Far beyond the show



Considerations on the mutation of capitalism

“I am talking about this capital mutation, which also gives the master’s discourse its capitalist style.” (Jacques Lacan). [I]

Chosen to talk about the 2004 cycle, which was called Far Beyond the Show, I start with two questions, which have accompanied me since that seminar 12 years ago: (1) would we be far beyond the Spectacle or (2) would we still be short of overcoming it?

I answer “yes” to both questions. We are far beyond the Spectacle because the Spectacle, as identified in the 60s by Guy Debord, has already transformed itself and has already revolutionized its entrails and its antennae many times since then, also transforming humanity itself, at least a little.

And we are to whom of its overcoming. We live inside a kind of whale, similar to the one in which he imprisoned old Geppetto, Pinocchio's father. The difference is that our whale, now, is super technological, a digital, virtual and blinking whale, knowing the world's destinations without the world knowing anything. Let's not underestimate her. We humans are more threatened with extinction than this monster that contains us, and that has the equipment to survive our current biological form.

The establishment of the order of the Spectacle is an anti-humanist saga that, in order to be narrated, recruits mythological beings in new guises to shine in the science fiction that we unsuspectingly call reality. Humanism there is supporting or simply loser. With the mutations that advance more and more, starting to be perceived more clearly already at the turn of the 60's to the 70's of the last century, the perspective of the dissolution of the human, the post-human or the trans-human comes to the stage.

Not by chance, my epigraph is a sentence in which the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan speaks of mutation, a term that would occupy a central place in the concerns of Adauto Novaes when setting up his most recent series of conferences. Let's reread Lacan:

“I am speaking of this capital mutation, which also gives the master's discourse its capitalist style.”

For me, the Spectacle did nothing more than radically realize the “capitalist discourse”, as Lacan later named this “capital mutation”. [ii] The “capitalist discourse” completely messes up the scheme of discourses that Lacan himself had conceived before, and which should account for the discursive possibilities posed at that time.

Before recalling Lacan's four discourses, it is worth emphasizing the weight that the word “discourse” has for him. It is not something banal or commonplace, like a way of speaking, a school of oratory or a rhetorical set of perorations. In Lacanian prose, discourse contains a greater force that acts on everyday life with crushing effectiveness. Discourse, “in the order of language (…), acts as a social relationship”, he says.[iii] This means that the discourse exerts a structural force capable of disciplining the words that will be spoken by the speakers, as if it were an underground and invisible plant generating the signs that are set in motion later, through the mouths of the speakers. For Lacan, “every determination of the subject, therefore of thought, depends on discourse”.[iv]

When he summarized his four speeches, all four of them very well structured, Lacan was speaking, therefore, of an ordering of subjects, more than an ordering of words.

Let us then proceed to his four speeches. They are the “discourse of the master”, the “discourse of the hysteric”, the “discourse of the analyst” and the “discourse of the university” (or of the university student). Let us not forget that three of them correspond to three activities that had already been defined by Freud: governing, teaching and analyzing. The “master's speech” would correspond to the office of governing. The “analyst's speech”, when analyzing. The “discourse of the university” would correspond to teaching. Then, on his own account, to these three Freudian crafts, Lacan added a fourth, “making one wish”, which became “the hysteric's discourse”.[v]

With these four functions, which are to govern, teach, analyze and make to desire, the discursive possibilities would be contemplated. There were four of them and, being four, they were already a good size. A little later, Lacan paid attention to this “capital mutation”, which gave the “master's discourse” its “capitalist style” and, in this transformation, convulsively disordered the previous discourses.

In the “capitalist discourse”, who assumes the place of agent, that is, of first enunciator, is the Subject. It is necessary, at this point, to take into account that Lacan does not understand the Subject as master of himself, as a conscious actor, but as a “Subject of the Unconscious”, one who does not know himself well. Taking the reins of the “capitalist discourse”, this “Subject of the Unconscious” does general damage.

The “Subject of the Unconscious” is a nuclear figure in capitalism. In the Spectacle, which, according to Debord, as we will soon see, is a mode of production that springs from the womb of capitalism and reconfigures it in every millimeter of its externality, the unconscious acts as the ultimate, irreversible instance, in a chaotic and turbulent frenzy, in an anarchy of production taken to the extreme. [vi]

Who introduced us to the unconscious, as we well know, was not Lacan, but Sigmund Freud, bearer of the bad news that the ego – or the “I” – was nothing more than an illusion of consciousness. “The ego, it is not master even in its own house”, said Freud. The only thing the ego can do is “be content with scarce information about what goes on unconsciously in its mind”.[vii] At another time, Freud diagnosed: “Thoughts emerge suddenly, without knowing where they come from, nor being able to do anything to keep them away. These strange guests [in the ego's house] even seem to be more powerful than the thoughts that are under the ego's command.”[viii]

As my former teacher, Jeanne Marie Machado de Freitas, taught, the unconscious is, by definition, “the negation of this complete, imaginary subject.”[ix]

It was only later, taking forward what Freud said, that Lacan invented the category of the Subject and raised the concept of the unconscious to less rectilinear flights. He showed that the subject is actually the Subject of the Unconscious, the negation of the complete subject, that is, imaginarily complete. He is also a Divided Subject. Nothing more logical. In the words of linguists and also Freudians of our time, language is the tissue in which “the subject is constituted”, which means that the subject (any human being who communicates with others) only acquires existence in relation to his peers, in relation to others, when it receives a name in the language and when it speaks (good or bad, it doesn't matter). Therefore, the subject only acquires existence when he is inscribed in language, where he sees himself as a third person, the third person of himself, and, to that extent, seeing himself as a third person, he is divided.

As the subject only exists when he becomes an entity of language (and an agent of language), he has always been subjugated by language or, as I prefer to say, subjected by language.[X] Subjugated and subjected, he is a Subject Divided between the representation and the body, between what speaks and the “record of jouissance” (an untranslatable record in language), in a split that is hidden in the unconscious. In Psychoanalytic Theory, this split, in addition to dividing, bars the subject, hence why he is also called the Barred Subject – barred by the signifier (of language).

It so happens that this is not a conference on Psychoanalysis, a field I am not authorized to sow or reap; I don't have the "pass" to inquire into the unconscious. The object of my speech is the Spectacle. If I make a longer stop in these domains, this is due to the direct similarity between the psychoanalytic idea of ​​the “capitalist discourse” and the way in which the Spectacle orders language and takes possession of it, having this Subject in its “front commission”. of the Unconscious in growing apotheosis. For this reason, I think it is legitimate and necessary to invoke notions from Psychoanalysis to problematize dark spots in what the technological whale boasts as blinding solutions.

Given the configuration of the “capitalist discourse”, the Subject of the Unconscious assumes the position of agent without encountering any barriers, restraints or counterforces. By ordering the chain of signifiers, the Subject of the Unconscious starts to order production, in the form of objects, signs, cultural meanings, images, goods and, mainly, in the form of all of this together and at once. In return, in the scheme imagined by Lacan, production bombards the subject through the incessant supply of objects, commodities and images (commodities projected in images and images that are, themselves, commodities). These objects assault him in the look. The objects generated by the unconscious – which are the objects that the unconscious feels, which it lacks – return to it in the form of an external seduction, without measure and without control.

With that, the “capitalist discourse” advances stray, delirious, obsessed with limitless accumulation and the offer of unrestricted enjoyment, in increasing volume, intensity and density, on the verge of an explosion that is always postponed. [xi]

To summarize what we have so far, I summarize in five points the marks that, for me, define this “capital mutation” and how it manifests itself in the “capitalist discourse”.

1) Objects harass the subject who barely knows himself and, nevertheless, desires and acts as the world's great knower, as if he ruled the world.

2) The Subject of the Unconscious commands the “capitalist discourse”, with the essential illusion of having full access to the enjoyment of things and images.

3) The order of the Imaginary advances over the Order of the Symbolic, in such a way that where there was interdiction, there is now its opposite, that is, where the superego ordered “don't enjoy!”, the same superego, now mutated, determines “ enjoy!”.[xii]

4) In the Subject of the Unconscious, within the “capitalist discourse”, the sense of looking presides over the other senses; it is through his eyes that he eats, drinks and devours what he looks at without seeing.

5) The look is the point to which all produced objects converge, since they exist as an image. Looking, the subject lends them meaning. The gaze acquires an active function in capitalist production.

capitalist speech

Now, the points of contact between “the capitalist's discourse” and the Spectacle can perhaps be seen with more definition. What we have in the five points listed above is not simply a list of characteristics of the “capitalist discourse”, but a very exact definition of the Spectacle. I can say that Lacan's “capitalist discourse” defines the Spectacle. Or, less categorically, I can postulate that the Spectacle fulfills the Lacanian formula of the “capitalist discourse”. Everything in it is production and circulation of goods – like images – in favor of capital accumulation. Everything in it is market and work. Gone is what was off the assembly line and off the market.

The Spectacle inaugurates a mutant form of capitalism in which the boundary between leisure and work is abolished, as leisure is abolished, subsisting only as an imaginary illusion. In the Show, fun, more than a “prolongation of work”, as Adorno and Horkheimer would say [xiii], is the work itself. Without exaggeration, it is in the fun that the most intense work activity of the Show is concentrated. Consuming, wearing a brand, adorning yourself with a label, is working to manufacture the brand value of the merchandise. To look at the image of the commodity is to manufacture in the image of the commodity its socially shared meaning, endowed with exchange value, which integrates and constitutes the commodity itself.

In the Spectacle, as in the “capitalist’s discourse”, the working day continues in consumption and entertainment activities: these do not buy value, they do not exactly consume it, but above all manufacture value. This is how the look, before an organic faculty, the necessary apparatus for the so-called “scopic jouissance”, becomes work.

Lacan even mentioned something about the cult of work – “Never has work been so honored since humanity exists” [xiv] – but he didn't dwell on that particular mutation, the one that transmuted the gaze into work. The inventor of the concept of the Spectacle, Guy Debord, did not speak of looking as work either. His book “The Society of the Spectacle”[xv] was released in France in 1967, at the same time, therefore, that Lacan was thinking about his discourses and about capitalism associated with the notion of jouissance (“jouissance value”[xvi], “use of jouissance”[xvii]), but Debord does not mention the thesis that the gaze began to function as work. This thesis, I myself only went to develop it later[xviii], as I was able to register, among other clues, that capital remunerates the gaze in the same pricing manner with which it remunerates fungible work: by the time the message is exposed to the eye purchased on the market.

But what look is this that becomes work? What look is it? Would it be the faculty of seeing with the optical device that nature has endowed us with, simply that? Or would it be the instance illuminated by the spotlight of the imaginary, the instance where all the scenes take place, where human beings seek to install themselves as beings looked at, in addition to being “looking”?

Adauto Novaes organized an entire cycle called “O Olhar”, in 1987. The book with the conferences was published in 1988 by Companhia das Letras, almost 30 years ago. And today, in 2016, in this cycle of ours, João Carlos Salles gives a specific lecture on the gaze. I, in charge of the theme of the Show, am not going to change my niche, I am not going to change the subject. I make only a concise mention when looking to locate the thread by which it became industrially organized and industrially exploited work.

The work of the gaze could not be called manual work – but almost. There is not exactly a physical power in the organic act of looking – but almost. The ancient Greeks believed in the Visual Ray Theory, which stated that the look would generate a strange light that would be deposited on the object seen. The brightness that the pupils projected would be very personal, so much so that, these Greeks assured, two people looking at the same thing would never see identical things. The eye of each would influence, at least in part, the image seen. Aristotle once wrote that the “visual ray” of menstruating women left a blood-colored haze on mirrors.[xx] Do not think that these ideas disappeared in the dust of time. Even today, when we resign ourselves to the power of the “evil eye”, we are inadvertently adept at remnants of the Visual Ray Theory.

Now, at this point, to say that looking is work is not to rehabilitate the old theory. Saying that looking is work does not mean that looking deposits matter on objects. They are different things. Nor was it from this perspective, that of rehabilitating the Theory of the Visual Ray, that Merleau Ponty spoke of “the sky perceived or felt, subtended by my gaze that travels and inhabits it, the medium of a certain vital vibration that my body adopts”[xx]. It was not with this intention that he told of “the investment of the object by my look that penetrates it, animates it”[xxx]. And yet, he wrote, in all letters, that the gaze “inhabits” the sky and “animates” (a verb that has the meaning of “giving soul to”) objects.

Therefore, even without adhering to the Theory of the Visual Ray, I join Merleau Ponty in stating that there is a constitutive force in the gaze. The look constitutes objects to the exact extent that it weaves the meaning of the images as it brings them into focus. This is how the gaze “animates” objects, “penetrates” them and “inhabits” them. Not that, by constituting them as objects looked at, the gaze constitutes them physically, or, on the other hand, constitutes them metaphorically: it constitutes them on the level of language. We are then dealing with objects constituted in language – such as subjects.

With the advent of the Spectacle, the look begins to act on the construction of language on a scale that was not set before, cementing, along uninterrupted journeys, the images in their sense on the vast screen of the imaginary. Just as a word only comes into existence when it becomes a word spoken by the speakers and falls into the web of language, an image only comes into existence when it is “looked at by the onlookers”, inscribing itself in the imaginary web. The look does not just work as the double window opened in the consumers' heads so that the messages can enter there and promote the effects intended by the advertisers of goods, but works, rather, as an active part – more than receptive – in the manufacturing activity of the Show. It is before the eyes of the public, the eyes of society, or, better said, it is before the social gaze that, in a meticulous jewellery, the fixation of the meanings of the images is sewn into the imaginary.

Far from the eyes of humanity, no image of the Show will be able to acquire its imaginary meaning. The eyes of the masses need to be bought, for minutes, or for hours on end, exactly as one buys the workforce (here the analogy is valid), so that, in front of them, and through their action, the links between signifiers visual and its imaginary meaning. Without the look, the process is not consummated. The Show brings the “capital mutation” of the gaze, which becomes the material force (and even productive force) of the visual and semantic repertoire of the imaginary (social imaginary), the vast language “spoken” by our eyes. With a fatal detail: the Spectacle is ordered by the Subject of the Unconscious in the condition of original agent of discourse and in the condition of operator of language.

It is the case of registering that Lacan already perceived, in the 50s of the last century, against the prevailing common sense, that the gaze was an act of language, much more than a device for capturing “reality”. When everyone said that the photographer brought “reality” into the camera and stamped it on the chemical support, Lacan replied with an unusual idea: the photographer is a language worker and his equipment belongs to his subjectivity (and to “subjectivity” of the discourse for which he works). The photographer's equipment would inhabit the order of language. And he was right.

“Perhaps the photographic camera is nothing more than a subjective apparatus”, said Lacan, “which inhabits the same territory as the subject, that is, that of language.” [xxiii] Today, we can go further: to look is to project, on the imaginary screen, the meanings for the images that transit there as empty signifiers.[xxiii]

It's not just. If it promoted a “capital mutation” of the look, the Show had to promote, by automatic unfolding and by necessity, the mutation of the status of the image. What is changing in the gaze is also changing in the image. The most easily identifiable part of the mutation of the image lies in the way in which it was removed from the domain of art, where it had been since the Renaissance, to be handed over to industry, in a displacement that transformed it into the flagship of capitalism remade in Spectacle.

Francis Wolff, in his 2004 conference on the cycle Far Beyond the Spectacle, pointed to this transition. He says that, in the XNUMXth century, the image was dominated by art, from which it was later separated, in the XNUMXth century, to the advantage of capitalist industry. Until the XNUMXth century, images were “transparent”, that is, they directly connected the viewer's eyes to the figure represented in the image – preferably a Catholic saint. At that time, the believer looked at a canvas but did not see the canvas: he saw the saint. Painting had the gift of becoming invisible (hence transparent). In the XNUMXth century (the dating must be read by us as an approximate milestone, just to highlight the mutation there), the images begin to “show themselves”. This is, according to Wolf, the “moment when images become artistic, or, if you prefer, the moment when art took over images”. [xxv] From there, the spectator looks at the painting and sees, on the canvas, the painting, in addition to the thing, when it exists. The art of painting escapes transparency and becomes visible. Steals the scene.

Later, in the XNUMXth century, according to Francis Wolf, images then joined the industry of “automatic reproduction techniques, pure mechanized reproduction, representation for representation’s sake: photography, cinema, television, color TV, digital images, and above all images everywhere, images of everything, images coming from everywhere, images for everyone”.[xxiv]

To which he himself adds: “And we end up finding ourselves, mutatis mutandis, in the same situation as before the age of art, when images were made in a stereotyped way, with the sole intention of representing, with the same consequence, the transparency of images and imaginary illusion. (…) “For images are once again abandoned to themselves, to their own power to represent, and they create the fundamental illusion of not representing, of not being fabricated images, of being the simple, transparent reflection of what they show. , of emanating directly, immediately, from what they represent, of being a pure direct product of reality, as we once believed that the gods they represented emanated directly”.[xxv]

Industrially made, the images always simulate an “artistic” aspect, as if they were still “art”, but become “transparent” again, as they hide their materiality, which today carries the weight of technological standards and social relations. Industrially, images gain entry into the system of meanings and senses. The point is that this system, even if it seems just an innocently visual environment, makes up a linguistic system whose functioning matches the functioning of language. For their plastic making, images require different types of mechanical or intellectual, electronic or manual work, but, for their meaning, they use almost exclusively the work of the look, or the look as work. It is there, in the confection of its meaning, that the capitalist industry of the image focuses with more emphasis.

(At this point, I have an opportunity, I would say rare, to show why the expression “postmodernity”, at least on certain occasions, should be relativized. of a supermodernity, as Marc Augé would say.[xxviii] To the same extent, we do not live in a “post-industrial” era, but a “super-industrial” one. Typically industrial production relations are no longer limited to the factory floor, mechanized fields and sheds where cars are assembled or pots are melted down, but reach television studios, telemarketing companies, cosmetics, tourism, medicines, commerce as a whole – which, under the guise of diffusion of goods, puts the distribution machine at the service of a global factory for synthesizing the images of the goods –, as well as publicity and everything else that a specific ideology has the habit of calling it the “service sector”. All this is super-industry, the entertainment super-industry: more than postmodernity, supermodernity.)

The capture of the image by the industry converts it into merchandise. The Spectacle can thus be understood as the capitalist mode of production in which the dominant form of merchandise is its image form. The body of the merchandise transfers its materiality to the image. What was previously called the “body” of the merchandise – the footwear and the leather in the footwear, the soda liquid and its container, the coffee bean, the barrel of oil, the fuselage of the automobile and its engine – now gains the function of support for the image of the merchandise, conjugation of its brand, its logo and the meanings associated with it (conjugation manufactured by the look).

The Spectacle is capitalism that has learned to manufacture only an image – but not just any image. The Spectacle is capitalism that specializes in exclusively manufacturing the image that acts as a substitute for the “small object a” of which Lacan spoke, the artificial “object a”, which raises the old category of the commodity fetish to an altitude that could not have imagined by Marx. The Spectacle can be defined as capitalism finally converted into a totalizing factory of the commodity fetish. Pure fetish.

To talk a little more about the fetish, I return to another original lecture from our 2004 cycle, “Far beyond the Spectacle”. Now, I use Rodrigo Duarte. He noted that Marx's fetish had already been altered, even before the advent of the Spectacle noted by Guy Debord, by the dynamics of industry culture described by Adorno and Horkheimer, which dates back to the 40s.

Rodrigo Duarte says: “The authors of the “Dialectic of Enlightenment” [the book in which the essay “Cultural Industry” is found] understood that, in the case of the cultural industry – something that, strictly speaking, did not exist at the time of Marx – it would be necessary to add something to this Marxian description of fetishism, since in this type of product the character of appearance inherent in the commodity in general is reinforced”.[xxviii]

These images compose a “text”, a visual text with a mockery of syntax that sets in motion a chain of visual signifiers. More than a set of images, what we have here is a system of interconnected visual signifiers, generating multiple meanings. Rodrigo Duarte also mentions the two thinkers from Frankfurt, Adorno and Horkheimer, when they write that “the dialectic reveals, rather, every image as written”.[xxix] This “writing”, I add, is printed on the blank page of the social gaze.

When we reach this point, we find that the “capital mutation” that Jacques Lacan alluded to affects three distinct, but inseparable spheres:

  • the sphere of the look (which starts to function as work),
  • the sphere of the image (which no longer belongs to the domain of art to be incorporated by industry)
  • and, finally, the sphere of the fetish (which occupies, in the form of the commodity image, the entirety of social life).


Lacan's use of the word “mutation” at the turn of the 1960s to the 1970s foreshadows the idea with which Adauto Novaes would work later, guiding the intellectual production of all of us, in Brazil in the XNUMXst century. It is interesting to return to the way in which Adauto conceptualizes mutation. He quotes: “Before, we could use the term crisis to designate what called for transformation. The crises – by way of criticism – are made up of multiple conceptions that rival each other and that give dialogic value to societies. Therefore, they pointed to hidden changes within the same process. Mutations are passages from one state of affairs to another. Transformations are continuous in things and in ourselves. But we only perceive mutations if we produce, through perception and thought, an encounter between the transformations of things and the transformations of ourselves.”

That was the sense of mutation that the Show brought us: a continuous and accelerated transformation of things (industry, images, discourses and, finally, capitalism) and of ourselves (our biological way of looking, reduced to a cultural and industrial way of working with the gaze). This is why I can list, among the mutations that Adauto Novaes has been talking about so much, one more: the Show.


If we then think of the Spectacle as an entity propelled by the flow of mutations, the aphoristic theses that Guy Debord launched 49 years ago in his masterpiece, The Society of the Spectacle.[xxx] Debord does not speak of super-industry or super-industrial imagery, terms that always sounded more appropriate to me. He also doesn't define the look as work, which I've already highlighted here, just as he doesn't identify the mutations that the image went through. Notes from him, however, remain the order of the day, perhaps more than ever.

“Everything that was lived directly became a representation”, he says.[xxxii] “The Show is not a set of images, but a social relationship between people, mediated by images.”[xxxi]

It is not about any images and any representations. In the Show, industrial images prevail – or industrialized, under the empire of technoscience – which ultimately represent, as we will see, capital itself.

It is worth a parallel between the concept of Spectacle and the concept of cultural industry by Adorno and Horkheimer. the industry cultural emerges as an industry alongside and in line with other industries. The cultural industry is on a par with the automobile industry, the oil industry, the cosmetics industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and so on. In relation to the previous level of culture, marked by the authorial, personal, artisanal and intellectual work of the artist, who existed as an irreplaceable entity, the cultural industry introduces fungible work. The work of art loses its aura, while the commodity gains its synthetic aura. Just as soaps, aspirins, tires are manufactured, rock songs, films are also manufactured, in addition to movie stars, mayoral candidates and “artists” who are Popstars. This is Cultural Industry.

The Show is not that, or at least not just that. It is another world order, a changing stage in which all industries and all markets converge to a single center. The pharmaceutical industry, the automobile industry, the war industry, as well as war, politics, science, terrorism and religions, everything converges to the Spectacle. The scale is another, completely different.

The social relationship is swallowed up by the Spectacle. “It is not possible to make an abstract opposition between the Spectacle and effective social activity”, states Debord, since “the lived reality is materially invaded by the Spectacle's contemplation and takes back in itself the spectacular order to which it adheres in a positive way”.[xxxii] A woman who undresses in front of a mirror is turning the imaginary gears of the entertainment industry in motion. A child dreaming before bed about the amusement park for Sunday is also there. When a man ties his shoes, he moves the industry. The teenager who kills another to take a pair of sneakers too.

It is providential to remember that, in Chapter VI of the Poetics by Aristotle, the term opsis, commonly translated as “spectacle” or “enactment”, is that which “contains everything: character, plot, elocution, song and thought, equally”, being these parts, “character, plot, elocution, song and thought”, the other aesthetic components of tragedy.[xxxv] Just like in Poetics, in which the parts of the tragedy converged to the spectacle, also now, in the “society of the Spectacle”, industries, economic activities, all social life converges to the Spectacle, that is, the Spectacle is the part that contains the other parts. .

Moreover, the representations are confused with what they represent. Capital coincides with its representation. Debord is blunt: “The Spectacle is capital at such a degree of accumulation that it becomes an image”[xxxiv]. The author continues: “Capital is no longer the invisible center that directs the mode of production: its accumulation extends it to the periphery in the form of sensible objects. The whole expanse of society is its portrait.”[xxxiv] The same oppressive visibility defines the commodity in the Spectacle: “it is the moment when the commodity completely occupied social life. Not only is the relationship with the commodity visible, but you cannot see anything beyond it: the world you see is your world”.[xxxviii]

And that is enough for the Spectacle, as it is enough for the Subject of the Unconscious. Debord says that the Spectacle “does not wish to reach anything that is not itself.”[xxxviii]. The Spectacle is not a rigid order – nor would it support such an order. On the contrary, to always be there, as the first, he always changes.

In another moment, the author echoes the passage of the Communist Manifesto that I have already quoted here (“The bourgeoisie can only exist on condition that it ceaselessly revolutionizes the instruments of production.”):

“What the Spectacle offers as perpetual is founded on change, and must change with its basis. The Spectacle is absolutely dogmatic and, at the same time, cannot arrive at any solid dogma. For him, nothing stops; this is its natural state, and yet most contrary to its propensity.”[xxxix]

Exactly like capital, since it é Capital, the Spectacle, is the signifier that is self-sufficient, capable of signifying alone, capable of generating its own meaning.

“Capitalist production has unified space,” writes Debord, “which is no longer limited by external societies.”[xl] The thinker also catches the suspension of time: “The Spectacle, as a social organization of the paralysis of history and memory, of the abandonment of history that is built on the basis of historical time, is the false consciousness of time”.[xi]

false consciousness

Here I pause again before concluding. I pause to find this expression strange: “false consciousness”. As? “False consciousness”?

What is that? It was in the 1893th century that it gained the meaning in which Debord uses it, designating a self-deception or a falsified understanding that the subject would have about his own class condition, or his political condition. Engels uses this same expression in a letter of XNUMX:

“Ideology is a process operated by the so-called thinker consciously, with a false consciousness, therefore. The real intentions that drive him are kept unknown to him. Otherwise, it will not be an ideological process at all”.[xliii]

That Debord associates the understanding of ideology with this assumption of a “false consciousness” is, frankly, disappointing. By any chance, after Freud, and after Lacan, could we believe in something like a “false consciousness”? Is there any “true conscience”? If there is no conscience that holds the truth, how can we point out a conscience that is more false than the others?

In passing, just in passing, it would be worth recovering a brief essay that ended up practically discarded from the libraries of the new Marxists, who accuse him of having been exaggeratedly “structuralist” and schematic. I speak of State Ideological Apparatuses, by Louis Althusser, released at the same time that Debord was diagnosing the Spectacle. This little book by Althusser was also released in Paris, in 1970, three years after the release of The Society of the Spectacle. There is in it a much less primary passage about ideology, which serves as a counterpoint to the accusatory, somewhat moralistic formulation of Karl Marx's partner.

Here is what Althusser says: “Ideology is a 'representation' of the imaginary relationship of individuals with their real conditions of existence.”[xiii]

The idea of ​​the “representation” of a bond that is already, from the outset, an imaginary relationship, opens the way for thinking about the unconscious and ideology in an articulated way. Although less primitive, Althusser's approach contains additional problems. But what matters here are not the supplementary problems, but the realization that ideology is of the order of representation, of language, and, whenever there is representation, there is ideology. There is no historical subject without ideology. And that's the thing: one cannot say of this representation that it is "false" or "true". She is just that: representation. Ideology, if you want a concept, is the cement that glues the signifier to the signified, in such a way that the ideological cement is inseparable from the life of language and life in language. And that's just to stay with Althusser.

It is not only in the understanding of ideology that the text of The Society of the Spectacle falls into anachronism. Debord also seems to imagine that the Bolshevik tactics of the October Revolution in Russia would manage to dissolve the gigantic imposture of images set up by capitalism specialized in the fabrication and worship of images.[xiv] Above all, he considers the unconscious to be a deformation. Expressly.

“The Spectacle is the conservation of unconsciousness in the practical change of the conditions of existence.”[xlv]

The unconscious remains, in Debord as in most of the representatives of determinist Marxism, a state of lethargy, of numbness, a “lack of consciousness”. Ideology, “false consciousness”, is seen as “deformation” of “reality”. It is not surprising that, in at least one passage, Debord misses a subtle suggestion of equivalence between the notions of “I” and “subject”, something that Lacan would take care to bury.[xlv] Finally, melancholy, Debord indicates that the revolution to overcome the Spectacle can only come from a victory of consciousness over unconsciousness.

Here is his libel: “The consciousness of desire and the desire for consciousness are the same project that, in its negative form, wants the abolition of classes, that is, that workers have direct possession of all the moments of their activity. Its opposite is the society of the Spectacle, in which the commodity contemplates itself in the world it has created”.[xlv]

Yes, indeed, it is as a commodity that man looks at the commodity, but there is no way to expect that the consciousness of desire will abolish classes. Consciousness of desire only opens a way for the subject to become aware of himself, which implies that, instead of opposing the unconscious, consciousness can at best admit it.

Another example of the same anachronism: “Neither the isolated individual nor the atomized crowd subject to manipulation can carry out this 'historical mission of establishing truth in the world', a task that still and always falls to the class that is capable of being the dissolution of all classes by summing up all power in the disalienating form of realized democracy, the Council, in which practical theory controls itself and sees its action”.[xlviii] The only path that Debord envisions is that of the “workers' councils”, that is, the soviets, in flesh, bones and overalls. On that point, anyway, he got it wrong.

Another of the lecturers of the cycle “Much beyond the Spectacle”, the third one I mention here, Anselm Jappe, also touches on this. But now, I quote Anselm Jappe not in his 2004 lecture, but in an earlier article he wrote for the Folha de S. Paul. He says that Debord "had to admit", in Comments, “that the spectacular domain has managed to perfect itself and overcome all its opponents”.[xlix] It is disconcerting, indeed, but Debord, with his solutions à la the Soviet proletariat, comes very close to denying his own diagnosis, as if he did not realize the mutations that definitively buried Leninist tactics due to the loss of an object that had transmuted.

Finally, also in Debord's heritage, we are still a long way from overcoming the Spectacle.

But, having made this necessary record, I praise him again. In the final balance, I have no doubt, The Society of the Spectacle it has the strength of a testimony from someone who has seen the face of capital head-on like someone who breathes the breath of the devil, looking it in the eyes, but has not been able to decipher the mechanisms by which the face of capital has become what it is. That he saw the animal, that he saw. And, even being inside the technological whale, he knew how to describe it. He didn't find the overcoming, but he left clues. He just didn't know how to beat him.


* Eugene Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of About ethics and press (Company of Letters).

Originally published on the website ArtThought IMS.



[I]Lacan, J. The Seminar. Book 17: The reverse of psychoanalysis. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 1992. p. 178.

[ii] After “The reverse of Psychoanalysis”, at the Milan Conference, in 1972, he better expounds the “capitalist discourse”. A year later, in an interview he did for television in 1973, he also referred to the “capitalist discourse”. This “lesson” by Lacan, shown in prime time on French TV, although incomprehensible to viewers, was published in the book Television (Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Ed. 1993).

[iii] LACAN. Du discourse Psycanalytique. Milan: Ed. Salamander. 1978. P. 11.

[iv] Lacan, J. The Seminar. Book 17: The reverse of psychoanalysis. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 1992. p. 161.

[v] LACAN, The Reverse, p. 183-184.

[vi] Anarchic and permanently disordered and disorganized, in the terms in which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels described capitalism, still very young, in 1848, in the Communist Manifesto: “The bourgeoisie can only exist on condition that it ceaselessly revolutionizes the instruments of production, therefore, the relations of production and, with it, all social relations.(…) This continuous subversion of production, this constant upheaval of the entire system society, this permanent agitation and this lack of security distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all preceding ones. All old and crystallized social relations dissolve, with their train of secularly venerated conceptions and ideas, the relations that replace them become antiquated even before they ossify. Everything solid melts into air."(The Communist Manifesto 150 Years Later: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels. Volume edited by Daniel Aarão Reis Filho. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint; Sao Paulo: Perseu Abramo Foundation. 1998. P. 11.) We see in this passage that the so-called anarchy of production is inseparable from the capitalist mode of production (which remains in the society of the spectacle). We also see that the myth of the revolution is a bourgeois myth, something like changing everything so that nothing changes, which Guy Debord will also talk about in The Society of the Spectacle.

[vii] FREUD, S. “Lecture XVIII: Fixation in Traumas – the unconscious”. In: Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud: Brazilian Standard Edition. Rio de Janeiro: Imago, 1996, Vol. XVI, p. 292.

FREUD, S. “A difficulty in the path of psychoanalysis”. In: Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud: Brazilian Standard Edition. Rio de Janeiro: Imago, 1996, Vol. XVII, p. 151.

[ix] FREITAS, Jeanne Marie Machado de. Communication and Psychoanalysis, São Paulo: Escuta, 1992, p. 84.

[X] See LACAN, Inside out (p. 69): “When I say use of language, I don't mean to say that we use it. We are your employees. Language employs us. That's where it enjoys.”

[xi] In case the reader feels the need for a less rushed idea about what represented the “capital mutation” that transformed the “master's speech” into “the capitalist's speech”, this note may help. Its only purpose is to provide the initial clues of a conceptualization that, for further deepening, requires a complex mining in a somewhat hostile bibliography. I will try to do this without making too many concessions to the initiatory language of Jacques Lacan and his disciples, an almost indecipherable dialect, even for themselves. The purpose of this footnote is to provide preliminary clarifications only. It is not intended here to account for the Lacanian theory of discourse.

Lacan's four discourses are exposed in The seminar, book 17: the reverse of psychoanalysis (Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 1992). They are the four possible variations (he calls them “permutations”) of a general structure that is very schematic. Any discourse, according to Lacan, would be placed according to the orderly arrangement of four functions: the function of the agent (who acts as the first enunciator of the discourse), the function of the Other (the person to whom the speech is addressed, but who also reproduces it, organizes it and influences the agent), the function of production (what discourse manufactures, what it generates as a productive activity) and the function of truth (on which the agent puts down roots). Lacan arranged these four functions in a formula (Lacan called his graphical representations “mathemas”) as in a simple “rule of three” that we know in mathematics classes:


agent other

_______ __________   


truth production


From this general structure, the French psychoanalyst created his four discourses. In each of the four, each of the four functions is exercised a different element (which are also four in total). These four elements (or four “characters”, if you will) are the following: the S1, you2, the “small object 'a'” and the $. In each of the speeches, the S1, you2, the “small object 'a'” and the $ successively occupy the functions of agent, Other, production quality truth.

Before detailing each speech, let's try to better present each of these four elements (or “characters”).

YOU1 it is the One Significant, or First Significant. He is still called the Master-Signifier, the Master, or the Lord. So that we lay people understand, I say that the S1 it is usually associated with the “Father”, or the “Name of the Father” (and the “Phallus”). YOU1 is the S1 because it orders the rest. It has the strength to establish a division between the taboo and the totem, between what is forbidden and what is authorized. YOU1 establishes the starting point for the chain of signifiers that follow it.

To this chain of signifiers (which follows the S1) is called Significant Two, or simply S2. “A significant S2 represents a significant S1 repressed and S2 replaces it”, we read in the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychoanalysis: the legacy of Freud and Lacan, edited by Pierre Kaufann (Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editor, 1996, p. 473). We could say, in a somewhat approximate way, that in S2 there is the visible face of the signifier: the culture, the language spoken, the text of the law, in addition to the different forms of work and socialization, as it is the S2 who leads to production (production of meaning, production of meaning and also of objects). So much so that Lacan associates the S2 to “Knowledge”, in the sense of referring to “knowing how to do” (it is the “knowing how to do” of the slave, which produces what the Lord orders to be produced).

The third element, Lacan called it “small object 'a'”, or, simply, a small “a”. That “a” comes from “autre” (“other” in French). It is about the object – something close to what is usually called, in everyday language, the “object of desire”. When the subject desires (and he desires all the time), it is this “little object 'a'” that he desires – and he desires it because he lacks exactly this “a”. The subject, the one he lacks, then goes in search of substitutes for the “a” he lacks. The substitute could be the heel of a woman's red shoe, it could be a car, it could be a presidential sash. The subject devours these substitutes (substitutes for the “small object 'a'”) and then throws away the residue – which, in turn, will serve as a “small object a” for another subject. The subject is capable of killing to appropriate his “small object a”. He is capable of dying if he does not find his replacements. He just doesn't know it.

We then arrive at the fourth extra in the queue, the Subject, the one who desires without really knowing what he desires. We have already seen that the Subject is constituted in language. We also saw that the subject is “barred” in language. He is the Divided Subject, the Barred Subject (barred, more precisely, by the S1) or the Subject of the Unconscious. (There are different markings for these concepts, but here, for the purposes of reasoning to identify the Subject of the Unconscious as the agent of the Spectacle, we can group them in a single pole.) To symbolize it, just as it symbolized S1 and S2, Lacan chose a sign similar to a dollar sign: the “S”, for Subject, with a vertical bar that crosses it from top to bottom: $.

Barred, $ will wander around the world, through the forest of language, through the ocean of language, through the desert of language, through the vacuum of language, like a wandering being. He walks around like a broken signifier showing himself to other broken signifiers (other subjects, other objects, other goods, categories that overlap).

Well then. Having presented the elements (or characters), we arrive at the four speeches. In the first, the “master's speech”, who has the initiative, who takes the place of agent, is the S1. Instead of Other is the S2, which indicates that Significant One triggers Significant 2. Below Significant One, in the function of truth, remains the Divided Subject, the $. below the S2, the “a”, in place of production. The impression that remains is that, in the “master's speech”, things seem to be in a kind of natural order. The first agent, the originator of everything else, is exactly S1, the first signifier.

 After the “master's speech”, which is the first on the list, Lacan promotes a clockwise rotation that makes the four elements go a quarter of a turn (as if they had gone 15 minutes on the clock). Each of them walks one space ahead (always clockwise). Then, rotating the four elements in an interval of a quarter of a turn, we have the second discourse, called by Lacan “discourse of the hysteric”. In that second, the function of initiating the discursive vector is no longer up to S1, but to the Divided Subject, the one who does not know about himself and hardly knows about his own desire. A particularly disturbing detail in “the hysteric's discourse” is that the hysteric's desire is addressed to the Significant One (which goes to the place of the Other), as if to say that all the hysteric wants is a master who tells her what to do. (LACAN, Jacques. The seminar, book 17: the reverse of psychoanalysis. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 1992, p. 136.)

In the third speech (another quarter of a turn), which is the “analyst's speech”, the “small object a”, rises to the first position, and addresses the Divided Subject (which goes to the position just to the right, the reserved position for Other). With this, the “analyst's discourse” would realize the utopia of the psychoanalytic clinic: leaving the object (which goes to the place of the agent) trigger the speech so that the Subject learns a little about his own desire. Finally, the fourth discourse is the “university discourse”, in which the Significant Two holds the primacy of the discourse (it takes the place of the agent). The protagonist, now, is the Subject of Science, scientific primacy.

It was after exposing these four that Lacan sensed the “capital mutation” that would set in motion the “capitalist discourse”. In the “capitalist discourse” there is a confusion, a mess, an absurd inversion. Let us remember that the four elements succeed each other in different functions, but the order between them does not change, as in a circular queue, like children playing with wheels. The queue is always the same: in front of the S1 always go oo2; in front of this, the “small object 'a'” and, finally, the $. The only thing that changes is the position of each one in the four boxes of the discourse matrix. It is there that the “capital mutation” that generates the “capitalist discourse” subverts the order between them, making the $, which should always be, in line, behind the S1, exceed the S1, without warning, without anything. This slight change turns the scheme upside down. As in the “discourse of the hysteric”, in the “discourse of the capitalist” it is the $ who takes on the position of agent. Now, however, he has surpassed the S1, which is below the $, as if ridden by $. This is where everything, absolutely everything, gets complicated.

[xii] See Lacan, J. The Seminar, book 20: even more. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editor, 1982, p. 11: “Nothing forces anyone to enjoy, except the superego. The superego is the imperative of enjoyment – ​​Enjoy!” See also Miller, JA (1997). On Kant with Sade. in elucidated Lacan. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, p. 169. See also KEHL, Maria Rita. “Imagine and think”. In: NOVAES, Adauto (org.). Imaginary Network. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras / Municipal Secretary of Culture, 1991, pp 60-72, p. 66: “Here it is worth remembering that the superego for Lacan is not just the one that demands: 'don't enjoy!' [Freud's superego, that is, what represents the order based on repression], but simultaneously what imposes on us: 'Enjoy!'. (…) The norm that governs the code of the imaginary network is none other than the imperative of jouissance, and in this case, television discourse, invested with the authority of a social code, demands the same thing: jouissance, fullness, enjoyment.”

[xiii] Adorno, Theodor W. and Horkheimer, Max. “The culture industry: enlightenment as mystification of the masses”, in Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editor, 1985 p. 128.

[xiv] Lacan, J. The Seminar. Book 17: The reverse of psychoanalysis. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 1992.p. 178.

[xv] DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997

[xvi] Consult the transcripts of Jacques Lacan's Seminar XIV, entitled The Logic of the Phantom, 1966-1967, session of April 12, 1967 and session of April 19 of the same year. On this concept, “jouissance value”, see also the mention of Jacques Alain Miller: “to reconcile the value of truth with the value of jouissance is the problem of Lacan's teaching”. This passage is in MILLER, JA. Silet: The paradoxes of the drive, from Freud to Lacan. Rio de Janeiro: J. Zahar, 2005, p. 52.

[xvii] Lacan, J. The seminar, book 7: the ethics of psychoanalysis. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editor, 1988, p. 279.

[xviii] In my doctoral thesis, “Object Television”, defended at ECA-USP, in 2002.

[xx] SIMAAN, Arkan. FONTAINE, Joelle. The picture of the world – from the Babylonians to Newton. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2003. Page. 88.

[xx] MERLEAU-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of perception. Trans. by Reginaldo di Piero. Rio de Janeiro: Livraria Freitas Bastos SA, 1971, p. 290.

[xxx]  MERLEAU-Ponty, p. 356-357.

[xxiii] Lacan, J. (1996). The Seminar, Book 1: Freud's Technical Writings. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, p. 125.

[xxiii] The etymological origin of spectacle sheds some light on this meaning of the word. It comes from the Latin Spectaculum, which means “view, something to observe visually”, from Spectare, linked to Specere, which means “to see”, from the Indo-European Spek- (“to observe”). The suffix “-culum” is usually attached to verb roots, connoting an idea of ​​instrumentality (verb root + tool for…). Like this Spectaculum would be some appropriate object to be looked at, like habitat, something suitable to inhabit and cubiculum, a bedroom to lie down (lat: cubare). I like to understand, from there, that the word “Spectacle” brings in its genetic meaning the meaning of designating a universal gaze attractor, which takes the gaze as an action – almost like work.

[xxv] Wolff, Francis. “Behind the Spectacle: the power of images”, in: NOVAES, Adauto (org.). Far beyond the Show. São Paulo: Editora Senac, 2005. P. 39.

[xxiv] Wolff, F.p. 43.

[xxv] Wolff, F.p. 43.

[xxviii] AUGÉ, Marc. Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Campinas: Papirus, 1994, p. 33.

[xxviii] DUARTE, Rodrigo. “Values ​​and interests in the age of images”, in: in: NOVAES, Adauto (org.). Far beyond the Show. São Paulo: Editora Senac, 2005. P. 108.

[xxix] DUARTE, Rodrigo. P. 112.

[xxx] The next paragraphs of this conference will use excerpts from my doctoral thesis at ECA-USP, in 2002, with the title “Object television: criticism and its questions of method”, under the guidance of Dulcília Buitoni.

[xxxii] DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997, p. 13.

[xxxi] DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997, p. 14.

[xxxii] DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997, p. 15.

[xxxv] In this regard, see the enlightening article by Greice Ferreira Drumond Kibuuka, “The opsis in dramatic poetry according to Aristotle's Poetics”. ANNALS OF CLASSICAL PHILOSOPHY, vol. 2 nº 3, 2008, ISSN 1982-5323, pages 60-72.  (http://afc.ifcs.ufrj.br/2008/GREICE.pdf).

[xxxiv] DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997, p. 25. (author's emphasis)

[xxxiv] DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997, p. 34.

[xxxviii] DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997, p. 30. (author's emphasis)

[xxxviii] DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997, p. 17.

[xxxix] DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997, p. 47.

[xl] DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997, p. 111.

[xi] DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997, p. 108.

[xliii] GABEL, Joseph. False Consciousness [ed. orig. 1962], trans. port., Lisbon, Guimarães Editores, 1979.

[xiii] ALTHUSSER, Louis. Ideological State Apparatuses: note on Ideological State Apparatuses (AIE). Rio de Janeiro: Edições Graal, 1985, 2nd edition, p. 85. Additional irony: it was Althusser who helped Lacan, at that turning point between the 60s and 70s, to find shelter at the École Normale Supérieure, the Normale Sup, from which the famous “seminars” would emerge. The fact is remembered in the documentary Rendezvous chez Lacan, by Gérard Miller, 2011.

[xiv] I return here to some observations I made in my lecture at the seminar “Far beyond the Spectacle”, in 2004

[xlv] DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997, p. 21. (emphasis added)

[xlv] See thesis 52. DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997, p. 35.

[xlv] DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997, p. 35.

[xlviii] DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997, p. 141. See also thesis 117, p. 83. See also “the proletarian subject” and “its consciousness equal to the practical organization” in thesis 116, p. 83.

[xlix] JAPPE, Anselm. “The Art of Unmasking”. Caerno “More!”, Folha de S. Paul. August 17, 1997, p. 4.

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