Rachel Greenwald Smith on the Treacherous Common Territories of Literary Culture and Capitalism
Ardor characterizes Anderson’s tone, but it also becomes a value in and of itself in her editorial work. “I loathe compromise, and yet I have been compromising in every issue by putting in things that were ‘almost good’ or ‘interesting enough’ or ‘important,’” she writes in this particular issue. “There will be no more of it.”
Against “good poems” she wants to publish capital-A Art, art that goes beyond simply being the best version of itself. Notably diverging from Poetry magazine’s Open Door policy, Anderson believed that truly great art was not a matter of individual quality; it was a matter of ferocity of commitment. She wanted art that could knock a person over, art that “uses up all the life it can get.” She invokes the modernist credo “art for art’s sake,” but in an avant-garde reversal insists that this means not a retreat from the world of politics and history but a commitment to it. “Revolution is Art,” she explains. “You want free people just as you want the Venus that was modelled by the sea.”
A howl erupts from the body, out into the world. From the flesh of the animal howling, its musicality rides the air, unseen but undeniably there.
A cough or a sneeze releases tiny particles of a disease named Covid-19 from the body, a presence that can ride upon the air and infect those who cannot see it, or deny its presence. It is not a friend to those animals it makes its host – perhaps it has become a friend to authoritarian governments however? Or has it been a monkeywrench in the machine, undermining political-narratives and creating issues for the state? Perhaps neither? Perhaps both? We do not pretend to know, with any quality of definiteness.
We know that we encounter the body as beautiful. We feel a desire for the bodily presence of living beings. If eroticism is assenting to life up to the point of death, as Bataille defines eroticism, there is an erotic quality to our life-desire. What does desire, eroticism, or love mean amidst a pandemic? Is this space that we find ourselves in the best or the worst space for love poetry? Again, we do not pretend to know.
For the fourth issue of The Night Forest Journal, we are asking for submissions on the body, biopolitics and Covid-19. As with previous issues, we will accept poems, essays, short stories and visual art for this project. Suggested areas of focus are –
Health and wellbeing
Love, sex and desire in the pandemic
Free-love during lockdowns
Conspiracy and the art of seduction
Vaccine passports and (micro-)nationalism
We will publish up to 3 submissions from each contributor, but will consider any submissions sent to us. There is no limit in length of poems or essays. Submissions can be sent to us via email@example.com or via our social-media presences. The deadline for submissions is the winter solstice 2021.
With escalating reports of species extinction, the loss of habitats, and now a global pandemic, many people are waking up to the grief and loss that have threaded through the work Dark Mountain Project since it began. During a decade of descent, the books have appeared like small arks bobbing on a dark ocean, containers for creative work that mourns both ecological and cultural collapse and celebrates the beauty of a vanishing world.
Our core question we took with us as we began this voyage: How can we face and properly lament what has gone?
Shrouded, like a moth inside its cocoon, this collection sets out to hold ways to collectively mourn the loss not only of our fellow humans, but the wild world that has always succoured us. Our forebears knew the effect the dead have on life and the importance of grieving, of keeping the dead close. Our task was to find the words and images that mark the loss in ways we might have forgotten but still lie deep buried within us: how we might, like Caroline Ross, fashion our own Grave Goods out of deerskin and bronze, occupy the Houses of the Dead as in Fawzia Kane’s poems, and bear witness as Stephanie Krzywonos does, watching a penguin walk to its death in the arid Antarctic interior. How we can encounter the currents of the mythic beneath the ordinary world on a South Dakota highway as Samantha Wallen reminds us in The Death Mother.
The book has been created as a memorial by 60+ artists and writers, a gathering of testimonies from people and places, grief walkers and haunted lands. Ringed by the ashes of the burned forests of Australia and the Americas, entwined with the now-vanished tree roots of Deru Anding’s native Borneo, it enshrines the broken bones of dead creatures, reconfigured in ceremonial staffs by Jim Carter or intricately observed drawings by Kathryn Poole, the fallen feathers of the gyrfalcon, the wren and the black grouse, the testimonies of ancient grains and antediluvian fossils, wreathed by leaves of roseroot from Greenland and milkweed seeds from Ontario, the sharp scent of Mexican marigolds that light our way to the Underworld.
Words and images to take with us as companions into the dark…
The world has been a strange place since the release of the second issue of our journal. This strange quality has permeated near all aspects of civilisation, in more ways than we could articulate here. In a very long book, the philosopher Schopenhauer described poetry as being greater than history, as history can only account for a generalised description of the world (re-presented at a distance), while poetry articulates the experience of living in a moment, as the experiencer seeks to express ir. So, while these words are not a generalised totalising narrative of the experience of being in the world, they are expressions that these individuals wished to articulate, of their experience of this strange world.
This announcement is not for just one release, but for two. Alongside the release of our third journal, we are releasing a collection of poems written by Phen Weston and Julian Langer. To all of those who have contributed to the journal, we are sincerely grateful to receive your words. To all of you who may read these collections, we hope you find some beauty in these works.
Welcome to the world’s singlemost comprehensive source of writings by Francis E. Dec!Below are housed Mr. Dec’s rants – illustrated by me – along with other correspondence written by the man throughout his life. While rants by Dec have been available online in the past, this web site is unique in that it contains material by Dec available nowhere else and which has never before been seenby his fans! Most, if not all of this new material was graciously donated to the Fanclub in late 2008. Dec’s legal correspondence, also available below, was dug up from various government archives during 2006 and 2007 by dedicated Decologist Ted Torbich!
Forgive me if I seem … not myself. I’ve been traveling in dark realms, lurking in shadows, trembling in liminal spaces where the imagination turns on itself and consciousness seems more a burden than a blessing. I have glimpsed, however briefly, the invisible, the unspeakable, the unknowable. In short, I have been reading Thomas Ligotti.
If you haven’t heard of Thomas Ligotti, you’re not alone. Despite winning three Braham Stoker Awards and amassing a devoted following among fans of supernatural horror and weird fiction, the reclusive American author remains a relatively obscure figure in the contemporary literary landscape.
On a sunny morning in early 2000, Joseph Matheny woke up to find conspiracy theorists camped out on his lawn again. He was making coffee when he noticed a face peering in a ground-floor window of the small, three-story building he rented in Santa Cruz. Past the peeper, there were three other men in their early 20s loitering awkwardly. Matheny sighed and stepped outside. He already knew what they wanted. They wanted to know the truth about Ong’s Hat. They wanted the secret to interdimensional travel.
It is rare for an art movement to be completely original. The go forward meanings of avant-garde do not mean that its movements are a tabula rasa and this is certainly true for Situationism. Spurred by many previous concepts, this artistic and political movement started emerging during the early 1960s in France and it experimented with the idea of constructing a situation – hence the name. Constructing a situation was setting up an environment favorable for the fulfillment of a particular desire. This was the main concept for all representatives of Situationism. All of the initial theories concerning the development of this movement came from an organization called Situationist International (often referred to simply as SI) – a group whose activities we shell investigate to detail in the remainder of this text.
It should be noted that Situationism as an art movement did not produce too many artworks – as a matter of fact, if one somehow takes Asger Jorn and his pieces out of the Situationist equation, the movement’s output is next to none. However, Situationism is credited with providing some of the most revolutionary theories at the time, concepts that heavily impacted the art scenes for decades. Many of their game-changing ideas can still be found in today’s contemporary art. With all of that being said, we will now investigate how the Situationist International group and Situationism as a movement came to be, as well as exploring just how influential they were to art history.
Destroy The NORM! – Image via cvltnation.com
Origins of Situationism
Situationism was not born overnight nor out of thin air. Originally, it emerged as a part of Lettrism, a movement whose members were operating in the late 1940’s Paris. Naturally, the Lettrist leader Isidore Isou, a Romanian-born French poet and visual artist, had a massive impact on the development and emergence of Situationism. The Lettrists were heavily influenced by Dadaism, Surrealism and the general idea of avant-garde which aimed at challenging everything deemed as traditional. With such goals in mind, members of Lettrism attempted to apply critical theories based on these concepts to all aspects of the arts and culture. Their main guiding star was the lettrie, a term that set the very title of the movement. Lettrie was a style of poem writing which reflected pure form yet was devoid of all semantic content, a characteristic which Lettrists desired to implement in other kinds of art-making.
During the year of 1952, the radically left wing of the Lettrist movement, which actually included Guy Debord who will become the key founder of Situationism, broke off from Isou’s organization and formed the Letterist International, a new Paris-based collective of avant-garde artists and political theorists. This new artistic and literary movement will prove to be pivotal for Situationism as it provided the roots for what would become many of the key theories behind SI. The main concept which was adopted was the new theory of psychogeography – the feelings evoked in the individual by their current surroundings. Detournement also emerged at this point. This was the idea of recontextualizing an existing work of art or literature in order to radically shift its meaning to a new one which had revolutionary significance.
Isidore Isou – Hypergraphie, 1964 – Image via macda.cat
Emancipation From Lettrism
The official Situationist International was fully formed in the year of 1956. At that time, numerous members of the Lettrist International made contact with several different creative collectives at the First World Congress of Free Artists in Alba, Italy. Here, many young thinkers found common ground and they decided to fuse themselves in a new organization which was intended to represent their ideas better than their current groups (most members were from the Lettrist International, the London Psychogeographical Asociation and the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus). Slowly but surely emerging as the leader of the new collective, Guy Debord wrote the newly-formed Situationist International’s manifesto in the June of 1956, titling it Report on the Construction of Situations and heavily combining the agreed concepts with the ideas of Karl Marx. This is one of the reasons why SI always had problems with many aspects of capitalism. The entire manifesto was also underlined by a strong sense of Surrealism, meaning that Andre Breton also had a huge indirect say in the matter. Besides Debord, other notable members of the who have been with the Situationist International from the very start were theorist Raoul Vaneigem, the Dutch painter Constant Nieuwenhuys, the Italo-Scottish writer Alexander Trocchi, the English artist Ralph Rumney, the aforementioned Danish artist Asger Jorn, the architect Attila Kotanyi and the French writer Michele Bernstein.
It was from here on out that the Situationist International started to heavily influence arts, politics and urbanism. Its advocation of a cultural revolution and creation of Situationism made it the perfect backdrop to influence popular culture. One of their main interests was making a person living in the capitalist system see art as part of their daily living. The first four years of the Situationist International were marked mostly by the collaborations and theories presented by Guy Debord and Asger Jorn as the two unofficially became SI’s de facto leaders. The two wanted to invoke a cultural revolution within the Western society. Although the group would later swim into much more political waters than it was first intended, the Situationist International had an enormous influence on the art scenes across Europe.
The Situationist International manifesto – Image via pinterest.com
The Role of Situationism Within Art
The connection between Situationism and art is extremely diverse because the members of the group came from such different backgrounds. That fact makes Situationism one of the most interesting gems of modern history to explore, but it also poses a challenge to anyone interested in such an endeavor. Another troubling occurrence to confidently analyzing the art of Situationism is that a number of members never stayed steady with their conceptual basis, constantly evolving alongside the collective.
Primarily, the SI rejected all art forms which were autonomous and detached from politics. Naturally, this led to a new definition of what art actually is, a fact that often connects the actions of SI with early Conceptualism. Guy Debord and early Situationism was heavily based on the aforementioned concept of psychogeography, presented in Guy’s Psychogeographique de Paris. In it, he took a map of the city of Paris, cut it into pieces and glued different parts together. Among other things, the newly formed map was supposed to indicate locations which were able to evoke most emotions from people standing there. Also, this version of the city is thought to be a series of linked transformable structures which were able to adapt to current needs of art. This concept became instrumental to the early French street art scene which will soon start to be emerging on the creative wings of Ernest Pignon-Ernest.
Another important novelty Situationism introduced was also pivotal for urban art as we know it today – members of the Si were the one of the first to use graffiti. These were short and powerful statements, such as the one from 1952 when Guy wrote Ne travaillez jamais! (Never work!) on various locations in Paris. Via such interventions, representatives of Situationism were using public space, altering it in order to convey a message to the public. Situationism also introduced the roots of performance art, a medium that was later continued by Fluxus artists. This form of expression also explored the way surroundings could be used in order to send a clear message to the observers.
Asger Jorn – Letter to my Son – Image via tate.org.uk
Posters, Collages and Hypergraphy
A very modern form of artworks commonly found within the SI’s creative arsenal was their work with comics, posters and publications. Through their guerilla tactics, members would paste their propaganda around urban surroundings, often using popular comics with changed content placed in the speech bubbles. This misappropriation was called détournement. Situationism presented some new utilizations for the medium of collage as well. Asger Jorn was the one who stood out in that department. He used collages in his films as well as for his technique in which he would cover up some aspects of famous paintings, therefore changing the context of the piece.
Another interesting novelty SI adapted to their own requirements was the so-called hypergraphy, also known as metagraphics. This method was based on merging poetry and graphics, combining text and visual ways of communication. The technique was originally developed by the Lettrist movement and Asger Jorn was the one to work with it the most until he left the SI in 1961. He left because of his worsening health and disagreements concerning the events that we shall soon discuss. The moment Jorn abandoned the SI’s artistic cause is the moment many experts agree that Situationism in its finest form ceased to exist. Although he lacked the personal warmth and persuasiveness to draw people of different nationalities and talents into an active working partnership, Jorn was the creative motor of the Situationist International.
Situationist Détournement – Image via bp.com
The Year of 1968 and the End of SI
After Jorn abandoned the SI, the group basically consisted almost exclusively of the Franco-Belgian section, led by Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem. These two were much more comfortable with political theories then creating pieces of art, so the entire organization was shifted to accommodate such tendencies. Observed from an artistic perspective, the group which founded the Situationism was doing next to nothing to advance it from that point on.
One of the group’s favorite activities during their political period was visiting various institutions and scandalizing the capitalistic authorities – a kind of project which placed the members in the heart of the 1968 uprisings. The May of that year was a volatile period of civil unrest in France, punctuated by demonstrations and massive general strikes as well as the occupation of universities and factories across the land. The protests reached such a point that political leaders feared civil war or revolution and many believed that the chaos was a direct result of SI’s activities. Ultimately, the chaos of 1968 served as a series of events that cemented the Situationist International as a capable and noteworthy political organization. After the uprising was brought to a halt, SI became notorious and lost many members. By the year of 1972, Gianfranco Sanguinetti and Guy Debord were the only two remaining members of the SI. The entire organization was dissolved that same year.
Graffiti in the University of Lyon, May 1968 – Image via wikipedia.org
Effects Situationism had on Arts, Politics and Culture
As was said earlier, Situationism did not produce too many artworks, instead focusing on developing theories that had deep and long lasting effects on modern art. Other aspects of culture were affected as well – for example, Debord’s analysis of the spectacle has been influential among people working on television and the emergence of punk subculture was also inspired by the SI’s theories. The development of advertisement as we know it today also owes a lot of its aspects to Situationism.
Since much of SI’s efforts were focused on politics, it comes as no surprise that this was the field that felt their influence the most. Communists and other leftists were fascinated with Situationism and its ideas, regularly incorporating their concepts within their political guides. Dislocating the SI’s concepts from Marxism, anarchists also held some aspects of Situationism in high regard, allowing it to influence both the music industry and all levels of punk design.
As for art scenes, it is possible to trace Situationist ideas within the development of other avant-garde threads such as Neoism, as well as artists such as Mark Divo. As it was mentioned before, SI’s theories helped set the course of the French street art scene which later served as an inspiration for urban interventionists on a global level. Due to its concepts of using an environment, SI also impacted the rise and evolution of Installation art, as well as Performance. Ultimately, Situationism as an art movement offered the authors a new perspective that was applicable to all levels and kinds of art making, proving that avant-garde was far from dead and that pieces of art were more than capable of playing a pivotal role within our societies. Situationist International may have turned a lot of its attention to politics, but their true legacy can be found echoing throughout art history.
Editors’ Tip:What is Situationism?: A Reader
This anthology gathers together a broad range of critical material about the Situationist International. The texts run sequentially according to date of original publication, thereby providing an overview of the way in which situationism has been historicised in the Anglo-American world. A wealth of historical and interpretative information is provided by various contributors. This plurality of voices ranges from underground legends to art theorists, ultra-leftists to professional academics, whose opinions blend and clash to provide a book that is far more vibrant than a conventional monograph. Contributors include Sadie Plant, Chris Gray, Bob Black, Alastair Bonnett, Stewart Home, Jean Barrot and George Robertson. Ultimately, this book offers an overview and analysis of Situationism, one of the most interesting art movements of the second half of the 20th century.
Elliot, K., Situationism in a nutshell, Barbelith Webzine, 2008
Barrot, J., What is Situationism?, Flatland, 1991
Knabb, K., Situationist International Anthology, Bureau of Public Secrets; Revised & Expanded edition, 2006
Nabuco, J., Situationism: A Compendium Kindle Edition, Schiffer Publishing, 2012
Debord, G., Chtcheglov, I., Jorn, A., Vaneigem, R., Khayati, M., What is Situationism? A Reader, AK Press; 1st US, 2001
Featured Images: Guy Debord, Michèle Bernstein and Asgar Jorn – Image via spike.com; Guy Debord – Naked City – Image via pinimg.com; Asger Jorn – Photo of the artist in a studio – Image via pinimg.com