B U R E A U   O F   P U B L I C   S E C R E T S


Confessions of a Mild-Mannered
Enemy of the State

Part 2 (1969-1977)


How I became a situationist
A fresh start
The “Notice” group
The breaking of a fellowship



How I became a situationist

In our reading of recent anarchist literature Ron and I came upon several mentions of the Situationist International (SI), a small but notorious group that had played a key role in catalyzing the May 1968 revolt in France. I vaguely remembered having seen some situationist texts a year or so before, but at the time I had put them back on the shelf after a brief glance had given me the impression that this was just one more variant of the European ideological systems (Marxism, surrealism, existentialism, etc.) that seemed so old hat after psychedelics. In December 1969 we again came across some situationist pamphlets in a local bookstore, and this time of course we did read them.

We were immediately struck by how different they were from the simplistic propagandistic style of most anarchist writings. The situationist style seemed rather strange and tortuous, but it was extremely provocative, clearly aimed more at undermining people’s habits and illusions than at merely converting them to some vague and more or less passive “libertarian perspective.” At first we were bewildered, but as we reread and discussed the texts we gradually began to see how it all fit together. The situationists seemed to be the missing link between different aspects of revolt. Striving for a more radical social revolution than was dreamt of by most leftists, they simultaneously attacked the absurdities of modern culture and the boredom of everyday life (picking up where the dadaists and surrealists had left off). Total iconoclasts, they rejected all ideologies — including Marxism, anarchism, and even “situationism” — and simply adopted or adapted whatever insights they found pertinent. While carrying on the traditional anarchist opposition to the state, they had developed a more comprehensive analysis of modern society, a more rigorously antihierarchical organizational practice, and a more consistent attack on the system’s conditioning of people into passive followers and spectators. (Their name came from their original aim of creating open-ended, participatory “situations” as opposed to fixed works of art.) Last but not least, they emphatically rejected the “politics of guilt,” the whole idea of basing revolution on self-sacrifice, self-flagellation and martyr worship.

A couple months later Ron and I came across some situationist-style leaflets by a local group with the intriguing name Council for the Eruption of the Marvelous. We wrote to them proposing a meeting. They accepted, and the next day we met two of them. They answered our questions briefly but lucidly, made sharp criticisms of most of our vague projects, and dismissed our anarchism as just another ideology which would inhibit us from doing anything significant. Quick to express their contempt for just about everything that passed as radical, they clearly knew what they were talking about and meant exactly what they said. Yet it was obvious that despite their seriousness they were having a lot of fun. Their own agitational practice, consisting primarily of critical interventions in various situations, seemed to combine careful calculation with a delightful sense of mischievousness. Having made it quite clear that they did not intend to waste their time with any additional efforts to convince us, they left.

We were stunned, but also aroused. Even if we were not sure we agreed with them on some points, their autonomy was a practical challenge. If they could put out leaflets expressing their own views, why couldn’t we?

We went back to Ron’s place, turned on, and each wrote one. Mine was a collage of anarchist and situationist slogans followed by a list of recommended books; his was a satire of the way revolution was being turned into a trite spectacle. We mimeoed 1500 copies of each and handed them out on Telegraph Avenue near the University. Abstract though this action was, just creating something and getting it out there was an exciting breakthrough.

Over the next couple months we carried out several other leaflet experiments. I wrote one on the theme that people should never relinquish their power to leaders, which I distributed at the apropos film Viva Zapata, and put together a comic on the mindless, ritualistic nature of militant street fighting in Berkeley. Ron wrote a review of Buber’s Paths in Utopia and a critique of an inept classroom disruption carried out by some of our anarchist acquaintances. These interventions were all pretty rudimentary, but by noting the various reactions they provoked we gradually got a better feel for confronting issues publicly. There was a progression toward greater incisiveness and criticality.

During this same period we attempted to find some viable compromise between our hangloose countercultural milieu and the rigorous extremism of the situationists (at least as we somewhat confusedly understood it). We had numerous discussions with friends aimed at inciting them to some sort of radical experimentation, but though some of them were vaguely intrigued by our “new trip,” virtually none of them responded with any initiative. If nothing else, these confrontations at least served as good self-clarifications. We were becoming so involved in our new ventures that we had little interest in continuing relations on the old terms.

As for the anarchists we had been hanging around with, just as they had made no demands on us, they expected us to make none on them. When we offered a few mild critiques (far milder than the CEM had made of us) they reacted defensively. We began to see that despite its pertinent insights, anarchism functioned as just one more ideology, complete with its own set of fetishized ideas and heroes. After months of discussions and study groups, the grouping had not proved capable even of carrying out any of the reprinting projects, much less of starting a bookstore. We concluded that if we wanted anything done we’d better do it ourselves; and that autonomous interventions were more likely to strike a chord than distributing a few more copies of anarchist classics.

We rarely saw the CEM, but were occasionally informed of some of their delightfully scandalous interventions, whose combination of the situationist tactic of détournement with a dash of surrealist and William Burroughs influence was theorized in their pamphlet On Wielding the Subversive Scalpel: lampooning the spectacular role of sacrificial militants with a leaflet showing the Chicago Eight being crucified; going from door to door in a plastic suburb, dressed in suit and tie, delivering a tract exhorting the recipients to drop everything and get a life; disrupting a local Godard appearance with rotten tomatoes and bilingual leaflets; handing out packets of trading cards featuring stereotypical roles (housewife, sparechange artist, hip merchant, etc.) and “Great Moments in the Void” (traffic jam, supermarket shopping, watching TV).

We also met two emissaries of another situationist-influenced group from Massachusetts, the Council for Conscious Existence. The CCE was less humorous and surrealistic than the CEM, but equally intense, intransigent and iconoclastic. Their example reinforced the CEM challenge to call in question everything out of our past, including all our previous idols.

One of my few remaining heroes was Gary Snyder. I could agree that most of the movement and counterculture leaders were hierarchical manipulators or spectacular confusionists, but Snyder still seemed to me almost totally admirable. In any case I had the common misconception that in order to have the right to criticize someone I should myself be better, and I scarcely thought I could compare myself with Snyder.

Then one day I learned that he was coming to Berkeley to give a reading of his poetry. Previously this would have been one of the high points of my year. Now I was uncertain. Did I still think such an event was a good thing? Or was it “spectacular” — did it contribute toward people’s passivity, complacency, star worship? After a little thought I decided that the most appropriate way to come to terms with this question would be to compose a leaflet to distribute at the event — thereby at the same time challenging others involved. The time limit was also a good challenge: the reading was in three days.

In making notes I started out with rather moderate criticism. But the more I considered the whole situation, the more radically I began to question it. Up till this time I had accepted Snyder as a spectacular package — his life and writings were “inspirational” to me, but only in a vague, general sort of way. Now I realized that if he had said something I thought was useful, the point was to use it. If he said something I felt was mistaken, I should point it out. It seemed particularly appropriate if I could turn some of his most valid remarks against other aspects of his practice that fell short.

Each little step opened the way for more. It went against the grain to “ruin” my prized picture of Snyder and his friends by cutting it out and pasting it on the leaflet; but once I had “detourned” it by adding the comic balloons, my fetishism disappeared. Now it was just an image, interesting only because I could use it to undermine other people’s fetishism. I laughed at myself as I broke through my own psychological resistances, just as I laughed to think how this or that aspect of the leaflet would meet with uneasy puzzlement on the part of the people who received it. If what I came up with seemed bizarre or awkward, so what? I was creating my own genre, and there were no rules but the desire to get to the root of the situation and expose it in the most challenging way possible.

I finished the leaflet [Do We Need Snyder for Poet-Priest?] just before the reading and had a hundred copies printed. As I approached the auditorium, nervously clutching them under my arm, I became hesitant. Wasn’t this too extreme? How did I dare attack Gary Snyder this way? He himself was more or less an anarchist; he wasn’t trying to recruit anyone to anything; he wasn’t even charging any money. Had I gone off the deep end? I decided to sit down and listen to the beginning and see what it felt like.

There was an audience of several hundred people. Snyder started off by saying that before he got under way with the poetry he’d like to “say a few words about the revolution.” He made a few remarks on that topic which were a bit vague, but not bad. When he finished, the audience applauded.

That did it. Nothing could have made the spectacular nature of the whole occasion more clear. The applause was the glaring sign that his words would not be taken up practically, but would merely serve as one more tidbit for passive titillation. (People would probably go home after the reading and tell their friends, “He not only read a lot of great poems, but he even said some far out stuff about revolution!”) I was outraged at the situation. The most insulting aspects of my leaflet were only too appropriate. I took them out, threw them into the crowd and ran away. I had no further interest in anything Snyder might say, and I did not wish the incisiveness of my act to be diluted by a debate with the audience as to what alternatives I had to propose. That was their problem.

People sometimes ask if situationists “do” anything or if they “just write.” I had had this same misconception — I had felt that I wasn’t sure what to do, but that meanwhile it might be helpful to write the leaflet in order to clarify matters. It was only afterwards that I realized I had done something. If a critique really stirs even a few people to stop and think, to see through some illusion, to reconsider some practice, perhaps even provokes them to new ventures of their own, this is already a very worthwhile and practical effect — how many “actions” do as much? I saw that the insistence on being “constructive” was just a shuck that intimidated people from confronting their own condition; and that a critique (as opposed to a self-righteous moral condemnation) need not imply one’s own superiority. If we had to be better than others before criticizing them, the “best” people would never be criticized at all (and hierarchs tend to define the issues in such a way that they remain on top). It didn’t matter how talented or wise or well-intentioned Snyder was. If the purpose of poetry is to “change life,” I felt there was more poetry in my act than in any poem he might read that evening.

I will be the first to admit that this particular intervention was inept and probably had no notable effect on anyone but myself. Though the leaflet was clear enough in attacking passive consumership of culture, the social perspective on which this attack was based was only vaguely implied. (The “Ode on the Absence of Real Poetry” that I put out a few months later was more explicit on this score, but also more stodgy.)

The action was also a flop as a disruption. I had searched in vain for some balcony-type place from which I could drop the leaflets over the whole audience, so as to create a “critical mass” situation in which everyone would be intrigued into reading them at the same time. I could have achieved the same result a little less dramatically by barging through all sections of the audience. Nowadays I would think nothing of doing that, but back then I was new at the game and didn’t have the nerve. As a result of my more timid distribution, only a fraction of the people got the leaflets, and (as I was later told by some friends who were there) after a few seconds’ pause the reading continued, with most of the rest of the audience probably assuming that it was merely some run-of-the-mill leaflet about Black Studies or the Vietnam war.

But whatever effect my action had on the audience, it was very illuminating for me. As I ran from the auditorium I felt like a child again, as excited as a grade school kid playing a prank. My real breakthrough in grasping the situationist perspective dates from that moment. I had already learned a lot from reading situationist texts; and from the example of the CEM (who after sharply criticizing my previous confusions had wisely left me on my own to work out what I was going to do next); and from my experiments over the previous months. But pulling the rug out from under my own passivity and star-worship had the most liberating effect of all. The fact that I had picked what was for me just about the hardest conceivable target made the experience the biggest turning point of my life.

The CEM members were aware of my admiration for Snyder. When I later showed them the leaflet, one of them said, “Hmm. I see you’ve been subverting yourself as well as others!” We all grinned.



In June the CEM broke up. The group had contained divergent tendencies, some of the members were not as autonomous or committed as others, and some of their ideological contradictions could never in any case have lasted very long before exploding. After the breakup two of the ex-members, Isaac Cronin and Dan Hammer, went to Paris and New York to meet members of the SI.

Meanwhile Ron and I formed our own two-person group (later referred to as “1044” after our P.O. box number). He moved in with me in July and for the next few months we lived communally, in accordance with the mistaken impression we had derived from the CCE and CEM that this was de rigueur for a situationist-type organization. Actually, although the SI was very strict about internal group democracy and avoidance of hierarchy, SI membership did not imply any such economic pooling or any sacrifice of privacy or independence in other personal affairs. We soon found that our puristic misconception was not very workable, though the experience of living and working together more closely than usual was interesting in some ways.

Our mystification about coherent organization was linked with a rather apocalyptic notion of coherent practice. Our little In This Theater text, with its evocation of Vaneigem’s “unitary triad” of participation, communication and realization (see The Revolution of Everyday Life, chapter 23), hints at our state of mind at the time. We knew that the separations in our lives could not be definitively overcome short of a revolution, but we felt we could make a significant breakthrough by attacking the separations in a unitary manner. The Snyder disruption had been such a revelation to me that I, in particular, tended to overemphasize such experience as the “one thing needful,” imagining that if others could only make a similar qualitative leap they too would discover the whole new world of possibilities of the “reversal of perspective.” In my eagerness to incite people into such ventures I often became too pedagoguish, a bad habit that has persisted to this day. I still think that people need to take autonomous initiatives if they are ever going to break out of their conditioning, but as a practical matter being preachy and pushy seldom leads them to do so. As I noted above, one of the merits of the CEM was that they did not hang over our shoulders with wise advice, but simply made a few incisive critiques and then left us on our own. After a number of mostly fruitless efforts to arouse our friends, Ron and I learned to do likewise.

At our first encounter with the CEM delegates they had brought along a cassette recorder and taped our entire conversation. This was partly so that the other members of their group could listen to it later, but also because they found it useful to constantly review their own practice. Ron and I tried recording some of our own talks with friends, noting where we had talked too much, become stilted, responded inadequately, etc. The general idea was to become more conscious of whatever we were doing, to recognize and break up undesirable habits by altering habitual forms. Other methods we used included doing “circle talks” (three or more people sit in a circle and each person talks only in turn); putting more things in writing (challenging ourselves to better organize our ideas); and detourning comics (taking comics from which we had whited out the original words and filling in the balloons with new ones — composing a new story on a given theme, or copying in randomly selected passages from situationist or other writings). In our most extensive venture of this sort we set aside one entire day for an intensively and arbitrarily scheduled series of activities (successive brief periods of reading, letter writing, brainstorming, drawing, cooking, eating, automatic writing, dancing, house cleaning, translating, play acting, leaflet composing, comic altering, gardening, meditation, exercise, rest, discussion, jamming), then spent the next week writing up a ten-page account of the experience, which we printed in a private edition of a dozen copies to give to a few friends.

Lest this add to the many misconceptions of “what situationists do,” I should stress that this was only a one-time experiment and that the various other activities mentioned here were not necessarily typical of the situ milieu in general.(1) While SI-influenced groups tended to be fairly experimental in both everyday life and political agitation, the types of experimentation varied considerably. Some of our ventures reflected our American countercultural background more than would have been typical of our European counterparts. We were, of course, quite aware of the limits of such experiments. But liberating even a little space for even a brief period of time gives you a taste for more. You develop the knack of playing with different possibilities instead of assuming that the status quo is inevitable, and you get a more concrete sense of the social and psychological obstacles that stand in your way. The advantage of private experiments is that within their limits you can try anything without any risk but the salutary one of embarrassing your ego. The same principles apply, but obviously with more need for caution, in public activity.

Our public ventures included several experiments with détournement, the situationist tactic of diverting cultural fragments to new subversive uses. One of my creations was a comic balloon printed on stickum paper, designed to be pasted over ad posters so that the usual stereotypically beautiful woman model would be making a critique of the manipulative function of her image: “Hello, men! I’m a picture of a woman that doesn’t exist. But my body corresponds to a stereotype you have been conditioned to desire. Since your wife or girlfriend is unlikely to look as I do, you are naturally frustrated. The people who put me up here have got you just where they want you — by the balls. With your ‘manhood’ challenged, you’re putty in their hands. . . .” (If I may say so myself, I think this way of turning spectacular manipulation against itself is more illuminating than the usual merely reactive complaints such as “This ad exploits women” — as if such ads didn’t also exploit and manipulate men.) I also took advantage of the openness of an open poetry reading to read a lengthy critique of the limits of merely literary poetry, Ode on the Absence of Real Poetry Here This Afternoon, to the puzzlement and disgruntlement of the other poets present, who by the rules of the game had to sit there and listen politely to my “poem” without interrupting.

Ron wrote a pamphlet analyzing a recent Chicano riot in Los Angeles [Riot and Representation], and on a lark signed it “by Herbert Marcuse.” This resulted in the pamphlet’s getting a wider readership, both at first, when people assumed that Marcuse was really the author, then after Marcuse had been forced to publicly disavow it, when even more people became intrigued by all the speculations as to who could have perpetrated such a strange prank. To add to the fun we wrote a series of pseudonymous letters to the editors of various local papers denouncing, and thereby further publicizing, the pamphlet. (This tactic of putting out falsely attributed texts, which we later termed “counterfeitism,” subsequently became rather sloppily used by other groups in ways that often produced more confusion than clarity. We ourselves soon abandoned it, and that fall Isaac and I collaborated on a critique of those aspects of the Subversive Scalpel pamphlet that gave the impression that détournement meant throwing random confusion into the spectacle.)

Taking our cue from the situationists, we also began to fill in the enormous gaps in our knowledge of previous radical efforts, exploring the history of past revolts and checking out seminal figures like Hegel (a hard nut to crack, but even a little familiarization helped us get a better feel for dialectical processes); Charles Fourier (whose delightful though somewhat loony utopia is based on encouraging the interplay, rather than the repression, of the variety of human passions); Wilhelm Reich (his early social-psychological analyses, not his later “orgone” theories); and some of the more radical Marxist thinkers: Rosa Luxemburg, Anton Pannekoek, Karl Korsch, early Lukács.

And Marx himself. Like most anarchists, we knew virtually nothing about him except for a few platitudes about his supposed authoritarianism. When we discovered that many of the situationists’ most pertinent insights, and even some of their most striking phrases, were derived from Marx, we started reexamining him more carefully. We soon realized that it was simply ignorant to uncritically lump Marx with Bolshevism, much less with Stalinism; and that, while there were undoubtedly significant flaws in Marx’s perspective, his insights on so many aspects of capitalist society are so penetrating that trying to develop a coherent social analysis while ignoring him is about as silly as it would be to try to develop a coherent theory of biology while ignoring Darwin.(2)

Above all, of course, we read everything of the SI that we could get our hands on. Unfortunately, most of the situationist texts were available only in French. Apart from half a dozen pamphlets and a few leaflets, the only things in English were a few rough manuscript translations done by people who in some cases knew scarcely more French than we did. I still remember the excitement, but also the frustration, upon first obtaining a copy of Vaneigem’s Treatise on Living (a.k.a. The Revolution of Everyday Life), which we struggled to read in a dim photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of a poor manuscript translation. When I realized how much I was missing, I started brushing up my rudimentary and long-forgotten college French. I had always imagined it would be great to get proficient enough to read my favorite French writers in the original, but such a goal was too vague to inspire me to do the necessary study. The situationists provided the incentive. Just about everyone else I knew who became seriously interested in them eventually picked up at least enough French to piece out the most important texts. When we later met comrades from other countries, French was as likely as English to be our common language.



That summer Ron and I met Michael Lucas, who had moved to the Bay Area after having collaborated and become dissatisfied with Murray Bookchin’s Anarchos group in New York. In October Sydney Lewis (one of the CCE emissaries we had met the preceding spring) arrived in town, having left the CCE in disillusionment with some of its more extravagant ideological rigidities. Soon afterward Dan and Isaac returned from Paris and New York. Comparing the positive and negative conclusions from our diverse experiences, we found a significant convergence of views.

Two tentative group projects developed: a study group devoted to Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle (the other main situationist book, which had just been translated by Black and Red) and a critique of the American radical movement and counterculture. The study group didn’t last very long — we soon found that we got a better grasp of Debord’s theses by the experience of using them (in graffiti, in leaflets and in our movement drafts) than by merely discussing them in the abstract. The preliminary stages of the movement critique meanwhile confirmed an increasing degree of accord among the six of us, while eliminating three or four other people who had attended the study group but had not followed up with any autonomous initiatives. In December Dan, Isaac, Michael, Ron and I formed the group Contradiction. Besides our movement critique, we envisaged publishing an SI-type journal and carrying out various other critical agitations.

Sydney would almost certainly have been the sixth member of the new group if he had not returned to the East Coast just before its formation; but once out of town he drifted into somewhat different perspectives, and we eventually discontinued the relation. Meanwhile we had discovered a new comrade in Berkeley. I was strolling around on campus one day and happened to overhear two people talking, one of whom was making an intelligent critique of bureaucratic leftism. After listening a moment I interrupted to say that he was absolutely right, but that he was wasting his time since the person he was talking to was obviously incapable of seeing his points. He gave me a surprised look, stopped and thought for a moment, realized I was right, took his leave of the other person, and we went off to talk. At first I let him do most of the talking, merely nodding and asking a few questions. Though he had never read a word of the situationists, he had independently arrived at virtually all their positions. Then I pulled some pamphlets out of my bag and read him a few passages that expressed the same things he had been saying. You could have pushed him over with a feather! He began working with us on our movement critique and eventually became the sixth member of Contradiction. I always think of this encounter with John Adams as a striking confirmation of the situationists’ claim that they were not propagating an ideology, but simply expressing the realities that were already present.

The first Contradiction publication was my poster Bureaucratic Comix, inspired by the recent revolt in Poland. Now that we’ve become used to the idea of the collapse of Stalinism it may be necessary to recall how much people used to take its permanence for granted, and just how uncomprehending the New Left was when it came to the issues raised by such a rebellion. While a few leftist groups tried to distinguish between “revisionist” East European regimes and “revolutionary” Third World ones, most of the underground papers, unable to figure out how to fit such an event into their Guevarist fantasy world, did not even mention the uprising. Thus the poster’s détournement of various movement heroes, which may seem only mildly amusing to present-day readers, had a far more traumatic effect on their habitual admirers (as some of them later admitted to me).

While we had been experimenting with methods inspired by the SI, the SI itself had been going through crises which were eventually to lead to its dissolution.

In March 1971 I went to New York to meet Jon Horelick and Tony Verlaan, the two remaining members of the American section of the SI, and learned that they had recently split from the Europeans. They presented me with a fat stack of correspondence and internal documents, mostly in French, which I began to struggle through in a generally unsuccessful effort to figure out what it was all about. Then I flew to Paris.

The first people I looked up were Roger Grégoire and Linda Lanphear, ex-participants in Black and Red. We had read with interest the B&R publications (especially Grégoire and Perlman’s excellent booklet on their activities during May 1968), which combined some situationist features with a more traditional anarcho-Marxist orientation; but our interest had faded as the group began to settle into an ultraleftist eclecticism. Roger and Linda’s recent open-letter critique, “To the Readers of Black and Red,” demonstrated that they, like us, were moving in the direction of a more rigorous, situationist-style practice. We hit it off fine and I ended up staying at their apartment for most of my trip.

I wasn’t able to see the remaining members of the SI, but I did meet a number of other people in the Parisian situ milieu, including Vaneigem and a couple other ex-SI members. The discussions were a mixture of genuinely interesting exchange of information and ideas with the exaggerated hopes and illusions that sprung up in the heady aftermath of May 1968.

Of course just being in Paris was exciting — taking in all the new sights and sounds and smells, losing myself in the labyrinthine street layout, wandering for hours through cobblestone alleys among centuries-old buildings and obscure little shops; stopping at outdoor cafés and watching all the passersby, catching tantalizing fragments of the strange language I was just beginning to be able to understand; shopping in the little open-air markets that used to be on practically every street corner; savoring those tasty multi-course French meals and excellent wines and liqueurs that we would linger over during hours of lively conversation. . . .

After a month and a half in Paris, plus brief visits to London and Amsterdam, I flew back to New York and stayed a couple weeks with Tony Verlaan. He and Jon Horelick had just had a falling out, and Jon more or less disappeared until two years later, when he came out with his journal Diversion. Tony and Arnaud Chastel had meanwhile formed Create Situations, and were in the middle of translating some SI articles, which I helped with. Then I returned to Berkeley.

Over the next few months we had quite a few visitors: Tony and Arnaud (after a couple weeks of tumultuous interaction we broke with them); Point-Blank (a group of teenagers from Santa Cruz, with whom we also eventually broke after working with them for some time); Roger and Linda; one or two contacts from England; and a young Spanish couple, Javier and Tita. Tita and I hit it off right away, although our verbal communication was at first limited to pidgin French. When Javier returned to Europe a few weeks later, she stayed with me.

During all this time we were continuing to work on the movement critique [Critique of the New Left Movement and On the Poverty of Hip Life] and other articles for our projected journal. Unfortunately, except for a few incidental leaflets none of this work was destined to materialize. There were lots of good ideas in our drafts, but also many insufficiencies, and we proved incapable of bringing the project to completion. Partly this was because we undertook too much, partly it was due to poor organization, leading to duplication of effort. One person might put in a lot of work on a certain topic, then find that his draft had to be drastically reorganized to fit in with changes in other articles; which themselves had been altered by the next meeting, necessitating yet further changes. Meetings became a headache.

(In retrospect, we might have done better to delegate one or two people to draft the movement piece as a whole, drawing on individual contributions but without worrying about sticking to them in detail. It might also have been a good idea to issue short preliminary versions of some of the chapters, produced and signed by different members, both to get something out there for feedback and to develop more individual autonomy.)

Meanwhile the various fragments of the movement were self-destructing from the very contradictions we had been analyzing. There was less and less to attack that was not already widely discredited. By early 1972 about all that might have remained for us was to make a more lucid postmortem. Even that would have been worth doing (you have to understand what went wrong if you’re ever going to do better); but by this time we were so sick of the whole project that we no longer had the necessary enthusiasm, and had already started drifting into other pursuits. Michael and I had gotten into classical music and were spending a lot of our time listening to records and going to concerts and operas. Dan and Isaac were spending most of their time in San Jose working with Jimmy Carr (Dan’s ex-Black Panther brother-in-law) on his prison memoirs.(3) Our abandonment of the movement critique in April 1972 marked the effective end of the group, though we didn’t formally dissolve it till September.

A general exodus followed. John and Michael both moved out of town. Dan, Isaac and his girlfriend Jeanne went to Europe, where Tita had returned shortly before. I still saw Ron occasionally, but scarcely anyone else. Relations with many of my older friends had cooled since our 1970 confrontations, and some of the ones I was still close to had recently moved back to the Midwest as the counterculture began to wind down. About the only bright spot during the whole year was a reunion with a former girlfriend, who flew out from New England for a brief visit; unfortunately there were too many obstacles to continuing the relation.

Lonely, depressed and frustrated by the coitus interruptus of Contradiction, I didn’t have the spirit for anything but reading, listening to classical music, and trying to maintain my survival with poker.

The private game I had been playing in had disbanded, and I had shifted to playing lowball at the casinos in nearby Emeryville. This was a tougher proposition: not only was the competition keener, but you also had to pay an hourly fee to the house. I plugged away practically full time for several months, to the point where I was becoming addicted. Clustered around a brightly lit green felt table, insulated from the outside world, you become jaded. The thought of going back to some humdrum job seems intolerable when you remember the night you walked home with several hundred dollars after a few hours’ play. (You tend to forget all the losses, or attribute them to temporary back luck.) I had hoped that with experience I might gradually improve and win enough to move to the higher stakes games, but my records showed that my net winnings were barely holding steady at around 75 cents an hour. In November I finally gave it up.

That was a good step, but I wasn’t sure what to do next. Inspired by reading Montaigne, I tried writing some self-exploratory essays. This might not have been a bad idea in other circumstances (writing the present text has included a lot of this type of self-exploration via confronting diverse topics), but at the time nothing came of it because practically any topic I started to write about sooner or later led to some connection with the Contradiction experience, and I had gotten so depressed about the latter that I could hardly bear to think about it. Yet I felt equally uncomfortable about evading the issue.


A fresh start

In December Dan, Isaac, Jeanne and Tita all returned from Europe. As I recounted in my Case Study, their return helped spur me back to life. I began experimenting once again, reassessed my relations (which led to some traumatic breaks), and after having repressed the whole Contradiction experience for months, finally got the idea of confronting it in a pamphlet. As with my earlier Snyder leaflet, I saw this as a way to bring things together: for my own sake I wanted to figure out what went wrong, but I wanted at the same time to force others to face these issues, both those who were directly concerned and those who might be involved in similar ventures in the future.

Later on I’ll say a little about the situationist practice of breaks. For the moment I will only mention that I now regret the first letter quoted in the “Case Study,” which was to Ron’s girlfriend C—. The faults I criticized her for were not really anything more than the sort of white lies and mild social hypocrisies of which practically everyone is guilty. It would probably have sufficed, and been much easier on everybody concerned, to have simply politely distanced myself from her, as people usually do in such cases and as I myself would undoubtedly do now. But at the time I was desperate to break out of the rut I had fallen into.

The letter certainly did accomplish this, for both good and bad. On one hand, it helped clear the way for the personal revival I described; on the other, it ended my relation not only with C— but also with Ron, and ultimately with John and Michael as well. I was deeply saddened by this, but I had known the risk I was taking. Ironically, I ran into C— a few years later and we “renormalized” our relation to a limited but amicable level; whereas the estrangement with Ron lasted twenty years, ending only recently when (as a result of reconsidering the incident in the process of writing this autobiography) it finally occurred to me to write him a letter of apology.

(We’ve both lost touch with Michael Lucas — last heard of living in Germany — and John Adams. Does anyone know where they are?)

The second critical letter quoted in the “Case Study” (which I feel was more justified; for one thing, it wasn’t even a break letter, merely a sharp challenge) was directed to one of Dan, Isaac and Jeanne’s friends, thus putting some of my other close relations at risk. But after some initial uncertainty, they soon came around to agreeing with it. The appearance of Remarks on Contradiction and the surprising changes I was making in my life began to inspire them to similar ventures, bringing us closer together than ever.

The next two or three months saw a flurry of self-analyses, neo-Reichian exercises, recording of dreams, reassessments of our pasts, and other challenges to ingrained character traits and petrified relations. This was all to the good; but after a while, beginning to feel that we were getting too narrowly internal and psychoanalytical, I wrote them a letter stressing the social context of our experiments and the need to continually supersede our situation so as to avoid falling into yet another rut.

To my great delight they answered my challenge by shifting the dialogue to another level. Three days later they turned up with a draft of a large poster:


Truly Voluptuous Spirits,
       . . . We are three people much like yourselves . . . . We had some common perspectives toward daily life, concerning what we did and didn’t want from society as it is now organized. We worked as little as possible, . . . read all the best books (Capital, The Maltese Falcon, etc.), listened to the best music, ate at the best cheap restaurants, got drunk, went for hikes and trips to the beach and Paris. . . .
       We were anti-spectators of the spectacle of decomposition. We read the Chronicle just like you do, which is to say “critically,” which is to say that the very chic cynicism which appeared to add spice to our lives actually helped drain the life out of us. We had plenty of clever remarks about the lacks and excesses of the bourgeois world, but despite the fact that we were reproached by others for being too bold we were actually too timid. . . .
       The sky didn’t open up one day. But since we weren’t quite dead yet, enough was soon too much. We received a terrific kick in the ass from Jean-Pierre Voyer’s Use of Reich and from our friend Ken Knabb’s use of Voyer in Remarks on Contradiction and Its Failure. The work of Voyer was the first since Debord that concretely shed light on our alienation. We realized that we were to a great extent accomplices in the ruling spectacle, and that character is the form of this complicity. We began the strategically crucial task of character assassination — after some tentatives which either over-psychologized the attack on character (Isaac and Jeanne) or defended against this attack by criticizing psychology (Dan) — including in that attack those traits of our own and of each other which we had previously accepted as “part of the package,” which we’d patronizingly accepted as immutable, which we’d timidly considered “too personal” to criticize except when they became unavoidably excessive. This negative task begun, positivity was released from the chains of repression. . . .
       Our attack on this rot has made external restraints — especially our inability to meet you — all the more unbearable. The enrichment of our relations with each other has underscored the poverty of our relations with the rest of the city. . . .
       We expect this address to help us break some of the barriers to meeting you. . . . But whether or not you even see this, we’re coming after you.
                                                                             For days without chains and nights without armor,
                                                                             Dan Hammer, Jeanne Smith, Isaac Cronin

Since the comic poster announcing my Voyer translation was going to be ready at the same time, we decided to distribute the two posters together. Over the next few days we pasted up several hundred copies around the Bay Area.

Fresh and audacious though their poster was, the responses revealed that it was not as clear as it might have been. The dozens of letters they received certainly showed that a sympathetic chord had been struck, but most of the responders had the impression that this was simply a matter of overcoming individual isolation by meeting more people, with little grasp of the implied connection to social critique.

Nevertheless, the two posters led us to meet a much larger variety of people than usual — not only those who wrote to us, but many others we ran into on the street or in cafés who were intrigued by our lively and mischievous manner and by the fact that we were obviously having so much fun. My new “Special Investigator” business card added to the mixture of amusement and intrigue when people got around to the inevitable “Just what is it that you do?”

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That fall we all returned to Europe, though not all at the same times and places. I was in Paris for three months, staying at Roger and Linda’s again and spending most of my time among their circle of friends, which now included Jean-Pierre Voyer. I had been inspired by the amusingly audacious style of Voyer’s early activity (the name “Bureau of Public Secrets” was partly suggested by his notion of publicité). In person I found him to be intellectually provocative, but he had a tendency to get carried away with his theoretical insights, harping on them to the point that they became ideological. I was also disappointed to learn that he was not following up some of the embryonic ideas that had most interested me in his Reich text. I realized that if I wanted to see these ideas developed, I would have to do it myself — which I later did to a certain extent in Double-Reflection and the “Case Study.”

During my first weeks in Paris there was a lot of excited discussion centering around Voyer’s ideas and our recent Bay Area ventures. I soon came to feel that this talk was leading nowhere and that there remained a lot of rigidities and repressions in our relations, and wrote a letter to Voyer and the others criticizing both the scene in general and each of the particular individuals involved. This stirred up a flurry of self-questioning for a few days, but ultimately things reverted to how they were before. From this point on my relations with all of them cooled.

Part of my impatience with them was due to the contrast with Daniel Denevert, whom I met around this same time. He had discovered a copy of Remarks on Contradiction at a Paris store and decided to translate it; then he happened to hear through the grapevine that I was in town and hunted me up. It turned out that he, in turn, was the author of a earlier pamphlet that I had greatly appreciated (Pour l’intelligence de quelques aspects du moment). This independent accord made for an exciting encounter. I spent most of the rest of my stay seeing him and the other members of his recently formed group, the Centre de Recherche sur la Question Sociale (CRQS): his wife Françoise Denevert (pseudonym: Jeanne Charles), Nadine Bloch and Joël Cornuault.


The “Notice” group

When I returned to California in December I was already working on Double-Reflection. Dan and Isaac were each working on small newsletters. Tita had just published a Spanish version of Voyer’s Reich article and was going on to translate Vaneigem’s “Basic Banalities.” Robert Cooperstein (a friend we had met the year before) was working on a comic-illustrated pamphlet about children. In March 1974 we got an exciting and unexpected vindication of our perspectives when Chris Shutes and Gina Rosenberg came out with Disinterest Compounded Daily, a detailed critique of Point-Blank from the inside (Chris was an ex-member and Gina a sometime collaborator) that had been inspired in part by our recent publications.

Over the next several months there were quite a few collaborations among us and the CRQS. Once I had completed Double-Reflection (which Joël immediately started translating into French), I joined Dan and Robert in translating Daniel’s recent pamphlet, Théorie de la misère, misère de la théorie, along with a couple other CRQS texts; the chapter on “behindism” in Double-Reflection inspired Chris to follow up with a whole pamphlet on the subject; he and Isaac wrote a critique of Jon Horelick’s journal Diversion, then began working on their own journal, Implications; Isaac and Gina translated Debord’s article on dérives; Isaac and Dan composed a leaflet on a baseball riot in Cleveland, which they distributed at a local Oakland A’s game. . . .

Not surprisingly we began to be considered as a de facto organization. People would write to us as a group or assume that a letter from one of us represented the views of the others. We thought it might be interesting to try to work out a joint public statement in order to see just what degree of accord we did have. Eventually we came up with a text along the lines of the CRQS’s Declaration, but specifying that though we shared certain perspectives, we were each acting only in our own name. This Notice Concerning the Reigning Society and Those Who Contest It was issued in November 1974, along with a second poster advertising our publications.

Despite the “Notice’s” statement to the contrary, putting out the two posters paradoxically tended to reinforce the idea (among us as well as others) that we formed a unified tendency, whose activity was objectified as a collection of mutually approved texts. There was indeed a considerable accord among us, but it was probably a mistake to stress this commonality at the expense of neglecting the diversity of our views and interests. We were more careful about preserving individual responsibility than Contradiction had been, but on the other hand Contradiction had had a substantial common project that gave more reason for adopting an explicit organization. Formulating a collective statement can be a fruitful way to work out where you stand, but it also involves some risks; speaking in the name of a collectivity makes it easier to get carried away in extravagant rhetoric that you might be less likely to use if speaking only for yourself. The “arrogance” of the “Notice” was, of course, an intentional effort to challenge others — far from being “elitist,” it obviously undermined whatever tendencies we might have had to accommodate passive followers. Nevertheless, this kind of style does tend to become habitual and encourage a pompous attitude. We would probably have done better to have kept things looser, more autonomous and more modest.

Anyway, over the next three years we were all pretty close, socially as well as politically. We even worked together — Jeanne, Dan and I at Rolling Stone magazine in San Francisco, most of the others as a house-painting team.

While I was at Rolling Stone I vaguely considered perpetrating some sort of détournement, such as replacing one of the pages with an alternative text critiquing the magazine and its readership; but this turned out to be technically unfeasible. More innocuously, just for the in-joke amusement of my fellow workers, one deadline night while I was waiting for copy to come in I typeset a takeoff on the RS table of contents, modeled on Dan’s wonderful “Great Moments in the Void” trading cards:


The Rolling Stone Interview: Jeanne Jambu
Many of our readers may be more familiar with artist Jeanne Jambu under her former name, Jeanne Smith. (See mastheads, RS Nos. 174-186.) Senior Editor Ben Fong-Torres seeks Ms. Jambu’s reasons for the change, probing behind her enigmatic “I didn’t like the name ‘Smith.’ ” Throughout the interview Jambu comes through as a woman who knows what she wants: witness her bringing her own (European) coffee to the Production Department this issue. But Jambu retains a sense of proportion: she modestly noted that fellow artist Roger Carpenter had actually introduced the practice with his frequent and popular “French Roast” contributions.
With this issue Rolling Stone introduces a dynamic new staff member, Dan (“Danny”) Hammer. Hammer’s has been a varied career, with work ranging from the book to the trading card fields, but he has made the shift to Rolling Stone with ease. His main trip here is typesetting, but, as he noted in a recent conversation, “I also sometimes do a little opaquing when they need me.”
The Missing Tapes: Four Views by Samuel Beckett, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller and Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Shortly after dinner, Art Assistant Suzy Rice had trouble locating some typeset corrections. Senior Typesetter Ken Knabb said he had put them in the proofreading room, but Rice, finding that they were no longer there, grew frantic. Later it turned out that the missing tapes had already been picked up by Art Director Tony Lane.
       We asked four prominent writers what they thought about the incident. The responses were lively and varied. Perhaps Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s was the most penetrating comment: “I guess things like that are bound to happen every now and then.”

I quit my job in summer 1975 and got back to work on notes I had put on hold the year before. The first and only issue of my journal, Bureau of Public Secrets, was completed the following January. As soon as it was printed and mailed out I went to Paris.


The breaking of a fellowship

Apart from brief side trips to London and Bordeaux, I stayed with the Deneverts for the next three months. For the most part we got on very well. (Here as elsewhere I’m skipping many encounters, collaborations and general good times, and focusing on a few turning points.) But despite our closeness in most regards, a divergence began to become evident on the question of breaks. While I was there they broke with several people on what seemed to me rather subtle grounds. This divergence became more problematic when such breaks involved people with whom I had substantial relations. Joël Cornuault had been excluded from the CRQS a few months before, and Nadine Bloch was in a rather uncertain position between him and the Deneverts. The fact that I was seeing her frequently while the Deneverts were not made for an uneasy and sometimes delicate situation. At one time there might seem to be a rapprochement in the making; then it would be broken off because of some seemingly trivial matter. Though I could by now understand French pretty well, some of the nuances were still over my head — one side might explain to me that such and such a phrase in a letter contained a snide irony, only to have the other deny this. . . .

Soon after I returned to Berkeley I got a letter from Daniel announcing a “chain break” with Nadine — i.e. that he was not only breaking with Nadine, but would also break with anyone else who maintained any relation with her. I was not really any more enlightened about the whole business than I had been before (he justified this ultimatum by the tone of a recent letter from her), but after much agonizing I finally decided to rely on the trust and respect I had for his judgment. Such reliance might have been appropriate regarding some third party I didn’t know, but in the present case I should have refused to go along with his demand. Though this would have ended my relation with him, it might have brought the whole issue of breaks to a head earlier and in a cleaner way than later developed. Once I had capitulated in this way, it became that much more difficult for me to take a clear stand on related issues that came up a few months later.

Upsetting as this affair was, its impact on me was diminished by the fact that, for the moment, it concerned only my relations in France. Things seemed to be going well enough in Berkeley. I had started making notes for The Realization and Suppression of Religion in Paris, and now plunged into the project full time. I also began taking night-school courses in Spanish and Japanese. A guy in Spain was preparing a small anthology of BPS and CRQS texts and I wanted to learn enough Spanish to be able to check his translations (he eventually abandoned the project, however). I had also been corresponding with Tommy Haruki, a Japanese anarchist who was manifesting a lot of interest in the situationists, and I had begun to think about visiting Japan. Besides the political motivation, I still retained a certain interest in Zen and Japanese culture. I was doing a little zazen every morning and having a lot of fun going to a karate class with Robert and Tita. Relations with them and my other “Notice” friends still seemed pretty good.

But not for long. Within a few months there was a traumatic breakup — ironically, just as I was completing the religion pamphlet, which was in part concerned with questioning aspects of the situ scene that tended to give rise to this sort of hostility and delirium.

In January 1977 Chris wrote a letter to the Deneverts questioning the manner of their breaks with Joël and Nadine. They responded with a scathing letter to all the “Notice” signers en bloc, not only taking issue with several of Chris’s points, but considering his letter as exemplifying various incoherences that all of us had been manifesting or tolerating. After much discussion of these issues, the rest of us decided to break with Chris — not so much because of the points objected to by the Deneverts (on some of those we were in at least partial agreement with Chris) as because of our reconsideration of some recurring tendencies in his activity over the previous years.

The Deneverts concluded that we were using him as a scapegoat and broke with us in April. A few weeks later Gina came around to a similar position, and demanded that each of us “(1) denounce thoroughly and publicly the break with Chris and the break letter to him; (2) . . . thereby announce the project of future public disclosure(s) giving, as one moment of his return to revolutionary practice, . . . a written form to the practical truth he has grasped in his struggle to be seizing his point-of-view in the aftermath of the Notice days (which have ended); (3) sever relations with any one of the Notice signers who has not seen fit to carry out these two criteria.” Over the next month Chris, Isaac, Robert and Tita declared their acceptance of these three demands. Dan and I refused them.

I now think the break with Chris was inappropriate, especially considering the situation in which it took place. The Deneverts had challenged us to clarify our individual and collective activity. We should first of all have confronted these matters to the point where each of us knew where we stood, instead of getting carried away exaggerating the significance of Chris’s faults, which in retrospect do not seem to me to have been all that serious. At the time, however, I did not feel that the break was so totally unjustified as to call for a “thorough denunciation”; and in any case I had no intention of “announcing” a public accounting of the affair before I felt I had anything definite to say about it.

It turned out that, except for Isaac, none of those who rallied to Gina’s position ever fulfilled her second demand either. And Isaac’s bilious piece (“The American Situationists: 1972-77”) contained so many distortions and self-contradictions that he himself soon became dissatisfied with it and stopped circulating it, though he never bothered to publicly repudiate it.

I started drafting a critique of Isaac’s text, which among other things projected onto me various pretensions and illusions that I had in fact vehemently opposed whenever they had been manifested (most often by Isaac and Chris); but I eventually concluded that it was such a gross distortion of reality that it would take an equally extensive text to adequately deal with it. There seemed little point in getting embroiled in such a dismal project when I would have had nothing to offer but denunciations of his misrepresentations or reiterations of points I had already made in other publications.

Daniel circulated a more serious and cogent analysis of his position on the affair (“Sur les fonds d’un divorce”). There were a few aspects of his account that I might have debated, but his main point was simply that he and Françoise had a more rigorous position on breaks and relations than we did, and this was true enough. Without wishing to play down the significance of our other differences, I believe that some of them merely reflected our geographical separation. Thus my unsuccessful effort to get Debord’s films circulated in America, where situationist theory was still almost unknown and they might have had a significant impact, was viewed by Daniel as contradicting his efforts (notably expressed in his December 1976 text, Suggestions relatives au légitime éloge de l’I.S.) to criticize the development of a “Debordist” orthodoxy in the quite different conditions of France.

Why didn’t I respond to the mess by getting it out in public, like I did in Remarks on Contradiction? First of all, my frustration with the fizzling out of Contradiction had been due to the fact that so much promising effort had gone unfulfilled. In the present case we had already communicated the main things we had to say in numerous publications. Secondly, while I had had several points to make regarding the reasons for Contradiction’s failure, I had not arrived at any clear conclusions about the reasons for the current debacle. About the only thing I had derived from the whole miserable affair was a personal determination never again to yield to pressure regarding breaks.

Probably I would nevertheless have done better to issue some public statement rather than letting the affair linger on in unanswered rumors. But at this distance in time, when all the persons involved have long abandoned their old positions, there would be little point in going any more into the details in contention, which in my view were as unedifying as they were convoluted.

This may, however, be a good place to make some remarks about the whole vexed issue of situationist-type breaks.

First of all, just to keep things in perspective, it’s important to remember that in breaking with people the situationists were doing nothing more than choosing their own company — deciding whom they wished to associate with and making clear, in cases where there might otherwise have been some confusion, whom they did not wish to be associated with. There’s nothing elitist about such a practice; those who want to recruit devoted followers employ tact, not insults. The situationists strove to provoke others to carry out their own autonomous activities. If the “victims” of their breaks proved incapable of doing so, they only confirmed the appropriateness of the break.

Different types of projects call for different criteria. Beginning by criticizing the avant-garde cultural milieu in which they found themselves in the 1950s and moving toward a more general critique of the global system, the situationists’ project was at once extremely ambitious and quite specific to their own situation. It would have been absurd for them to accept collaboration with those who did not even grasp what this project was, or who clung to practices that were inconsistent with it. If, say, the SI wanted to carry out a boycott of some cultural institution, this boycott would obviously lose its punch if some SI members continued to maintain relations with the institution in question. An early SI article pointed out the danger of losing one’s radical coherence by blurring into the ambiguity of the cultural milieu:

Within such a community people have neither the need nor the objective possibility for any sort of collective discipline. Everyone always politely agrees about the same things and nothing ever changes. . . . The “terrorism” of the SI’s exclusions can in no way be compared to the same practices in political movements by power-wielding bureaucracies. It is, on the contrary, the extreme ambiguity of the situation of artists, who are constantly tempted to integrate themselves into the modest sphere of social power reserved for them, that makes some discipline necessary in order to clearly define an incorruptible platform. Otherwise there would be a rapid and irremediable osmosis between this platform and the dominant cultural milieu because of the number of people going back and forth. (SI Anthology, p. 60 [Revised Edition p. 79] [The Adventure]. For other articles relating to breaks, see pp. 47-48, 177-179, 216-219 in the same book [Revised Edition pp. 58-59, 230-233, 277-281] [No Useless Leniency, The Ideology of Dialogue, and Aiming for Practical Truth].)

One need only recall how many radical cultural and political movements have lost their original audacity, and eventually their very identity, by becoming habituated to little deals and compromises, settling into comfortable niches in academia, hobnobbing with the rich and famous, becoming dependent on government or foundation grants, pandering to audiences, catering to reviewers and interviewers, and otherwise accommodating themselves to the status quo. It is safe to say that if the SI had not had a rigorous policy of breaks and exclusions, it would have ended up as one more amorphous and innocuous avant-garde group of the sort that come and go every year and are remembered only in the footnotes of cultural histories.

This is a practical question, not a moral one. It’s not just that it would have seemed hypocritical for the situationists to have written On the Poverty of Student Life if they had been academics; if they had been academics they would not have been capable of writing it. The lucidity of the SI texts was directly linked to the authors’ intransigence. You don’t get on the cutting edge without cutting yourself free from the routines and compromises around you.

But what was perhaps appropriate for the SI is not necessarily essential for others in other circumstances. When the situationists were isolated and practically unknown, they did well to make sure that their unique perspective was not compromised. Now that that perspective has spread among thousands of people around the world and could not possibly be repressed (though it can, of course, still be coopted in various ways), there would seem to be less justification for the old SI-style bluster. A radical group may still decide to dissociate itself from certain individuals or institutions, but it has less reason to act as if everything hinges on its own purity, much less to imply that its own particular standards should be adopted by everyone else.

The situationist practice of public polarization has had the merit of fostering radical autonomy; but (in part, I believe, because of some of the factors I discussed in my religion pamphlet) this practice ultimately developed its own irrational autonomous momentum. Increasingly trivial personal antagonisms came to be treated as serious political differences. However justified some of the breaks may have been, the whole situ scene ended up looking pretty silly when virtually every individual had disdainfully split from virtually all the others. Many participants finally got so traumatized that they ended up repressing the whole experience.

I never went that far. I never renounced my radical and (apart from a few nuances) still basically situationist perspective, and have no plans to. But I was certainly disheartened by our 1977 breakup. For years I mulled it over, trying to come to terms with what had happened. As long as it hung over me it was difficult to be as audacious as I had sometimes been before. I continued to make notes on various topics, but except for two or three relatively short and specific projects I was unable to bring them to completion. Besides objective difficulties in the topics themselves (including the relative ebbing of radical activity in the late seventies) there would inevitably be ramifications that would relate back to the old trauma.

Anyway, in the immediate aftermath of the breakup, finding myself suddenly estranged from several of my closest friends and unsure of what to do next, I figured this was as good a time as any to go to Japan. That summer I took an intensive three-month Japanese course at the University, and in September I flew to Tokyo.



1. Although the term situationist originally referred specifically to members of the SI, it later also came to be used in a broader sense to designate others in the “situ milieu” carrying on more or less similar activities. Here and in my other writings the context should usually make clear in which sense I am using the term. (Past tense usually refers to the SI; present tense — as in much of “The Society of Situationism” and “The Realization and Suppression of Religion” — usually indicates the broad sense.)

2. I should mention one other important influence whom we discovered independently of the SI: Josef Weber. He was the leading spirit of Contemporary Issues, a little-known but remarkably high quality radical journal that was published in London from 1948-1970. We picked up a lot of basic knowledge of recent history from the sober, well-researched articles in the CI back issues and a lot of provocative ideas from the brilliant, if sometimes rather eccentric, pieces by Weber.

3. After Jimmy’s 1972 assassination (which may have been caused by a COINTELPRO setup) they completed and published the book under the title Bad: The Autobiography of James Carr (1975; reissued by AK Press).

End of Part 2 of Confessions of a Mild-Mannered Enemy of the State, from Public Secrets: Collected Skirmishes of Ken Knabb (1997).

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