Guy Debord

By: Mark Kingwell
December 28, 2009


GUY DEBORD (1931-94) was a founder and key intellectual figure in the Situationist International, an avant-garde Marxist collective influential in postwar France, especially during the 1968 uprising in Paris. Debord’s book The Society of the Spectacle (1967) articulates the movement’s main ideas, most centrally the dangers of runaway colonization of everyday life. In Debord’s analysis, experiences as well as things are assimilated by the forces of exchange, leading to the production of consumption and, eventually, the consuming self as the main commodities of late capitalism. Debord accounts for the ongoing, adaptive success of capital systems, against the predictions of inner contradiction and imminent demise made by orthodox Marxists, by noting that spectacle constantly renews itself, and its pleasures, for a doped audience robbed of political agency. If we ourselves are the commodities that we produce and consume, there will never be any alienated labor. Debord thus echoes arguments made by other subtle Marxists, such as Adorno and Horkheimer, and anticipates the ones made by postmodernist leftists, such as Fredric Jameson. The Situationist International eventually suffered the usual factional disputes and was dissolved by Debord in 1972, after which he concentrated on reading and some filmmaking. The Society of the Spectacle is a landmark in twentieth-century political thought and has never been out of print, but the enduring relevance of Debord’s prescient analysis did not make him happy. He consumed his own agency through chronic alcoholism and, in 1994, committed suicide by gunshot.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Stan Lee, Öyvind Fahlström, Arthur Eddington, Alasdair Gray.

READ MORE about the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).

What do you think?

  1. Great summary … Debord changed my life when I was first exposed to his ideas, like the glasses in They Live. That he killed himself makes some of those insights of his all the more jarring.

  2. “after which [Debord] concentrated on reading and some filmmaking.”

    Well, yes, he was always a reader and he made three films (two feature-length) after 1972. But to leave it at that, when Debord was politically active in Italy, Portugal and Spain during the mid and late 1970s, and remained active in France until the late 1980s, creates a false impression.

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