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SELF-THEORY This booklet is for people who are dissatisfied with their lives. If you are happy with your present existence, we have no argument with you. However, if you are tired of waiting for your life to change…
Those who have a vested interest in maintaining the present situation constantly drag us back to their false choices — that is, any choice which keeps their power intact. With myths like ‘If we shared it all out, there wouldn’t be enough to go round’, they attempt to deny the existence of any other choices and to hide from us the fact that the material preconditions for social revolution already exist.
Any journey towards self-demystification must avoid those two quagmires of lost thought — absolutism and cynicism; twin swamps that camouflage themselves as meadows of subjectivity.
Absolutism is the total acceptance or rejection of all components of particular ideologies, spectacles and reifications. An absolutist cannot see any other choice than complete acceptance or complete rejection .
The absolutist wanders along the shelves of the ideological supermarket looking for the ideal commodity, and then buys it — lock, stock and barrel. but the ideological supermarket — like any supermarket — is fit only for looting. It is more productive for us if we can move along the shelves, rip open the packets, take out what looks authentic and useful, and dump the rest.
Cynicism is a reaction to a world dominated by ideology and morality. Faced with conflicting ideologies the cynic says: “a plague on both your houses”. The cynic is as much a consumer as the absolutist, but one who has given up hope of ever finding the ideal commodity.
By now it should be obvious that self-demystification and the construction of our own revolutionary theory doesn’t eradicate our alienation: ‘the world’ (capital and the Spectacle) goes on, reproducing itself every day.
Although this booklet had the construction of self-theory as its focus, we never intended to imply that revolutionary theory can exist separate from revolutionary practice. In order to be consequential, effectively to reconstruct the world, practice must seek its theory, and theory must be realized in practice. The revolutionary prospect of disalienation and the transformation of social relations requires that one’s theory be nothing other than a theory of practice, of what we do and how we live. Otherwise theory will degenerate into an impotent contemplation of the world, and ultimately into survival ideology — a projected mental fogbank, a static body of reified thought, of intellectual armour, that acts as a buffer between the daily world and oneself. And if revolutionary practice is not the practice of revolutionary theory, it degenerates into altruistic militantism, ‘revolutionary’ activity as one’s social duty.
We don’t strive for a coherent theory purely as an end in itself. For us, the practical use value of coherence is that having a coherent self-theory makes it easier for someone to think.
First published as “Self-Theory: the pleasure of thinking for yourself”, by The Spectacle, USA 1975, Larry Law’s essay was revised and extensively rewritten before being published by Spectacular Times in 1985.
To Law, self theory comes from a need:
“One of the great secrets of our miserable yet potentially marvelous time is that thinking can be a pleasure. This is a manual for constructing your own self-theory. Constructing your self-theory is a revolutionary pleasure, the pleasure of constructing your self-theory of revolution.”
“Building your self-theory is a destructive/constructive pleasure, because you are building a theory-of-practice for the destructive/constructive transformation of this society.”
“Self-theory is a theory of adventure. It is as erotic and humorous as an authentic revolution.”
“The alienation felt as a result of having had your thinking done for you by the ideologies of our day, can lead to the search for the pleasurable negation of that alienation: thinking for yourself. It is the pleasure of making your mind your own.”
While writing and editing Self-Theory, Larry Law compiled and edited a series of small 'pocketbooks' in the late 1970s/early 1980s entitled Spectacular Times. They serve as a brief introduction to the ideas of Situationism. Each consists of newspaper clippings, quotations, handwritten text by Law and illustrations, all compiled and arranged with great humor! The contents were an assembly of cleverly juxtaposed newspaper clippings (the more bizarre the better), quotations, and text written by Larry. As the title of the series suggests, Larry was writing in the situationist tradition, an attempt to bring revolutionary ideas up to date with changes in society. But whereas Debord and Vaneigem read as if their writings were still in the original French and hadn't been translated into English, Larry wrote simply and clearly. Even the format of the Spectacular Times Pocketbooks, the small size and the way the clippings and quotations broke up the text, helped to make the ideas acceptable. As did Larry's strong sense of humor.
Production of the pocketbooks (and other Spectacular Times titles) was by Liz Swain, Larry's wife. Liz says that she only saw Larry do graffiti once (he was too much of a perfectionist to rush something off in a couple of minutes). At the Abieezer Coppe Free Festival in Reading, on a wall inside the building that had been squatted he took days to draw an enormous sunrise and across it he wrote "Paradise Now. If Not You Then Who. If Not Here Then Where? If Not Now Then When?"
ARE YOU IN A BAD STATE? Are You in a Bad State?, a video by the (in)famous and very witty Larry Law, author of the legendary Spectacular Times series of pamphlets, used selected press cuttings to highlight the absurdity of consumer culture and modern life. It's a roller-coaster ride from the dawn of time to the present day and will blow your mind with its humor and clarity.
Are You in a Bad State? is a post-situationist work; the preamble takes us to images of Gaddafi, Gorbachev or Reagan, put in dialectic with Blockbusters films like Rambo, to images of warfare and current affairs; to scientific-technical findings such as the first mobile phones, rockets or robots to understand the history of capital and the moment in which exchangeable goods became fixed assets, resulting in the fact that the individual is no longer self-sufficient to become dependent on machines and the market. Another issue is the capitalist overproduction put into dialogue with the television format The price is right ("The price is right") where the guests had to guess the price of expensive products. The engine of capitalism, Law argues, is not the economy, but the miserable daily life of the people. Law addresses the viewer and reminds them that we live in a hierarchical world where police protection services are created to safeguard power.
A history of the world which generally focuses on the exploitation of labor and constructed using entirely repurposed footage and direct address. It engages in a bit of speculative work in imagining a world that could actually engage in true social revolution and full class consciousness. A weird little situationist film.
The impact of Guy Debord’s feature-length films will probably become evident only over the long term. They have already produced both direct imitations (seemingly based on Debord’s scripts)—notably Call It Sleep (1983) by Isaac Cronin and Terrel Seltzer and Are You in a Bad State? (1987) by Larry Law—and inspired leaps (based on unauthorized copies of the films), notably the work of Craig Baldwin and Stewart Home. And while Debord did not invent the feature-length compilation film, his work continues to throw into sharp and critical relief the use of preexisting material. In spite of its invisible ubiquity in the entertainment industry, from the History [sic!] Channel to America’s Funniest Home Videos, the compilation genre is currently little explored in critical fashion outside the realm of “experimental cinema.”
“No film,” Debord reminds us in Refutation, “is more difficult than its era.” Nor is it greater. The appearance of this newly visible body of work from the cinema’s second fifty years makes it possible for us to say that Guy Debord contributed something truly extraordinary to his era, even as he attempted to destroy it. Rather than confining these works to some cinematic pantheon, their destructive forces should be honored. They should be experienced, then remembered as powerful currents causing shifts in the course of the river of time—the river into which no one may enter twice.
Are You In A Bad State was finished just before Larry died. He never saw it screened to an audience. It was premiered at Televisionaries. Two decades later it still holds up as a master piece. What would Larry have made of the last twenty years? We can only guess and take up from where he left off.