Short for "detournement of pre-existing aesthetic elements". The integration of present or past artistic production into a superior construction of a milieu. In this sense there can be no situationist painting or music, but only a situationist use of these means. In a more primitive sense, detournement within the old cultural spheres is a method of propaganda, a method which testifies to the wearing out and loss of importance of those spheres.

More simply, detournement is subverting an old "aesthetic element" so that it carries your message. One of the most basic techniques of Situationist detournement is writing new words into the speech bubbles of pre-existing comic strips.

For example (from "Lipstick Traces"), a Beetle Bailey comic, two frames. In the first Beetle Bailey is bringing a cake to a general. In the second the general looks surprised. The new speech bubbles have them saying:

Soldier: I made you a cake. Tell me that I'm an artist and that I'm special.
General: You're an artist and you're special
Soldier: But I didn't make the cake and it may be poisoned.
Detournement is also an ultimate mean to abolish art by realizing it.

Whilst a dadaist tried to nullify art turning crap she found from streets or waste bins into art piece, a situationist takes a painting and uses it as an ironing board. The important thing here is to note that this is something closely related to some indigenous cultures that doesn't make a difference between art and utility goods. In overdeveloped countries it's just thought you're a radical or an idiot if you do something like that. You should rather buy an artwork from a specialist, an artist, interpreted by yet another specialist, a critic, and consume the mediated spectacular emotion the painting on the wall is supposed to give you.
Detournement puts things in the right picture!


French for "diversion," in the sense of "rerouting." Roughly, the cannibalization and modification of existing images (art, perhaps, or text, or photographs, or cinema). Détournement is one of the primary elements of Situationist theory. It is the taking of what has been created by the Spectacle and turning it into something else. It is important to note that this is not merely, say, vandalizing a painting; Guy Debord writes in "A User's Guide to Détournement," "Duchamp’s drawing of a mustache on the Mona Lisa is no more interesting than the original version of that painting. We must now push this process to the point of negating the negation." In détournement, each element is as important as another, and both combine to form a new ensemble. Debord identified four laws of détournement:

  1. It is the most distant detourned element which contributes most sharply to the overall impression, and not the elements that directly determine the nature of this impression. Subtlety is the key to this technique. A greater impression is made with the juxtaposition of the elements being détourned than with the prominence of any one of them.
  2. The distortions introduced in the detourned elements must be as simplified as possible, since the main impact of a détournement is directly related to the conscious or semiconscious recollection of the original contexts of the elements. A détournement is not meant to be a private little stab for the perceptive critic to enjoy (compare this to references inserted into the movies of Quentin Tarantino, et al). It is a public spectacle, and something that makes a visceral impact.
  3. Détournement is less effective the more it approaches a rational reply. Détournement is not discourse. It is commentary.
  4. Détournement by simple reversal is always the most direct and the least effective. Again, détournement is not discourse. It does not seek to counter any arguments; it is merely making a point (or not; it depends).

According to Debord, there are two kinds of détournement: "minor" and "deceptive." The difference is this: the object of a minor détournement is not being subverted. It is merely a utility, a tool used to convey the message. An example is the trading card form used by the American Situationists (led by Ken Knabb) for their "Great Moments in the Void" series. The object of a deceptive détournement, on the other hand, is being commented upon. If Duchamp's attack on the Mona Lisa was to be considered détournement, it would be deceptive, since it is Art (which is represented by the painting in question) that is being commented upon. In détourned works, both of these can and should be used.

Détournement is necessarily a devaluation or a negation of the object being détourned. Especially this applies to classic works of art; it is saying that they no longer have any value, and the process of détournement gives it to them or points this fact out. It is also a harbinger: according to the Situationists, everything is turning into a parody of itself (everybody wants to be ironic), eventually to implode.

Détournement can also be applied to speech and human interaction. Debord gives the example of secret societies using passwords and coded gestures. This is called "ultradétournement"--the complete perversion of language and other elements of everyday life.

Debord, and the Situationists in general, attempted to systematize this practice. In a way, it is alive today: look at the evolution, in America, of the phrase "The terrorists have already won!" It first enjoyed a brief existence as a pointing-out of the failures of America post-September 11. Now, it is used ironically, to comment on American capitalism. The classic détournement on a large scale: one hardly encounters the phrase used in its original context anymore.

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