from Guy Debord

To Thomas Levin
24 April 1989
Dear Tom:

I address to you several observations, of unequal importance, deriving from my first reading of your text.[1]

Of course I find just the general thesis that you wish to establish from the start: I have been a filmmaker, although of a quite particular type. If I have been badly received universally, this is above all because the idea of experimental art has not been easily admitted in this domain and in this era. It is also because of my other dangerous ideas, and my anti-spectacular (and thus ipso-facto "hardly social") behavior. It is true, as I said in In girum, that I have been particularly deplored in the cinema because one has secretly imitated me in it clearly less than in all the other terrains where I have intervened.

It seems to me that here my work, very short but extended over a period of twenty-six years, corresponds very well with the principal criteria of modern art: 1) originality that is clearly marked from the beginning and the firm decision to never do "the same thing" two times in a row, all by having an always-recognizable personal thematic and style; 2) understanding the society of its time, id est to explain it by critiquing it, because this is obviously an era that lacks critique more than apologetics; and 3) finally, being revolutionary in form and content, which seems to me to go in the direction of all of the "unitary" aspirations of modern art: towards the point at which it wants to go beyond art.

On page 10, the word patron (if it is equivalent to boss[2]) absolutely doesn't fit [Gerard] Lebovici. He was my producer and publisher; but I was never an employee of one of his enterprises.

One must write "Gil J Wolman" (no period after the "J"), just as one must write "Marc, O": the lettrists wanted to overthrow the orthography of their proper names.

Serge Berna was also involved in the Chaplin scandal.[3] But only two people came to the press conference at which tracts were distributed. Berna and I were arrested by the police (who took us for admirers [of Chaplin] for trying to fraudulently introduce ourselves into the Ritz's kitchen). I will tell you the picaresque unfolding of the whole operation. "To the locker room!" is the popular cry in the stadiums against the players who are judged to be too bad. It is the same as: "Get out."

When I wrote "calls himself a filmmaker," I was deliberately using a police expression, which intends to cast social doubt on the reality of the trade that an unknown suspect claims to ply. To say, instead, "so-called filmmaker" would be an aesthetic judgment that describes someone whom one considers to assuredly be a bad filmmaker.

I told you that the silences and obscure words in Hurlements were only "filmed" in 16mm.

Andre Mrugalski's words about the art film are not very clear. In this film,[4] I included a sequence that detourns the style of the art film. Mrugalski, who was my chief cameraman, filmed it under my direction. "The work of art" thus studied is only a photo that is linked to another photo of the same group of people. Finally, Mrugalski himself took the photo -- which I staged. Voila.

There is an error in note 59. It is true that my slogan[5] "responds" to that of Breton,[6] who had in turn detourned the infamous Thiers. But Thiers had only said this: "The Republic will be conservative or it will not be."

It will be necessary that you translate the end of note 86 precisely for me. With respect to my projected films, announced in Contre le Cinema, one must understand that, in reality, I completed almost all of them, but under different titles. The Preface to a New Theory is in fact The Society of the Spectacle, because I began to write the book of this new theory a little after the publication of Contre le Cinema. In In girum one finds what in 1964 I called Eulogy for what we loved and a part of Portrait of Ivan Chtcheglov. The only film that I haven't made is the one that would have been an historical work on the Fronde. But, on the other hand, I have had the occasion to touch upon another still-unknown cinematic genre in the Refutation: overtly polemical discourse.

Do you know [the writings of] August von Cieszkowski (Prolegomena to Historiosophy)? He is the missing link between Hegelian-Marxism and the thought of the young SI. Unfortunately, I only detected the existence of this "black hole" in historical thought -- and had it translated by Champ Libre -- after 1972!

I will quickly respond to several points in your first letter that haven't been clarified already. (2) I do not know the cover of the English translation nor the translation itself.[7] (3) There is a pirate edition of Contre le Cinema, without photos. (5) The caricature of Maurice Henry,[8] former surrealist, was published in I no longer know which great Parisian newspaper, in or around July 1952. It was the only contemporary evocation of the appearance of this film.[9]

Enough work for today. I propose that you come to my place (third floor on the right), Friday, 5 May at 5 pm. We can work a little before dinner.


[1] "Dismantling the Spectacle," published October 1989 on the occasion of the exposition [on the Situationist International] organized by the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston.

[2] Translator's note: English in original.

[3] 29 October 1952 in Paris.

[4] Sur le passage (1959).

[5] "The arts of the future will be the overthrow of situations or nothing."

[6] "Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or it will not exist."

[7] Translator's note: Both editions of Black & Red's translation of The Society of the Spectacle (1970 and 1977) had a cover photograph in which audience members use 3-D glasses to watch a movie.

[8] Reproduced in Guy Debord's Memoires.

[9] Hurlements en faveur de Sade.

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 7: Janvier 1988-Novembre 1994 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2008. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! November 2008. Footnotes by the publisher, except where noted.)

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