How To Use
The thing contains in its second part, in a very condensed but relatively
popular form, quite a few novelties that anticipate my book,(1)
while at the same time necessarily barely touching on a number of other aspects. Do you
think its a good idea to preview such subjects in this way?
Marx to Engels, 24 June 1865
1. The Notion of Character According to Reich
To find love in Paris, one has to descend to the classes where the struggle
with real needs and the absence of education and vanity have left more energy. To reveal a
great unsatisfied desire is to reveal ones inferiority, an impossibility in
France, except for those beneath everything. . . . Hence, the exaggerated praises of young
women in the mouths of young men afraid of their hearts.
Stendhal, On Love
As a result of his practical and theoretical struggle against resistances in analysis,
Reich came to conceive of character (character neurosis) as the very form of those
In contrast to a symptomwhich must be considered as a production and
concentration of character and which is felt as a foreign body, giving rise to an
awareness of illnessa character trait is organically embedded in the personality.
Unawareness of the illness is a fundamental symptom of character neurosis. An explanation
of this degradation of individuality cannot appear except within an attempt to
communicate, in this case within the analytic technique itself. However unilateral this
technique may be, it rapidly revealed character for what it is: a defense against
communication, a failure of the faculty of encounter. This is the price paid for the
primary function of character, the defense against anxiety.(3)
Theres no need to dwell on the origin of anxiety, on its causes and their
permanence. Let us simply note the obvious fact that the particular form of ones
character is a pattern that takes shape before the tenth year.
The discretion of this arrangement explains why it is not recognized as a social
plague, and thus why it is lastingly effective. This setup produces damaged individuals,
as stripped as possible of intelligence, sociability and sexuality, and consequently truly
isolated from one another; which is ideal for the optimum functioning of the automatic
system of commodity circulation. The energy which the individual could use to recognize
and be recognized is harnessed to his character, i.e. employed to neutralize
In all societies in which modern conditions of production prevail the impossibility of
living takes individually the form of death, madness or character. With the intrepid Dr.
Reich, and against his horrified recuperators and vilifiers, we postulate the pathological
nature of all character traits, i.e. of all chronicity in human behavior. What is
important to us is neither the individual structure of our character nor the explanation
of its formation, but the impossibility of applying it toward the creation of
situations. Character is thus not simply an unhealthy excrescence which could be
treated separately, but at the same time an individual remedy in a globally ill society, a
remedy that enables us to bear the illness while aggravating it. People are to a great
extent accomplices in the reigning spectacle. Character is the form of this
We maintain that people can dissolve their character only by contesting the entire
society (this is in opposition to Reich insofar as he envisages character analysis from a
specialized point of view). On the other hand, since the function of character is to
accommodate us to the state of things, its dissolution is a prerequisite to the total
critique of society. We must destroy this vicious circle.
Total contestation begins with the critique in acts of wage labor,(4)
in accordance with a first principle beyond discussion: Never work. The
qualities of adventure absolutely essential for such an enterprise lie exclusively outside
character. Character destroys those qualities. The problem of opposing the entire society
is thus also the problem of dissolving character.
2. Its Application to the Spectacle Effect
The truest and most important concepts of the era . . . are precisely marked
by the organization around them of the greatest confusions and the worst
misrepresentations. Vital concepts are simultaneously subject to the truest and the most
false uses . . . because the struggle between critical reality and the apologetic
spectacle leads to a struggle over words. . . . The truth of a concept is not revealed by
an authoritarian purge, but by the coherence of its use in theory and in practical
Internationale Situationniste #10 [Domenach versus Alienation]
Public: pertaining to all the people.
Publicité: public notoriety; that which is done in the presence of
the public; that which belongs to the public.(5)
The publicity of misery is inseparable from the idea of its suppression.(6) This is how spirit comes to men and women. Misery
is always misery of publicity. It is thus necessary to seek the reason for the persistence
of misery in that which causes the misery of publicity.
Fetishism is the misery of publicity. It is the very form of social separation.
Wherever there is opposition between individuals and the totality of their interrelations,
this opposition takes the form of fetishism of the totality. Opposition between the whole
and individuals takes place by means of parts of the whole which appear to be
isolated, or which maintain illusory relations with the whole and with each other.(7) Deceived consciousness is the fundamental moment of
fetishism. With it, things become what they seem. The absence of consciousness takes the
form of consciousness.
The fetishism of the commodity is concentrated in its value. It took Marx thousands of
pages of Capital to get to the bottom of this fetish. It is the yoke of value
that weighs down human brows, be they bourgeois, bureaucratic or proletarian. Value is the
relation between two quantities. What is more bizarre than the fact that x pounds
of carrots are worth y quarts of wine or even z minutes of hairdressing?
Value is the exorbitant autonomy of the commodity. It is dangerous to steal, loot or burn.
Its even more dangerous to never work! Value exerts itself implacably,(8) while the deceived gaze only meets things and their
In the nineteenth century, with the complete opposition between individual life and
species life (everyday life versus automatic commodity circulation), all hopes were
allowed (those of Hegel, those of Marx). At that stage things were clear: everyday life
was nothing, circulation was everything. The nothingness of everyday
life was a visible moment of the all-encompassing circulation. Fetishism scarcely
deceived anyone but the ruling class and its toadies. Several times the proletariat
launched an assault on the totality, and the publicity of misery came very close to
triumphing over the misery of publicity.
Today things have changed considerably. The modernization of the struggles of the
oppressed, and above all their incompletion, have brought about the rapid modernization of
fetishism by the ruling class and its state since 1930. The rise of scientific
fetishism was striking: Bolshevism, National Socialism and the New Deal appeared
almost simultaneously. This modernization consisted essentially of depriving
everyday life of what was left to it: its negativity, i.e. the publicity of its misery,
the publicity of its nullity. The secret of the misery of everyday life is the real state
secret. It is the keystone completing the edifice of separation, which is also the edifice
of the state.
The spectaclethe scientific development of fetishismis simply the private
property of the means of publicity, the state monopoly of appearances. With it, only the
circulation of commodities remains public. The spectacle is nothing but commodity
circulation absorbing all available means of publicity, thus condemning misery to
invisibility. The spectacle is the secret form of public misery, where value operates
implacably while the deceived gaze only meets things and their use.
In the imperialist publicity of commodity circulation, value never appears. This is the
spectacle of the invisibility of value. This natural invisibility constitutes
the fundamentally spectaclist tendency of circulation which the bourgeoisie has exploited
in the scientific development of fetishism. As long as value does not become public in a
different way, circulation is able to appear as a carnival of use (principally the use of
money, needless to say). It is thus easy to understand the entrancement of the spectator
confronted daily by value. This is the spectacle effect. It forestalls all ideas;
everything seems accomplished. It forbids all recognition; the miserable being sees
himself as alone in his misery. Money itself appears as the instrument of the abolition of
valuethe peak of inversion. As a result of all this, spirit does not come to men nor
(what is even more regrettable) to women.
From his front row seat, Wilhelm Reich couldnt help being struck by the role
played by character as anti-individual structure in the magnificent Nazi spectacle.(9) He leaves the farcical question Why do workers
revolt? to the psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, sociologists and other servants of the
spectacle, in order to pose the fundamental question: Why dont they
revolt?(10) He attributes their submission to the
crushing of the individual by character. This is hardly contestable. Necessary but
insufficient. To say that this society hasnt got an intrinsically spectaclist
tendency would amount to saying that the spectacle is the creation of the ruling class
alone. That would be giving them too much credit! We know that the ruling class is the
chief victim of its own illusions. It follows the trend.
We have already demonstrated the rationale of this tendency. Character is nevertheless
undeniably real. It can be clinically detected. We now have to determine exactly what is
analyzed in character analysis, once its insufficiency as a separate notion is recognized.
As a separate notion it is nothing but one more fetish.
Our thesis is as follows. The quantitative reigns. All human relations are governed by
the relation of quantity to quantity, though they appear as purely human
relationsthe deceived gaze only meets things and their prices. We have briefly
reviewed the spontaneously spectaclist effect of the natural invisibility of
value. For all that, value never ceases to be lived by each person as the inescapable
necessity of his daily life. We have seen that this lived secret fulfilled the
spectaclist tendency of commodity circulation. What is it that Reich clinically detects
which he labels character? We contend that it is value, as inhuman
necessity and otherwise invisible, that is grasped by this approach. It is even, up till
now, the only concrete way of approaching value as secret misery of individuality. Under
this form Reich tracked down the unconscious, its misery and its miserable
repressive maneuvers, which only draw their force and their magical pomp from the dominion
of value over everyday life. Because human relations have been globally socialized exclusively
in terms of value, which is their negation, authentic human relations, validated
by pleasure, are preserved(11) within this socialization
as natural relations (and thus illicit and clandestine ones), since all
sociality, all humanity, is occupied (in the colonialist sense) by value, the only
officially validated socialization. Whatever tends to escape the law of value thus takes
the form of the natural, i.e. that which by definition escapes the
mastery of humanity.
In his third Philosophical Manuscript, Marx measures the humanity of man, his
socialization, by the degree of socialization of that immediate, natural and
necessary human relationship: the relationship between man and woman. Value as
universal socialization, as sole and inverted form of humanity, is also in fact the
impossibility of socializing this relationship; which relationship remains,
therefore, the most natural, that is to say the most frustrated by the
reigning social organization. Within a world of universal socialization by value, this
naturalness becomes increasingly equivalent to its degree of decay,(11)
just as the degree of naturalness of the Nambikwara Indians within our civilization tends
to equal the degree of their extermination. This degree of decaypsychosis, neurosis,
characteras index of the nonsocialization and nonhumanity of man, is the real
object of psychoanalysis. That old swine Freud went so far as to identify naturalness with
savagery, and value-inverted socialization with civilization.
Psychoanalysis was and will remain the paleontology of this prehistory.
We support out thesis, still purely theoretical, with the following clinical
observation: If, for one reason or another, an individuals character is dissolved,
the phenomenal spectacular form of the totality is dissolved in its pretension to pass for
the absence of value. Thus we have established, negatively for the moment, an identity
between character and the spectacle effect. Whether the subject sinks into madness,
practices theory or participates in an uprising,(12) we
have ascertained that the two poles of daily lifecontact with a narrow and separate
reality on one hand and spectacular contact with the totality on the otherare
simultaneously abolished, opening the way for that unity of individual life which Reich
unfortunately labels genitality. (We prefer individuality.)
The works of Reich are the first since Marx that concretely shed light on alienation.
The theory of the spectacle is the first theory since Marx that aims explicitly at being a
theory of alienation. The synthesis of these two methods leads to some immediate
consequences which we will develop in our forthcoming work.
First of all, we maintain that the practice of theory is inseparable from what Reich
referred to as genitality. Theory becomes continuous knowledge of secret
misery, of the secret of misery. It is thus also in itself the end of the spectacle
effect. Since the spectacle is the secret form of public misery, its effect ceases when
the secrecy ceases. Its effect lies in its secrecy. Thus theory becomes increasingly
identical to lived possibility (as opposed to probability, which is lived as doubt or
indifference). Theory is life when everything is possible. It ceases to exist the
moment it makes a mistake, and finds itself thrown back into boredom, into the spectacle
effect. Real theory thus cant go wrong. It is a subject devoid of error. Nothing
deceives it. The totality is its sole object. Theory knows misery as secretly public. It
knows the secret publicity of misery. All hopes are permitted to it. Class struggle
The spectacle is the absence of spirit. Character is the absence of theory.
The proletariat will be visible or it will be nothing. The proletariat lives
in its own visibility. The organization of the proletariat is the organization of its
visibility. The global practice of the proletariat will be its permanent publicity
or nothing. Hitler, the Leninists and the Maoists understood this so well that they
organized the visibility of the proletariat by force. A more ambitious capitalism
wishes to realize the visibility of the abolished proletariat.
By itself, the visibility of misery is not the proletariat. Necessary but insufficient.
The proletariat requires that the visibility of misery be public. The critique must be at
once theory of publicity (of visibility) and publicity (visibility) of theory. Its aim
must be to ensure its own publicity. It is when its public that it
doesnt go wrong. It is not the theory of publicity if it doesnt
ensure its own publicity. Indeed, it is the height of absurdity for a theorist of
publicity not to be able to ensure the publicity of his theory.
The proletariat is the finally realized unity of the theory of publicity and the
publicity of theory.
We think these insights are superior to everything that a Lukács was able to say about
class consciousness. They certainly have the advantage of brevity. As the ad men know,
brevity is essential in publicity. (Are you man enough for Granny Goose Potato
Chips?one could not be briefer in contempt.) What they cannot imagine is that
publicity will be even briefer at the moment of a Strasbourg of the factories. Visibility
will flash like lightning, fire like a gun and rise like the sun, or it will not be.
For the moment our formulas may have only brevity in their favor. It may perhaps be
necessary to introduce into them the concepts Granny Goose or Potato
Chips in order for them to know their total clarity. A day will soon come when all
the potato chips of the earth will no longer be able to smother the meeting of the theory
of publicity and the publicity of theory.
1. The Institute of Contemporary Prehistory is presently
preparing an Encyclopedia of Appearances: A Phenomenology of the Absence of Spirit.
2. Character Analysis, 192733 (Noonday, 1972).
3. The critical situation in which the magnitude of this price
is fully revealed is love. It remains Reichs merit to have shown that character
defense against anxiety is paid for in this situation by an incapacity for tenderness,
which he labels, unfortunately, orgastic impotence. At this level character is
itself a symptom.
4. While Reich concluded in a very ambiguous manner that
character is an obstacle to work, we contend that character is an obstacle to the critique
5. Note that this last meaning, which makes for some
fundamental plays on words in the original French text, is not present in the English word
publicity. See the addendum, Discretion Is the Better
Part of Value, in which the author elucidates this and some other aspects of his text.
6. The reader will have recognized class consciousness here,
and will therefore not confuse it with the spectacle of misery, which is the advertising
version of the publicity of misery.
7. Alas! the opposition of the whole to individuals takes
place only by means of parts of the whole. When the opposition of individuals to
the totality becomes total, things become totally clear.
8. The worker has the same advantage over the rich as the
slave over the master. The slave knows fear; the worker, a living commodity, knows value.
9. See The Mass Psychology of Fascism, 193334
(Noonday, 1971) and What Is Class Consciousness? 1934 (in Sex-Pol,
Vintage, 1972). In this latter small work Reich attains the height of Leninist naďveté.
Despite his denials, he extols specialized historical knowledge to the extreme. There is
even a curious foreshadowing of the Maoist conception of education as a spectacle of
10. Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis, 1929
(in Sex-Pol). Mass Psychology and Dialectical Materialism are
both indelibly marred by a mechanistic conception of instincts.
11. According to the principle: That which is not
superseded rots; that which rots incites to supersession (Vaneigem).
12. 1968 has provided us with abundant and most diverse data.
Jean-Pierre Voyers Reich, mode
demploi was published as a pamphlet and a poster by Champ Libre (Paris, 1971)
and was translated by Ken Knabb in 1973. The present version, reprinted from Public
Secrets, supersedes the earlier translation.