from Guy Debord

To Patrick Straram
25 August 1960
Dear Patrick:

After a series of trips that took longer than I had expected, I find myself back in Paris and in a state to write to you. I have finally discovered mescal: it is very good.

As we have written to one another several times, it is very difficult to put together a complete discussion from these letters. But, at the same time, it becomes necessary and even possible to begin on the basis of the texts published here and in Canada.

The entirety of the Notebook [for a landscape to be invented] is interesting and positive. Moreover, for me -- and other friends -- it is an encouraging response, a sign of recognition in the curious adventure that we pursue. Nothing is more precious than possible accomplices in such a game.

To consider the collaborators on the Notebook in detail, it is necessary to say that it is a sort of common front (which must be understood and judged in its development) that is still imprecise for certain people, because very advanced elements are accompanied by several conformist and old ideas. Gilles Leclerc[1] is in a state of confusion that only opens onto God and his "rotten-egg smell." His vocabulary is also painful. The partial truths that he mixes in are falsified. Advise him to renounce the perspectives of paradise and hell. Perhaps he should also read the philosophical works of the young Marx so as to understand "the respect of intelligence," because it is very bad to remain at the mental age of 14, especially when one has spent 14 years admiring Carrel, Koestler and Malraux (what has rendered Leclerc deistic is the idea of human grandeur). Miron[2] is your [Antonin] Artaud. Sympathetic. But to cry, it is necessary to cry louder. To shut up, perhaps to shut up faster?

Of those talented in the use of language (Gilles Henault,[3] etc): P.M. Lapointe[4] does a good Eluard imitation. All this must have a field of application. This is the problem of poetry -- its nature in the future and from today. You evoke several indispensible conditions for the new poetry in "Grail under Cellophane." It will be necessary to repeat them often.

If I principally express my reservations, which you must have already thought about yourself, it is obviously to begin my first movement of approbation, which there is no need to extend.

Besides the theoretical texts, I especially like "L'air de nager,"[5] understood as a form of writing that tends towards a complete accounting of the moments of an adventure (superceded surrealism, books such as Nadja and Mad Love, in terms of form, pursue a kind of expression that leads directly to everyday life, to the experience of its supercession and modification). In April 1957 [in Fin de Copenhague], I added the histories that I myself had lived. One could make an astonishing book by mixing together chapters written by different "authors" from this group at the beginning of the 1950s [the Lettrist International]. On the group's explosion, its diaspora, the voyages of diverse natures, its flight across the same period of time.

From the theoretical point of view, the Notebook defines itself by its programme of expression, which is radically free to each person. This is the central point of its assembly and also its limit. Total freedom of expression for all is the slogan for a profound truth on the global revolutionary scale, at the highest level of the reconstruction of society (and all that contradicts this truth is a new alienation). But it is an insufficient slogan for an "avant-garde" that lives concretely in the currently dominant social conditions and that necessarily inscribes its research in these conditions. This research must be specific as to its risks and perils (to begin with, the risks of the larger separation, of relative solitude). Otherwise, the claim to free expression, to "sincerity," can automatically fall back (without anyone wanting it or easily understanding it) into petite-bourgeois "expression" of the prefabricated "unique individual" who precisely resembles all of the other petite-bourgeois in the depth and in the form of what he considers to be his singular, privileged, "profound" expression. Poetry is currently this touchstone: a man is defined by what he practically understands "poetry" to be; thus, by what he contents himself with, under the name of poetry (here's what Hegel says: "With what a spirit satisfies itself, one measures the grandeur of its loss").

True free expression is tied to behavior, to the rest of life, which is to be liberated. And it cannot be expression that is apart, specialized -- the expression of prisoners by other prisoners. Philosophical comprehension has rejected illusions of its own freedom for more than a hundred years, starting with the declaration [in Marx's "Theses on Feuerback"] that one has sufficiently "interpreted the world," which now must be transformed.

This is especially apparent in the arts, in 20th century writing, as a negation of these very arts. The positive kernel of this negation manifests itself, in surrealism, as a constant pressure to return to the past. And also in other modern researches, especially in the 1920s (functionalism, constructivism, suprematism, etc.), but with inverted infirmities and a greater poverty than surrealism. Our generation is at the turning point where this positive claim begins to affirm itself in culture and practical life -- thus, also in the conception of revolution (it is only time). I believe that this affirmation is our task. Not an easy one.

I haven't forgotten that the first printed "situationist" declaration was distributed by you in the bulletin[6] of Ville-Evrard[7] (is this charming anecdote transmittable or would transmission risk harming you where the police or some other authority is concerned?). One hopes that, in the future, a group of people currently united around the Notebook, or those that this publication brings to you, will radicalize themselves in a more explicitly situationist activity, even if Canadian conditions command that such a group participates in a more open and vague forum of expression.

I think that it would be necessary to give you a lot of information about the S[ituationist] I[nternational]. But I am too mixed up in it to discern the principal questions that must be posed from far away. Do you want to send a certain number of specific questions, as much practical in nature as ideological? The formulation of such a questionnaire will doubtlessly save time, by permitting clear and immediate responses.

The differences between now and the [19]52-53 period, that is, the period of eight or ten months when we were together, are too important for one to speak of a simple transformation of the [Lettrist] I[nternational] into the SI (the development of the latter also began elsewhere). Though we are very much in a state of semi-clandestinity -- encountering a rather incredible hostility, but one that is very honorable in our opinion -- one can say that our means have been constantly augmented. There's also progress in our understanding, more radical critique, theory. Undeniable backward movement in everyday life (much too often there is dead time; it is necessary to bear in mind the unfortunate geographical dispersion of what is currently the SI and the passage of what had been pure play into "work," at least in a certain sense of the term). Without doubt, the principal difference is that we have agreed to define ourselves, sociologically, "officially" (since the Munich conference), as producers of contemporary modern culture, even if such production is at the extreme of modernism, its negation. Thus, for myself, it is true: I am, like L. Portugais, a film-maker and a Capricorn.[8] It is a misfortune to specialize and there is danger involved in it. But to refuse this activity is to accept specializing in the repetition of expedients found at the end of adolescence so as to delay the true problem of culture and life: practical, general subversion, or nothing. We are now engaged in the organization of a long struggle: "It is necessary to conceive and make a critique that is a life." So many people whom we have heard make a lot of noise are totally ridiculous or ignoble. Neither freedom nor intelligence are given once and for all. And their simulacras are naturally rather fragile; they decompose with the changes in fashion. I think of a style of life that is more durable. Flashes in the pan and their memories are not interesting.

In the case of the lonely Ivan [Chtcheglov], I -- like you -- estimate that he will send forth news "when he decides that it is time to do so." This is what I have said for more than a year. Unfortunately, it is pitiful Gaetan [Langlais], now fat and bald, who has made numerous and useless steps towards speaking to us (he must have unsatisfied artistic ambitions). The last time I met Ivan, which was in the summer of [19]55, we spoke cordially of past misunderstandings -- which he attributed to veritable psychical troubles and to problems that he experienced in his liaison with Marie-Helene. But he appeared down and changed. As we apparently no longer had similar preoccupations, and since one unfortunately found him surrounded by waste-products of the Conord[9]-Mension[10] type, it didn't seem desirable to me to prolong this mode of contact.

Perhaps this issue of the Notebook, if he has received a copy of it, [and] the development of an understanding between you and I, will incite Ivan to recover an apprehension of the things that he seems to have deserted long ago. We will see.

What do you think of the "Preliminaries"[11] platform, etc., established by Canjuers[12] and me, which is at this moment a basis of discussion between the SI and certain Marxist minorities in the workers' movement [Socialisme ou Barbarie]?

Do you think about reappearing soon somewhere in Europe, if not in France?

What became of Les bouteilles se couchent [The bottles lie down] and Thymus?[13] Perhaps the passage of time has rendered certain publishers here in France more open to such novels.

I hope that we can quickly advance this dialogue. And, at best, to meet up with each other.

We will cite the Notebook in the next issue of I[nternationale] S[ituationniste]. If you want, write an article specifically for this issue.

Do you think that copies of the Notebook have arrived at the addresses that I transmitted to you? It is quite urgent that they do. I still wait for several other copies here in Paris. Have you received all that I mentioned the last time that I wrote to you? Customs persecutes us.

Michele [Bernstein] sends her regards. Me, too.

[1] Gilles Leclerc: [author of] "Prometheus or Schweitzer."

[2] Gaston Miron: "Note from a man from around here."

[3] Gilles Henault: "Time raises itself," "Engueulade," [and] "Graffiti."

[4] Paul-Marie Lapointe: "Poem."

[5] By Patrick Straram.

[6] The Springboard, 1953: "Monthly journal entirely created by the patients at the Center for Treatment and Social Readaptation of Neuilly-Sur-Marne (Seine-et-Oise)."

[7] Patrick Straram was interned in 1953 at Ville-Evrard for having assaulted passersby by demanding of them, while brandishing a knife: "Say that I am beautiful or I'll kill you."

[8] "Louis Portugais, Capricorn, is primarily a film-maker . . . ," biographical note by Straram.

[9] Andre-Frank Conord, member of the Lettrist International, editor of Potlatch (#1-#8), until his exclusion on 29 August 1954 for "neo-Buddhism, evangelism, spiritualism."

[10] Jean-Michel Mension, member of the Lettrist International. Motivation for his exclusion in 1953: "Simply decorative."

[11] Preliminaries for a definition of the unity of the revolutionary program, by P. Canjuers and G.-E. Debord, 20 July 1960.

[12] Pseudonym of Daniel Blanchard, of Socialisme ou Barbarie.

[13] Two novels by Patrick Straram.

(Published in Guy Debord, Correspondance, Volume 2, 1960-1964. Footnotes by Alice Debord. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! May 2005.)

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