from Guy Debord

To Gerard Lebovici
3 May 1983
Dear Gerard:

I am now at 33 rue de l'Hotel-de-Ville (and not "rue de la Republique"). I have retained my telephone, with the same number, perhaps still more discretely than before: one can call me from noon to 7 pm, and I disconnect it the remainder of the time to annoy the specialists.

I rejoice at the victory of Thierry,[1] who either through strength of experience when faced with the others has truly become the best, or because the cause was so just that it had to impose itself logically.

On the other hand, I am sad about what Floriana [Lebovici] announced to me with respect to Napier,[2] which pushes to the time when pigs fly a project in which, it seems to me, the prestige of Champ Libre is involved: a book announced as imminent in January 1981 and published at the end of '84, or even later, risks evoking -- although very unjustly -- [Jacques] Pauvert's way of doing things. And even as far as the argument relative to a loss of 60% of the readers subsequent to the sale of each first volume of such a "series," I wonder if this accounting is calculated from within the general decline of Champ Libre's distribution, or without bearing it in mind. Because, to make the average of the sales of the first ten titles and the last ten titles in 1981 (very rare are the titles here whose print-runs round themselves off with time), one finds that in ten years the general average has fallen from 5,034 to 1,142 copies per title, or a lose of 77.31% on all the books. To consider the accounting, roughly speaking of the books published in "series," with the quite minimal exception of Groddeck (a loss of 79.04%), one only sees loses that are slightly less than the global tendency -- Bakunin, 74.97%; Dada 70.09% -- and even one much less: Correspondence 22.35%.

The translation of Ibn Khaldun[3] by Monteil is a modernist infamy, with the same technique that Naville used on Clausewitz,[4] but much worse: ridiculous, even as a translation, absolutely inelegant and quite clumsily falsified. He treated the previous translator, Slane (published between 1862 and 1868, with the famous title Prolegomena), like the other one treated the Belgian colonel,[5] by in fact reproaching him for writing French too well: "His version . . . at once pompous and unfaithful -- constantly taking 'great liberty' with the text, no longer conforms to the norms that one requires in the field today" (my emphasis). And the norms that Monteil requires ("One begins, no doubt, now, to discern the motivations that have pushed me to accept the offer of the International Commission . . ") completely derive from the fact that he writes like a seller of veal and flatters himself by denouncing the primitive weakness of the Berber language of the author's era, as if it were a question of adopting the tastes of the day, exactly in the French used in L'Express.

Best wishes,

[6] The publication in 1838 of the Prolegomena for a Historiosophy by August von Cieszhowski, who was then twenty-four years old, marks the instantaneous collapse of the Hegelian system. Starting from this collapse, the dialectical method, "the thought of history," seeks the reality that seeks it. It is on this movement that the primary basis for the modern project of the social revolution (through Marx and Bakunin especially) is constituted.

Cieszhowski surpasses Hegel in purely Hegelian terms: he annihilates the central aporia of the system, simply by recalling that time had not ended. Hegel had concluded history, in the form of thought, because he finally accepted the idea of glorifying the present result. In a single movement, Cieszhowski reversed the system, by putting the present in contact with the "moment" of the future, because he recognized in the thought of history -- the supercession of philosophy -- the power to transform the world.

"To realize ideas (...) in practical life (...) must be the great task of history." In this "post-theoretical praxis that will be the attribute of the future," historical heroes "must no longer be the blind instruments of chance or necessity, but the lucid artisans of their own freedom." "Being and thought must thus disappear into action, art and philosophy in social life." "In the same way that the poetry of art passes into the prose of thought, philosophy must descend from the heights of theory to the field of praxis. To be practical philosophy or, more exactly, the philosophy of praxis." The theoretician who speaks in this way -- five years before the young Marx, and one hundred and twenty years before the situationists -- must sooner or later be recognized as the obscure point around which all historical thought, for the last century and a half, has made its decisive turn.

Cieszhowski remains in objective idealism, but at its extreme thought, where it reverses itself in the most total insistence on the concrete, on the conscious historical construction. The merit of Marx was to have subsequently shown that a society of classes cannot be capable of realizing such a grandiose program, and it has actually shown since then the grandeur and the price of its failure on this question. The merit of the revolutionary proletariat has been to show, in all of its struggles, that it can only define itself through the acceptance of such a task, which has sufficed to unmask all those who have claimed to satisfy or at least dissolve it as being the party of its exploiters.

This book, which was published only once in French in 1838 and never published in Germany,[7] was published by Champ Libre in 1973;[8] it is the only book published by this house that has had no critical review devoted to it.

One knows that current society is poorly armed everywhere in its campaign to delay historical thought, a campaign that, when all is said and done, is quite vain. (This is also the subjective interest of the intellectual specialists who make their careers in such matters, and who attempt to hide their shame by neglecting what they easily reveal as completely negligible.) Perhaps nothing like the destiny of such a book is, at this point, as revealing of the conditions given to the fundamental theory by an epoch that is obviously ending at this moment, at the end of the richest accomplishments of all of its potentials for irrationality and poverty. It is normal that, with the bankruptcy of our society, Cieszhowski's verdict -- which condemned this society for having lived below its means -- should return.

[1] Mr Thierry Levy, against Editions Jean-Claude Lattes, former publisher of Jacques Mesrine; judgment rendered on 27 April 1983 in favor of Mesrine's children.

[2] History of the War of the Peninsula, by General W.F.P. Napier, of which only one volume would appear.

[3] Discourse on Universal History (Al-Muqaddima), published in three volumes by Editions Sindbad.

[4] On War, translated by Denise Naville and prefaced by Pierre Naville, for Editions de Minuit (1955).

[5] De Vatry. The first translation of On War would be reprinted in 1989 by Editions Gerard Lebovici.

[6] The following text was drafted with a reprinting of Prolegomena for a Historiosophy in mind. Guy Debord noted: "Perhaps to finally replace the inept preface by M. Jacob (ten years later?)."

[7] Translator's note: though Cieszhowski was Polish, he wrote his book in German.

[8] See letter dated 16 April 1972.

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 5: Janvier 1979-Decembre 1987 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2006. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! May 2007. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted.)

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