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McKenzie Wark on little-known Belgian Surrealist Marcel Mariën


At Public Seminar, McKenzie Wark writes about Marcel Mariën (1920–1993), a Belgian writer and practitioner of “low theory” who was associated with the Surrealists and the Situationists, but who doesn’t fit neatly into either current. According to Wark, “Mariën opens up a fresh avenue for thinking about the Situationist International at a time when its textual corpus and interpretive margin are pretty much exhausted.” Excerpt below, or Wark’s full text here.

In Mariën, as we shall see, there is a parallel to Debord’s theoretical and practical activity. Both were interested in the commodification of everyday life, the rise of leisure and the spectacle, and the decline of traditional working class agency. But where Debord opted for council communism and the negation of the spectacle in insurrectionary direct action, Mariën had a rather more subtle and indeed surreal conception of the aesthetics of politics …

The first part [of Mariën’s Théorie de la revolution mondiale immediate] is a sound analysis of the stage commodification had reached by the late fifties, And bears comparison with the better remembered texts of the time. The very success of the worker’s movement in its reformist form had produced a leisure culture. Workers were becoming petit-bourgeois in outlook. Technical change had raised up a cadre of educated workers. Communist propaganda no longer worked very well, whereas capitalist propaganda was making inroads into the unconscious of the working class.

The second part is more surrealist science fiction than social science, and I think has to be read as a kind of surrealist-style disturbing text. For the project there is to use the spectacle itself for revolutionary ends. The form of revolutionary organization is the advertising agency. It is to be called the Leisure Club. It creates advertising and popular media addressed to every diverse pastime, hobby or consumer preference – all to be worked out using the latest social science techniques. It’s a marvelous anticipation of social media-era micro-marketing.

Image of Marcel Mariën via Public Seminar.