Guy Debord Fundraiser

Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle under glass. Three spiral notebooks, exhibited not far from Boris Vian's L'Ecume des jours and The Life of Saint Catherine, an Illuminated Manuscript (from the 15th century). In the Hall of Globes of the Bibliotheque nationale de France (BNF), more than two hundred people milled around, glasses of Roederer champagne in hand. This past Monday evening, they came to a dinner intended to finance the acquisition of Guy Debord's archives.[1] France has refused to see them leave the country and has classified them as a national treasure (see Liberation, 16 February).

Debord . . . a treasure. His widow[2] has jealously guarded the integrity of these assets [du fonds] since his suicide in 1994. The founder of situationism, meticulous in his attention to his posthumous destiny, took care to sort through and organize the totality of his manuscripts, notes and letters before his death. For the last two years, Yale, the American university, has coveted them for its research center on the avant-garde. Debord booed the State. The State embalms him. "This evening depends upon the spectacular society," Jean-Claude Meyer, the president of the BNF Society, admitted in his speech. "Its ironic and, at the same time, a great homage."

Tartar sauce. Eighteen tables (baptized "Baudelaire," "Toulouse-Lautrec," "Debussy," "Chateaubriand" . . .) are spread throughout the entire hall. Each table costs 6,000 euros; 500 per plate. It is the second dinner that Bruno Racine, the president of the BNF, has -- along with the library's Society -- organized in the American patronage tradition. The preceding dinner gala in 2008 allowed the BNF to purchase a unique piece by the artist Anselm Kiefer. The State has 30 months from the announcement published on 29 January [2009] in the Official Journal to raise the sum proposed[3] by Yale.

Before the beginning of the meal -- wild sea bass and scallop tartar, a crisp vegetable and herb salad, oven-roasted veal fillet, sauteed chanterelles and asparagus in a thyme-lemon dressing, voluptuous wild strawberries, barley water, rhubarb compote, all washed down with, among other wines, Chateau Dassault 2001 -- Bruno Racine returned to his theme: his "priority is to acquire Guy Debord's archives." "If a certificate of conformism is necessary to gain entrance into the BNF's collections, then his radiance would be diminished." Sade was also recuperated to create the basis of the restricted section of the BNF.[4] Then why not Debord, yielded up in a bloc for the purposes of research?

Hedonism. The first winner of the BNF prize, dedicated to a living, French-speaking author, for the totality of his work, is announced: it is Philippe Sollers. The irony of the moment[5] doesn't escape the author of A Real Novel,[6] who speaks of a "historical short-circuit." He speaks. About reading ("to be on the secret transmission line of reading"), about libraries ("of souls"), about hedonism ("To know how to read, one must know how to live"),[7] about pleasure (he left the studious halls of the rue de Richelieu, "not to burn cars, but to do things that weren't quite seen at the time, and that still aren't"), and about Lautremont ("who still reads poetry?" he seemed to say).

The exegete of the situationist recalled him: "I have great admiration for Debord, even if he critiqued me." When will there be a Philippe Sollers archive? "Negotiations have started," he says, leaving the terrace that opens upon the BNF's gardens. It is midnight. Between the tables and the [additional] gifts, the dinner will have raised around 200,000 euros. Alice Debord, true to her principles, didn't speak. All she would say is, "It wouldn't come."

(Written by Frederique Roussel and published in the 17 June 2009 issue of Liberation. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! 17 June 2009. All footnotes by the translator.)

[1] From Alice Becker-Ho, also known as Alice Debord.

[2] Alice Becker-Ho.

[3] To Alice Becker-Ho.

[4] Sade aussi a ete recupere pour paver l'Enfer de la BNF.

[5] Guy Debord detested Philippe Sollers, refused to meet him in person, and denounced him by name in "Cette Mauvaise Reputation" (published in 1993).

[6] Philippe Sollers himself.

[7] A remark plagiarized from Guy Debord.

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