The Fifth SI Conference in Göteborg
The 5th Conference of the Situationist International was held in Göteborg [Gothenburg], Sweden, 28-30 August 1961, eleven months after the London Conference. The situationists of nine countries were represented by Ansgar-Elde, Debord, J. de Jong, Kotányi, D. Kunzelmann, S. Larsson, J.V. Martin, Nash, Prem, G. Stadler, Hardy Strid, H. Sturm, R. Vaneigem, Zimmer. [...]
Next the Conference hears an orientation report by Vaneigem, who says notably:
The Situationist International finds itself, due both to the present historical conjuncture and to its internal evolution, at a stage of development such that the activity it considers itself capable of carrying out, within the world of bureaucratization and reification, depends henceforth on its ability to maintain critical rigor, a rigor that will serve as a cohesive force. Its weakness in the face of the tasks to come and of the foreseeable repression can be turned into a strength only if each of its members is clearly aware of what threatens him personally and what threatens the nature and aims of the SI itself. This is the price of sectional autonomy.
The existing world, in both its capitalist and its supposedly anticapitalist variants, organizes life in the form of spectacles. . . . The point is not to elaborate a spectacle of refusal, but to refuse the spectacle. In order for their elaboration to be artistic in the new and authentic sense defined by the SI, the elements of the destruction of the spectacle must precisely cease to be works of art. There is no such thing as situationism, or a situationist work of art, or a spectacular situationist. Once and for all.
Such a perspective means nothing if it is not directly linked to revolutionary praxis, to the desire to change life (which is not at all the same as merely changing the bosses of existing occupations). [...]
Our position is that of combatants between two worlds — one that we don’t acknowledge, the other that does not yet exist. We have to bring the two together, to hasten the end of a world, the disaster where the situationists will recognize their own.
[...] The second session begins with reports from the various sections, primarily concerning the publication and translation of SI texts. The Scandinavian section also raises the issue of the production of experimental films in Sweden, in which several of its members have been collectively involved. The Swedes present in Göteborg have been discussing among themselves which of these films attain a level worthy of being termed “situationist,” and ask the Conference to help settle this question. Debord replies that since he himself has never made a situationist film, he is in no position to judge.(1)
Kunzelmann expresses a strong skepticism as to the powers the SI can bring together in order to act on the level envisaged by Vaneigem. Kotányi responds to Nash and Kunzelmann: Since the beginning of the movement there has been a problem as to what to call artistic works by members of the SI. It was understood that none of them was a situationist production, but what to call them? I propose a very simple rule: to call them ‘antisituationist.’ We are against the dominant conditions of artistic inauthenticity. I don’t mean that anyone should stop painting, writing, etc. I don’t mean that that has no value. I don’t mean that we could continue to exist without doing that. But at the same time we know that such works will be coopted(2) by the society and used against us. Our impact lies in the elaboration of certain truths which have an explosive power as soon as people are ready to struggle for them. The movement is only in its infancy regarding the elaboration of these essential points. It has yet to attain the degree of purity found in modern explosives. Until we attain this purity, i.e. this necessary degree of clarity, we cannot count on the explosive effects of our approaches to everyday life and to the critique of everyday life. I urge you not to forget that our present productions are antisituationist. The clarity that comes from recognizing this fact is indispensable for attaining any greater clarification. If we sacrifice this principle, Kunzelmann would be right in a negative sense: the SI would be unable to attain the most meager power.”
The responses to Kotányis proposal are all favorable. It is noted that would-be avant-garde artists are beginning to appear in various countries who have no connection with the SI but who refer to themselves as adherents of situationism or describe their works as being more or less situationist. This trend is obviously going to increase and it would be hopeless for the SI to try and prevent it. While various confused artists nostalgic for a positive art call themselves situationist, antisituationist art will be the mark of the best artists, those of the SI, since genuinely situationist conditions have as yet not at all been created. Admitting this is the mark of a situationist.
With one exception, the Conference unanimously decides to adopt this rule of antisituationist art, binding on all members of the SI. Only Nash objects, his spite and indignation having become increasingly sharp throughout the whole debate, to the point of uncontrolled rage. [...]
Prem resumes in more detail the objections of his friends to Kotányis perspectives. He agrees with calling our art antisituationist; and also with the project of organizing a situationist base. But he does not think the SIs tactics are good. There is talk of peoples dissatisfaction and revolt, but in his view, as his tendency already expressed it at London, most people are still primarily interested in comfort and conveniences. He feels that the SI systematically neglects its real chances in culture. It rejects favorable occasions to intervene in existing cultural politics, whereas, in his view, the SI has no power but its power in culture a power which could be very great and which is visibly within our reach. The SI majority sabotages the chances for effective action on the terrain where it is possible. It castigates artists who might be capable of accomplishing something, and it throws them out the moment they get in a position to accomplish anything. [...]
Other German situationists strongly oppose Prem, some of them accusing him of having expressed positions in their name that they do not share (but it seems, rather, that Prem simply had the frankness to clearly express the line that dominates in the German section). Finally the Germans come around to agreeing that none of them conceives of theory as separate from its practical results. With this the third session is adjourned in the middle of the night, not without violent agitation and uproar (from one side there are shouts of Your theory is going to fly right back in your faces! and from the other, Cultural pimps!). [...]
The German situationists stress the urgency, already made evident by the Conference, for them to unify their positions and projects with the rest of the SI. Kunzelmann feels that a useful focus for this discussion could be Vaneigem’s report, which they will carefully study when they are back in Germany. The Germans also commit to rapidly augmenting their propagation and elaboration of situationist theory, as they have already begun to do in issues #5 and #6 of their journal Spur. On their request, the Conference adds Attila Kotányi and J. de Jong to the editorial committee of Spur in order to verify this process of unification. (But in January this decision is flouted by their putting out, without Kotányi and de Jongs knowledge, an issue #7 marking a distinct regression from the preceding ones which leads to the exclusion of those responsible.) [...]
It is voted to hold the 6th Conference at Anvers, after the rejection of the Scandinavian proposal to hold it secretly in Warsaw. The Conference does decide, however, to send a delegation of three situationists to Poland to develop our contacts there. [...]
1. Debord’s modesty here is wickedly ironic, as he had by this time completed three films that were unquestionably of higher quality and more “situationist” than anything the Scandinavians may have produced. (The soundtracks of two of those early films were included in the original edition of the SI Anthology. They are omitted from the new edition since the complete filmscripts are now available in a separate volume.)
2. I previously translated the French term récupération as “recuperation,” but that word normally has a different sense in English. Upon reconsideration I believe the term is adequately, and more clearly, rendered by “cooption.”
La cinquième conférence de lI.S. à Göteborg originally appeared in Internationale Situationniste #7 (Paris, April 1962). This translation by Ken Knabb is from the Situationist International Anthology (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2006). No copyright.