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Class Warfare: Radical French philosopher Guy Debord’s Situationist board game

Guy Debord and Alice Becker-Ho playing Kriegspiel in 1977. Photo by Jeanne Cornet via Cabinet
After he disbanded the Situationist International in 1972, one of the obsessions that consumed Guy Debord was a board game he invented. Kriegspiel, or Le Jeu de la Guerre—German and French, respectively, for “war game”—was based on Debord’s reading of the military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. The London-based group Class Wargames describes Kriegspiel’s purpose concisely:

For Debord, The Game of War wasn’t just a game - it was a guide to how people should live their lives within Fordist society. By playing, revolutionary activists could learn how to fight and win against the oppressors of spectacular society.

So convinced was Debord of the game’s utility and revolutionary potential that, in 1977, he founded Les Jeux Stratégiques et Historiques (Strategic and Historic Games) to produce a limited run of Kriegspiel sets. Ten years later, Debord and his wife Alice Becker-Ho published a book about Kriegspiel, Le Jeu de la Guerre. Debord opens the sixth chapter of his memoir Panegyric with these reflections on his game:

I have been very interested in war, in the theoreticians of its strategy, but also in reminiscences of battles and in the countless other disruptions history mentions, surface eddies on the river of time. I am not unaware that war is the domain of danger and disappointment, perhaps even more so than the other sides of life. This consideration has not, however, diminished the attraction that I have felt for it.

And so I have studied the logic of war. Moreover, I succeeded, a long time ago, in presenting the basics of its movements on a rather simple board game: the forces in contention and the contradictory necessities imposed on the operations of each of the two parties. I have played this game and, in the often difficult conduct of my life, I have utilized lessons from it – I have also set myself rules of the game for this life, and I have followed them. The surprises of this Kriegspiel seem inexhaustible; and I fear that this may well be the only one of my works that anyone will dare acknowledge as having some value. On the question of whether I have made good use of such lessons, I will leave it to others to decide.

The Atlas Press English-language edition of Becker-Ho and Debord’s book, A Game of War, comes with a board and punch-out pieces, but Board Game Geek warns that this edition “has a faulty translation of the rules, making it more or less unplayable.” The Radical Software Group’s web version of the game has been down for some time. So if, like me, you enjoy using things without paying for them, the best bet seems to be Class Wargames’ printable boards, pieces, and battle maps. Their website also has the free book Class Wargames: Ludic subversion against spectacular capitalism, plus information about such radical board games as Imperialism in Space, which promises to give players “a critical understanding of the political and theoretical arguments of Vladimir Lenin’s famous 1916 pamphlet Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.”

After the jump, an explanation of Kriegspiel’s rules….

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
The Muppets go Situationist

I doubt I’ll be able to watch The Muppets again without quotes from Guy Debord popping up unannounced in my noodle. These magnificent images are the work of artist and writer Amy Collier, who posted them on Toast where she gives some explanation of her work in the comments:

Oh look! I found some history about Guy Debord’s “The Muppets”:

Though the name “Guy Debord” is now synonymous with two things: Situationist philosophy and The Muppets, this pairing of passions was not as easily reconciled as you might think. “I had to fight really hard not to be pigeon-holed as a Marxist theorist in the puppeteering community,” Debord once said. “They told me ‘Kids don’t want to hear about how the concrete life of everyone has been degraded to a speculative universe, Guy.’ I said ‘How about we let the children decide that?’”

Decide they did.

Years later, we remember him as both a Marxist visionary who criticized societies where modern conditions of production prevail in which all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles, and the beloved man who brought Kermit, Miss Piggy, as well as many other characters into our hearts.

You can read the rest of it here and now I can’t wait for On the Passage of The Muppets in Rather Brief Unity of Time.
More of Guy Debord’s Muppets, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Society of The Spectacular Toys: Guy Debord, Situationist action figure!

Yeah, it’s great that doctors can print casts and prosthetic legs and stuff, but to my mind, this is what 3-D printing was invented for…

Behold cultural theorist Mackenzie Wark’s limited edition Guy Debord figurine. Two-hundred of these post-Marxist bad boys were printed up. The project was conceived and designed by Wark, Peer Hansen and Rachel L. Verso Books gave away one of them to promote Wark’s new book, The Spectacle of Disintegration: Situationist Passages out of the Twentieth Century.

If you happen to own a 3-D printer, or have access to one, you can download the plans for your own 3-D Guy (that rhymes, btw), here, as the plans were released under a Creative Commons license. Rather predictably, Wark’s clever publicity stunt brought on humorless protest from Situationist-types.

There’s also a remixed version of the Debord figurine with Stelarc’s 3rd Ear on his back and Eduardo Kac’s infamous “Alba” bunny ears. That one you’d probably want to print up in fluorescent lime green…

Imagine a Lenny Bruce action figure, or Robert Anton Wilson, Wittgenstein, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Grace Slick, James Joyce, Vivian Stanshall, Orson Welles, Nico… I’m sure they’re all on their way soon.


Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Destroy Boredom: Punk Rock and the Situationist International

On the Passage of a few People through a Rather Brief Moment in Time: The Situationist International 1956-1972 is an interesting short film by Branka Bogdanov primarily documenting the work of ultra-leftist French philosopher Guy Debord, author of the influential post Marxist study of 20th capitalism Society of the Spectacle. The film explores Debord’s influence on the Paris riots of May 1968 and the nihilistic aesthetics of the punk rock era.

Interviewees include Greil Marcus, Malcolm McLaren and Sex Pistols graphic designer Jamie Reid.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The Anna Karina Soap Commerical

Criterion just released the Blu-Ray version of 1962’s Vivre sa Vie, starring Jean-Luc Godard‘s one-time wife, but always expressive muse, Anna Karina.  Much like many a real-life Hollywood story, Vivre sa Vie charts an aspiring creative type’s descent into prostitution.  And while it may end in tragedy, the surfaces along the way are typically gorgeous to look at.

Karina would, of course, continue to appear in such essential Godard films as Band of Outsiders and Pierrot le Fou, but she was first introduced to the director in the French soap commercial below:

Interestingly enough, Karina’s soap commercial also makes an appearance in the Guy Debord film, On the Passage of a Few People Through a Rather Brief Period of Time (previously on Dangerous Minds here).

As Karina lathers up, the Situationist engineer himself intones in a voice-over: “The advertisements during intermissions are the truest reflection of an intermission from life.”  While you’re left to ponder that one, check out what many feel to be one of Vivre sa Vie‘s more sublime moments, Nana’s Dance:

Bonus: Luc Sante on Vivre sa Vie

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment
Alice in Guy Debord-land

The initial peek at Tim Burton’s Alice tale looks plenty striking, but, in the meantime, you might want to check out this two-part adventure as envisioned by visual artist, Robert Cauble.  The imagery comes straight out of Disney.  The dialogue, though, that’s a far more curious matter.  As Cauble explains it:

Alice, unhappy with her prim, proper existence in Victorian England, travels through time into an age that allegorically resembles our own.  There, she encounters elitist tea-partiers and a philosopher cat, before she is consumed by an assaulting music video.  Her only hope for understanding this foreign world of spectacle is to somehow find Guy Debord.

That’s right, Alice desperately needs to locate Guy Debord, noted theorist, filmmaker, and founder of the Situationist International.  It’s wacky, yes, but there’s a method (of sorts) to Cauble’s madness.  He aims to embed these shorts as “special features” in the Disney disks themselves, so as to render,

the meaning of the whole product ambiguous.  Within the confusion as to the legitimacy of the d?ɬ

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment