from Guy Debord

To Floriana Lebovici
3 October 1986
Dear Floriana:

I well remain in Champot two or three more weeks. Autumn is very beautiful and I still have a little work to do. But the mail follows me and I have received the manuscript about Chernobyl.[1] Of course it should be published as soon as possible, given its relevance. It is very well documented. And there is an effort to theorize the overthrow of all scientific methodology, which is not without merit. As literature, there is certainly much less unity, despite several very strong pages. (And since it is the author's first work, promising). Here are several remarks, but they only concern quite small details. And it is quite necessary to have confidence in him when he has aligned the computations in becquerels.[2]

Having read the admirable rehabilitation of Barclay de Tolly[3] with great interest, I have noted several errata that I [also] attach here[4] and that will possibly be useful later on.

I imagine that this hasty move[5] will cause several supplementary troubles for you. One can indeed hope that the new location will mark the beginning of a new, less occulted era. One can perhaps observe it in the fate of Mezioud's pamphlet.[6] Because, [even] in slightly more ordinary intellectual and social conditions, never has a book come to create a more beautiful, universal scandal at the right moment.

But in what kind of conditions are we? It is not only the nuclear that leads us into a quite bizarre world. In matters of "disinformation," many new experiments are in progress. We have seen a bitter beginning of the new means of contemporary power's polemics with the assassination of Gerard [Lebovici[, and I fear that we have only seen the beginning.

Regard, for example, the operation conducted by Marenches,[7] launched only a month ago and so instructive in its background. A man from the shadows comes into the light of the spectacle, to publish a book[8] that he has written (the author, moreover, has much presence). The book is a jumble of quite brilliantly bound together, completely unusable banalities, many of them false, and several fine points, some of them true. One must wonder, why the devil did such a man write and publish, and exactly this kind of book? One can hardly wonder, since in sum he acted "like everyone" [else] by going to [Bernard] Pivot. And this was to pass on, as if by chance and thoughtlessly, a fragment of information that will of course be quickly and often picked up upon. The rest of the book is obviously only excipient. The special services have German archives, which one prefers to leave unexploited and which show that certain politicians, who are old today, and who made their reputations as resisters [to the German occupation], worked for the Nazis, who gave them stipends. Such people would thus be very susceptible to Russian pressures, because, in Berlin, the Russians seized copies of the complete documentation for all of Europe. This is why Waldheim,[9] for example, did not risk displeasing them when he was Secretary General of the United Nations.

No precise allusion is made to anyone in particular [in Marenches' book]. One leaves the care of guessing about the small, accumulated references in it to those who might be curious. And to note that these documents might not exist. Nevertheless, the operation is staged to weigh upon [Francois] Mitterrand. Not because one could surprise anyone by revealing something about him personally, but quite simply because he is the only man of his age who still finds himself with a certain political importance: it is at the moment possible that he will win the next presidential election, while any other Socialist might lose to [Raymond] Barre or [Jacques] Chirac, if Mitterrand was nobly led to make room for one of the young ones. Could he be sure of his innocence? And sure that others are sure? This is the epoch. Previously one risked exhibiting precise documents, whose authenticity can always be doubted. The rumor is more mediatic.[10]

I have often observed that, when a clear response does not suit Paolo [Salvadori], he obscurely retorts on another subject. This is what renders correspondence with him so tedious. One can only defend oneself by letting a lot of time pass.

I embrace you.

On the French edition of Barclay de Tolly (1986)

This book, which is completely excellent and well translated,[11] suffers from a very small number of mistakes or inconsistencies that would certainly be worth correcting on the occasion of a subsequent reprinting.

p. 55 -- "Prussification" was formed on the model of "Russification." All the same, the proper word in French is Prussianization.

p. 78 -- The "high cadre" of the Russian Army is the high commander (or sometimes, if this is by chance what the original text meant, "superior officer").

p. 79 -- The strategist Fabius was called the Timer [Temporisateur], not the Temporizer [Temporiseur]. And still less both at the same time.

p. 90 -- The prestige of the Czar fully "comforted" does not work. It is necessary to replace that sorrowful neologism with something else (reinforced, augmented, enlarged, strengthened, etc.).

pp. 90 and 93 -- It is necessary to choose between the "Savolax brigade" and the "Savolax district." The reader cannot.

p. 136 -- The figure "more than 35,000 new soldiers" appears doubtful. Perhaps the number is ten times as many?

p. 170 -- Erroneous use of the expression "did not make long fire." It is not a question of a wood fire, but a weapon that failed to discharge. Thus 'to make long fire" [faire long feu] means failure. The negation thus marks the inverse, by believing that it says the contrary!

p. 173 -- Clausewitz could not still be a "lieutenant" in 1812, since in 1815 he was the Chief of Staff of the 3rd Corps at the Battle of Ligny. (The error is perhaps in the English edition.)

p. 259 -- Same error.

p. 265 -- In French military terms, "new assignation" means new assignment.

p. 296 -- "so that one decides here"

p. 297 -- (and already several times previously) "The muskets frequently refused to go off." In this period and for a long time afterward, it is a question of rifle shots.

p. 298 -- "the French Marshal Vandamme." Vandamme had only ever been the general of a division (unjustly, one says).

p. 299 -- "his apologetes." No, his apologists.

p. 300 -- It is not necessary to say "the flags [etendards] of the French" (a word that only applies to cavalry units). But simply the flags [les drapeaux]. Or, if one wants, for this epoch only, the Eagles.

p. 313 -- Same observation about "muskets" (cf. 297). One could technically employ the archaic term of musketry to designate the ensemble of the gunnery.

Finally, it is necessary agree that the important poem by Pushkin[12] is miserably translated by Caroline Pavlovna as bad rhyming verses in which many renderings are wrong. It would be better to re-translate it from the original.

On Chernobyl

The manuscript does lend itself to easy reading. It will be necessary to pay attention to the correction of the proofs. I note several errors or doubtful cases. Please transmit them to the author.

p. 1 -- I hardly appreciate the exergue "in the manner of" Shakespeare. This would be a good detournement somewhere in the text (and even by explicitly evoking the discourse of the tragedy of Julius Caesar). But among so many other good citations in the exergue, it seems to me that one must slip in a parodic one.

p. 4 -- What was the procession of the ecologists in Paris on "24 April"? What year?

p. 4 -- The inaugural address of the A.I.T.[13] cannot be dated 28 September 1864. On that day, the meeting at St Martin's Hall took place; there it was decided to constitute an international association and to designate a provisional Committee. Which on 1 November adopted the project of an Address that [Karl] Marx drafted in the last days of October (cf. the letter to Engels dated 4 November).

p. 25 -- There obviously were not 100,000 miners killed in the 1906 catastrophe of the Courrieres: [perhaps] around 1,200, which would have been quite serious for the era. The custom of the megadeaths [l'ampleur chiffree] of the disasters of the nuclear era has already begun to perturb historians about the proportions of the past. If Le Monde Diplomatique is truly responsible for this inept figure, then it is necessary to indicate this as another symptom of the degradation of good sense in our times (or only the disappearance of typographical proofreaders?)

p. 40 -- I believe that the citation from the I.S. is unfortunately a little weak. Duras was then dealt with as the "stale slice of buttered bread of the current ruin of modernist literature" (slice of buttered bread ruin, now that's a pleasing phrase. . . .)

p. 44 -- The date 22/86 is certainly insufficient.

p. 56 -- Is it not necessary to guard against [such mixed metaphors as] "the waves of servitude" that "climb the steps of the path"?

p. 56 -- What General Sheridan said to the Prussians when he survived the Franco-German War is still more beautiful (and modern). He indeed would add: "It is not necessary to leave anything to the population that makes them cry about the war."

[1] Translator's note: Chernobyl, Anatomy of a Cloud, written by Jean-Pierre Baudet, but published anonymously by Editions Gerard Lebovici in 1987.

[2] Translator's note: in his Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988), Debord would write: "To make life -- that is to say, lying -- easier for the sages chosen by the system's masters, it has discovered the utility of changing measurements, to vary them according to a large number of points of view, and refine them, finally juggle them, according to the case, with several figures that are hard to convert. Hence, to measure radioactivity levels, one can choose from a range of units of measurement: curies, becquerels, roentgens, rads alias centigrays, and rems, not forgetting the humble millirads, and sieverts which are worth 100 rems."

[3] General Winter, Michael Bogdanovitch Barclay de Tolly, by Michael and Diana Josselson.

[4] Translator's note: see below.

[5] Into the new offices of Editions Gerard Lebovici, rue Saint-Sulpice.

[6] Translator's note: Mezioud Ouldamer's The Immigrant Nightmare in the Decomposition of France would be published in November 1986.

[7] Alexandre de Marenches (1921-1995), patron of the S.D.E.C.E. [Foreign Documentation and Counter-Espionage Service] from 1970 to 1981. Created in 1944, the S.D.E.C.E. took the name D.G.S.E. (General Administration of Foreign Security) in 1982.

[8] In the Secret of the Princes, written in collaboration with Christine Ockrent. [Translator's note: translated into English as The Evil Empire: the Third World War Continues.]

[9] Kurt Waldheim, Secretary General of the U.N. from 1972 to 1981. Elected President of the Austrian Republic in 1986, despite a campaign that accused him of having participated in war crimes in Yugoslavia in 1942.

[10] Translator's note: the French word employed here, mediatique, has no equivalent in English. On the model of genetique ("genetic"), we have rendered it as "mediatic."

[11] By Michel Petris.

[12] "The Army General."

[13] Translator's note: the International Association of Workers.

(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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