cover image The Consul: Contributions to the History of the Situationist International and Its Time, Volume II

The Consul: Contributions to the History of the Situationist International and Its Time, Volume II

Ralph Rumney. City Lights Books, $12.95 (124pp) ISBN 978-0-87286-398-9

Igniting as an arts avant-garde in the 1950s and exploding as politically revolutionary at the heart of the Paris 1968 uprisings, the Situationist International has proved a tenaciously compelling radical movement in terms of asthetics and political theory. The MIT anthology, which includes both hard-to-find original material along with critical essays focused on central figure Debord, is ambitious and exciting, focusing on the group members' significance as political and urban theorists, refusing to let them be written off as idiosyncratic heirs of dada and surrealist art-as-provocation. The argument is persuasive, though the critical essays devoted to their art (like a lengthy amble through Debord's several films) aren't nearly as riveting as the group's manifestos, musings and collective position papers. Only the passionate note by T.J. Clark and Donald Nicholson-Smith matches the intensity of the original documents and no wonder, as they briefly were the group's British wing. The Consul, in which SI founding member Rumney recounts his life and times, is the second in a series of oral histories assembled (with photos) by French publisher Berreby, but it lacks the savor of '50s Parisian street and intellectual life that informed his earlier volume, The Tribe. Rumney's story doesn't revolve around the SI (particularly as he was booted early on); other claims to fame include a painting in the Tate Museum and a marriage to scion/suicide Pegeen Guggenheim. That might be enough to render Rumney's tale engaging, or at least juicy, but his self-justifying soliloquies stand in the way, and his vague uninterest in politics leaves the book without a center. But the MIT anthology stands as a fine compendium of the most poetic of political writings, albeit still a partial measure for fans, followers and future revolutionaries awaiting the complete translations of the journal Situationist Internationale. (Sept.)