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Bourgeois LARPing?

bourgeois camp

here’s an oddment from the history of Bohemian Grove, the ruling class retreat found in the redwoods of California:

The Bohemians and their guests are divided into camps which evolved slowly over the years as the number of people on the retreat grew into the hundreds and then the thousands. These camps have become a significant center of enjoyment during the encampment.

At first the camps were merely a place in the woods where a half-dozen to a dozen friends would pitch their tents. Soon they added little amenities like their own special stove or a small permanent structure. Then there developed little camp traditions and endearing camp names like Cliff Dwellers, Moonshiners, Silverado Squatters, Woof, Zaca, Toyland, Sundodgers, and Land of Happiness. The next steps were special emblems, a handsome little lodge or specially constructed tepees, a permanent bar, and maybe a grand piano.

now this reminds me of something- it’s a little known story that American cultural anthropology has its origins in fraternities- ruling class men anxious that the nation they ruled over, with such a short history, didn’t possess a deep enough national mythos, decided to try to reconstruct the iroquois confederacy. they would make the history of the colonised their own, would LARP their subjects. in this could they really have believed in themselves? it all seems too make-believe to provide the bourgeoisie with any legitimacy or group-integration. this would seem to be a problem the bourgeoisie faces over and over again, a tension and anxiety they should never be able to rid themselves of- that their fetishes don’t really work. the world they live in is not kind to totems. I think of William Pietz’s essay on the fetish- which talks about how portugese merchants in the west coast of africa in the early modern period were confronted by the arbitrariness of power as they came face to face with cultures that did not believe in their gods or trade in their currency. in this environment they needed cultural tools to symbolically defend the contracts they made with their new african trading partners, so they played make-believe: they made this or that locally valued cultural artefact into the supernatural power that would sanction their trade agreements, depending on the particular group they were dealing with. Pietz proposes that this social context is where the word fetish comes from. and the word fetish contains this recognition of the the made-upness of such symbols, yet their functionality. at the bohemian grove, holiday camp for the haute bourge of the United States, they glory in such silly totems. they know the great Moloch they construct has no real power, but they propitiate it anyway- a giant Owl, why not? even though they know it means nothing, somehow it works. group integration is effected. the bourgeois look for these totems even though they cannot really believe them, since they live in a world in which “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned”. Eternal deities don’t last long in this world, but the bourgeoisie will play with their toys anyway- bohemian grove for the elite and disneyland for the ‘middle class’. it need not become an intolerable tension- for the worship of totems ultimately comes to be the worship of the historical creativity of the bourgeoisie as Faustian- the celebration of bourgeois Man. in this way the artificiality of totems is no problem at all- in fact, becomes a virtue. this is particularly true of the United States, precisely because of this short national history. Disneyland with its animatronic figures, its fake castles, reflects “the American ideal… the desire to start afresh, to recreate, to encompass, to package, to package humanity”. then no matter that Moloch is a mere hunk of wood- all the better. collective effervescence reigns amidst the Redwoods.



this Salvage thing got me thinking. Look at the swears: “How did the Left fuck this up so badly?” “We abjure the typical and grotesque left chimera of sentimentalism, moralism and bullshit.” naughty eh? got me thinking about the times I’ve seen this sort of cursing in radical pronouncements before. it’s a bit of a red flag for me. not because I don’t like swearing, but because swearing means ‘extremity’- swearing in left texts feels like a sort of superficial radicalism, that of ‘transgressing’, entirely rhetorical. And the combination of sweariness with rebel pomp makes me lol big time. Sweary-Marxism will not give you the bullshit. Sweary-Marxism stands against any kind of bollocks urethra up your enema shit tit arsehole. Sweary-Marxism will ask the Large Part questions the rest of the Left will not ask huge nipples. to me swearing is one of those rubbish transgressions- I mean, I enjoy it myself, you sweaty cum champion, but I don’t think I’d find much use for it in a manifesto. it’s one of those transgressions that requires its prohibition to be exciting- in that sense, it’s not genuinely prohibited by bourgeois culture. it’s permitted. you’ll forgive me this one cod-Foucaultism, please. it reminds me of that stinking volume, The History of Shit, itself a bit shitty, which taught me how the bourgeois state makes the dirty space of merchant activity appear separate, so as to dissociate itself and to let it flourish in its dung-glory of trucking bartering and trading. the bourge state turns its nose up at this capitalist crap, and then reintegrates its product- by stamping the coinage with the face of the king or queen. capitalism cannot just run aMuck, these dirty men ‘doing their business’- their product has to be given the impress of a collective entity, a stable power- the Nation, the Kingdom. similarly capitalists like to reward themselves with the thought their disreputable business is really for the long term benefit of the Nation, that their private vice is a PubeLick virtue. this is what bourgeois states do everywhere with the (pretend-) autonomous ‘private sphere’ of ‘private capital’. what about swearing then? well if bourge ideology associates the market with the vulgar movements of our bowels (‘where there’s muck there’s brass’) but also sees such dung mongering as absolutely necessary for its own domination, the same is true of scatalogical talk, which is merely a trangression- not a rebellious act in any way. we can see this in the ethnography of childrens’ naughty talk- behind parents’ backs they talk about poop and willies and all the rest of it, getting a thrill out of doing what they know they’re not supposed to. that kind of shared obscenity creates a sort of oppositional community- you’ll only say such things to other kids that you know won’t snitch on you, you’d never tell the prefect- but it’s a permanent opposition, a group formed in tension- not a revolutionary cell. still it makes you feel good- it’s a reassurance given the circumstances. kids need to behave this way a little or theyd never be able to keep up appearances at school. what does bourge culture do with this scatology? this is the kind of safe rebellion kids are supposed to have- regulated, but always inevitably there, ultimately a relief valve. and as with state and capital, the separation is fake, just ideology. the state is intimately involved with the market- but it saves face by pretending dissociation. as is true of the face of bourgeois culture that meets children- the school. violence is one of the naughty subjects of children’s talk like shit, and the school prohibits talk of violence in the pretense that it is not a bourgeois institution involved in a culture of violence itself- and ‘fuck’ has specifically violent connotations, I’d Wager. anything disgusting that a child’s mind can conjure up is not more disgusting than what bourgeois society actually creates- but prohibiting disgusting talk is a way of pretending the grossness is really the forbidden and sidelined rather than the central and ever-present. thus prohibiting scatology always protects bourgeois society against critique of its disgusting face. it wipes it clean. and when we curse, and we enjoy our filthiness, we are just co-operating. not to have a go at Salvage-Marxism for a few bad words, of course. i just find it funny.

notes on Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

this note is taken from an answer, hence the strange way it’s written

my rant was about Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, one of the original films from the 70s, which this new Dawn film seems to be a remake/reimagining of… note that one of the bonobos is called ‘Koba’, lol… I’m pretty excited to see it!
My idea is basically that Conquest is racist- given that some of the cinematography of the ape rebellion in the film was based on footage of the Watts rebellion and that despite the one intelligent ape from the future- Caesar- the rest are portrayed as an animal mob… catch my drift? obviously the film is not sympathetic to the humans who have enslaved the apes, but neither does it see anything progressive in the rebellion, which seems more like an unfortunate, horrific outcome of modern human hubris than the deepening and extending of modernity through revolution- the apes are mistreated savages, the wards of humanity who in our arrogance we have not treated with ‘humanity’, and now they are going to rise up and destroy us and create an even worse, more horrific slave empire- a ‘planet of apes’- the hubris and arrogance of Man leads to a rebellion of those it has overweeningly dominated, a rebellion which leads only to a new barbarism- civilisation is destroyed by humanity getting carried away…

Funnily enough the film is also a call for conciliation and non-violence: in the original ending, Caesar’s speech ends with a proud announcement of the enslavement of humans and the beating to death of the main bad guy with the rifle butts of some insurgent gorillas (get it?) but since this wasn’t popular with test audiences they re-cut and dubbed the ending so that a woman chimp says ‘No…’ to Caesar (the first ape to speak other than him) as this execution is about to occur, followed by Caesar saying “now we put away our hatred, and we who are not human can learn to be humane…” which makes for a rather contradictory and fuddled ending… also, in an odd ‘Posadist’ way, Caesar’s prophecy about the end of human civilisation and the rise of the planet of the apes doesn’t depend on ape struggle alone but hinges very much on a devastating nuclear war-

“my people will crouch and conspire and plot and plan for the inevitable day of Man’s downfall – the day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind. The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble! When the sea is a dead sea, and the land is a wasteland out of which I will lead my people from their captivity!”

this particular cold war theme- devastation by technological hubris, is evident in the first and second of the original series too- in Beyond the Planet of the Apes, the remnant of humanity discovered underground are deformed beings who literally worship a giant bomb. throughout the series, the problem with humanity is something essential about the species itself, something about the problem caused by technological intelligence combined with the emotional side, the Id, the ‘animalistic’ savage lust in Man (and the films collapse humanity into Men, of course, along with collapsing Modernity into Capitalism).

Dr. Zaius says: “I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand and hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a warlike creature who gives battle to everything around him, even himself.” the evil human Breck in Conquest explains why he hates apes- “man was born of apes, and there’s still an ape curled up inside of every man. You’re the beast in us that we have to whip into submission. You’re the savage that we need to shackle in chains. You taint us, Caesar. You poison our guts. When we hate you, we’re hating the dark side of ourselves.” – the implication being that whilst humankind is a contradictory amalgam of Savage and Civilised, the insurgent apes are the pure savages- which I’d suggest is not just Breck’s view but the view advanced in the film, though I guess the ideological message isn’t all that coherent…

Throughout the whole series the problems of civilisation are simply down to the ‘paradoxical’ nature of man or whatever… this is the monologue at the beginning of the first film: “Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother? Keep his neighbour’s children starving?” What’s missed out in all this rather miserable, pessimistic, doom-filled Cold War stuff is that the problems we face are social rather than rooted in our ‘paradoxical’ essence as a species, and that the problem is not with modernity itself but with its capitalist integument, I guess, and that the revolutionary struggle of oppressed peoples can deepen modernity and bring it out of the ‘barbarism’ it’s tainted by, rather than these struggles being the very disastrous effects of modernity that we in our hubris have unintentionally and apocalyptically wrought into being…

notes on fascism and cultural essentialism

the following is not an etched-in-stone piece of writing, but a ramble through my mind- which has been thinking very much lately about the tense relationships between marxism, ‘indigenism’, environmentalism, social/cultural anthropology, revolution, universalism, particularism and fascism. I write to encourage discussion, not to prophesy from the mountaintop, so I hope this is received as it is- a collection of speculations in note form, uneven, jagged, discontinuous, the working-out of something- rather than a definitive statement. Here goes!

When we think about fascism in connection with anthropology we think of eugenics, skull-measuring… but there’s another tradition here, one worth thinking about and one that, as I’ll try to show, has bled into and bears some similarity with the same intellectual process of some leftists- the kind of process I wrote about in the previous blog. As it happens, Guy Debord’s appropriation of the potlatch- a word Mauss used to describe forms of competitive exchange- potlatch is a Chinook word- found in various societies- in fact, in almost all societies, though not in the same concentration- seems to derive from Bataille’s misreading of Mauss rather than Mauss himself- it’s worth pointing this out since I do not want to suggest that Mauss was a proto-fascist- this jewish social democrat was himself deeply disturbed by his fear that the Nazis had been inspired by his writings about ritual to stage the Nuremberg rallies- David Graeber tells us that the Nazis were in fact inspired by Harvard pep rallies- but his fears were not so ridiculous- Bataille, who was a fascist, was very interested in the work of Mauss and Durkheim and founded two secret societies whose names point to the fascist interest in the discipline of anthropology- Acephale and the College of Sociology.

Let’s remember the impetus behind Boas’s relativist project- for Sahlins, the entire history of the discipline can be looked at as a conflict between the approaches of Boas and Morgan- the latter, whose Ancient Society was fittingly one of the major inspirations for Engels’ Origins of the Family, and who Marx read avidly, was a 19th century progressist, who held that societies evolved from savagery to barbarism and then to civilisation, a believer in universal history, a succession of stages of increasing social advancement underpinned by technological shifts- he was what Marxists might call a vulgar technological-determinist or a vulgar materialist… in Morgan, the ‘material’- the environment- conditions of production- and the tools- the forces of production- determine what we call the ‘cultural’. Morgan was furthermore a believer in universal reason, in a universal logic to be found in human actions and by which they can be explained… For Boas, on the other hand, cultures must be understood on their own terms, not placed on a developmental chart from savagery to civilisation- cultures are specific, particular- they have to be understood in themselves, and they cannot be reduced to their surroundings.

This radical cultural relativism, radical particularism, had its impetus in Boas’s rejection of the thought system of the aristocratic philosophes of 19th century Germany… whilst the philosophes held to universal Reason, in the tradition of the Enlightenment, Boas wanted to think about the specificity and particularity of German kultur- this is a hallmark of fascist thought everywhere- the anti-Universalist impulse to celebrate a national-cultural essence, to defend it from the dilution of cosmopolitan universalism, from universal moral principles- what Boas’s vaunted relativism fails to do is understand the conflicts and contradictions within particular cultures- in his global vantage point, everything is relative, but when we zoom in, each culture, each nation- little or great- becomes  an essence to be documented and preserved- difference disappears- Boas’s thought can therefore also be considered a view in which there are many universals… the recognition that cultures are cut through with conflicts and contradictions is the perspective added by Engels and Marx in their reading of Morgan… Boas the ethnographer took detailed accounts from the elites in the societies he went to study- taking them as read, as the truth- these ‘official’ accounts, however, were basically the dominant ideologies of those societies. In contrast, Sahlins argues, anthropologists in the tradition of Morgan go in the other direction, sometimes not only ignoring the accounts given by elites but ignoring any statements offered by informants about their lives- after all- so the glib justification goes- people don’t really know what they’re doing. If they did, anthropologists would have rather an easy job. What anthropologists can do in place of recording people’s own accounts is substitute some sort of universal framework of human action-subjectivating people from the outside- the anthropologist in a sense writes a work of fiction on the basis of what he’s seen, trying to understand why people do what they do through a logic that he imposes upon people, regardless of whether this logic truly is universal- at least, this is the operation at its worst. Malinowski did this in his ‘practico-biological utility’ theory, which tries to understand all manner of practices strange to Westerners as somehow relating to biological utility- in this he inevitably projects onto people the prejudices of his own cultural heritage, turning the Trobrianders into ‘civilised businessmen’… there was a basis for this in Malinowski’s personality, I suspect- this rejection of people’s own interpretations in favour of his imputations is a power trip for a white man in Melanesia… he wrote in his diary of those he studied “It is I who will describe them or create them”, and in a strange bit of marginalia once likened himself to God…

now, Bataille was certainly more of a Boasian than a Morganian. I say this not to suggest Boas was a proto-fascist, but because his reputation is very much built on his repudiation of ‘scientific’ racism in his time- therefore he is not often associated with fascism- perhaps he seems more like a liberal multiculturalist imploring us to respect difference and intending- successful or not- to defend cultures against the symbolic violence of the false Western Universalism which projects its own values onto other people… however, cultural essentialism, the notion of cultures as static, as needing to be defended, as logically coherent, a stable system of signs or a solid social structure, as basically undifferentiated internally, pure of conflict and slippage- are ideas shared by fascists- in fact, not all racial nationalists are openly genocidal or imperialist- many call simply for apartheid- in reality, this apartheid tends to mean some form of inequality, of exploitation, but part of the fascist impulse, the attraction of the ideas, is simply the wish for separation, for the preservation of an unchanging, homogenous cultural essence. Basically, if Boas had written about modern Germany the way he wrote about native Americans, it would be clear to see that this was a naïve and essentialist misconstrual of a much more complex reality. But these sort of essentialist misreadings of non-capitalist cultures have served a purpose for fascists- that is as utopian images- broadly of a mythical Eden of perfect social integration, stability, racial purity- and more specifically, perhaps- of patriarchy, warrior ethic, valour, et cetera…  fascists discover something there that they want to resurrect, something they fear modernity has destroyed, and they don’t necessarily look- as we might expect- at the so-called ‘savages’ with an attitude of denigration, of dismissal… we would not be surprised to find fascists glorifying some imagined vision of the Celtic or Norse worlds, but the Kwakiutl? The Trobrianders? Yes and yes… some fascists even argued that the Maori were Aryan, because their ‘warrior’ traditions chimed with their own fantasies…

both Mauss and Durkheim portrayed the ‘primitive’ societies they studied as more socially integrated, more egalitarian, more collectivist than they were… and they did this as a critique of modernity- Mauss saw how gifts were important to social integration, and Durkheim how religion as a social fact bound people together- the first time I read Durkheim I did see a link with fascism, in the way he is looking for stability and integration and dislikes the contradictions of modernity, whilst Marx says bring them on, bring on the ruptures… these aspects of Mauss’ and Durkheim’s thought can explain some of Bataille’s attraction to them, and the strange activities he got up to in his two secret societies, which looked for- if you like- what Foucault calls ‘limit experiences’- romantic experiences, non-modern experiences, non-utilitarian enjoyments- in drugs, orgies, animal sacrifice… they even toyed with the idea of human sacrifice. Of course, as Richard Wolin makes clear- this was all a fanciful and out-of-control misreading of Mauss- or, to be true, a misreading of the ethnographic material Mauss uses in his studies, The Gift particularly- for as I mentioned in my blog about Debord and his use of the word ‘potlatch’ in describing the destruction of objects in the Watts riots, Bataille reads these practices as significantly less utilitarian, concerned with social rank, reasonable, than they actually were… Bataille projects a fantasy onto premodern people. Debord’s ‘decline and fall of the spectacle-commodity economy’- though it doesn’t cite Bataille or Mauss- is to my mind so close to Bataille’s ideas from his misreading of Mauss, ideas put forward in works like the Accursed Share… that I would be surprised to find out Debord didn’t read Bataille and take his cue from there…if Debord wanted to understand potlatch he should have read Mauss, the German jewish social democrat- or socialist, if you like, who was pinned with a yellow star in the last years of his life- rather than the dilettante fascist Bataille who was running round with his pals arranging animal sacrifices… a rejection of commodity-logic shouldn’t mean the romantic reactionary rejection of all logic and enlightenment reason altogether, it needn’t lead there, into the den of reaction…

anyway, all of this I feel bears on a few current problems- Sakai argues that it’s often underestimated the extent to which fascism is radical-Sakai wants to stress how fascism is anti-bourgeois and seeks to develop a different kind of capitalism… in this sense, in its most radical sense, fascism for Sakai is neo-tribal, an atavism- the new society is a genocidal slave society, a tributary society led by an elite, racially pure caste… now, German fascism obviously combined this atavism with modern technology, and I don’t know whether fascism would ever materialise itself as a full-blown Primitivism, but this false neo-primitivism, false because the original state it wishes to return to is not accurately apprehended, but idealised, is a reactionary formation we face today, which often comes along with an essentialist ‘celebration’ of people construed as ‘outside’ modernity, whose exteriority to baleful utilitarianism, Reason, universalism and so on makes them better stewards of the environment. Sakai points out that Walther Darre’s vaunted ‘environmentalism’ was in fact based on a pseudoscientific and essentialist understanding of nature, an almost mystical one, rather than a properly scientific one, and here natural and cultural essentialism are united. What, in short, some progressive people are in danger of flirting with are ideas of indigenous peoples as closer to nature and therefore its superior stewards, as fully outside of capitalism, in cultures pure of conflict, in homeostasis with the environment, as free from Reason, and all the better for it… I’m not against looking backward- in a Benjaminian way, through a “tiger’s leap into the past”, I think that indigenous cultural ideals, vernacular forms of socialism can be synthesised with Marxism as the higher form- socialism- comes to resemble the earlier, pre-capitalist social form, but on a greater societal scale (more on this another time)… that is ‘activating the emergency brakes on history’ and- to paraphrase Michael Löwy, to revolt against progress… and none of this post is to suggest that fascism is somehow not racist- that liberal multiculturalists are closer to fascists than those who stress universal values and development- what it suggests is there is also another form of racism, different from what we might expect within much fascist ideology- it is the racism of the ecologically noble savage image… which glories in its own fantasy of savagery because it hates modern culture and- in Alpa Shah’s words- incarcerates indigenous people within that fantasy. At one end of this miserable brocade we have the well-meaning environmentalist anti-extractivism of NGOs which seek to ‘defend’ indigenous societies from the strategy of economic development pursued by the MAS government, aided by intellectuals like Arturo Escobar- and at the other end we have fascistic ethnicisms which threaten to react against modernist, socialist projects… it is important that we take on this eco-incarceration and in the process dismantle what may be an important set of concepts to new reactions…

Why does Debord call the 1965 Watts rebellion a potlatch? : A Note

Here is the passage, from Debord’s ‘the decline and fall of the spectacle commodity economy’:

“The Los Angeles rebellion was a rebellion against the commodity, against the world of the commodity in which worker-consumers are hierarchically subordinated to commodity standards. Like the young delinquents of all the advanced countries, but more radically because they are part of a class without a future, a sector of the proletariat unable to believe in any significant chance of integration or promotion, the Los Angeles blacks take modern capitalist propaganda, its publicity of abundance, literally. They want to possess now all the objects shown and abstractly accessible, because they want to use them. In this way they are challenging their exchange-value, the commodity reality which molds them and marshals them to its own ends, and which has preselected everything. Through theft and gift they rediscover a use that immediately refutes the oppressive rationality of the commodity, revealing its relations and even its production to be arbitrary and unnecessary. The looting of the Watts district was the most direct realization of the distorted principle: “To each according to their false needs” — needs determined and produced by the economic system which the very act of looting rejects. But once the vaunted abundance is taken at face value and directly seized, instead of being eternally pursued in the rat-race of alienated labor and increasing unmet social needs, real desires begin to be expressed in festive celebration, in playful self-assertion, in the potlatch of destruction. People who destroy commodities show their human superiority over commodities. They stop submitting to the arbitrary forms that distortedly reflect their real needs. The flames of Watts consummated the system of consumption. The theft of large refrigerators by people with no electricity, or with their electricity cut off, is the best image of the lie of affluence transformed into a truth in play. Once it is no longer bought, the commodity lies open to criticism and alteration, whatever particular form it may take. Only when it is paid for with money is it respected as an admirable fetish, as a symbol of status within the world of survival.”

I think Debord’s using it is more a projection of his own values onto the potlatch than a proper representation of what the potlatch is, and there’s a long history of that sort of thing- using indigenous peoples and their practices as utopian images or whatever… I don’t want to confuse genuine inspiration by pre-capitalist societies- there’s a useful history there, from the Zasulich-Marx exchange on the Russian peasant obschina to Mariategui’s interest in ‘Inca communism’… the point is you better start from a proper understanding of this stuff rather than an othering fantasy… intriguing to think about is the way in which a connection to or close generational memory of something less alienated- some closer connection to each other and the products and process of labour might motivate a socialist consciousness, rather than communist ideas coming after these worlds have been drowned- that is, we can be a bit more ‘positive’ in our understanding of how socialist consciousness develops, at least in some cases- that is, not from simple negation but from the resurrection of something older, something remembered that was more communitarian- of course, it need not be something ancient, but could be something that came alive in capitalism itself- friendly societies or the informal communities of care people forge for themselves, or the socialist movement itself. That’s sort of what I take from Graeber’s whole effort to ‘synthesise Marx with Mauss’, though I don’t really like that formulation of it- mostly because if you look close enough that stuff is already in Marx and I don’t think as Graeber does that Mauss was really a revolutionary socialist- more of a social democrat (or social fascist if you like)… and Graeber’s essential portrayal of Marxism as ‘negative’ I think comes from his reading autonomism- a lot of that stuff really can seem negative, what with its cry that all social activity has been subsumed by capital. Anyway, here’s a quote from the old anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan, which Engels put at the end of Origins:

“Democracy in government, brotherhood in society, equality in rights and privileges, and universal education, foreshadow the next higher plane of society to which experience, intelligence and knowledge are steadily tending. It will be a revival, in a higher form, of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient gentes.”

Resurrection, you see. The revolution is “the tiger’s leap into that which has gone before”… that’s what I mean about a useful trip into the ‘pre-capitalist’, providing it’s properly understood. But for Debord there’s this calling up of the potlatch as an image of authenticity, of “real desires”, of unalienated life in a way that romanticises it without understanding it- Kwak’wala society, for example, has its own alienations and stratifications and so on and the potlatch doesn’t represent the kind of utopian conversion of exchange-value into use-value that Debord wants it to… see he really doesn’t understand it when he says that  “Once it is no longer bought, the commodity lies open to criticism and alteration, whatever particular form it may take. Only when it is paid for with money is it respected as an admirable fetish, as a symbol of status within the world of survival.” … well I mean, the potlatch is all about status. He could just be using it as a flourish and being a bit sophistic but to me there’s a projection of his own values onto other people instead of trying to understand what they’re doing- both onto North-West coast native americans who are usually associated with the potlatch (though Mauss used that term globally, so it’s unclear exactly who Debord is referring to, if anyone- perhaps he just wants to invoke a general sign of freedom, primitivity, authenticity, which to me is even worse… the idea that indigenous people are closer to nature, ‘natural’ desires and so on… which is in the piece too…) and onto the Watts rebels. it’s of course significant to me that he calls up this image of a primitive other and associates it with the black rebels…

In any case, the whole piece is about what the rebellion ‘is’, what it ‘means’- but of course that’s what it ‘is’ for Debord and not for the rebels themselves who don’t have much of a voice in his piece- at least not the central one. it’s the classic move- throwing some objective meaning onto practices, that you as the left Theorist have divined, rather than talking to people… I have to be honest, I think there’s a sort of romantic racism to it, there’s an essentialism and a homogenising of black people in the piece… I actually quite like a lot of it but I think it has these problems… you know it kind of reminds me of this quote from Kerouac (perhaps it shouldn’t)…

“At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night…”

the text I refer to is here: