Summary of The Beach Beneath the Street

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McKenzie Wark – an artist, provocateur and professor at Manhattan’s New School for Social Research – offers a history of the avant-garde social and artistic movement known as the Situationists, and the group of eccentric people behind it. These 1950s and ’60s artists, writers, bohemians and alcoholics influenced political events, other artists and notions of what art is, beginning in their era and continuing until today. Because they made a point of never being pinned down to any ideology, the Situationists resist standard biography. Wark resists it, too. He begins with the antecedents of the Situationists, works through their endless internal feuds, details how they influenced art and social thinking, and abruptly ends by barely exploring the Situationists’ greatest glory, the Paris student uprising and workers’ strikes beginning in May 1968. The book derives its title from a slogan of the uprisings, combining the hard activism of the streets with the freedom and pleasure of a beach just underneath. Wark’s fractured attention span and devotion to stiff intellectual jargon – while quite Situationist – will frustrate those seeking a conventional history of avant-garde art movements and their effects. That said, getAbstract recommends Wark’s often hilarious chronicle to artists, writers and anyone interested in contemporary art or the political and artistic counterculture.

About the Author

McKenzie Wark also wrote A Hacker Manifesto, Gamer Theory and Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene. He teaches at the New School for Social Research in New York City.



The Situationists

The Situationists were a loosely affiliated group of writers and artists who were active in the 1950s and ’60s. With a sense of the absurd and a refusal to join any movement, including their own, they sought “to change the world.” The Situationists never had what other movements might regard as a leader, and they held to no dogma other than theorist and philosopher Guy Debord’s famous, heartfelt dictum and way of life: “Never work!”

Yet they did work, though seldom at conventional jobs. Situationists published manifestos and essays, wrote books, made films, created artworks, staged “situations” and tried to inflame any social unrest that amused them. They rejected definition or classification. They combined elements of Dadaism, Surrealism, existentialism, Marxism, absurdism and nihilism. They had a Warholian sense of the value of the deadpan, loved ridiculous public statements, and maintained a sincere commitment to getting and remaining drunk. They were both funny and deadly serious, as well as deliberately self-annihilating. Their almost indescribable ideology inspired subsequent generations of artists, filmmakers, musicians, political...

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