Author: Ricardo Dominguez --- Date: 11/09/96 --- Copyright: ThingReviews NYC

Interview with Keith Sanborn
by Ricardo Dominguez

Architecture as loss and excess, as sites of sacrifice and control, of pyramids and casinos --Keith Sanborn's work is the present moment in the history of filmic detourment, not only as a translation of Situationist history--but as a critical continuation of developing manuevers against the bunkers of the "intergrated spectacle" which have now entered the zones of digital mutation. His recent translation and restoration of the film version of "Society of the Spectacle"--has been drifting about New York since summer. "The Gift," his current project, conjoins his Situationist critique of Las Vegas spew-economy with Georges Bataille's heterological analysis of architectures of sacrifice. mrzero, as he is known within in the digital flow, has just put up a small shack--on tabacco road, rigth off the last exit of Dead History 101 --you know the one! Where you will witness a morphological event, better than Michael Jackson becoming Janet--Virilio becoming his lost horizon.

Q: Recombinant culture, the implosion of genetics and speed, creates a spasm of hypermorphic delusion wherein Sandborn-understands-Virilio -as-Hegel-understands-Napoleon. A selective and secret code that attempts to out maneuver--the process of virtual de-realization within the excessive architecture of digital dialectics. Is this strategy a continuation of those used by Debord and the Gang to counter spectacle society? Or do you see the WEB as a new type of possible maneuver against something that has arisen beyond the end of history? The end of the End and it's delusions?

A: I don't think I could understand Virilio in the same way as Hegel understands Napoleon, though the parallelism is suggestive. My strategy--which is inspired by the Situationists--is to find a way of questioning current banalities by turning them back against themselves. I find Virillio's techno-determinism, like Baudrillard's techno-nihilism, highly questionable enterprises. Baudrillard could not consider a kind of critique beyond "critical distance" so he decided to roll over and jerk off to the spectacle instead of questioning it and using other strategies. His Nietzschean version of Marshall McLuhan is tiresome. Johnathan Crary's epigonal "Eclipse of the Spectacle" is similar: he confuses the then embryonic rise of the net--I think he was talking about cable tv but he keeps repeating "CRT" like some kind of mantra--with a major social realignment. This development may correspond to what Debord came to call the "integrated spectacle" but it hardly transcends the category of existing categories. The non-linearity of the net calls for the need for a new understanding of "history" but it hardly makes the category obsolete.

Q: Do you consider digital architecture as a reconfiguration of Georges Bataille's accursed share or as a possible move toward a headless society, an acephalic network, of replusive gestures which will allow a labyrinth of distinct singularities to flow without constraint? Or is this just another version of Las Vegas--as "The Gift"--that excretes without end? The WEB as a floating dead man in the Luxor pool? A shadow at the blue of noon under of the neon pyramid of vitual history?

A: Digital architecture will be what we make it. I find the excesses of Vegas at once fascinating and repulsive. You see, unlike those who have sung its pomo praises, I actually lived there 365 days from one birthday to the next. It's a fucking suburban hellhole. The most evil and banal place I have ever inhabited and I grew up in the middle of nowhere. There are those who consider the notion of habitation to be quaint since global culture has become so interchangeable and transient; I do not. Or to put it another way, I don't see Robert Venturi moving to Vegas because it's so groooooovy. "The Gift" is a long project which I hope to finish in the next 6 months or go insane. It's a moderately personal and global exploration of sumptuary expenditure in architecture: Disneyland-Neuschwannstein -The Excalibur is one migrating form; the Pyramids at Giza-the Transamerica Building-the Luxor Casino is another. And yet it is only the forms which are interchangeable in the most banal fashion. Perhaps looking at a picture of one may be equivalent to looking at a picture of another, but the experience of being there is not. After years of making only "found footage"/detourned/appropriated/ expropriated films with pre-existing images, I wanted to actually return to going places and filming there. Architecture is amazing easy and almost impossible to convey on film. It's not just the obvious banality of 3-D vs. 2-D space, it's the haptic quality, the sense of being in a particular cultural locus which is difficult to convey.

Q: That fucking hell hole is my home town! I was born next to the voice of the Sun King, took a dump at the shrine of his death--slot machines and dice were my Dasein--I lived within the architecture of excess as a floating liminal flicker in the bland American will to virtuality as it emerged--The Circus, Circus--1972 or 73--it was at this point that the Mormon force for God, family, and mega-money copulated in utter ectasy with the MOB's will to God, family, and mega-money beating any of Disney's grandest hopes of manifesting America's virtual destiny.

A: Sorry to dis your home town, I didn't know you were from LA--of which Vegas is a suburb. But I still hate the experience of living in Vegas. The mornings after the nights before on the butt-ugliest stretch of the Mojave known to man. Downwind Atomic Clouds and Area 51, 57 etc in the background with Saucers. Redefines hangover. Fascinating to visit, but after 2.5 days you feel like you're serving out a sentence, unless you've got it really bad for games of pseudo-chance. Believe me, I understand the appeal and I also loved Vegas as well as hating it, but why leave if you find ecstasy there? The answer is: I wouldn't want to live in Vegas or in a casino anymore than I would want to live in a monastery or a cathedral. Vegas just takes the religious elements of gambling and reduces them to consumerism. It's another fucking carney ride, 3-card monte routine. One motherfucker picks your pocket while the other one keeps you distracted. It's the essence of the [fake] "American dream": a con-game for suckers. Like the Lotto sez: "You gotta be in it to win it." On the other hand if you think you can win, you're a loser. I know, I know, banal ethical considerations, but the aesthetics are boring too. Casino architecture is more like a product of some behaviorist laboratory of social engineering than it is like a funhouse or sacred labyrinth. The Mormon cathedral in San Diego is essentially the same. I've been inside. And I can see the difference. Vegas is virtual, but like the MSN, it's another virtual con game of pseduo-choice. Gambling, in its origins, is about the sumptuary destruction of wealth. Individuals play against/with each other; in Vegas, you're always betting against the house [except in Poker gets its hundred cuts another way] and unless you're a high-tech card counter, you lose, by the law of large numbers and by the end of the night. I used to play video poker every day. Sometimes several sessions. I know the electronic divination offered for consumption; I have experienced the gamblers fallacy in electronic form. I have surfed the waves of chance. A great high, but still a fucking con-game. A good arena against which to form a radical subjectivity, but not my idea of an interesting place to live. Vegas is Kapital is boredom and you can take that to the Mouse.

Q: Taking on this hyper-colonization effect by reestablishing the filmic as memetic account of expediture, migration, and banality seems to counter your earlier situationist manuevers--as you state it seems to be an'impossibility'? Is "The Gift" a sacrifice of your previous gestures? Has "The Dead Man" by Bataille. that you published in Las Vegas, come back to haunt your work?

A: No, I disagree. Both are approaches to an encounter of radical, subjectivity and the social. Two games, two different sets of rules. In detournement, I'm forced to play with the House's deck, but I make the rules.In long take looks at architecture it's kind of a staring contest. See who blinks first. Then there's always editing. Deadmen on Sunset Boulevard do tell tales; the electronic signs in Las Vegas only cycle. And it's Baudrillard who sez disturbing the virtual is impossible, not me.

Q: You have also said that digital architecture will be "what we make of it." What, if anything, do you hope to make out of your expropriation techiques on the WEB--do you have any sense of what you think its most useful elements are--in terms of resistance culture? Or is it to early to really tell? What would the Situationist have done with it? A 'what if' question--similar to 'what if'Napoleon had B-52's at Waterloo?

A: Well, my mouse finger just sits here twitching. My paltry expropriation techniques--I have no illusions, I haven't taken it very far yet--it's just a start. A Shack out on Info Highway 109. I think the most inspiring deployment of strategies against the infokultur was the hack of the CIA website, though I also liked and related adventures. Finding those little chinks in the armor. The problem is--as the Situationist would say: 'Whatever is lost in partial contestation against the old world, tends to strengthen it.' Or in infospeak: if you're not careful, you're just helping them plug security leaks. But with games, the rules are never settled, there's always new mutatations. The net shows that because it evolves so quickly, but it didn't invent that aspect of human culture. It does't really matter if there's no way out of the labyrinth and it's not only a matter of writing on prison walls. Infospace can be rebuilt and even ignored when appropriate. They offer us crumbs, we want it all. Though early on, the Situationists were intrigued with the Disney futuristic aspects of technology, they ultimately saw cybernetics as another aspect of Kapitalistic scientism, see correspondence with a cybernetician: (A. Moles. Part of the institutional framework of Kapital). The net is rife with pseudo-utopian, religious claims, which can easily be dissected as our old friend the spectacular commodity in yet another, not-so-new form. CIA:BIA:MSW:AOL. CNWA.

ricardo dominguez

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NOT BORED! sees value in Keith Sanborn's production of a subtitled videocassette version of Guy Debord's 1973 film La Societe du Spectacle. The availability of such a videotape cannot fail to introduce Debord and the other situationists' critique of "the society of the spectacle" to English-speaking audiences that might not have otherwise been aware of or receptive to the significance and enduring usefulness of Debord's 1967 book (which bears the same title as the film). NOT BORED! also believes that Keith Sanborn should be adequately compensated for his efforts, which mostly involved the subtitling and duplication processes. (Very little "new" material needed to be translated, precisely because the film so closely follows Debord's book, of which translations have been in circulation since the 1970s.) But it is clear that Keith Sanborn is demonstrably attempting to receive more financial compensation than is appropriate for someone who claims to be interested in furthering the situationist project, and not simply making a buck off of it. In a word, we firmly believe that -- in charging between $30 and $40 for copies of the subtitled tape -- he is gouging. We believe this even though we know that (he claims) this admirable project cost $7,000 to bring to completion. We also believe that he should be held accountable, so to speak, for his shameless profiteering, if not financially, then at least in the eyes of his peers in the international post-situationist scene. We must remind all concerned that Sanborn's videocassette is nothing but a pirate edition, a bootleg, an illegal duplication of a film that was originally made by a man who committed suicide in 1994 and thus cannot do anything to prevent or denounce clear abuses such as this. Sanborn's "new" translation of the film's voiceover, as well as his creation, distribution and very well-attended (and thus highly profitable) public screenings of the subtitled videocassette, are most definitely NOT authorized by the estate of Guy Debord. As Sanborn himself knows, it is only a matter of time before Alice Becker-Ho (Debord's widow) learns of what he is doing, and instructs her lawyers to ask Sanborn to cease and desist from these unauthorized and illegal activities. In the meantime -- or, rather, before the situationist shit hits the international fan -- Sanborn is trying to receive more than adequate compensation for his efforts: he is clearly trying to make as much money as possible. If it cost a total of $7,000 to complete this project, why aren't copies of the tape priced at $10 each? It is clearly reasonable to expect that, over a reasonably short period of time, 1000 people would buy a copy of the tape if it were reasonably priced. At $10 a copy, Keith Sanborn would stand to get back all of his original investment and a $3,000 profit as well. But at $30 a copy, he stands to make a profit of $23,000 (again assuming 1000 people will eventually fork over the money). Think of it this way: What other 90 minute videotape on the market costs $30 or $40? If one were to go to, say, Blockbuster Video (not known for its low prices), and discretely inquire as to what item in the store costs $30, the answer would be, "Well, the director's cut of Natural Born Killers, which includes one full hour of previously cut footage, as well as never-before-seen interview segments with the director himself and all the important actors, retails for $27.95." In other words, Sanborn has drastically over-estimated or deliberately ignored the relative cultural value of the subtitled bootleg he has produced. But professional bootleggers -- who are not widely known or respected for keeping their greed under control -- do know the relative cultural value of a bootlegged videcassette, which translates into $15 or $20 a copy, at the very most. "To live outside the law, you must be honest," Bob Dylan sang many years ago. Keith Sanborn is living outside the law, but he is not being honest. One thinks here of Ken Knabb, and how much Keith Sanborn is different from him. In 1981, when he first published The Situationist International Anthology, Knabb priced it at only $10 a copy, despite the facts that it was a huge book (many times the size of Debord's 1967 book) upon which he'd spent years of his time, and that it was a book that he published himself, with his own funds. Quite obviously, Knabb -- as someone genuinely committed to the situationist project -- knew that he was undertaking a long haul: there would be very little demand for the Anthology in the short-term; he wouldn't make any money (back) for several years, if at all; over the course of 10 or 15 years, he might be adequately compensated for his efforts. Hindsight shows that Ken Knabb was right. Today, copies of The Anthology cost $15 (still a bargain) and Ken Knabb is well-respected by nearly everyone in the post-situationist milieu. But what will people say about Keith Sanborn in 10 or 15 years? Well, what are they saying today? When priced at $30 to $40 each, copies of Debord's film are too expensive for students, the unemployed and the working classes -- in other words, for precisely the very people about and for whom Debord's film was made in the first place. Indeed, Sanborn's subtitled videotape is so expensive that even independent bookstores cannot stock it without losing money. The only "people" who can afford these ridiculously inflated prices are relatively large institutions such as libraries and film societies, and such relatively-well paid college-level teachers as Sanborn himself -- in other words, the very people and things from which Debord so unequivocably and completely distanced himself during his lifetime. NOT BORED! has obtained one of Sanborn's over-priced, unauthorized and subtitled reproductions of Debord's film, and has used it to generate good quality second-generation copies, which we are selling for $5 postpaid (domestic orders) and $10 postpaid (international ones), while they last. Please send cash only to PO Box 1115, Stuyvesant Station, NYC 10009-9998. E-mail can be directed to Since Sanborn is also selling unauthorized, subtitled videocassettes of Rene Vienet's 1973 film Can Dialectics Break Bricks? for $30 to $40 each, we would be obviously be pleased if this film escaped from Sanborn's clutches in the way we have helped La Societe du Spectacle escape. This text may be freely reproduced and distributed, for if and when Madame Debord's lawyers contact us, they will be contacting both clear consciences and meagre bank accounts. 16 November 1996

Wolfgang Staehle --

Whatever! No matter whether you are buying the deluxe $30 Sanborn edition, or the $5 2nd generation copy, you can now preview the tape on:


Only for one week! 12/10/96 - 12/17/96


Jump Guy Debord's Bones for $25/mo. Re: SOS @ I don't like being suckered into the position of supporting the pimping of any indigenous product, above all a by-product of conscious sacrifice. is pushing it! GLOVE


va chier connard



21 June 1997: We've added Sanborn's subtitled video of Rene Vienet's detourned film Can the Dialectic Break Bricks? to our As Fast As Far and As Free As Possible Distribution Network. Send $5 cash to NOT BORED! PO Box 1115 NYC 10009-9998. Make it $10 if you are outside the USA.