from Guy Debord

To Patrick Straram
Monday 31 October 1960
Dear Patrick:

This evening I received your card from New York. The cinema leads far.

Last Thursday's mass demonstration against the war was completely satotaged, at first by the C[ommunist] P[arty] and the C[onfederation] G[enerale du] T[ravail], which not only openly refused to join it, but also expressly prohibited their partisans from getting involved; then, it was sabotaged by the bureaucrats of U[nion] N[ationale des] E[tudiants de] F[rance], the teachers' union, the C[onfederation] F[rancaise des] T[ravailleurs] C[hretiens], etc., which negotiated with police headquarters the retraction of their appeal for a demonstration to take place that evening at the Bastille, where a crowd went despite the prohibitions and despite a call to hold a different, "static" demonstration in the hall of the Mutualite, from 6 to 7 pm only. In itself, the choice of the hour isolated the students from the workers, who were led further astray by the Communists.

Just the same, there were over 10,000 very resolved demonstrators. The fascists detected the weakness [of the leadership]. There were violent clashes with the police, who were very numerous and aggressive. I was there with the "Socialisme ou Barbarie" group, whose journal you undoubtedly know. They diffused the only revolutionary words heard that day, a tract that supported "the unconditional independence of Algeria." Our Keg[1] served as a warehouse, and the very conspiratorial Charlal[2] welcomed those who came to re-stock themselves [with tracts] during the affair, which continued until quite late.

I successfully infiltrated myself into the hall with five students from the group -- using passes made available, for a completely different intention, by the Professional Club of Students in Political Science. We had many adventures. The fascists were easy to spot and eject, because of the way they distinguished themselves from the others. But we were bored by the Christian Workers in the service of order. Because the police charged the crowd outside at the same moment that, inside, the imbecilic President of the UNEF began to put everyone to sleep with his blah-blah-blah on self-determination and its guarantees, we appealed to the members of the audience to leave the hall and battle along with the others. Those who were the most impassioned by our appeals were the cops who were there; we had plenty of difficulty giving them the slip on the way out. Fortunately, the decor was extremely populated and chaotic all across the 5th arrondissement.

In conclusion, it is an uncontestible awakening. But so late, and quite small. Which future? I don't know. The indictments of the 121 [original signatories of the Declaration on the right to insubordination in the Algerian war] continue slowly but surely.

Concerning our discussion of expression, enclosed is the scenario for On the Passage [of a few persons through a brief unity of time] (I have inscribed several annotations on the commentary, but they are so unclear that I have been driven to set down a complete scenario. Use it as you wish) and a preface by Andre Frankin to his piece The One and the Others (the preface appeared in I[nternationale] S[ituationniste] #5).[3] You see that we aren't absent from expression, in and against the current frameworks.

I believe that it is quite necessary to see, at the center of expression today, the notion of detournement, which seems to me to be, at the very least, the basis of the "critical art" that the S[ituationist] I[nternational] can make (although everyone in the SI hasn't payed enough attention to the theoretical meaning of detournement). As we have said in writing, detournement is inseparably negation and prelude in culture, at the turning point of culture. And seeing the largest meaning of its appearance, this illness of culture (a positive illness in the sense that it terminates something and opens on other dimensions, real or claimed) can be diagnosed as the exasperation of quotation (derisory in its accumulation, which breaks with "quotation" as such), sum of allusions[4] to an entire culture, become part of the past together with the history that one communicates: from whence the banal remark that modern novelists write for [other] novelists, which is the product of the fact that "capitalist culture" -- if one can risk such terminological nonsense -- is more and more separated from the mass of people.

Spontaneous detournement is the communal terrain, for example, of Under the Volcano[5] and of what you wrote to Ivan [Chtcheglov] and me around [19]52-53 (at the extreme, Ivan even envisioning a book of which the action would explicitly be prolonged in a large number of already published books, both recent and classic. This also explains your capacity to adapt, to renew the lettrist "metagraphic" form, which, on its positive side, is essentially a game of detournement). One can still apply these reflections to "L'air de Nager."[6] In this form of expression, the excess of culture's references to itself denounces and objectively breaks the established game of culture and attempts to conduct it towards a function on another terrain.

To return to the example of Lowry, I have established even more recently that his book functions, which he said he learned at a cost. I had the occasion (the time) to re-read it in its entirety, towards the beginning of September, on a train from Munich to Geneva. I found it even more beautiful, even more "intelligent," than I did in 1953, and I loved it very much back then.

One evening, I stopped at Cagnes-sur-Mer[7] where -- in the old village, on the hill -- I went to see a girl who'd been very important to me for several years.[8] But I neglected to notify her of my passage, and she wasn't there (but what could it say of this sort of return if she had been there?). It is necessary to say that I was perfectly drunk. I passed a very curious evening, going from one bar to another -- the place is touristic enough -- and at a bend in a very somber road, I recognized, with a feeling of obviousness, the "barranca," in which I'd almost fallen. On this hill, the village is at least 50 meters higher than the surrounding plain. The next morning, immediately upon rising, instead of drinking at the bar of my hotel, I found myself constrained to be the only witness to a lively discussion between a group of young people and one of their comrades who, one understood, had broken up with a young woman the prior evening, after a quarrel. Headstrong, he was resolved to get a divorce, from which the others tried to dissuade him. All that was said, always in terms of primary banalities, turned around the theme of separation and the lack of comprehension. I omit recalling that, the evening before, I remembered this phrase from "L'air de Nager" -- "One is the only one to know. Love ends. This is why it is never useless, even if it breaks. . ." (The rest: "All this will end exceedingly well or exceedingly badly, but exceedingly") -- as a signal of my situation that evening. It seems to me that this phrase contains the same conclusions that I encountered: all the chances for communication must be sought after, whatever the cost and whatever the illusions, which aren't frequent or easy. The regret that survives all demonstrations of such "illusions" shows that they aren't condemned to being, to remaining illusions.

Retiring from the discussion of divorce, I went to look for a car when I discovered, with astonishment and even uneasiness, that nothing explained to me the presence, near the basin, of a nude statue depicting an "abandonned girl" (and this expression was imposed on me before I understood it, because this statued girl wasn't very erotic, at least not to my eyes, and because of the erotic abandon -- this other abandon -- that I immediately attributed to it: Ariane, my sister, injured by love. . . .) And, several glasses [of wine] later, I mixed with this sadness, and reinforced it, I don't know how, with the memory of the astonishing and remarkably ambiguous beginning -- which is at once "psychogeographical" and redolent of the encounter -- of Nicholas Ray's film Johnny Guitar, before the explanations are given, which reduce the film to a very honorable western.

Last year, I tried to buy the reproduction rights to several sections of this film,[9] so as to mix them (with their soundtrack) into my detourned documentary (On the Passage). I was finally prevented from doing so by a financial censorship (there is a standard price per meter, I arranged the funding, but one doesn't dare sell such rights without guarantees concerning the reuse that can be made), which perfectly completes the police censorship that we know so well.

Thus, the influential game of Lowry, which is subject to favorable conditions (?), suffices to forcefully make appear the significant incidents that otherwise wouldn't even be remarked, certainly not understood as such -- and to make appear, at the center, a sense of this whole day, this derive. Not a premeditated sense, which doesn't of itself impose itself.

Expression, even "canned" expression, has its role in our adventures. For diverse reasons, I have hardly encouraged my own capacities for acting in this domain, up until now. Nevertheless, I don't underestimate expression's place, even in the everyday life of today.

I would also love to send you the report on a very remarkable derive, which took place with [Asger] Jorn on 29, 30 and 31 May [1960] in Brussels and Amsterdam, and on the encounters the situationists had in these two towns -- it was an incredibly urgent derive and included a curious, irrational and external leit-motiv involving the re-appearance of signs relative to the end of Van Gogh. Moreover, and by far, this external leit-motiv wasn't the most experimental aspect of the derive in question. But this letter is a sufficiently long, completely illegible outline. We will speak together one day.

Good health,

[1] The Golden Keg, 32 rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Genevieve.

[2] Charles Guglielmetti, called Charlal-du-Tonnal, a patron of The Golden Keg.

[3] I.S. #5, p. 27.

[4] In the margin: "Cf. also Lautremont and Joyce."

[5] A novel by Malcolm Lowry.

[6] Text by Straram published in the first issue of Notebook for a landscape to be invented.

[7] The Haut-de-Cagnes.

[8] Michele Mochot-Brehat, called Carole in Michele Bernstein's novel All the King's Horses.

[9] These sections appeared much later in the feature-length film In girum imus nocte et consum imur igni [sic: it was The Society of the Spectacle].

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

To Contact NOT BORED!
ISSN 1084-7340.
Snail mail: POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998