Debord's Considerations

"I have always disregarded the press," Guy Debord says towards the end of Considerations on the Assassination of Gerard Lebovici (published in French in 1985, translated into English by Robert Greene and published in 2001 by Tam Tam Books). "I have never been tempted to exercise the right to reply, and even less still would I have wanted to try to take legal action against people who have been defaming me as far back as I can remember."

But then, on 5 March 1984, Debord's friend, Gerard Lebovici, was assassinated in an ambush. Though it was clear that Debord didn't have anything to do with the murder, and that it was far more likely that police officers executed Lebovici for supporting the memory and family of a convicted bank-robber named Jacques Mesrine, the French press kept insisting that Debord or one of his "entourage" was responsible for the killing. "They were wrong to go that far," Debord says in Considerations. "I found this instance so exceptional that I made an exception. I therefore sued several newspapers for libel."

He won every case, of course. "The defamers were ordered to pay me a certain amount of money, and in addition to have published at their own expense each one of these libel judgments in three newspapers of my choice." He choose L'Humanite, published by the French Communist Party, Minute, a right-wing daily, and Le Journal du Dimanche, a national newspaper published on Sundays.

Debord also exercised his right of reply. "Since I am dealing with such a jumbled pile of nonsense," Debord says at the beginning of Considerations, "I will repeat what others have said in a similarly disordered manner, showing what this systematic distortion of reality is and what it means. I would display too much honor to my subject were I treat it in an orderly fashion. I want to show that it is unworthy of such a treatment."

One has no objection to Debord's "jumbled" method; it is the same one used so well by the author of Les Mots et Les Balles, in which the libelous articles in question (plus a few others) were reprinted and briefly but pointedly denounced. What more needed to be said? Little, if anything.

But Considerations is a lot longer than Les Mots, because Debord filled it up with replies to virtually each and every one of the articles about him. At first, it's a winning technique. As one knows from his other books, Debord can be a very perceptive, eloquent and enjoyable (even funny) writer. But as the reader goes from one detailed reply to another, she realizes that Debord is doing exactly what he said he didn't want to do, namely, displaying "too much honor" to the press, showing that its lies are in fact "worthy" of patient, detailed relies.

In doing this, Debord has made it hard for some of his readers to remember that "there isn't an historian, a philospher, a sociologist, a marxologist, a kremlinologist, a filmologist, a novelist, etc., who does not often write for a newspaper or a weekly," and that the press coverage of the Lebovici Affair "really concerns the entire intelligentsia," and not just professional journalists. Look at translator Robert Greene's introduction to Considerations: his exclusive focus is on "the media" and "the press." Look at the blurb written by Richard Hell on the book's backcover: "It cannot be said too often and it's never said enough that the mass News-media have low-to-no standards of accuracy." These people have overlooked the excellent point Debord himself made in Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, namely, "Rather than talk of the spectacle, people often prefer to use the term 'media.'"

But neither "the media" nor "the spectacle" is the real subject of Debord's book on Lebovici. The real subject is terrorism, or, rather, the rise of what Debord calls "artificial terrorism." he writes:

At the time when the situationists were an active force [between 1957 and 1971], they were rarely referred to or treated as terrorists, even though the idiotic concept of 'intellectual terrorist' was purposely popularized in reference to them. But the Situationist International was dissolved in 1972, at a time when artificial terrorism had just begun, a terrorism which, henceforth, was to be so much in vogue for the governing of states and which, in the crusade to defeat it, has granted these same states their certificates of democracy. If the Situationist International still existed today, it would inevitably be called a terrorist group.

What Debord has in mind is the terrorist campaign conducted by the Italian government and blamed on "extremists" (chielfy the Red Brigades) between 1969 and 1980. And, while it is true that the Situationist International disbanded in 1972, it was a pair of ex-Situationists (Debord and Gianfranco Sanguinetti) who led the field in identifying and denouncing acts of artificial terrorism as they were committed. Between them, they published such classic anti-terrorist works as The Veritable Report on the Last Chance to Save Capitalism in Italy (1975); Italian and French editions of On Terrorism and the State (1978); and the preface to the fourth Italian edition of The Society of the Spectacle (1979).

In respectrospect, none of these texts can be considered "paranoid" or full of unsubstantiated "conspiracy theories": as Debord notes in Considerations, the Italian government "recently and officially confessed that its special services, with the complicity of the useful elements of the Mafia and Vatican, have been consistently present in all of the bloody operations that have been conducted since 1969, under the command of Italy's parallel government, which has managed to shelter itself under the sensitive pseudonym of P.2." But, unlike the author of Les Mots et Les Balles, Debord doesn't use the existence of this confession to highlight the corruption, cynicism and complicity of the French press, which pretended to see "terrorist or Stalinist traits in those who radically denounced terrorism teleguided by the State and Stalinism."

Unfortunately, Debord also fails to mention all the other Leftists who were assassinated in Paris during the 1970s and 1980s: Mahmoud Hamchari (1972), Al Kubeisi (1973), Mohammed Boudia (1973), Henri Curiel (1978), Francisco Martin Izaguirre (1979), Aurelio Fernandez Carlo (1979), Pierre Goldman (1979), Moussef Moubarak (1981), Andre Ali Mecili (1987), and Dulcie September (1988). Had he done so, Debord would have greatly strengthened his argument that Lebovici's murder wasn't an isolated event but was part of a deliberate strategy of governing. But he didn't. Maybe someone else will.

-- NOT BORED! 29 August 2003.



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