Why everything is as it seems : Hegel's speculative logic in Guy Debord's 'The society of the spectacle'

Russell, Eric-John (2019) Why everything is as it seems : Hegel's speculative logic in Guy Debord's 'The society of the spectacle'. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


The dissertation examines the work of Guy Debord, author of 'The society of the spectacle' and leading theoretician of the Situationist International, and argues how the spectacle is a category that systematically derives from both Marx's critique of political economy and the dynamic of Hegel's speculative philosophy. The society of the spectacle consists in a peculiar form of domination developed through the autonomy of the commodity economy within the capitalist mode of production in which human activity becomes structured by objective forms of appearance. However, the central thesis is that Debord did not simply find within Hegel's philosophy the language necessary to speak to the problems of capitalist society, but that Hegel's speculative logic emerges as a reality existing rationality, an active force in the world, that gives structural coherence to the organisation of appearances within society. In a word, the level of conceptual thinking found within Hegel's speculative philosophy is argued to constitute the actuality of the society of the spectacle. At its core, Debord's theory of the spectacle is a logic of commensurability, an identity of and within difference historically grounded within the principle of commodity exchange which reproduces without extinguishing qualitative distinctions in a relation of equivalence. For this, the spectacle is argued to be a social structure of unity-in-separation, modelled on elements of Hegel's 'Phenomenology of spirit' and 'Science of logic', which gives speculative identity to seeming dualities and antinomies. This is the speculative nature of the spectacle. This dissertation pulls Debord away from the discourses in which he is normally situated, such as media studies and avant-garde art history, and instead examines his work within the lineage of German Idealism, Left Hegelianism, Hegelian Marxism, Marxist Hegelianism and Frankfurt School Critical Theory. Tracing Debord's diagnosis out of this lineage makes explicit the merit of theorising capitalism in terms of a modality of appearing by emphasising the difficulty of seeing the world 'not as it really is'.

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