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The Situationists and Automation (excerpts)

“Les situationnistes et l’automation” originally appeared in: "Internationale Situationniste #1"(Paris, June 1958). This translation by Ken Knabb is from "The Situationist International Anthology", Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981

It is rather astonishing that almost no one until now has dared to examine the ultimate implications of automation. As a result, there are no real perspectives concerning it. One has rather the impression that engineers, scientists and sociologists are trying to surreptitiously smuggle automation into the society.
Yet automation is now at the heart of the problem of the socialist domination of production and of the preeminence of leisure over labor time. The question of automation is one of the most pregnant with positive and negative possibilities.
[…] Automation thus contains two opposing perspectives: it deprives the individual of any possibility of adding anything personal to automated production, which is a fixation of progress; and at the same time it saves human energy by massively liberating it from reproductive and uncreative activities. The value of automation thus depends on projects that supersede it and open the way for expression of human energies on a higher plane […]
The new leisure time appears as an empty space that present-day society can fill only by multiplying the pseudoplay of ridiculous hobbies. But this leisure is at the same time the basis on which can be built the most magnificent cultural construction that has ever been imagined […] Automation can develop rapidly only once it has established as a goal a perspective contrary to its own establishment and only if it is known how to realize such a general perspective in the process of the development of automation […]
Pierre Drouin (Le Monde, 5 January 1957), discussing the extension of hobbies as a realization of the potentialities that workers cannot express in their professional activity, concludes that "a creator lies dormant" in each person. This old banality is today of vital importance if one relates it to the real material possibilities of our time. The sleeping creator must be awakened, and his waking state can be termed "situationist."
The idea of standardization is an effort to reduce and simplify the greatest number of human needs to the greatest equality. It is up to us whether this standardization opens up domains of experience more interesting that those it closes. depending on the outcome, we may arrive at a total degradation of human life or at the possibility of continually discovering new desires. But these new desires will not appear by themselves in the oppressive context of our world. There must be a collective action to detect, express and realize them.

ASGER JORN




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