1.7 Preliminary Problems in the Construction of a Situation


Translated by Ian Thompson, August 2015. Proofread and Edited by Anna O’Meara & Mehdi el H.

“The construction of situations begins beyond the contemporary collapse of the concept of spectacle. It is easy to see how the very aim of the spectacle — nonintervention — is bound to the alienation of the old world. Conversely, we see how the most valid revolutionary experiments in culture have sought to break the psychological identification of the spectator with the hero, in order to draw [1] the spectator into activity… Thus, the situation is made to be lived by its builders. The role of the ‘public’ (if not [simply] passive, then playing less than ‘bit-parts’ [2]) must always be reduced, while the part of those who cannot be called actors, but in a new sense of the term, ‘livers’, will increase.”
Report on the Construction of Situations

   Our concept of a “constructed situation” is not limited to the combined use of artistic means united in an ambience, (however great the spatio-temporal extent or power of that ambience might be). A situation is at the same time a unity of behaviour in time. It is formed [3] out of actions contained within a transitory setting [4]. These actions are the product of a setting and of themselves. [In turn] they generate other settings [5] and other actions. How can we direct these forces? We won’t settle for empirical trials of environments [held] in expectation of automatically-provoked surprises. The genuinely experimental direction of Situationist activity is the establishment of a temporary field of activity on the basis of (more or less clearly recognised) desires, which is conducive [6] to these desires. This alone can lead to the clarification of primitive desires, and to the confused outbreak of new desires whose material root will be precisely the new reality established by Situationist constructions. 

It is necessary, therefore, to work towards a kind of Situationist psychoanalysis [7] in which, contrary to the goals pursued by the various branches of [8] Freudianism, each participant [9] must discover specific desires for ambiences in order to create them. Each person must seek what they love, what attracts them. In contrast to certain endeavours of modern writing (e.g. Leiris), here it is neither our individual psychological structure nor the explanation of its formation that matters to us, [but] its potential application in the construction of situations. In this way we can take stock [10] of the components from which situations can be constructed; and of projects for the activation [11] of these components.

   Such research only has meaning for individuals working toward a practical construction of situations. All such people are (either spontaneously or in a conscious and organised way) pre-situationists; that is to say those who’ve felt the objective need for this construction through a common recognition [12] of the deficiency of culture, and through matching expressions of the recent experimental tendency. They were brought together through a specialisation and through their involvement [13] in the same historical vanguard of their specialisation. It’s therefore likely that amongst them will be found a great number of themes shared with Situationist desire, which will diversify more and more as a phase of genuine activity is entered. [14]

   The constructed situation is by necessity collectively prepared and conducted. Nevertheless it appears, at least in the period of crude experimentation, that one person must take a leading role, serving as “director” of a given situation. In [15] a proposal for a situation, carefully designed by a research team, which would arrange, for example, an [emotionally] moving gathering of some people for an evening, [we] would probably identify amongst them: a director or producer (charged with coordinating the prerequisite components for the construction of the setting, and with planning certain interventions in the events — this latter process could [alternatively] be shared between a number of people [16] more or less unaware of each other’s plans for intervention); the direct agents “living” the situation (having taken part in creating the collective proposal and having worked on the practical arrangement of the ambience); and some passive spectators (uninvolved in the task of construction) who will be suited to be forced into action [17]).

   Naturally, the relationship between the director and the “livers” of the situation cannot become a relationship of specialisations. It is only a temporary subordination of a whole team of Situationists to the person responsible for a well-defined [18] experiment. These perspectives, or their provisional terminology, mustn’t give the impression that [19] this would act as the continuation of theatre. Pirandello and Brecht have shown us the destruction of the theatrical spectacle, and some of the demands that are beyond [it]. One can say that the construction of situations will replace theatre only in the [same] way that the real construction of life has increasingly replaced religion. Obviously, the main field we are going to replace and to fulfil is poetry – which has burned itself [out] in the vanguard of our time, [and] which has completely died out.

   Real individual fulfilment, in the artistic experience that the Situationists are discovering, surely occurs through the collective domination of the world. Until then, there will be no individuals, but [only] shadows haunting the things haphazardly [20] presented to them by others. In chance [21] situations we meet separated individuals moving aimlessly, whose diverging emotions cancel each other out and maintain their stable environment of boredom. We will destroy these conditions by raising, in several places, [22] the incendiary beacon of a superior play.

   In our time functionalism, an inevitable expression of technological progress, seeks to entirely eliminate play, while the partisans of “industrial design” complain that their efforts are spoiled [23] by man’s tendency to play. This tendency is despicably exploited by industrial commerce, which immediately puts it to work in producing [24] a very helpful demand for new packaging. We firmly believe that the continuous artistic renovation of refrigerator designs should not be encouraged. But moralistic functionalism can do nothing here. The only progressive outcome is to free the tendency toward play somewhere else, and on a much larger scale [25]. Until then, the naïve indignation of the pure theory of industrial design will not change [26] the basic fact that, for example, the private car is principally a stupid toy [27] and [only] secondarily a means of transportation. In opposition to all regressive forms of play, which are returns to its childish stages (invariably tied to reactionary politics), one must uphold the experimental forms of revolutionary play.

As this new translation was being produced, I cross-referenced it to an existing translation made by Ken Knabb available on-line here. I would like to acknowledge the work done by Ken Knabb, and the real assistance his translation provided to me. However all final decisions (for better or worse – which is for the reader to decide) in this translation are mine alone.

[1] “entraîner” – literally “to lead to” or “to drag along”

[2] “du moins sueulement figurant” – literally “less [than] only a [film] extra”

[3] “faite” – literally “made”

[4] “le décor d’un moment” – literally “the setting of an a moment”

[5] “formes de décor” – literally “styles of setting”

[6] “favorable à” – literally “favourable towards” or “favourable for”

[7] “envisager une sort de psychanalyse à des fins situationnistes” – literally “to plan for a kind of psychoanalysis [to] Situationist ends”

[8] “les courants issus du” – literally “the branches stemming from”

[9] “chacun de ceux qui participent à cette aventure” – the phrase has been simplified, with “à cette aventure” (“in this affair”) omitted for the clarity of the text

[10] “recenser” – literally “take a census/inventory of”

[11] “mouvement” – literally “movement” or “motion”

[12] “un même état” – literally “a matching state” or “a same state of mind”

[13] “appartenance” – literally “affiliation” or “membership”

[14] “dès son passage à une phase d’activité réelle” – literally “starting from their passage into a phase of genuine activity” 

[15] “A partir de” – literally “starting from”

[16] “responables” – literally “responsible parties”

[17] “reduire à l’action” – literally “decrease in the action”

[18] “isolée” – literally “isolated”

[19] “donner à croire qu’il” – literally “to give the belief that” 

[20] “occasionelles” – can also be rendered as “occasional” or “accidential”

[21] “anarchiquement” – literally “anarchically” or “chaotically”

[22] “en faisant apparaître en quelques points” – literally “in making appear in some places”

[23] “pourrissement” – literally “rotting” or “putrefying”

[24] “en cause” – literally “involved in”

[25] “plus largement” – literally “to a much greater extent”

[26] “n’empêcheront pas” – literally “will not put a stop to”

[27] “jeu” – literally “game”