from Guy Debord

To Jean-Paul Iommi-Amunategui
9 March 1986
Dear Jean-Paul:

I thank you for your translation[1] or, rather, for your scrupulous rough draft, through which I have already wandered, in all senses of the word [parcourue]. Such care! So many variants! What diverse possibilities! You give me vertigo.

In many cases, I am obviously unable to recognize the original in it all by myself. Among such nuances, everything appears to the foreigner as, certainly not synonyms, but many choices to be made "en una noche oscura."[2] Your version, envisioning things with so much subtlety, obviously obligates and attracts the reader. It is here that one measures at which point the run-of-the-mill products of the industrial translators can appear to rest, since, without embarrassment or authority, they impose so many mistranslations, with which they put themselves into the position of having the secret, just like a government.

I will confess to you, though I understand in principle the "ontological" ser and the estar[3] that one can call "situationist" (if you will pardon the neologism), I find that I am incapable of weighing the pertinence of one or the other choice in diverse circumstances, that is, the necessity here or everywhere (perhaps) of the preferable meanings that can be introduced. On this point, as in so many others, I have never heard a Spaniard say that there was any doubt about it, only assuring everyone that "It is this way."

Here I will only cite one example, a phrase of which I do not know the original Arabic, but which I know well in its traditional French translation. You say: "Nada es verdad; todo esta permitido."[4] Is it excessive that I object to this change of the verb to a kind of consequence of the first thesis, which is actually quite purely metaphysical? Must not one re-translate your phrase by this equivalent: "Nothing is true, thus (with the result that) everything is permitted"? But is this last phrase not closer to Dostoevsky's famous phrase: "If God does not exist, (then) everything is permitted"? But, where the leader of the sect of the Assassins is concerned, this is not truly comparable to the philosophical hypothesis of a moralist. It is the dogmatic nihilism of the practitioner. To me, the two propositions seem juxtaposed, rather than one being derived from the other. Since there is no truth, no authority, who can "permit"? Is this estar not hindered by something that does not exist (the very concept of "permission")? Would it not be better to side-step by such problem by saying, for example, "Nada es verdad. Todo se puede hacer"?

Perhaps you will find my questions to be naive. In any case, I see myself translated into this beautiful language with great pleasure. It will be necessary to finish us off.

Hay que beber, antes de acabar, "mas vasos que las mentiras de un sindicato durante una huelga salvaje" hombre!


[1] In Castilian, In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni.

[2] In a dark night.

[3] Spanish distinguishes between being in itself (ser) from being in/by becoming (estar).

[4] Translator's note: "Nothing is true; everything is permitted."

[5] It is necessary that we drink, together, before the end, "more glasses that all the lies of a union during a wildcat strike" my friend. Affectionately.

(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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