The suicide of Guy Debord on 30 November has led to the former Situationist being caught up in a number of discourses that he may, at one time, have viewed as distasteful. In the ‘Guardian Weekend 1994: Review of the Year’ (Guardian 31/12/94), Debord was name checked in the ‘Those We Have Lost’ column alongside two other suicides, rock singer Kurt Cobain and Great Train Robber Buster Edwards (other deaths noted included those of Derek Jarman, Richard Nixon, John Smith, Jackie Onassis, Dennis Potter, Kim Il Sung, Peter Cushing, Karl Popper and Keith Joseph). Clearly, Debord’s timing was good because if he’d killed himself at the beginning of the year, the mainstream media may well have forgotten his suicide by its end.
Messages placed on the internet about the suicide included one from Edward A. Shanken who wrote: ‘Guy Debord did not kill himself. He was murdered by the thoughtlessness and selfishness of so-called scholars (primarily trendy lit-criters) who colonized his brilliant ideas and transformed his radical politics into an academic status symbol not worth the pulp it’s printed on…’ This generated a few angry responses, the import of which was that Debord was not another Jim Morrison, Ian Curtis or Kurt Cobain who ‘died for our sins.’ Shanken didn’t address the fact that Debord was utterly obsessed with the notion of ‘recuperation,’ and that as a consequence, he was to some degree responsible for all the uses made of his work. Debord’s version of the Situationist International deposited a good deal of material with archives and museums precisely because it did not want to be forgotten by academia.
John Young used the Net as a soapbox from which to claim that Debord had worked for Mossad: ‘this dazzling and humbling association with real world power beyond the soft-minded literary and philosophical worlds totally mesmerized Debord… The elixitrate mix of sacred and profane literally made Guy drunk with intellectual stimulation and shared worldly risk… the intrigue and daring bond of high mind and base reality was an alchemic transformation of mental to physical like no head-wrought book could come near.’ Unfortunately, the intertextual origins of this thesis were plainly evident in Young’s claim that he’d learnt of Debord’s spook activities from Philip Roth. Young even went as far as asserting that Debord had provided the model for the central character in Philip Roth’s novel Operation Shylock: A Confession.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Imrie’s obituary in the Guardian of 5 December 1994 absurdly claimed that ‘with consummate irony, he (Debord) allowed his work to be republished by Gallimard, entering the pantheon of French literature, just as the pantheon was collapsing.’ In the world the Situationists wished to create, such a panegyric would be viewed as supremely ironic. Suicide was an occupational hazard for the Dadaists and Surrealists, perhaps Debord hoped to realise and suppress this tradition by using death as a method of reintegrating himself into the avant-garde. In the meantime, death remains the ultimate commodity, a handy gimmick to help sell works of ‘revolutionary theory’ in an already over saturated market.