from Guy Debord

To Gerard Lebovici
20 August 1981
Dear Gerard:

I worked a little on Benbow,[1] but I was quickly perplexed and then very disappointed.

Queval's translation is obviously mediocre and very often offhanded: for someone who read English, Queval hardly polished his French version. There is however a kind of excuse for this mediocrity: the original is not well written.

Benbow is absolutely not in the line of the great English lampoonists (Sexby-Swift-Junius). There is no terrible humor: just a little, facile irony towards the end concerning the liberals who pleased themselves with supporting the Workers Congress. Almost all of the pamphlet is positivist, didactic and naive. The writer is a kind of Le Manach[2] of the 1820s. The opposition between the workers and the profiteers is less strongly exposed than thirty years earlier in The Manifesto of the Equals.[3] Given the language Benbow employs, the first exposition of the idea of the general strike -- for the reader of the text today -- can no longer distinguish itself from an anticipation of the ideals of the paid vacation -- Social Security -- trade unionist discussions of salaries.

In brief, as I am not enlightened nor guided by a historico-cultural tone in the text, I am completely unable to choose the most faithful translations from among the synonyms, because it would not be a matter of betraying the text by claiming to make it better without any justification. The title itself causes problems. I send you, along with this manuscript, of which I do not find any use value, a translation of the beginning that is perhaps not more exact than that of Queval. The only certain thing is that the two Biblical quotations are much better because, here, I am familiar with the style.

I will go even further. I do not have the impression that Benbow would be a good publication for Champ Libre. It is certainly a notable but small monument in a kind of archaeology of the social movement. And a thousand others merit such a designation. Benbow's text for suited for specialized journals or an appendix in a scholarly historical work. But as a pamphlet? Uninteresting from all points of view for the contemporary public, even those who are cultivated, such a text would be a little deceptive if published by Champ Libre, which would thus confound its image with the dead erudition of social history. Almost every "classic" published by Champ Libre has been rich for contemporary conditions (Ardant du Picq) or possessed some striking beauty in the theory or in the expression (Jomini-Junius). I recall that even the short, rare texts that have been published (Sexby or the "Incontrolado") are successful and beautiful as pieces of writing.

Perhaps you who can read the English version see merits that Queval did not know how to render into French. But I cannot see them.

It would be better to publish the discourse of Durruti, still a burning subject, even if the preserved texts are a little weak. Here [with Benbow], I believe that we would be on the wrong track.

I hope to see you soon.

Best wishes,

[1] William Benbow (1784-1841), a shoemaker, then a bookseller, was a member of the National Union of the Working Classes, and author of the pamphlet Grand National Holiday, which extolled the self-liberation of the "productive classes" at the conclusion of a great universal festival. He died in prison.

[2] Author of Bye Bye Turbine (see letter dated 23 December 1972).

[3] Manifesto of "the conspiracy of the equals," centered around Gracchus Babeuf (drafted by Sylvain Marechal on 6 April 1796).

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 5: Janvier 1979-Decembre 1987 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2006. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! May 2007. Footnotes by Alice Debord.)

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