Wark on Kawai's Theology of the Spectacle

[Originally appeared on Nettime.org (November 5, 2002)
Mckenzie Wark speaks on the Theology of the Spectacle]:

Masayuki Kawai
"About a Theological Situation in the Society of
the Spectactle"
Queens Museum of Art, New York, 3-10 Nov
guest curator Cristine Wang

There is something untouchable about the major
works of Guy Debord, founder and animating force of the
Situationist International. As someone who famously declared
"we are not about to play the game", he is not so easy to
assimilate into the play of institutional signifiers that is
the art world.

What makes Masayuki Kawai's video so fine is that
it pretty much ignores the question of what it means to
appropriate and rework Debord's work. This video just does
it, and in fine style.

What one learns, in the process, is that recession or not,
Japanese commodity culture still furnishes the kinds of
images that really do seem to bear out Debord's

As Debord writes, "the whole life of those
societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents
itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All
that was once directly lived has become mere

This is a world in which "that which is good
appears, and that which appears is good." The spectacle is not
just an accumulation of images, "it is rather a social
relationship mediated by images."

Of course Debord made his own film version of his
classic work, The Society of the Spectacle. Part of the
problem with that film is that Debord was using the image
culture of mid century France, which was far from being the
most highly developed of the time. Kawai's video, on
the other hand, is effective precisely because one seems to
peer over the brink of a future the bulk of the world
has yet to quite enter.

I'm not in a position to assess Kawai's
development of the Debordian thesis from one viewing, but there
too, this is a work of some value. There's something
static, unreflective in the ways in which the thesis of
the spectacle is usually taken up. Debord's empahsis on
separation has its limitations in a world in which the
vectoral and connective property of media seems more telling.
The alienation Debord identifies hinges on a somewhat
static understanding of a necessity that pre-exists its
rupture in the commodity economy.

It's not that Kawai has resolved these issues in
the Debordian thesis. The video seems to me to offer
a very elegant restatement and adaption of the
classic situationist position. But he does offer a very
useful artwork with which to think these issues through.

Masayuki Kawai:
"About a Theological Situation in the Society of
the Spectactle"
single channel video
Queens Museum of Art 3-10 Nov
guest curator Cristine Wang


McKenzie Wark is a New York-based media theorist, critic, and the author of three books, including "Virtual Geography" (1994); "The Virtual Republic" (1997); and "Celebrities, Culture and Cyberspace" (1998).


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