Two hundred people dine together to keep the works of Debord in France

The countdown has begun. And time is passing quickly. Ever since 29 January [2009], when the Minister of Culture, Christine Albanel, classified the archives of Guy Debord (1931-1994), leader of the situationist movement, as a "national treasure," the State has had 30 months to raise the money necessary to acquire [for the Bibliotheque nationale de France] the assets inventoried by the Parisian bookseller Benoit Forgeot.

In addition to the handwritten manuscript of The Society of the Spectacle (published in 1967 and available as a "Folio" edition), these assets include a collection of reader's notes; two notebooks in which Guy Debord recorded his dreams; everything that concerns the Game of War,[1] along with one of the five copies of the work that were pulped;[2] the manuscript of his last projected book; all of his notes on the cinema; large dossiers concerning publishing; and the entirety of his correspondence.[3]

After the two-and-a-half-year period is over, these assets -- the integrity of which has been preserved by Alice Debord,[4] widow of the writer and holder of the copyrights -- could migrate across the Atlantic Ocean and be acquired by an American university, one very fond [friandes] of these types of documents, such as Yale, which is already first in line.[5]

The value of these archives is difficult to evaluate, but it surpasses several hundred thousand euros. In an attempt to raise part of the sum [to be paid to Ms. Debord], Bruno Racine, President of the Bibliotheque nationale de France (BNF), has decided to appeal to [potential] patrons by gathering them together for a prestigious dinner. This gala dinner will take place Monday, 15 June [2009], at the Francois-Mitterrand site, in the prestigious Hall of the Globes. This manner of raising funds is directly inspired by the methods of American foundations and museums, which solicit contributions from super-rich donors.

"Once a year, we bring together all of our big patrons in a prestigious setting," the President of the BNF explains. In 2008, the money raised (around 200,000 euros [$260,000]) allowed the library to acquire a unique piece by the German artist Anselm Kieffer, an homage to the poet Paul Celan, and a collection of letters by Marcel Proust.

This year, the crisis promises to make itself felt, but nearly two hundred seats-for-sale have already been reserved (over the course of the last year) for the dinner, organized by Mr. Racine and the banker Jean-Claude Meyer, President of the BNF Society. Glassware, porcelain, classic Bordeaux [wines] and subtle dishes will be on the menu.

The cost is fixed at 500 euros per plate, but [additional] gifts are left to the discretion of the companies or people in attendance. "There is a floor, but no ceiling," Mr. Racine points out. Certain companies and foundations, such as Total, Veolia and Roederer (which will provide the champagne) have reserved one or several tables, each seating a dozen people.

Among the dinner guests who have soiled the elegant napkins[6] are Sotheby's, the Ropac galleries, Templon, the Boissonnat family, and the Clarence Foundation. For the for-profit enterprises, this operation is interesting, because their gifts are 90% deductible, while those from individuals are only 60% deductible.

The administrative board of the BNF Society also includes general donors, the most regular of whom is Nahed Ojjeh, the widow of the super-rich arms dealer Akram Ojjeh; the co-founder of the [Yves] Saint Laurent fashion label, Pierre Berge, as well as the head of the Rivaud Group, Edouard de Ribes; the collector Pierre Leroy, co-manager of the Lagardere Group[7] -- all go to the annual dinners. This year, the Society has also created a BNF prize, endowed with 10,000 euros, to support contemporary research; it will be awarded the same evening [as the Debord dinner].

Among those invited are the Minister of Culture, Christine Albanel, who can authorize national-heritage funds to contribute to the purchase, but also the widow of the writer herself, who has agreed that the manuscript of The Society of the Spectacle be displayed to potential donors during the dinner. Other national-heritage works recently acquired will also be presented, including Jean d'Arras' L'Histoire de la belle Melusine, from 1479, and the manuscript of Boris Vian's L'Ecume des jours.

Will the general donors go for the bait? The response will come the evening of 15 June. But this dinner already has a delicious foretaste. It is an understatement to say that there is a cultural pit between the patrons and the anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist thought of Guy Debord. Bruno Racine must seek money where he can find it. And he insists, "the BNF will not uniquely acquire the assets of authors who defend the established order."

(Written by Alain Beuve-Mery and published in the 14 June 2009 issue of Le Monde. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! 15 June 2009. All notes are by the translator.)

[1] Also known as kriegspiel, this is the cabinet game that Guy Debord invented (circa 1977).

[2] The work in question is the book Le "Jeu de guerre": releve des positions successives de toutes les forces au cours d'une partie, which was written in collaboration with Alice Becker-Ho and originally published by Editions Gerard Lebovici (Paris, 1987). In 1991, Debord started a lawsuit against the inheritors of Editions Gerard Lebovici and eventually won a judgment that required this publishing house to pulp all the copies of all the books it had published by both Debord and Becker-Ho.

[3] Note well that, thanks to "Alice Debord," the seven-volume-long series of works entitled Guy Debord Correspondance (published by the Librairie Artheme Fayard between 1999 and 2008) is not presented in its "entirety."

[4] Alice Ho was born in Shanghai in 1941 to Chinese/French parents. She was raised in France. In 1963, she encountered the Situationist International, and was a member of the Occupations Committee in May 1968. In 1972, she married Guy Debord, and stayed with him through his suicide in 1994.

[5] It was in fact Yale's interest in purchasing these "assets" [ce fonds], which had been thoroughly catalogued and appraised on behalf of "Alice Debord," that caused the Minister of Culture to intercede and stop the transaction from going any further.

[6] Parmi les convives qui ont aussi pris leur rond de serviette.

[7] The ultimate owner of the Librairie Artheme de Fayard.

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