Preface to the Third French Edition of The Society of the Spectacle
30 June 1992
Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith
La Société du spectacle was first published in November 1967 by the Paris publishers Buchet-Chastel. The disturbances of 1968 made the book known. A second edition, strictly unaltered, was issued in 1971 by Editions Champ Libre, a publishing house whose name was changed to Editions Gérard Lebovici in 1984 in the wake of the murder of the publisher. That edition was reprinted regularly until 1991. The text of this third edition is also identical of that to 1967. (Naturally, the same principle will be applied to my other books, all of which are to be republished by Gallimard; I am not someone who revises his work.)
A critical theory of the kind presented here needed no changing not as long, at any rate, as the general conditions of the long historical period that it was the first to describe accurately were still intact. The continued unfolding of our epoch has merely confirmed and further illustrated the theory of the spectacle. The reiteration of this theory may also be considered historical in a less elevated sense, for it testifies to what was the most extreme position taken up during the confrontation of 1968, and hence to what it was possible to know by then. The biggest dupes of that time have since received a clear object lesson in the form of their own shattered existences as to what exactly was meant by the "negation of life become visible," by the "loss of quality" associated with the commodity-form or by the "proletarianization of the world."
I have since as called for added postscripts on the more striking novelties thrown up by the fundamental movement of the times. In 1979, in the preface to a new Italian translation, I dealt with the effective changes in the nature of industrial production, as in the techniques of government, that began with the deployment of the power of the spectacle. And in 1988 my Comments on the Society of the Spectacle offered irrefutable evidence that the former "worldwide division of spectacular tasks" between the rival realms of the "concentrated" and "diffuse" forms of the spectacle had now given way to a combined form to an "integrated" spectacle.
This amalgamation might be summed up by slightly revising Thesis 105 of The Society of the Spectacle, which drew a distinction, on the basis of the situation prior to 1967, between two different forms of practice: the Great Schism of class power having been reconciled, we ought now to say that the unified practice of the integrated spectacle has "transformed the world economically" as well as "using police methods to transform perception." (The police in question, incidentally, are of a completely new variety.)
It was only because this fusion had already occurred worldwide on the economic and political planes that the world could be declared officially unified. It was, furthermore, only because of the grave predicament in which separated power universally finds itself that this world needed unifying post haste, so that it might function as one bloc in a single consensual organization of the world market, at once travestied and buttressed by the spectacle. And yet, in the end, it will not be unified.
The totalitarian bureaucracy that "substitute ruling class for the market economy" never had much faith in its own destiny. It knew itself to be nothing but an undeveloped type of ruling class" even as it yearned to be something more. Long ago, Thesis 58 had established as axiomatic that "The spectacle has its roots in the fertile field of the economy, and it is the produce of this field which must in the end come to dominate the spectacular market."
This striving of the spectacle toward modernization and unification, together with all the other tendencies toward the simplification of society, was what in 1989 led the Russian bureaucracy suddenly, and as one man, to convert to the current ideology of democracy in other words, to the dictatorial freedom of the Market, as tempered by the recognition of the rights of Homo Spectator. No one in the West felt the need to spend more than a single day considering the import and impact of this extraordinary media event proof enough, were proof called for, of the progress made by the techniques of the spectacle. All that needed recording was the fact that a sort of geological tremor had apparently taken place. The phenomenon was duly noted, dated and deemed sufficiently well understood; a very simple sign, "the fall of the Berlin Wall," repeated over and over again, immediately attained the incontestability of all the other signs of democracy.
In 1991 the first effects of this spectacular modernization were felt in the complete disintegration of Russia. Thus more clearly even than in the West were the disastrous results of the general development of the economy made manifest. The disorder presently reigning in the East is no more than a consequence. The same formidable question that has been haunting the world for two centuries is about to be posed again everywhere: How can the poor be made to work once their illusions have been shattered, and once force has been defeated?
Thesis 111, discerning the first symptoms of that Russian decline whose final explosion we have just witnessed and envisioning the early disappearance of a world society which (as we may now put it) will one day be erased from the memory of the computer, offered a strategic assessment whose accuracy will very soon be obvious: The "crumbling of the worldwide alliance founded on bureaucratic mystification is in the last analysis the most unfavorable portent for the future development of capitalist society."
This book should be read bearing in mind that it was written with the deliberate intention of doing harm to spectacular society. There was never anything outrageous, however, about what it had to say.