from Guy Debord

To Paolo Salvadori
30 November 1979
Dear Paolo:

I have just received all of your letters. Returning here, I found [the manuscript of] your translation Cinematographic Works, which I will return to you in the next few days, having chosen the best terms where you have proposed choices.

If the beginning of The Book of Pleasures made you laugh, I suppose that you will have laughed even more if you had the valor to read it all the way through. Fundamentally, it is the repetition of a unique stupidity, which wants to be cynical, but is not successful: that the French or Russian worker, the black miner from South Africa or the peasant in the Andes -- without considering anything else -- goes from pleasure to pleasure, and thus the revolution will quickly be made. Long live strategy, death to the realities of refusal! What has always defined the parish priests is the promise of paradise.[1]

Six months ago, I said to Gerard [Lebovici] -- who thought that Vaneigem, after so many unsuccessful ignoble efforts to earn his bread, would no longer dare to write under his own name -- that, in my opinion, it would be necessary for him to soon sell his name, which was all that remained for him to sell, to some publisher, who [it turns out] did not treat him too well, given that this unfortunate man dated his writing 8 January 1979 and it was only printed in September.

Vaneigem can only follow the road that was traced for him by the analysis of The Veritable Split,[2] except that after ten years of reflection, he dares to spout a great stream of resentment, finding himself so alone. He returns to childhood; he denies time; he hates all judgments (not without motivations); he no longer refuses anything, except refusal. On this point, he is veracious, and the most positive reaction to his work has come from a journalist of the "new right" (a first attempt at contemporary neo-fascism, as degraded with respect to Mussolini as Vaneigem is with respect to Stirner), who wrote in the 22 September issue of Le Figaro Magazine, which is the organ of this movement, that he sees in the good Vaneigem, "the tinted flower of good living, as astonishing clear eye and a tranquil provincial smile," and "delivered from all the poisons that he spread ten years earlier, he now launches out into rapture . . ." with the result that "the convergence is clear between The Book of Pleasures and the new currents of thought, such as that of Alain de Benoist." (Benoist is a ridiculous autodidact, the lead thinker of this new right, whom I evoked in the Preface under the quite merited designation of "French journalist."[3]) Before the most beautiful glass, Vaneigem is shocked -- not by the bad beverage -- with which he feigns to content himself but, due to the fact that what it contains is a commodity, he was robbed. To enjoy everything, it is necessary and sufficient that it is free (waiting for it, he nevertheless confesses to work "a little" for his survival, and one knows how). As there remains for him one or two free pleasures -- spouting off [pisser] is one of his examples -- he slides to the affirmation that he enjoys every moment, exactly like the poor women whom he has known. This simulator, here imitating -- without avowing it -- the ideological excesses of Professor [Jean-Francois] Lyotard of Vincennes, rallies himself against the sad lies of all the consumers who proclaim themselves to be happy, with the important difference that here it is free: which opportunely suits the very weak economic results of his prostitution under ten pseudonyms, which one newspaper (ironically?) called "ten years of proud silence"!

Elsewhere, his conception of the free [gratuit] is only opposed to the commodity by the faraway memory of his youth. In fact, he is opposed -- with a quite understandable terror -- to all value judgments about someone or something, like a dialogue or the least reciprocity. And this world of the "free," in the neo-Vaneigemist sense, is precisely the pure world of the modern commodity, to which he has rallied, but not without making his fortune: there is no choice and nothing is worth anything. With the result that no spectator can judge a restaurant, a book, the death of Baader or that of Moro.

I believe that you are right to estimate that he often alludes to me in this book.[4] He is marked by the failures of his past, and he confesses it without wanting to! He who so madly fights all judgments judges himself with great displeasure. This is why I consider him to be a false, maladroit cynic: he is not foolish or brave enough to at least be a true cynic, and forgets once and for all the pitiful misfortunes of his past.

If it is me he is thinking about when he evokes he who "denounces the spectacle and performs tricks [faire le beau] for a court of dogs," he believes that he can make it forgotten that, for ten years, he had been the most loyal dog in this court, the dog that never dared to grumble, although the bone was infrequent, while it was precisely me who always scorned and destroyed all of my "courts" -- to accept the vocabulary of he who wants to present matters in this way. Thus, he projects himself furiously and shows that he was the one who really wanted to have some kind of court, of which he no doubt would have made a completely different usage. The strange idea that -- for the one who does not remain in scorned solitude and the acceptance of everything, it is necessary to terrorize so as to not be terrorized -- is a remarkable avowal. I avow that, if the choice is really this, I would greatly prefer to terrorize any person who approaches and bores me, rather than being reduced to make the least ignoble concession to him. But reality does not resemble this false choice. From all the evidence, those who so much dread being "terrorized" by others and who do not feel they have the courage and talent to terrorize them preventively, prefer to keep away from the others and their dangerous activities by simply remaining a good son, a good conscript, a good professor, a good husband, just like poor Vaneigem did up to the age of 27 or 28.[5]

Finally, he risked engaging himself in a project of "refusal" with other people, still not knowing that he could only give nothing to those who asked nothing from him, as is actually the case today, when no one asks him for anything except a little bad copy, which he "gives" quite willingly. But, in 1961, no one asked him for anything. He came without anyone looking for him. He himself proposed what he wanted to propose but without wanting to do it. He remained an extremely long time, a dog who was quite mistreated at the court, by proclaiming that he was happy. Today he has the courage to say, ten years later, that it was an authoritarian crime to want to count on him and on the engagements that he had the weakness to announce and reiterate. Since he had been more original and audacious, he at least dared to declare this in May 1968, when he fled our barricades!

I suppose that you are only too familiar with the indictment of Gianfranco [Sanguinetti] (document attached[6]) and the searches that were made, at dawn on 21 September, at the homes of all kinds of people who know him, in Milan, Turin, Venice and Pisa. One claims that the SI still exists and that it is linked to the Red Brigades, since Gianfranco clearly said who manipulated the latter,[7] and that this eternal "subversive association" hides stocks of weapons, as Mario [supposedly] did in 1975. The Commune is not dead!


[1] In The Movement of the Free Spirit (1986) -- his intense critique of religious values -- Vaneigem had the following to say about The Book of Pleasures: "This stubborn determination not to let anything take precedence over the will to live, to reject at whatever cost even the most imperative calls of survival, first took shape in my books The Revolution of Everyday Life and The Book of Pleasures. The latter was needed to clarify and correct the former, to remove the intellectual cast that won it high esteem from people incapable of putting its lessons into practice but who, instead, used them as a consoling alibi for their own premature aging."

[2] See in particular "Communique of the SI concerning Vaneigem," which was written in 1970, and published in The Veritable Split in the International: Public Circular of the Situationist International (1972).

[3] "A French journalist who had recently worded a thick volume, which was proclaimed appropriate for renewing the entire debate of ideas, attributed his failure a few months later to the fact that he lacked readers rather than ideas. He then declared that we are in a society where no one reads, and that if Marx were to publish Capital nowadays, he would appear one evening on a literary television programme, explaining his intentions, and the next day it would no longer be spoken about. This ludicrous errors stinks of the milieu from which it originates." Guy Debord, Preface to the Fourth Italian Edition of "The Society of the Spectacle."

[4] It is likely that Vaneigem had Debord in mind when he wrote these lines, which appear in The Movement of the Free Spirit (1986): "What started as a revolution against misery turned into a miserably failed revolution, all because of a reluctance to be anything for oneself; and this failure still condemns even the most vociferous seekers of emancipation and happiness to the gall of impotence in which they acquiesce. Anyone who has the intelligence to comprehend the world but not enough to learn how to live, or who takes his self-hatred out on others, blaming and judging so as not to be blamed and judged himself, is, deep inside, no different from the priest."

[5] That is, until 1961, when Vaneigem joined the Situationist International.

[6] No document was attached to the version being translated here.

[7] In On Terrorism and the State (1979).

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 5: Janvier 1973-Decembre 1978 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2005. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! April 2007. All footnotes by the translator.)

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