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  • Spectacle and the Singularity: Debord and the ‘Autonomous Movement of Non-Life’ in Digital Capitalism

    Clayton Rosati

    Chapter from the book: Briziarelli M. & Armano E. 2017. The Spectacle 2.0: Reading Debord in the Context of Digital Capitalism.


    This short essay explores the rise of the machines in the context of capitalism’s tendency towards impoverishment, autocracy, and war. It investigates how Debord’s spectacle and, with it, his reference to the ‘autonomous’ movement of objects and, especially, images help better theorize the development of artificial intelligence and fears of a machine apocalypse within digital capitalism (Debord 1995, 2011). This essay explores the spectacle, not only as a euphemism for mass media, but as capital that demands the autocracy of property (Hardt and Negri 2011), the creation of surplus populations, and, which grows for itself, not for the life of the society that creates it. Subsequently, it explores Debord’s critical engagement with the politics of human obsolescence and ‘surplus’ people and how this can be extended to AI, the rise of the machines, the Singularity, or some other post-human apocalypse (see Haraway 1990). Lastly, this essay explores the struggle against this bleak future through Debord’s celebration of the revolutionary ‘worker’s council’ and its contemporary quandaries of double agents, bots, and trolls. This essay’s reading of Debord’s spectacle approaches its concepts (and puzzles) through the Marxian tradition, against capitalism entirely, not just its media forms. Most importantly, the essay focuses on aspects of Debord’s critique that urge, within the anti-capitalist struggle, to move beyond ‘who is producing value’ to ‘who controls the economy’, and then beyond that to a principle of ‘optimal development’ for all (e.g. Marcuse 1991)—a principle of inclusion, not a scenario of extinction. Extinction by machine apocalypse is, in many ways, the pinnacle of the spectacle. But, to understand why, we must dive deeply into Debord’s critique and the spectacle itself, beyond its prevailing association with ‘false consciousness’ and a simplified ‘fetishism of commodities’ (c.f. Williams [1960] 1980).

    Debord, Guy. 1995. The Society of the Spectacle. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Revised ed. New York: Zone Books.
    Debord, Guy. 2011. Comments on the Society of the Spectacle. 3rd edition. New York: Verso
    Haraway, Donna. 1990. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. 1st Ed. New York: Routledge.
    Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. 2011. Commonwealth. Cambridge (USA); London: Belknap.
    Marcuse, Herbert. 1991. One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon Press.
    Williams, Raymond. [1960] 1980. Advertising: The Magic System. In Problems in Materialism and Culture, 170–95. London: Verso

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    How to cite this chapter
    Rosati, C. 2017. Spectacle and the Singularity: Debord and the ‘Autonomous Movement of Non-Life’ in Digital Capitalism. In: Briziarelli M. & Armano E (eds.), The Spectacle 2.0. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book11.f

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    Published on Dec. 12, 2017