The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International

By Mckenzie Wark

The Situationist International was a diverse underground ensemble, an arts/culture/philosophy movement in the ’60s that left an influential legacy in many arenas. Precursor to many important social movements (e.g. Occupy Wall Street), the SI “continues to inspire activists, artists and theorists around the world.”

The many members of the SI blended art, life, community, creativity, space, spontaneity, and futurism; my impression of their work is that it’s largely about creating room for engagement — about reconsidering our interactions with the world, deepening and strengthening our activities and relationships, while at the same time embracing the absurd.

This book, an exploration of “radical aesthetic potentiality”, relates the historical influence of the SI movement and provides “a marvellous guide to the micro-society of the Situationists” and their “adventures in philosophy, art, architecture, literature and cinema…”

Chapter titles include: Street Ethnography, The Torrent of History, Extreme Aesthetics, A Provisional Micro-Society, and Permanent Play. These seem like really interesting topics! I’m vaguely familiar with some of the ideas and writings of Guy Debord and the SI (most notably psychogeography and the idea of the derivé) but I don’t know much about the history and systems of belief and practice they manifested. I look forward to learning more about how this work informs our “contemporary experience of communications, architecture, and everyday life.”

One thing I found interesting is a reviewer’s comment that the book’s “primary proposal is that although we live in serious times we should still have fun with time. We should treat history as a user’s manual.” I like how this implies active lessons — that this book is not just history but guide, imploring us to consider how we can learn from and apply these ideas.

Additional information:

  • ISBN: 978-1781688380
  • Publisher: Verso

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