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By Piao, Lin

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T H E PO ETICS OF P ESS I M I SM The i n itial task of the spectacle is to encourage con sumption. By the time Debord came to write, however, that task had been more than fu l fi l led: people were already skil led, even compu lsive, consumers, and it was this aspect of l i fe that drove him to revolutionary rage. Consumption has become compu lsory, he argues ( Debord 1 977: (II 42-3 J. Consumerism was needed at fi rst to cope with a curious crisis that capitalism undergoes from time to t i me: a crisis of overproduction.

No matter how often he was brought into pol ice custody. no matter how radical his thought or his life, Sartre had become. from that moment on. a brand name. The authentic ity which he sought was now a kind of chic, which came with the books and the public image, j ust as it comes with Yves St Laurent jackets. I n the society of the spectacle, even authenticity becomes a marketable imagc of itself. Think, for example, of the 'authentic' voices of inner urban rap artists blaring from the in-car stereos of white suburban youths.

The tranformat ion of 11£II 'illg illlll (/pp('(/rillg, where the material object gi ves way to its representation as sign. ( Best 1 994: 4X ) To understand how Debord ' s sometimes cryptic, always thorny arguments arrive at this radical, and in some ways radicall y pessimistic, summary of the existing state of affairs. we wi l l have to take a brief course in dialectics. You cou ld say that modern European hi story. especially World War II and the Cold War that fol lowed. was a struggle between political tendencies over the correct interpretation of Hegel ( see Cassirer 1 946: 249), the most pol itical ly influential philosopher of modern times.

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