Debord, full to the brim


A volume of works and a string of testimonies by friends and enemies of the Pope of the SI and ex-communication.

The reappearance of texts by Guy Debord in a single volume, at an affordable price and in a polished edition [Works, Gallimard, 2006] will allow those who rush to the Internet sites that are devoted to him to be able to refer to his works on paper.[1] If they do not seek to transform their favored author into an icon, they will spare themselves the preface by Vincent Kaufmann. One knows what official flatterers are worth. Kaufmann doesn't distinguish himself. It is a shame that a thought that wants to be so critical inspires quite servile texts. And yet topics for interrogations of the author of Panegyric aren't lacking. When they are evoked here (the assorted exclusions of insulted people from the Situationist International, its systematic "historiography of itself"), they pass purely and simply to the profit of the Master. Nevertheless, a slightly impertinent spirit finds enough to pose such questions. For example, the permanent rewriting of his own history, his unjust self-justifications concerning others, his lack of distance and humor, and his complacency towards himself. Other subjects (Debord's advertising-recuperation, the slight novelty of The Society of the Spectacle, his best-known text, the hostility of Debord towards those who preceded him, such as [Cornelius] Castoriadis and [Henri] Lefebvre) are not even approached.

For these things,[2] one will have to fish elsewhere.[3] Gerard Guegan's memoirs Cite Champage, esc i, appt 289 95-Argenteuil [Grasset, 2006] are the reverse of Debord's works. It is, actually, with the same bad faith and violence that Guegan pins his eternal enemy (among others), whom he does not fail to call by his complete name, Guy-Ernest [Debord].[4]

Cite Champage concerns the first three years of the Champ Libre publishing house, puffed up with post-May 1968 air, a guerrilla position on the book front, of which the author [Gerard Guegan] was the founder with Gerard Lebovici, who financed the venture.[5] Guegan resurrects this era, which saw libertarian thought re-emerge from the catacombs, women revolt against their condition, Communism get taken for what it was, [namely] a tragic racket, and millionaires such as Gerard Lebovici take it into their heads to help the "revolution." With such a Godfather, the new publisher -- an admirer of Paul Leautaud[6] -- could not help crossing paths with Debord, a new friend of the patron. This encounter went badly. Guegan evokes an over-estimated thinker and remembers saying to Lebo, "He is a poser and a cheat, and I hate him."

To find more moderate opinions, one can read Ivan Chtcheglov, Lost Profile [Editions Allia, 2006]. [Its authors] Jean-Marie Apostolides, a specialist in Tintin, [and] Louis XIV, and author of Tombeaux de Guy Debord (1999), and Boris Donne, a lover of Racine, [and] Aeschylus and publisher of Guy Debord's Memoires[7] (at Editions Allia), retrace the tragic life of one of the rare friends of the chief situationist who was kept in esteem. In In Gium Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni, Debord says of Chtcheglov: "One said that, regarding the town and life, he changed them. (...) The depths and mysteries of urban space were his conquest."[8]

Debord met Chtcheglov on 16 June 1953, "the day the news broke about the revolt of the workers of East Berlin," and excluded him[9] a year later. In between, Donne and Apostolides explain, [Chtcheglov] the son of Ukranian immigrants, a hypersensitive poet, would be the inspiration for the founding themes of the situationist attitude. And Debord was shocked "by (the) will to power" of his new friend. The rupture between the two young men (they were about 20 years old) would have dramatic consequences for Ivan. The rest of his life would be a nightmare, with a plunge into madness, a drama that seems to have created a certain bad conscience for the master of exclusion.[10]

A remark: if Allia didn't publish the "situs" and Lettrists whom Debord vomited out -- people like Jean-Michel Mension, Ralph Rumney, Asger Jorn[11] and today Patrick Straram[12] -- all of the dreaming-buddies of the chief would have been forgotten. Meanwhile, the "Master" has become an obligatory reference for all of the little men of chic radicalism, for those who content themselves "with dwelling on the calamities of the era without ever proposing anything that might resemble a possible and politically feasible improvement" (Jacques Bouveresse).[13]

And the Works? The autobiographical texts by Debord, Panegyric, [and] Cette Mauvaise Reputation, which reprise the style of the good authors of the XVII century and imprint an unconsolable melancholy, possess a charm that doesn't risk outmoding itself. The Society of the Spectacle, so often cited, is, on the other hand, quite over-esteemed. For a critical and realistic vision of the era, one might prefer George Orwell (whom Debord appreciated), Hannah Arendt (whom he ignored), or Cornelius Castoriadis (whom he plagiarized, then condemned to the stairs of the Gemonies[14]). More remarkable was Debord's "journalistic" and precocious critique of the pseudo-leninist beliefs of his time, those of the "orthodox" Communists, supporters of a suffocating regime, and those of the Maoists.

In 1967, at the moment when the "Great Cultural Revolution" fascinated a crowd of future literary writers, film producers and journalists, Debord wrote The Explosion Point of Ideology in China, a violent and lucid text, which wanted to be understood by the "Leftist debris" of the Western countries, "always willing to be duped by all musty-smelling sub-leninist propaganda," which was in truth the object of their flame. Today, China has abandoned these games. It has become the factory of global capitalism. And the beliefs that were denounced by Debord have vanished.

[1] Author's note: several years ago, in The Literary Magazine, Christophe Bourseiller, unofficial biographer of Debord (The Life and Death of Guy Debord, Plon), mentioned several sites, of which we retain Nothingness.org (in English), Sindomino.net (in Spanish) and chez.com/debordiana (in French).

[2] Translator's note: les bemols, literally, "the flats." An idiomatic expression meaning "the juicy bits," "the uninitiated," or "really curious"?

[3] Translator's note: though the author lists Le jeu de la guerre by Guy Debord and Alice Becker-Ho [Gallimard, 2006] as one of the titles under review, he doesn't say a single word about it.

[4] Translator's note: Debord dropped the "-Ernest" circa 1962.

[5] Author's note: the rest will be told in a second, forthcoming volume. Translator's addition: For more on Lebovici, who fired Guegan in 1975, see our page devoted to him. For Debord's take on Champ Libre, see his letter dated 26 December 1976.

[6] Translator's note: French writer (1872-1956).

[7] Translator's note: originally published in 1958.

[8] Translator's note: the author fails to note that In Girum is a film Debord completed in 1978 and that it appeared, as did the rest of Debord's six films, on a three-DVD boxed set in November 2005.

[9] Author's note: Exclusion was his crazy-king mania, his manner of aping Stalin, who said that the Party reinforces itself by purging itself. Translator's objection: this is the vilest, most unsupportable charge against Debord that we have ever heard. Only a scumbag would make it in a footnote.

[10] Translator's note: the author fails to mention or simply doesn't know about Debord's reconciliation with Chtcheglov, which took place in 1963. For more, see Debord's letter to Chtcheglov dated April 1963.

[11] Translator's note: Mension was voted out of ("excluded from") the Lettrist International in 1953; Rumney was excluded from the Situationist International in 1958 (by Asger Jorn, among others); and Jorn was never excluded from any organization to which Debord belonged. As for Patrick Straram, though he was excluded from the LI in 1954, Debord was in close contact with him thereafter. See Debord's letter dated 30 October 1958.

[12] Author's note: Allia has also published The Bottles Go to Bed, a novel by Straram about the rounds of drinks consumed by the International Lettrists at Moineau's place.

[13] Translator's note: a contemporary French philosopher.

[14] Translator's note: at the ancient Roman prison at Mamertine, the bodies of executed criminals were displayed on the Gemonies stairs. For a glimpse into Debord's rather complex relationship with Castoriadis and the Socialsme ou Barbarie group, see Debord's letter of resignation, dated 5 May 1961.

(Written by Edouard Waintrop and published under "French Literature" in the 25 May 2006 edition of Liberation. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! 11 June 2006.)