Tag Archives: #guydebordspectacle

xmas 18It’s that time of year…

xmas 25when ghosts return…

xmas 11

xmas 24Guy Debord turns over in his grave…

xmas 2xmas 3xmas 10Rosa Luxemburg wonders just what it is we don’t understand…

xmas 16xmas 23Jacques Derrida would like us to dwell on insidious terminologies…

xmas 20xmas 26xmas 21Sylvia Plath decries the plague of toadstools overnight…

xmas 14xmas 15xmas 8xmas 19and Virginia Woolf reminds us…

xmas 12xmas 17…that you cannot find peace by avoiding life…

xmas 13


Walking by the Manhattan Barnes and Noble on Union Square the other day, I encountered a demonstration about surveillance. That’s nice.

the truth is coming 3_smNo, wait, what’s with the clean coordinated outfits and chants and signs? What’s this, some  PR stunt to advertise the new documentary about Edward Snowden? Really, Laura Poitras?! How could you? Guy Debord is turning over in his grave.

the truth is coming 1Ah, it’s really for some obscure Hollywood film trying to ride that vast crest that is the Snowden documentary. Trying to selfishly skim off the massive American criticism of the US surveillance apparatus. Shame on you, mediocre Hollywood film. I’m not even going to put a link here for you. Well, at least these young people have jobs. They must be making good money as fake protesters. And the hours are good.

chanel march 2And at least this demonstration is real. Whew. RIght? I mean, who wouldn’t march for Free Freedom. Or Be Different!! Or for Ladies First. And Women’s Rights are more than Alright! And the press turned out. Yay.

steinem chanelAnd an ageless Gloria Steinem was marching. Feminism is HOT!

But…wait, there’re an awful lot of people sitting on the sidelines. At least they’re clapping, but…  Oh, wait…

515834919FB00005_Chanel_RunRight. It’s the Chanel Spring/Summer 2015 fashion show…

chanel march empty…taking place on a a real street in Paris. So it must actually be a real march. Wait, isn’t that the roof of the Grand Palais?



subtlety 1_smGenerally speaking, defense is directed towards internal excitation (instinct); in practice, its action is extended to whatever representations (memories, phantasies) this excitation is bound to; and to any situation that is unpleasurable for the ego as a result of its incompatibility with the individual’s equilibrium and, to that extent, liable to spark off the excitation. …Defense is marked and infiltrated by its ultimate object-instinct-and consequently it often takes on a compulsive aspect, and works at least in part in an unconscious way. Definition of “Defense,” excerpt, Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Jean Laplanche, Jean-Bertrand Pontalis.

I thought that braving a day-long, global-warming-downpour might have encouraged the giddily touristic spectatorship evident on the evening I went to visit A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. But googling “Subtlety selfie” turned up 33,000 links, showing it was part of the general reaction to the work. On the evening i went, a manic fun-house atmosphere prevailed, with a constant flurry of spectator portrait- and selfie-taking.

subtlety 12One would expect a more somber reaction to the historical brutality that is the overt para-text of the project, and to a space that witnessed decades of suffering. Online and print theories accounting for the “tasteless” selfies abound. But one online site will actually selfie-suture you in if you cannot manage to get to the exhibition in person.

subtlety 13The newspaper and magazine articles and blogposts on the topic of Subtlety-selfies occupy a spectrum, with each being largely single-minded; there are conjectures about white disrespect for the black female body (although writers have also noted that a very diverse audience participates in the selfie-taking); about the self- and other-fetishization typical of the current technological apparatus of Capitalism, fetishization being a form of defense against unwanted thoughts; about the experience being an effect of spectacle culture in general, etc.

In some ways, the work sets itself up as the ideal object of the lens, oddly enough not because of its heroic scale; not because, as one writer has it, taking a selfie brings the giant-scale project down to human scale. Instead, my impression was that the scale itself is actually manageable in being (inadvertently, I assume) geared to the capacities of a digital phone camera lens. That is, standing in physical proximity to the mega-scale of the Egyptian Sphinx would not offer “The Subtlety”s frisson of self/object.

subtlety 5Well, it turns out that workarounds at the ancient sites have been found, and scales flattened thanks to the contemporary depth-of-field capacities of even phone cameras, as set in motion by consumer desire. But note the actual scale of the humans in physical proximity, and the distance required for “closeness.”


“A Subtlety” – given the luminosity of the “sphinx” in the dark space, and the bittersweet chiaroscuro light around the smaller figures of boys made of resin and molasses – is eminently photogenic. The camera loves this work, in the Hollywood and cinematic sense of love.

sugar boy_subtletyAlthough in a popular sense the work can be fit into the category of the spectacular, in a properly Debordian sense the project doesn’t fit the “spectacle” bill, because for Debord, spectacle culture depends on the repression of the historical, and the occupation of a continual present. Here the para-text  of the project – the history of sugar-growing and refinement, with its attendant slavery of one form or another, even once workers started to be wage laborers – the para-text offered on the multi-media website, artist and curator interviews, press media, outdoor title banner, p.r., moves you back and forth in time.

subtlety 7But maybe it’s the attenuation of connection between the discursive para-text and the tactility, materiality, and sensory aspects of the project and its containing space that produces disinhibition in spectators. I wasn’t able to push the para-text out of my mind in experiencing the work. But it was clear that most spectators did it quite efficiently.

subtlety 9Perhaps “A Subtlety” produces a defended spectatorship, as in Freud’s observation that self-proclaimed boredom is sometimes its very opposite. Defendedness is not an ideal frame of mind for reflecting on history. Because if the internal conflict masked by the defense cannot be tolerated by the psyche, then it sets in motion a projection onto others of what frightens, scares, disturbs, so as to, following Jacqueline Rose on Christopher Berlatz, purify oneself and find fault in the other. The very purification that this work sets itself against. But maybe something always seeps through defenses. The psyche is not air-tight. And, as Rose says in regards to setbacks in feminism, the system (psychical, political, cultural) is not in a lock, or feminism would not exist at all. Norms fall apart in dreams and symptoms, perhaps prior to other dismantlings.

Maybe it’s also the case that “A Subtlety” is unwittingly produced at a scale that encourages, in dovetailing with the world’s most popular lens, a manic disinhibition, an unsubtle affect again not conducive to reflection. With spectatorship comes ethical responsibility, something that the popular equating of art with entertainment tends to obfuscate. Weeks later, the olfactory memory is still unnerving, now connected to the para-text. And the snap-happy spectators remain a central association.

subtlety 3

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