i pallindrome i: Debord’s final film 30 years later
If at any time over the last eight years you’ve been haunted by the idea that the ongoing failure of our political leadership is just a symptom of our larger problems, then do yourself a favor and go see Guy Debord’s In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni. While the government will change, we are stuck with the people who permitted them to get away with it: we are stuck with ourselves. That is to say, we all have some explaining to do.
Most famously in his 1967 book (and later film) The Society of the Spectacle, Debord presented one of the most incisive and damning critiques of Western society as we move from producers of goods to consumers of culture. Debord painted a picture of directly lived experience subordinated to and gradually subsumed into an omnipresent media culture. With In girum, his final film, Debord begins with an unyieldingly negative assessment of society (and in particular the movie-going public) before turning to himself and his compatriots.
“I have merited the universal hatred of the society of my time, and I would have been annoyed to have any other merits in the eyes of such a society,” says Debord, and some viewers may be moved to hatred by a tone so self-aggrandizing that its veers into autohagiography. But rather than worrying how far short from justifying his extraordinary self-regard Debord’s achievements fall, we should be concerned more with whether our own justify our umbrage. It may be no longer possible to believe in Debord’s program, but we have failed to put anything in its place.
Barack Obama and many of his younger enthusiasts insist that it is time to move us beyond the stale debates of the 1960s and that their movement is at the threshold of something fundamentally new. Some things to consider while watching In girum: What, if anything, does it mean that their rhetoric echoes language from Debord? What, if anything, does it mean for us to be sitting at a film festival decades later viewing In girum?
In girum opens Views from the Avant-Garde, which runs October 3-5 as part of the New York Film Festival.