The Society of the Spectacle
by Guy Debord
Chapter 6 "Spectacular Time"
We have nothing that is ours except time,
which even those without a roof can enjoy.
Baltasar Gracián, Oráculo manual
y Arte de prudencia
The time of production, commodity-time, is an infinite
accumulation of equivalent intervals. It is the abstraction of irreversible
time, all of whose segments must prove on the chronometer their merely
quantitative equality. This time is in reality exactly what it is in its
character. In this social domination by commodity-time, "time is everything,
man is nothing; he is at most the carcass of time" (Poverty of Philosophy).
This is time devalued, the complete inversion of time as "the field of
The general time of human non-development also exists
in the complementary form of consumable time which returns as pseudo-cyclical
to the daily life of the society based on this determined production.
Pseudo-cyclical time is actually no more than the
disguise of the commodity-time of production. It contains the essential
properties of commodity-time, namely exchangeable homogeneous units and
the suppression of the qualitative dimension. But being the by-product
of this time which aims to retard concrete daily life and to keep it retarded,
it must be charged with pseudo-valuations and appear in a sequence of falsely
Pseudo-cyclical time is the time of consumption of
modern economic survival, of increased survival, where daily life continues
to be deprived of decision and remains bound, no longer to the natural
order, but to the pseudo-nature developed in alienated labor; and thus
this time naturally reestablishes the ancient cyclical rhythm which
regulated the survival of preindustrial societies. Pseudo-cyclical time
leans on the natural remains of cyclical time and also uses it to compose
new homologous combinations: day and night, work and weekly rest, the recurrence
Pseudo-cyclical time is a time transformed by
industry. The time which has its basis in the production of commodities
is itself a consumable commodity which includes everything that previously
(during the phase of dissolution of the old unitary society) was differentiated
into private life, economic life, political life. All the consumable time
of modern society comes to be treated as a raw material for varied new
products which impose themselves on the market as uses of socially organized
time. "A product which already exists in a form which makes it suitable
for consumption can nevertheless in its turn become a raw material for
another product" (Capital).
In its most advanced sector, concentrated capitalism
orients itself towards the sale of "completely equipped" blocks of time,
each one constituting a single unified commodity which integrates a number
of diverse commodities. In the expanding economy of "services" and leisure,
this gives rise to the formula of calculated payment in which "everything's
included": spectacular environment, the collective pseudo-displacement
of vacations, subscriptions to cultural consumption, and the sale of sociability
itself in the form of "passionate conversations" and "meetings with personalities."
This sort of spectacular commodity, which can obviously circulate only
because of the increased poverty of the corresponding realities, just as
obviously fits among the pilot-articles of modernized sales techniques
by being payable on credit.
Consumable pseudo-cyclical time is spectacular time,
both as the time of consumption of images in the narrow sense, and as the
image of consumption of time in the broad sense. The time of image-consumption,
the medium of all commodities, is inseparably the field where the instruments
of the spectacle exert themselves fully, and also their goal, the location
and main form of all specific consumption: it is known that the time-saving
constantly sought by modern society, whether in the speed of vehicles or
in the use of dried soups, is concretely translated for the population
of the United States in the fact that the mere contemplation of television
occupies it for an average of three to six hours a day. The social image
of the consumption of time, in turn, is exclusively dominated by moments
of leisure and vacation, moments presented at a distance and desirable
by definition, like every spectacular commodity. Here this commodity is
explicitly presented as the moment of real life, and the point is to wait
for its cyclical return. But even in those very moments reserved for living,
it is still the spectacle that is to be seen and reproduced, becoming ever
more intense. What was represented as genuine life reveals itself simply
as more genuinely spectacular life.
The epoch which displays its time to itself as essentially
the sudden return of multiple festivities is also an epoch without festivals.
What was, in cyclical time, the moment of a community's participation in
the luxurious expenditure of life is impossible for the society without
community or luxury. When its vulgarized pseudo-festivals, parodies of
the dialogue and the gift, incite a surplus of economic expenditure, they
lead only to deception always compensated by the promise of a new deception.
In the spectacle, the lower the use value of modern survival-time, the
more highly it is exalted. The reality of time has been replaced by the
While the consumption of cyclical time in ancient
societies was consistent with the real labor of those societies, the pseudo-cyclical
consumption of the developed economy is in contradiction with the abstract
irreversible time of its production. While cyclical time was the time of
immobile illusion, really lived, spectacular time is the time of self-changing
reality, lived in illusion.
What is constantly new in the process of production
of things is not found in consumption, which remains the expanded repetition
of the same. In spectacular time, since dead labor continues to dominate
living labor, the past dominates the present.
Another side of the deficiency of general historical
life is that individual life as yet has no history. The pseudo-events which
rush by in spectacular dramatizations have not been lived by those informed
of them; moreover they are lost in the inflation of their hurried replacement
at every throb of the spectacular machinery. Furthermore, what is really
lived has no relation to the official irreversible time of society and
is in direct opposition to the pseudo-cyclical rhythm of the consumable
by-product of this time. This individual experience of separate daily life
remains without language, without concept, without critical access to its
own past which has been recorded nowhere. It is not communicated. It is
not understood and is forgotten to the profit of the false spectacular
memory of the unmemorable.
The spectacle, as the present social organization
of the paralysis of history and memory, of the abandonment of history built
on the foundation of historical time, is the false consciousness of
The preliminary condition required for propelling
workers to the status of "free" producers and consumers of commodity time
was the violent expropriation of their own time. The spectacular
return of time became possible only after this first dispossession of the
The irreducibly biological element which remains
in labor, both in the dependence on the natural cycle of waking and sleep
and in the existence of irreversible time in the expenditure of an individual
life, is a mere
accessory from the point of view of modern production;
consequently, these elements are ignored in the official proclamations
of the movement of production and in the consumable trophies which are
the accessible translation of this incessant victory. The spectator's consciousness,
immobilized in the falsified center of the movement of its world, no longer
experiences its life as a passage toward self-realization and toward death.
One who has renounced using his life can no longer admit his death. Life
insurance advertisements suggest merely that he is guilty of dying without
ensuring the regularity of the system after this economic loss; and the
advertisement of the American way of death insists on his capacity
to maintain in this encounter the greatest possible number of appearances
of life. On all other fronts of the advertising onslaught, it is strictly
forbidden to grow old. Even a "youth-capital," contrived for each and all
and put to the most mediocre uses, could never acquire the durable and
cumulative reality of financial capital. This social absence of death is
identical to the social absence of life.
Time, as Hegel showed, is the necessary alienation,
the environment where the subject realizes himself by losing himself, where
he becomes other in order to become truly himself. Precisely the opposite
is true in the dominant alienation, which is undergone by the producer
of an alien present. In this spatial alienation, the society
that radically separates the subject from the activity it takes from him,
separates him first of all from his own time. It is this surmountable social
alienation that has prohibited and petrified the possibilities and risks
of the living alienation of time.
Under the visible fashions which disappear
and reappear on the trivial surface of contemplated pseudo-cyclical time,
the grand style of the age is always located in what is oriented
by the obvious and secret necessity of revolution.
The natural basis of time, the actual experience
of the flow of time, becomes human and social by existing for man.
The restricted condition of human practice, labor at various stages, is
what has humanized and also dehumanized time as cyclical and as separate
irreversible time of economic production. The revolutionary project of
realizing a classless society, a generalized historical life, is the project
of a withering away of the social measure of time, to the benefit of a
playful model of irreversible time of individuals and groups, a model in
which independent federated times are simultaneously present. It
is the program of a total realization, within the context of time, of communism
which suppresses "all that exists independently of individuals."
The world already possesses the dream of a time whose
consciousness it must now possess in order to actually live it.