Praxis Seminar: Research Colloquium in Practical Philosophy 2020/21, Session 15

Eric-John Russell

University of Paris 8

Domination qua Appearance: Guy Debord and the Society of the Spectacle

11 May 2021, 18h00 Lisbon Time (GMT+1)

Online Seminar – Via Zoom (link here)



Guy Debord has been called many things: pseudo-philosopher, nihilist, filmmaker, megalomaniac, strategist, third-rate Mephistopheles, theoretician, enragé. His 1967 The Society of the Spectacle has fallen into a similarly polyvalent reception. It has become a ubiquitous observation to say that we live in a society of ‘spectacles’. And yet, The Society of the Spectacle —a critical theory of twentieth century capitalism as a form of domination qua appearance— is pregnant with clues that the full meaning of Debord’s diagnosis can only be derived not just from Marx’s critique of political economy, but also from Hegel’s speculative philosophy. However, my central argument is that Debord did not simply find within Hegel’s philosophy the language necessary to speak to the problems of capitalist society (e.g. with the categories of appearance, essence, immediacy, mediation). Instead, in Debord’s critical theory, Hegel’s speculative logic emerges as a really existing rationality and social ontology that gives structural coherence to the organization of appearances in society. Tracing Debord’s diagnosis out of this Hegelian lineage highlights the merit of theorizing capitalism in terms of a modality of appearing, specifically by emphasizing the difficulty in seeing the world not as it really is.