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theatre research international · vol. 29 | no. 1 | pp4–15
International Federation for Theatre Research 2004 · Printed in the United Kingdom DOI:10.1017/S0307883303001214

Society of the Counter-Spectacle: Debord and
the Theatre of the Situationists
martin puchner

This article examines the work of the Situationists and their leading member, Guy Debord, as it
relates to theatre history and the history of the manifesto. The Situationists privileged the writing of
manifestos over the production of art works in order to avoid the fate of the historical avant-garde,
whose provocative art had been co-opted by the cultural establishment. Despite this pro-manifesto
and anti-art stance, the Situationists drew on the theatre, envisioning the construction of theatrical
‘situations’ influenced by the emerging New York happening as well as modern theatre artists such
as Brecht and Artaud. This theatrical inheritance prompted a recent theatrical representation of
their activities based on Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces. What this theatrical rendering demonstrated,
however, is that the theatricality of the ‘situation’ is different from that produced on a stage, reminding
us that the strategies of the neo-avant-garde cannot be easily transferred to a traditional theatrical

For some time now, attitudes towards the various avant-gardes have resembled the
structure of the Freudian denial: the avant-garde is dead; the avant-garde has been
pointlessly reanimated; and the avant-garde never really came to life in the first place.
Whether backed-up by a history of capitalism (Jameson), a rudimentary Hegelian
dialectics (B¨ rger), or a defence of high modernism, the avant-garde’s simultaneous
non-existence, empty revival and original still-birth inform the historiography of its
detractors and even of its friends.1 In this climate, Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces (1989)
still stands out in its singular desire to do justice to the avant-garde. Written...

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