The Society of the Spectacle @ Bureau of Public Secrets

Translator's Note to the 2002 translation

There have been several previous English translations of The Society of the Spectacle. I have gone through them all and have retained whatever seemed already to be adequate. In particular, I have adopted quite a few of Donald Nicholson-Smith's renderings, though I have diverged from him in many other cases. His translation (Zone Books, 1994) and the earlier one by Fredy Perlman and John Supak (Black and Red, 1977) are both in print, and both can also be found at the Situationist International Online website.

I believe that my translation conveys Debord's actual meaning more accurately, as well as more clearly and idiomatically, than any of the other versions. I am nevertheless aware that it is far from perfect, and welcome any criticisms or suggestions.

If you find the opening chapters too difficult, you might try starting with Chapter 4 or Chapter 5. As you see how Debord deals with concrete historical events, you may get a better idea of the practical implications of ideas that are presented more abstractly in the other chapters.

The book is not, however, as difficult or abstract as it is reputed to be. It is not an ivory-tower academic or philosophical discourse. It is an effort to clarify the nature of the society in which we find ourselves and the advantages and drawbacks of various methods for changing it. Every single thesis has a direct or indirect bearing on issues that are matters of life and death. Chapter 4, which with remarkable conciseness sums up the lessons of two centuries of revolutionary experience, is simply the most obvious example.

 - Ken Knabb
February 2002

March 2002:

In answer to a number of queries I have received: At the moment I have no plans to publish this translation in book form. For one thing, I'm not yet completely satisfied with it, and will be fine-tuning it over the next few months. Then I may start considering different publication possibilities, depending on what sort of interest has been expressed.

Another reason is that Alice Debord has asked me to prepare new translations of all of Debord's films, to be used in subtitling them for English-speaking audiences. One of those films, of course, is based on this book, so I will want to get that taken care of (which may involve minor last-minute changes in the portions of the book that are used in the film) before thinking about book publication.

July 2002:

During the last few weeks I have made a considerable number of stylistic revisions in the Society of the Spectacle translation. Although I will continue to make any improvements that occur to me, the translation as it now stands is probably pretty close to final.

January 2005:

A book edition of this translation has been published in England by Rebel Press. (Note: In the first printing of this edition the publisher erroneously referred to this as 'a new authorized translation.' The translation was in fact done independently and was not authorized. The first printing also begins Chapter 2 with thesis #38. It should begin with #35. Both of these errors have been corrected in the second printing.)


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