Guy Debord was a maverick figure who avoided the academy and eschewed the public role expected of Parisian intellectuals, artists and revolutionaries. Even his autobiographic writings offer little to those seeking clues to a life cluttered with t he rumour and intrigue which inevitably fills such vacuums.

It can certainly be said that Debord drank too much, wrote too little and developed an incisive critique of the socio- economic order which he saw dominating 20th-century life. Defining this order as ``the spectacle'', Debord spent the 1960s undermining it with the Situationist International, an intriguing coalition of artists, writers and revolutionaries whose influence later fed into the anarchist cultures of punk, cyberpunk, and some of the more wayward elements of the arts and post-modern theory.

As a young film-maker in Paris, Debord worked with the Lettrist International's Isidor Isou and Maurice Lamaitre on the line of anti-art experimentation which had its sources in Dada and Surrealism. After writing numerous articles, making films includingHurlements en Faveur de Sade (1952), and editing several editions of the journal Internationale Situationniste, he published The Society of the Spectacle in 1967. The Revolution of Everyday Life, a more flamboyant book by Debord's co-conspirator Raoul Vaneigem, appeared in the same year. Twelve months later, France was on strike and revolution was in the air. And if neither the Situationists nor the events of May 1968 brought the social order down, they certainly had an extraordinary impact on both thepolitical underground and theoretical developments which came in their wake.

With typical affected arrogance, Debord considered his critique of 20th-century capitalism to be brilliant. Much of this conceit was quite justified. Drawing on Situationist interests in the avant-garde, architecture, urban planning, cinema, and Marxist theory, Debord defined the spectacle as the high-point of a process of alienation and commodification which turns people into spectators, even of their own lives. Although his work can seem steeped in alcoholic nostalgia for some notion of a long-lost self, Debord is at his most effective when he insists that the desire for wholesale change emerges as the inevitable and subversive product of a social order which then has the problem of containing it.

Suicide is not always an act of despair, but it seems likely that Debord's last move was made in the weary belief that such fundamental change would never come. In his terms, the revolution had failed, and Comments of the Society of the Spectacle, published in his late 1980s, made the spectacle seem even more entrenched than it had been 20 years before. But there are enormous and unprecedented shifts afoot for the social order he defined so well. Debord's spectacle was frozen in place by the complicitybetween market interests and those of the state, and driven by the imperatives of the Cold War and television. It was an order which was governed by the West, and predates the emergence of Pacific Asia, the crisis of the state, the anarchy of the Interne t, the interconnectivities of dance culture and other Generation X adventures, and an underworld of discontented renegades for whom Watch Only TV, like Read Only Memory, is no longer the only thing to do.

Debord spent his last years in the heart of rural France. No doubt the world looks different from there. But the real tragedy of his death is that, even as the spectacle was coming undone, Debord seems to have believed its own hype about its immortality.Debord loved war games, and was a great strategist. It is a shame that he will miss the adventures to come.

Sadie Plant Guy Debord, writer and film-maker: born Paris 28 December 1931; died 30 November 1994.

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits