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Tom McDonough

Thomas F. McDonough is Associate Professor of Modern Architecture and Urbanism in the Art History department at Binghamton University, and an editor of Grey Room.

Titles by This Author

Reinventing the Language of Contestation in Postwar France, 1945–1968

In postwar France, the aesthetics of appropriation and collage gave cultural form to a struggle over meaning. A new wave of avant-garde experimentation used—or stole, plagiarized, and expropriated—elements from advertising, journalism, literature, art, and other sources of common discourse (the ironically named "beautiful language" of this book's title, itself an appropriation from Guy Debord's collaged Mémoires). Redeployed, often in startling or pointed juxtapositions, these elements took on newly oppositional meanings. A famous photograph taken inside the occupied Sorbonne in May 1968, for example, shows a massive academic painting altered by a clever cartoonish speech bubble that transforms the painting into a parody of itself and memorializes an event very different from the one captured by the original artist."The Beautiful Language of My Century" describes the various forms of critical culture that culminated in the events of May 1968, and investigates the ways those forms have come down to us today.

McDonough explores the montage practice developed by Guy Debord and his situationist colleagues under the name of détournement and its expression in the later fifties as a form of cultural theft. He addresses the influence of colonialism on these practices, examining a 1961 exhibit of torn posters of the Algerian War ("La France déchirée"), Godard's early film Le Petit Soldat, and Christo's Project for a Temporary Wall of Steel Drums. He discusses the French left's adoption in the mid-sixties of the "end of art" as a theoretical position and describes the leftist idea of the fête as a Rabelaisian and revolutionary upwelling of everything that is low. This influential conception, inspired equally by the American urban revolts of the sixties and the writings of theorists Marcel Mauss and Georges Bataille, coalesced into a new image of revolution, a new model of contestation, in the events of May 1968—when the struggle over language and culture merged with a broader resistance to capitalist modernization.

Titles by This Editor

Texts and Documents
Edited by Tom McDonough

This volume is a revised and expanded version of a special issue of the journal October (Winter 1997) that was devoted to the work of the Situationist International (SI). The first section of the issue contained previously unpublished critical texts, and the second section contained translations of primary texts that had previously been unavailable in English. The emphasis was on the SI's profound engagement with the art and cultural politics of their time (1957-1972), with a strong argument for their primarily political and activist stance by two former members of the group, T. J. Clark and Donald Nicholson-Smith.

Guy Debord and the Situationist International supplements both sections. It reprints important, hard-to-find essays by Giorgio Agamben, Libero Andreotti, Jonathan Crary, Thomas Y. Levin, Greil Marcus, and Tom McDonough and doubles the number of translations of primary texts, which now encompass a broader and more representative range of the SI's writings on culture and language. In a field still dominated by hagiography, the critical texts were selected for their willingness to confront critically the history and legacy of the SI. They examine the group within the broader framework of the historical and neo-avant-gardes and, beyond that, the postwar world in general. The translations trace the SI's reflections on the legacy of the avant-garde in art and architecture, particularly on the linguistic and spatial significance of montage aesthetics. Many of the translated works are by Guy Debord (1932-1994), the impresario of the SI, especially known for his book The Society of the Spectacle.