from Guy Debord

To Paolo Salvadori
7 February 1979
Dear Paolo:

I have just received your letter of 21 January and I hope that you have received mine, sent on the 19th.

Here is the preface.[1] We hope that the neo-Vallechi does not have time to read it! In any case, we can publish it in France.

The general tone (I note for your translation) is coldly Machiavellian and, even, as they say "cynical," but dignified: a little less "oratory" than In girum, because here it is only a matter of detourning the minor genre of the "scholarly preface," nevertheless with two or three teasing working-class expressions ("they were butchers in their youth"). My detournement of the phrase by Machiavelli[2] is to be left as it is, without quotation marks. A single problem: I hope that "rovinamento" (dello Stato) is easily understood; it can mean -- as in the French of the time -- "ruination," which implies something active, not a simple critical contemplation. In case this does not work, change the word ("negazione," "distruzione"? or, rather, give it the sense of collapse, as a building collapses), taking the word you choose from the cinquecento[3] as much as possible. The word must probably employed in the French of the time was "downfall," but it has become very mild with age. To employ the neuter and general word "ruin" in the French version, I have used the expression "meditate on the ruination," which has a clearly conspiratorial coloration. But in the Italian is will be necessary to keep to Machiavelli's wording as much as possible.

I have also sent you a response to your questions on the text of the book itself.[4] Seeing the subtlety of the remaining problems, I have ascertained that you have done marvelous work.

The "Red Brigades" pursue their career, and the most recent reaction of the Stalinists again confirms what they both are. Do you know who Ugo Pecchiali is? He is the ambassador from the P.C.I., [5] which is in permanent negotiations -- along the lines of the armistice at Coree -- with the Minister of the Interior, who is in some way the ambassador of the "Red Brigades." The Ides of March[6] will not come before they have become a reality.

I also send you a copy of several lines written by an audacious cretin[7] concerning [Complete] Cinematographic Works, as if it were a talented literary morsel, and as if he was a connoisseur. Furthermore, he had to buy a copy at his own expense, because Champ Libre has not provided "complementary copies" for several months, so as to scorn the press.[8]

Tomorrow, I leave for "Paris" -- I only accept the word as a simple geographical expression. The mail will follow me. I will be down there until the middle of March. Would you like to come to Champot around the beginning of April? We could then look over subsequent translations together (tell me if you need an annotated copy of In girum; if so, I will send one to you).

Our best wishes, to Genevieve and you.

Notes for the translation of the Preface

1) The title is to be kept intact.

2) "boldness" = audacity (in the critical-pejorative sense).

3) "fruit" (in the abstract sense) ironically suggests "the flesh" (la carne) in the very concrete sense.

4) "discoverer": in the general neuter sense (here, ironic), as one says that C. Columbus was the discoverer of America.

5) Allusion to the title by Goya: "The sleep of reason engenders monsters."

6) The entire paragraph is in a particularly Machiavellian tone (except the last phrase). ("fortunes" thus being in the Latin-Machiavellian sense.)

7) "which has the air" (the aspect) is a familiar turn of phrase, in this case particularly cynical. This leads one to understand that a theory, even a false one, that has the air of being sufficiently true to incite the revolt of the proletarians would already be a good thing. It is in this sense that one can say that subversion can turn to account, in an instant, someone who "has the air" of being a revolutionary like Vaneigem, but not like Perniola![9]

8) "which disturbs the public peace": in the tone del settecento or even del seicento.[10]

9) Evoking the phrase of Saint-Just: "The war for freedom must be fought with anger." Anger is not "rabbia" [rage]: it is a little less violent; it is more justified.

10) "little recommendable" has a lighter sense: "malavita,"[11] hooligans.

11) These three lines carry a consistent image of military strategy. A "line of defense" is overwhelmed when one has broken through it; it is rounded when one finds oneself behind it, in the line of enemy communications.

12) The "North-West Passage" was a vast geographical search in the 18th-19th centuries: an access route on the open seas so as to skirt Canada and thus join the Atlantic to the Pacific. One actually found it, 7 or 8 years ago, with the icebreakers.

13) I believe that "la bandiera,"[12] thanks to the song, sounds better in Italian than in French, in which the word has a resonance that is a little too patriotic.

14) "we took our place on it" is another military expression.

15) Marx, on the dialectic, in the "Preface to the Second German Edition" of Capital.

16) The "telematic" is the last ideology of an absolute "information" society. It has been the official doctrine in France since last year. . . .

17) It is necessary to extend "sheep" as a Machiavellian image. I hope that it has the same nuance as in French, in which, in prison argot, the stool pigeon [mouton] is the false prisoner whom one places among the others, who are real, so as to hear their confidences. If another animal connotes this meaning in Italian, use it instead, but on the condition that, zoologically, it is also a gentle and inoffensive animal. If not, it would be better to keep "sheep."

18) "case officers" here (in France) is the technical term for the subordinate leaders of the military special services, who gives instructions and receive intelligence reports, in contact with the active agents (that is to say, the spies) who are subordinate to them on the terrain of their action. The "case officers" are also the "supervisors" of whom I speak further on. Grosso modo,[13] the agents only know their case officers, and the case officers know their generals, who can often be replaced: but the network remains in place underneath other superior officers.

19) Here it is necessary to make the irony of "reasoning" heavy.

20) Allusion to Machiavelli, who actually said, "He who founds a tyranny and does not kill Brutus, or he who founds a republic and does not kill Brutus along with his sons, will not maintain his rule for long."

21) Here, if possible, use a word other than "virtu."

22) "On the spot" = at the very instant. You see the image here of the executive in a fashionable restaurant, saying that everything is very good and immediately vomiting. Re-vomiting also has the more abstract sense of stupidly repeating the instructions that one will swallow: as one often says of rebels that they are influenced by social ideas that are "badly digested."

23) "fish preserve" = the place in which one conserves living fish, so as to serve them up fresh.

24) to cudgel = to hit with baton blows. But there is a slightly comic sense, "commedia dell'arte." It is what one does to a valet. By contrast, "to bludgeon" has a more violent and repressive meaning (the style of the CRS).

25) "We have finished with it" is very cynical = we have finished it off. One can also say it of a task.

26) "dissuasion" in the sense of "the balance of thermo-nuclear terror."

27) the ridiculous play on words "on the side"/"inside" is, naturally, an imitation of the style of the "parallel convergences." Moro is dead, but his logic remains, although it begins to pass out of fashion.

28) "the barrel always smells of the herring." An old proverb that means: "One always retains something of one's origins." Find the Italian equivalent, but it is necessary that it is slight pejorative and vulgar. In French, "le hereng" also connotes the "procurer," the pimp. A beautiful image for a Stalinist!

29) It would be good to render this archaic and legendary evocation of the Italian (anarchist, or maffioso, or carbonaro[14]), although in fact their proceedings were very modern and they were proud of them. I hope that this will be vexing.

30) "Less than any other, my conception . . ." is taken from the preface to the first edition of Capital.

31) "Each person is the offspring of his works" is a phrase in Don Quijote and has become a proverb in Spain (or was it already one?)

32) Use a French proverb: "As one makes one's bed, one sleeps in it" (one has what one has merited by his own actions).

33) Try to make the cold historical irony felt.

34) "Mene, Tekel, Peres" (it is or was very well known in France in this form; I hope it is in Italy, too, though the country has not read the Bible much). It is from the Book of Daniel (V, 8). And the three words -- in I do not know which whore of a language -- means: counted, weighed, divided.

35) "cities," here, is not towns but is the same as the "city of Athens." I believe that, in Italian, it is the same word. But it will suffice. ("two sides": here it is obviously parte and not partito, which it evokes.)

[1] Translator's note: Debord's Preface to the Fourth Italian Edition of "The Society of the Spectacle."

[2] Translator's note: "In this work, if it were read, they would see that I have been at study of statecraft for fifteen years and have not slept nor played about" (letter to Francesco Vettori, dated 10 December 1513, concerning The Prince).

[3] 16th century Italian.

[4] Corrections and commentaries in Italian on the difficulties of translating The Society of the Spectacle.

[5] Translator's note: the Italian Communist Party.

[6] Translator's note: Both a reference to the soothsayer's warning in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (Act I, Scene II) and the title of a book by Paolo Salvadori.

[7] Francois Bott, Le Monde, 19 January 1979.

[8] Declaration of Editions Champ Libre, dated March 1979 (published in the Champ Libre catalogue for 1979).

[9] Translator's note: Raoul Vaneigem and Mario Perniola, respectively. For the former, see letter dated 9 December 1970; for the latter, see letter dated 12 March 1969.

[10] Translator's note: 18th Century or even 17th Century.

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

[12] Translator's note: "flag" in Italian.

[13] Translator's note: "in large strokes" or "approximately" in Italian.

[14] Translator's note: member of a secret political association in the early 19th century.

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

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