from Guy Debord

To Constant
Monday 7 September [1959]
Dear Constant:

Here is the text on the automobile.[1] When are you thinking of publishing Potlatch[2] It isn't necessary to wait until 15 September [1959] (it has already been [exactly] two months since the 1st issue).

Must I correct any texts?

We now speak of the [situationists'] journal.

1) I don't have Har [Oudejans]'s photos yet. They are necessary.

2) Send your text[3] as soon as possible.

3) It is necessary to get a text on Amsterdam, at least by Alberts.

You and Oudejans must see to them and press for them. It is completely distressing that you haven't seen Har since your return from Paris. I believe that, except in case it is necessary to make an open break, we must be patient and push those who can do more to get to work. (Tell him that I believe I understand what he means by topology -- or at least I think it was him who spoke about it at [the conference of the situationists in] Munich -- it is very interesting and can perhaps replace the less solid notion of psychogeography: the two cover the same domain).

It is also necessary to get the signatures of the Dutch [situationists], you, too, on the attack against COBRA.[4]

I find that the project that we decided upon for a special issue of the journal devoted to unitary urbanism has been very badly treated. These are exactly the texts that I still do not have! It is necessary to think that the discord, or absence of work, in Holland immediately and objectively reinforces the "individual art" side of the SI.

Where this is concerned, permit me to say that I am surprised that, at the end of a worrisome balance sheet, you renew your attacks on tachism[5] or our friends [in the SI who are] the painters. Tachism is no longer an "avant-garde" method here: its final blooming in Holland notwithstanding.

As for the painters, the question entirely depends on us, on our action. It isn't a question of persuasion or ethics [de morale]. The current association in the SI has been made, as you know, on the most advanced principles (yours and mine, not those of Prem[6] or [Pinot] Gallizio,[7] obviously). This has given us a certain platform upon which we will or will not do something. The "painters" have never embarassed us (since the exclusion of [Piero] Simondo), not by involving the [situationist] movement in a school of painting by virtue of their success as individuals, nor by their opinions on our problems.

The question is this only: will we do something new? with all we claim, as collective activity and when several painters (Wyckaert!)[8] are completely resolved to follow us? If we are incapable (because a truly situationist recruitment hasn't been made), then one could say the [situationist] movement is premature! And there would be nothing more to say to the painters. . . .

The thing appears clear to me: I don't have the right -- and I do not have the least desire -- to try to impose directives and values on the painters (for example) in the name of a real movement that is more advanced than their work and [yet] in which they can choose to participate. Lacking the real work of such a movement, I have nothing to say to the painters -- neither pro nor con -- because I do not want to be an art critic, and this would be a waste of time for them and for me. (This would be the real integration [of the SI] into a school of painting, or anti-painting.)

I have done my best up until now on the [situationists'] journal. It [the journal] isn't much. But, just the same, we have published several texts (some of yours, too) that thirty years from now will still be the basis for the movement of creation that will not fail to constitute itself. But if it only constitutes itself in ten years or more, it would be unfortunate. . . .

I am quite in agreement that we should be as severe as necessary in the Amsterdam exhibition.[9] Because this manifestation will judge the movement as a whole -- and (worse-case scenario) in a definitive manner! In fact, it isn't a question of an enhibition, but a new construction: I do not believe that we should be optimistic where this is concerned.

What technical means will we be able to use? In themselves, they are nothing: their arrangement is the new art, obviously not as a work of art, but as practice.

Naturally -- and this is clearly established, as much for [Willem] Sandberg [of Stedelijk] as for [Asger] Jorn -- no one will participate in it as a disciplined collaborator (and you the one responsible, thus tranquill). But it is necessary to have a wider discussion of ideas about the extremely stripped-down, classic -- and very aesthetic -- plan that you proposed to me in six lines of your letter!

I remain a partisan of the formula of my Report [on the Construction of Situations]: "By all means, even artistic ones."

But as true means. There can't be an exhibition of works at the heart of this ambience [at Stedelijk] -- even of those works claimed to be "industrial," because, even if they are scandalous at a certain level, they cannot be presented as scandalous in this particular framework.

Excuse the confusion of my letter,[10] I am very pressed.

Cordially. And send those articles quickly.


P.S. How goes the history of the tower? A certitude on this side would be a very strong argument for the militant wing of the SI.

Keep me current.

[1] "Situationist positions on traffic," I.S. #3 [December 1959], p. 36.

[2] Translator: originally published by the Lettrist International (1954-1957), Potlatch was revived as a situationist publication. A first (and only) issue was published on 15 July 1959.

[3] Translator: the basis for a debate about some of Asger Jorn's ideas, the results of which were published as Our means and our perspectives in Internationale Sitiationniste #2 (December 1958).

[4] Neo-COBRA. [Translator: The "original" COBRA existed from 1949 to 1951.]

[5] Translator: a kind of French action painting, associated with Georges Mathieu and others.

[6] Translator: Debord never really liked Heimrad Prem, who was a member of the Spur Group and later the German section of the SI. In a postscript to a letter written to Constant on 24 April 1959, Debord wrote:

"A supplementary day spent in the company of the Germans confirms our impressions: Heinz Hoefl and [Hans Peter] Zimmer: good. [Erwin] Eisch: probably good (in another way, little Gretel is also in this camp). The boring [facheux] ones are [Helmut] Sturm and Prem, in different ways. A very favorable evolution could take place. A not unimportant detail: all of them -- Prem apart -- are now friendly with us, that is to say, the difficult and quite humiliating stage of 'instruction' appears to have been surmounted, not in the practical details, but in the general attitude."

[7] Translator: Debord loved Pinot Gallizio, who was, like Debord himself, a co-founder of the Situationist International. Debord praised Gallizio in a letter dated 30 January 1958. But, in the SI, Gallizio remained too attached to the specialty of painting. See Debord's letter to Constant dated 20 May 1959.

[8] Translator: Maurice Wyckaert, a Belgian painter who later joined the SI. See letter dated 18 January 1960.

[9] Translator: At the Stedeljijk Museum. The SI had been negotiating and planning for such an exhibition/public spectacle since 25 January 1958.

[10] Translator: what seems striking about this letter isn't its "confusion," but the fact that it the first to strongly criticize Constant, with whom Debord had been enthusiastically agreeing, since the beginning of their correspondence in December 1957.

(Published in Guy Debord, Correspondance, Volume 1, 1957-1960. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! October 2005.)

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