from Guy Debord

To Constant
25 September 1958
Dear Constant:

It goes without saying that the freedom of discussion between us that I have already guaranteed (in the journal of the SI) permits attacks, as direct as necessary, on the conceptions of [Asger] Jorn -- or anyone else. Naturally, Jorn, with whom I have discussed the basis of your letter, is in agreement with this principle.

Yesterday, I sent you [a copy of Jorn's book] On Form, which just came from the bookbinder. In it there are other theses by Jorn that you haven't known about. Nevertheless, I emphasize the fact that the entirety of this collection [On Form] is devoted to the transitory experiments of the Imaginist Bauhaus (as the foreword makes clear) and not to the objectives that we now try to attain.

I send you you some notes [see below] in response to certain points in the remarks with which you opened the discussion.

Thus, if you have the time, do you want to write the critical article of which you have already spoken to me? The deadline [for Internationale Situationniste #2] has been pushed back to the beginning of October [1958]. Or we can publish the two elements of the discussion that have already been written as exchanged correspondence -- and to which you can still add a response, of whatever length suits you.[1] I believe that making public a debate on these central points would be very good for the current situationists and for those on the outside who are at present interested in our communal positions.

You will see Jorn in Amsterdam at some point, but to discuss a completely different subject. Whatever it is, I hope to see a response from you and to have the pleasure of seeing you soon. Our regards to Nelly,


Response to the letter [2] from Constant that opened the debate on Jorn's ideas.

No painting is defensible from a situationist point of view. This type of problem no longer poses itself. At the most, we say of a given painting that it is applicable to one or another construction. We must search beyond divided expressions, even beyond all spectacle (as complex as this can become).

If we can only act on the basis of the the reality of the present culture, we obviously run the risks of confusion, compromise and failure. If present artistic conditions succeed in making certain of its values dominate the SI, the veritable cultural experiments of the era will be undertaken elsewhere.

It is true that the two terms of the opposition between pictural individualist primitivism and cold architecture are both to be rejected. The real contradictions are elsewhere.

Any art that wants to cling to a surpassed artisanal freedom is lost in advance (Jorn emphasized somewhere the reactionary aspect of the [Imaginist] Bauhaus). In the future, a free art will be an art that dominates and uses all of the new techniques of conditioning. Beyond this perspective, there is only slavery to an artificially revived past and commerce.

We are all apparently in agreement on the positive role of industry. It is the material development of the era that has created a general crisis in culture and the possibility of its reversal[3] in a unitary construction of practical life.

We approve the formula: "Those who mistrust the machine and those who glorify it show the same incapacity to use it." But we add: ". . . and to transform it." It is necessary to bear a dialectical relationship in mind. The construction of ambiences isn't simply the application to everyday existence of an artistic standard [niveau] made possible by technical progress. It is also a qualitative change in life that is capable of involving a permanent reconversion[4] of technical means.

The propositions of Gilles Ivain[5] are not opposed on any point to the considerations of modern industrial production. On the contrary, they are made upon this historical basis. If they are chimerical, they are so to the extent that we have not concretely made use of the technical means of today (we say, to the extent that no form of social organization is capable of making an "artistic" experimental usage of these means) -- not because these means do not exist or because we are unaware of them. In this sense, I believe in the revolutionary value of such momentarily utopian claims.

The failure of the COBRA movement and thus its post-humous popularity [faveur] among a certain public, are explained by the term experimental art. COBRA believed that it sufficed to have good intentions, [to make use of] the slogan of experimental art. But in fact it is at the moment that one finds such a slogan that the difficulties begin: what is and how can we realize the experimental art of our era?

The most effective experiments tend towards a unitary habitat, not isolated or static, but in liaison with the transitory unities of behavior.

[1] Translator: All three texts were published in I.S. #2 (December 1958).

[2] Cf. "On our means and our perspectives," I.S. #2, p. 23.

[3] Translator: Debord uses the word renversement, which might be translated as "overthrow." I have preferred the more dialectical "reversal" because it suggests more than merely overturning, and includes reverting and re-using what is being overthrown.

[4] Translator: See discussion in footnote [3]: reconversion is in line with reversal, whole "overthrow" isn't.

[5] Pseudonym of Ivan Chtcheglov, member of the Lettrist International, author of "Formulary for a new urbanism" (October 1953), a situationist, member from afar.

(Published in Guy Debord, Correspondance, Volume 1, 1957-1960. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! October 2005.)

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