The show
of usefulness

The subject of our discussion being Debordís definition of his so called show concept, in no way similar to the one (according to the man bearing a bad reputation) , of the mass media, MrBueno claims to counteract by quoting a passage taken from "Reich, instructions for use", where I have tried to give six definitions of the show. Naturally, my answer is that the question doesnít reside in my own definition of the show but in Debordísí (according to me, there is no such thing) . My text nevertheless gives evidence to the fact that I hadnít waited twenty years to feel the need to give some content to the concept of the show, as I had been tackling this subject as early as 1971. Even after a period of twenty years has gone by, parrots still feel no such need. However, Mr. (The new Dubliner) Buenoís answer, gives me an incentive to be a little more precise on what these tentative definitions mean to me today.

Six definitions of the show

1. The show is a scientific development of fetishism.
2. The show is the circulation of goods which drains all publicity (public communication) means available.
3. The show is a secret form of public misery.
4. Value never appears. This is a show on the non visibility of value.
5. The show is a secret form of public misery.
6. The show is where the spirit fails to appear.

The show of usefulness

In fact, the world as it appears is a show of usefulness. There is a denial of Spirit. Usefulness is to be seen, the Spirit canít be seen. This can be said of the world as well as of theory.

This is what both puzzled and attracted Ethnologists:for natives, usefulness canít be seen, only communication is to be seen, Magic for instance.

Actually, and quite paradoxically, it is in the loathed field of Advertising (and in Art when such a thing was around) that communication can be spoken of, however mundane this can be.
In a world led by what is meant to be useful, only Advertising is entitled to deal with the Spirit, with communication, we know the way in which they proceed.

In a world where usefulness is like a master, the supposedly rational individual is also to reign. However, this supposedly rational individual is in no way rational as he is only reasonable, that is to say, submissive. The rational individual is King, the reasonable individual is submissive.

One of the criticisms often made on Hegel regard his :"Everything real is rational". However, there are few things which are real, therefore few are rational. This criticism made on Hegel has its roots on the confusion between the (Bourgeois) reasonable and the rational, on the confusion between the being and reality. Hegel is nevertheless quite clear on this point: the being isnít a real one, he has to become so. Considered separately, the being is similar to the vacuum. This is how the "Encyclopædia of Philosophic Sciences" begins, if my memory doesnít fail me. Only what is real can be rational. Therefore, Hegel is the first theoretician of a generalised show: owing to the fact that most of what we see isnít real, not being rational, what we see is actually a delusion of reality, a reality show and not reality itself, the real thing, in Hegelís words. To the Bourgeois, only usefulness is real, in the same way as for the Minc Monkey, only tables can be said to be real.

Essential misery resides in the deserting of communication which is also, in the same manner, a drain of society, as Canjuers and Debord fortunately wrote. Therefore, as only the useful is to be seen, as the useful is the only subject to be discussed, as communication canít be seen, misery also isnít to be seen.

As regards Aristotle, the distinction must be made between essential and accidental misery. Essential misery strikes the aristocrat in his palace as well as the bourgeois in his flat or the tramp on a sidewalk . Accidental misery only strikes the tramp the bourgeois and the aristocrat when they have lost all their money. Essential misery is a misery of the spirit, of the rational and of what is real. Essential misery is the apparent and despairing triumph of usefulness. Nowadays, in the triumphant bourgeois world, in the Minc monkey Ďs table world, poetry seeks refuge in war, a negation of usefulness (as beautiful as a cruising missile) , and policemen remain the only poets .

According to this, the show of usefulness isnít the secret (or non secret) form of public misery (3) , nor the cause of this misery; but merely the cause or effect of its invisibility.

The show of usefulness isnít a show of the invisibility of communication (4) ;but a cause or an effect of this invisibility. How could something invisible possibly become a show. A contradiction in terms . On the other hand, the invisibility of something may make a show come forth, a delusion, just as the invisibility of ideas for Plato brought forth shadows in his cavern. The invisibility of communication brings forth the illusion that usefulness is the only thing in this world. In the show of the useful, misery remains secret, as it is a misery of something which is denied and concealed by the show of the useful :the show of usefulness, nevertheless, is by no means, for that matter, the secret form (or not) of misery.

In this way, the world as it appears, (and not the way it is, I presume) , is really a materialisation (in the meaning of the materialisation of a spectre) , by this I donít mean Ideology; solely of one Ideology, utilitarism. Check this, according to Adam Smith, with your butcherís selfishness ; but just try to dare to tell him that his meat is bad when he is still keeping grip on his shoulder bonerís knife. Casualties do happen. Being far from the spirit brings forth the materialisation of utilitarism. Being far away from the spirit brings forth not usefulness, but the show of its triumph, that is to say its so called sole existence, all forms of communication being absent: usefulness, alone, seems to exist, the world seems to be similar to bourgeois thought. By the way, where does this thought stem from, how could such a way of thinking be around if the world didnít seem to be, itself, the existence of what is only useful . With the alienation of communication, the world adopts a useful shape. Such is the way in which the show takes effect. That is what you have to explain. Fuck it, come on !Another "why?" Is there anything else than "whyís?" "to be heard ?Things were easier at Auschwitz, where such requests didnít take place.

Finally, the show of usefulness is really the absence of spirit (6) , (the useful seems to exist) , which doesnít mean that it is a show of the absence of spirit, things would be too easy. If this absence didnít bear a mask, if it appeared as absence per se otherwise than in the guise of cumbersome and shitty definite usefulness, it would be Immediately suppressed. In 1971, I already envisaged the nature of the only show that is, without being, for that matter, a mass media one. If the show means absence of spirit and if this absence doesnít appear as such, this show, therefore, canít be anything else than a show of the useful, an illusion that there is only the useful and nothing else. The comparison made with Platoís meaning of the show in his cavern comes to an end here. In the other one the spirit dwells outside, here usefulness is totally immersed in spirit. This is exactly what Hegel meant :the alienation of the spirit is a nature, however, the spirit is nevertheless present in nature and relentlessly tries to suppress it. Being able to (mere desire to do this wonít do) witness the absence of spirit is to witness its existence. Being able to witness the absence of spirit, means realising ipso facto its presence. Tears, tears of joy.

This is why in such a hard world, landscapes are so beautiful: they have no use, which can not be said of Police stations.

Until very recently, art had no other purpose than to testify how vacuous usefulness is. The muted spirit repudiating usefulness in a small yellow wall side to be seen in a view of Delft. The tinkling of a teaspoon in a tea cup, a wobbly stone moving when being tread on, the taste of a Madeleine eradicating in a flash usefulness more efficiently than when throwing a die. Today art has become useful, it relentlessly displays the vacuum of the spirit, at market fairs!

Finally, the aftermath of the show of the useful is that its spectator is subjected to -despairingly so - nothing else but the useful, which is the same as being subjected to the invisibility of the spirit, as the ever present visibility of the useful walks hand in hand with the invisibility of the spirit.

All of this was presupposed in Reich, instructions for use as I wrote that the circulation of goods may very well seem to be a funfair of use. I was already unwittingly fighting Debord, the Debord who is concerned with the real use of things considered as useful ones as well as well as being respectful of the use of this by the Kwakiutl which a violent denial of usefulness (Hecatomb of the useful on the altar of communication). Contradictions didnít bother Debord too much.

The spectacular contact with totality isnít made via industrialised propaganda, advertising, the press, the mass-media, secret serviceís frame ups, it is made via permanent contact with the show of the useful, that is, the world as it appears to be, a world where the useful and the unpleasant march hand in hand.

Jean-Pierre Voyer

M. Ripley s'amuse