mounted up above God and, 



reaching the very pinnacle of Divinity, abandoned God. Often the adept 
would affirm that he or she had no longer any need of God’. 

2. The Renunciation of Poverty and the Poverty of Renunciation 

Almost every revolutionary movement embodies the desire for total 
change, yet up to now almost every one has settled for changing only 
details and proclaiming victory. As soon as the armed mass of the people 
renounces its own will and kowtows to the will of its advisors, it abdi- 
cates its freedom and enthrones its so-called revolutionary leaders as its 
oppressors-to-be. Such is the cunning, as it were, of fragmentary power: 
it gives rise to fragmentary revolutions, revolutions dissociated from any 
reversal of perspective, cut off from the totality, paradoxically detached 
from the proletariat which makes them. How could a totalitarian regime 
not be the price immediately paid when the demand for total freedom 
is renounced once a handful of partial freedoms has been won? People 
talk in this connection of a curse: the revolution devours its children. As 
if Makhno’s defeat, the crushing of the Kronstadt revolt, or Durruti’s 
assassination were not already latent in the structure of the original 
Bolshevik cells, perhaps even in Marx’s authoritarian positions in the 
First International. Historical necessity and reasons of state are simply 
the needs and reasons of leaders who must justify their renunciation of 
the revolutionary project and of their own radicalism. 

Renunciation equals nonsupersession. Issue-politics, partial refusal 
and piecemeal demands are precisely what block supersession. The worst 
inhumanity is never anything but a wish for emancipation that has 
compromised and fossilized beneath strata of successive renunciations. 
Liberalism, socialism and Bolshevism have all built new prisons under 
the sign of liberty. As it fights for a better-upholstered alienation, the Left 
resorts to the cheap ruse of invoking the barricades, the Red Flag and the 
finest revolutionary moments of the past. Ossified, then resurrected and 
used as lures, sometime radical impulses are thus doubly betrayed, twice 
renounced. Amid worker-priests, biker-preachers, Communist generals, 
red princes, and ‘revolutionary’ bosses, radical chic harmonizes perfectly 
with a society able to sell lipstick under the slogan ‘Red Revolution! 
Revolution with Redflex! ’ Not that all this is without risk for the system. 
Who is to say that advertising’s endless caricaturing of the most authentic 
revolutionary desires may not produce a backlash, a resurgence of such 
feelings in a newly purified form? There is no such thing as lost allusions. 



The new wave of insurrection rallies young people who have 
remained outside specialized politics, whether right- or left-wing, or who 
have passed but briefly through these spheres because of excusable errors 
of judgement or ignorance. All currents merge in the tide-race of nihil- 
ism. The important thing is what lies beyond this confusion. The revo- 
lution of everyday life will be made by those who, with varying degrees 
of facility, discern the seeds of total fulfilment preserved, countered and 
concealed in ideologies of every kind— those who, in consequence, cease 
to be either mystified or mystifiers. 


Even though a spirit of revolt once informed Christianity, I deny anyone 
still got up as a Christian the right to claim that spirit or the capacity to 
understand it. There are no more heretics. The theological language that 
gave voice to so many magnificent uprisings was the mark of a particular 
period; it was simply the only language then available. Translation is now 
necessary— not that it presents any difficulty. Allowing for the times in 
which I live, and the objective assistance they give me, what can I say in 
the twentieth century that improves on what the Brethren of the Free 
Spirit said in the thirteenth: ‘A man may be so at one with God that what- 
ever he does he cannot sin. I am part of the freedom of Nature and I satisfy 
all my natural desires. The free man is perfectly right to do whatever gives 
him pleasure. Better that the whole world be destroyed and perish utterly 
than that a free man should abstain from a single act to which his nature 
moves him.’ One cannot but admire Johann Hartmann’s words: ‘The 
truly free man is lord and master of all creatures. All things belong to him, 
and he is entitled to make use of whichever pleases him. If someone tries 
to stop him doing so, the free man has the right to kill him and take his 
possessions.’ The same goes for John of Brunn, who justified his practice 
of fraud, plunder and armed robbery by asserting that ‘All things created 
by God are common property. Whatever the eye sees and covets, let the 
hand grasp it’ . Or again, consider the followers of Arnold of Brescia— the 
Pifles or Poplecans— who held themselves to be so pure as to be incapable 
of sinning no matter what they did (1157). Such jewels of the Christian 
spirit always sparkled a little too brightly for the rheumy eyes of the 
Christians. The great heretical tradition may still be discerned— dimly 
perhaps, but with its dignity still intact— in the acts of the anarchist Jean 
Pauwels leaving a bomb in the Church of La Madeleine on 15 March 1894 



or of the young Robert Burger slitting a priest’s throat on n August 1963. 
To my mind, the last full-fledged exemplars of priests genuinely loyal to 
the revolutionary origins of their religion were Jean Meslier and Jacques 
Roux fomenting jacquerie and riot. Such attitudes are of course beyond 
the ken of the modern ecumenicism that emanates from Moscow and 
Rome alike, its sectaries ranging from cybernetician riffraff to the crea- 
tures of Opus Dei. This being the new clergy, it is not hard to divine what 
the supersession of heresy is going to look like. 


No one would wish to deny liberalism the glory of having spread the seeds 
of freedom to every corner of the world. Freedom of the press, freedom 
of thought, freedom of expression— there is a sense in which, if nothing 
else, all these ‘freedoms’ bear witness to the sham of liberalism. The most 
eloquent of epitaphs, in fact. After all, it is no mean feat to imprison 
liberty in the name of liberty. Under the liberal system, the freedom of 
individuals is destroyed by reciprocal interference: one person’s liberty 
begins where the other’s ends. Those who reject this basic principle are 
destroyed by the sword; those who accept it are destroyed by justice. 
Nobody gets their hands dirty: a button is pressed and the axe of police 
and State intervention falls. A very unfortunate business, to be sure. 
The State is the bad conscience of liberals, the instrument of a necessary 
repression for which deep in their hearts they disavow. As for day-to-day 
business, it is left to the freedom of the capitalists to keep the freedom of 
the worker within proper bounds. Which is where the upstanding social- 
ist comes onstage to denounce this hypocrisy. 

What is socialism if not a way of getting liberalism out of its basic 
contradiction, namely the fact that it simultaneously safeguards and 
destroys individual freedom. Socialism proposes (and there could be 
no more worthy goal) to prevent individuals from negating each other 
through interference. The solution it actually produces, however, is very 
different, for it removes interference without liberating individuals; 
worse, it dissolves individual will in collective mediocrity. True, only the 
economic sphere is affected by socialist reforms, and opportunism— that 
is, liberalism in the sphere of everyday life— is hardly incompatible with 
bureaucratic planning of all activities from above, with promotions for 
militants, with power struggles among leaders and so on. But by abol- 
ishing economic competition and free enterprise, socialism puts an end 



to interference on one level, but retains the race for the consumption 
of power as the only authorized form of freedom. So it is a laughably 
trivial difference that divides the partisans of two kinds of self-limiting 
freedom: those in favour of liberalism in production and those in favour 
of liberalism in consumption. 

The contradiction in socialism between the struggle for radical 
change and its renunciation is well exemplified by two statements from 
the minutes of the debates of the First International. In 1867, Chemale 
reminded his listeners that ‘A product is exchanged for another product 
of equal value; anything less amounts to trickery, to fraud, to robbery’. 
According to Chemale, therefore, the problem was how to rationalize 
exchange, how to make it fair. The task of socialism was to correct capital- 
ism, to humanize it, to plan it, and to empty it of its substance (profit)— 
for who profits from the end of capitalism? But there was already 
another view of socialism, coexistent with this one, as voiced by Varlin, 
Communard-to-be, at the Geneva Congress of this same International 
Association of Workingmen in 1866: ‘So long as anything stands in the 
way of the employment of oneself freedom will not exist.’ There is thus a 
freedom locked up in socialism, but today nothing would be more fool- 
hardy than to try and release this freedom without declaring total war 
on socialism itself. 

Is any further comment needed on why every variety of latter-day 
Marxism has abandoned the Marxist project? The Soviet Union, China, 
Cuba: what is left here of the construction of the whole human being? 
The material poverty which fed the revolutionary desire for supersession 
and radical change has been attenuated, but a new poverty has emerged, 
a poverty rooted in renunciation and compromise. The renunciation of 
poverty has led to the poverty of renunciation. Was it not the feeling that 
he had allowed his initial project to be fragmented and carried through 
piecemeal that occasioned Marx’s disillusioned witticism ‘I am not a 

Even the obscenity of fascism springs from a will to live, but a will 
to live denied, turned against itself like an ingrown toenail: a will to live 
become a will to power, a will to power become a will to passive obedi- 
ence, a will to passive obedience become a death wish. For when it comes 
to the qualitative, to give an inch is to give up everything. 

By all means let us destroy fascism— but let the same destructive 
flame consume all ideologies without exception, and their lackeys to boot. 




Everywhere, things being what they are, poetic energy is abandoned or 
left to lie fallow. To break out of their isolation, people abandon their 
individual will, their subjectivity. Their recompense is the illusion of 
community and a sharpened leaning towards death. Renunciation is 
the first step towards the individual’s co-optation by the mechanisms 
of Power. 

There is no practice, no thinking that does not spring initially from 
a will to live; but there is no officially approved practice or thinking that 
does not urge us on towards death. The traces of renunciation are clues 
to a history still little known to us. The very study of such traces helps 
forge the weapons of total supersession. Where is the radical core— the 
qualitative dimension? This question has the power to shatter habits of 
mind— and habits of life; asking it furthers the development of the strat- 
egy of supersession and the building of new networks of radical resist- 
ance. It may be put to philosophy, where ontology attests to the renuncia- 
tion of being-as-becoming. It may be put to psychoanalysis, a technique 
of liberation which ‘liberates’ us in the main from the need to attack 
the organization of society. It may be put to all the dreams and desires 
stolen, violated and travestied by social conditioning. It may be put to 
the radicalism of an individual’s spontaneous acts, so often denied by 
that individual’s own perception of himself and of the world. It may be 
put to play, whose present imprisonment in the categories of permitted 
games— from roulette to war, by way of the lynch party— leaves no place 
for the authentic game of playing with each moment of everyday life. 
And it may be put to love, so inseparable from revolution yet so pitifully 
detached at the moment from the pleasure of giving. 

Take away the qualitative and all that is left is despair— despair in 
every form available to a system designed to kill human beings, namely 
hierarchical Power: reformism, fascism, philistine apoliticism, medi- 
ocracy, activism/passivity, boy-scoutism, ideological masturbation, etc. 
A friend of Joyce’s noted: ‘I don’t remember Joyce ever saying a word 
during all those years about Poincare, Roosevelt, de Valera, Stalin; never 
a mention of Geneva or Locarno, Abyssinia, Spain, China, Japan, the 
Prince affair, Violette Noziere . . .’. What, indeed, could Joyce have added 
to Ulysses and Finnegans Wake? With the Capital of individual creativ- 
ity written, the main thing was that the Leopold Blooms of the world 



should unite, cast off their miserable state of survival and actualize the 
richness and diversity of their ‘interior monologues’ in the lived reality 
of their existence. Joyce was never a comrade-in-arms to Durruti; he 
fought shoulder to shoulder with neither the Asturians nor the Viennese 
workers. At least he had the decency to pass no comment on the news of 
the day, to the anonymity of which he abandoned Ulysses (that ‘monu- 
ment of culture’, in the words of one critic), while abandoning himself, 
Joyce, man of total subjectivity. To the spinelessness of the man of letters, 
Ulysses is testimony. As for the spinelessness of renunciation, its witness 
is always the ‘forgotten’ radical moment. Revolution and counterrevolu- 
tion follow hard upon one another’s heels, sometimes within a twenty- 
four-hour period, even on the least eventful of days. And consciousness 
of the radical act and of its renunciation is ever more widespread and 
ever more discriminating. How could it be otherwise? Survival today is 
nonsupersession become unlivable. 

3. The Man of Ressentiment 

The more widely Power is dispensed in consumer-sized packs, the narrower 
the sphere of survival; eventually we enter that reptilian world where 
pleasure, the struggle for freedom, and death agony are all expressed in 
a single spasm. Base thought and short sight have long signalled the fact 
that the bourgeoisie belongs to a civilization of troglodytes in the making, 
a civilization of survival now discovering its apotheosis in the modern 
conveniences of the fallout shelter. The grandeur of the bourgeoisie was 
borrowed, acquired less by conquering an enemy than simply through 
contact with that enemy: a mere shadow, therefore, of feudal virtue, of 
God, of Nature, and so on. Once these barriers slipped from its direct 
control, the bourgeoisie found itself reduced to squabbling over details, 
inflicting wounds on itself so long as they did not threaten its existence. 
Thus the same Flaubert who skewered the bourgeois with his mockery 
issued a call to arms when it came to putting the Paris Commune down. 

The nobility made the bourgeoisie aggressive; the proletariat puts it 
on the defensive. What does the proletariat represent for the bourgeoi- 
sie? Not even a true adversary— at most a guilty conscience, one that it 
strives to conceal. Withdrawn, seeking a posture of minimum exposure 
to attack, proclaiming that reform is the only legitimate form of change, 
the bourgeoisie has made calculating envy and ressentiment the usual 
stuff of its half-way revolutions. 



I have already said that in my view no insurrection is ever frag- 
mented in its initial impulses, that it splinters only when the poetry of 
agitators and animators gives way to authoritarian leaders. What Max 
Scheler called the man of ressentiment is the official version of a revolu- 
tionary: someone bereft of awareness of the possibility of supersession, 
and unable to grasp the necessity for a reversal of perspective, who, eaten 
up by jealousy, spite and despair, tries to turn these feelings into weapons 
against a world perfectly designed to oppress him. A man isolated. A 
reformist trapped between total rejection and absolute acceptance of 
Power. The man of ressentiment rejects hierarchy out of umbrage at not 
having a place therein, and this makes him, as a rebel, an ideal slave to 
the designs of his masters of the moment. Power has no firmer support 
than thwarted ambition, which is why it makes every effort to console 
losers in its rat race by tossing them the privileged as a target for their 

Short of a reversal in perspective, therefore, hatred of Power is 
merely a form of obeisance to Power’s ascendancy. Someone who walks 
under a ladder to prove their freedom from superstition in fact proves 
just the opposite. Obsessive hatred for Power and an insatiable thirst for 
positions of authority wear down and impoverish people to the same 
degree— though perhaps not in the same way: after all, there is more 
humanity in fighting against Power than in prostituting oneself to it. 
A world of difference separates struggling to live from struggling not to 
die. Revolts within the realm of survival are measured by the yardstick of 
death, which explains why they always demand self-abnegation on the 
part of militants, along with an a priori renunciation of that will to live 
for which everyone is struggling in actuality. 

The rebel with no horizon save a wall of constraints is fated either 
to bang his head against this wall or end up defending it with dogged 
stupidity. And whether one rejects Power or embraces it, to view oneself 
in terms of constraints is to see things the way Power wants. This is man 
at zero point— swarming with vermin, as Rozanov put it. Hemmed in on 
all sides, he resists any kind of intrusion and mounts a jealous guard over 
himself, never realizing that he has become sterile, and is keeping watch 
over a grave. He has internalized his own lack of existence. Zealously 
applying the principle of fair play, he assumes Power’s impotence in 
order to fight Power. At this price, it costs him little to be pure— to play 
at being pure. How the most compromised people love to give themselves 



credit for integrity out of all proportion to the odd minor points over 
which they have preserved any! They get on their high horses because 
they refused a promotion in the army, gave out a few leaflets at a factory 
gate or got in a brawl with the cops. And all their bragging goes hand in 
hand with the most obtuse militantism in the Communist Party or one 
of its offshoots. 

Once in a while, too, a man at zero point finds that he has a world 
to conquer, that he needs more Lebensraum, a vaster ruin to swallow him 
up. The rejection of Power can so easily extend to things that Power has 
appropriated— as for example the rebel’s own self. Defining oneself in 
opposition to Power’s constraints and lies can result in those constraints 
and lies entering the mind as so many caricatures of revolt— and gener- 
ally without a trace of irony to offer a breath of air. No chain is harder 
to break than the one which the individual attaches to himself when 
he abandons his refusal in this way. When he places his freedom in the 
service of unfreedom, the resulting increase in unfreedom’s strength 
enslaves him. While it may well be that nothing more resembles unfree- 
dom as the striving for freedom, unfreedom has this distinguishing 
feature: once bought, it loses all its value, even though its price is every 
bit as high as that of freedom. 

The walls close in and we can’t breathe. The more people struggle for 
breath, the worse it gets. The ambiguity of the signs of life and freedom, 
which oscillate between their positive and negative forms according to 
the ineluctable determinants of global oppression, tends to generalize a 
confusion in which one hand is forever undoing the work of the other. 
Inability to apprehend ourselves encourages us to apprehend others on 
the basis of their negative representations, on the basis of their roles— and 
thus to treat them as objects. Old maids, bureaucrats— all, in fact, who 
thrive on survival— have no emotional acquaintanceship with any other 
reason for existing. Needless to say, Power’s best hopes of co-optation rely 
precisely on this shared malaise. The greater the mental confusion, the 
easier Power’s task. 

Myopia and voyeurism are the twin prerequisites of human adap- 
tation to the social meanness of the age. Look at the world through a 
keyhole! That is what all the specialists urge us to do. And what the 
man of ressentiment delights in doing. Unable to play a leading part, he 
demands the best seats in the theatre. He is hungry for minute platitudes 
to chew on: all politicians are crooks, de Gaulle is a great man, China is 



a workers’ paradise, etc. He longs for a live adversary to tear to pieces, or 
else for the hand of some dignitary to kiss— but he never loves or hates a 
system. How easy it is to understand the success of such crass images as 
the dirty Jew, the thieving Black, or the Two Hundred Families ! Give the 
enemy a face and the face of the masses instantly assumes the traits— the 
admirable traits— of the Defender of the Fatherland, the Chief, or the 

The man of ressentiment is available, but for that availability to come 
into play, and thereby end, passage through a sort of chrysalis stage of 
consciousness is required: that stage is nihilism. If he does not kill the 
organizers of his angst, or at least those who appear as such in the fore- 
front of his vision (managers, specialists, ideologues, etc.), the man of 
ressentiment will end up killing on behalf of some authority, on behalf 
of some reason of state, or on behalf of consumption of ideology. And if 
the state of things fails to spark a brutal explosion of violence, he will 
continue, locked in the tight grip of his bitterness, to flounder in a sea 
of roles and spread his saw-toothed conformism everywhere, applaud- 
ing revolt and repression alike, and feeling nothing but irremediable 

The Nihilist 

What is nihilism? Rozanov’s definition is perfect: ‘The show is over. The 
audience get up to leave their seats. Time to collect their coats and go 
home. They turn round. No more coats and no more home.’ 

As soon as a mythical system enters into contradiction with 
economic and social reality, a chasm opens between the way people live 
and the prevailing explanation of the world, which is suddenly inad- 
equate, completely surpassed. A whirlwind gets up, sucking up and 
smashing all traditional values. Deprived of its alibis and justifications, 
stripped of the illusions that had concealed it, the weakness of human 
beings is left naked and defenceless. Yet, inasmuch as myth was not 
only the shield and disguise of that weakness but also its cause, myth’s 
break-up opens the door to new possibilities. Its disappearance frees up 
an energy and creativity too long siphoned off from authentic experi- 
ence into religious transcendence and abstraction. The interregnum 
between the collapse of classical philosophy and the construction of the 
Christian myth witnessed an unprecedented flowering of thoughts and 
actions each richer than the next. Then came the dead hand of Rome, 



co-opting whatever it could not destroy. Later, in the sixteenth century, 
the Christian myth itself disintegrated, and another period of frenetic 
experimentation and research burst upon the world. But this time there 
was an important difference, for after 1789 any reconstitution of myth 
was strictly impossible. 

Whereas Christianity defused the explosive nihilism of certain 
Gnostic sects and improvised a protective covering for itself from the 
remains, the nihilism born of the bourgeois revolution was a concrete 
one, a nihilism quite impossible to co-opt. As I have shown, the reality 
of exchange stymies dissimulation, defies all artifice. Until the specta- 
cle is abolished, it can never be anything but the spectacle of nihilism. 
The vanity of the world, which the Pascal of the Pensees wanted to make 
people conscious of, this to the greater glory of God, is now propagated 
by historical reality itself, in the absence of God, himself a casualty of 
the shattering of myth. Nihilism has swept everything before it, God 

For the last century and a half, the most lucid contributions to 
art and life have been the fruit of free experimentation in the field of 
destroyed values. Sade’s passionate rationalism, Kierkegaard’s sarcasm, 
Nietzsche’s havering irony, the violence of Maldoror, Mallarme’s icy 
dispassion, Jarry’s Umour, Dada’s negativism— these are some of the 
impulses that have spread far and wide, investing human consciousness 
with a little of the dankness of decaying values; yet also, along with the 
dankness, the hope of a total supersession— a true reversal of perspective. 

There is a paradox here. On the one hand, the great proponents of 
nihilism lacked an essential weapon: the sense of historical reality, the 
sense of the reality of decay, erosion and fragmentation. On the other 
hand, the greatest makers of history have been tragically lacking in a 
sharp awareness of history’s immense destructive power in the bour- 
geois era: Marx failed to analyse Romanticism and the general issue of 
art; Lenin was almost wilfully blind to the importance of everyday life, 
of the Futurists, of Mayakovsky, or of the Dadaists. 

Consciousness of the rise of nihilism and consciousness of the move- 
ment of history seem curiously far apart. Through the breach between 
them surge hordes of passive liquidators, crushing the very values 
they claim to be defending under the weight of their stupidity. They 
include Communist bureaucrats, Fascist brutes, ideologues, shady poli- 
ticians, sub-Joycean writers, neo-Dadaist thinkers, and priests of the 



piecemeal— all working assiduously for the Big Nothing in the name of 
one order or another: family, administration, morality, culture, revo- 
lutionary cybernetics (!), etc. Had history not advanced so far, perhaps 
nihilism would not yet seem like a general truth, a basic banality. But 
advanced it has. Nihilism is a self-destruct mechanism: today a flame, 
tomorrow ashes. Reification has imbued everyday reality with nothing- 
ness. The values of the past, now in ruins, fuel the intensive production 
of consumable and ‘futurized’ values marketed under the quaint label 
of ‘modern’, but they also thrust us inevitably towards a future yet to be 
constructed, or in other words towards the supersession of nihilism. In 
the desperate consciousness of the new generation a slow reconciliation 
is occurring between history as dissolution and history as construction. An 
alliance between nihilism and the forces of supersession means that 
supersession will be total. Herein without doubt lies the only wealth to 
be found in the affluent society. 

When the man of ressentiment becomes aware that survival is a 
losing proposition, he turns into a nihilist. So tightly does he embrace 
the impossibility of living that even survival is fatally challenged. But 
nihilist angst is unlivable: an absolute void cannot hold. The whirlwind 
of past and future reduces the present to zero point. And from that still 
point there are two ways out, namely the two varieties of nihilism that I 
describe as active and passive. 


Grounded in compromise and indifference, nihilist passivity combines 
an awareness of the collapse of all values with a deliberate, often self- 
interested choice to defend one or other such discredited value come 
hell or high water, ‘gratuitously’, for Art’s sake. Nothing is true, so a few 
gestures have virtue. Delusional followers of the Fascist Charles Maurras, 
pataphysicians, jingoists, aesthetes of the acte gratuit, informers, O.A.S. 
bombers, Pop Artists— an endless parade of charmers, all working out 
their own particular version of the credo quia absurdum est: you don’t 
believe in it, but you do it anyway; you get used to it and even get to like 
it. Passive nihilism is a plunge into conformism. 

Which said, nihilism can never be more than a transition, a shift- 
ing, ambiguous sphere, a period of wavering between two extremes, 
one leading to submission and subservience, the other to permanent 
revolt. Between these two poles lies a no-man’s-land, the wasteland of 



the suicide and the solitary killer, of that criminal described so aptly by 
Bettina as the crime of the State. Jack the Ripper is forever inaccessible— 
beyond the reach of either hierarchical Power or revolutionary will. An 
in-itself, so to speak! He gravitates around that zero point where destruc- 
tion is no longer the continuation of the destruction wrought by Power 
but instead runs ahead of it, leaving it behind and so accelerating things 
that the machine of ‘In the Penal Colony’ shatters into pieces and flies 
apart. In the figure of Maldoror the dissolution wrought by modern social 
organization reaches its climax, namely self-destruction. The individu- 
al’s absolute rejection of society echoes society’s absolute rejection of the 
individual. Is this not the still point of the reversal of perspective, the 
moment of equilibrium where neither movement, nor dialectics, nor 
time exist? Noon and eternity of the great refusal. Before it, the pogroms; 
beyond it, the new innocence. The blood of Jews or the blood of cops. 


Active nihilism combines consciousness of disintegration with a desire to 
expose its causes by speeding up the process. The disorder thus fomented 
is merely a reflection of the chaos ruling the world. Active nihilism is 
prerevolutionary; passive nihilism is counterrevolutionary. And many 
ordinary people, torn this way and that, dance a tragicomical hesita- 
tion waltz between the two— rather like the Red Army soldier described 
by some Soviet author (Viktor Shklovsky perhaps) who never charged 
without shouting, ‘Long Live the Tsar! ’ But sooner or later circumstances 
are bound to draw the line, and people suddenly find themselves, once 
and for all, on one side or the other. 


Dancing for oneself always means learning to disregard the beat of the 
official world. One’s demands, furthermore, must be carried to their 
logical conclusion, and one’s radicalism never abandoned at the first 
turn. As it approaches the point of exhaustion in its search for new 
motivations, the race for consumable items is ingenious enough to enlist 
the way-out, the bizarre and the shocking. Black humour and atrocity 
are readily incorporated into the advertising mix. There are ways, too, 
of flirting with nonconformity that conform to the prevailing value 
system. Awareness of the decay of values has its place in sales strategy. 
Disintegration is itself a commodity, and the vacuity of both ideas and 



objects, if loudly enough proclaimed, sells well. The figurine salt-shaker 
of Kennedy now in supermarkets, complete with ‘bullet-holes’ through 
which to pour the salt, should be enough to convince anybody if need be 
how easily the sort of gag that would once have delighted Emile Pouget 
and his Pere Peinard is now a source of profit. 

Consciousness of decay reached its highest expression with Dadaism. 
Dada really did contain the seeds of nihilism’s supersession, but the 
movement left them to rot along with everything else. As for Surrealism, 
its whole failing lay in the fact that it was an accurate critique made 
at the wrong moment. What this means is that while their critique of 
Dada’s aborting of supersession was perfectly justified, the Surrealists’ 
own attempt to surpass Dada did not go back to Dada’s initial nihilism, 
did not build on Dada-anti-Dada, and did not view Dada historically. 
History was the nightmare from which the Surrealists never awoke: they 
were defenceless before the Communist Party; they were caught short by 
the Spanish Civil War. For all their yapping they slunk after the official 
Left like faithful dogs. 

Certain features of Romanticism had already shown, without awak- 
ening the slightest interest on the part of Marx or Engels, that art— the 
pulse of culture and society— was the first indicator of the disintegration 
of values. A century later, while Lenin deemed the issue frivolous, the 
Dadaists saw in an abscessed art the symptom of a generalized cancer, a 
sickness of society as a whole. The unpleasant in art is just a reflection 
of the art of unpleasure practised everywhere under the rule of Power. 
That is what the Dadaists of 1916 so clearly demonstrated. The only way 
forward from their analysis was armed struggle. The neo-Dadaist maggots 
of Pop Art swarming in the dung heap of present-day consumerism have 
naturally found better things to do ! 

The Dadaists, working to cure themselves and their contemporaries 
of the dissatisfaction of their lives— working, in the last reckoning, more 
consistently than Freud— set up the first laboratory for the rehabilita- 
tion of everyday life. In this respect their action went well beyond their 
thinking. ‘The point was to work completely in the dark,’ the painter 
Georg Grosz recalled later. ‘We didn’t know what we were doing.’ The 
Dada group was a sausage-machine taking in all the banalities and empty 
self-importance in the world; from the other end everything came out 
transformed, original, brand new. People and things were the same, but 
they had acquired new meanings and signs. The reversal of perspective 



began with this magical recovery of direct experience. In this way, repur- 
posing— the tactics of the reversal of perspective— shattered the change- 
less framework of the old world. Lautreamont’s ‘poetry made by every- 
one’ found its full meaning in this achievement— a far cry indeed from 
the literary mentality to which the Surrealists eventually, and so pitifully, 

The initial weakness of Dada lay in its extraordinary humility. Think 
of Tzara, who, it is said, used every morning to repeat Descartes’s state- 
ment, ‘I do not even want to know that there were men before me’. This 
Tzara, a buffoon taking himself as seriously as a pope, may easily be recog- 
nized as the same individual who later disregarded the likes of Ravachol, 
Bonnot, or Makhno and his companions and joined Stalin’s herds. If 
Dada broke up when faced with the impossibility of supersession, it was 
because the Dadaists lacked the wit to look to history for those occasions 
when supersession was in fact possible— those moments when the masses 
arise and take their destiny into their own hands. 

The first act of renunciation is always terrible. From Surrealism to 
neo-Dadaism, Dada’s original error has had ever-broadening repercus- 
sions. The Surrealists for their part did look to the past, but consider the 
results. Their attempt to correct the Dadaists’ mistake only made thing 
worse, for in lionizing such genuinely admirable figures as a Sade, a 
Fourier or a Lautreamont, they wrote so much (and so well) about them 
that these proteges of theirs won the dubious honour of mention in 
school curricula— a literary celebrity akin to that which the neo-Dadaists 
were to win for their forebears in today’s spectacle of disintegration. 


For an international phenomenon today that in any way resembles Dada, 
one would have to consider the finest exploits of juvenile delinquents. 
The same contempt for art and bourgeois values. The same refusal of 
ideology. The same will to live. The same ignorance of history. The same 
primitive revolt. The same lack of tactics. 

What the nihilist fails to realize is that other people are nihilists too, 
yet the nihilism of other people is now an active historical factor. The 
nihilist has no consciousness of the possibility of supersession. Remember, 
however, that the present reign of survival, in which all the talk about 
progress expresses nothing so much as despair of its possibility, is itself 
a product of history, itself the outcome of all the renunciations of the 



human over the centuries. I venture to say that the history of survival is 
the historical movement that will undo history itself. For clear aware- 
ness of survival and of its intolerable conditions is on the point of fusing 
with a consciousness of the successive renunciations of the past, and 
thus too with the real desire to pick up the movement of supersession 
everywhere in space and time where it has been prematurely interrupted. 
Supersession— which is to say the revolution of everyday life— will consist 
in retrieving all such abandoned radical seeds and injecting them with 
the unmatched violence of ressentiment. The resulting chain reaction 
of underground creativity cannot fail to demolish Power’s perspective. 
In the last reckoning, the nihilists are our only allies. Although they now 
suffer the despair of nonsupersession, a coherent theory may be expected, 
by demonstrating the mistakenness of their viewpoint, to place all the 
potential energy of their accumulated rancour at the service of their will 
to live. Once armed with two basic notions— the understanding of what it 
means to renounce radical demands and the historical consciousness of 
disintegration— anyone can fight for the radical transformation of every- 
day life and of the world. Nihilists, as Sade would have said, one more effort 
if you would be revolutionaries! 

XIX Reversal of Perspective 

The light of Power obscures. The eyes of the illusion of community 
are holes in a mask, holes to which the eyes of individual subjectivity 
cannot adapt. The individual point of view must prevail over the point 
of view of false collective participation. Taking the totality as our 
reference point, we must confront the social realm with the weapons 
of subjectivity and rebuild everything on the basis of the self. The 
reversal of perspective is the positive aspect of the negative— the 
swelling fruit about to shatter the husk of the old world. 


One day Herr Keuner was asked just what he meant by ‘reversal of perspec- 
tive’, and he told the following story. Two brothers, deeply attached to 
each another, had a strange habit. They would use pebbles to record the 
nature of each day’s events, a white stone for each moment of happi- 
ness, a black one for any misfortune or distress. They soon discovered, on 
comparing the contents of their jars of pebbles at the end of each day, that 
one brother collected only white pebbles, the other only black. Intrigued 
by the remarkable consistency with which they each experienced similar 
circumstances in a quite different way, they resolved to seek the opinion 
of an old man famed for his wisdom. ‘You don’t talk about it enough’, 
said the wise man. ‘Each of you should seek the causes of your choices 
and explain them to the other.’ The two brothers followed this advice, and 
soon found that while the first remained faithful to his white pebbles, 
and the second to his black ones, in neither of the jars were there now so 
many pebbles as formerly. Where there had usually been thirty or so, each 
brother would now collect scarcely more than seven or eight. Before long 
the wise man had another visit from the two brothers, both looking very 
downcast. ‘Not long ago,’ began the first brother, ‘my jar would fill up 
with pebbles as black as night. I lived in unrelieved despair. I confess that 
I only went on living out of force of habit. Now, I rarely collect more than 
eight pebbles in a day. But what these eight symbols of misery represent 



has become so intolerable that I simply cannot go on living like this.’ The 
other brother told the wise man: ‘Every day I used to pile up my white 
pebbles. These days I only get seven or eight, but these exercise such a fasci- 
nation over me that I cannot recall these moments of happiness without 
immediately wanting to live them over again, even more intensely than 
before. In fact I long to keep on experiencing them forever, and this desire 
is a torment to me.’ The wise man smiled as he listened. ‘Excellent, excel- 
lent’, he said. ‘Things are shaping up well. You must persevere. One other 
thing. From time to time, ask yourselves why this game with the jar and 
the pebbles excites you so much.’ The next time the two brothers visited 
the wise man, they had this to say: ‘Well, we asked ourselves the question, 
as you suggested, but we have no answer. So we asked everyone in the 
village. You should see how much it has aroused them. Whole families 
sit outside their houses in the evenings arguing about white pebbles and 
black pebbles. Only the elders and notables refuse to take part in these 
discussions. They laugh at us, and say that a pebble is a pebble, black or 
white.’ The old man could not conceal his delight at this. ‘Everything is 
going as I had foreseen. Don’t worry. Soon the question will no longer 
arise; it has already lost its importance, and I daresay that one day soon 
you will have forgotten that you ever concerned yourselves with it.’ Not 
long thereafter the old man’s predictions were confirmed in the following 
manner. A great joy seized the people of the village. And as dawn broke 
after a night full of comings and goings, the first rays of sunlight fell upon 
the heads of the elders and notables, freshly struck from their bodies and 
impaled upon the sharp-pointed stakes of a palisade. 


The world has always been a geometry. The angle and perspective from 
which people were supposed to see each other, speak to each other, and 
represent each other were once subject to the sovereign decision of the 
gods of the unitary system. Then human beings— specifically, the bour- 
geoisie-played a dirty trick on those gods: they put them in perspec- 
tive, situating them within a historical process in which they were born, 
developed, and died. History has been the twilight of the gods. 

Once historicized, God became inextricable from the dialectic of his 
material nature, from the dialectic of master and slave, and from the 
history of the class struggle and of hierarchical social power. Thus in a sense 
the bourgeoisie instigated a reversal of perspective, but only to restrict it 



immediately to the plane of appearances: God has been abolished but the 
pillars which supported him still rise towards an empty sky. The explosion 
that demolished the cathedral of sacred values must have produced very 
slow shockwaves, for only now, two centuries after the deicide, are the last 
chunks of the masonry of myth being ground to powder as the spectacle 
crumbles. The bourgeoisie presides over one phase only of the dynamiting 
of a God whose absolute disappearance is now in the offing; so completely 
will God vanish, indeed, that every trace of his material origins— which is 
to say man’s domination by man— will disappear along with him. 

The mechanisms of the economy, the control and force of which 
the bourgeoisie in part mastered, exposed Power’s material basis while 
enabling it to dispense with the divine phantom. But at what price? 
God, that grand negation of humanity, once offered the faithful a sort of 
refuge where, paradoxically, they found a justification for rising up, as the 
mystics so often did, against temporal authorities, invoking God’s absolute 
power against the ‘usurped’ power of priests and rulers. Today, however, 
Power comes down to humans, makes advances to them, and makes 
itself consumable. It weighs more and more heavily upon them, reduces 
the sphere of life to mere survival, and shrinks time to the transience 
of roles. Somewhat schematically speaking, Power might be compared 
to an angle— an acute angle, to begin with, its point lost in the heavens, 
then gradually widening as its tip descends and emerges from the clouds, 
eventually becoming so wide that it disappears altogether and we are 
left with a straight line that is no more than a series of equivalent, weak 
points. Beyond this line, which represents the moment of nihilism, a new 
perspective opens which is neither a reflection nor an inversion of the 
earlier one. Rather, it is an ensemble of harmonized individual perspec- 
tives which never clash but which successfully construct a coherent and 
collective world. All these angles, though different, open in the same 
direction, as individual will and collective will gradually become one. 

The function of conditioning is to assign and adjust people’s posi- 
tions on the hierarchical ladder. The reversal of perspective entails a kind 
of anticonditioning. Not a new form of conditioning, but a playful tactic, 
namely detoumement, or repurposing. 

The reversal of perspective replaces knowledge by praxis, hope by 
freedom, and mediation by the will to immediacy. It enshrines the 
victory of a system of human relationships founded on three insepara- 
ble principles: participation, communication and fulfilment. 



To reverse perspective is to stop seeing things through the eyes of the 
community, of ideology, of the family, of other people. To grasp hold of 
oneself as something solid, to take oneself as starting-point and centre. 
To base everything on subjectivity and to follow one’s subjective will to 
be everything. In the sights of my insatiable desire to live, the totality of 
Power is merely one target on a wider horizon. Nor can Power spoil my 
aim by deploying its forces: on the contrary, I can track their movements, 
gauge the threat they pose, and study their responses. My creativity, as 
insignificant as it may be, is a far better guide for me than all the knowl- 
edge with which my head has been crammed. In the night of Power, its 
glimmer keeps the enemy forces at bay. Those forces are cultural condi- 
tioning, specialization of every kind, and Weltanschauung en that are 
inevitably totalitarian. In creativity everyone possesses the ultimate 
weapon. But this weapon, like some talismans, must be used wittingly. 
Where creativity is mobilized against the grain, in the service of lies and 
oppression, it turns into a sad farce, and is duly consecrated as art. Acts 
that destroy Power and acts that construct individual free will have the 
same form but their range is different; as any good strategist knows, you 
prepare in different ways for defence and attack. 

We have not chosen the reversal of perspective out of some kind 
of voluntarism. It has chosen us. Caught up as we are in the historical 
stage of NOTHING, the next step can only be a change in EVERYTHING. 
Consciousness of total revolution— or rather, of the necessity for it— is the 
only way we have left of being historical, our last chance to undo history 
under specific conditions. The game we are about to join is the game of 
our creativity. Its rules are radically opposed to the rules and laws of our 
society. It is a game of loser wins: what is left unsaid is more important 
than what is said, what is actually lived more important than what is 
represented by appearances. And the game must be played out to the end. 
How can anyone who has suffered oppression till their very bones rebel 
turn down the life-raft of the will to live without reservations? Woe betide 
those who abandon their violence and their radical demands along the 
way. As Nietzsche noted, murdered truths become poisonous. If we do 
not reverse perspective, Power’s perspective will succeed in turning us 
against ourselves once and for all. German Fascism was spawned in the 
blood of Spartakus. Our everyday renunciations— no matter how trivial— 
lend fuel to our foe, who seeks nothing short of our complete destruction. 

XX Creativity, Spontaneity and Poetry 

Human beings live in a state of creativity twenty-four hours a day. 
The manipulation of the notion of freedom by the mechanisms of 
domination, once it is exposed to view, sheds a positive light on its 
opposite, namely the exercise of a genuine freedom inseparable 
from individual creativity. Thereafter, the injunctions of production, 
consumption and organization can no longer co-opt the passion 
to create, which dissolves the consciousness of constraint [1], 
Spontaneity is the mode of existence of creativity: not an isolated 
state, but the unmediated experience of subjectivity. Spontaneity 
concretizes the passion for creation and initiates its practical 
realization: it is the precondition of poetry, of the impulse to change 
the world in accordance with the demands of radical subjectivity [2). 
The qualitative is the manifest presence of creative spontaneity, a 
direct communication of the essential, and poetry's opportunity. It 
crystallizes possibilities, increases knowledge and effectiveness, 
and provides the proper modus operandi for intelligence. Its criteria 
are of its own making. The qualitative leap sparks a chain reaction, 
as may be seen in all revolutionary moments. Such a reaction must 
be kindled by the positive scandal of free and total creativity [3], 
Poetry organizes creative spontaneity inasmuch as it projects it into 
the world. Poetry is the agency that engenders new realities: the 
fulfilment of radical theory, the revolutionary act par excellence [4). 


In a fractionary world whose common denominator throughout history 
has been hierarchical social power, only one freedom has ever been toler- 
ated: the freedom to change the numerator, the unchanging freedom to 
change masters. Freedom so understood has finally lost its appeal, the 
more so since even the worst totalitarianisms, East and West, are inces- 
santly invoking it. The present generalization of the refusal to simply 
change bosses coincides with a reorganization of the State. All the 



governments of the industrialized or semi-industrialized world now tend 
to model themselves— to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the level 
of development— on a single prototype: the common aim is to rational- 
ize— to automate, as it were— the old mechanisms of domination. And 
herein lies freedom’s first opportunity. The bourgeois democracies have 
clearly shown that individual freedoms can be tolerated only insofar as 
they limit and destroy one another. Now that this is clear, it has become 
impossible for any government, no matter how sophisticated, to wave 
the muleta of liberty without everyone discerning the sword concealed 
behind it; without the incessant evocation of freedom producing a back- 
lash, as freedom, rediscovering its true roots in individual creativity, 
violently refuses to be no more than the permitted, the licit, the toler- 
able— the smile on the face of authority. 

Freedom’s second opportunity comes once it has retrieved its crea- 
tive authenticity, and it relates to the mechanisms of Power themselves. 
Abstract systems of exploitation and domination are obviously human 
creations, brought into being and refined through the redirection or 
co-optation of creativity. The only forms of creativity that authority can 
deal with, or wishes to deal with, are those which the spectacle can co-opt. 
But what people do officially is nothing compared with what they do in 
secret. Creativity is usually evoked apropos of works of art, but what are 
works of art alongside the creative energy displayed by each individual a 
thousand times a day? Alongside seething unsatisfied desires, daydreams 
in search of a foothold in reality, feelings at once confused and lumi- 
nously clear, ideas and actions presaging nameless upheavals? All this 
energy, of course, is relegated to anonymity and deprived of adequate 
means of expression, imprisoned by survival and obliged to find outlets 
by sacrificing its qualitative riches and conforming to the spectacle’s 
categories. Think of Cheval’s palace, Fourier’s inspired system, or the 
pictorial universe of Douanier Rousseau. Even closer to home, consider 
the incredible diversity of our own dreams— landscapes the brilliance of 
whose colours qualitatively surpass the finest canvases of a Van Gogh. We 
are all forever at work on an ideal world within ourselves, even as our 
outward motions comply with soulless routines. 

No one, no matter how alienated, is without (or unaware of) an 
irreducible core of creativity, a camera obscura safe from intrusion by lies 
and constraints. If ever social organization extends its control to this 
stronghold of humanity, its dominion will no longer be exercised over 



anything save robots, or corpses. And, in a sense, that is why conscious- 
ness of creative energy increases, paradoxically enough, as a function of 
consumer society’s efforts to co-opt it. 

Argus is blind to the danger right in front of him. Where quan- 
tity reigns, quality has no recognized legal existence; but this is the 
very thing that safeguards and nourishes it. I have already noted that 
the dissatisfaction bred by the manic pursuit of quantity calls forth a 
radical desire for the qualitative. The more oppression is justified in 
terms of the freedom to consume, the more the malaise arising from 
this contradiction exacerbates the thirst for total freedom. The crisis of 
production-based capitalism pointed up the element of repressed crea- 
tivity in the energy expended by the worker. The alienation of creativity 
through forced labour, thanks to the exploitation of the producers, was 
denounced once and for all by Marx. Whatever the capitalist system and 
its successors (even antagonistic ones) have lost on the production front 
they try to make up for in the sphere of consumption. The plan is that, 
as they gradually free themselves from their duties as producers, human 
beings should be trapped by newer obligations as consumers. By opening 
up the empty lot of leisure time to a creativity liberated at long last by 
shorter working hours, the well-intentioned apostles of humanism have 
merely mustered an army fit for drilling on the training-grounds of the 
consumer economy. Now that the alienation of the consumer is being 
laid bare by consumption’s own internal dialectic, one may wonder what 
kind of prison awaits the highly subversive forces of individual creativity. 
As I pointed out earlier, the rulers’ last chance here is to turn us all into 
organizers of our own passivity. 

With touching candour, Dewitt Peters suggests that handing out 
paints, brushes and canvas to everyone who requested them would 
produce very interesting results. It is true that if this policy were applied 
in a variety of well-defined and well-policed spheres, such as the theatre, 
the plastic arts, music, writing, etc., and in a general way to any such 
sphere susceptible of total isolation from all others, then the system 
might have a hope of endowing people with the consciousness of the 
artist, which is to say the consciousness of someone who professes to 
exhibit their creativity in the museums and shop windows of culture. 
The popularity of such a culture would be a clear sign of Power’s success. 
Fortunately, the chances of people being successfully ‘culturized’ in this 
way are now slight. Do the cyberneticians and their ilk really imagine 



that people can be talked into ‘free experimentation’ within bounds laid 
down by authoritarian decree? Or that prisoners at last aware of their 
creative capacity might daub their cells with ‘original graffiti’ and leave 
it at that? What would prevent them from extending their new-found 
penchant for experiment to weapons, desires, dreams, and all manner 
of means of self-fulfilment? The crowd, after all, is already full of agita- 
tors. No: the last possible way of co-opting creativity— the organization 
of artistic passivity— is, happily, doomed to failure. 

‘What I am trying to reach,’ wrote Paul Klee, ‘is a far-off point, at the 
source of creation, where I suspect a single explanatory principle applies 
for man, animals, plants, fire, water, air and all the forces that surround 
us.’ As a matter of fact, this point is far off only in Power’s deceiving 
perspective: the source of all creation lies in individual creativity; it is 
from here that everything, being or thing, is ordered in accordance with 
poetry’s grand freedom. This is the starting-point of the new perspective, 
the perspective that everyone is striving with all their might and at every 
moment of their existence to reach. ‘Subjectivity is the only truth’, says 

Power cannot co-opt true creativity. In 1869 the Brussels police 
thought they had found the famous gold of the International, about 
which the capitalists were losing so much sleep. They seized a huge 
strongbox hidden in some dark corner, but when they opened it they 
found only coal. Little did the police know that the pure gold of the 
International would turn into coal if touched by enemy hands. 

A revolutionary alchemy transmutes the basest metals of daily life 
into gold in the laboratories of individual creativity. The most important 
thing is to dissolve the consciousness of constraint, the sense of impo- 
tence, by means of creativity’s magnetic power; to melt such feelings 
away in a surge of creative energy serene in the affirmation of genius. As 
sterile as it may be in the race for prestige in the spectacle, megalomania 
is a vital feature of the struggle of the self against the massed forces of 
conditioning. The creative spark, which is the spark of true life, shines all 
the more brightly in the night of nihilism triumphant. But as the project 
of a new and improved survival aborts, such sparks will proliferate and 
gradually coalesce into a single light, the promise of a form of organiza- 
tion based on the harmonizing of individual wills. History is leading us to 
the crossroads where radical subjectivity meets the real prospect of chang- 
ing the world: that privileged moment when the perspective is reversed. 



2. Spontaneity 

Spontaneity is the mode of being of individual creativity, its original, 
immaculate form, neither polluted at the source nor threatened by 
co-optation. Whereas creativity is the most equitably distributed thing 
imaginable, spontaneity seems to be the privileged possession of those 
whom long resistance to Power has endowed with a consciousness of 
their own value as individuals. In revolutionary moments this means the 
majority; at other times, when the revolution must be prepared day by 
day, it means more people than one might suppose. Wherever the light 
of creativity continues to shine, spontaneity has a chance. 

‘The new artist protests’, wrote Tzara in 1919. ‘He no longer paints: 
he creates directly.’ Immediacy is certainly the most succinct, but also 
the most radical demand that must characterize the new artists of today, 
who are destined to be constructors of situations to be lived directly. I 
say ‘succinct’ because it is important after all not to be misled by the 
word ‘spontaneity’. The spontaneous can never spring from internalized 
constraints, even subconscious ones, nor can it abide alienating abstrac- 
tion or spectacular co-optation: clearly it is a conquest, not a given. The 
reconstruction of the individual presupposes the reconstruction of the 
unconscious (consider the construction of dreams). 

What spontaneous creativity has lacked up to now is the clear 
consciousness of its own poetry. Common sense has always treated spon- 
taneity as a primary state, an initial stage in need of theoretical adjust- 
ment, of transposition into abstract terms. This view isolates spontaneity, 
treats it as a thing-in-itself— and thus recognizes it only in the travestied 
forms which it acquires within the spectacle (e.g., action painting). In 
point of fact spontaneous creativity carries the seeds of its effective devel- 
opment within itself. It is possessed of its own poetry. 

For me spontaneity is immediate, the consciousness of a lived experi- 
ence which, though hemmed in on all sides and threatened by prohibi- 
tions, is not yet alienated, not yet reduced to inauthenticity. The centre 
of lived experience is where we all get closest to ourselves. Within this 
unique space-time, I am quite convinced, being real exempts me from 
necessity. It is always the feeling of necessity that alienates me. I was 
taught to look upon myself as in default (in the legal sense); but all 
it takes is an instant of awareness of authentic life to sweep away all 
evasions, consigning the absence of a future to the same void as the 
absence of a past. Consciousness of the present harmonizes with lived 



experience by virtue of a kind of improvisation. I cannot help thinking 
that the pleasure this brings us— poor, because it is still isolated, yet rich 
in that it already reaches out towards an identical pleasure in others— 
bears a striking resemblance to the pleasure of jazz. At its best moments, 
the improvisational style in everyday life has much in common with jazz 
as described by Alfons Dauer: ‘The African conception of rhythm differs 
from the Western in that it is perceived through bodily movement rather 
than aurally. The technique consists essentially in the introduction of 
discontinuity into the static equilibrium imposed on the passage of time 
by rhythm and metre. This discontinuity, which results from the pres- 
ence of ecstatic centres of gravity out of time with the musical rhythm 
and metre proper, creates continual tensions between the static beat and 
the ecstatic beat superimposed on it.’ 

The instant of creative spontaneity is the minutest possible mani- 
festation of the reversal of perspective. It is a unitary moment, that is to 
say one and many. The eruption of lived pleasure is such that in losing 
myself I find myself; forgetting that I exist, I am fulfilled. Consciousness 
of immediate experience is simply this oscillation, this jazz, this balanc- 
ing act. By contrast, thought directed towards lived experience with 
analytic intent is bound to remain detached from that experience. This 
applies to all reflections on everyday life, including, to be sure, the present 
one. That is why I am continually at pains to introduce an element of 
self-criticism in hopes of staving off the kind of co-optation that so often 
prevails. The traveller who is always thinking about the length of the 
road ahead tires more easily than his companion who lets his imagina- 
tion wander as they go along. Similarly, anxious attention paid to lived 
experience can only impede it, abstract it, and make it into nothing more 
than a series of memories-to-be. 

If thought is really to find a basis in lived experience, it has to be free. 
The way to ensure this is to think other in the register of the same. As you 
construct yourself, imagine another yourself that will one day construct 
you in its turn. Such is my conception of spontaneity: the highest possi- 
ble level of self-consciousness that is still inseparable from the self and 
from the world. 

All the same, we have to find the path back to a spontaneity that 
industrial civilizations have allowed to become overgrown. And getting 
the right grip on life is no easy matter. Individual experience is also an 
easy target, a golden opportunity, for madness. Kierkegaard describes this 



state of affairs as follows: ‘It is true that I have a lifebelt, but I cannot see 
the pole which is supposed to pull me out of the water. This is a hideous 
way to experience things.’ The pole is there, of course, and no doubt 
everyone could grab on to it, though many would be so slow about it that 
they would die of anxiety before realizing its existence. But exist it does, 
and its name is radical subjectivity: the consciousness that all people 
have the same will to authentic self-fulfilment, and that their subjec- 
tivity is strengthened by the perception of this same subjective will in 
others. This way of getting out of oneself and radiating outwards, not so 
much towards others as towards that part of oneself that is to be found 
in others, is what gives creative spontaneity the strategic importance of 
a gun emplacement. The concepts and abstractions which rule us have 
to be returned to their source, to lived experience, not in order to vali- 
date them, but on the contrary to correct them, to turn them on their 
heads, to restore them to that sphere whence they derive and which they 
should never have left. This is a necessary precondition of people’s immi- 
nent realization that their individual creativity is indistinguishable from 
universal creativity. The sole authority is one’s own lived experience— and 
this it is up to everyone to prove to everyone else. 

3 . The Qualitative 

I have already said that creativity, though equitably distributed to all, 
finds direct, spontaneous expression only on specific occasions. These are 
pre-revolutionary moments, the source of the poetry that changes life 
and transforms the world. They must surely be placed under the sign of 
the qualitative— that modern equivalent of grace. The presence of the 
divine abomination was intimated by a cloying spirituality suddenly 
conferred upon anyone, from the most rustic to the most refined, on an 
idiot like Paul Claudel as readily as on a Saint John of the Cross; simi- 
larly, a gesture, an attitude, perhaps merely a word, may suffice to signal 
that poetry’s chance is at hand, that the total construction of everyday 
life, a global reversal of perspective— in short, the revolution— are within 
reach. The qualitative encapsulates and crystallizes these possibilities; it 
is a direct communication of the essential. 

One day Kagame heard an old woman of Rwanda, who could neither 
read nor write, complaining: ‘Really, these whites are incurably naive. 
They have no brains at all.’ ‘How can you be so stupid?’ he answered her. 
‘I would like to see you invent so many unimaginably marvellous things 



as the whites have done.’ With a condescending smile, the old woman 
replied, ‘Listen, my child. They may have learned a lot of things, but they 
have no brains. They don’t understand anything’. And she was right, for 
the curse of technological civilization, of quantified exchange and scien- 
tific knowledge, is that they have created no means of freeing people’s 
spontaneous creativity directly; indeed, they do not even allow people 
to understand the world in any unmediated fashion. The sentiment 
expressed by the Rwandan woman— whom the Belgian administrator 
doubtless looked upon, from the heights of his superior intelligence, as a 
wild animal— may also be found, though laden with guilt and bad faith, 
and hence marred by crass stupidity, in the old saw according to which 
‘I have studied a great deal and therefore know that I know nothing.’ For 
it is false, in a sense, to say that studying something can teach us nothing, 
so long as our study does not abandon the point of view of the totality. 
What is really meant by ‘nothing’ here is the various stages of the quali- 
tative— whatever, at whatever level, advances the qualitative. By way of 
an analogy, imagine a number of apartments located immediately above 
one another, communicating directly by means of a central lift and also 
indirectly linked by an outside spiral staircase. People on any floor have 
one-stop access by elevator to any higher one, but cannot communicate 
with those in the process of climbing the stairs outside. Between those 
capable of such qualitative leaps and those obliged to ascend step by step, 
no dialogue is possible. Most of the revolutionary workers of 1848 were no 
doubt incapable of reading the Communist Manifesto, yet they possessed 
within themselves the essential lessons of Marx and Engels’s text. In fact 
this is what made the Marxist theory truly radical. It was the objective 
conditions of working-class life and its corollaries, explained in theoreti- 
cal terms on a higher floor, as it were, that made it possible for the most 
illiterate proletarian to understand Marx immediately when the moment 
came. Cultivated individuals who use their culture like a flame-thrower 
are bound to connect with the less cultivated, who experience in the 
lived reality of their everyday lives what the former express in scholarly 
terms. The arms of criticism do indeed have to join forces with criticism 
by force of arms. 

Only the qualitative permits a higher floor to be reached in one 
bound. This is the lesson that any endangered group must learn, the 
pedagogy of the barricades. The graduated world of hierarchical power, 
however, can only envisage knowledge as being likewise graduated: those 



people on the outside stairs, experts on the type and number of steps, 
meet, pass, bump into one another and trade insults. What difference 
does it make? At the bottom we have the autodidact gorged on plati- 
tudes, at the top the intellectual collecting ideas like butterflies: mirror 
images of foolishness. The distinction between Miguel de Unamuno and 
the repulsive Millan Astray, between the paid thinker and his reviler, is 
an empty one: where the qualitative is not in evidence, intelligence is a 
fool’s cap and bells. 

The alchemists called those elements needed for the Great Work the 
materia prima. Paracelsus describes it in terms that apply perfectly to the 
qualitative: ‘It is obvious that the poor possess it in greater abundance 
than the rich. People squander the good portion of it and keep only the 
bad. It is visible and invisible, and children play with it in the street, but 
the ignorant crush it underfoot every day.’ The consciousness of this 
qualitative materia prima will surely become more and more acute in 
most minds as the bastions of specialized thought and graduated knowl- 
edge collapse. Those who make a profession of creating, and those whose 
profession prevents them from creating, both artists and workers, are 
being pushed into the same nihilism by the process of proletarianization. 
This process, which is accompanied by resistance to it— resistance, that is, 
to co-opted forms of creativity— occurs amid such a plethora of cultural 
goods— records, films, paperback books— that once these commodities 
have been freed from the laws of consumption they will pass immedi- 
ately into the service of true creativity. The sabotage of the mechanisms 
of economic and cultural consumption is epitomized by young people 
who steal the books in which they expect to find confirmation of their 

Once reconquered by the qualitative, the most varied kinds of 
knowledge combine and form a magnetic network powerful enough to 
overthrow the most oppressive traditions. The force of simple spontane- 
ous creativity increases knowledge at an exponential rate. Using make- 
shift equipment and negligible funds, a German engineer recently built 
an apparatus able to perform all the functions of the cyclotron accelera- 
tor. If individual creativity can achieve such results with such meagre 
prompting, what marvels of energy may be anticipated from the quali- 
tative shock waves and chain reactions that will occur when the spirit of 
freedom still alive in the individual emerges once more in collective form 
to celebrate the great social fete, with its joyous breaking of all taboos. 



The task of a coherent revolutionary group, far from being the 
creation of a new type of conditioning, is to establish protected areas 
where the intensity of conditioning tends towards zero. Making every- 
one aware of their creative potential will be a hapless task if no recourse 
is had to qualitative shock tactics. Nothing more can be expected from 
mass parties and other groupings based on the principle of quantitative 
recruitment. Something can be expected, on the other hand, from micro- 
societies whose members recognize their peers by their radical action or 
thinking, groups maintained in a permanent state of practical readiness 
by strict attention to theoretical consistency. Cells established along such 
lines have every chance of one day wielding sufficient influence to free 
the creativity of the greatest number of people. The despair of the anar- 
chist bomb-throwers must be changed into hope; their tactics, worthy of 
medieval warriors, must be transformed into a modern strategy. 

* 1 . Poetry 

What is poetry? It is the organization of creative spontaneity, the deploy- 
ment of the qualitative in accordance with its coherent inner logic. 
Poetry is what the Greeks call poiein, or ‘making’, but making restored 
to the purity of its original impulse— restored, in a word, to the totality. 

Without the qualitative, no poetry is possible. The void left by poetry 
is filled by poetry’s opposites: information, transitional programmes, 
specialization, reformism— all the motley guises of the fragmentary. But 
the presence of the qualitative does not of itself ensure the progression 
of poetry. The richest complex of signs and possibilities may well lapse 
into confusion, fall apart for lack of consistency or crumble by reason 
of crossed purposes. The yardstick of effectiveness must always remain 
supreme. Poetry is thus also radical theory completely integrated into 
action, the mortar binding tactics and revolutionary strategy, and the 
high point of the great game of everyday life. 

What is poetry? In 1895, during an ill-advised and seemingly doomed 
French rail strike, a militant of the National Railwaymen’s Union stood 
up and suggested an ingenious and cheap way of advancing the strik- 
ers’ cause: ‘It takes two pennyworth of a particular substance used in 
the right way to immobilize a locomotive.’ It was not very long before 
the government and the bosses caved in. Poetry in this case was clearly 
the act that brought a new reality into being, that reversed the perspec- 
tive. The materia prima is within everyone’s reach. Poets are those who 



know how to use it to best effect. Furthermore, two pennyworth of some 
chemical is as nothing compared with the abundance of peerless ready 
energy afforded by everyday life itself: the energy of the will to live, the 
power of desire unleashed, the passion of love, the love of passion, the 
force of fear and anxiety, the rising tide of hate and the repercussions of 
wild destructiveness. Who knows what poetic upheavals may confidently 
be expected to stem from such universally experienced feelings as those 
associated with death, old age and sickness? This still marginal conscious- 
ness will surely be the starting-point of the long revolution of everyday 
life, the only true poetry made by all and not by one alone. 

‘What is poetry?’ ask the aesthetes. So, for their benefit, let us state 
the obvious: rarely does poetry today involve poems. Most works of art are 
betrayals of poetry. How could it be otherwise, when poetry and Power 
cannot be reconciled? At best the artist’s creativity builds a prison for itself, 
cloistering itself, awaiting its moment, within an oeuvre that has not yet 
said its last word; but, however high its author’s hopes, that last word- 
supposed to herald perfect communication— can never be pronounced 
so long as the revolt of creativity has not yet brought art to its fulfilment. 

The African work of art— poem, music, sculpture or mask— is not 
considered complete until it has become creative speech, an active word: 
it must function. This holds true well beyond African art. There is no 
art in the world which does not seek to function ; and to function— later 
co-optation notwithstanding— in accordance with the will that generated 
it, the will to live continually in the euphoria of the moment of creation. 
Why is it that the greatest works never seem to be finished? The answer is 
that great art cries out in every possible way for fulfilment, for the right 
to enter the world of lived experience. The degeneration of present-day 
art is a bow perfectly readied for such an arrow. 

Nothing can save past culture from the cult of the past except those 
pictures, writings, musical or built architecture, and so on, whose quali- 
tative dimension reaches us independently of their forms (contami- 
nated by the decay now affecting all artistic forms). The works of Sade 
and Lautreamont are good examples, of course, but so are those of Villon, 
Lucretius, Rabelais, Pascal, Fourier, Bosch, Dante, Bach, Swift, Shake- 
speare, Uccello, etc. All are liable to shed their cultural chrysalis, emerge 
from the museums to which history has relegated them and become so 
much lethal shrapnel for the infernal devices of those who are going to 
fulfil art. Old works of art should thus be appraised by measuring the sum 



of radical theory embodied in them, the hard core of creative spontaneity 
awaiting release by the creators of the future for the purposes of— and by 
means of— an unprecedented kind of poetry. 

Radical theory excels at deferring actions initiated by creative spon- 
taneity without mitigating or sidelining them. Similarly, the artistic 
approach seeks in its finest moments to stamp the world with the mark 
of a mobile subjectivity always tentacular in nature and always hungry 
to create— and to create itself. But whereas radical theory hews fast to 
poetic reality, to reality under construction, to the world as it is being 
transformed, art takes an identical tack but at much greater risk of going 
astray or being corrupted. Only an art armed against itself— against its 
own weakest, most aesthetic self— can resist co-optation. 

As we know, consumer society reduces art to a range of consumable 
products. This vulgarizing tendency accelerates degeneration but by the 
same token improves the prospects of supersession. That communica- 
tion so urgently sought by the artist is jammed and banned even in the 
simplest relationships of everyday life. So true is this that the search for 
new forms of communication, far from being the preserve of painters 
and poets, is now part of a collective effort. This is the end of the old 
specialization of art. There are no more artists because everyone is an 
artist. The work of art of the future will be the construction of a passion- 
ate life. 

The object created is less important than the process that engen- 
ders it, the act of creating. What makes artists artists is their creativ- 
ity, not art galleries. Unfortunately, artists rarely recognize themselves 
as creators: for the most part they play to the public, showing off. The 
contemplative attitude towards art was the first stone thrown at the 
creators. They encouraged this attitude in the first place, but today it is 
their undoing, for it amounts to no more than an obligation to consume, 
reflecting the crassest of economic imperatives. Which is why there is no 
longer any such thing as a work of art in the classical sense of the word. 
Nor can there be such a thing— and so much the better. Poetry resides 
elsewhere: in deeds, in the events we bring about. The poetry of deeds, 
formerly always treated as marginal, now stands at the centre of every- 
one’s concerns, at the centre of everyday life— a sphere which in fact it 
never left. 

True poetry cares nothing for poems. In his quest for the Book, 
Mallarme wanted nothing so much as to abolish the poem. And what 



better way to abolish the poem than to fulfil it? Indeed a few of Mallarme’s 
contemporaries proved themselves rather brilliant exponents of just such 
a new poetry. Did the author of Herodiade have an inkling, perhaps, when 
he described them as ‘angels of purity’, that the anarchists with their 
bombs offered the poet a key which, walled up in his words, he could 
never use? 

Poetry is always somewhere. If it leaves the realm of the arts, it is all 
the easier to see that it belongs first and foremost in action, in a way of 
living and in the search for a way of living. Everywhere repressed, this 
poetry springs up everywhere. Brutally put down, it is reborn in violence. 
It consecrates riots, embraces rebellions and animates all great revolu- 
tionary carnivals until the bureaucrats place it under house arrest in 
their hagiographical culture. 

Lived poetry has effectively shown throughout history, even in 
partial revolts, even in crime— which Coeurderoy so aptly dubbed the 
‘revolt of one’— that it is the protector par excellence of everything irre- 
ducible in mankind, meaning creative spontaneity. The will to unite 
the individual and the social, not on the basis of illusory community 
but on that of subjectivity, is what makes the new poetry into a weapon 
that everyone must learn to handle by themselves. Poetic experience is 
now at a premium. The organization of spontaneity will be the work of 
spontaneity itself. 

XXI Masters Without Slaves 


Power is that social organization whereby masters maintain the 
conditions of servitude. God, State, Organization: these three words 
adequately sum up the relative significance of autonomy and 
historical determinism for Power. Three principles have held sway in 
succession: the principle of domination [feudal power], the principle 
of exploitation [bourgeois power], and the principle of organization 
[cybernetic power] [2]. Secularization and mechanization have 
both helped perfect hierarchical social organization, but at the 
same time the contradictions of that organization have become 
more acute. It has been humanized precisely to the extent that 
it has stripped human beings of their human substance. It has 
gained in autonomy at the expense of the masters [those in charge 
are themselves governed by the levers of Power], Those who 
enforce Power's directives today are the modern descendants of 
the race of those submissive slaves who, Theognis tells us, were 
born with head bowed. They cannot even enjoy the unhealthy 
pleasure of domination. Confronting these master-slaves are those 
who refuse— the new proletariat, rich in revolutionary traditions. 

Out of this confrontation will come the future masters without 
slaves, and a higher form of society destined to realize both the 
lived project of childhood and the historical project of the great 
aristocrats [1 and 3], 


‘Everyone would like if possible to be master of all men, or better still God 
himself.’ Thus Plato in the Theages. A feeble enough ambition in view 
of the weakness of masters and gods. After all, slaves are puny in that 
they are in thrall to those who govern them; masters— and God himself— 
are puny because of the shortcomings of those whom they govern. The 
master experiences the positive pole of alienation, the slave its negative 
one, but both are denied full mastery. 



How does the feudal lord behave in this dialectic of master and 
slave? As slave of God and master of men— and master of men because 
he is a slave of God, according to the rules of the myth— he finds himself 
condemned, in his dealings with God, to mingle execration with self- 
interested genuflection, for it is to God that he owes obedience and from 
God that he derives his power over men. In short, he reproduces the same 
relationship between himself and God that obtains between nobles and 
monarch. What is a king? An elect of the elect: the struggle for succes- 
sion to the throne usually resembles a contest between equals. Feudal 
lords serve the monarch, but they serve him as potential equals. By the 
same token, if they submit to God they do so qua rivals, qua competitors. 

The dissatisfaction of the masters of old is not hard to understand. 
Through God, they inhabit the negative pole of alienation; through those 
whom they oppress, they inhabit its positive pole. How could they truly 
wish to be God, familiar as they are with the trials of positive alienation? 
And at the same time how could they fail to want to destroy God, who 
tyrannizes them? The ‘to be or not to be’ of the high and mighty always 
came down to the question, insoluble in the feudal world, of how to 
negate yet preserve God— in other words how to supersede and realize 

History records two practical attempts to achieve such a superses- 
sion: that of the mystics and that of the great negators. Meister Eckhart: 
‘I pray to God to deliver me from God.’ Similarly, the Swabian heretics 
claimed in 1270 that they had risen above God, and that since they had 
themselves attained the highest possible degree of divinity, they had 
abandoned God. Following another path, the negative path, such tower- 
ing figures as Heliogabalus, Gilles de Rais or Elizabeth Bathory were 
clearly trying to attain complete mastery over the world by eliminating 
the intermediaries, those who alienated them positively, namely their 
slaves. Perversely, they sought to arrive at the total human being via 
total inhumanity. What this shows is that the passion for ruling without 
restrictions and the slave’s absolute rejection of constraints follow one 
and the same path: that up-hill-and-down-dale road on which Caligula 
and Spartacus, Gilles de Rais and Gyorgy Dosza all travel, together yet 
apart. But it is not enough simply to note that the thoroughgoing revolt 
of slaves (and I say thoroughgoing because I am not talking about inad- 
equate revolts like the Christian, bourgeois or socialist ones) is akin to 
extreme revolts by feudal lords. The fact is that the will to abolish slaves 



and their descendants (proletarians, administrators, abject and passive 
individuals) opens up a unique opportunity for the will to reign over 
the world with no restrictions save those imposed by a finally reinvented 
nature and by the resistance of things to being transformed. 

This opportunity is part of a historical process. History exists because 
the oppressed exist. The struggle against nature, and against the various 
forms of social organization devised in that struggle, has always been 
the struggle for human emancipation, for the whole human being. The 
refusal to be a slave is the only thing that really changes the world. 

What then is the goal of history? Made ‘under specific conditions’ 
(Marx) by slaves and against slavery, history can have but one end: the 
destruction of the masters. For his part, the master strives incessantly to 
escape from history, rejecting it by massacring those who make it— and 
who make it against him. 

Let me review the paradoxes here: 

(a) The most human aspect of the masters of old lay in their aspira- 
tion to absolute dominion. Such a project implied the complete arrest of 
history, and hence a radical rejection of its emancipatory tendencies. In 
short, total inhumanity. 

(b) The desire to escape history only makes one more vulnerable 
to it: to flee it is to break cover and expose oneself to its blows. Diehard 
conservatism is every bit as susceptible to the repeated assaults of real life 
as it is to the dialectic of the forces of production. The masters fall victim 
to history. History crushes them in accordance with what, from atop the 
pyramid of the present, with three thousand years’ worth of hindsight, 
gives every appearance of a plan, a systematic programme, a line of force 
which tempts us to speak of history as having a goal (the end of the world 
of slavery, the end of the feudal world, the end of the bourgeois world) . 

It is because they seek to escape history that the masters are in due 
course filed in history’s pigeonholes; they enter linear temporal develop- 
ment however much they resist. By contrast, those who make history- 
revolutionaries, slaves drunk with total freedom— seem to act sub specie 
aetemitatis, under the sign of the timeless; they are drawn by an insa- 
tiable thirst for life intensely lived, and they remain faithful to this goal 
regardless of changing historical conditions. Perhaps the philosophical 
concept of eternity is tied up with the historical quest for emancipation, 
and destined to be realized one day— along with philosophy— by those 
who embody total freedom and the end of traditional history. 



(c) The superiority of alienation’s negative pole to its positive one 
lies in the fact that it is only from the negative starting-point that thor- 
oughgoing revolt can make the project of absolute mastery feasible. It is 
slaves, struggling to throw off their chains, who unleash the movement 
whereby history abolishes masters, and who can already glimpse, beyond 
history, the possibility of a new kind of power over things— a power which 
no longer has to appropriate beings in order to appropriate objects. Given 
the slow workings of history, however, it was inevitable that the masters 
would not vanish in an instant; instead, they degenerated slowly, until 
today we have no more masters, just slaves-who-consume-power, distin- 
guishable from one another only by reference to the relative degree and 
quantity of power they consume. 

That the forces of production could but slowly create the material 
preconditions of total emancipation, that they had first to pass through 
the bourgeois stage, was unavoidable. Now that automation and cyber- 
netics, if applied in a truly human way, permit the fulfilment of the 
dreams of the masters of old, and the dreams of slaves of every age, all 
we have left of the old system is a socially shapeless magma in which 
each individual is in some confused and partial way both master and 
slave. This reign of equivalent values is nevertheless destined to spawn the 
masters of the future: masters without slaves. 

I should like en passant to pay homage to Sade. His appearance at 
a great turning-point in history and his astonishing lucidity together 
qualify him as the last insurgent grand seigneur. His 120 Days of Sodom 
shows us the lords of the Chateau of Selling making their bid for 
absolute mastery and eternal delight by massacring all their servants. 
Marquis and sansculotte, Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade couples 
in his person the perfectly logical hedonism of Sganarelle’s ‘wicked 
nobleman’ and the revolutionary will to revel endlessly in a subjectiv- 
ity freed at last from the shackles of hierarchy. His desperate efforts to 
abolish alienation both positive and negative place him in the highest 
rank among theorists of the whole human being. It is high time revo- 
lutionaries read him as carefully as they read Marx. (Admittedly, the 
knowledge of Marx of specialists in the study of revolution tends to be 
limited to what Marx wrote under the pseudonym of ‘Stalin’— or at 
best as ‘Lenin’ and ‘Trotsky’.) At all events, no genuine quest to change 
everyday life in radical fashion can afford to ignore either the great 
negators of Power or any of those masters of an earlier day who had 



the capacity to feel straitjacketed by the authority with which God had 
invested them. 


Bourgeois power draws sustenance from the crumbs of feudal power. It 
is simply bits and pieces of feudal power. Gnawed by revolutionary criti- 
cism, then trampled and shattered— but without this destruction ever 
being carried to its logical conclusion, namely the abolition of hierarchi- 
cal power— aristocratic authority outlived the demise of the aristocracy 
in a parodic form, like the fixed grin of a dead man. The leaders of the 
bourgeoisie, tightly confined within their fragmented power, striving to 
pass pieces off as the totality (this is, surely, the essence of totalitarian- 
ism), were destined to see their prestige, infected by the disintegration 
of the spectacle, fall into tatters. With the gravitas of myth and the belief 
in authority gone, the only forms of government left were burlesque 
terror and idiot democracy. What lovely children Bonaparte had! Louis- 
Philippe, Napoleon III, Thiers, Alfonso XIII, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, 
Franco, Salazar, Nasser, Mao, de Gaulle— so many fertile Ubus spawn- 
ing ever more cretinous offspring in every corner of the world. Only 
yesterday these travesties of the truly powerful could still strike sparks of 
authority and threaten Jupiter’s wrath; today their weedy successors are 
lucky if they can achieve a miserable succes d’estime on the social stage. 
There are no leading roles for them any more. Of course, as grotesque 
as he might be, a Franco still kills. But mark my words: the stupidity of 
Power is about to become a far deadlier killer than stupidity in power. 

The brainwashing machine of our penal colony is the spectacle. Our 
master-slaves are the spectacle’s faithful servants, its actors and stage- 
managers. Who would care to judge them? We may be sure that they will 
plead not guilty. And indeed they are not guilty. What they depend on 
is less cynical compliance than spontaneous allegiance, less terror than 
willing victims, less brute force than herds of masochists. The ruler’s 
justification lies in the spinelessness of the ruled. But everyone is ruled 
now, manipulated like a thing by an abstract Power, by an ontologically 
autonomous organization whose rules apply as readily to the would- 
be rulers as to anyone else. And you cannot judge things; you can only 
prevent them from doing harm. 

In October 1963, the sociologist Jean Fourastie reached the following 
conclusions with regard to the leader of the future: ‘The leader has lost 

181 ) 


his former magical power; he is now, and will continue to be, someone 
capable of provoking action. Ultimately decision-making will become the 
responsibility of work groups. The leader will be a committee chairman, 
albeit one able to come to conclusions and make decisions.’ (Emphasis mine.) 
Discernible in this definition are three principles governing three phases in 
the historical development of the master: (a) the principle of domination, 
characteristic of feudal society; (b) the principle of exploitation, character- 
istic of bourgeois society; and (c) the principle of organization, character- 
istic of cybernetic society. In actuality, all three principles are in play at all 
times. There is no domination without exploitation and organization. But 
the relative importance of each varies with the era under consideration. 
As one stage gives way to the next, the independence and the sway of the 
masters decline. In proportion as their humanity tends towards zero, the 
inhumanity of disembodied Power tends towards infinity. 

Under the principle of domination, the master denies his slaves an 
existence which would limit his own. Under the principle of exploita- 
tion, the boss grants his workers the degree of existence which fattens 
and develops his own. The principle of organization breaks individual 
existences down into fractions, classifying them according to degrees in 
each’s leadership and executive abilities. A foreman might be described, 
for example, after careful examination of his productivity, representativ- 
ity, etc., as 56 percent leader, 40 percent executive and (as Fourier might 
have put it) 4 percent ambiguous. 

Domination is a right, exploitation a contract, and organization 
an order of things. The tyrant dominates according to his will to power; 
the capitalist exploits according to the laws of profit; the organizer 
programmes and is programmed. The first aspires to the arbitrary, the 
second to justice, the third to rationality and objectivity. The inhuman- 
ity of the feudal lord is a humanity in search of itself. The inhumanity 
of the exploiter seeks to buy its way out by bribing humanity with tech- 
nological progress, amenities and the banishing of hunger and disease. 
The inhumanity of the cybernetician is an inhumanity perfectly at peace 
with itself. Thus the inhumanity of masters has become progressively less 
human. A camp for systematic extermination is more atrocious than the 
murderous frenzy of feudal barons engaged in a pointless war. Yet the 
massacres of Auschwitz have a well-nigh lyrical quality when compared 
with the icy grasp of the generalized conditioning that the programmers 
of technocratic organization have in mind for society in a frighteningly 



near future. I am not saying that there is more ‘humanity’ in a lettre de 
cachet than in brainwashing techniques. That is like choosing between 
the hangman’s rope and the guillotine. No, it is simply that the dubious 
pleasure derived from dominating and crushing people is tending to 
disappear. It was capitalism that brought in the need to exploit people 
without getting any gratification out of it. No sadism, none of the nega- 
tive pleasure in existing to be had from the infliction of pain, not even a 
perverted humanity: the reign of things in its perfected form. When they 
gave up the principle of hedonism the masters gave up mastery itself. It 
will fall to the masters without slaves to correct this error. 

What production-centred capitalism set in motion is now being 
completed by the dictatorship of consumption. The principle of organi- 
zation is putting the finishing touches to the total mastery of dead things 
over people. Whatever power remained to those who possessed the means 
of production is lost as soon as control of the machines passes from the 
hands of their owners to the hands of technicians who organize their use. 
Even these organizers are doomed to be ingurgitated by their own plans 
and systems. The simple machine will then be seen to have been the last 
justification for the existence of bosses, the last prop for their vestigial 
humanity. The cybernetic organization of production and consumption 
calls ineluctably for the control, planning and rationalization of every- 
day life. 

Specialists are those truncated masters, those masters-as-slaves, who 
proliferate in the sphere of everyday life. Their prospects, we may be sure, 
are nil. As early as 1867, at the Basel Congress of the First International, 
Francau had this to say: ‘We have been in tow for far too long to the dukes 
of the diploma and the potentates of science. Fet us take care of our own 
affairs; no matter how inept we are, we will never make such a poor job of 
it as these people do, in our name.’ Fine words of wisdom, these— and all 
the more apt today, as swarms of experts insinuate themselves into every 
aspect of individual life. A clear polarization is occurring between those 
who succumb to the magnetism of the great Kafkaesque machine of cyber- 
netics and those who follow their deepest impulses and seek to escape this 
machine at all costs. These last are the sole trustees of all that is human, 
because there is no one left in the camp of the former masters who can 
make any claim to humanity. On the one hand, there is nothing left but 
things, all falling at the same speed into the void; on the other, nothing 
but the age-old project of slaves drunk with the prospect of total freedom. 



3. The Master Without Slaves, or the Aristocratic Supersession of 

The master exits through the same door as God. He topples like a golem as 
soon as he ceases to love human beings, that is to say, as soon as he ceases 
to love the pleasure he takes in oppressing them, as soon as he renounces 
the principle of hedonism. There is scant pleasure to be drawn from the 
ordering of things, from the manipulation of beings as passive and inert 
as bricks. With his refined tastes, God needs living creatures; appetiz- 
ing, throbbing flesh; souls trembling in terror and humility. To get the 
feeling of his own grandeur he must sense the presence of subjects who 
are fervent in prayer, in rebellion, in subterfuge— even in blasphemy. The 
Catholic God is quite willing to dispense true freedom, but he extends it, 
like a pawnbroker, only against collateral. He plays cat and mouse with 
humans until the Day of Judgement, then he gobbles them up. With the 
arrival of the bourgeoisie on the scene towards the end of the Middle Ages, 
this God is slowly humanized, but humanized in a paradoxical way, for at 
the same time he becomes an object, and so do human beings. Calvin’s 
God, by dooming people to predestination, abdicates his pleasure in arbi- 
trary judgement: he is no longer free to crush whomever he wishes as 
the mood takes him. This is the God of the business transaction, bereft of 
divine whim, quantifiable, cold as a discount rate. And he hides his head 
in shame: Deus absconditus. The connection is broken. Hence Pascal’s 
despair, and Descartes’s muddled attempt to find an anchorage for a soul 
suddenly adrift. Later— too late— Kierkegaard tried to revive a subjective 
God by reviving human subjectivity. But there was no reanimating a God 
who was by now the ‘Great External Object’ in the minds of men— dead 
as the dodo, lithified, his bones of coral made. Caught, now, in the rigor 
mortis of God’s dying embrace (i.e., Power’s hierarchical form), people 
seem doomed to reification, and everything human to annihilation. From 
Power’s perspective there is nothing to be seen but things— chips of the 
divine fossil. And is this not indeed the lens through which the so-called 
human sciences of sociology, psychology and economics pursue their 
‘objective’ researches? 

What obliges the master to relinquish his hedonism? What prevents 
him achieving complete gratification, if not the very fact of his being 
a master, his commitment to the principle of hierarchical superior- 
ity? The scope of this renunciation of his can only widen as hierarchy 
is comminuted, as masters— but reduced masters— become legion, as 



history parcels out power in democratic doses. The imperfect gratifica- 
tion of the masters turns into the gratification of imperfect masters. We 
have witnessed the bourgeois leaders— Ubuesque plebeians— consummat- 
ing their beer-hall revolt in the funeral feast of fascism. But soon there 
will be no feasting at all for the master-slaves— last avatars of hierarchi- 
cal man. The only thing left to them will be the melancholy of things, a 
morose serenity, the malaise of roles, and the awareness of being nothing. 

What is to become of the things that govern us? Must they be 
destroyed? If so, the best-equipped to liquidate slaves-in-power are those 
who have been fighting slavery all along. The creativity of the people, 
which neither lords nor capitalists have managed to crush, will never 
kowtow to programmed needs and technocratic planning. It will be 
objected that there is less passion and enthusiasm for the liquidation of 
an abstract form, a system, than for the killing of hated masters. But this 
is to see the problem from the wrong angle— from the point of view of 
Power. For, in contrast to the bourgeoisie, the proletariat is not defined 
in terms of its class opponent, but heralds the end of class distinctions 
and of hierarchy per se. The bourgeoisie’s role was strictly negative, as 
Saint-Just reminds us with fine arrogance when he observes that ‘What 
constitutes a republic is the total destruction of everything that stands 
opposed to it.’ 

Whereas the bourgeoisie was content to forge arms against the 
feudal system— arms that will one day be turned against the bourgeoi- 
sie itself— the proletariat carries within itself the possibility of its own 
supersession. The proletariat is poetry, momentarily alienated by the 
ruling class or by technocratic organization, but ever apt to burst out of its 
bondage. As the sole depository of the will to live— for it alone has experi- 
enced in its full force the intolerable pressure of mere survival— the prole- 
tariat is destined to demolish the walls of constraint in the whirlwind of 
its pleasure and the spontaneous violence of its creative energy. All the 
joy and laughter that this will release the proletariat already possesses, 
for its strength and passion are drawn from within. What it is prepar- 
ing to build will, in addition, destroy whatever stands in its way, like a 
fresh tape-recording automatically erasing the previous one. The power 
of things will be abolished by a proletariat in the act of abolishing itself, 
by virtue of a luxurious, nonchalant afterthought, by virtue of the sort of 
grace displayed by someone calmly manifesting their superiority. From 
the new proletariat will emerge, not the robotic humanists dreamt of by 



the onanists of the supposedly revolutionary Left, but masters without 
slaves. The insurrectional violence of the masses is but one aspect of the 
proletariat’s creativity: this class is just as impatient to abolish itself as it 
is to carry out survival’s self-imposed death sentence. 

I find it helpful, if artificial, to distinguish three dominant passions 
active in the overthrow of the reified order: 

(a) The passion for absolute power, a passion for placing objects directly 
in the service of human beings without the mediation of human beings 
themselves; and the consequent destruction of those who cleave to the 
order of things, slaves who possess crumbs of power. ‘Because we cannot 
stand the sight of them, we shall abolish slaves,’ says Nietzsche. 

(b) Thepassion for smashing constraints, for breaking chains. In Sade’s 
words, ‘How can lawful pleasures be compared to those which embody 
not only much more piquant delights but also the priceless joy of break- 
ing all social restraints and overturning all laws?’ 

(c) The passion for rectifying an unhappy past, for revisiting and fulfill- 
ing dashed hopes, this in the individual’s life as in the history of defeated 
revolutions. Just as it was right to punish Louis XVI for the crimes of his 
predecessors, passion gives us every reason— there being no way of visit- 
ing vengeance on things— to cleanse the memory, so offensive to any 
free human being, of executed Communards, tortured peasants in 1525, 
workers massacred, revolutionaries hunted down and murdered, civi- 
lizations demolished by colonialism, and all past oppression which the 
present has yet to rectify. Righting that past has become a passionate 
pursuit because it has at last become historically possible to wash away 
the blood of Babeuf, Lacenaire, Ravachol and Bonnot with the blood of 
the obscure descendants of all those who, though themselves enslaved 
to an order based on profit and financial mechanisms, have contrived to 
put cruel checks on human emancipation. 

The pleasure to be had from overturning Power, becoming a master 
without slaves, and righting the past gives pride of place to the subjectiv- 
ity of each individual. In revolutionary moments everyone has a chance 
to make their own history. Naturally, the cause of the freedom to fulfil oneself 
mobilizes subjectivity (and thereby ceases to be a cause). This is the only 
perspective that opens up those dizzying heights of possibility where 
every kind of pleasure comes within the grasp of all. 




The destroyers of the old order of things must beware lest they bring it 
down upon their own heads. Unless collective shelters of some kind can 
be devised against conditioning, against the spectacle and hierarchical 
organization, there is a real danger that a consumerist avalanche will 
sweep us all down with it into oblivion. From such shelters future offen- 
sives can be launched. Microsocieties already in gestation will realize the 
project of the masters of old, duly divested of its hierarchical canker. The 
supersession of the ‘wicked nobleman’ will amount to a strict applica- 
tion of Keats’s admirable principle according to which everything that 
can be abolished must be abolished if the children are to be saved from 
slavery. This supersession must occur in three spheres simultaneously: (a) 
the supersession of patriarchal social organization; (b) the supersession 
of hierarchical power; (c) the supersession of subjective arbitrariness, of 
authoritarian caprice. 

(a) The magical power of the aristocracy resides in lineage, in the 
authority passed on in this way from generation to generation. The bour- 
geoisie undermines feudal authority, but by the same token it involun- 
tarily undermines the family, along with the organization of society 
in general. This negativity of the bourgeoisie is undoubtedly its great- 
est virtue, its most ‘positive’ side. But what the bourgeoisie lacks is the 
possibility of supersession. What would constitute a real supersession of 
the family in its aristocratic form? The answer can only be the establish- 
ment of coherent groups in which individual creativity is totally invested 
in collective creativity and strengthened by it; in which an unmediated, 
lived present becomes the source of the energy potential which under 
feudalism was derived from the past. The relative powerlessness of the 
lord imprisoned by his hierarchical system is strikingly reminiscent of 
the weakness of the child held fast in the setting of the bourgeois family. 

Children enjoy a subjective experience of freedom unknown to any 
animal species, but at the same time they remain objectively dependent on 
their parents, whose care and love they need. What distinguishes young 
humans from young animals is a boundless sense of the transformability 
of the world, that is to say, a sense of poetry. But at the same time they have 
no access to the techniques which adults direct for the most part, precisely, 
against poetry, including ways of conditioning children themselves. And 
by the time children are old enough to handle such techniques, they have 
been so broken, so constrained, that in their ‘maturity’ they lose whatever 
made their childhood a privileged state. The universe of the masters of old 



is cursed in the same way as the universe of children: the means of libera- 
tion are out of reach in both cases. Feudal lords could only dream of the 
transformation of the world while remaining bound by the laws of adapta- 
tion to it. Once the bourgeoisie brings world-transforming technology to 
a high degree of sophistication, hierarchical organization— arguably the 
best way of focusing social energy in a world where that energy lacks the 
invaluable support of machines— becomes an anachronism, a brake on 
the development of human control of the world. Hierarchy, the power of 
man over man, obscures the true enemy; it prohibits the transformation 
of the milieu and imposes the need for adaptation to that environment 
as it is, the need for enrolment as a thing in an order of things. 

(b) The destruction of the social screen which alienates our view of 
the world requires the absolute rejection of all hierarchy within the social 
group. In this connection the notion of the dictatorship of the proletar- 
iat calls for scrutiny. Historically, the dictatorship of the proletariat has 
largely turned into dictatorship over the proletariat; in other words, it has 
been institutionalized. In Lenin’s words, ‘The dictatorship of the prole- 
tariat is a stubborn struggle, bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, 
military and economic, educational and administrative, against the 
forces and traditions of the old society.’ The proletariat cannot institute 
an enduring despotism, nor head a willingly accepted dictatorship. The 
imperative need to crush the enemy nevertheless obliges it to concen- 
trate a highly consistent repressive power in its own hands. It is a matter, 
therefore, of passing through a dictatorship that is self-negating, and 
for the proletarian party, as for the proletariat itself, ‘Victory must also 
mean annihilation’. The proletariat must use its dictatorship to place its 
own negation on the immediate order of the day. It has no choice but to 
liquidate in short order— as bloodily or as bloodlessly as the circumstances 
decree— all those who stand in the way of its project of total liberation, 
all those who oppose the end of the proletariat as such. These enemies 
must be completely exterminated, like swarming vermin. Furthermore, 
within each individual, the proletariat must erase even the most vestigial 
concern with status, stirring up against such hierarchical tendencies (i.e., 
against roles) a tranquil energy directed towards authentic life. 

(c) The end of roles means the triumph of subjectivity. Once acknowl- 
edged and given pride of place, this subjectivity will give rise, paradoxi- 
cally, to a new objectivity. A new world of objects— a new ‘nature’, as it 
were— will be constituted on the basis of the requirements of individual 



subjectivity. Here again there is a parallel between the child’s point of 
view and the feudal lord’s. In both instances— though in different modes— 
the possible is obscured by the screen of social alienation. 

How can anyone forget those spaces of primitive immensity which 
open before the solitary child? When we were children every stick was 
a magic wand. Then we had to adapt, to become social and sociable. The 
life went out of our solitude, the child chose to grow old despite himself, 
and the immensity was suddenly closed up like a storybook. In this world 
nobody manages to leave the murky waters of puberty completely behind. 
Now childhood itself is being gradually colonized by consumer society. 
The ‘preteens’ are already a category on a par with teenagers in the big 
happy family of consumers; will they grow up faster if they consume their 
childhood instead of living it? It is quite impossible not to be startled by 
the resemblance between the historical decadence of the old masters and 
the growing decadence of the realm of childhood. The corruption of the 
human has surely reached its nadir. Never have we been so near to, yet 
so far from the whole human being. 

The capriciousness of the lord and master of earlier times is inferior 
to the child’s in that, odiously, it calls for the oppression of other people. 
The subjectivity embodied in feudal arbitrariness— ‘I give you riches or I 
give you death, as I see fit’— is tainted and hobbled by its poverty of expres- 
sion. In fact the lord’s subjectivity is fulfilled only through the denial of 
the subjectivity of others; in this way it chains itself up, for by shackling 
others it shackles itself. 

Children do not have the advantage of this imperfection: they lose 
their right to pure subjectivity in one fell swoop. They are forever being 
taxed with childishness and urged to behave like grown-ups. And grow 
up they must, repressing their childhood all life long, until dotage and 
agony let them imagine that they have lived adult lives. 

Child’s play— just like the play of the grand seigneur — needs to 
be liberated and restored to its former glory. The present moment is 
historically propitious. Let us save childhood by fulfilling the project of 
the masters of old: childhood complete with its sovereign subjectivity; 
with its laughter, that first murmur of spontaneity; and with its way of 
reaching deep into itself to illuminate the world and bathe objects in a 
strangely familiar light. 

We have lost the beauty of things; we have lost touch with things’ 
way of being by leaving them to die in the clutches of Power and the gods. 



The splendid daydream that was Surrealism sought in vain to revive them 
by means of poetic radiation, but the power of imagination alone is not 
enough to burst the husk of social alienation in which things are impris- 
oned, and, try as it might, cannot restore them to the free play of subjec- 
tivity. From Power’s point of view, a stone, a tree, a mixer, a cyclotron are 
all dead objects— so many gravestones over the will to see them otherwise, 
and to change them. Yet I know, aside from what they are made to mean, 
that these things could thrill me to the core. I know what passionate 
enthusiasm machines can arouse once pressed into the service of play, 
fantasy and freedom. A world in which everything is alive— even stones 
and trees— can have no place for passively contemplated signs. Everything 
in such a world would bespeak joy. The triumph of subjectivity will give 
life back to things; and does not the present intolerable domination of 
subjectivity by dead things itself constitute at bottom our best historical 
chance of one day attaining a higher state of life? 

How so? By actualizing in today’s language— in the language of 
praxis— what a heretic once said to John of Ruysbroeck: ‘God cannot 
know anything, will anything or do anything without me. With God I 
created myself, I created all things, and my hand holds up heaven, earth 
and all the creatures of the earth. Without me there is nothing.’ 


New limits have to be discovered. The restrictions imposed by social alien- 
ation continue, if not to imprison us, then at least to abuse us. People 
have been standing for centuries before a worm-eaten door, making 
pinholes in it with growing ease. At this point a good kick would break 
it down, for only on the far side does everything begin. The proletariat’s 
problem is no longer how to seize power but how to abolish Power forever. 
Beyond the world of hierarchy, possibilities will surge forth unbidden. 
The establishment of life’s ascendancy over survival is the historical 
movement that will undo history. Our true opponents have yet to be 
invented, and it is up to us to seek them out, to join battle with them on 
the far side— the childish side— of things. 

Can humanity resume a dialogue with the cosmos, a dialogue 
comparable to the one that the earliest inhabitants of the earth must 
have engaged in, yet different, this time, in that it will occur on a higher 
plane, on a plane whence it is possible to look back at prehistory, on a 
plane devoid of the trembling awe of early humans faced by the mystery 



of the cosmos? In a word, can the cosmos be endowed with a human 
meaning— a highly desirable replacement for the divine meaning with 
which it has been encumbered since the dawn of time? 

And what of that other infinity, the actual human being, complete 
with body, nervous system, muscular activity and errant dreams? Might 
not humanity one day become master of these too? Might not individ- 
ual will, once liberated by collective will, put to shame the astounding 
if sinister wonders of control already achieved over human beings by 
police-state conditioning techniques? If people can be made into dogs, 
bricks, or Green Berets, who is to say that they cannot be made into 
human beings? 

We have never put enough faith in our own infallibility. Perhaps 
out of pride, we have handed a monopoly of this pretension to a medley 
of hypostasized, wizened forms: Power, God, the Pope, the Fiihrer, Other 
People. And yet, every time we refer to Society, God, or all-powerful 
Justice, we are referring— albeit feebly and indirectly— to our own power. 
At least we are one stage beyond prehistory— and on the threshold of a 
new form of human organization, a social organization in which all the 
energy of individual creativity will have free rein, so that the world will 
be shaped by the dreams of each, as harmonized by all. 

Utopia? Far from it! Condescension could not be more ill-placed. I 
know of no one who does not cling with all their might to the hope of 
such a world. Many, of course, lose their grip on this hope— but they put 
as much desperate energy into falling as into hanging on. Everyone wants 
their own subjectivity to triumph; the unification of human beings ought 
therefore to be built on this common desire. Nobody can strengthen their 
subjectivity without the help of others, without the help of a group that 
concentrates subjectivity, that faithfully expresses the subjectivity of its 
members. So far, the Situationist International is the only revolutionary 
group resolved to defend radical subjectivity at all costs. 

XXII The Space-Time of Lived Experience 
and the Rectification of the Past 

The dialectic of decay and supersession is also that of dissociated 
and unitary space-time [1], The new proletariat carries within itself 
the capacity for fulfilling the potential of childhood and childhood's 
space-time (2). The history of separations tends slowly towards a 
resolution with the end of 'historicizing' history [3], Cyclical versus 
linear time. Lived space-time is the space-time of transformation; 
the space-time of roles is that of adaptation. The function of the 
past and of its projection into the future is the interdiction of the 
present. Historical ideology is the screen which comes between the 
will to individual fulfilment and the will to make history, preventing 
any fraternization or melding between them [*)]. The present is a 
space-time yet to be created and implies the rectification of the 
past [5], 


As the experts organize the survival of the species, and assign the 
programming of history to their sophisticated plans, the will to change 
life by changing the world grows ever stronger among the mass of the 
people. The point has been reached where each particular human being 
finds himself face to face, just like humanity as a whole, with a general 
despair with no way out except either annihilation or supersession. Ours 
is a time in which historical and individual development tend to merge 
because both are headed in the same direction— towards the state of 
things, and the refusal of this state. The history of the species and the 
millions of individual histories seem to be coming together— either to 
perish or to begin EVERYTHING afresh. In this way the past returns to us, 
bearing the seeds of death along with the spark of life. And our childhood 
too is at the meeting-place— under the threat of Lot’s curse. 

This threat hanging over our childhood is, I dare to hope, going to 
provoke an upsurge of revolt against the ghastly aging process to which 



the forced feeding of ideology and gimmicks condemns the child. I like to 
point up the undeniable analogy, in terms of dreams and desires, between 
the will of the feudal lord and the subjective wishes of the child. If we 
fulfil the potential of childhood, that must surely imply that the fulfil- 
ment of the project of the old masters is likewise destined to be carried 
through by us, adults of the technocratic era, rich in what children lack, 
possessors of what was beyond the reach of even the great world-conquer- 
ors. To us it will fall to combine collective history and individual destiny 
in ways surpassing the wildest dreams of a Tamerlane or a Heliogabalus. 

As I have noted, the establishment of life’s ascendancy over survival is 
the historical movement that will undo history. The construction of every- 
day life and the fulfilment of history are now one and the same project. 
In what will the joint construction of a new life and of a new society 
consist? What will be the nature of the revolution of everyday life? Simply 
this: supersession will replace decline, as the consciousness of the reality 
of decline nourishes the consciousness of the necessity for supersession. 

No matter how far back in history, all previous attempts at superses- 
sion are part and parcel of today’s poetry of the reversal of perspective. 
They play a part in it directly, without mediation, leaping over or even 
breaking down the barriers of space and time. The end of all separa- 
tions undoubtedly begins with the end of one particular separation, 
that between space and time. For all these reasons it is clear that the 
reconstitution of a primordial unity presupposes the critical analysis of 
childhood’s space- time, of the space-time of unitary societies, and of the 
space-time of the fragmentary societies embodying the dialectic between 
decay and the long-awaited possibility of its supersession. 


If care is not taken, survival sickness can swiftly turn a young person 
into a haggard old Faust, burdened down with regrets and yearning for 
a youth traversed without his even knowing it. Teenagers bear the first 
wrinkles of the consumer; little distinguishes them from sixty-year- 
olds. They consume faster and faster, and the sooner they surrender to 
inauthenticity, the sooner they are rewarded with a precocious entry into 
old age. If they are slow to regain control, the past will close up behind 
them: they will have no further prospect of revisiting what they have 
done, even for the purpose of redoing it. So much separates them from 
the children they were playing with only yesterday. They have entered 



the meretricious domain of the market, willingly trading away the poetry, 
freedom and subjective riches of childhood for an image in the society of 
the spectacle. And yet, if only they pull up short and fight their way out of 
this nightmare, what an opponent the authorities will face! An opponent 
capable, in defence of childhood, of turning the most fearsome weapons 
of technocracy against their doddering inventors. We have not forgotten 
the extraordinary prowess displayed by the young Simbas of Lumumba’s 
revolution, their rudimentary weapons notwithstanding; how much 
more may be expected from a generation every whit as enraged, but 
armed much more effectively and loosed upon a battleground reaching 
into every corner of everyday life! 

For, in a sense, every sphere of everyday life is experienced embryoni- 
cally in childhood. Children pack such a host of events into a few days 
or even a few hours that their time does not trickle away like an adult’s. 
Two months’ holiday for them is an eternity; for an old man it is a fleet- 
ing moment. The child’s days are exempt from grown-up time: they are 
time swollen by subjectivity, by passion, by dreams shot through with 
reality. Outside this universe the educators wait patiently, watch in hand, 
for the child to join in the round dance of adult time. Adults are the ones 
who ‘have’ the time. At first children experience the adult’s imposition of 
grown-up time on them as an intrusion; but eventually they capitulate, 
and consent to grow old. Innocent of the ways of conditioning, they fall 
like young animals into the trap. Later on, possessed now of the arms of 
criticism and eager to turn them against the time that imprisons them, 
they will find that the years have carried them too far from the target. But 
childhood will remain with them, in their hearts, like an open wound. 

So here we all are, haunted by a childhood that social organization 
seeks to destroy by scientific means. The psycho-sociologists are on the 
lookout, while the market researchers are already exclaiming, ‘Look at 
all those sweet little dollars!’ (as quoted by Vance Packard). In short, a 
new arithmetic. 

Children are playing in the street. One of them suddenly leaves the 
group, comes up to me and tells me some of the most beautiful dreams 
I have ever heard. He teaches me something which had I but known it 
would have saved me, namely the thing that destroys the notion of age: 
the capacity for living a multitude of events— not just watching them 
flow by, but truly living and continually refashioning them. And now 
that I find myself at a point where all this is beyond my reach, yet where 



all has become clear to me, is it any wonder that a kind of wild urge for 
wholeness erupts in me from beneath so many false desires— a type of 
childishness now made fearsome by all the lessons learnt from history 
and the class struggle? How could the new proletariat fail to be the purest 
catalyst of childhood’s fulfilment in the adult world? 

We are the discoverers of a world new yet familiar, a world lacking 
only unity of time and space. A world still riddled with separations, st ill 
fragmented. The semibarbarity of our bodies, our needs, and our spon- 
taneity— that is, our childishness, as refined by consciousness— vouch- 
safes us secret access to places never discovered over centuries of aris- 
tocratic rule, and never even dreamt of by the bourgeoisie. In this way 
we are able to enter the maze of unfinished civilizations and approach 
all the arrested attempts at supersession surreptitiously undertaken by 
history. May our rediscovered childhood desires rejoin the childhood of 
our desires. From the wild depths of a past that is still close to us, and 
in a sense still unfulfilled, let a new geography of the passions emerge. 


As motion within the motionless, the time of unitary societies is cyclical. 
Beings and things follow their course, moving around the circumference 
of a circle whose centre is God. This God-pivot, unchanging yet at once 
nowhere and everywhere, is the measure of the duration of an eternal 
power. He is his own standard, and the standard of all that gravitates at a 
constant distance from him, unfolding and coming full circle but never 
coming to a complete halt and never in fact escaping its orbit. In Nerval’s 
words, ‘La treizieme revient, c’est encor la premiere’. 

As for the space of unitary systems, its organization is determined 
by time. Since there is no time but God’s, no space seems to exist aside 
from that which God controls. This space extends from the centre to the 
circumference, from heaven to earth, from the One to the many. At first 
sight, time seems irrelevant here: it takes one neither closer to God nor 
further from him. By contrast, the way to God is spatial: the upward 
path of spiritual elevation and hierarchical promotion. Time belongs to 
God and God alone, but the space granted humans retains a specifically 
and irreducibly human quality. Human beings can ascend or descend, 
rise or fall in the social world, ensure their salvation or risk damnation. 
Space implies the presence of humans: it is the dimension of their rela- 
tive freedom, whereas time imprisons them within its circle. And what is 



the meaning of the Last Judgement, if not the idea that God will one day 
gather time in to himself once more, the centre sucking in the circum- 
ference and concentrating the entirety of the space imparted to his crea- 
tures into this impalpable point? This desire to obliterate the human as 
matter (the human occupation of space) is clearly the project of a master 
incapable of completely possessing his slaves, and hence incapable of not 
being partly possessed by them. 

Duration has space on a leash; it drags us towards death, gnawing 
away at the space of our life. In the course of history, however, the distinc- 
tion between time and space is not always so apparent. Feudal societies 
are societies of separations, just as bourgeois societies are, for separation 
is the corollary of privative appropriation. But feudalism’s advantage 
here lies in its startling ability to mystify. 

The power of myth bridged separations and made a unitary life possi- 
ble. That life was inauthentic, it is true, but at least the inauthenticity 
was One— and unanimously accepted by a coherent community (tribe, 
clan, or kingdom). God was the image or symbol of the supersession of 
space and time dissociated from each other. Everyone who ‘lived’ in God 
partook of this supersession. The majority did so in a mediated way. They 
submitted, in other words, within the space of their everyday lives, to 
the requirements of the organizers of a duly hierarchical space extend- 
ing upwards from mere mortals to priests, to leaders, to God. As a reward 
for such submission they were offered eternal life, promised duration 
without space and guaranteed pure temporality in God. 

There were those, however, who cared little for this bargain. Instead, 
they dreamt of an eternal present conferred by an absolute mastery of 
the world. One is continually struck by the parallel between the punc- 
tual space-time of children and the great mystics’ yearning for unity. 
Thus Gregory of Palamas, in 1341, described ‘illumination’ as a sort of 
ethereal consciousness of unity: ‘Light exists outside space and time. 
He who partakes of divine energy becomes himself in a sense Light; he 
becomes one with Light, and, like Light, he is fully aware of everything 
that remains obscure to those who have not received such grace.’ 

This confused hope, which was bound to remain hesitant if not inex- 
pressible, has been vulgarized and clarified by the transient bourgeois 
era. The bourgeoisie has made it concrete by administering the coup de 
grace to the aristocracy and its spiritualism, and it has made it possible 
by allowing its own disintegration to become terminal. The history of 



separations comes slowly to an end with the end of separations them- 
selves. Little by little, the unitary feudal illusion is incorporated into the 
libertarian unity of a life yet to be constructed in a realm beyond mate- 
rially guaranteed survival. 

Einstein’s speculations about space and time are in their own way a 
reminder of the death of God. Once myth no longer papered over the 
rift between space and time, consciousness fell heir to the malaise that 
underpinned the heyday of Romanticism (the pull of the exotic, nostal- 
gic feelings about the passage of time, and so on). 

What is time, to the bourgeois mind? No longer God’s time, it has 
become the time of Power, of Power fragmented. A time— in-bits time 
whose unit of measurement is the instant— that instant which is but a 
feeble echo of cyclical time. No longer the circumference of a circle, but 
rather a finite yet endless straight line. No longer a mechanism setting 
each individual to God’s time, but rather a sequence of states in which 
everyone chases after themselves, but in vain, as though the curse of 
Becoming somehow damned us to see nothing but our own backs, the 
human face remaining unknown, inaccessible, ever in the future. No 
longer a circular space encompassed by the eye of the Almighty at its 
centre, but rather a series of tiny points which, though seemingly inde- 
pendent, actually combine, according to a specific order of succession, 
into the line they form as each follows its predecessor. 

In the mediaeval hourglass time flowed— even if it was always the 
same sand that passed back and forth between the two bulbs of the timer. 
As represented on the circular clock face, by contrast, time is dispensed 
unit by unit, and never returns. Such is the irony of forms: the new 
mentality took its form from a dead reality, and when the bourgeoisie 
gave a cyclical appearance to everything— from wrist-watches to its half- 
baked humanist yearnings— what it was really dressing up in this way 
was the death of time, the death of its own time. 

There is nothing for it, however: ours is the day of the clockmaker. 
Economic imperatives turn people into walking chronometers, as signalled 
by the band about their wrists. Ours is the time of work, of progress, of 
output, the time of production, consumption, and planning. The specta- 
cle’s time: time for a kiss, snapshot time. A time for everything and every- 
thing at its time (time is money). Commodity time. Survival time. 



Space is a point along the line of time, a place in the machine that 
changes future into past. Time controls lived space, but it does so from 
without, by causing it to pass, by making it transient. The space of the 
individual life is not pure space, however, nor is the time that sweeps it 
along pure temporality. It is worth examining this a little more closely. 

Each terminal point on the temporal line is specific and unique, yet 
no sooner is the next point added than its predecessor disappears into 
the line’s uniformity, mere grist to the mill of a past to which nothing 
is new. It becomes quite indiscernible. Thus each point serves to extend 
the very line that makes it vanish. 

This pattern of continual destruction and replacement is the way 
Power ensures its own duration; people who are spurred on to consume 
power destroy it, yet simultaneously they renew it by enduring. If Power 
destroys everything it destroys itself, and if it destroys nothing it is like- 
wise destroyed. Power can only endure strung out between the two 
poles of this contradiction, a contradiction which the dictatorship of 
consumption worsens day by day. Power’s durability depends simply on 
the continuing existence of people, that is to say, on their permanent 
survival. This is why the problem of dissociated space-time now has revo- 
lutionary implications. 

No matter that lived space is a universe of dreams, desires and prodi- 
gious creativity: so far as its duration is concerned, it is merely one point 
following another, and its evolution obeys one logic only, that of its own 
destruction. It appears, waxes, then disappears into the anonymous line 
of the past, where its remains become raw material for flashes of memory 
and historical research. 

The positive aspect of a point of directly experienced space is that 
it escapes in part from generalized conditioning; the drawback is that 
it has no existence in its own right. The space of everyday life manages 
to turn a little time to its own uses, capturing and appropriating it, but 
time-that-slips-away insinuates itself into lived space and intrudes the 
sense of time passing, the sense of destruction and death. Let me explain. 

The punctual space of everyday life steals a portion of ‘external’ time, 
and in this way clears a small area of unitary space-time for itself. This 
is the space-time of the privileged moment, of creativity, of pleasure, of 
orgasm. The arena of this alchemy is minute, but it is experienced so 
intensely that it exercises an unrivalled fascination over most people. 
From Power’s point of view, from the outside, such passionate moments 



are completely insignificant points, mere instants funnelled from the 
future into the past. The line of objective time knows nothing— and 
wishes to know nothing— of the present as immediate subjective pres- 
ence. As for subjective life, crushed into mere points of space— joy, grati- 
fication, revery— it would rather know nothing of time-that-slips-away, 
linear time, the time of things. On the contrary, it seeks full knowledge 
of its present, for after all it is itself only a present. 

So lived space filches a small portion of the time sweeping it away 
and makes a present out of it— or at least it seeks to do so, for the present 
is yet to be constructed. It seeks to create the unitary space-time of love, 
of poetry, of pleasure, of communication: direct experience without dead 
time. Meanwhile linear time— objective time, time-that-slips-away— in 
its turn invades the space captured by everyday life. It takes the form 
of negative time, dead time, and reflects the temporality of destruc- 
tion. This is the time of roles, that time which, within life itself, fosters 
disembodiment, the repudiation of authentically experienced space and 
its repression and replacement by appearances, by the spectacular func- 
tion. The space-time produced by this hybrid union is, quite simply, that 
of survival. 

What is private life? It is the amalgamation within one instant, 
within one point headed for destruction along the line of survival, of a 
real space-time (the moment) and a false one (the role). Of course, the 
actual structure of private life does not conform strictly to this dichot- 
omy, for interaction goes on continually. Thus the prohibitions that hem 
lived experience in on all sides, confining it to far too small a space, also 
exert pressure for that experience to be transformed into roles, to enter 
time-that-slips-away as a commodity, to become pure repetition and, in 
accordance with accelerated time, to create the illusory space of appear- 
ances. At the same time, however, the malaise produced by inauthentic- 
ity, by space experienced falsely, stimulates the search for a real time, for 
the time of subjectivity, for the present. So, in dialectical terms, private 
life is: a real lived space + an illusory spectacular time + an illusory spectacu- 
lar space + a real lived time. 

The more thoroughly illusory time combines with the illusory space 
that it creates, the closer we come to being things, to being pure exchange- 
value. The more thoroughly the space of authentic life combines with 
authentically lived time, the more human mastery asserts itself. Space- 
time lived in unitary fashion is the first guerrilla base, the spark of the 



qualitative in the night that still enshrouds the revolution of everyday 

Objective time does not merely strive, then, to destroy punctual 
space by thrusting it into the past, it also eats at it from within by impos- 
ing on it the accelerated rhythm which creates the role’s density (the 
illusory space of roles is produced by the rapid repetition of an attitude, 
rather as the repetition of a filmed image creates the illusion of life). The 
role invests subjective consciousness with time-that-slips-away, the time 
of aging, of death. This is Antonin Artaud’s ‘fold into which conscious- 
ness has been forced’. Dominated from without by linear time, from 
within by the temporality of the role, subjectivity has no option but to 
become a thing, a precious commodity. History speeds this process up, 
moreover. In fact roles are now the consumption of time in a society 
where the official time is that of consumption. And here too the single- 
mindedness of oppression will bring about an equally single-minded 
opposition. What is death in our time? The absence of subjectivity, the 
absence of a present. 

The will to live always reacts in unitary fashion. Most people are 
already engaged in a genuine repurposing of time to the benefit of lived 
space. Provided their efforts to increase the intensity of lived experience, 
to expand authentic space-time, do not come to grief in confusion, or 
break up on the reefs of isolation, who can say that objective time, the 
time of death, might not be broken forever? Is not the revolutionary 
moment, after all, a moment of eternal youth? 


The project of enriching the space-time of direct experience requires an 
evaluation of what impoverishes it. Linear time has no hold over people 
save insofar as it prohibits them from transforming the world and thus 
forces them to adapt to it. Freely radiating creativity is Power’s public 
enemy number one. And creativity’s strength lies in the unitary. How 
does Power attempt to smash the unity of lived space-time? First and fore- 
most, by transforming lived experience into a commodity and leaving it 
to the tender mercies of the law of supply and demand as applied to roles 
and stereotypes in the spectacular marketplace (see my discussion of roles 
in Chapter XV above). Two other tactics are also adopted by Power: (a) 
recourse to a particular kind of identification: the combined attraction 
of past and future, which destroys the present; and (b) the attempt to 



co-opt the will to build a unitary space- time of lived experience (in other 
words, to construct situations to be lived) by incorporating it into an 
ideology of history. I shall now consider these two tactics in more detail. 


(a) From Power’s standpoint there is no such thing as lived moments 
(lived experience has no name), but merely a sequence of interchange- 
able instants constituting the line of the past. A whole system of condi- 
tioning has been developed to mass-market this view of things, and all 
kinds of hidden persuasions help us internalize it. The results are not far 
to seek. Where has the present gone? Can it be skulking in some dark 
corner of daily existence? 

All we have are memory and anticipation. Meetings past and meet- 
ings future: two ghosts that haunt us. Each passing second shuttles me 
from the instant that was to the instant that will be. Each second spirits 
me away from myself; no now ever materializes. Empty commotion 
serves admirably to give everyone a fleeting quality, to pass the time 
(as we say so aptly), and even to make time run right through people. 
Schopenhauer’s claim that ‘Before Kant we were in time; since Kant 
time is in us’ is a fine way of evoking the fact that consciousness is now 
flooded by the time of aging and advancing decrepitude. But it did not 
occur to Schopenhauer that what drove him as a philosopher to develop 
a mysticism of despair was precisely humanity’s torment on the rack of 
a time reduced to an apparent split between future and past. 

Imagine the distraction and despair of someone torn between two 
instants, forever zigzagging in pursuit of one or the other without ever 
reaching either— and without ever grasping hold of himself. If only 
passionate expectation were in play: under the spell of a past moment— 
a moment of love, say, and the woman you love is about to appear, you 
sense it, you already feel her touch . . . The kind of passionate expecta- 
tion, in a word, that prefigures a ‘situation to be constructed’. Alas, it 
must be acknowledged that most of the time the whirligig of memory 
and anticipation blocks both the expectation and the experience of the 
present by sweeping us into the millrace of dead time with its succession 
of hollow instants. 

Seen through Power’s glass, the only future is a past reiterated. A 
portion of familiar inauthenticity is projected by an act of what is known 
as prospective imagination into a time which it fills in advance with 



its utter vacuousness. Our only memories are memories of roles once 
played, our only future an endless remake. Human memory is supposed 
to answer to no requirement save Power’s need to assert itself in time by 
perpetually reminding us of its presence. And this reminder takes the 
form: nihil nove sub sole— or, in the vulgar tongue, ‘you always have to 
have leaders’. 

The future sold as a ‘different time’ is a worthy complement to the 
different space sold as a place for us to unburden ourselves completely. 
Change eras, slough one’s skin, turn the clock back or forward, change 
roles. The only thing that does not change is alienation. Whenever ‘I is 
another’, that other is condemned to hover between past and future. 
Roles never have a present. No wonder they can provide no well-being: if 
my present is a failure— here always being elsewhere— how could I possibly 
relate in a congenial way to either past or future? 


(b) Identification with past-and- future reaches its acme thanks to histor- 
ical ideology, which turns the individual and collective will to master 
history upside down. 

Time is a form of mental perception, clearly not a human creation 
but rather a dialectical relationship with external reality; a relationship 
therefore that contributes to alienation, and to humanity’s struggle 
within and against alienation. 

Animals, being entirely subject to the demands of adaptation, have 
no consciousness of time. Humans, however, refuse adaptation and 
attempt to change the world. Whenever they fail in this ambition to be 
a demiurge, they suffer the anguish of having to adapt, of knowing them- 
selves reduced to animal-like passivity. Consciousness of the necessity for 
adaptation is also consciousness of time slipping away, which is why time 
is linked to human anxiety. As necessity for adaptation to circumstances 
overrides the desire and capacity for changing them, the stranglehold of 
the consciousness of time tightens. Survival sickness is surely nothing 
but the acute consciousness of evanescence in the time and space of the 
other— the consciousness, in other words, of alienation. Rejecting the 
consciousness of growing old, along with the objective preconditions of 
the growing-old of consciousness, implies a strengthening of the will to 
make history, an increase in that will’s cogency and a greater consonance 
with everyone’s subjective wishes. 



An ideology of history has one purpose only: to prevent people from 
making history. What better way to distract people from their present 
than to draw them into that sphere where time slips away? This task falls 
to the historians. They organize the past, divide it up according to time’s 
official line, and then assign events to ad hoc categories. These easy-to-use 
categories put past events into quarantine. Solid parentheses isolate and 
contain them, preventing them from coming to life, from rising from the 
dead and running once more through the streets of our everyday lives. The 
event is deep-frozen, so to speak. It becomes illegal to retrieve it, remake it, 
complete it, or attempt to supersede it. It is merely there— preserved forever 
in suspended animation, for the admiration of aesthetes. All it takes is a 
slight change of marker for this same past event to be transported into the 
future. The future amounts to the repetitions of historians, whose forecasts 
are a collage of memories— their memories. The much-vaunted notion of 
the goal of history has been so vulgarized by Stalinist thinkers that it has 
successfully stripped the future as well as the past of all humanity. 

Prodded into identifying with another time and another personality, 
modern individuals have thus let themselves be robbed of their present in 
the name of historicism. Their taste for authentic life has been swallowed 
up by the spectacle’s space-time: ‘Comrades, you are entering upon the 
stage of History!’ For those who reject the heroism of historical commit- 
ment, a complementary mystification is provided by the psychologists. 
History and psychology work in tandem, joining forces to produce the 
extreme poverty of co-optation. The choice is between history and a nice 
quiet life. 

Historic or not, all roles are in decay. The crisis of history and the 
crisis of everyday life are no longer distinct. An explosive mixture. The 
task now is to repurpose history, to subordinate it to subjective ends, and 
to do so with the participation of all humanity. Marx, I might add, never 
sought anything less. 


For most of the last century the chief tendencies in painting have 
presented themselves as playing games— even joking— with space. Nothing 
was better suited than artistic creativity to express the restless and impas- 
sioned search for a new, directly experienced space. And what better 
means than humour for conveying the feeling that art can no longer 
provide much of a solution? (I am thinking of the early Impressionists, 



the Pointillists, the Fauvists, the Cubists, the Dadaist collagists and the 
first abstract painters. ) 

A malaise first felt by artists has, with the degeneration of art, 
come to affect the awareness of an ever-growing number of people. The 
construction of an art of life is now a popular demand. There is a whole 
artistic past the fruits of whose research have been thrown thoughtlessly 
aside; the time has come to give its discoveries material form in a passion- 
ately experienced space-time. 

Memories in this connexion are memories of mortal wounds. What 
is left uncompleted rots. The past is presented to us as irremediable, yet— 
supreme irony— the very people who characterize it as definitive spend 
all their time breaking it down, falsifying it and dolling it up according 
to the latest fashion. One thinks of poor Winston Smith, in Orwell’s 
1984, obliged to rewrite old news items contradicted by the latest official 
version of the past. 

There is only one valid way to forget, and that is to erase the past by 
fulfilling it. To avert decay by superseding it. No matter how far removed 
in time, the facts of the past have never spoken their last. A radical 
change in the present can always topple them from the museum shelf 
and bring them live within our grasp. There is no more poignant (nor 
can I conceive of a more exemplary) testimony to the way the past may be 
rectified than that offered by Victor Serge in Conquered City. At the close 
of a lecture on the Paris Commune given at the height of the Bolshevik 
Revolution, a soldier who resembles ‘a clay figure from a shooting gallery’ 
rises ponderously from a leather armchair at the back of the room. 

In low tones, but tones of authority, he was clearly heard to say, 

‘Tell us the story of Doctor Milliere’s execution.’ 

Erect, a giant of a man, his head bowed so that all you could 
see of his face was his hairy jowls, sullen mouth and uneven, wrin- 
kled brow— he put one in mind of certain masks of Beethoven— he 
listened to the story of Doctor Milliere, in a dark blue frock coat and 
a top hat, dragged in the rain through the streets of Paris, forced 
to kneel on the steps of the Pantheon, crying ‘Long live human- 
ity!’— and the retort of the Versaillese sentry leaning on a railing a 
few steps away: ‘Fuck your humanity, and fuck you! ’ 

In the dark night of the unlit street outside the meeting hall, 
the clay figure approached the lecturer. . . . 



He clearly had a confidence to share, for his momentary hesi- 
tation was heavy with significance. 

‘I was also in the Perm government, last year when the kulaks 
rebelled. ... I had just read Arnould’s pamphlet, Les morts de la 
Commune— a fine pamphlet. So Milliere was on my mind. And, 
Citizen, I avenged him myself! That was a wonderful day in my 
life— and there haven’t been many. I avenged Milliere perfectly. Just 
like that, on the steps of the church, I shot the biggest landlord of 
the place. I can’t remember his name now, and I couldn’t care less.’ 
After a brief pause he added: ‘But this time it was I who 
shouted “Long live humanity!”’ 

Past revolts take on a new dimension in my present, the dimension 
of an immanent reality crying out to be brought into being without 
delay. The walks of the Luxembourg Gardens and the Square de la Tour 
Saint-Jacques still resound with gunfire and the cries of the Commune 
suppressed. There will be more firing-squads, though, and more piles of 
corpses will erase so much as the memory of the earlier ones. One day 
the revolutionaries of all time will be joined by the revolutionaries of all 
countries and together they will wash the Mur des Federes with the blood 
of the executioners. 

Constructing the present means correcting the past, changing the 
signs that surround us, hewing our unfulfilled dreams and desires out 
of the veinstone in which they are trapped, and allowing individual 
passions to harmonize within a collective reality. Bridging the temporal 
gap between the insurgents of 1525 and the Mulelist rebels, Spartacus and 
Pancho Villa, or Lucretius and Lautreamont requires no more time than 
the duration of my will to live. 

Waiting for radiant tomorrows kills our joy today. The future is 
worse than the vast ocean itself, for it contains nothing. Planning, pros- 
pects, long-range views— one might as well discuss a house’s roof before 
the ground floor is constructed. It is true, though, that if one’s present is 
solidly built, the rest will take care of itself. 

Only the quick of the present, with its multiplicity, is of interest to 
me. Despite all the strictures, I want to bathe in today as in a great light; 
to convert alien time and the space of others into the immediacy of every- 
day experience. I want to make Sister Catherine’s mystical formula into 
concrete reality: ‘Everything that is in me is in me; everything that is in 



me is outside me; everything that is in me is all around me; everything 
that is in me is mine, and nowhere can I see anything that is not in me.’ 
For this is no more than subjectivity’s rightful victory, which history has 
now placed within our grasp— just so long as we tear down the Bastilles 
of the future, restructure the past, and live each second as though an 
eternal return ensured its exact recurrence forever in an endless cycle. 

Only the present can be total. It is a point of incredible density. We 
must learn how to slow time down, how to live the permanent passion 
for unmediated experience. A tennis champion has recalled how, during 
a very hard-fought match, when he had a difficult and critical return 
shot to make, he suddenly saw everything in slow motion— so slow that 
he had plenty of time to weigh up the situation, judge distances and 
make a brilliant return. In the realm of true creation time dilates; in 
that of inauthenticity, by contrast, it accelerates. Whoever masters the 
poetics of the present may expect adventures comparable to that of the 
little Chinese boy who fell in love with the Queen of the Seas. He went 
searching for her in the depths of the ocean. When he returned to terra 
firma he came upon a very old man pruning roses who said to him: ‘It is 
a strange thing, but my grandfather told me of a little boy lost at sea who 
had just the same name as you.’ 

‘All time resides in the moment’, according to the esoteric tradition. 
As for the claim of the Pistis Sophia that ‘One day of light is a thousand 
years in the history of the world’, history’s developing tray has revealed 
its exact correspondence to Lenin’s assertion that some days of revolu- 
tion are worth centuries. 

Resolving the contradictions of the present is always the main task, 
never stopping half-way or getting ‘distracted’, but heading directly for 
supersession. This task is collective, passionate, poetic and playful (eter- 
nity is the world of play, says Boehme). No matter how impoverished, 
the present always contains the true wealth of possible creation. This is 
the never-ending poem that can fill me with joy. But you all know— from 
your own life— how great the forces are that wrest it from my grasp. 

But how can I let myself be sucked into the whirlpool of dead time, 
agree to grow old, to wear out slowly till nothing is left of my body and 
my mind? Better to die as an act of defiance against duration. Citizen 
Anquetil, in his Precis de Vhistoire universelle, published in Paris in Year 
VII of the Republic, tells the story of a Persian prince so offended by the 
world’s vanity that he withdrew to a castle along with forty of the most 



beautiful and cultivated courtesans of the kingdom. There he died a 
month later from the effects of debauchery. What is death compared to 
such an infinity? If I must die, at least let me die as I have occasionally 

XXIII The Unitary Triad: Fulfilment 
Communication, Participation 

The repressive unity of Power under its three aspects— constraint, 
seduction and mediation— is simply the form, inverted and 
perverted by the techniques of dissociation, of a tripartite unitary 
project. In its chaotic, underground development, the new 
society expresses itself practically as a transparency in human 
relationships which promotes the real participation of all in the 
fulfilment of each. Three passions— for creation, love and play— are 
to life what the needs for nourishment and shelter are to survival 
[1], The passion to create underpins the project of fulfilment [2); 
the passion of love fuels the project of communication (*!]; and the 
passion for play is the foundation of the project of participation 
(B). Wherever these three projects are separated from each other. 
Power's repressive unity is reinforced. Radical subjectivity is the 
presence, discernible today in practically everyone, of an indivisible 
will to construct a passionate life [3], The erotic is the spontaneous 
coherence which gives the enrichment of lived experience a 
practical unity [5], 


The construction of everyday life implies the most thoroughgoing fusion 
of reason and passion. The mystery in which life has always been cloaked 
bespeaks an obscurantism intended to conceal the triviality of mere 
survival. The fact is that the will to live cannot be detached from the 
desire for a measure of organization. As things stand, the attraction for 
each of us of a rich and varied life is inevitably manifested as a striving 
which is subject in whole or in part to the social Power whose task it is to 
dash such aspirations. Just as the governance of human beings relies on 
three forms of oppression, namely constraint, alienating mediation and 
magical seduction, so the will to live draws its vitality and its coherence 
from the unity of three projects, namely self-fulfilment, communication 
and participation. 



For a human history not reduced to the history of human survival— 
though not detached from it— the dialectic of this threefold project, 
in conjunction with that of the forces of production, can provide an 
adequate explanation for most behaviour. Every riot, every revolution 
embodies a passionate quest for exuberant life, for total clarity in human 
relationships, and for a collective way of transforming the world. Three 
basic passions seem in fact to underlie historical development, passions 
that are to life as the needs for nourishment and shelter are to survival. 
The desire to create, the desire to love and the desire to play interact with 
those needs for nourishment and shelter, while the will to live clashes 
continually with the need to survive. Of course, these factors are signifi- 
cant only in their historical context, but the history of their dissociation 
is precisely what I want to challenge here in the name of the unceasing 
struggle for totality. 

As I have tried to show, the advent of the welfare state tends to incor- 
porate the issue of survival into the problematic issue of life in general. 
In a historical situation where the economy of life is gradually subsum- 
ing the economy of survival, it is ever more plain to see that the dissocia- 
tion of the three aforementioned projects, and of the passions underly- 
ing them, is an extension of the aberrant distinction between life and 
survival. Torn as it is between separation, which is the domain of Power, 
and unity, which is that of revolution, existence is obliged to find expres- 
sion for the most part in ambiguous ways. I shall therefore discuss each 
project separately, but with their unity in mind. 


The project of self-fulfilment is born of the passion to create, at the 
moment when subjectivity wells up and aspires to reign universally. The 
project of communication is born of the passion of love, when individu- 
als discover that the desire for amorous conquest in themselves is identi- 
cal in others. The project of participation is born of the passion for play, 
when the group fosters the self-fulfilment of each individual. 

The isolation of these three passions perverts them. Dissociated from 
one another, the three projects are falsified. The will to self-fulfilment is 
transformed into the will to power: in thrall to status and role-playing, 
it presides over a world of constraint and illusion. The will to commu- 
nication turns into objective mendacity: founded now on relationships 
between objects, it provides the semiologists with the signs which it is 



their job to disguise as human. The will to participation serves to organ- 
ize the loneliness of everyone in the crowd, setting up the tyranny of 
illusory community. 

Once cut off from the others, each passion may be incorporated as an 
absolute into a metaphysical vision, thus rendering it inaccessible. Our 
philosophers have quite a sense of humour: first they break the circuits, 
then they say the power has failed. On this basis they can claim with 
impunity that self-fulfilment is a chimaera, transparent communica- 
tion a pipe-dream, and the idea of social harmony mere whimsy. True 
enough, so long as separation is the order of the day, everyone confronts 
only the impossible. The Cartesian mania for cutting everything up into 
little pieces, and for proceeding only one step at a time, can produce only 
an incomplete and crippled reality. And crippled individuals are the only 
recruits available to the armies of Order. 

Project of Self-Fulfilment 

Guaranteed material security leaves unused a large supply of energy 
formerly expended in the struggle for survival. The will to power 
seeks to harness this free-floating energy, otherwise available 
for the free development of individual life, and use it to buttress 
hierarchical slavery [a]. Conditioning by generalized oppression 
obliges the majority to withdraw strategically into their subjectivity, 
which they perceive as their only irreducible asset. It behoves the 
revolution of everyday life to give concrete form to the countless 
assaults launched daily by subjectivity against the objective 
world [b], 

(a) The historical stage of privative appropriation has barred mankind 
from becoming a creator God itself, and humanity has had to be content, 
by way of compensation, with decreeing that as compensation for this 
rebuff humans must be content to create such a God in ideal form. At 
heart every human being wants to be God, but until now this desire has 
been turned against human beings themselves. I have shown how hier- 
archical social organization constructs the world by destroying human 
beings; how the perfection of its mechanisms and networks allows it 
to function like a giant computer whose programmers are themselves 
programmed; and how ‘the coldest of all cold monsters’ is epitomized 
by the cybernetic State now in preparation. 



Under such conditions, the social struggles for enough to eat, crea- 
ture comforts, stable employment and financial security— all formerly 
aggressive campaigns— are slowly but surely coming to resemble rear- 
guard actions (their enduring importance notwithstanding). The need 
to survive has absorbed and continues to absorb a vast quantity of energy 
and creativity, so vast that it must soon overflow and descend on the 
so-called welfare state like a pack of ravening wolves. Fake conflicts 
and illusory action notwithstanding, this continually stimulated crea- 
tive energy is no longer dissipating fast enough under the tyranny of 
consumption. What will become of this suddenly freed-up dynamism, 
this excess strength and vigour which neither constraint nor lies can now 
effectively exhaust? No longer co-opted by artistic and cultural consump- 
tion— by the ideological spectacle— such creativity can only turn sponta- 
neously against the conditions and assurances of survival itself. 

The rebellious have nothing to lose but survival. But they may lose 
survival in two ways: by losing life too, or by embarking on its construc- 
tion. Since survival is a kind of slow death, there is a temptation, not 
devoid of passionate justification, to speed the process up and die more 
quickly— to go flat out in a fast car, as it were, and ‘live’ the negation 
of survival negatively. Alternatively, people may try to survive as anti- 
survivors, bringing all their energy to bear on the enrichment of everyday 
life and thus negating survival by drowning it in the joys of construction. 
Both alternatives clearly follow the single yet contradictory path of decay 
and supersession. 

Self-fulfilment cannot be divorced from supersession. Desperate 
refusal, no matter how ferocious, cannot escape the authoritarian 
dilemma: survival or death. Acquiescent rebellion and wild creativ- 
ity easily broken in by the order of things are expressions of the will to 


The will to power is the project of fulfilment travestied, cut off from 
communication and participation. It is the passion for creation— and for 
self-creation— entangled in the hierarchical system, condemned to drive 
the mill of repression and appearances. Status and humiliation, author- 
ity and submission— such is the quick march of the will to power. Heroes, 
in this light, are those who pay homage to roles and to brute force, those 
who, once exhausted, follow Voltaire’s advice to cultivate their gardens. 



Thereafter their mediocrity will continue to serve, in its lumbering way, 
as a model for ordinary mortals. 

Betrayals of the will to live by heroes, leaders, stars, playboys, and 
experts are beyond count. Likewise the sacrifices they have made to force 
their image, their name and their aura of dignity on people— a few people, 
or a few million— whom they necessarily take for fools (otherwise they 
themselves would be fools! ). 

All the same, beneath its protective wrapping, the will to power 
does harbour traces of an authentic will to live. Think of the virtu of the 
condottiere, the exuberance of the giants of the Renaissance. But today 
the condottieri are no more. At best we have captains of industry, gang- 
sters, arms dealers and art dealers— mercenaries all. For an adventurer, 
Tintin; for an explorer, Albert Schweitzer. Yet it is with such people that 
Zarathustra dreams of peopling the heights of Sils-Maria— in these runts 
that he claims to discern the lineaments of a future race! Truth to tell, 
Nietzsche was the last master, crucified by his own illusions. His death 
was a replay, with more piquancy and wit, of the drama of Golgotha. 
It shed light on the disappearance of the feudal lords just as Christ’s 
shed light on the disappearance of God. As prone to disgust as he was, 
Nietzsche had no difficulty breathing in Christianity’s ignoble stench by 
the lungful. By affecting not to understand that Christianity, for all its 
stated contempt for the will to power, was in reality its best shield, its 
most faithful henchman, stoutly opposed to the emergence of masters 
without slaves, Nietzsche gave his blessing to the permanence of a hierar- 
chical world where the will to live dooms itself to be nothing more than 
the will to power. By signing his last letters ‘Dionysus the Crucified’, he 
revealed his own docility— the docility of anyone who has merely sought 
out a master for his compromised vitality. Nobody appeals to the witch- 
doctor of Bethlehem with impunity. 

Nazism is Nietzschean logic called to order by history. The ques- 
tion was: what is the fate of the last masters in a society whence all true 
masters have vanished? And the answer: they become superslaves. Even 
the superman as conceived by Nietzsche, as weak as this figure may be, is 
obviously far superior to the flunkeys who ran the Third Reich. Fascism 
knows only one superman: the State. 

The State as superman is the strength of the weak. This is why the 
demands of an isolated individual can always be satisfied by a role impec- 
cably played in the official spectacle. The will to power is spectacular in 



nature. Isolated people detest others and hold them in contempt even 
if they themselves perfectly exemplify ‘mass man’— the most contempt- 
ible being imaginable. Their aggressiveness reposes comfortably upon the 
crudest illusions of community and their combativeness serves only their 
own promotion in the rat race. 

Managers, bosses, hard men, mobsters— they have all had to sweat 
and slave, take their knocks, and stand and fight. Their morality is no 
different from that of pioneers, boy scouts, soldiers and all other shock 
troops of conformity. ‘No animal in the world would have done what I 
have had to do.’ Since he cannot be, the mafia boss (say) is defined by a will 
to appear: he compensates for the emptiness of his existence by proclaim- 
ing his existence ever more loudly. Only lackeys take pride in their sacri- 
fices. The rule of things is supreme here: if not the artificiality of the role, 
then the ‘authenticity’ of an animal. There are tasks fit for beasts but for 
no human being. The ‘heroes’ who march past behind brass bands— Red 
Army, SS, French paratroopers— are the torturers of Budapest, Warsaw and 
Algiers. Military discipline is sustained by the fury of the common soldier; 
as for the police, they are dogs who know when to bite and when to fawn. 

The will to power is a reward for slavery. At the same time it is a 
hatred of slavery. The great notabilities of the past never identified them- 
selves with a Cause. They preferred to conflate a Cause with their own 
desire for power. As great causes have crumbled and disappeared, great 
notabilities have likewise waned. But the game goes on. People embrace 
a Cause because they have been unable to embrace themselves and their 
own desires, yet in the Cause and in the sacrifice it demands what they 
seek, paradoxically, is their own will to live. 

Sometimes a sense of freedom and play awakens among the irregu- 
lars of the ruling Order. I am thinking of a Salvatore Giuliano, before he 
was co-opted by the landowners, or a Billy the Kid, or various gangsters 
briefly close to the anarchist terrorists. Legionnaires and mercenaries 
have been known to defect to the Algerian or Congolese rebels, choosing 
the party of open insurrection and taking their taste for play to its logical 
conclusion: the breaking of all taboos and the quest for total freedom. 

Youth gangs also come to mind. The very immaturity of their will to 
power has often kept their will to live almost uncontaminated. Obviously, 
young hoodlums are ever at risk of co-optation. First as consumers, 
because they want things they cannot afford; then, as they get older, as 
producers. But within the gang play remains so important that a genuine 



revolutionary consciousness is always possible. If the inherent violence of 
teenage gangs were not squandered in exhibitionistic and generally half- 
baked rumbles, and steered instead towards the real poetry to be found 
in rioting, then youthful game-playing could easily take on an insurrec- 
tionary colouring and set off a chain reaction— a qualitative shock-wave. 
Most people are aware of their desire to live authentically, to throw off 
constraints and roles. All that is needed is a spark— plus adequate tactics. 
Should juvenile delinquents ever attain a revolutionary consciousness, 
merely by grasping what they already are and by wanting to be more, 
they might conceivably become the epicentre of a reversal of perspective. 
Federating their groups would at once manifest such a consciousness for 
the first time and make its extension possible. 

(b) Until now the centre has always been something other than 
man, and creativity has remained marginal, outside the gates of the city. 
Indeed the history of city planning clearly reflects the vicissitudes of 
the focus around which life has been organized over thousands of years. 
Ancient cities grew up around a stronghold or sacred spot, a temple 
or a church, a place where heaven and earth met. The dismal streets 
of workers’ housing tend to surround factories and industrial plants, 
while administrative centres look out over soulless avenues. As for the 
new towns of today’s planners, such as Sarcelles or Mourenx near Paris, 
there is simply no centre at all. Which makes things simpler: their point 
of reference is always somewhere else. In these labyrinths where the only 
thing you are really allowed to do is get lost, the ban on playing, on 
meeting others— in short, on living — takes the form of kilometres of plate- 
glass windows, an endless grid of roadways and towering, supposedly 
habitable blocks of concrete. 

Oppression is no longer centralized, for it is everywhere. The positive 
aspect of this disintegration is that everyone begins to see, in their state 
of almost complete isolation, that they must first save themselves, make 
themselves the centre, and from their own subjectivity build a world 
where they can be at home anywhere. 

A clear-sighted return to the self is also a return to the wellspring of 
other selves, the wellspring of the social. So long as individual creativity 
is not made the centre of social life, the only freedom of human beings 
will be the freedom to destroy and be destroyed. If you think for others, 
others will think for you. And those who think for you judge you; they 
reduce you to their own norms; and, whatever their intentions may be, 



they make you stupid— for stupidity comes not from a lack of intelli- 
gence, as stupid people imagine: it stems from self-renunciation, from 
self-abandonment. So if anyone asks you what you are doing, asks you to 
explain yourself, treat them as a judge— which is to say an enemy. 

‘I want heirs; I want children; I want disciples; I want a father; I don’t 
want myself.’ Such are the sentiments of people with minds addled by 
Christianity, whether of the Roman or the Peking variety. Unhappiness 
and neurosis are the certain outcome of these attitudes. My subjectivity is 
far too dear to me for me ever casually to solicit or reject help from others. 
The point is not to lose oneself in others, and even less in oneself. Anyone 
who realizes that in the end he relies on the collectivity must still first 
find himself; otherwise, all he will derive from others is his own negation. 

Strengthening the subjective centre is such a special task that it is 
hard even to talk about it. In the heart of each human being there is 
a hidden room, a camera obscura, to which only the mind and dreams 
have access: a magic circle where the world and the self are reconciled, 
where every wish or whim is instantly satisfied. The passions flourish 
there, lovely, poisonous blossoms redolent with the mood of the times. I 
create a universe for myself and, like some temperamental and tyranni- 
cal god, reign there over beings who exist for me alone. In a few charm- 
ing pages, James Thurber tells how Walter Mitty dreams that he is first a 
swashbuckling captain, then an eminent surgeon, then a cold-blooded 
killer, and finally a war hero. All this as he drives his old Buick and stops 
to buy some dog biscuits. 

The significance of the subjective centre may be gauged by disparage- 
ment directed its way. People love to dismiss it as a haven of compensa- 
tion, a meditational retreat, a dependency of poetry or a locus of intro- 
version. Revery, they say, is inconsequential. But are not fantasy and the 
capricious visions of the mind starting-points and fomenters of the finest 
onslaughts on morality, authority, language and mystification? Are not 
subjectivity’s riches the source of all creativity, the testing-ground of 
immediate experience and a bridgehead thrust into the Old World upon 
which coming onslaughts will depend? 

For those able clearly to receive the messages and visions emanat- 
ing from the subjective centre, the world is reshaped, values change, and 
things lose their aura and become simply tools. Thanks to the magic of 
the imagination, everything exists solely to be manipulated, caressed, 
broken apart, put back together or altered in any way I wish. Once the 



primacy of subjectivity is accepted the spell of things is broken. Started 
from other people, the search for the self is fruitless; we repeat the same 
futile gestures time after time. Started from oneself, on the other hand, 
actions are not repeated but rather revisited, corrected and fully realized. 

Our innermost dreams secrete an energy that demands nothing 
better than to drive circumstances like turbines. The high technology of 
our time bars the way to Utopia; at the same time, however, it suppresses 
the purely magical aspect of the dream. All our wishes will come true 
once the modern world’s technology is placed at their disposal. 

Even now— and even without any help from technology— can subjec- 
tivity ever miss the mark? It is by no means impossible for me to give objec- 
tive form to everything I have ever dreamt of being. Surely everyone, at 
least once in their life, has been a little like a Charles Lassailly or a Sergey 
Nechayev: like Lassailly, who passed himself off at first as the author of a 
book he had never written, but ended up as a true writer, as the author 
of Roueries de Trialph (1833); or like Nechayev, who began by cheating 
Bakunin out of money in aid of a nonexistent terrorist organization, but 
later on became the guiding light of a genuine nihilist group? The day 
must surely come when I shall actually be as I have wanted to seem to 
others: the image boosted in the spectacle by my wish-to-exist must even- 
tually become authentic. For subjectivity can turn the roles and lies of the 
spectacle to its own ends: it can, as it were, reinvest appearances in reality. 

Though strictly mental in nature, the subjective imagination always 
strives for practical fulfilment. There is no doubt that the force of attrac- 
tion of the artistic spectacle— and especially in its narrative forms— plays 
on this striving for fulfilment, but only in order to capture it and use it 
to drive passive identification. Guy Debord rightly underlines this point 
in his agitational film Critique of Separation: ‘In general, the things that 
happen in individual existences as at present organized, the things that 
really concern us and solicit our involvement, are those that deserve 
no more than to have us be distant spectators, bored and indifferent. 
Situations seen through the lens of some artistic transformation or other 
are often, to the contrary, the ones that attract us, that would justify our 
becoming actors, participants. This is a paradox that needs to be reversed— 
put back on its feet.’ The forces of the artistic spectacle must be disbanded 
their materiel added to the arsenal of subjective dreams. Thus armed, 
those dreams will be far too dangerous to be treated as fantasies. The issue 
of the realization of art can be approached in no other way. 



3. Radical Subjectivity 

All subjectivities are different, but all obey the same will to 
fulfilment. Their variety needs to be subordinated to this common 
tendency so as to create a united front of subjectivity. Any attempt 
to build a new society must never forget two requirements: first, 
that the fulfilment of each individual subjectivity will be collective 
or it will not be; and, secondly, in the words of Saint-Just, that 'Each 
fights for what he loves: that is what is called the honest truth. 
Fighting for everyone else is merely the consequence.' 

My subjectivity feeds on events. The most varied events: a riot, a broken 
heart, an encounter, a memory, a toothache. The shock-waves of reality- 
in-the-making reverberate through the caverns of the subjective. The 
vibrations reach me willy-nilly and, though not everything affects me 
with equal force, I am invariably confronted by the same paradox: no 
matter how easily my imagination takes possession of the facts, my wish 
truly to change them is almost invariably foiled. The subjective centre 
registers the transmutation of real into imaginary and simultaneously 
the return flow of the facts rejoining the uncontrollable course of things. 
A bridge must therefore be built between the work of the imagination 
and the objective world. Only radical theory can grant individuals inal- 
ienable rights over their surroundings and circumstances. Radical theory 
grasps human beings at the root— and that root is subjectivity, an irreduc- 
ible zone that is the common property of all. 

You cannot save yourself on your own or achieve fulfilment in isola- 
tion. How can any individual who has gained some measure of insight 
into himself and the world fail to recognize a will identical to his own in 
those around him— the same quest, the same starting-points? 

All forms of hierarchical power are different, yet all perform identi- 
cal oppressive functions. Similarly, all subjectivities are different, yet all 
embody an identical desire for complete self-fulfilment. This is the sense 
in which one may speak of a real ‘radical subjectivity’. 

Every unique and irreducible subjectivity is rooted in the same will 
to fulfil oneself by changing the world, to live every sensation, every 
experience, every possibility to the full. This will is present in everyone, 
its intensity varying according to the individual’s level of consciousness 
and resolve. Its effectiveness naturally depends on the degree of collec- 
tive unity it can attain without losing its own diversity. Consciousness 




of this necessary unity stems from what might be called an identity 
reflex— a tendency diametrically opposed to identification. Thanks to 
identification we lose our oneness in the plethora of roles; thanks to the 
identity reflex we enhance our multiplicity within the unity of feder- 
ated subjectivities. 

The identity reflex is the foundation of radical subjectivity, the quest- 
ing vision of those who seek their self everywhere in others. ‘While on a 
mission in the State of Chu,’ says Confucius, ‘I saw some piglets sucking 
on their dead mother. After a while they trembled and went away. They 
had sensed that she could no longer see them and that she was not like 
them any more. What they loved in their mother was not her body, but 
whatever it was that made that body alive.’ Likewise, what I look for in 
other people is the richest part of myself hidden within them. Is the iden- 
tity reflex bound to spread? Not necessarily. But present-day historical 
conditions certainly favour such a development. 

There is no contesting the concern of human beings for nour- 
ishment, shelter, succour, and protection from adversity and disaster. 
Technological shortcomings— very quickly transformed into social ones— 
have postponed the satisfaction of these universal needs. Today, however, 
a planned economy allows us to foresee the final solution of the prob- 
lems of survival. And with survival needs well on the way to being met— 
at least in the hyperindustrialized countries— it is apparent that there 
are also passions for life to be satisfied, that this is of vital importance to 
humanity at large, and indeed that failure to satisfy them will under- 
mine, if not destroy all our gains in the realm of material survival. As 
the problems of survival are slowly but surely resolved, they clash more 
and more brutally with the problems of life, which, just as slowly and 
just as surely, continue to be sacrificed to survival imperatives. In a way, 
this split simplifies matters, for it shows clearly that socialist planning is 
at odds with the harmonization of our collective life. 


Radical subjectivity is the common front of identity rediscovered. Those 
who cannot recognize themselves in others are condemned forever to 
be strangers to themselves. I can do nothing for others if they can do 
nothing for themselves. This is the context in which we must reconsider 
such notions as ‘knowledge’ and ‘recognition’, and ‘sympathetic’ and 



Knowledge is of value only if it leads to the recognition of the common 
project— or in other words to the identity reflex. Fulfilment presupposes 
a certain style; it also calls for a good deal of knowledge of various kinds, 
but such knowledge is worthless in the absence of the style. As the first 
years of the Situationist International have shown, the main enemies of 
a coherent revolutionary group are those closest to the group in knowl- 
edge and furthest away from it in their lived experience and in the sense 
they give it. In the same way ‘sympathizers’ who identify with the group 
become an obstacle in its path: they understand everything except what is 
essential, what is radical. They beat the drum for their knowledge because 
they are incapable of beating the drum for their own selves. 

By laying claim to myself I break other people’s hold over me, while 
leaving them to recognize themselves in me. No one can develop freely 
without spreading freedom in the world. 

‘I want to be myself. I want to walk without impediment. I want 
to assert myself alone in my freedom. May everyone do likewise. Let no 
one agonize over the fate of the revolution: it will be safer in the hands 
of everyone than in the hands of parties.’ Thus Ernest Coeurderoy— and 
I agree completely. Nothing entitles me to speak in the name of other 
people. I am delegated by myself alone. Yet at the same time I cannot 
shake off the idea that my life is not just a personal matter, and that 
by living the way I live, and struggling to live more intensely and more 
freely, I serve the interests of untold numbers of other people. Each of 
my friends embodies a social group no longer unaware of itself: each of 
us knows that in acting for oneself one acts for all. Only through such 
transparency can authentic participation be built up. 

Project of Communication 

The passion of love offers the purest and most widespread model 
of authentic communication. But the crisis of communication, as it 
deepens, threatens to corrupt it. Reification looms. Romantic praxis 
must not be allowed to lapse into the mere interaction of objects; 
seduction must not become a spectacular form of behaviour. 

Outside the revolutionary path, il n'y pas d'amour heureux — there is 
indeed no happy love. 

The three passions that underlie the threefold project of fulfilment, 
communication and participation have equal weight, but they are not 



equally repressed. Whereas play and creativity are blighted by prohibi- 
tions and by every sort of distortion, love, though not immune to oppres- 
sion, remains the most widespread and most easily accessible experience— 
the most democratic, so to speak. 

The passion of love is the model of perfect communication: the 
orgasm, the harmony of two partners at the moment of climax. The occa- 
sional lightning flash of the qualitative in the gloom of everyday survival. 
Considering its unmediated intensity, exaltation of the senses, emotional 
fluidity, and propensity for change and variety, love seems predestined 
to reimpassion the deserts of the Old World. Survival without passion 
cannot fail to engender a passion for a life that is both one and multi- 
form. Love’s gestures epitomize and distil both the desire for, and the 
reality of such a life. The universe true lovers build from their dreams 
and caresses is a transparent one: lovers want to be at home everywhere. 

More successfully than the other passions, love has managed to 
conserve a measure of freedom. Creativity and play have always ‘bene- 
fited’ from an official image, an acknowledgement within the spectacle 
that alienates them, as it were, at source. Love, by contrast, has never been 
completely evicted from the clandestine existence that we call intimacy. 
It chanced to be protected by the concept of private life: banished from 
the day (reserved for work and consumption), it was thrust into the dark 
corners and dim lighting of the night. In this way it partly escaped the 
sweeping co-optation that ravaged daylight activities. As much cannot 
be said for the project of communication. The spark of passionate love 
is smothered by the ashes of false communication. Further aggravated 
by pressure to consume, falsification is now set fair to contaminate even 
the simple gestures of love. 


People who talk about communication when there is nothing but rela- 
tions between things spread the lies and misconceptions that buttress 
reification. Harmony, understanding, agreement— what do such words 
mean when all I see around me are exploiters and exploited, bosses and 
underlings, actors and spectators, all of them so much grist for the mills 
of Power? 

This is not to say that things express nothing. When someone invests 
an object with their own subjectivity, that object becomes human. But in 
a world ruled by privative appropriation, the object’s only function is to 



justify its owner. If my subjectivity takes possession of its surroundings, 
if my vision lays claim to a landscape, this can only be in an ideal sense, 
without material or legal implications. In Power’s perspective, people 
and things exist not for my enjoyment, but to serve a master; nothing 
really is, for everything is a function of an order based on property. 

There can be no authentic communication in a world where most 
behaviour is governed by fetishes. The space between people and things 
is controlled by alienating mediations. And as Power becomes an abstract 
function its signs become so chaotic and numerous that they require 
interpretation by a host of scribes, semanticists and mythologists. Trained 
as they are to see only objects around them, proprietors require objective 
(and objectified) servants. The job of communications specialists is to 
organize lies for the benefit of these guardians of corpses. Only subjective 
truth, backed up by historical conditions, can resist them. Unmediated 
experience is the sole possible starting-point if the deepest inroads of the 
oppressive forces are to be smashed. 


The bourgeoisie’s one pleasure has been the degradation of pleasure in 
all its forms. Not content with imprisoning the freedom to love in the 
squalid property relationship of the marriage contract (though releasing 
it as required for the purposes of adultery), not satisfied merely to vitiate 
passion with deception and jealousy, this class has found ways to separate 
lovers in the very throes of their love. 

Despair in love arises not from the difficulty of finding a lover but 
rather from the fear that, once in each other’s arms, lovers may fail ever 
to meet, each perceiving the other as an object. The hygienist notions of 
Swedish social democracy have already popularized a caricature of free 
love that treats love like a pack of cards. 

The disgust provoked by a world stripped of authenticity provokes an 
insatiable desire for human contact. What extraordinary good fortune 
that love exists ! At times I think that there is nothing so immediately 
real, so tangibly human, as the feel of a woman’s body, the softness of 
her skin, the warmth of her sex. And indeed that nothing else exists— 
but that this one thing opens the door to a totality that even eternal life 
could not exhaust. 

And then, even at the most intimate moments of passion, the inert 
mass of objects suddenly exerts its covert force. The passivity of a lover 



suddenly unravels the fabric being woven; the dialogue is interrupted 
before it has really begun. Love’s dialectic freezes. Two recumbent tomb 
statues lie side by side. Nothing remains but a relationship between things. 

Although love always arises from and within subjectivity— a girl is 
beautiful because I find her desirable— my desire cannot help objectifying 
what it hankers for. Desire always objectifies the loved person. But if I let 
my desire transform the loved person into an object, am I not doomed 
to collide with this object and (with habit doing its part) detach myself 
from it? 

Perfect communication in love requires the reconciliation of two 
opposing tendencies: (a) the more I detach myself from the object of 
my desire and the more objective strength I accord my desire, the more I 
become a desire indifferent to its object; (b) the more I detach myself from 
my desire as an object, and the more objective strength I accord the object 
of my desire, the more my desire finds its raison d’etre in the person loved. 

In social terms, one way this interplay of attitudes might find expres- 
sion is through the changing of partners combined with a more or less 
permanent attachment to a ‘pivotal’ partner. Such relations would be 
founded on a kind of dialogue amounting in fact to a single principle 
apprehended by all, a principle I have always longed to actualize: ‘I know 
you don’t love me, because you love only yourself. I am just the same as 
you. So love me.’ 

Love is impossible in the absence of radical subjectivity. The time is 
up for all Christian, self-sacrificial and politically militant forms of love. 
To love only oneself through other people, to be loved by others through 
the love they owe themselves— that is what the passion of love teaches, 
and what the conditions of authentic communication require. 


‘Love’ may also denote amorous conquest pursued by way of the inau- 
thentic. To approach a woman via the spectacle is to doom oneself from 
the outset to a reified relationship. The playboy is the specialist here. The 
real choice is between spectacular seduction, based on braggadocio, and 
qualitative seduction, based on the attraction of someone not concerned 
to seduce. 

Sade describes two possible approaches. On the one hand, the liber- 
tines of The 120 Days of Sodom can obtain gratification only by putting 
the objects of their seduction to death under horrifying torture (what 



more fitting homage to a thing than to make it suffer?); by contrast, the 
libertines of Philosophy in the Bedroom, warm and vivacious, do all they 
can to heighten their mutual gratification. The former exemplify the 
masters of old, quivering with hatred and revolt; the latter are already 
masters without slaves, discovering in each other nothing but echoes of 
their own delight. 

The typical seducer of today is the sadist who refuses to forgive the 
desired person for being an object. Genuinely seductive people, to the 
contrary, possess the fullness of desire within themselves; they refuse to 
play roles and owe their seductiveness to this refusal. In Sade’s work this 
would be Dolmance, Eugenie, or Madame de Saint-Ange. This fullness 
can exist for the desired person, however, only if they recognize their own 
will to live in the other person who embodies it. Genuine seductiveness 
relies on truth alone. And not everyone deserves to be seduced. This is 
what Schweidnitz’s Beguines and their thirteenth-century companions 
meant by saying that resistance to sexual advances was the sign of a crass 
spirit. The Brethren of the Free Spirit expressed the same idea: Any man 
who knows the God that lives in him carries his own heaven within 
himself. On the other hand, ignorance of one’s own divinity constitutes 
a truly mortal sin. This is the meaning of the hell that one also carries 
with oneself in this life here below.’ 

Hell is the void left by separation, the anguish of lovers lying side by 
side but not together. Noncommunication is always reminiscent of the 
defeat of a revolutionary movement. The death wish takes up residence 
wherever the will to live runs aground. 


Love has to be freed from its myths, from its images, from its spectacular 
categories; its authenticity must be nourished, its spontaneity restored. 
There is no other way to combat its co-optation and reification by the 
spectacle. Love can withstand neither isolation nor fragmentation; 
untrammelled, it is bound to overflow into the will to transform the 
whole of human activity, into the necessity of building a society where 
lovers feel free everywhere. 

The birth and dissolution of the moment of love are bound up with 
the dialectic of memory and desire. At the inception of this moment, 
desire and the memory of the earliest satisfied desires (implying no 
resistance to seduction) tend to reinforce one another. In the moment 



itself, memory and desire coincide: the moment of love is a space-time 
of authentic lived experience, a present where both the memory of the 
past and the tensed bow of desire aimed at the future coalesce. During 
the break-up stage, memory prolongs the passionate moment but desire 
gradually ebbs away. The present disintegrates, memory turns nostal- 
gically towards past happiness, while desire senses the unhappiness to 
come. With dissolution separation is complete. The failure of the recent 
past cannot be erased from memory, and this eventually quells desire. 

In dialogue, as in love, in the passion of love as in the project of 
communication, the problem is how to avoid the break-up stage. 
Remedies might include: 

(a) Extending the moment of love by letting love flow into the 
channels open to it— by maintaining its links with the other passions 
and projects and transforming it from a mere moment into the true 
‘construction of a situation’. 

(b) Encouraging collective experiments in individual self-fulfilment 
and multiplying the possibilities of sexual attraction by bringing together 
a great variety of possible partners. 

(c) Permanently strengthening the pleasure principle, which 
sustains the passionate nature of the projects of self-fulfilment, commu- 
nication and participation. Pleasure is the principle of unification; love 
is the passion for unity in a shared moment ; friendship, the desire for 
unity in a shared project. 

Erotic, or the Dialectic of Pleasure 

There is no pleasure that does not strive for coherence. The 
interruption of this quest, its nongratification, produces a 
disturbance analogous to what Wilhelm Reich called 'stasis'. 

Power's oppressive mechanisms keep human behaviour in a 
state of perpetual crisis. Pleasure, like the anxiety aroused by its 
absence, thus has an essentially social function. The erotic is the 
development of the passions in the process of their consolidation, 
an interplay between unity and multiplicity without which 
there can be no revolutionary coherence. ('Boredom is always 
counterrevolutionary' —Internationale Situationniste 3.] 

Wilhelm Reich attributes most neurotic behaviour to disturbances of 
the orgasm, to what he called ‘orgastic impotence’. He maintains that 



anxiety arises from the inability to experience a complete orgasm, from 
a sexual discharge that fails to release all the excitation aroused by the 
caressing, foreplay and so on that lead up to and make possible full 
sexual union. The energy thus accumulated and unspent floats free and 
is converted into anxiety. Anxiety from lack of gratification still further 
impedes future orgastic release. 

But the problem of tensions and their relief is not an exclusively 
sexual matter. It characterizes all human relationships. And Reich, 
though he sensed that this was so, failed to emphasize strongly enough 
that the present social crisis is also a crisis of an orgastic nature. If it is 
true that ‘the energy source of neurosis lies in the disparity between the 
accumulation and the discharge of sexual energy’, it seems to me that 
our neurotic energy also derives from the disparity between the accu- 
mulation and the discharge of the energy mobilized by human relation- 
ships. Complete gratification is still possible in the moment of love, but 
no sooner do we seek to prolong this moment and give it a social char- 
acter than we run into Reich’s ‘stasis’. The world of dissatisfaction and 
nonconsummation is a world of permanent crisis. What would a society 
without neurosis be like? An endless banquet. Pleasure is our only guide. 


‘Everything is woman in what we love’, wrote La Mettrie. ‘The empire of 
love recognizes no boundaries other than those of pleasure.’ But pleas- 
ure itself refuses to recognize boundaries. Pleasure which does not grow 
disappears. Repetition kills it, nor can it abide the fragmentary. The pleas- 
ure principle is inseparable from the totality. 

The erotic is pleasure in search of coherence— the movement of 
passions on the way towards intercommunication, interdependence and 
integration; towards the re-creation in social life at large of the perfect 
pleasure experienced in the moment of love; and towards the establish- 
ment of the preconditions for interplay between the one and the many, or 
in other words for free and transparent participation in consummation. 

Freud defines the goal of Eros as unification or the search for union. 
But when he maintains that fear of being separated and expelled from 
the social group stems from an underlying fear of castration, he has 
things the wrong way round: castration anxiety stems from the fear of 
expulsion, and not vice versa. It grows in proportion to the isolation of 
individuals in an illusory community. 



Even as it seeks unification, Eros is essentially narcissistic— in love 
with itself. It wants a world to love as much as it loves itself. In Life 
Against Death, Norman O. Brown points up this contradiction. How, 
he asks, can a narcissistic orientation lead to union with objects in the 
world? ‘The abstract antinomy of Self and Other in love can be overcome 
if we return to the concrete reality of pleasure and to the fundamental 
definition of sexuality as the pleasurable activity of the body, and think of 
loving as the relation of the ego to the sources of pleasure.’ But it needs to 
be made clear that the sources of pleasure reside less in the body than in 
the possibility of expansion into the outside world. The concrete reality 
of pleasure is based on the freedom to unite with all those who help one 
unite with oneself. The fulfilment of pleasure depends on the pleasure 
of fulfilment, the pleasure of communication on the communication of 
pleasure, and participation in pleasure on the pleasure of participation. 
It is in this sense that the narcissism turned towards the outside world 
of which Brown speaks can only lead to the complete overthrow of social 

The more intense pleasure becomes, the more it demands the whole 
world. That is why I heartily second Andre Breton’s truly revolution- 
ary exhortation: ‘Lovers, you should make one another come more and 

Western civilization is a civilization of work and, as Diogenes 
observed, ‘Love is the occupation of the idle.’ With the gradual disap- 
pearance of forced labour, love is bound to retrieve all the ground it has 
lost. This naturally poses something of a threat to every kind of authority. 
Precisely because the erotic is unitary, it embodies the freedom of multi- 
plicity. No propaganda serves freedom better than people serenely enjoy- 
ing the pleasures of the senses. Which is why pleasure is for the most part 
driven underground, why love is locked in the bedroom, why creativity 
is exiled to the backstairs of culture, and why alcohol and drugs cower 
under the long arm of the law. 

The morality of survival condemns the diversity of pleasures just as 
it does all unitary multiplicity in favour of repetition. Whereas pleas- 
ure-anxiety is satisfied by the repetitive, true pleasure is predicated on 
diversity in unity. The simplest paradigm of the erotic is no doubt the 
pivotal couple: partners striving to make their experience as transpar- 
ent and free as possible— an infectious complicity with the charm of an 
incestuous relationship. A wealth of shared experience inevitably fosters 



a brother-and-sister-like bond. Great loves have always had something 
incestuous about them, which suggests that love between brothers and 
sisters was special from the very first, and that it should be encouraged; 
only one small (and desirable) step is required to put an end once and for 
all to one of the oldest and most absurd of taboos. I am tempted to coin 
the term ‘sororization’ for an arrangement where one has a wife-cum- 
sister all of whose friends are also one’s wives and sisters. 

In the erotic realm there is no perversion save for the negation of 
pleasure— its distortion into pleasure-anxiety. What does the spring 
matter so long as the water runs? As the Chinese say: motionless in one 
another, pleasure carries us away. 

Finally, there is no better way than the search for pleasure to keep 
the spirit of play alive. It guarantees real participation, protecting it 
against self-sacrifice, coercion and lies. The intensity of pleasure is the 
measure of subjectivity’s hold on the world. Caprice is the play of nascent 
desire; desire is the play of nascent passion. And the play of passion itself 
finds its most coherent expression in the poetry of revolution. 

Does this mean that the search for pleasure is incompatible with 
pain? Not at all— but pain has to be reinvented. Pleasure-anxiety is 
neither pleasure nor unpleasure, but the kind of scratching that merely 
makes an itch worse. So what is authentic pain? A setback in the play of 
desire or passion: a pain that is positive, thus all the more passionately 
focused on the creation of new kinds of pleasure. 

Project of Participation 

The organization of survival can abide only false, spectacular 
forms of play. But with the crisis of the spectacle, the spirit of play, 
hounded almost out of existence, tends to reemerge on all sides. It 
is now taking the form of social upheaval and already foreshadows, 
over and above this negative aspect, the future society based on 
true participation. The praxis of play implies the refusal of leaders, 
of sacrifice and of roles; it also implies freedom to pursue self- 
fulfilment and transparency in social relationships [a]. Tactics 
is the contentious phase of play. Individual creativity needs 
organization to focus and strengthen it. Tactics cannot be detached 
from hedonistic considerations. Every action, no matter how 
circumscribed, must be aimed at the total destruction of the enemy. 
Adequate forms of guerrilla warfare must be extended to industrial 



societies [b). Repurposing [ detournement ) is the only revolutionary 
use of the spiritual and material values promoted by consumer 
society— and the ultimate weapon of supersession (c). 

(a) The needs of the economy and play do not mix. Financial transactions 
are deadly serious. There is no trifling with money. The element of play 
still present within the feudal economy was gradually squeezed out by the 
rationality of monetary exchange. A playful approach to exchange meant 
barter conducted, if not without any common measure, then at least 
without any rigid pricing. But as soon as capitalism foisted its commercial 
relationships on the world, all traces of fancy were banished; and today 
the dictatorship of the commodity shows clearly that this system intends 
to enforce these relationships everywhere, and at every level of life. 

In the high Middle Ages pastoral social relationships tempered 
the purely economic necessities of the feudal system with a measure of 
freedom; a playful spirit often prevailed even over the corvee, the dispens- 
ing of justice, or the settling of accounts. By throwing almost the whole 
of everyday life onto the battlefield of production and consumption, capi- 
talism represses the urge to play while at the same time trying to co-opt 
it as a source of profit. Over the last few decades, consequently, we have 
seen the attraction of the unknown turned into mass tourism, adventure 
turned into scientific missions, the game of war turned into operational 
strategy, and the taste for change fobbed off with mere changes in taste. 

Generally speaking, present-day social organization banishes all real 
play. Play has become something for children only. And even children, 
be it said, are ever more insistently offered gadget-type toys that reward 
passivity. As for adults, they are allowed only fake and co-opted forms of 
play: competitions, TV game shows, elections, casino gambling and so on. 
Naturally, such impoverished substitutes can never squelch the sponta- 
neous richness of the passion for play— least of all today, when history is 
providing play with optimum conditions for expansion. 

The order of the sacred tolerated profane and iconoclastic playfulness, 
as witness the irreverent decoration and obscene carvings to be found 
on capitals and elsewhere in cathedrals. So far from muting them, the 
Church openly embraced cynical mockery, caustic fantasy and nihilistic 
scorn. Under its mantle, demoniacal playfulness found shelter under its 
wing. Bourgeois power, on the other hand, had to quarantine play, isolate 
it in a special ward, as though afraid that it might infect other human 



activities. This privileged and rather disdained area of the nonprofitable 
was the bailiwick of art. And so things remained until the imperium 
of the economy reached even this sphere and set about converting it to 
commodity production. Ever since, the passion for play has been hunted 
down, yet it continues resurgent on all sides. 

When a new breach first opened in the layers of prohibition covering 
the spirit of play, it occurred at the weakest point, the area where playful- 
ness had held out the longest, namely the artistic sphere. This eruption 
was Dada. ‘The Dadaist shows,’ recalls Hugo Ball, ‘struck a chord in their 
audience, awakening a long-repressed primitive- irrational play instinct.’ 
Once embarked on the fatal path of pranks and scandals, art was bound 
to bring down with it the whole edifice which the spirit of seriousness 
had erected to the greater glory of the bourgeoisie. As a result play in our 
time has donned the robes of insurrection. Unfettered playfulness and 
the revolution of everyday life are now indistinguishable. 

Ejected from hierarchical social organization, the passion for play 
has returned to destroy that organization, and in so doing construct a 
new type of society founded on real participation. Without presuming 
to foretell the precise characteristics of that society, where play will be 
completely unrestricted, we may safely say that it will embody the rejec- 
tion of all leaders and all hierarchies, the rejection of self-sacrifice, the 
rejection of roles, the freedom to pursue genuine self-fulfilment, and 
transparency in social relationships. 


Play is inconceivable without rules— and without playing with the 
rules. Watch children at play. They know the rules of the game, they 
can remember them perfectly well, but they are always cheating, always 
dreaming up new ways of getting round them. But cheating, for chil- 
dren, does not have the connotations it does for adults. Cheating is part 
of the game, they play at cheating, complicit even in their disputes. What 
they are really doing is spurring themselves on to create new games. And 
sometimes it works: a new game emerges and unfolds. In this way they 
revitalize the passion for play without arresting its flow. 

The moment an authority solidifies, becomes irrevocable and 
assumes a magical aura, play comes to a halt. But playfulness, however 
light-hearted, always involves a certain spirit of organization and the 
discipline this implies. Even if leaders of the game are called for, their 



decision-making power must never be wielded to the detriment of each 
player’s autonomy. Rather, that power is the point of convergence of 
all individual wills, the collective echo of each particular demand. The 
project of participation requires a coherent organization that makes it 
possible for the decisions of each to be the decisions of all. Obviously 
small intimate groups— microsocieties— offer the best conditions for such 
experiments. Within them, the game can be the sovereign arbiter of the 
intricacies of communal life, harmonizing individual whims, desires 
and passions. This is especially true since the game envisaged here is an 
insurrectionary one necessitated by the group’s resolve to live outside the 
world’s official rules. 

The passion for play is incompatible with self-sacrifice. You may lose, 
pay the forfeit, submit to the rules, have a rough time; but this is the 
logic of the game, not the logic of a Cause, not the logic of sacrifice. Once 
the idea of sacrifice appears the game becomes sacrosanct and its rules 
become rites. In true play, the rules encompass ways of getting round 
the rules, of playing with them. In the realm of the sacred, by contrast, 
rituals are not to be toyed with, they can only be broken, transgressed 
(and let us not forget that profaning the altar is still a form of homage 
to the Church). Only play deconsecrates— opening the door to boundless 
freedom. Play is the basis of the principle of detournement, the freedom 
to repurpose, to change the meaning of everything that serves Power: 
the freedom, say, to turn Chartres Cathedral into a funfair, a labyrinth, 
a shooting-range, or a dream landscape. 

In a group founded on the passion for play, boring or arduous tasks 
might for instance be assigned as penalties— as the price paid, as it were, 
for losing a point or a game. Or, more simply, they could be used to fill 
dead time, as a kind of recreation from passionate activity, a stimulus 
making the more intense moments to come still more exciting. The 
construction of situations will inevitably embody the dialectics of pres- 
ence and absence, richness and poverty, pleasure and pain, with the 
intensity of each pole heightening that of its opposite. 

Meanwhile, technology deployed in an atmosphere of sacrifice and 
coercion invariably loses much of its impact. Encumbered in this way 
with a repressive function, its instrumental value is compromised, while 
oppressed creativity diminishes the efficiency of the machinery of oppres- 
sion. The only guarantee of unalienated, truly productive work is the 
magnetic attraction of play. 



In genuine play, roles are inconceivable if they are not played with. 
Roles in the spectacle demand complete conviction; a playful role, by 
contrast, implies a certain detachment, an attitude that allows one to 
see oneself as playing yet free, rather like a seasoned actor given to joking 
sotto voce between dramatic tirades. Spectacular organization cannot 
abide this sort of behaviour. The Marx Brothers showed just what a role 
can be when taken over by playfulness, and they achieved this despite 
more or less effective co-optation by the cinema. Just think what would 
happen if playing with roles had real life as its epicentre! 

Anyone who enters the realm of play with a rigid, serious role will 
either fail or ruin the game. Consider the agent provocateur. Provocateurs 
are specialists in collective play, of which they have mastered the tech- 
nique but not the dialectic. They might even be effective promoters of a 
revolutionary group’s offensive goals (they always urge attack, after all), 
were they not fated, unlucky souls, to defend only their own role and 
mission, and thus quite incapable of representing the group’s defen- 
sive interests. This contradiction always gives agents provocateurs away, 
sealing their sad fate. And the epitome of the provocateur is the game 
leader who has mutated into a leader pure and simple. 

The passion for play is the only adequate basis for a community 
whose interests are indistinguishable from those of its individual 
members. Unlike provocateurs, traitors appear spontaneously in revo- 
lutionary groups. They do so whenever the passion for play wanes, thus 
warping the project of participation. The traitor is someone who cannot 
find authentic fulfilment through the sort of participation offered and 
decides to ‘play’ against this participation: not in order to correct but to 
destroy it. Treachery is the senile disorder of revolutionary groups. And 
the abandonment of the principle of play is the prime treachery, the one 
that justifies all the others. 

Since it mobilizes the consciousness of radical subjectivity, the 
project of participation enhances the transparency of human relation- 
ships. The game of insurrection cannot be detached from the project of 


(b) Tactics. Tactics is the polemical stage of play. It provides the necessary 
continuity between poetry in statu nascendi (play) and the organiza- 
tion of spontaneity (poetry). Essentially technical in nature, it prevents 



spontaneity from being dissipated and lost in the confusion. We know 
how cruelly absent tactics have been from most popular uprisings. We 
also know just how offhand historians can be about spontaneous revolu- 
tions. No serious study, no methodical analysis, nothing remotely compa- 
rable to Clausewitz’s book on war. One might say that revolutionaries 
have ignored Makhno’s battles as devoutly as bourgeois generals have 
studied Napoleon’s. 

Though a more thoroughgoing analysis cannot be offered here, a few 
remarks are in order. 

An army well organized hierarchically can win a war, but not a 
revolution; an undisciplined mob can win neither. The problem is how 
to organize without creating a hierarchy; in other words, how to make 
sure that the ‘leader of the game’ does not become a tyrant. The spirit 
of play is the best safeguard against authoritarian sclerosis. Creativity 
armed is an unstoppable force. We have seen how the troops of Villa or 
Makhno could destroy the most battle-hardened forces. On the other 
hand, if playfulness calcifies, the battle is lost. The revolution fails so that 
its leader can be infallible. Why was Villa defeated at Celaya? Because 
he neglected to renew his strategy and tactics. Technically speaking, 
Villa was led astray by memories of Ciudad Juarez, where, by breaking 
through the walls of house after house, his men had taken the enemy 
from the rear and crushed them, and consequently he now disdained 
all the military advances of the First World War, with its machine-guns, 
mortars, trenches and so on. Politically, meanwhile, a certain narrow- 
ness of view led him to keep the industrial proletariat at arm’s length. 
Tellingly, Obregon’s army, which defeated Villa’s Dorados, included both 
working-class militias and German military advisers. 

The strength of revolutionary armies lies in their creativity. Often 
the first days of an insurrection bring stunning victories because the 
rules the enemy plays by are broken, because a new game is invented and 
because everyone participates fully in its development. But should this 
creativity flag, should it lapse into repetitiveness, should a revolutionary 
army come to resemble a regular army, the enthusiasm and even hysteria 
that gradually manifest themselves are naturally helpless to compensate 
for the decline in combativeness, while nostalgia for past victories breeds 
terrible defeats. The mystique of Cause and Leader replaces the conscious 
unity of the will to live and the will to win. In 1525, having held the 
combined forces of two princes at bay for two years, some forty thousand 



peasants, for whom tactics had been replaced by religious fanaticism, 
were hacked to pieces at Frankenhausen; the feudal army lost but three 
men. In 1964, in Stanleyville, hundreds ofMulelists, convinced that they 
were invincible, let themselves be massacred by surging onto a bridge 
defended by two enemy machine-guns. These were the same men who 
had earlier captured trucks and arms from the National Congolese Army 
by pitting the road with elephant traps. 

Hierarchical organization and its opposite, the lack of discipline 
and coherence, do have one thing in common: they are both ineffec- 
tive. In classical warfare, the inefficiency of one side triumphs over the 
inefficiency of its adversary by virtue of technical superiority. In revo- 
lutionary war, the poetic force of the insurgents deprives the enemy 
of its arms, and of the time to use them, thus stripping them of their 
only possible advantage. No sooner, however, do the guerrillero’s tactics 
become predictable than the enemy learns to play by his rules, and an 
antiguerrilla campaign will then have every prospect of destroying or at 
least blocking the people’s already slackened creativity. 


How can the discipline required by combat be ensured among troops who 
refuse blind obedience to a leader? How can cohesion be maintained? 
Generally, revolutionary armies either succumb to the devil of submis- 
sion to a Cause or plunge into the deep blue sea of a heedless search for 

The call to self-sacrifice and renunciation in the name of freedom 
is the foundation-stone of future servitude. On the other hand, prema- 
ture rejoicing and half-baked pleasure-seeking invariably herald the 
repression and semaines sanglantes of reaction. No, the game has to have 
coherence and discipline, but these must flow from the pleasure princi- 
ple itself. The risk of pain is part and parcel of the quest for the greatest 
possible pleasure, whence the energy with which this quest is pursued; 
there is no other explanation, for instance, for the verve with which the 
roistering soldiery of pre-Revolutionary France would attack a town over 
and over again, no matter how many times they were repelled. What 
drove them onward was their passionate anticipation of the celebration 
to come— in this case, a celebration of pillage and debauchery. Pleasure 
is heightened for being long in the making. The most effective tactic is 
one able to integrate hedonism. The will to live, brutal and unfettered, 



is the fighter’s most deadly secret weapon— and one liable to be turned 
against any who threaten it: with his own skin in the balance, a soldier 
has every reason to shoot his superiors. For the same reason, a revolu- 
tionary army has everything to gain by making its every member into a 
skilled tactician and, above all, into their own master, into someone who 
strives systematically to create their own pleasure. 

In the struggles to come, the desire to live intensely will replace 
the old motive of pillage. Tactics will become a science of pleasure, for 
the search for pleasure is itself pleasurable. Such tactics, moreover, can 
be learned every day. The form of play known as armed combat differs 
in no essential way from the free play sought by everyone, more or less 
consciously, at every instant of their everyday lives. Anyone who is ready 
to learn, from their simple everyday experience, what tends to kill them 
and what tends to fortify them as a free individual, is well on the way to 
qualifying as a tactician. 

There is no such thing, however, as a tactician in isolation. The will 
to destroy the old society demands a federation of tacticians of everyday 
life. To equip such a federation, to supply its technical needs, is one of 
the immediate goals of the Situationist International. Strategy, meaning 
the collective construction of the ramp to revolution, is founded on the 
tactics of individual everyday life. 


The ambiguous notion of humanity sometimes generates a degree of 
indecision in spontaneous revolutions. Too frequently the desire to make 
the individual the central concern opens the door to a paralysing human- 
ism. How often revolutionary movements have spared their future execu- 
tioners! How often they have accepted a truce that gives the enemy forces 
time to regroup! The ideology of humanism is a weapon in the hands 
of reaction, and it ends up justifying the worst inhumanity: think of 
Belgian paratroopers in Stanleyville. 

No compromise is possible with the enemies of freedom— and 
humanism does not apply to mankind’s oppressors. The destruction 
of counterrevolutionaries is the only humanitarian act that averts the 
cruelties of bureaucratized humanism. 

A final problem of spontaneous insurrection derives from the para- 
doxical fact that it must destroy Power totally by means of partial actions. 
The struggle for economic emancipation alone has made survival possible 



for everyone, but it has also subjected everyone to survival’s limitations. 
There can be no doubt, of course, that the masses have always fought for 
a much broader objective, for an overall transformation of their condi- 
tion, a change in life as a whole. At the same time, the will to change the 
whole world in one fell swoop partakes of magical thinking, which is why 
it can so easily mutate into plain old reformism. The tactics of apocalypse 
and the tactics of gradual reform are bound to come together sooner or 
later in a marriage of reconciled antagonisms. Have not all pseudo- revo- 
lutionaries ended up by identifying tactics with compromise? 

The ramp to revolution avoids partial victories and frontal assaults 
alike. Guerrilla war is a total war. This is the path on which the Situationist 
International is set: calculated harassment on every front— cultural, 
political, economic, and social. The battlefield is everyday life, which 
guarantees the unity of the struggle. 


(c) Detournement. In its broadest sense, repurposing means putting 
everything back into play. It is the act whereby the unifying force of 
play retrieves beings and things hitherto frozen solid in a hierarchy of 

One evening, for example, as night fell, some friends and I wandered 
into the Palais de Justice in Brussels, a familiar elephantine edifice whose 
mass dominates the poor districts below while standing guard over the 
affluent Avenue Louise (which we shall one day turn into a fabulous 
adventure playground). As we drifted through a maze of corridors, stair- 
cases and suite after suite of rooms, we pondered how the place might be 
rearranged. For a while we occupied enemy territory; the magic of our 
imaginings transformed that sinister pile into a fantastic fairground, a 
sunny pleasure dome, where the most exhilarating adventures would 
allow themselves to be directly experienced. 

In a word, detournement is the most elementary form of creativity. In 
daydreams subjectivity repurposes the world. Sometimes such repurpos- 
ing resembles Monsieur Jourdain speaking prose; sometimes it is more 
like James Joyce writing Ulysses. Which is to say that it may be spontane- 
ous or it may require a good deal of reflection. 

It was in 1955 that Debord, struck by Lautreamont’s systematic use of 
this device, first drew attention to its rich possibilities. In 1959, Asger Jorn 
described detournement as ‘a game made possible by the fact that things 



can be devalued. All components of past culture must be reinvested or 
else disappear’ . Returning to the subject later that year, in Internationale 
Situationniste 3, Debord elaborated as follows: ‘The two fundamental 
principles of detoumement are the loss of importance of each originally 
independent element (which may even lose its first sense completely), 
and the organization of a new signifying whole which confers a fresh 
meaning on each element.’ Historical conditions have since bolstered 
these remarks, and it is now clear that: 

(i) As the swamp of cultural disintegration broadens, spontaneous 
repurposing proliferates. The age of consumable values is remarkably well 
suited to the creation of ‘new signifying wholes’. 

(ii) Nor is culture now an especially privileged sphere in this regard. 
Repurposing can be an integral part of all forms of resistance in every- 
day life. 

(iii) Under the dictatorship of the fragmentary, repurposing is the 
only subversive technique that serves the totality. No other revolutionary 
act is more coherent, more demotic or better adapted to insurrectional 
practice. Thanks to a sort of natural process— the desire to play— it fosters 
extreme radicalization. 


Amid the decay affecting the entirety of spiritual and material behav- 
iour— and made inevitable by the imperatives of consumer society— the 
‘devaluing’ phase of detoumement has in a sense been taken over and 
guaranteed by historical conditions themselves. With negativity embed- 
ded in factual reality, repurposing comes increasingly to resemble a tactic 
of supersession— an essentially positive act. 

Although the abundance of consumer goods is hailed on all sides as 
a major step forward, the way the social system deals with these goods, 
as we have seen, corrupts any good use of them. The primacy of the 
commodity-as-gimmick as a source of profit for capitalist and bureau- 
cratic regimes alike means that commodities must be deprived of utility. 
The ideology of consumerism thus acts like a defect in manufacture, 
sabotaging the commodity it packages and turning what could be the 
material basis of happiness into a new form of slavery. In this context, 
repurposing popularizes other ways of using goods— of inventing supe- 
rior uses for them whereby things marketed with a view to manipulat- 
ing subjectivity can instead be manipulated by subjectivity to its own 



benefit. The crisis of the spectacle will reassign forces now serving lies to 
the camp of directly experienced truth. The main tactical and strategic 
issue is how to turn the weapons that commercial pressures oblige the 
enemy to distribute against that enemy itself. A user’s guide to repurpos- 
ing should be available to all consumers who want to stop consuming. 

The weapon of repurposing, first used in the sphere of art, has now 
been deployed in every sphere. The technique emerged amid the cultural 
turmoil of the years between 1910 and 1925, but its use has gradually 
spread to every area touched by social disintegration. The fact remains 
that the artistic realm continues to offer repurposing a viable area for 
experiment; the fact remains, too, that much must still be learnt from 
the past. Thus Surrealism’s premature attempt— in a perfectly suitable 
context— to reinvest Dadaist antivalues which had not yet been reduced 
to zero shows that trying to build on inadequately devalued elements can 
only result in co-optation by the prevailing mechanisms of social organi- 
zation. The ‘combinatorial’ approach to art by today’s cyberneticians goes 
so far as to prize any accumulation of disparate elements whatsoever, 
even if the particular elements have not been devalued at all. Consider Pop 
Art or the work of Jean-Luc Godard: the same apologetics of the junkyard. 

Artistic expression also makes it possible, albeit tentatively and 
cautiously, to explore new forms of agitation and propaganda. In 1963, 
for instance, Michele Bernstein produced a series of relief-plaster works 
with embedded lead soldiers, cars, tanks, etc. With such titles as Victory 
of the Bonnot Gang, Victory of the Paris Commune, Victory of the Budapest 
Workers’ Councils of 1956, these works were meant to spur efforts to rectify 
and improve certain historical events artificially frozen in the past— to 
revisit the history of the workers’ movement and at the same time to 
fulfil art. No matter how limited it may be, no matter how speculative, 
agitational art of this kind opens the door to everyone’s creative spon- 
taneity, if only by proving that in the especially distorted realm of art 
repurposing is the only language, the only action, that contains its own 

Creativity has no limits; repurposing knows no bounds. 

XXIV The Interworld and the New 

The interworld is the waste-land of subjectivity, a place where the 
corroding remnants of Power clash with the will to live [1). The new 
innocence liberates the monsters of the inner world, projecting 
the murky violence of the interworld back against the old order of 
things which is its cause [2], 


There is a Wild West of subjectivity plagued by the ills of Power: a zone 
rife with undying hatreds, vengeful gods, the tyranny of envy and the 
snarling of frustrated will. Its corruption is marginal, yet it threatens on 
every side. It is an ‘interworld’. 

The interworld is the waste-land of subjectivity. It contains cruelty 
in its starkest forms— the cruelty of the cop and the cruelty of the rebel, 
the cruelty of oppression and the cruelty of the poetry of revolt. Resisting 
spectacular co-optation yet never heeding the call of insurrection, the 
dreamer’s superior space-time assumes monstrous forms here in accord- 
ance with the norms of individual will but always within Power’s perspec- 
tive. The growing impoverishment of everyday life has eventually made 
it into a public realm hospitable to every kind of experiment, an exposed 
battlefield where creative spontaneity confronts the forces that corrupt 
it. Intrepid explorer of the mind that he was, Artaud was able to describe 
this uncertain combat with great clarity in ‘Supplement to the Journey 
to the Land of the Tarahumaras’ (1944): 

The unconscious belongs to me only in dreams, and even there 
I cannot tell if what I see lingering is a form marked for birth or 
filth that I have rejected. The subconscious is what emerges from 
the premises of my internal will, but I am very unsure as to who 
reigns there, though I suspect that it is not I, but rather a horde of 
countervailing wills which, for reasons unknown to me, think in 
me, but have never had any other thought than that of usurping 



my own place in my body and in my self. But in my preconscious, 
where their temptations harry me, I can see them, all those coun- 
tervailing wills, bearing down on me, but I am armed now with full 
awareness, so what do I care, because I feel myself there. 

A few lines earlier, Artaud had recounted how he ‘came to feel that I must 
travel upstream, and delve into my preconscious until I could see myself 
evolving and desiring. Peyote got me there.’ 

All the same, the itinerary of the hermit of Rodez sounds a 
warning. Artaud’s break with the Surrealist movement is significant. 
He reproached the group for allying itself with Bolshevism; for putting 
itself at the service of a revolution (one drenched, be it said, in the blood 
of the Kronstadt sailors) instead of putting the revolution at the service 
of Surrealism. Artaud was consummately right in attacking Surrealism’s 
failure to base its revolutionary coherence on its most admirable feature, 
namely a commitment to the primacy of subjectivity. No sooner had he 
broken off with Surrealism, however, than Artaud sank into solipsistic 
ravings and magical thinking. Any notion of fulfilling subjective will by 
transforming the world went by the board. Instead of externalizing the 
inner world, he set out to make it sacrosanct, to discover, in the rigid 
world of analogies, some eternal founding myth; but the only route to 
that kind of revelation is the road of impotence. Those who hesitate to 
cast out the flames that devour them from within can only burn, can 
only be themselves consumed, in accordance with the laws of consump- 
tion, in ideology’s shirt of Nessus. Ideology— be it the cult of drugs, of art, 
of psychoanalysis, of theosophy or of revolution— is the one thing that 
never changes history in the slightest. 


The imaginary is the exact science of possible solutions, not a parallel 
universe granted to the mind in compensation for real failures in the 
outside world. It is a force intended to bridge the gap between internal 
and external worlds. A praxis condemned to inaction. 

With its phantoms, its obsessions, its outbursts of hate, its sadism, 
the interworld is like a cage of wild animals driven mad by their impris- 
onment. Anyone may descend thither by way of dreams, drugs, alcohol 
or the disordering of the senses. Its violence asks only to be freed. A good 
atmosphere in which to steep oneself, if only to attain the consciousness 



that dances and kills— the consciousness that Norman O. Brown calls 


The red dawn of riot cannot dispel the monstrous creatures of the night. 
It clothes them in light and fire and disperses them over town and coun- 
tryside. The new innocence is the actualization of malevolent dreams. 
Subjectivity cannot be built without destroying the obstacles in its path; 
it draws the violence needed for this from the interworld. The new inno- 
cence means lucidly embarking on an annihilation. 

The most peaceable people are inhabited by dreams of blood. How 
hard it is to be solicitous towards those whom one cannot kill on the 
spot; to disarm by kindness those one cannot conveniently disarm by 
force. For those who have very nearly ruled over me I feel a great hatred. 
How can this hate be eliminated without eliminating its causes? The 
barbarity of riots, the arson, the people’s savagery— all the excesses 
that terrify bourgeois historians— are exactly the right vaccine against 
the cold-blooded atrocity of the forces of law, order and hierarchical 

With the new innocence, the interworld suddenly bursts its bounds 
and sweeps oppressive structures away. The play of sheer violence is 
subsumed by the pure violence of the game of revolution. 

The shock of freedom works miracles. Nothing can withstand it— not 
sickness of mind, not remorse, not guilt, not the sense of powerlessness, 
not the brutalization produced by the world of Power. When a water pipe 
broke in Pavlov’s laboratory, not one of the dogs that survived the flood 
showed the slightest trace of their long conditioning. Could the high tide 
of social upheaval have less effect on people than a broken water pipe 
on dogs? Reich recommends provoking explosions of anger in neurotics 
with emotional blocks and muscular armouring. That kind of neurosis 
is, I think, particularly widespread today; it is, simply, what I call survival 
sickness. And the most coherent explosion of anger will very likely bear 
a suspicious resemblance to general insurrection. 

Three thousand years of darkness cannot withstand ten days of revo- 
lutionary violence. And the reconstruction of society will surely mean 
the simultaneous reconstruction of everyone’s unconscious. 




The revolution of everyday life will obliterate the notions of justice, of 
punishment, of torture— notions determined by exchange and by the 
reign of the fragmentary. We want to be not dispensers of justice but 
masters without slaves, rediscovering, beyond the destruction of slavery, 
a new innocence, a life of grace. The point is not to judge the enemy but 
to destroy him. Whenever he liberated a village, Durruti gathered the 
local peasants together and asked them to point out the Fascists. These he 
summarily executed. The coming revolution will do likewise. With equa- 
nimity. We know that there will be no one to judge us thereafter: judges 
will be no more, for we shall have gobbled up every last one of them. 

The new innocence means the destruction of an order of things that 
has ever impeded the art of living, and that today threatens what little 
remains of authentic life. I need no justification for defending my own 
freedom. Not a moment passes without Power’s placing me in a posture 
of legitimate self-defence. The spontaneous jurisprudence of the new 
innocence is well expressed in this exchange between the anarchist Duval 
and the policeman sent to arrest him: 

‘Duval, I arrest you in the name of the Law! ’ 

‘And I suppress you in the name of freedom! ’ 

Things don’t bleed. Those heavy with the dead weight of things will 
die the death of things. Victor Serge recounts in Conquered City how, 
during the sack of Razumovskoe, some soldiers were rebuked for smash- 
ing porcelain for the fun of it. Their reply was: ‘We would smash all the 
porcelain in the world to change life. . . . You love things too much and 
men too little. You love men too much, men like things, and Man too 
little.’ Everything that does not have to be destroyed should be saved: that, 
in a nutshell, is our future penal code. 

XXV You Won't Fuck with Us Much 

A Sequel to Vous foutez-vous de nous? Addresse des braves sans-culottes 
a la Convention nationale [Are You Fucking with Us? Address of the Valiant 
Sans-Culottes to the National Convention [Sans-Culottes Printshop, Rue 
Mouffetard, Paris, 9 December 1792]] 

Watts, Prague, Stockholm, Stanleyville, Turin, Mieres, Santo Domingo, 
Amsterdam: wherever passionate acts and a passionate consciousness 
of refusal shut down the factories of collective illusion, the revolution 
of everyday life is underway. Resistance intensifies as poverty becomes 
more general. The precipitating cause of so many particular issues that 
have long sparked confrontation— hunger, constraint, anomie, illness, 
anxiety, isolation, deceit— has now been exposed in its fundamental logic, 
its empty and all-enveloping form, its horrifyingly oppressive abstract- 
ness. It is the whole world of hierarchical power, of the State, of sacrifice, of 
exchange, of the quantitative— the commodity as will and representation 
of the world— that is now coming under attack from the driving forces 
of an entirely new society, a society still to be invented yet already with 
us. Revolutionary praxis casts its revealing light upon every last corner 
of the globe, changing negative into positive, lighting up the hidden face 
of the earth with the fires of insurrection and mapping out the planet’s 
imminent conquest. 

Only genuine revolutionary praxis can invest plans for armed rebel- 
lion with the precision they must have if they are not to remain hope- 
lessly tentative and relative. But this same praxis becomes eminently 
corruptible once it breaks with its own logic. Revolutionary rationality 
is concrete rather than abstract, superseding the empty and universal 
form of the commodity. It is the only way to a nonalienating objecti- 
fication— to the fulfilment of art and philosophy in the direct experi- 
ence of the individual. Its thrust and extension are determined by a 
nonfortuitous encounter between two poles under tension: it is the spark 
that links subjectivity— whose will to be everything arises from the very 



totalitarianism of oppressive conditions— with the objective decay which, 
thanks to history, now affects a generalized commodity system. 

Existential conflicts do not differ qualitatively from those which 
affect mankind as a whole. People cannot hope to control the laws 
governing their collective history if they do not at the same time master 
their individual histories. To embrace revolution while abandoning 
oneself— as all militants do— is to work arse-backwards. Down with volun- 
tarism— but down likewise with the mystique of revolution’s historical 
inevitability! We must devise an approach route to revolution— a plan 
at once rational and passionate which dialectically unites immediate 
subjective demands and the objective conditions of the age. Within the 
dialectic of partial and total, the launching ramp of the revolution is the 
project of configure everyday life, in and through the struggle against 
the commodity form, in such a way as to ensure that each phase of the 
revolutionary process is a faithful reflection of the ultimate goal. No 
maximum programme, no minimum programme— and no transitional 
programme; rather, an overall strategy framed by reference to the essen- 
tial traits of the system to be destroyed, traits against which our first 
assaults must be directed. 

When the time for insurrection comes (and hence, as a practical 
matter, right away), revolutionary groups must be capable of a global 
formulation of the problems created by a diversity of circumstances, 
just as the proletariat will solve problems globally in the process of its 
self-dissolution. Here are some of issues that must be addressed: how to 
achieve the concrete supersession of work, of the division of labour and 
of the gulf between work and leisure (the reconstruction of human rela- 
tions by means of a passionate and conscious praxis affecting every sphere 
of social life, etc.); how to achieve the concrete supersession of exchange 
(the dethronement of the value of money, including the subversive use 
of counterfeiting, the establishment of relationships incompatible with 
the old economic system, the elimination of parasitic social strata, etc.); 
how to contrive the concrete supersession of the State and of every kind 
of alienating collectivity (the construction of situations, of self-manag- 
ing assemblies, of positive laws designed to encourage every freedom and 
eradicate backward sectors, etc. ); and how to organize the movement and 
extend it outwards from key areas so as to overthrow prevailing condi- 
tions everywhere (self-defence, relations with unliberated areas, promo- 
tion of the use and manufacture of arms, etc.). 



Between the old society in tatters and the new society yet to be built, 
the Situationist International exemplifies a group in search of revolution- 
ary coherence. Its significance, like that of any group that gives voice to 
the poetic impulse, is that it will supply a model for future social organi- 
zation. It is essential, therefore, that external oppressive structures (hier- 
archy, bureaucratization) not be allowed to reproduce themselves within 
the group. This can be ensured only by making participation conditional 
upon the maintenance of real equality among members— not as a meta- 
physical right, but as the norm to be respected. It is precisely in order to 
avoid both authoritarianism and passivity (leaders and militants) that 
a revolutionary group should unhesitatingly sanction any drop in theo- 
retical level, any practical backsliding, any compromise. There is no good 
reason for putting up with people whom the dominant system puts up 
with only too well. Expulsions and breaks are the only way to defend an 
imperilled coherence. 

By the same token, the project of massing poetry’s disparate forces 
presupposes the ability to recognize or catalyse autonomous revolution- 
ary groups, to radicalize and federate them without ever assuming leader- 
ship. A group such as the Situationist International has an axial function: 
to serve everywhere as an axis rotated in the first instance by the power of 
popular resistance but augmenting and disseminating this initial motor 
force. The Situationists’ only yardstick for identifying their allies is revo- 
lutionary coherence. 

The long revolution prompts us to build a parallel society opposed to 
the dominant system and poised to replace it. Or, more precisely, towards 
the establishment of federations of microsocieties— authentic guerrilla 
focos fighting for generalized self-management. True radicalism permits 
every variation and guarantees every freedom. The Situationists do not 
come with some plan in hand for a new kind of society; they do not 
say ‘Here is the ideal form of social organization. All hail!’ They merely 
show, by fighting for themselves and maintaining the highest possible 
consciousness of that struggle, why people really fight and why becom- 
ing conscious of the fight is paramount. 


Postscript [1972] 

A Toast to Revolutionary Workers 

Radical criticism has merely analysed the Old World and its negation. It 
must now either fulfil itself in the practice of the revolutionary masses 
or betray itself by opposing that practice. 

So long as the project of the whole human being is still the spectre 
haunting the absence of unmediated self-fulfilment, so long as the 
proletariat has not in reality reappropriated theory from those who have 
derived it from the proletariat’s own movement, so long will each radical 
step forward be followed by ideology’s two steps back. 

By urging proletarians to lay hold of a theory derived from direct 
everyday experience (and from the lack of it), the Traite de savoir-vivre a 
l 'usage des jeunes generations cast its lot unequivocally with the cause of 
supersession. But by the same token it laid itself open to all the falsifi- 
cation bound to accompany any delay in its insurrectional application. 
No sooner is radical theory separated from the self-movement of revo- 
lutionary consciousness, as when that consciousness is suddenly slowed 
by history, than it becomes other than itself while remaining itself, and 
cannot completely evade capture by a parallel but contrary movement— 
by a relapse into detached thought, into the grip of the spectacle. The fact 
that it embodies its own self-criticism merely exposes it not only to ideo- 
logical parasites, running the gamut in this instance from subjectivists 
to nihilists, via communitarians and apolitical hedonists, but also to our 
old friends the puffed-up bullfrogs of critical criticism. 

Radical working-class action will in due course place the spheres of 
production and consumption (which it alone is able, in the first instance, 
to repurpose) at the service of individual passions and needs; what 
delay here shows is that the portion of the proletariat with no direct 
control over economic processes, capable at best, in an ascendant phase, 
of framing and disseminating a theory which it cannot itself fulfil or 
correct, is liable, in a period of defeat, to transform this theory into a 
regression of the intellect, for consciousness with no true utility can only 
justify its existence as a second-hand item. 



The subjective expression of the Situationist project was at its best 
as it prepared the ground for May 1968 and nurtured consciousness of 
the new forms of exploitation; thereafter, it fell to its lowest ebb in the 
intellectualizing discourse which many accepted out of frustration at not 
being able to destroy what can only be destroyed (and indeed by sabotage 
and repurposing rather than by occupations) by workers with hands on 
the levers of production and consumption. 

All the same, inasmuch as the Situationist project represented the 
most advanced practical thought of the aforementioned proletarian 
sector with no power over the market process, and inasmuch, too, as this 
project never for a moment relinquished as its unique, self-appointed 
task the destruction of the social organization of survival in favour of 
generalized self-management, its real internal movement must sooner 
or later resurface in a working-class context, leaving the spectacle and its 
hot-air specialists to ‘discover’ the Situationist movement and adorn it 
with their apparatus criticus. 

Radical theory belongs to whoever enhances it. To defend it against 
books or other cultural commodities wherein it reposes too often and 
too long on display is not to glorify an antiwork, antisacrifice, antihi- 
erarchy worker in contrast to a proletarian restricted to an unarmed 
consciousness of the same refusals; rather, it is to call upon those who 
find themselves at the most basic level of the unitary struggle against 
the society of survival to use the forms of expression most effectively 
available to them, and to perform revolutionary acts that forge their 
own language by creating conditions from which there is no possible 
turning back. Sabotage of the forced-labour system, destruction of the 
processes of commodity production and reproduction, repurposing of 
stores and plant to the benefit of the revolutionary forces and of all 
those siding with them out of passionate attraction— here are means 
capable of putting an end, not only to the bureaucratic reserve army 
constituted by both intellectualizing workers and workerist intellectu- 
als, but also to the brain-hand dichotomy itself— and indeed eventually 
to the whole world of separations. Down with the division of labour and 
the universal factory! Long live the unity of nonwork and generalized 

The main theses of the Traite de savoir-vivre must now find corrob- 
oration of a concrete sort in the actions of its antireaders: not in the 
form of student agitation but in that of total revolution. The task of 



theory is to carry violence where violence already holds sway. Workers 
of Asturias, Limburg, Poznan, Lyons, Detroit, Csepel, Leningrad, Canton, 
Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, Liverpool, Kiruna, Coimbra— it is up to you 
to enable the entire proletariat to extend the pleasure of making revo- 
lution for one and for all to the everyday joys of making love, breaking 
taboos and revelling in the joys of passion! 

Without the criticism of arms, the arms of criticism are suicide 
weapons. Many proletarians successfully avoid the despair of terrorism 
and the poverty of militantism only to become voyeurs of the working 
class, spectators of their own shelved potential. Cuckolded and defeated 
as revolutionaries sans revolution, they settle for the role of revolutionar- 
ies-by-proxy, awaiting the moment when the falling rate of petty-bureau- 
cratic power hands them a chance to act as mediators and play the leader 
under the banner of their objective inability to smash the spectacle. This 
is why it is so vital that the organization of insurgent workers— the only 
revolutionary organization needed henceforth— must be the creation of 
the insurgent workers themselves, and thus the model for the proletar- 
iat at large in its fight for generalized self-management. Its advent will 
mark the final passing of repressive organizations (States, parties, unions, 
hierarchical groups of all kinds) along with their critical corollary, the 
fetishism of organization that thrives in the ranks of the nonproduc- 
tive proletariat. The unmediated practice of such an organization will 
eradicate the contradiction between voluntarism and realism that indi- 
cated the limitations of the Situationist International: confronted by the 
perpetual reemergence within itself of the relationships characteristic of 
the dominant world, the group found that its own methods of dealing 
with this, namely expulsions and breaks, were inadequate, and never 
managed to harmonize intersubjective agreements and differences. (I 
left the Situationist International and its growing burden of empty self- 
importance in November 1970.) Lastly, this development will prove that 
that the portion of the proletariat with no practical prospect of repurpos- 
ing the means of production is in need not of organizations but rather 
of individuals acting for themselves. Such individuals may on occasion 
join forces as action groups for the purposes of sabotage (attacks on the 
repressive networks, occupation of radio stations, etc.); they may be 
expected to intervene wherever and whenever opportunities for tactical 
and strategic effectiveness present themselves. Their sole aim will be to 
pursue unrestrained gratification and, inseparably, to kindle the fire of 



working-class guerrilla warfare— that negative and positive fire which, 
though it arises from the very depths of the proletariat, is nevertheless 
the only possible basis for that class’s self-abolition as part of the aboli- 
tion of class society as a whole. 

The workers may still lack the coherence needed to realize their 
full effectiveness, but they can be sure that they will succeed in achiev- 
ing that potential, and in a definitive way. The recent history of wildcat 
actions and riots is the writing on the wall that announces the resur- 
gence of workers’ councils and the return of Communes. The sudden 
reappearance of these forms— sure to be met by a repressive counterattack 
whose violence will put the repression of intellectual movements in the 
shade— will come as a surprise only to those unable to discern, beneath 
the diversity of the spectacle in its immobility, the unitary progression 
of the old mole, the proletariat’s ongoing clandestine struggle for the 
appropriation of history and the global overthrow of all the prevailing 
conditions of everyday life. The necessity of history -for-itself is likewise 
discernible in all its cunning in the negative coherence which is the most 
that an unarmed proletariat can achieve: a sort of defensive unanimity 
that serves as a ubiquitous objective warning to whatever threatens the 
radicalism of the working class from within. Such threats include intel- 
lectualizing tendencies, which cause consciousness to regress to the level 
of book learning and culture; unchecked mediators with their bureau- 
cratic ‘critique’; status-seekers, more attached to new roles than to the 
dissolution of all roles in the playful emulation that characterizes basic 
guerrilla action; and all those forces which press for the abandonment 
of practical subversion, of the revolutionary conquest of territory, of the 
unitary, international march towards the end of separations, the end of 
self-sacrifice, the end of forced labour, the end of hierarchy, and the end 
of the commodity in its every last manifestation. 

The danger reification poses to each individual’s creativity no longer 
lies in some theoretical What Is to Be Done? It resides rather in practi- 
cal revolutionary action. Those who fail to discover in revolution the 
crucial passion which opens the door to all the others can attain only a 
pale imitation of pleasure. In this sense, the Traite de savoir-vivre sought 
to find the shortest route from individual subjectivity to its fulfilment in 
history-made-by-all. From the standpoint of the long revolution, it was 
just one point, albeit a starting-point, on the communalist road to gener- 
alized self-management. It was no more than a sketch, but a sketch of 



the death sentence which the society of survival pronounces upon itself 
and which will one day be executed without appeal by the international 
of factories, fields and streets. 

We have a world of pleasures to win, and nothing to lose but boredom. 

October 1972 

Appendix 1 Authors Preface to the First 
French Mass-Market Edition [1992] 1 

The Everyday Eternity of Life 

The Traite de savoir-vivre a l ’usage des jeunes generations announced the 
emergence of a radically new era from the bosom of a waning world. 

With the quickening of the current that has for a short while now 
been carrying beings and things along, the Traite has grown, so to speak, 
ever more clairvoyant. 

The stratified past still clung to by those who grow old with time is 
ever more easy to distinguish from the alluvia, timeless in their fertil- 
ity, left by others who awake to themselves day by day (or at least strive 
to do so). 

For me, these are two moments of a single fluctuating existence in 
which the present is continually shedding old forms. 

A book that seeks to interpret its time can do no more than bear 
witness to a history imprecise in its becoming; a book that wreaks change 
on its time cannot fail to sow the seeds of change in the field of transfor- 
mations yet to come. If the Traite has something of both, it owes this to 
its radical bias, to the preponderance in it of that ‘self which is in the 
world without being of the world, that self whose emancipation is a sine 
qua non for anyone who has discovered that learning to live is not the 
same thing as learning to survive. 

In the early 1960s I conjectured that the examination of my own 
subjectivity, far from constituting an isolated activity, would resonate 
with other, like endeavours; and that if this examination was in tune 
with the times, it would in some way modulate those times in harmony 
with our desires. 

To attribute the same ennui that textured my own everyday exist- 
ence to a few others, and to enlist them in the dismal task of denouncing 
its causes, was not a little presumptuous on my part. Yet what an alluring 
challenge it was to wager on my presentiment that a passion for life was 

1 Paris: Gallimard, Folio/Actuel, 1992. 



on the increase, a passion the impossibility of defining which contrasted 
so sharply with the rigour of the criticism directed at the conditions 
ranged against it. 2 

In 1968 the hitherto underground work of vivisecting survival— a 
veritable opus nigrum — brutally shattered the barrier of prevailing sensi- 
bilities. Thirty years on, consciousness is slowly opening itself up to a 
reversal of perspective in the light of which the world ceases to be appre- 
hended as prey to a negative fate and begins instead to be ordered on the 
basis of a new positivity, on the basis of the acknowledgement and expan- 
sion of the life forces within it. 

Violence has changed its meaning. Not that the rebel has grown 
weary of fighting exploitation, boredom, poverty and death: the rebel has 
simply resolved no longer to fight them with the weapons of exploita- 
tion, boredom, poverty and death. For the first victims of such a struggle 
are those who engage in it full of contempt for their own lives. Suicidal 
behaviour is an inevitable part of the logic of a system that battens on 
the gradual dilapidation of nature and human nature alike. 

If the ancient cry ‘Death to the Exploiters’ no longer echoes through 
the streets, it is because it has given way to another cry, one harking back 
to childhood and issuing from a passion which, though more serene, is 
no less tenacious. That cry is ‘Life First!’ 

The rejection of commodities implicit in the shattered shop windows 
of 1968 marked such a clear and public breach in a millennia-old 
economic boundary-line drawn around individual destiny that archaic 
reflexes of fear and impotence immediately obscured the insurrection- 
ary movement’s truly radical character. Here at long last was a chance 
to make the will to live in each of us the basis for a society which for the 
first time in history would attain an authentic humanity. 

Many people, however, treated this moment as an opportunity to 

2 The Traite was written between 1963 and 1965, and the manuscript sent to thirteen 
publishers, all of whom rejected it. The last refusal was from Gallimard, on whose reading 
committee the book was supported only by Raymond Queneau and Louis-Rene Des Forets. 
As it happened, on the day the returned manuscript and Gallimard’s rejection letter reached 
me, Le Figaro litteraire published an article decrying the influence of the Situationists on the 
Provos of Amsterdam. That same evening Queneau sent me a telegram requesting that the 
manuscript be resubmitted. As a result I cut short a closing discussion of workers’ councils 
as a social model (the book’s Postscript, added in 1972, shows signs of an attempt to redress 
this) . The Traite eventually appeared on 30 November 1967, six months before those ‘events’ 
which— precisely because their most innovative aspects are even now only just becoming 
apparent— are still not referred to as the Revolution of May 1968. 



set up shop as merchandisers of opposition, ignoring any need to change 
behaviour wedded to the mechanics of commodity rule. Among the 
Traite’s readers were some who seized upon my account of a certain mod 
de vivre (from which I wanted above all to free myself) as an excuse for 
offering no resistance whatsoever to the state of survival to which they 
were in thrall (and which the comforts of the welfare state, with its 
abundant and bitter consolations, had until then concealed from them). 

It was not long before these people had run up new character 
armour for themselves at the verbal forge of militant terrorism. Later still 
(without ever abandoning their incendiary rhetoric) they became career 
bureaucrats and covered themselves with glory as cogs in the apparat of 
State and marketplace. 


In the 1960s a mutation of the economy took hold whose effects are 
increasingly evident today. With the benefit of hindsight I can now see 
much more easily how I was able to take advantage, in effect, of a kind 
of interregnum— during which the old authority was losing its grip but 
the new had still not thoroughly consolidated its power— to rescue a 
subjectivity that was widely discredited and to propose, as the basis of a 
projected society, an enjoyment of self that proclaimed itself one with enjoy- 
ment of the world. 

To begin with, there were three or four of us who partook of, and 
shared among us, the passion for ‘constructing situations’. The way each 
of us cultivated this passion at that time depended on their goals for their 
own existence, but it has lost nothing of its urgency, as witness both the 
inexorable advance of the life forces and the investments that an ecologi- 
cal neocapitalism is obliged to make in them. 

The last thirty years have visited more upheavals upon the world than 
the several preceding millennia. That the Traite should have contributed 
in the slightest to the acceleration thus suddenly imposed upon events 
is in the end far less a source of satisfaction to me than the sight of the 
paths now being opened up, within some individuals and some societies, 
that will lead from the primacy now at long last accorded to life to the 
likely creation of an authentically human race. 

May 1968 was a genuine decanting, from the kind of revolution 
which revolutionaries make against themselves, of that permanent revo- 
lution which is destined to usher in the sovereignty of life. 



There has never been a revolutionary movement not governed from 
start to finish by the expanding empire of the commodity. The economy, 
with its iron collar of archaic forms, has always smashed revolution by 
means of freedoms, modelled on the freedom of trade, which because of 
the inherent constraints of the law of profit swiftly become the building- 
blocks of new tyrannies. 

In the end the economy picks up whatever it put in at the outset- 
plus appreciation. This is the whole meaning of the notion of recuperation 
(co-optation). Revolutions have never done anything but turn against 
themselves and negate themselves at the speed of their own rotation. 
The revolution of 1968 was no exception to this rule. The commodity 
system, finding generalized consumption more profitable than produc- 
tion, itself speeds up the shift from authoritarianism to the seductions 
of the market, from saving to spending, from puritanism to hedonism, 
from an exploitation that makes the earth and mankind sterile to a lucra- 
tive reconstruction of the environment, from capital as more precious 
than the individual to the individual as the most precious capital. 

The impetus of the ‘free’ market has reunified the capitalist system 
by precipitating the collapse of bureaucratic, so-called communist state 
capitalism. The Western model has made tabula rasa of the old forms of 
oppression and instated a democracy of the supermarket, a self-service 
autonomy, a hedonism whose pleasures must be paid for. Its racketeering 
has exploded all the great ideological balloons of earlier times, so labo- 
riously inflated from generation to generation by the winds of political 

A religious flea-market has been set up among the sex-shops and 
the novelty emporia. The system has realized in the nick of time that a 
living human being is a more paying proposition than a dead human 
being— or one ravaged by pollutants. Little wonder that another vast 
market has grown up to cash in on the tender feelings and troubles of 
the human heart. 

The critique of the spectacle has itself been travestied as critical spec- 
tacle: with the saturation of the market for denatured, tasteless, useless 
products, consumers unable to proceed any further down the road of 
stupidity and passivity are hoisted into a competing market where prof- 
itability depends on claims of quality and ‘naturalness’. Suddenly we are 
obliged willy-nilly to demonstrate discernment— to retrieve the shreds of 
intelligence that old-style consumerism forbade us to use. 



Power, State, religion, ideology, army, morality, the Left, the Right— 
that so many abominations should have been sent one after another to 
the wrecker’s yard by the imperialism of the market, for which there is no 
black and no white, might seem at first glance good reason to rejoice; but 
no sooner does the slightest suspicion enter one’s mind than it becomes 
obvious that all these forces have simply redeployed, and are now waging 
the same war under different colours. Green, lest we forget, is also the 
colour of the dollar bill. The new and improved consumerism may be 
democratic, it may be ironic, but it always presents its account, and the 
account must always be settled. A life governed by sanctioned greed is by 
no means freed thereby from the old tyranny of having to forfeit one’s 
life merely to pay for it. 

If there is one area where the achievement of consciousness comes 
into its own as a truly essential act, it is the realm of everyday life, where 
every passing instant reveals once again that the dice are loaded and that 
as per usual we are being taken for a ride. 

From the agrarian structures that gave birth to the first city-states to 
the world-wide triumph of the free market, the history of the commodity 
system has continually swung back and forth between a closed economy 
and an open one, between withdrawal into protectionism and embrace of 
the free circulation of goods. Each advance of the commodity has engen- 
dered on the one hand formal freedoms, and on the other a conscious- 
ness enjoying the incalculably great advantage over those freedoms of 
potential incarnation within the individual, of potential conflation with 
the very movement of desire. 

The ideology of freedom that rode the wave of all past revolutions, 
from the communalist insurrections of the eleventh and twelfth centu- 
ries to 1789, 1848, 1871, 1917, and 1936, never lost any time reducing and 
rechannelling all libidinal exuberance into bloody violence. 

Only one revolution (apropos of which it will someday be acknowl- 
edged that, in sharp contrast to all its predecessors, it truly wrote finis to 
several millennia of inhumanity) did not end in a whirlwind of repres- 
sive violence. Indeed it simply did not end at all. 

In 1968 the economy closed the circle: from its apogee it plunged 
into nothingness. This was the moment when it abandoned the authori- 
tarian puritanism of the production imperative for the (more profitable) 
market in individual gratification. The suffusion of attitudes and mores 
by permissiveness echoed the official world’s recognition of pleasure— so 



long, of course, as the pleasure in question was a profitable one, tagged 
with an exchange value and wrested from the gratuitousness of real life 
to serve a new mercantile order. 

And then the game was over. Cold calculation had drawn too close to 
the heat of passion. The danger was that the will to live, aroused and denied 
simultaneously, would eventually reveal the artificiality of the market’s 
definition of freedom. Where was the silver-tongued lie that would serve 
business’s ecological new look by promoting the timidest imaginable 
defence of life forces while still preventing individuals from reconstructing 
both their desires and their environment as part of an indivisible process? 

A fate that has overwhelmed fomenters of revolution from time 
immemorial decreed that the i968ers should go where the economy beck- 
oned: to modernity for the economy— and to disaster for them. If this fate 
was defied in 1968, it was thanks to a subjective consciousness of where 
real life lay. The rejection of work, sacrifice, guilt, separation, exchange, 
survival, so readily susceptible to intellectual co-optation, drew nourish- 
ment on this occasion from a lucidity that went far beyond contestation 
(or perhaps rather stopped far short of it) by choosing to hone desire and 
join the struggle of an embryonic everyday life at loggerheads with every- 
thing that seeks to exhaust and destroy it. 

A consciousness severed from life forces is blind. The dark glasses of 
the negative can obscure the fact that what seems like forward motion 
is just the opposite. The social analyses of our fashionable thinkers are 
notable in this regard for the singular tenacity with which they cling to 
quite ridiculous claims. They toss such ideas as revolution, self-manage- 
ment and workers’ councils into the dustbin at the very moment when 
state power is suffering the onslaught of groups whose collective deci- 
sion-making admits of no intrusion by political representatives, shuns 
all organizers or leaders and combats all hierarchy. 

I do not underestimate the shortcomings of practices of this kind, 
which have for the most part been confined to reactions of a defensive 
kind. But they are unquestionably a manifestation, bearing no appella- 
tion d’origine controlee, of a type of behaviour that breaks utterly with the 
old mass movements. Groups of individuals formed in this way could not 
be further removed from hordes of people manipulable at will. 

Everyday life itself is even more replete with shortcomings— one has 
but to consider how little light is shed on it by those who wander through 
at the whim of its pleasures and pains. 



But after all, the Judaeo-Christian era itself had to end before we 
found out that the well-worn word ‘life’ concealed a reality long overlain 
by the mere survival to which all life has been reduced by the commod- 
ity system, which mankind produces and which reproduces mankind 
in its own image. 

There is no one who is not embarked upon a process of personal 
alchemy, yet so inattentive, so short-sighted are those who call their own 
passivity and resignation ‘fate’ that the magistery cannot get beyond the 
opus nigrum, cannot emerge from the atmosphere of putrefaction and 
death which is the ordinary product of desires forced into self-negation. 

I consider the feeling (inevitably a desperate one) of having fallen 
prey to a universal conspiracy of hostile circumstances to be contrary to 
any will to autonomy. The negative is nothing but an excuse for resign- 
ing oneself never to be oneself, never to grasp the riches of one’s own life. 

My goal, instead, has been a lucidity grounded in my desires; by 
continually illuminating the struggle of the life forces against death, 
such a lucidity must surely counter the commodity’s logic of disintegra- 
tion. As a sort of research report, a single book has neither the best nor yet 
the most insignificant role to play in the passionate day-to-day struggle to 
winnow out from one’s life whatever blocks or depletes it. The Revolution 
of Everyday Life, The Book of Pleasures, and Adresse aux vivants (Address 
to the Living) may be seen as three phases of a continuum connecting 
several concordances between a changing world and footholds secured 
from time to time in a persistent attempt at once to create myself and 
to re-create society. 

The diminishing return from the exploitation and destruction of 
nature was the motor of the late-twentieth-century development of an 
ecological neocapitalism and of new modes of production. The profitabil- 
ity of life forces is no longer founded on their exhaustion but instead on 
their reconstruction. Consciousness of the life to be created progresses 
because the direction taken by reality itself contributes to it. Never have 
desires, returned now to their childhood, enjoyed such power within 
each individual to destroy everything that inverts, negates and reifies 
human beings and turns them into objects of exchange. 

Something is taking place today that no one has ever dared imagine: 
the process of individual alchemy is on the point of transmuting an 
inhuman history into nothing short of humanity’s self-realization. 

September 1991 

Appendix 2 Concerning the Translation 

Raoul Vaneigem’s ‘treatise on savoir-vivre’ will soon be fifty years old. The 
work has never gone out of print and has long been freely downloadable 
in several languages from the Internet. It would be impossible to quan- 
tify its circulation over the decades, but there is no doubt that it has been 
a ‘life-changing book’ for a host of readers and that it fully deserves its 
reputation as a ‘classic of subversion’. 

As for the Traite’s life in English translation, the version which I 
settled for in 1983, published jointly by Rebel Press in London and Left 
Bank Books in Seattle, was the culmination of the efforts of several trans- 
lators in the 1970s (see my preface to that edition below). In the efferves- 
cence of the 1960s and ’70s portions of the book were very widely circulated 
as pamphlets in the English-speaking world. In those days (and I believe 
I can speak for all of us), we wanted to maximize the practical impact of 
Raoul Vaneigem’s words, to produce a texte de combat, and to this end we 
subordinated the customary criteria of literary translation to considera- 
tions of accessibility and topicality. We thought (correctly, I think) that 
the text belonged to us— to ‘our party’ in the sense in which Marx and 
Engels used this expression— and that we could (and should) do more or 
less what we liked with it— or rather what best served our collective aims. 

Much time has passed, and when I returned to the translation I 
discovered to my surprise— and somewhat to my distress!— that a proper 
revision would entail not perhaps a reversal, but at least a shift of perspec- 
tive. What I now offer, therefore, is a version much more faithful to the 
original, making no attempt to find ‘English’ equivalents for cultural 
references, and striving, so far from ‘updating’ anything, to preserve a 
feeling for those times. Which said, it is my hope that this newfound 
fidelity to the French and respect for the venerability of Vaneigem’s work 
will in no way detract from its enduring relevance and power to provoke, 
not to mention its stunning prescience. How far I have succeeded in this 
I naturally leave it to the reader to judge. 

D. N.-S., September 2011 



Translator's Note to the Rebel Press Edition [1983] 

This translation of Raoul Vaneigem’s Traite de savoir-vivre a I’usage des 
jeunes generations was done a few years ago at the suggestion of Free Life 
Editions, New York. Although Free Life ceased all publication before the 
book could be brought out, I would like to thank them for sponsoring 
the project and for assisting me in a variety of ways while work was in 

I am also indebted to earlier translators of all or parts of the Traite, 
among them John Fullerton and Paul Sieveking, who in 1972 published 
the only full-length version that I know of (Fondon: Practical Paradise 
Publications). I have stolen shamelessly from all such precursors, and I 
am especially obliged to CW [Chris Whitbread], CG [Chris Gray] and 
BE [Bruce Elwell], 

Thanks are due too, for various forms of essential aid, to PF and YR 
in Paris; to RE and TJC in the United States; and to Rebel Press in Fondon. 

I must also express my gratitude to Raoul Vaneigem, who author- 
ized the translation and answered all my queries without betraying the 
slightest sign of fatigue. 

The Revolution of Everyday Life is not a title I care for; I would have 
preferred The Rudiments of Savoir-Vivre: A Guide for Young Persons Recently 
Established in the World, or more simply The Facts of Life for Younger 
Readers. The publishers are doubtless right, however, in preferring not to 
depart from the title by which the work has by now become known to 
the English-speaking public. 

I have obstinately resisted the well-intentioned urgings of many 
people that I should overstep the role of translator and become an editor 
as well, by adding footnotes, glosses, biographical sketches of ‘obscure 
personages’, etc., etc. Nobody, I am afraid, has persuaded me of the need 
for any such spoonfeeding of the reader. 

I wish it were not necessary to state (though I am quite sure it is) 
that my part in the publication of this book does not imply my adherence 
to any or all of its theses, much less my affiliation with any real or conjec- 
tured, ‘Vaneigemist’ or ‘Debordist’, post-, pro-, crypto-, neo- (or, for that 
matter, anti-) Situationist tendency or clique. The ardent student of the 
Situationist International, who is not such a rara avis as common sense 
might lead one to expect, may readily ascertain that I was expelled from 
that organization in 1967. That parting of the ways seemed to me then— 
and still seems to me— thoroughly justified on both sides. 



It is nonetheless my earnest hope that this new edition of Vaneigem’s 
book will serve both to enlighten another ‘younger generation’ and, by 
increasing the work’s warts-and-all accessibility to English-language 
readers, militate against those absurd hagiographical impulses which 
mystify the Situationist International’s doughty contributions instead of 
rescuing them from the clutches of enemies and pillagers with a shared 
interest in consigning them to oblivion. 

I should like to dedicate this translation to Cathy Pozzo di Borgo. 

D.N.-S, October 1982 


Alfonso III, King of Spain, 183 
Anarchie, journal de I’Ordre, L’, 85 
Andersen, Hans Christian, 19-20 
Anquetil, Louis-Pierre, 208-9 
Aragon, Louis, 52 
Armand, Louis, 52 
Arnold of Brescia, 147 
Arnould, Arthur, 207 
Artaud, Antonin, 34-35, 135, 141, 202, 

Axelos, Kostas, 83, 125 

Babeuf, Gracchus, 46-47, 188 
Bach, Johann Sebastian, 176 
Bakunin, Mikhail, 218 
Ball, Hugo, 231 

Bardot, Brigitte, 44, 112, 117, 125 
"Basic Banalities” (Vaneigem), 90 
Bathory, Elizabeth, 180 
Batista, Fulgencio, 35 
Baudelaire, Charles, 10 
Beggar’s Opera, The (Gay), 109 
Bellegarrigue, Anselme, 85 
Bentham, Jeremy, 50 
Berger, Peter L. 52 
Bernstein, Michele, 239 
Bettina (Elisabeth von Arnim), 157 
Bigeard, Marcel, 92 
Billy the Kid, 215 
Bobet, Louison, 112 
Boehme, Jakob, 86, 208 
Bonaparte, Louis Napoleon, 183 
Bonaparte, Napoleon, 183, 234 
Bonnot, Jules, 16, 159, 188, 239 
Borel, Petrus, 10 
Bosch, Hieronymus, 176 
Bosustow, Stephen, 6 
Brave New World (Huxley), 19 

Brecht, Bertolt, 46, 71. See also Stories of 
Mr Keuner 

Brethren of the Free Spirit, 46, 147, 225 
Breton, Andre, 59, 128, 228 
Brisset, Jean-Pierre, 86 
Brousse, Paul, 86 
Brown, Norman O., 228, 241-42 
Buchner, Georg, 10 
Buffet, Bernard, 96, 117, 127 
Burger, Robert, 147-48 

Caligula, 180 
Calvin, John, ix, 186 
Capital (Marx), 150-51 
Caraquemada, 16 
Carroll, Lewis, 85, 127 
Casanova, Danielle, 125 
Castro, Fidel, 52 
Catherine, Sister, 207-8 
Celine, Louis-Ferdinand, 92 
Cesaire, Aime, 21-22 
Charles, Father, S.J., 30 
Chemale, Felix, 148 
Cheval, Ferdinand (‘Le Facteur’), 167 
Chirico, Giorgio de, 128-29 
Cienfuegos, Camilo, 125 
Cinquieme coup de trompette, Le 
(Touraine), 19 
Claudel, Paul, 172 
Clausewitz, Karl von, 234 
Coeurderoy, Ernest, 178, 221 
Cohn, Norman, 145-46 
Communist Manifesto (Marx and 
Engels), 173 

Condorcet, Marie-Jean, 66 
Confucius, 220 

Conquered City (Serge), 206-7, 2 43 
Corbon, Claude-Anthime, 22 
Cravan, Arthur, 35, 93 



Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right 
(Marx), 83 

Critique of Separation (film), 218 

Dante Alighieri, 72-73, 176 
Dauer, Alfons M., 171 
de Gaulle, Charles, 101, 153, 183 
De Valera, Eamonn, 150 
Dean, James, 117 
Debord, Guy, 218, 237-38 
Des Forets, Louis-Rene, 254n2 
Descartes, Rene, 103, 159, 186 
Diderot, Denis, 85, 120 
Diogenes, 228 
Don Juan (Moliere), 109 
Dozsa, Gyorgy, 180 
Drieu La Rochelle, Pierre, 35 
Dupuis, Jules-Francois, 8 
Durruti, Buenaventura, 25, 43, 146, 151, 

Duval, Clement, 243 

Eckhart, Meister, 180 
Einstein, Albert, 199 
Eisenhower, Dwight D., 50, 53 
Engels, Friedrich, 73, 79, 158, 173 
Esenin, Sergei, 8 

Exception and the Rule, The (Brecht), 71 

Ferdydurke (Gombrowicz). 82 
Figaro Litteraire, Le (periodical), 254n2 
Finnegans Wake (Joyce), 150 
Flaubert, Gustave, 151 
Ford, Henry, 39 
Fouquet, Nicolas, 62-63 
Fourastie, Jean, 37-38, 52, 183-84 
Fourier, Charles, 28, 46-47, 68, 159, 167, 
176, 184 

Francau (speaker at Basel Congress), 185 
France-Soir, 32, 134 
Franco, Francisco, 35, 81, 120, 183 
Freud, Sigmund, 33, 78, 97, 140-41, 158 
Function of the Orgasm, The (Reich), 133 

Gagarin, Yuri, 44 
Gay, John, 109 
Giuliano, Salvatore, 215 
Godard, Jean-Luc, 239 

Goebbels, Joseph, 73 
Goldwater, Barry, 120 
Gombrowicz, Witold, 82 
Gouy (historian), 22 
Gregory of Palamas, 198 
Grosz, Georg, 158 
Guizot, Francois, 40 
Gulliver’s Travels (Swift), 8 

Hallyday, Johnny, 44, 112 
Handel, George Frideric, 109 
Hartmann, Johann, 147 
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 178, 
83, 104 

Heine, Heinrich, 43 
Heliogabalus, 129, 180, 195 
Henry, Emile, 46-47 
Heraclitus, 108 
Herodiade (Mallarme), 178 
Histoire de France (Gouy), 22 
Hitler, Adolf, 130, 183 
Holderlin, Friedrich, 10 
Horace, 95 

Horbiger, Hanns, 120 
Huxley, Aldous, 19 
Huysmans, Joris Karl, 105 

Ibarruri, Dolores (‘La Pasionaria’), 44. 

‘In the Penal Colony’ (Kafka), 20, 126, 

Internationale Situationniste (review), 
90, 226, 238 

Jack the Ripper, 157 

Jarry, Alfred, 155. See also Uhu Roi 

Jean de Meung, 102-3 

Jesus Christ, 30, 45, 51, 97, 116, 129, 214 

John of the Cross, Saint, 172 

John of Ruysbroeck, 192 

Jorn, Asger, 237-38 

Joyce, James, 128-29, 2 37 

Kafka, Franz, 20, 126, 185 
Kagame, Alexis, 172-73 
Kandinsky, Wassily, 145 
Kant, Immanuel, 203 
Keats, John, 189 



Kennedy, John F., 52, 158 
Khrushchev, Nikita, 50, 52, 112, 119 
Kierkegaard, Soren, 140, 142, 155, 169, 
171-72, 186 
Klee, Paul, 169 
Krupp family, 43 

La Boetie, Etienne de, 102-3 
La Mettrie, Julien Offray de, 227 
Lacenaire, Pierre-Francjois, 10, 16, 27, 
46-47, 188 
Lacoste, Robert, 9 
Lapassade, Georges, 97 
Lassailly, Charles, 10, 218 
Lautreamont, Comte de (Isidore 
Ducasse), 4, 8, 46-47,82, 100, 159, 
176, 207, 237. See also Songs of 

Lehautier, Leon, 46-47, 86 
Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich, 43, 83, 155, 182, 
188, 208 

Libertad, Albert, 127 

Life Against Death (Brown), 228 

Lloyd George, David, 43 

Louis XIV, King of France, 63 

Louis XVI, King of France, 188 

Louis-Philippe, King of the French, 183 

Lowry, Malcolm, 28 

Lucretius, 176, 207 

Lumumba, Patrice, 74, 196 

Makarius, Laura and Raoul, 60 
Makhno, Nestor, 46-47, 83, 146, 159, 

Malevich, Kasimir, 128-29 
Malherbe, Francois de, 95 
Mallarme, Stephane, 16, 155, 177-78 
Mao Tse-tung, 33, 39, 44, 183 
Marx, Karl, 10, 46-47, 51, 53, 56, 73, 83, 
104, 116, 131, 132, 146, 149, 155, 158, 
168, 173, 181, 182 
Marx Brothers, 233 
Mathieu, Georges, 96, 125 
Mauriac, Francois, 112 
Maurras, Charles, 156 
Mayakovsky, Vladimir, 26, 155 
Medicine et homme total (Solie), 130 
Meslier, Jean (‘Le Cure’), 7, 148 

Meuse, La (newspaper), 52 
Millan Astray, Jose, 174 
Milliere, Jean-Baptiste, 206-7 
Moles, Abraham, 52 
Moliere, Jean-Baptiste, 109 
Monde, Le (newspaper), 134, 140 
Morts de la Commune, Les (Arnould), 

Munch, Edvard, 24 
Mussolini, Benito, 130, 183 

Nasser, Gamal Abdel, 183 
Nechayev, Sergei, 218 
Nerval, Gerard de, 197 
Nietzsche, Friedrich, 55, 106, 155, 165, 
188, 214 

1984 (Orwell), 19, 206 
Noziere, Violette, 150 

Obregon, Alvaro, 234 
120 Days of Sodom (Sade), 182, 224-25 
Origin of Exogamy and Totemism, The 
(Makarius and Makarius), 60 
Orwell, George, 19, 206 

Packard, Vance, 196 
Papin Sisters, 120 
Paracelsus, 174 

Pascal, Blaise, 46, 103, 115, 155, 176, 186 
Pauwels, Jean, 147-48 
Pavlov, Ivan, 73, 242 
Pensees (Pascal), 155 
Perceval, 129 

Pere Peinard, Le (periodical), 22, 158 
Peters, Dewitt, 168 

Philosophy in the Bedroom (Sade), 225 
Pistis Sophia, 208 
Plato, 179 
Plotinus, 24 
Poincare, Raymond, 150 
Pouget, Emile, 22, 158 
Precis de Vhistoire universelle (Anquetil), 

Presence Africaine (periodical), 70 
Pursuit of the Millennium, The (Cohn), 

Queneau, Raymond, 254n 



Rabelais, Francois, 176 
Rais, Gilles de, 72-73, 108, 129, 180 
Rameau’s Nephew (Diderot), 120 
Ravachol, 16, 86, 93,159, 188 
Reich, Wilhelm, 69, 78, 121, 133, 135, 
140, 141, 226-27, 2 4 2 
Rigaut, Jacques, 35 
Robbe-Grillet, Alain, 96 
Ronsard, Pierre de, 95 
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 150 
Roueries de Trialph, Les (Lassailly), 218 
Rousseau, Henri (‘Le Douanier’), 167 
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 14 
Roux, Jacques, 148 
Rozanov, Vasily, 36, 122, 154 

Sade, Donatien Alphonse Francois, 
Marquis de, 46-47, 95, 159, 160, 176, 
182, 188, 224-25 
Sagan, Francoise, 117 
Saint-Just, Louis Antoine de, 57, 187, 219 
Salazar, Antonio, 183 
Sartre, Jean-Paul, 33 
Scheler, Max, 152 
Schopenhauer, Arthur, 203 
Schweitzer, Albert, 52, 214 
Scream, The (painting), 24 
Scribe, Augustin Eugene, 27 
Secret du peuple, Le (periodical), 22 
‘Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The’ 
(Thurber), 217 
Selye, Hans, 17, 134-35 
Serge, Victor, 206-7, 2 43 
Shakespeare, William, 107, 176 
Shklovsky, Viktor, 157 
Situationist International, 85, 90, 97, 
128, 131, 193, 221, 236-38, 246, 248, 
249, 254n 

Smith, Adam, 50, 66 
Solie, Pierre, 130 

Songs ofMaldoror (Lautreamont), 155, 

Spartacus, 180, 207 
Stakhanov, Alexei, 56 
Stalin, Josef, 43, 51, 53, 81, 130, 134, 150, 
159, 182, 183 
Stirner, Max, 46-47 

Stories of Mr. Keuner (Brecht), 46, 98, 

‘Supplement to the Journey to the 
Land of the Tarahumara’ (Artaud), 

Swift, Jonathan, 176 
Sylva, Berthe, 32 
Szondi, Lipot, 118 

Tamerlane, 125, 195 
Taylor, Frederick Winslow, 39 
Theages (Plato), 179 
Theognis, 179 
Thiers, Adolphe, 183 
Thurber, James, 217 

Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Nietzsche), 214 

Touraine, Yves, 19 

Tristan, 117, 129 

Trotsky, Leon, 43, 182 

Tzara, Tristan, 159, 170 

Ubu Roi (Jarry), 81 130, 183, 187 
Uccello, Paolo, 145, 176 
Ulysses (Joyce), 128-29, tSO-SL 2 37 
Unamuno, Miguel de, 174 
Under the Volcano (Lowry), 28 

Vache, Jacques, 27, 35, 123, 132 
Vaillant, Edouard, 46-47 
Valles, Jules, 93 
Van Gogh, Vincent, 167 
Vanini, Vanino, 102-3 
Varlin, Eugene, 149 
Victory series (paintings), 239 
Villa, Pancho, 46-47, 74, 207, 234 
Villon, Francois, 76 
Volnat (psychiatrist), 28 
Voltaire, 213 

Walker, Edwin, 120 
Way to Christ, The (Boehme), 86 
White on White (painting), 128-29 
Wilson, Woodrow, 125 

Yevtushenko, Yevgeny, 119 

Zapata, Emiliano, 46-47 
Zola, Emile, 38 

The Author 

Raoul Vaneigem was born in 1934 in Lessines, Belgium, a small town 
whose traditional claim to fame was the production of paving stones but 
which in the twentieth century also produced the Surrealist painter Rene 
Magritte and the Surrealist poet Louis Scutenaire. Vaneigem grew up in 
the wake of World War II in a working-class, socialist and anticlerical 
milieu. He studied Romance philology at the Free University of Brussels 
and embarked on a teaching career that he later abandoned in favor of 

In late i960 Vaneigem was introduced to Guy Debord by Henri 
Lefebvre, and soon afterwards he joined the Situationist International, 
which Debord and his comrades-in-arms had founded in 1957. He was a 
leading light in the group throughout the 1960s. 

Vaneigem is a prolific writer and a relentless critic of late capital- 
ism. Among his works translated into English are The Totality for Kids 
(London: Christopher Gray/Situationist International, 1966 [‘Banalites 
de Base’, 1962-63]); Contributions to the Revolutionary Struggle (London: 
Bratach Dubh, 1981 [De la grfrve sauvage a Vautogestion generalisee, 1974] ) ; 
A Cavalier History of Surrealism (San Francisco: AK Press, 1999 [1977]); 
The Book of Pleasures (London: Pending Press, 1983 [1979]); The Movement 
of the Free Spirit (New York: Zone Books, 1994 [1986]); and A Declaration 
of the Rights of Human Beings (London: Pluto, 2003 [2001]). 

PM Press plans soon to publish two more titles: The Knight, the Lady, 
the Devil, and Death (2003) and The Inhumanity of Religion (2000). 

The Translator 

Born in Manchester, England, Donald Nicholson-Smith is a New Yorker 
by adoption. A sometime Situationist (1965-1967), he has translated Guy 
Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle and Henri Lefebvre’s The Production 
of Space, as well as works by Apollinaire, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Jean 
Piaget, Thierry Jonquet, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, and many others.