The full text, with all images, is published at

This was also the text of my lecture at the Baudrillard conference at Oxford Brookes University in September 2018.


First, I will say something about the similarities and differences between the Situationist critical social theory of advanced or hyper-capitalism and consumerist media culture – the theory of “the society of the spectacle” – which is generally considered to be a “modernist” cultural theory, and Jean Baudrillard’s theory of image, media and consumer culture – the theory of simulation, simulacra, virtuality, hyper-reality, Integral Reality, and “the models and codes precede the real” – which is generally considered to be a “postmodernist” cultural theory.

But what additionally interests me about Baudrillard – perhaps more than his early critical theory of society (which is a variant of the sociological analysis of the questionable “reality” of “the social” which he himself self-critically distanced himself from in the 1978 text In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities… or the End of the Social [1]) – are the implications for how resistance and change and transformation can come about starting from his theory of objects, from his viewpoint of “taking the side of objects.” [2] How might this more advanced perspective of the later Baudrillard, the vantage point of the root of the chestnut tree in Jean-Paul Sartre’s novel La nausée (an important reference for Baudrillard made in the first chapter on “Objects” of Passwords); of passionate, semi-living, active, wily, autonomous objects; and Baudrillard’s sense of the world as itself being an enigmatic “radical illusion,” [3] might develop into strategies of resistance against the dominant capitalist society and culture.

Terms like “advanced capitalism,” “the dominant capitalist society,” and “critical theory of society” are my terms, and they are commonly employed in neo-Marxist and post-Marxist cultural theory discourse (although I am mainly an anarchist!). They were not used by Baudrillard (he might have said hyper-capitalism). Baudrillard’s early books – like The System of Objects, The Consumer Society, and For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign – can be described as expressing a critical theory of society. [4] After 1978 – for example, in Fatal Strategies – he calls his own work a “fatal theory.” [5] Iconic works like Simulacra and Simulation (1981) and America (1986) are often cited in the context of seeing Baudrillard (as I did in the opening paragraph of this essay) as having developed a (postmodernist) theory of contemporary culture (which could then be compared with and opposed to other theories of that kind). [6] Yet this is only ambivalently the case – Baudrillard’s later work places into question the plausibility or limits of validity of any theory of society as such. Yet his own statements differentiating his intellectual position with regards to “the situation in which we find ourselves” from that of the Situationists seem to – perhaps retrogressively – invite such a genre definition.

Some Baudrillard scholars might object to the very idea of bringing Baudrillard’s system of thought into a comparison or dialogue or attempted synthesis with another system of thought. The late Gerry Coulter – the founder and longtime editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (IJBS) – told me that he felt that efforts such as my bringing Baudrillard into dialogue with the existentialists Sartre, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir, or William Bogard’s synthesis of Baudrillard and Michel Foucault in the concept of “the simulation of surveillance,” were misguided because they attempted to “compare incomparables.” [7] One reason why I do not share Gerry Coulter’s skepticism on this point is that I believe that Baudrillard himself often made and invited such comparisons. As we shall see in the present essay, Baudrillard on more than one occasion contrasted his key concepts with those of the Situationists. Throughout his work, Baudrillard often clarifies his own intellectual positions by distinguishing them from imputed key concepts of, for example, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Gilles Deleuze, or Foucault. I would argue that his principal epistemological mode of reading these other thinkers was to emphasize those aspects of their systems of thought where his own concepts stood in stark contrast to theirs. [8]

Christos Voutichtis, © 2018

“Taking the Side of Objects” and the Situationists

To express it very simply, one could say that (for the sake of the argument) there are two main ideas in post-1978 Baudrillard. First, there is the idea of simulation and hyper-reality, that the media-and-image-dominated culture of “late capitalism” (not Baudrillard’s term) is a very awful way of life, that so-called “reality” has disappeared under the weight of images and rhetoric, that the very idea of “reality” has generated “too much reality” and led intrinsically to the reign of the self-referential signifiers. A lot of people know only of this idea of Baudrillard (it was popularized by the Wachowski Brothers in the 1999 blockbuster film The Matrix). The theory of simulation and hyper-reality was a sort of prophecy, and it has “come true” (especially in the age of post-factual and televisual and evil Donald Trump as President) and this establishes the genius and greatness of Baudrillard. [9] The second main idea in late Baudrillard, I believe, is that we might be able to do something about it, we might be able to changer le monde, in an act of reversibility, by “taking the side of objects.” This second idea is less well known; perhaps because it is expressed abstractly and theoretically, and it is underdeveloped. My goal is to develop it further. As part of developing it further, I believe that it is worthwhile to demonstrate connections between his idea of “taking the side of objects” and the work of other thinkers and activists, such as the Situationists, in the context of the intellectual history of the 1950s to 1970s. What I want to explore is how the forms and strategies of “taking the side of objects” resistance are already present in Situationist practices. But first I will say something about the respective media theories of the spectacle (the Situationists) and the simulacra (Baudrillard).

My main thesis is that there is an important area of intersection or convergence to be explored and further developed between Baudrillard’s idea about the resistance of objects and seven historical or contemporary Situationist activist practices like (1) Wandering (le dérive). (2) Psycho-geography. (3) The diverting of technologies (le détournement). (4) The making or constructing of situations. (5) A certain minority tendency within art which can be called “post-art” or “the radical illusion beyond art.” (6) Neo-Situationism in the field of advanced digital technologies. (7) Urban and street art activism.

During the radical left 1960s, Jean Baudrillard was close to the Situationists, both intellectually and politically. The Situationists were an artistic and political movement active and prominent in Paris, and in other French cities like Strasbourg, in major European cities like Amsterdam and London, and in many towns of Italy. [10] They were the inheritors of Dadaism and surrealism and Lettrism. [11] The Situationists advocated and strove towards le dépassement de l’art: the going beyond or realization or suppression of art, its generalized transference or blossoming into an active and transformative critique of everyday life in the advanced capitalist society. Situationist ideas and practices were massively influential and inspiring during the student-worker near revolution in France in May-June 1968, on the Metropolitan Indians and Autonomist movement in Italy of the late 1970s, and in the San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley Bay Area in the United States. [12] Situationism produced works of radical utopian architecture like Constant Nieuwenhuys’ New Babylon project, a science fictional worldwide city of the future, and elaborated the idea of “unitary urbanism,” the dream and design of a Situationist city consisting of endlessly enchanting and participatory non-functionalist situations, among which the creative and passionate post-capitalist citizens would experientially drift. [13]

The Situationists produced two major theoretical texts, both of which were published in 1967, one year before the publication of Baudrillard’s first major work The System of Objects. These were The Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneigem and The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. [14] Vaneigem’s work is a poetic, ludic, passionate, existentialist and utopian text celebrating the potential qualitative richness of life which might become possible when the freedom of the individual gets expressed through the construction of situations (making of a unitary ambience and the game of events). The Society of the Spectacle is a book which has had a widespread impact since the 1960s on critical social theory, media theory, new media art, video art, underground music, independent cinema, and social-political activism. [15] It develops a major analysis of the advent of the post-World War II advanced capitalist society in the Western countries: the ubiquity of the mass media, high-tech, the culture of images, television, movies, advertising, computers, consumerism, marketing, organized leisure, shopping malls, cybernetics, the obsession of information, modern transportation, telecom networks and the tourist industry, and the signifier semiotics of cultural citizenship. The media cultural citizen is in a fundamental situation of spectatorship and passivity with respect to the power of the screen and the endless panoply of consumer objects.

The Society of the Spectacle is very close in spirit, style, terminology and subject-matter to the first three published books of the young sociologist Jean Baudrillard: The System of Objects (1968), The Consumer Society (1970), and For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1972). The theory of the spectacle of Guy Debord and the semiotics of consumer culture of the early Baudrillard are twin theories. In the second volume of his notebooks or memoirs Cool Memories II, published in 1990, Baudrillard writes: “Pataphysician at twenty – Situationist at thirty – utopian at forty – transversal at fifty – viral and metaleptic at sixty – that is my whole history.” [16] “I was very, very attracted by Situationism,” he told interviewer Judith Williamson in 1989. [17] He seems to be stating that he was a Situationist in 1959 – already before the sixties. Two years after the founding of the Situationist International movement (sometimes called the SI), which happened in 1957. Nine years before The System of Objects.

Christos Voutichtis, © 2018

Baudrillard’s Paradigm Shift

After Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976), there begins a paradigm shift in Baudrillard’s intellectual worldview or system of thought. Yes, the concept of simulation already appears briefly in The Consumer Society, but the deconstruction of “the social” as a legitimate epistemological concept, or object of knowledge-inquiry, for the social sciences first appears in 1978 with In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities. The iconic work Simulacra and Simulation, which literally appears as a hollowed-out book in the SF film The Matrix, comes in 1981. From this point on in his philosophical career, Baudrillard explicitly conceptualizes and draws attention to a highly significant distinction between his own position about contemporary media culture and what he summarizes as his view of what is the position of the Situationists, or Debord’s concept of the spectacle. In The Perfect Crime (1995), Baudrillard writes:

Virtuality is different from the spectacle, which still left room for a critical consciousness and demystification. The abstraction of the ‘spectacle’ was never irrevocable, even for the Situationists. Whereas unconditional realization is irrevocable, since we are no longer either alienated or dispossessed: we are in possession of all the information. We are no longer spectators, but actors in the performance, and actors increasingly integrated into the course of that performance. Whereas we could face up to the unreality of the world as spectacle, we are defenceless before the extreme reality of this world, before this virtual perfection. We are, in fact, beyond all disalienation. This is the new form of terror, by comparison with which the horrors of alienation were very small beer. [18]

To summarize: the invocation of typical post-1968 neo-Marxist concepts around ideology, attributed to the Situationists: false consciousness and critical consciousness, mystification and demystification, alienation and disalienation, unreality and redeemable reality, dispossession, hope, salvation. Neo-Marxism superseded by Baudrillard’s post-Marxism: the murder of reality through too much reality, the unconditional realization of the world, which is its unconditional simulacrum, the new interactive performance of the integrated spectacle.

The later Guy Debord develops and utilizes the concept of “the integrated spectacle” in his 1988 book Comments on the Society of the Spectacle. [19] In his 2004 book, The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact, Baudrillard elaborates the concept of Integral Reality: “the perpetrating on the world of an unlimited operational project whereby everything becomes real, everything becomes visible and transparent.” It is the project of “realizing the world, of making it become technically, integrally real.” [20] This suppression of “the imaginary,” the loss of any imagination of the contingency of the real pushed aside by the realization of Integral Reality (or “the ecstasy of communication”), as characterized by Baudrillard, is close to the definition that Debord gives in Comments on the Society of the Spectacle of “the final sense of the integrated spectacle,” which is “that it has integrated itself into reality to the same extent as it was describing it,” effacing the salutary gap between signifier and signified, the act of total integration steamrolling over any act of aesthetic representation. [21] In the citation above from The Perfect Crime, Baudrillard “reverse engineers,” or reconstructs logically, something like the concept of the integrated spectacle while elaborating his thought about how the early Debord’s theory of “media culture as spectacle” needs to be revised: “We are no longer spectators,” writes Baudrillard, “but actors in the performance, and actors increasingly integrated into the course of that performance.” [22] We are performing actors, integrated into what was previously called the spectacle, and which is now the integrated spectacle.

In his 1990 interview in Australia with Nicholas Zurbrugg, Baudrillard says:

Situationist modes of radicalism have passed into things and into situations. Indeed, there’s no need now for Situationism, Debord, and so on. In a sense, all of that is out of date. The hyper-critical, radical, individual sensibility no longer exists. Events are the most radical things today. Everything which happens today is radical. There’s a great wealth of radical events, and all one needs to do is to enter into its interplay. Nowadays, reality is radical. Reality is Situationist, not us! [23]

Radicalism has passed into events. (Baudrillard scholar Mike Gane makes that the title of one-fourth of his edited collection of Baudrillard interviews). Reality is Situationist, not us. This would be one dimension of the later Baudrillard’s perspective of “taking the side of objects.”

Christos Voutichtis, © 2018

Is Baudrillard Fair to the Situationists?

On the surface of things, in terms of at least one very important way of looking at it, Baudrillard’s critique of the Situationists is very unfair. For all intents and purposes, the Situationists stopped writing in the early 1970s. At least that is the official narrative or history. Baudrillard “capitalizes” on the formal event of their self-dissolution, and effectively forecloses in advance any possibility of them “catching up with” his post-1978 insights. The twelfth and last issue of the annually published journal Internationale Situationniste appeared in 1969. The organizational dissolution of the SI occurred in 1972. In the passages cited above from The Perfect Crime and the Zurbrugg interview, Baudrillard allows himself the freedom to have evolved and advanced in the 1970s and beyond, but he does not allow this to the Situationists.

What happened to Situationist theory after 1980 is not well known. This is a subject in the history of ideas that is still very much open to scholarly research and investigation. My provisional impression is that there was a great deal of Situationist theory developed after 1980 in Italy (Gianfranco Sanguinetti, Mario Perniola), in northern California (Bureau of Public Secrets, Processed World), and in Great Britain (Spectacular Times, Workshop for Non-Linear Architecture). [24] There is the post-anarchism of Hakim Bey (the concept of the Temporary Autonomous Zone) and the French anti-surveillance philosophical journal Tiqqun (This Is Not a Program). [25] There are the extensive writings of the British art historian and former member of the SI Timothy J. Clark. [26] What did Raoul Vaneigem write after 1980? He seems to have written about 15 books. [27] What did Guy Debord write after 1980? There are the Comments on the Society of the Spectacle and his autobiography Panegyric. [28] In Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988), Debord writes observations about contemporary media culture which are very similar to those of the later Baudrillard. Debord, similar to Baudrillard, questions if negation of the dominant capitalist society via the critical consciousness of the human subject is still possible, given the indistinguishability of rebellious gestures and so-called “authentic experiences” from their commodified and simulated versions, and their “recuperation” by the advertising industry, as documented, for example, by Thomas Frank in his book The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (1997). [29]

For Debord, the integrated spectacle is a new phase of capitalism embodying the spectacle’s extension since 1967 (the year of the publication of Society of the Spectacle). The integrated spectacle is simultaneously diffuse and concentrated, combining features of both Western free-market big corporation capitalism and Eastern state capitalism-slash-communism. The integrated spectacle, as Debord writes in Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, is the cumulative effect of five principal developments: “incessant technological renewal; integration of state and economy; generalized secrecy; unanswerable lies; and [ubiquitous new media to enact] an eternal present.” Objective historical knowledge disappears, thus paving the way for unlimited falsifications. “Historical evidence which the spectacle does not need to know ceases to be evidence.” “Spectacular power,” writes Debord, “can deny whatever it likes… and change the subject; knowing full well there is no danger of any riposte, in its own space or any other.” [30]

Christos Voutichtis, © 2018

“Baudrillard and the Situationists” Commentators Douglas Kellner and Sadie Plant, and the Tension between Critical Theory and Fatal Theory

There is a fairly extensive secondary literature about the difference between the so-called modernism of Debord and the so-called postmodernism of Baudrillard. Or about the so-called social revolutionary stance of the SI and the so-called “sellout” to the late capitalist culture of simulation of Baudrillard. Several books by Douglas Kellner and Steven Best, for example The Postmodern Turn, are lengthy and detailed elaborations juxtaposing Debord’s belief in modernist values like history, meaning, reality, interpretation, and social change against Baudrillard’s so-called nihilistic descent into an alleged postmodernist fatalistic pessimism. Kellner and Best also offer fascinating and informative descriptions of the many ways in which “the Situationist spectacle” has developed further in its newer stages of contemporary American media and political culture. [31] I like Kellner’s work a lot, but, with respect to Baudrillard, he is an opponent who does not want to make the effort to understand the originality and specificity of Baudrillard’s positions.

Sadie Plant, in her book The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Postmodern Age, is very hostile to Baudrillard. [32] Plant is passionately and almost fanatically a proponent of Situationism, and her belligerent understanding of Baudrillard is reductionist (see Exhibit C below). I like the Situationists and I like Baudrillard. Baudrillard’s own stated critique of the Situationists is also reductionist (see Exhibit B below). And, at times, he presents his own view, which he contrasts to theirs, in a self-simplifying way (see Exhibit A below). On both sides of this debate, there is a self-expressed reductionist version of their conceptual differences.

Here is the argument of the present essay in a nutshell:
Exhibit A (Baudrillard self-simplifies): Although he made the bold proclamation in 1983 in Fatal Strategies (a book focused in the first of its three parts on gambling, obesity, and hostages as objectively resisting “figures of the transpolitical”) that he was leaving behind “critical theory” in favor of developing a “fatal theory” (the title of Mike Gane’s book is Baudrillard: Critical and Fatal Theory [33]), major aspects of Baudrillard’s later position, as exemplified by the citations zeroing in on the Situationists referenced above, remain (at least ambivalently) a “critical theory of society”: the conceptualization of the objects of “critique” which are called virtuality, Integral Reality, and the implied “reverse-engineered” concept of the integrated spectacle. In my view, we need both critical theory (media theory) and fatal theory (“taking the side of objects”) – and the fruitful tension between the two paradigms.

I would argue that it is the articulation of this tension between the two currents of thought that is the most interesting area of discourse of Baudrillard’s oeuvre. He obviously moves very often into (what I consider to be) overstatement about the “death of critique”: for example, in the passage in The Perfect Crime which immediately follows his attempted takedown of the Situationists cited above: “In what was the golden age of joyful disillusionment, we carried out the critique of all illusions – the metaphysical, the religious and the ideological. Only one remains: the illusion of criticism itself… the critical illusion has devoured itself.” [34] Immediately after this, attempting to provide an example, Baudrillard writes: “So the critique of virtual technologies masks the fact that their concept is seeping everywhere into real life in homeopathic doses.” [35] This is not putting an end to all critique and to all media theory; it is rather seeking out a critical epistemology where the object of the critique is a historical totality, where the virtual is to be deconstructed in and due to its coupling with the myth of the real, not in and due to its alleged betrayal of a supposedly intact real (which would be a mere “liberal” and not a “radical” critique of virtual technologies). (end of Exhibit A)

Exhibit B (Baudrillard’s critique of the Situationists is reductionist): The one-sidedness of this claim by Baudrillard to have left “critical theory” behind, and to have arrived on the new continent of “fatal theory,” is revealed not so much in his direct statements about the end of all critique, but rather in his pinning the label of “critical theorists who still believe in consciousness and the radical subject” onto the Situationists, claiming that their perspective on “the society of the spectacle” contrasts sharply with his own concepts of simulation and hyper-reality, ignoring the fact that significant aspects of the Situationist historical project were radically performative – meaning that they were “ironic” and “fatal” and “taking the side of objects” in the senses in which Baudrillard uses these terms.

Christos Voutichtis, © 2018

To find interesting “fatal strategies,” one need look no further than the seven Situationist activist principles which I have mentioned: Wandering, Psycho-Geography, the Diverting of Technologies, Making Situations, the Radical Illusion Beyond Art, Neo-Situationism in Digital Media, and Post-Public Urban Art. Of course, Guy Debord was also a Marxist who, in many of his writings, clung to the myths of working-class consciousness, the proletarian revolution, and the glorious future of “the generalized self-management of the workers’ councils.” [36] Many Situationist essays share this “theological” rhetoric, as does much of the writing in the Italian neo-Marxist “operaismo” tradition. But Baudrillard emphasizes this one side, setting up the SI as “straw dogs” for the sake of making his own argument…

The German words Entfremdung and Verfremdung can help us out here. Baudrillard over-emphasizes the Marxist side of the Situationists’ concept of alienation as Entfremdung: the debased historical condition of humanity under capitalism and its dreamt-of overcoming, ignoring the radical theatre and radical performance side of their concept of distantiation as Verfremdung (artistic techniques to incite change in the “consciousness of the audience” in the work of practitioners like Bertolt Brecht, Antonin Artaud, and the surrealists), which is more rigorously the true historical context of the Situationists. [37] (end of Exhibit B)

Exhibit C (Sadie Plant’s critique of Baudrillard is reductionist): Sadie Plant argues that Baudrillard was deeply influenced by the Situationists and effectively co-opted their ideas. According to Plant, the later Baudrillard gave up all possibilities of criticism and political contestation. For Plant, “[Baudrillard is a] sold-out Situationist who wanders without purpose.” [38] Plant thinks that Baudrillard thinks that there is nothing to be done pour changer le monde. But this is, in fact, not the case.

The popularized misreading of Baudrillard, shared by Sadie Plant, is that he diagnoses contemporary techno-culture as a semiotic Empire of Signs which has forfeited all the referents of the real, and has spun itself off aimlessly into a never-never land of meaningless funhouse simulations. Having thus been caricatured, Baudrillard is condemned as the pope of the “takeover” of reality by semiotic signs, or the solipsistic denier of the existence of an externally objective real. Baudrillard would be the David Bowie of philosophy, the king of the carnivalesque, the avant-garde prophet of cultural pessimism.

Sadie Plant understands Baudrillard as believing that “the real and the meaningful have slipped away amidst a confusion of signs, images, simulations, and appearances.” [39] No, this is the basic common misunderstanding. Baudrillard is saying that reality disappears through too much reality. And he is not celebrating this, as Plant suggests. Virtual Reality is an extension of the myth of reality of Western science and philosophy; it is not the disappearance of a natural and awesome reality that was intact prior to the advent of digital and virtual technologies.

The Left’s longstanding emphasis on subjectivity is indeed problematic because advanced capitalist-consumerist culture is a profoundly narcissistic culture, encouraging a simulacra “society” of narcissistic “subjects without others,” subjects without the capacity to recognize otherness, as Baudrillard often points out, and this is a big problem. Communication, which saturates our media culture, is destructive of otherness. The entire field of subjectivity and so-called “authentic experience” is ripe for recuperation, co-optation, or assimilation. Plant acknowledges this several times in her book. How could she not, since the récuperation (essentially a French word) of radical expressions from the cultural margins by the power centers and by the spectacle is a key theoretical concept of the Situationists? The key historical event which took place in the 1970s was the assimilation of “authentic experience” and “cool” and “individual creativity” by the advertising industry, consumerism and Personal Computers.

Beyond reductionism, what is it that is truly interesting about Baudrillard that a commentator like Sadie Plant, for example, completely misses? After the setback for practical radicality which took place around 1970, Baudrillard made it the goal of his work to go as far and as deeply as possible into “theoretical radicality.” [40] Baudrillard put his efforts into trying to figure out how to oppose a system which has already anticipated all opposition. How can one be radical when being radical is – it must be said – inevitably narcissistic, and our culture is a culture of “subjects without others.” This is, first and foremost, an epistemological question. (End of Exhibit C)


Christos Voutichtis, © 2018

Situationist Practices

My argument for my main thesis that there is an important area of convergence between Baudrillard’s idea about “taking the side of objects” and the seven Situationist activist practices will be saved for Part Two of this essay, to be published at a later date. Here I will provide only the briefest of material and comments – acting as placeholders – for each of the seven practices.

1 – Wandering or the Drift – Le Dérive

In the essay “Theory of the Dérive,” Guy Debord wrote:

One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive, a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psycho-geographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll. In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. [41]

The object-orientation here is that one is driven, doubled, and shadowed by the objects of the territory and encounters (with both non-human and human “objects”) of the urban space. The Situationist view on the urban situation is that we are living in an urban environment with so many possibilities for creativity and enjoyment, yet we constantly overlook these opportunities because we are so focused in everyday life on the functional organization and layout of the city, the static places designated for work or sleep or shopping, and the physical transportation that we need to move among these locations. Drifting is a way of changing this, of discovering marvels and surprises in an intrepid playground of renewed urban spacetime.

In the dérive, one “takes the side of the object,” consistent with the system of object-thought of the later Baudrillard, for example in his book Impossible Exchange (1999). [42] One follows the seduction, the strange attractors, the radical otherness, the non-human and the inhuman, the indicative of “the world thinks me” of the urban landscape as it gets rearranged playfully by the idiosyncrasies of cyphering semiotic and physical signs.

2 – Psycho-Geography

In the essay “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography,” Guy Debord wrote:

Geography, for example, deals with the determinant action of general natural forces, such as soil composition or climatic conditions, on the economic structures of a society, and thus on the corresponding conception that such a society can have of the world. Psycho-geography could set for itself the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, whether consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals… [43]

There is a complex intricate psycho-geographical separation and interweaving between places in Venice (for example) where tourists go and those places where only Venetian natives go. Psycho-geography conjures up free association and fascination; the construction of stimulating “situations”; and an adventurous playing with architecture and urban space. You discern the psycho-geographical contours, currents, fixed points, and vortexes which influence, encourage, or discourage entries, exits, and flows into and out of specific prescribed zones of the city.

3 – The Diverting of Technologies (Le détournement)

In the essay “A User’s Guide to Détournement,” Guy Debord wrote:

Any elements, no matter where they are taken from, can serve in making new combinations. The discoveries of modern poetry regarding the analogical structure of images demonstrate that when two objects are brought together, no matter how far apart their original contexts may be, a relationship is always formed… The mutual interference of two worlds of feeling, or the bringing together of two independent expressions, supersedes the original elements and produces a synthetic organization of greater efficacy. Anything can be used. [44]

The Situationists did not dream of a dis-alienation of man (eine Entfremdung des Menschens in German) as Baudrillard claims in his critique of them. Perhaps Erich Fromm or other “Marxist-humanist” thinkers would be more susceptible to such a criticism. Le détournement is usually translated into German as Zweckentfremdung, yet it would be more correct to say Zweckverfremdung, following the distinction between Entfremdung and Verfremdung originated by Bertolt Brecht. The Situationists advocated “beyond art” practices of “jamming the messages” and “turning the songs [of the dominant culture] inside out.” [45] This is the revenge of the object, the destiny of the object beyond the determining codes, beyond the meanings and definitions imposed on the object by economics, politics, sociology or advertising discourse. As Baudrillard writes in The Ecstasy of Communication: “the destiny of signs is to be torn from their destination, deviated, displaced, diverted, recuperated, and seduced.” [46] Otherness cannot be exterminated, and “the other” will ultimately bring about the reversibility of the system.


Bologna, Italy – mural from movement of 1977; © 2018 Alan N. Shapiro


The Making or Creating or Construction of Situations

In the essay “Report on the Construction of Situations,” Guy Debord wrote:

First of all, we think the world must be changed. We want the most liberating change of the society and life in which we find ourselves confined. We know that such a change is possible through appropriate actions. Our specific concern is the use of certain means of action and the discovery of new ones, means which are more easily recognizable in the domain of culture and customs, but which must be applied in interrelation with all revolutionary changes… [47]

There is an alternative and important utopian-anarchist dimension to Baudrillard’s thought: direct speaking, seduction, symbolic exchanges, transgression, and meaningful non-virtual encounters with the other are possible. In Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976), Baudrillard writes incisively about graffiti in the subways and on the walls of New York City as the insurrection of signs against the ruling order of messages and meanings. “Kool Killer: or the Insurrection of Signs” is a landmark cultural theory essay about graffiti and street art as symbolic rebellions against the dominant media society. [48]

5 – The Radical Illusion Beyond Art

There is a certain minority tendency within art which can be called “post-art” or “the radical illusion beyond art.”

Which artists does Baudrillard like? What does Baudrillard mean by “the radical illusion beyond art” (those “artists” whom he admires), and how do the realizations of that collection of artists compare to the “corresponding” Situationist practices? In the era of the “integrated spectacle” (Debord) or “the conspiracy of art” [49] (Baudrillard), “art” persists and flourishes as a profitable hyper-industry, with its own inflated pretensions and its self-legitimating prestigious institutions. Baudrillard saw the contemporary art world as being complicit with – and metaphorical of – late semiotic hyper-capitalism. He explicitly rejected the New York art scene’s attempted embrace of him as a critical cultural thinker in the 1980s. Baudrillard was suspicious of any project of “applying” his ideas about simulation, hyper-reality, Integral Reality and the orders and precession of simulacra in a “transdisciplinary” or “crossover” way to either art (the New York “Simulationist” or “Appropriation” or Neo-Conceptualist or Neo-Geo artists such as Sherrie Levine, Jeff Koons, and Peter Halley, who claimed that their artworks were “simulacra” against “hyper-reality”: for example, on the level of colors), or film, as in the case of the Wachowski Brothers’ canonization of him as the supposed philosophical inspiration for The Matrix film series. [50] It is not clear if Baudrillard disliked the New York “Simulationist artists” in the 1980s because he ruled out an artistic practice that referenced his philosophy as an inspiration in principle, or because he simply viewed them as being bad artists.

The list of “artists beyond art” on whose creations Baudrillard favorably commented, however, is surprisingly quite a bit longer than one would expect. [51] By “artists beyond art,” I mean creators who are practicing something different from the mainstream currents of art, and whose works are to be interpreted differently from how the “art industry” sees them. Perhaps their creations should not be understood with the term “art.”

6 – Neo-Situationism in the Field of Advanced Digital Technologies

Our activities in the space of digital and virtual media should avoid the two extremes of utopian and dystopian perspectives. Many theories of new media and new technologies have been euphoric in seeing great possibilities for creativity, self-expression, and more democratic communication in these contemporary phenomena of online existence. Other discourses have been almost exclusively critical, observing in our networked immersion in “social media” and pervasive simulations the deepening of both capitalist-consumerist conformism/control – now administered by a new set of large corporations (Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple, etc.).

The third alternative to these two diametrically opposite positive and negative views of digitalization is to deal with the digital-virtual realm as an “ambivalent interspace.” We should conceptualize – and then act in – various media from cyberspace to Augmented/Mixed Reality (AR/MR) as open contested arenas situated between capitalist commodification as now re-inscribed through software code by economically powerful surveillance agencies and the potentialities of radical and transformative creativity.

7 – Urban and Street Art Activism

Space is both real-physical and simulated-virtual – we will need to invent new concepts to deal with this new situation. We need to extend our creative and activist interventions in the province of urban space to the double-territory-and-imagination of material-and-informational space. We need an aesthetic movement of Interspace Art to comment prolifically on these physical-and-virtual and theory-and-practice boundaries.

Physical spaces that we inhabit in the offline zones of the capitalist society are largely demarcated by “ownership.” We traditionally understand these spaces via the conceptual system of “public” and “private” – a still very influential instituting and interpretive framework belonging to modernist political-economic theory. Yet in the more recent postmodernist and hyper-modernist cultural paradigms of digital codes and informational flows, the structural arrangement of clear physical demarcations between “public” and “private” recede into the past.

Street art and public art, although noble endeavors whose histories and politics interest us greatly, remain stagnating within these conventional categories. These art genres have founded themselves on the left-liberal idea that there is and should be a “shared cultural space” within modern society outside of and exempt from the nexus of cash values.

Jean Baudrillard writes in The Ecstasy of Communication (1987):

Today one’s private living space is conceived of as a… monitoring screen endowed with telematic power… with the capacity to regulate everything by remote control. The same holds true for the public space. Advertising is… the omnipresent visibility of corporations, trademarks, PR men, social dialogue and the virtues of communication… Advertising invades everything… It determines architecture… The public stage, the public place have been replaced by a gigantic circulation… Private space undergoes the same fate… The distinction between an interior and an exterior, which was… the symbolic space of the object has been blurred into a double obscenity. The most intimate operation of your life becomes the potential grazing ground of the media.  [52]

The work of Christos Voutichtis is at the intersection of art, architecture and urbanism. His installation All About Mistakes was an urban intervention in Lisbon. The work consists of screen prints, sculpture, and real-time audiovisual computational media. Fractal geometric shapes projected onto the front façade of a high-rise building. This is a computer-generated pattern influenced by the parameters of the shape of the building itself. Street art emerges as pattern from the fractal unit. The fractal is the secret passageway beyond private and public to perception of the “radical illusion of the world.”

Voutichtis seeks an architecture without rules, without control or hierarchical order. A space is an anarchist space when it is not static, when it continuously changes, when it is influenced by its surroundings. See Christos’ work Moving and Space-Forming Objects (The Performativity of the Space) – a work of Interspace Art. Voutichtis’ installation piece uses large sheets of plastic wrapped around a selected physical structure to form a contained space that grows and expands as influenced by the outside breeze. Voutichtis is interested in a fractal and breathing geometry, not a conventional Euclidean geometry with its three-dimensional axiomatic assertions and classical dimensions. With this practice of fractal design patterns and their parametric instantiation, there is a relocation of the real-virtual body, considered as inseparable from its intricate immersion in the hybrid space.


The Situationists still have much to tell us: we are living in a society that still relies on the same chimerical sleights of hand which the SI described. The culture of digital and virtual technologies, and the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, take the spectacle (and simulation) into new and unchartered galaxies.

The Situationists are in fact much closer to the later Baudrillard’s perspective of “taking the side of objects” than he himself chose to keep in mind or may even have been aware of.

The Situationist practices offer a possible path for “applying Baudrillard” (even in an academic sense, if one considers the “activism of design” to be an academic discipline), making the relatively abstract philosophical and theoretical idea of “taking the side of objects” more concrete, practical and applied.


1) Jean Baudrillard, In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities… or the End of the Social (New York: Semiotext(e): 1983). In the body of the present essay, the years of publication which I cite are those of the original French texts. In these Notes, I cite the dates of publication of available English translations. [back]

2) On “taking the side of objects,” see, for example: Jean Baudrillard, “The Object” in Passwords (London: Verso, 2011), and Jean Baudrillard, Impossible Exchange (London: Verso, 2001). [back]

3) On the world itself as an enigmatic, radical illusion, see, for example: Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime (London: Verso, 1996), and Jean Baudrillard, The Vital Illusion (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000). [back]

4) Jean Baudrillard, The System of Objects (London: Verso, 1996); Jean Baudrillard, The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures (London: Sage, 2016); Jean Baudrillard, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (St. Louis: Telos, 1981). [back]

5) Jean Baudrillard, Fatal Strategies (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983). [back]

6) Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1986); Jean Baudrillard, America (London: Verso, 1988). [back]

7) Alan N. Shapiro, “Jean Baudrillard and Albert Camus on the Simulacrum of Taking a Stance on War,” International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, May 2014;; Alan N. Shapiro, “Baudrillard and Existentialism: Taking the Side of Objects,” International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, July 2016;; William Bogard, The Simulation of Surveillance: Hypercontrol in Telematic Societies (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996). [back]

8) On Marx: Jean Baudrillard, The Mirror of Production (St. Louis: Telos, 1975); on Foucault: Jean Baudrillard, Forget Foucault (New York: Semiotext(e), 1987); Baudrillard writes often, but in passing, on Deleuze: for example, in The Mirror of Production; pp.17-18, Symbolic Exchange and Death (London: Sage, 1993); p.137, Forget Foucault; pp.17-19, and Seduction (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990); p.9; similarly, on Freud, for example, in For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign; p.63, In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities…; pp.87-88, and Seduction; pp.55-57. [back]

9) Alan N. Shapiro, “Baudrillard and Trump: The Fifth Order of Simulacra”; Alan N. Shapiro, “Baudrillard and Trump: Simulation and Object-Orientation, Not True and False” [back]

10) Simon Ford, The Situationist International: A User’s Guide (London: Black Dog, 2006). [back]

11) Lettrismo e Situazionismo: incontri a Livorno (Livorno: Edizioni Peccolo Livorno, 2006). [back]

12) René Viénet, Enragés and Situationists in the Occupation Movement, France, May 1968 (Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 1992); Nanni Balestrini and Primo Moroni, L’orda d’oro. 1968-1977: la grande ondata rivoluzionaria e creativa, politica ed esistenziale (Feltrinelli, 2015); Ken Knabb, Collected Skirmishes (Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 1997). [back]

13) Simon Sadler, The Situationist City (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1998). [back]

14) Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life (Rebel Press, 2001); Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black & Red, 1982). [back]

15) Jeremy Smith, “Society of the Spectacle,” in The Nation, 7 February 2002; Neil Nehring, “The Situationist International in American Hardcore Punk, 1982-2002,” in Popular Music & Society, December 2006; John Harris, “Guy Debord Predicted Our Distracted Society,” in The Guardian, 20 March 2012; Robert Zaretsky, “Trump and the ‘Society of the Spectacle’,” in The New York Times, 20 February 2017. The philosopher Jacques Derrida said: “Debord’s work is read now more than when he was alive… In France he’s read as presenting a precise critique and political analysis of the media, of the becoming-spectacle, the exploitation of the ‘show’ in politics and in the media, television.” Jacques Derrida, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman, Derrida: Screenplay and Essays on the Film (Manchester University Press, 2005). [back]

16) Jean Baudrillard, Cool Memories II: 1987-1990 (Paris: Galilée, 1990); p.131. [back]

17)Judith Williamson, “An Interview with Jean Baudrillard,” Block, 1989; p.18. [back]

18) Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime; p.27. [back]

19) Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (London: Verso, 1998). [back]

20) Jean Baudrillard, “Integral Reality” in The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact (Oxford, UK: Berg, 2005); pp.17-24. [back]

21) Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle; p.9. [back]

22) Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime; p.27. [back]

23 – Mike Gane, ed., Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews (London: Routledge, 1993); p.170. [back]

24) Gianfranco Sanguinetti, On Terrorism and the State: The Theory and Practice of Terrorism Divulged for the First Time (Aldgate Press, 1982); Mario Perniola, I situazionisti. Il movimento che ha profetizzato la ‘Società dello spettacolo’ (Castelvecchi, 2005); Chris Carlsson, ed., Bad Attitude: The Processed World Anthology (London: Verso, 1990); Mind Invaders: A Reader in Psychic Warfare, Cultural Sabotage and Semiotic Terrorism (Serpent’s Tail London, 1997). [back]

25) Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism (Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 1985); Tiqqun, Organe de liaison au sein du Parti Imaginaire – Zone d’Opacité Offensive (Les Belles-Lettres, 2001). [back]

26) Timothy J. Clark, Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999). [back]

27) Raoul Vaneigem, The Book of Pleasures (Left Bank Books, 1984); Raoul Vaneigem, Letters to My Children and the Children of the World to Come (PM Press, 2018); Raoul Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit (Zone Books, 1998). [back]

28) Guy Debord, Panegyric (London: Verso, 1991). [back]

29) Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997). [back]

30) Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle; pp.11-12,18-19. [back]

31) Douglas Kellner and Steven Best, The Postmodern Turn (The Guilford Press, 1997). [back]

32) Sadie Plant, The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Postmodern Age (London: Routledge, 1992). [back]

33) Mike Gane, Baudrillard: Critical and Fatal Theory (London: Routledge, 1991). [back]

34) Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime; p.27. [back]

35) Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime; p.27. [back]

36) Ratgeb, De la grève sauvage à l’autogestion généralisée (Éditions 10-18, 1974). [back]

37) Baz Kershaw, The Radical in Performance: Between Brecht and Baudrillard (London: Routledge, 1999); David Caute, The Illusion: An Essay on Politics, Theatre and the Novel (New York: Harper & Row, 1972). [back]

38) Sadie Plant, The Most Radical Gesture; p.150. The exact quote is: “Postmodern philosophers are the sold-out situationists who wander without purpose.” [back]

39) Sadie Plant, The Most Radical Gesture; p.154. [back]

40) Jean Baudrillard, Fragments: Conversations with François L’Yvonnet (London: Routledge, 2004). [back]

41) Guy Debord, “Theory of the Dérive,” in Ken Knabb, ed., Situationist International Anthology (Berkeley, CA: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006). [back]

42) Jean Baudrillard, Impossible Exchange (London: Verso, 2001). [back]

43) Guy Debord, “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography,” in Ken Knabb, ed., Situationist International Anthology (Berkeley, CA: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006). [back]

44) Guy Debord and Gil J. Wolman, “A User’s Guide to Détournement,” in Ken Knabb, ed., Situationist International Anthology (Berkeley, CA: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006). [back]

45) Zweckentfremdung: for example, in the German translation of the Simon Ford book: Simon Ford, Die Situationistische Internationale: Eine Gebrauchsanleitung (Hamburg: Edition Nautilus, 2007); p.35. Attila Kotányi and Raoul Vaneigem, “Basic Program of the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism,” in Ken Knabb, ed., Situationist International Anthology (Berkeley, CA: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006). [back]

46) Jean Baudrillard, The Ecstasy of Communication (New York: Semiotext(e), 1988); p.80. [back]

47) Guy Debord, “Report on the Construction of Situations,” in Ken Knabb, ed., Situationist International Anthology (Berkeley, CA: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006). [back]

48) Jean Baudrillard, “Kool Killer: or the Insurrection of Signs,” in Symbolic Exchange and Death (London: Sage, 1993). [back]

49) Jean Baudrillard, The Conspiracy of Art: Manifestos, Interviews, Essays (New York: Semiotext(e), 2005). [back]

50) Jean Baudrillard, “The End of the End: Interview with John Johnston,” in Mike Gane, ed., Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews (London: Routledge, 1993). “The Matrix Decoded: Le Nouvel Observateur Interview With Jean Baudrillard,” in International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, July 2004; [back]

51) Gerry Coulter, From Achilles to Zarathustra: Jean Baudrillard on Theorists, Artists, Intellectuals & Others (intertheory press, 2016). [back]

52) Jean Baudrillard, The Ecstasy of Communication; pp.16-21, passim. [back]