from Guy Debord

To Constant
28 February [19]59
Dear Constant:

The Munich Conference [of the Situationist International] isn't absolutely linked, theoretically, to Pinot's exhibition [at the Van de Loo Gallery]. But there is this simple practical fact: Pinot and [Asger] Jorn must, in any case, come to Munich (at the moment of his exhibition). It seems useful to me to have a serious meeting with the people from Spur, whom, up until now, have only had very pictural and hardly theoretical encounters with the "situationists." Thus it is fitting to hold this general conference in Munich. At one moment, when Van de Loo had scheduled Pinot's exhibition for May or June, the two things were not associated, even in time. For the comfort of Pinot, especially (who without doubt didn't have to make two trips to Munich), Jorn obtained from Van de Loo the advancement of the exhibition to 15 April [1959]. Certainly one will have to lead at this meeting a very clear campaign against the old artistic illusions (and, for example, a discussion of each point of the "Amsterdam Declaration"[1]). But I do not believe that the principal danger for confusion comes from the timing of Pinot's exhibition (because the conference isn't open, as was the Alba Congress[2]); this is an internal discussion.) There are many other dangers. If we are vigilant, I believe that we can make the positive elements dominant, all the same.

I believe that I haven't made you understand my position on the "Ideal Palace."[3] I believe that the surrealist interpretation [of it] is false and reactionary. More generally, I am hostile to all "naive" art. But Cheval appears to me to objectively surpass his own naive condition by creating (with the saddest and most ridiculous means of solitude) a game in architecture -- a domain that remains economically closed to the avant-gardes that ravage all of the contemporary arts. The photo that I have sent you seems to me testify to this summary awakening to the possible games in architecture.

I do not know if we are in agreement on the notion of luxury, which I do not simply reject. I believe that it is necessary to contribute to a revoultionary conception of luxury, enemy of the old, false luxury and, at the same time, the absence of luxury (the comfortable functionalist emptiness of houses and life).

It is true that popular art, which was praised so much by COBRA, is a decorative illusion that can not replace the veritable creation before which COBRA stopped. But I rigorously separate Cheval from popular art (although his art has all of the characteristics of a naive popular art) due to the fact that monumental architecture has never been a form of expression of the art that is called popular in modern times. The "architect" who is the closest to Cheval is certainly King Louis II of Bavaria, whose vision of the world and art was linked to Wagnerian procedures (the tendency to a complete art by simple addition of artistic effects). Obviously, everywhere we again find elements of the past. And we must combat the nostalgia for the past, in all of its forms. But it is here that the problem of detournement no doubt poses itself. I would love it if you could give me your opinion of a text (written by [Gil] Wolman and I three years ago and surpassed in certain respects) that is entitled "Directions for use of detournement."[4] If you do not have it, I can lend it to you.

Concerning the Bureau of Research,[5] I will let you be the judge. The negative side of it that you now emphasize (still not ripe) and also the risk that we face with the ensemble of the organization of the SI.

The positive side is what you emphasized in Paris: the propaganda effect, which can accelerate the formation of real activity (and balance the real activities at the limit of the old framework, as in industrial painting).

It goes without saying that it would be better to immediately, or as soon as possible, have a work team and a program of precise research -- one doesn't go without the other. But it is equally true that we can hardly have confidence in "specialized collaborators" who do not share situationist experimental positions. If not, we will discover bitterly that the architects, sociologists, urbanists, etc. are as limited as the painters, in their defense of the particular prejudices of their separated sectors (equally surpassed sectors, and as much as the individual arts, by the necessity of a total praxis).

I end by emphasizing a fundamental point. I know the risks of failure and even compromise in the SI and I have said so publically (cf, in I.S. #2: "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."[6] But at this moment no one is more advanced than the SI, concerning the research that we would like [to conduct]. We have no part in the other effective forces that we might find. We have to form these forces ourselves, by a great effort in reality (I hope that this happens, up to a certain point, in the SI today). If we reject with haughtiness all of the unpleasant conditions of the cultural reality in which we are frozen and that we must transform, we will display an untattackable (and inoffensive) purity. But such an idealist satisfaction would condemn us to a solitude that is opposed to the primary necessity of our program: collective action.


[1] Translation: The Amsterdam Declaration was co-written and co-signed by Guy Debord and Constant, and published in Internationale Situationniste #2, December 1958.

[2] Translator: The First World Congress of Free Artists, held in Alba, Italy, between 2 and 8 September 1956.

[3] Translator: Created by Ferdinand Cheval, in 1911.

[4] Published in Les levres nues, #8 May 1956.

[5] The Bureau of Research in Unitary Urbanism, placed under the direction of Constant, the creation of which was announced at the Third Conference of the SI [held April 1960] in Munich.

[6] Translator: See letter dated 25 September 1958 and Internationale Situationniste #2, December 1958.

(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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