Creation is not the arrangement of objects and forms, it is the invention of new laws of such arrangement.[i]

the difference between dérive and détournement lies in application and context, rather than in concept. instead of disrupting the psychogeography of everydayness through re-articulating sections of the city, détournement is a visual or auditory (or audio-visual) dérive that aims to disrupt through distortion of a viewer’s mnemonic expectations, and thus produce a state of critical reception through alienation, though devoid of the narrative drama of Brechtian theater. however, Debord gives détournement a more analytic description required by the complex interpretive possibilities of the audiovisual field, than the majority of the commentary on détournement has tended to articulate. Debord distinguished two types, as follows:

kill_them_all.002 (1)

Minor détournement is the détournement of an element which has no importance in itself and which thus draws all its meaning from the new context in which it has been placed. For example, a press clipping, a neutral phrase, a commonplace photograph.

Deceptive détournement, also termed premonitory-proposition détournement, is in contrast the détournement of an intrinsically significant element, which derives a different scope from the new context. A slogan of Saint-Just, for example, or a film sequence from Eisenstein.[ii]

detournement.002 (1)

the differentiation of these two forms, context absorbent and context additive, clarifies what Debord meant in saying that creation is not a matter of mere composition (arrangement), but of the invention of new laws of composition. he describes the law of détournement in this way:

The distortions introduced in the détourned elements must be as simplified as possible, since the main impact of a détournement is directly related to the conscious or semiconscious recollection of the original contexts of the elements. This is well known. Let us simply note that if this dependence on memory implies that one must determine one’s public before devising a détournement, this is only a particular case of a general law that governs not only détournement but also any other form of action on the world. The idea of pure, absolute expression is dead; it only temporarily survives in parodic form as long as our other enemies survive.[iii]

this definition establishes a purely social criterion for aesthetic-political practice, in that it abolishes the concept of genius, of artist authorship as a singular, autonomous act of invention (absolute expression), by equating it with ‘any other form of action on the world.’ this reduction in effect abolishes the modern construction of art in general, first by returning it to the class of primitive actions, common to all creative agency. and secondly, by requiring that any conception of context, whether historical in the sense of mnemonic, or ahistorical in the sense of a new encounter that necessitates a new interpretation, be understood as a relational, collective act. Debord assumes a form of shared, public memory, publicly produced and publicly consumed within the frame of the everyday. Implicit in this definition is that both acts of consumption and production be simultaneously determined in their social relationality. to alter public reception then requires that their simultaneous relation be the target of détournement. typical interpretations of détournement treat only the production, or only the consumption, but not their simultaneity. the implicit lemma of this formulation entails the concept of ‘exchange.’ what else constitutes this simultaneous relation of production and consumption, than an act of ‘exchange?’to fail to shift from targeting only one pole or other of the capital-act, to its central function, exchange, means that an aesthetic-political act remains alienated and aestheticized. all productions of détournement must be determined by preconceived public reception, while all receptive consumption must be determined by linking a present, détourned experience to a past experience or some element of it. Détournement then, is articulated recollection, or a form of recall, and as such, is a specific species of historical consciousness, that potentially may be used either for or against the spectacle.[iv]

[i] Guy Debord, “Methods of Détournement,” Les Lèvres News #8, May, 1956.

[ii] Guy Debord, “Methods of Détournement.”

[iii] Guy Debord, “Methods of Détournement.”

[iv] This definition requires that we class sequels, serials, and remakes as species of recall. The only relevant political question then becomes whether or not they aid or resist the spectacle. For commentary on sequels, serials, and remakes, see Sven Lutticken, “Planet of the Remakes,” New Left Reveiw 25, January-February 2004, pp. 103-119.


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