from Guy Debord

To Jaime Semprun
28 March 1986
Dear Jaime:

I hope that your fatigue or illness has dissipated. Seeing that it is a luxury that no one is in a position to offer himself completely to the direction an Encyclopedia. I do not wish for you the fabulous success of being done, one of these days, with all the discussions that are obviously empty or inept and in all their forms. I know from experience that they always resurge here or there like a kind of curse on all collective action, and even without collective action, although then they are fortunately rarefied and abridged. I know well that any "avant-garde," the revolutionary milieu in general, is the place of neurosis, ignorance and incapacity (and moreover today all the other places in society are worse in this regard). I only believe that it is necessary, at one time or another, to designate one or two of these discussion by clearly announcing that one will not pursue them: this is the only means of temporarily interrupting the proliferation of others. I remember having to do this five or six times during the existence of the SI. And the first time was in the autumn of 1957, not much later than three months after its official formation! It was against "Italian-experimentalism,"[1] in expectation of the follow-up. I believe that this internal document has remained unpublished, despite the efforts of diverse ecumenical crumb-gatherers.

With respect to Italy, I have seen the tract addressed to Paris.[2] Given the poor style of the Italian version, I thought that the French would have taught a lesson to these more or less imaginary Italians, coldly seizing the occasion to strike them with several distant truths. In the second paragraph, the phrase "those who escape from a democracy like Italy" is humbly translated/betrayed by the phrase "to exiles from democracies, like the Italians." The formula "those whose youth dies in prison" comes from a very celebrated song from the malavita,[3] that exactly says "La gioventu piu bella muore in galera"[4] and is retranslated into Italian by "altri consumano la loro giovinezza nelle carceri."[5] You see the difference here between the old working-class [populaire] poetry and the clumsy and pretentious language of the sub-intelligentsia, which is almost necessary to retranslate by "consume in the jails the most beautiful years of their lives." What aggravates things is the fact that the French jeunesse has two distinct correspondents in Italian, giovinezza being a period of life and gioventu the ensemble of the individuals who are young at any given moment. Thus it is necessary to temporarily put aside the French text so as to restore the diversion and thereby recognize it. Here is why I immediately saw that this was only an Italian translation and a bad one at that: this appears starting from the bilingual title, which does not sound truly natural. And, unfortunately, it was in Italian that I read the document when it was first shown to me.

I certainly do not think that it is Ricardo d'Este[6] who wrote it. I only met him for a moment in Florence, but I know a bit of his history. In 1968, he did the most in Italy to import the spirit of [the French] May and notably among the workers. A conservative would bitterly qualify this attempt by concluding that all of the misfortunes of current Italy come from it. Nevertheless, d'Este quickly evolved towards irrationality, since the theory of "communtism," a philosophical supersession of communism that had only been lacking for too long, up to the aberrant tactical slogan of making oneself "teppa" (equivalent of "underworld" or "bad guy" -- because there is no such term in French -- or the Spanish "hampa").[7] Since that time, I have the impression that he passed more than half of his life in prison. I believe that he is still in it, and I would rejoice if he reaches Paris, despite the great precariousness of the situation of exiles. It is through this affair that, moreover, the Italian exiles, after so many foolish illusions, have adhered to still more about their current condition, the right of asylum and other nonsense.

In this sense, the [aforementioned] text is radical and dignified. It is the expression of what remains of the Italian movement that has not repented (and you know the meaning that this word has recently acquired). But I do not see what practical advice this text gives or insinuates to this faction. Since lucidity and courage are certainly not sufficient in this circumstance, except if it means that, encircled, one must maintain oneself in a state of siege in the way Bonnot[8] did, having undermined the building and burying oneself in the ruins. One can read this analysis in this way. To know surely what is going to happen is only useful if one can adopt the practical conduct that derives from it. I have paid dearly in Italy (I love to live in that country) for the precise illusions that I have not shared: to unmask them is even more unfortunately "unforgettable." For ten years, I have believed that after two or three years I might return there, because the socio-political situation has appeared eminently changeable. And now I no longer think so. There remains the typical Spanish consolation: No hay malo que cien anos dura.[9]

Henceforth, the situation of the Italian comrades is so perilous that, where possible, it would be necessary to go into clandestinity, which, alas, means cutting all ties with the entire milieu of the Italians in Paris, which is deeply penetrated by stool pigeons. It would be simpler to leave France. Instead, I would try to be incognito in Barcelona, where no one concerns themselves with the Italians: in all circumstances, Iberian surveillance remains more disordered than elsewhere. You can transmit this opinion, which I believe to be useful. Those who want to root themselves in France, and especially the best ones, must expect to get wrapped up "at their places" and sent off,[10] in the style of the ghost and the haunted palace, like a common Basque or the two Iraqis whose adventures you must have admired, during a week of elections. [In the latter case,] In answer to the pressing demands of the government, which wanted to take back the gift that it has given, these two bad subjects were "reprieved" even before being condemned and authorized to return to France if they wished to do so. But they no longer have the air of wishing for this. Perhaps they have been replaced in their roles by better-educated actors?

New contributions to the definition of the embittered. See the programme of Djian,[11] who exactly "speaks the French of our times." You see the style and decor. This is what he calls "profiting from life," without expecting more. And he even draws up plans for the blazing star of his property when he has attained "50 years." What assures this cretin that he will even have 50 years? It isn't given to everyone to live to this age.

On the radio I heard another cunt, whose name I do not catch unfortunately. He publishes I-don't-know-what against fake literature, false books, notably those on [audio] cassettes and newspaper articles that are inflated to the point of appearing to be books. He wants to reform this bad system, but without being an accomplice. With an awkward insistence, he repeated several times that he is not a terrorist, he composes with the reality that he disapproves of. Because terrorism "doesn't lead to anything." And to refuse would be terrorism. Of whom does he think here? Wanting to be more effective, he "composes." Thus he was quite roughed up by the producer of this radio broadcast, who in sum made fun of him for coming on the show. He excused himself by recalling that he composes, because he is not a terrorist, because terrorism doesn't lead. . . .

Can you enumerate for me the titles of the articles that are anticipated for the next two issues of the EdN[12]?

Thus, I have good hopes for Besanceuil.[13] As rascally as the guy can be, the situation of the engraver will not cease to become worse. The squat[14] is a poker for the fire.

Anne passed several days in Arles. She is very devoted to you and, in any case, among so many cares, I am sure that you have none where she is concerned.

I hope that we will see you soon. Best wishes,

[1] Remarks on the concept of experimental art was written on 15 October 1957 in response to a text by Walter Olmo that was entitled Per un concetto di sperimentazione musicale. Debord's text was printed in 17 copies reserved for the members of the Situationist International (reproduced in Guy Debord: Works, Gallimard Quarto collection, 2006, pp. 337-344). [Translator's note: see letter dated 18 October 1957.]

[2] Translator's note: this text would appear to be a plea for help concerning such Italian exiles living in France as Antonio Negri. Perhaps it was written by someone like Felix Guattari?

[3] Translator's note: "underworld" in Italian.

[4] Translator's note: "Their beautiful youth died in jail," a line from a Milanese popular song called "Porta Romana bella" ("Beautiful Roman Door"). It is quoted in Debord's film In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (1978).

[5] Translator's note: "others consume their youth in jail."

[6] A young friend of Gianfranco Sanguinetti.

[7] Translator's note: teppa means "underworld"; hampa means "denizens of the underworld."

[8] Translator's note: Jules Bonnot (1876-1912) was a French anarchists who used illegal means to finance their efforts. The siege took place on 28 April 1912 in a house in the Parisian suburb Choisy le Roi.

[9] No suffering lasts a hundred years.

[10] Twenty years later, the Cesare Battisti Affair continued to provide fatal confirmation of such a prognosis. Paolo Perischetti, who didn't have the time or the keen nose to leave France in time, was "wrapped up and sent" to Italy during the night of 24-25 August 2002.

[11] Philippe Djian, author of Fifty to one.

[12] Translator's note: the Encyclopedia des Nuisances, which was founded by Jaime Semprun in 1984.

[13] Translator's note: where Jaime Semprun lived.

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

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 6: Janvier 1979-Decembre 1987 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2006. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! June 2007. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted.)

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