from Guy Debord

To Jaime Semprun
7 July 1986
Dear Jaime:

Thanks for the article from 1980.[1] It is quite beautiful. And such relevance! This is a dominant trait of the epoch: there is nothing new under the sun of the spectacle. As there is never any debate, one stops and begins again the broadcast of unilateral discourse by fits and starts, by saying the same thing again. What has come to pass, and what has fully contradicted the inept arguments, is supposed to be forgotten: since the memory is not there, it is not represented at this moment. One repeats the same stupidity, fresh and joyful. The new law is thus: "No one is supposed to remember reality."

In its clumsy triviality, this technique nevertheless progresses and this progress -- handled by insane robots -- repeatedly contradicts the tranquil assurance of the project. Today, "it is necessary to get used to living" (and more) with the dioxin produced by [electrical] transformers. And who knew that truly modern transformers would have such properties? Do you love Pyralene? It is everywhere.[2] With respect to the human error of manipulation, we have been informed quite disgracefully post festum of the caprices of lightning, etc., while expecting those from Direct Action. And the concrete socle? More absent than at Chernobyl. The EDF[3] naturally treats us like Cossacks. One uses good manners with the nuclear and then transports it everywhere. In my youth, while electrification (if not the powers of the soviets) was being completed, one never heard about water tables -- except, I suppose, if one was studying geology -- but today one serves us everything on this table. It is evoked as often as the rate [of exchange] on the stock exchange. One can say that "scientific knowledge" -- although here it resembles theology, in that it is a question of contemplating an excellence that escapes us -- ends up deeply infiltrating the poorest heads. You have remarked that the government would like a 60% success rate for recent [recipients of] diplomas but all of them have zero because of their inability to spell. Thus the universities have changed their standards of measurement and, by another scientific miracle, the rate of success attained is exactly the desired percentage.

The reasoning of the Flow-Regulator,[4] so typical of nuclear thought, is also typical of all the discourses of spectacular power. The turn that, it seems to me, is its leitmotiv is the phrase "and besides," which actually introduces a completely different consideration, but one that loans it -- from the sole fact that it selects one from the infinity of arbitrary choices (as [Bernard] Pivot selects a book) -- and appearance of logical connection. Thus: "The life of Napoleon shows that the one who attacked Moscow ended up at Saint-Helene, and besides the history of what it is fitting to call the Mandarinat of China abounds in examples of letter that imperial disfavor condemned to exile."

Where radiation-nuisances are concerned, the basic turn is "which is equivalent." And here the simple secret is to forget the cumulative process to the profit of the instant under consideration (by an intellectual swindle that is less subtle than the description of Achilles' vain race against the tortoise). One can thus show that a tax is negligible because it "is equivalent" to a simple purchase of a pack of cigarettes every five minutes. And who is so stingy as to refuse oneself a pack of cigarettes?[5]

Alice has found the epigraph by Agatha that Anne asked for. It does not come from the Bible but from Shakespeare. I do not know which play, but Christian [Sebastiani] will no doubt know.[6]

Best wishes,

[1] Translator's note: this would appear to be a book review of Jaime Semprun's The Nuclearization of the World, which was originally published in 1980.

[2] Detournement of one of Boileau's Satires.

[3] Translator's note: Electricite de France, the State-run power company.

[4] Translator's note: inspired by "reasoning of the cauldron" -- a notion taken comes from Sigmund Freud's analysis of a particular dream in The Interpretation of Dreams, in which "The defendant asserted first that he had given [the cauldron] back undamaged; secondly, that the kettle had a hole in it when he borrowed it; and thirdly that he had never borrowed a kettle from his neighbor at all." -- this phrase refers to a part in piping conduits that regulates the flow of energy under pressure.

[5] Translator's note: in his Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988), Debord would say the following: "Formerly, we were assured there was no risk at all, except in the case of accidents, which were logically impossible. The experience of the first few years changed this reasoning as follows: since accidents are always possible, what must be avoided is their reaching a catastrophic threshold, and that is easy. All that is necessary is to contaminate little by little, in moderation. Who would not agree that it is infinitely healthier to limit yourself to an intake of 140 centilitres of vodka per day for several years, rather than getting drunk right away like the Poles?"

[6] Translator's note: there is in fact no character named "Agatha" in Shakespeare's dramatic works.

(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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