Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Society of the Spectacle©

Sorry for all the quiet. The last couple of weeks have been hectic, to put it mildly, with me finalizing my book manuscript and delivering a keynote address at a wonderful conference organized by the graduate students in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at UC Berkeley. And this week, my old mentor and very dear friend, John Erni, is headed here to Indiana to deliver a talk on "The New Sovereignties." Good things are happening, but unfortunately, Differences & Repetitions has suffered as a result. So thanks, readers, for sticking around.

I'm writing to share a story from this week's Chronicle of Higher Education. It talks about how Alex Galloway, an Associate Professor at NYU and someone I knew from grad school, has run into copyright trouble with, of all things, the estate of Marxist Guy Debord! Here's a taste of the article:
Guy Debord, the Marxist and French philosopher who died in 1994, may be rolling over in his grave.

A lawyer representing his widow has threatened Alexander R. Galloway, an associate professor of culture and communication at New York University, with legal action. Mr. Galloway said the lawyer sent him a letter demanding that he cease and desist from distributing his online war game, claiming it infringes on the copyright of the Debord estate. The philosopher had created a similar war game.

But copyrights and intellectual property were anathema to Debord, said Mr. Galloway. The Situationist International movement that Debord founded in 1957 is a mix of anarchism and Marxism. Its followers scrawled, "Abolish copyright" on building walls during the May 1968 student uprisings in Paris.

I know capitalism's supposedly rife with contradication, but this is getting ridiculous. (And here I'm reminded of Deleuze and Guattari's claim, "Nobody's ever died from a contradiction.") Indeed, to me, Alex's game is clearly a transformative use of Debord's concept and therefore well within the bounds of fair use.

Isn't it depressing when Marxists, or at least the spouses thereof, don't see things the same way? And isn't it even more depressing when the work of great Marxists comes to be seen not as a source of critical heuristics but rather as a lucrative revenue stream? Perhaps I'm naive, but I thought Debord's ideas and creative work were supposed to give us some distance from the excesses of the "society of the spectacle" and not, as it were, to become them.

Anyway, you can read the full story here. This is a very interesting case to me, since it would seeem to hold not insignificant implications for the matter of academic freedom, above and beyond any copyright considerations that may be at stake.

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