Sunday, July 6, 2008

Iterations on Spectacle

One of my academic interests is tussling with French theory. I like it because when I'm wasting time around other academics it seems useful as a lingua franca, sounds pretentious at just about all social gatherings, and for the most part is irrelevant to anything shaking down on a daily basis. However, there are a few French theorists that ARE useful when endeavoring to figure out how to conceptualize our social interactions. Guy Debord is one that I've spent many years reading and now, more than ever, his work seems prescient (in ways he probably never envisioned...or maybe he did). Debord, along with Henri Lefebvre, was one of the key figures/propagater of the Situationist International movement in the late 1960s. Having worked through Marxism and post-structuralism Debord (and Lefebvre) levied critiques on the emerging post-industrial organization of our society and the spaces that were springing forth. To borrow from REM, Debord commented on life and how we live it. His work Society of the Spectacle hashes out his most salient points in short easily digestable (or readable I'd say) paragraphs. From this comes one of my current research projects. I'm presenting at two conferences this fall where I've got papers driven by the following proposal. To that end I'd love some comment and thoughts on this topic. Enjoy.

Facebook as Spectacle: Image, Rhetoric, and Social Practice in the Hyperreal
Guy Debord writes that “the Spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images” (Debord 12). This presenter focuses on online social networks, specifically Facebook, as an exemplar and interstice of the Spectacle. This presentation asserts that central to the dominance of the Spectacle’s hegemony is the supposition that systemic forms of oppression and stricture are amplified and reinscribed by new spatial relations, specifically relations mediated by images. The presenter will discuss rhetorical practices that “spectacular” relations engender. Moves to fetishize the virtual and hyperreal often eclipse egalitarian possibilities and utopias of virtual space. Such enthusiasm can also produce physical reconfigurations in built space, alienation of (im)material labor, and uneven geographical development driven by global forces (Harvey 2006). The Spectacle’s ascent is driven by these related projects and rhetorics. These phenomena present challenges for our times and require various registers of rhetorical faculties, from reading to recognizing to responding. The presenter addresses theory and use of “spectacular” relations and concludes with examples of student (and faculty) use of Facebook as a way to problematize notions of the Spectacle as well as understand liberatory aspects of virtual participatory space. Curricular conclusions are framed by the observation that: “Concepts of the virtual in itself are important only to the extent to which they contribute to a pragmatic understanding of emergence, to the extent to which they enable triggering of change (induce the new). It is the edge of virtual, where it leaks into actual, that counts. For the seeping edge is where potential, actually, is found” (Massumi 43).

Works Cited
Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books, 1994.
Harvey, David. Spaces of Global Capitalism: Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development. New York: Verso, 2006.
Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham: Duke UP, 2002.

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