Preface to the
Situationist International Anthology

In 1957 a few European avant-garde groups came together to form the Situationist International. Over the next decade the SI developed an increasingly incisive and coherent critique of modern society and of its bureaucratic pseudo-opposition, and its new methods of agitation were influential in leading up to the May 1968 revolt in France. Since then — although the SI itself was dissolved in 1972 — situationist theses and tactics have been taken up by radical currents in dozens of countries all over the world.

In this anthology I have tried to present a useful selection of situationist writings while at the same time illustrating the SI’s origins and development. Thus some early texts are included even though they express positions that were later repudiated by the situationists. But even the later texts reveal mistakes, contradictions, projects that never materialized, problems that remain to be solved. In other publications I have presented my own views on a few of these issues; but here I have as far as possible let the SI speak for itself.

The major portion of the anthology is drawn from the French journal Internationale Situationniste (it includes about a third of the IS articles). The rest consists of various shorter publications and documents. I have not included any excerpts from the situationist books, Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, Vaneigem’s Treatise on Living for the Young Generations, Viénet’s Enragés and Situationists in the Occupations Movement and Debord and Sanguinetti’s The Real Split in the International. Anyone who is serious will want to read these books in their entirety. The English translations of them that have appeared are all unsatisfactory, but sooner or later someone will publish accurate versions.

The only previous English-language SI anthology, Christopher Gray’s Leaving the Twentieth Century, is particularly bad. In Bureau of Public Secrets #1 I have already criticized the superficiality of Gray’s commentaries on the SI. His translations are on the same level. Not only do his chummy paraphrases obscure the precise sense of the original, but there is scarcely a page in which he has not left out sentences or paragraphs without any indication of the omission, or even made completely gratuitous additions of his own.

About half the texts in the present anthology have been translated into English for the first time. All the others have been freshly translated, but I have gone through all the previous translations and incorporated many of their best renderings. I received an immense help from Nadine Bloch and Joël Cornuault, who answered hundreds of questions regarding the French texts, then checked the entire manuscript, correcting many errors and suggesting many further improvements. Dan Hammer also made a number of good suggestions.

Asterisks refer to my notes at the end of the book. The only notes original to the SI are the numbered footnotes in On the Poverty of Student Life. Within the text, all annotations in square brackets are mine and my omissions are indicated by [...]. I have not generally annotated references to historical events, etc., that enterprising readers can easily find out about for themselves. Nor have I tried to explain supposed difficulties in the SI’s language. After the usual diet of ideological pabulum it may be a momentary shock to be forced to think; but those who are really confronting their lives and therefore this society will soon understand how to use these texts. Those who aren’t, won’t, regardless of explanations. Situationist language is difficult only to the extent that our situation is. “The path to simplicity is the most complex of all.”

December 1981

Note on the new edition:

In 1998-1999 I posted the entire SI Anthology at my new “Bureau of Public Secrets” website. In the process of preparing the online versions, I rechecked all my translations against the French originals, taking the opportunity to make numerous minor stylistic improvements, and since that time I have continued to fine-tune them. The translations in the original edition remain completely reliable, but I believe that the present versions are somewhat more clear and idiomatic.

Some of the articles that were abridged in the original edition have now been translated complete. I have also translated several additional texts, added a large number of new notes, updated the bibliography and created a more detailed index.

Special thanks to Jeanne Smith for the superb book and cover design and for extensive technical assistance.

December 2006


Ken Knabb’s Preface to the Situationist International Anthology (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2006). No copyright.

[French translation of this Preface]