I first met Guy Debord on October 27, 1960. We had called each other two days before to fix a meeting date. A demonstration against the war in Algeria that looked like it would be particularly important was scheduled to take place two days later. It was to start at Mutuality Hall. I lived with my parents, near the Pantheon, not so far from the Mutuality. Debord and I had arranged to meet at my place, and then go together to the demonstration. We talked for about an hour, before joining the crowd, where we were soon separated by riots and police charges. This first meeting was to be followed by many others.
I was nineteen. I had just joined Socialisme ou Barbarie through Jean-Francois Lyotard. I had arrived from my province and thrown myself body and soul into "revolutionary" activity, passionate and naive as are youth. Socialism ou Barbarie opened to me the perspective of a radical critique of the capitalist world, in its Western as well as its "Soviet" pattern. The very idea of getting involved in politics without adopting that minimum platform was to me unthinkable, and I believed the "communist" party to be a far right party, much like the others.
David Blanchard, alias Canjuers, who preceded me at S.ou B., had joined the national service as a civilian volunteer in Guinea. Before he left, he had been in touch with Guy Debord. From their meeting was born a collective text called "Preliminaries toward a definition of the revolutionary program." Canjuers had passed this text round, but S. ou B. had only paid distant and even condescending attention to it. I had nevertheless been appointed and very officially put in charge, at the demand of Canjuers, to keep in touch with Guy Debord, who had himself been informed.
Sometime after this first meeting and this memorable demonstration, by what was not really chance, I again met Guy Debord, this time accompanied by Michele Bernstein, sitting outside a small cafe (gone now) on St. Germain Boulevard, near St. Guillaume Street. They had just visited an artist's exhibition, on Pre-au-Clerc Street, in the summarily outfitted cave of a building. This building happened to belong to the family of a childhood friend of mine, whom I had not seen in many years. I met him again with pleasure. He had come to Paris for his studies, as I had done. I had received an invitation to this exhibition, and had believed, looking at the address, that it had been sent by this friend. In fact, it had been addressed by Debord and the situationists. When I met Debord and Michele Bernstein outside this cafe, I had visited the exhibition the day before, but didn't know that they had been or were still in contact with this artist, despite the fact that they had just come out of the exhibition, which they told me in order to explain their being there.
It was thus with all liberty that I declared to them how indifferent I was to this kind of activity; and that I despised decomposing art, in a society that I didn't yet know that was [in Debord's terms] "decomposing." Of this exhibition, which could have displayed a kind of plastic and pictoral talent, I don't remember anything except for the fact that somewhere in a remote place where everybody didn't go -- and that my friend had shown me uneasily -- was a Christ on the cross, blasphemous in that He was painted naked and in that a little electrical engine behind the canvas made his cardboard arms raise, pumping up the biceps, while the usual Saint Sulpician G-string slip (made of cardboard as well) was falling down.
I told Guy Debord and Michele Bernstein that this blasphemous intention seemed to me the exact oposite of a critical revolutionary activity. Not only was it counter-productive, but it revealed an obession with Christianity, even though it looked like a protest. I remember telling them about the Italian and Spanish people for whom blasphemy goes together with Christian impregnation, of which it is only, and nothing but the ransom, or rather, the other side of the coin. Guy Debord and Michele Bernstein agreed immediately, with perhaps some reserve from Michele Bernstein, as far as I remember.
In the many subsequent meetings I had with Debord, the topic at hand was never again the question of art or artists. You can verify, by simply reading issues of Internationale Situationniste, the change of Debord's attitude toward art as a separate activity, the need to go beyond art -- starting with the 5th issue (December 1960), in which an advertisement for the publication of the joint text by Debord and Canjuers appears (page 11). I'm not sure if my own positions on this matter had any influence at all on Debord, but I doubt it. Even if I had some influence, it would have appeared at the end of a well-broached process, if not completely finished before we met.
After that, my meetings with Debord multiplied. Traces of their influence can easily be followed in the 5th, 6th and 7th issues of Internationale Situationniste. Thus, I brought Debord to formally join S. ou B.
As I was evoking those memories in answer to the questions of a friend who happens to be a great expert in the history, publications, and polemics surrounding the Situationist International, he displayed a real amazement. He thought he knew almost everything on the matter, but was unaware of this episode. He then thought that Debord had tried to hide or erase this fact. It was this expert's amazement that made me think that no text or anything exists that refers to the formal membership of Debord in S. ou B. -- despite the fact that issues of Internationale Situationniste constitute a rather exhaustive and reliable chronicle of what needed to be known of the situationists' lives and thoughts. This friend even asserted that, as far as he knew, most situationists were unaware of Debord's membership in S. ou B. Nevertheless, this membership was the origin of a real change in the S.I., which can be easily ascertained by reading the review; this membership alone explains the audience the review acquired.
Anyway, I insist on the fact that Debord was a member of S. ou B. He took part in the group's meetings at Le Tambour cafe, on Bastille Place, and at the review's editorship committees, as well as at those of the Pouvoir Ouvrier Bulletin.
I can't specify exactly when this membership took shape. But on December 20, 1960 powerful strikes started in Belgium. After the 1953 strikes in East Germany, of which I'd heard by reading the back issues of S. ou B., and the great 1956 Hungarian uprising, in which worker's councils played a major part (see S. ou B., #20 and #21), we had no doubts about the ineluctable breakdown of the Stalinist regime and were waiting for the European working classes to wake up, so that we could "hang [French Communist Party Secretary General] Maurice Thorez to a street lamp with the guts of [C.G.T. Secretary General] Benoit Frachon."
The group met on Saturday, December 31, 1960 with an English comrade from Solidarity, who had just come back from Belgium, and the group decided to send me there, to "cover" the events and to make as many contacts as I could. Guy Debord took part in that meeting. He had himself just received a letter from a Belgian, addressed to the review Internationale Situationniste. Debord imparted to me both this letter and the task of meeting the author, on behalf of the S.I. as well as that of S. ou B. That author was Raoul Vaneigem. (By the way, much later -- when Vaneigem had hurriedly left Belgium with one of his female students, because the police were after him for the "abduction of a minor" -- my wife loaned clothes to this quite adult "minor." But if I sometimes liked Vaneigem's articles in I.S., I can't remember any interesting conversations -- I mean, that I was interested in -- with Vaneigem, and I never read his book). Sometime later, Debord took part in a collective trip sponsored by the group, a trip in which we tried to structure an "organisation" out of our contacts in Belgium and met Robert Dehoux. The escapade had been rather loony, and disappointing, but this is off the subject.
As for the date of Debord's intent to resign from S. ou B., it is unquestionable: May 22, 1961 -- in the evening, at the end of a three-day-long "international conference" (a big name for a small thing) that was held in Paris with three or four comrades from Solidarity (see S.ou B. #33, page 95; the so-called Italian and Belgian delegations to the conference coming under the category of ectoplasms). Debord took part as per normal, breaking little into the debate, but properly when he did. Then, in the end, he announced calmly and firmly to Chaulieu (alias Cardan, alias Castoriadis, which is his real name), then to Lyotard and then to all, his intention to resign. All attempts by Chaulieu to make him reconsider his decision, this evening and the next day, remained in vain. Chaulieu displayed all the treasures of seduction he could; he outlined great perspectives: "if only the group's bureaucratic and retrograde defects were transformed, etc., etc." Debord was listening, without a word. When Chaulieu had finished, he only said, "Yes ... but ... I don't feel I'm up to this task," and also, "It must be very exhausting [to build a revolutionary organisation]." And Debord came to the following meeting at "le Tambour" cafe, gave his official resignation, payed his contribution for the earlier month and the current, and said in a few words that he appreciated that the group existed, but that for himself he had no will to be involved in it! He thanked us for all he had learned. And disappeared.
It was a nice bit of a scandal. As soon as he had left, rumors started spreading. Sarcasms, suspicions of the most incredible kind, were given free rein. As for me, I declared that Debord looked faultless. Full stop! But it was then that I discovered there's nothing worse than being faultless!
In small groups (and Socialisme et Barbarie was nothing but a small group, though the Spirit was still blowing in at this time), resignations and secessions are real divorces, in which each side needs to treat the other as "absolute evil." Both splitting factions, or the resigner and the organisation, charge each other with all the sins of the world. Unless the resigner leaves, with a hang-dog look. In that case, he will be granted, at the most, indulgence and commiseration. "Man over-board! The struggle must go on!" Providing it is made clear that the resigner will set out for a deplorable fate. The split and then the scapegoating of the other is the necessary process by which each part restores its self image, putting all evil on the other's back.
The behaviour of Debord, whose head was not down, and did not manifest any aggressivity, deprived the group of this therapeutic. He left, leaving viruses in the revolutionaries' programming. His behaviour raised the question of the illusions that we may harbour about ourselves, and the question of revolutionary morals, and then the question of the activist's relationships with the proletariat, on one hand, and with the workers, on the other. The group reacted with a more and more absolute censorship and a total inhibition. After some more jolts and a bid by Richard Dabrowsky to create a "situationist trend" in the group, completely disapproved by Debord, everything came in order. For S. ou B., Debord and the Situationist International had ceased to be, to have been; it was not allowed to exist. One can't find any trace of it nor any mention of it in the S. ou B. review! End of the show!
This "blind spot" and the structural and congenital incapability to see it, to analyse it, would lead to the decay of Socialisme ou Barbarie, foreseen and then verified by the S.I. (see I.S. #9 page 18), which would proceed to the final execution ("Socialisme ou Planete," in I.S. #10 page 77), becoming in the meantime heir of the best Socialisme ou Barbarie had produced. Debord, by doing absolutely nothing, unleashed a gangrene that would undermine the whole group! But whatever outrages Debord didn't commit, the members of S. ou B. would invent.
On the contrary, from 1960, the influence of "social-barbarian" theses and knowledge (more or less recomposed) didn't cease to grow in the situationists' publications: it appeared as a reference to the workers' movement. This incorporation was to constitute, to me, the main interest of the S.I. and determined the broadening of its audience. But I had been deeply disturbed by the group's behaviour, as it revealed this "blind spot," in which our collective analytic abilities were suddenly annihilated. It germinated the question of the nature of the social link that brought us together, as I was going to realize gradually.
For the time being, I let Debord know of my perplexity because of the echo of unbelievable calumnies cast upon him that came down to me, though my attitude would discourage them from repeating them, and though my friendly relationship with Debord continued and cast suspicion on my intentions, though I was undisputably a pillar, and the activist of the new generation in the group, and my faithfulness was absolute. I told him of my determination to stay in Socialisme ou Barbarie, because, unlike the Situationist International, it was the frame that fitted to my activity and that "I still had a lot to learn in it." As we had been spending time making gibes at the University, students and studies in general, he answered me, "Yes, of course, no one will blame you for studying, if you choose Socialisme ou Barbarie as your University!" It struck me because, sometime before, Lyotard, who was also teaching at the Sorbonne, seeing that I was always ready for anything at any time, and that I didn't bother about lessons, lectures, or practical matters, told me, "You've got a scholarship to study Political Science, but your university is S. ou B."
After that, I didn't meet Debord so frequently. But we came to meet spontaneously more often, simply because I moved to Rollin Street, near the Contrescarpe, and I used to meet him in the neighbourhood and at the Cinq Billards Cafe. In the years 1963-64, I was busy with the clearing out, then the fight and the split inside Socialisme ou Barbarie -- between, on the one hand, the Chaulieu-Cardan-Castoriadis "trend," and, on the other, Pouvoir Ouvrier, the "traditionalistes" or "paleo-marxists" (in the words of Castoriadis), with Lyotard, Brune (alias Souyri), Vega, and the majority of the group.
Moreover, my first daughter was born on February 15, 1963. Working as prefect was not enough anymore to make a living, and so I worked as a clerk at a buildings syndicate. I was still involved in Pouvoir Ouvrier, that was about to follow, after the span of a few years, the same fate as S. ou B. (the same causes bringing the same effects). It was at this time that we met the most frequently. Issues numbered 8, 9 and 10 of I.S. reflected and gave an exact account of the reality of the Situationist International, that is to say, mainly, I keep thinking so, of Guy Debord, and the evolution we shared. The theoretical effervescence was rather extraordinary. But I'm not yet capable of estimating those times: the part of our intuition, our faults and our illusions being only thinkable in the light of May 68 and its aftermath. But the game not being completely over, and different ends, only differing by the nature and the width of the disappointment falling upon us, being possible, a few decisive criterion are still suspended from our appreciation.
Anticipating what followed, I could say that the practice of La Vieille Taupe [The Old Mole] in 1968 was different from that of the situationists, who were still imbibed with "councilist" illusions that definitely came from Socialisme ou Barbarie and that I had shared with them, but started criticizing in 1967, when discovering the work of Bordiga and the "Italian communist left" that, until then, I had only known, like Debord, through the crudely falsified representation S. ou B. had given of it and what Chaulieu-Cardan-Castoriadis and Vega, himself a former "Bordigaist," had let us know.
I don't mean that La Vieille Taupe had somehow rallied Bordiga's analysis, but real knowledge of the Communist left's analysis had opened our eyes to some realities of the social movement that we couldn't see before. Mustafa Khayati, the only situationist that partially witnessed La Vieille Taupe's activity in 1968, thought that we had been more realistic and deeper than the situationists. That difference in the analysis and the practice would spare La Vieille Taupe the shame of being compared to the students of 1968 and later, which was an assimilation that, as far as S.I. was concerned, was only partially unjustified. Besides, our lucidity should not be exaggerated, though it had been great on many points, but, in 1972, when I decided to close the first La Vieille Taupe bookshop, I was still thinking that our own surpassing announced a proletarian rise at short notice, as could be seen on the poster, "Lease for a take due to a move urbi et orbi," with which I announced the end of the bookshop's existence.
Anyway, when I started thinking out the creation of a bookshop toward the end of 1964 and the beginning of 1965 -- even though I was already snowed under with problems and clearly out of money -- Debord was about the only one to support and to understand my plan. Together, we chose the name La Vieille Taupe at my proposal, and decided what books to stock. We discussed some presentation "details" and decided not to sell Sartre, nor Althusser, nor Simone de Beauvoir, but as "documents," in a trash can. It was again with Debord that we decided on the poster edition of the Theses on Feuerbach. Situationists did the main part of the postering job when the bookshop opened. They were of course present at the inauguration and met members of Pouvoir Ouvrier who had just split with Socialisme ou Barbarie. A common critic of what Socialisme ou Barbarie had become brought us together. Vega greeted Debord by asking with a large smile, "I can't remember if we've been quarelling, or if we should have done so?" Debord shook his hand with an answer as subtle as the question, and they sat around a table at the back of the shop. But I don't remember Vega ever coming again to the bookshop and he was just about to pick a quarrel with me, which would lead to the final implosion of Pouvoir Ouvrier.
When my shopwindow was greeted with its first Molotov cocktail, it was again with Debord and Michele Bernstein that we defined the attitude to assume, far from democratic snivelling and by a maximum advertising books that upset Stalinists, the probable aggressors. The local police officer had summoned me, "You're looking for trouble!" It took me some pains to convince him that showing our aggressors they didn't frighten us was the best way to dissuade them from doing it again. This total symbiosis between Debord and La Vieille Taupe lasted more than a year, in 1965-66. I also met Alice Becker-Ho and Rene Vienet, though their situationist contributions were not very identifiable at that time. Vienet mostly looked like he conceived the "situationist" designation as a virtue by itself, which seemed opposed to the ideas I had discussed with Debord, i.e., bringing into relationships a regrettable "show off" dimension. Anyhow, this symbiosis materialised in the 10th issue of the review, the same one that included a final critique of Socialisme ou Barbarie, with the announcement:
S.I. publications can be found or ordered at "La Vieille Taupe" bookshop 1, rue des Fosses Jacques, Paris 5, Odeon 39-46.
The suppression of the word "Saint" in the address, on all documents from La Vieille Taupe, was one of Debord's ideas. The real name of the street is "Fosses Saint Jacques." He made me notice the inscription engraved in the stone at the street's corner. The word "Saint" had been erased with a hammer during the French Revolution. I agreed, recalling the story of Lenin strolling around in Paris, showing his interlocutor while coming to Cite island: "Leur-Dame de Paris." (Told by Trotsky, in My Life, I believe. [Author's note: The first reader of my draft made me notice that in My Life, Trotsky tells a similar anecdote, but locates it in London. I don't know if the Paris story is the product of a deformation or comes from an autonomous oral tradition in our circles, in which the ancients had met Lenin and Trotsky.])
It was just a "detail," apparently insignificant, but it shows quite well the ethical demand Debord made: to put theory into practise, and practise in theory, down to details, without compromise.
I now renounced this way of writing. Deliberately. I think today that a "revolution" is deep, lasting and popular only if it keeps with a tradition. And the French Revolution was a bourgeoise revolution. And there was more communism under the Ancient Regime than under Robespierre. The reign of ideology shows a deeper and more murderous alienation than religion. The "revolution" that is still to be done has no precedent. Traditions stemming from the bourgeois and Bolshevik revolutions carry only the techniques of the diversion of proletarian energy.
But if this symbiosis between Debord and I existed in the store's orientation and perspectives, I alone had the responsability and the material burden of running the bookshop, and it was unbearable. Just keeping the bookshop going was a problem that dictated to me a life packed with troubles, at the antipodes of the rather "hedonist" situationist principles. By the way, I was the only one having a child, and I don't know of any situationist having one. Debord had the gift of staying away from troubles of all kinds, and to observe with irony. I used to envy him this capacity. But I didn't admit that it could be set up as a standard or a criteria, and Debord didn't do it, but some situationists in my opinion did. One day, at the corner of the Clotaire street, as I was casually wheeling my daughter's stroller, he told me, "Here's a photo for the review's next issue, near the Jutland butcher, and the Dusseldorf vampire. With this legend: the Estrapade's Maniac."
My agreement with Debord on the matters we talked about was total, but I felt that, with the situationists, there was a difference that I couldn't explain. Debord had always in his estimating of people an extraordinary perspicacity. He knew how to derive from a tiny detail implications that led him to fix each and every one his ineluctable fate. Nevertheless, I had asserted to him that my criteria were more sensitive! Except that I wouldn't set up my criteria as rules. I considered that people are what they are, and that you have to get on with them. I had given him a few examples of cases in which I didn't put in some people the same hopes that he did. The Georges brothers had been one of the most obvious examples. From my second meeting with them, at Les Cinq Billards Cafe, when Debord introduced them to me, I told him what I thought: "grand bourgeois intellectuals at the end of their lineage, trying to sow their wild oats and find a promising ideology. We would see. . . ." The article about them, "On two books and their authors" (I.S. #10, pages 70-71), and also the preceding article ("The ideology of dialogue"), are reflections of some conversations we had. I gave him other examples in the past where I had been more shrewd than he had been (Kotanyi, Jorn), and examples in the present of people hanging around the S.I. with his agreement. As far as I was concerned, I only awarded the benefit of the principle no condemnation without a prior law (Frey, Garnault, et al).
On the other hand, I never mentioned it because it wasn't elaborated enough, a question that kept bothering me, about the members of the S.I. except Debord. It looked to me like they didn't fit in the role that only Debord could play. Michele Bernstein, for example, was indeed charming, subtle, and far better-read than I was, but she didn't seem to be a "revolutionary" as I conceived it. Same about Alice, and in a different way about Vienet. They looked like they found pleasure asserting themselves. And they did it with a kind of gift. But I couldn't convince myself that their engagement would last if things stopped being gratifying. Debord's personality counted for something in this situation. And the situationist ethics, too. But I then had no means to elaborate and express critiques that had more to do with intuition. All the more because, in their critiques of me, the situationists and Vienet were far from wrong according to our own criteria at the time.
At the time of those questionings, I was struggling with inextricable financial and family troubles. I mention them because they were the context for my relationship with Debord and the situationists during the short periods of time when those relations cooled and then stopped. They stopped without any disagreements being raised about either theoretical, political or existential issues by Debord or any other situationist. My last meeting with Debord and Vienet took place, with Anne Vanderlove, at the bookshop, around 10 p.m., in Pirandellian conditions caused by a mythomaniacal boaster, crook, liar and kleptomaniac, without any relation to the activities and the concerns that had brought us together.
Without pretending to totally reconstruct the situation, and describe the interference of different persons in this short period of time, and far from being sure, if it is possible to do it, that it would lead to one-sided conclusions, the situation a few months after the opening of the bookshop as far as I am concerned was as follows: I had nothing left of the money I had borrowed through the second-row mortgage of my parents' flat! I thought I would get a breather by settling an agreement with a "bookseller" from Gay-Lussac Street, who had a huge stock of ancient books, and had to move from his place. He had proposed me to take his stock in my back shop and in my cellar. This agreement was against Vienet's plans, and I was myself far from underestimating the inconveniences. It happened that this "bookseller" was unable to do anything and, in the end, he appeared to be a mythomaniac and a crook. The stock simply wasn't his. The real owner, a true bookseller with whom I was going to work later, made himself known through a process officer! And last but not least, this "bookseller" forged my signature and added with my own typewriter sentences to a letter I had actually written and signed, with the intent of building a file in order to prove that he and I were associates and that he was the co-owner of La Vieille Taupe's lease! -- All things that wouldn't let me enjoy in my discussions with Vienet and the other situationists a perfect serenity.
The real owner of the books happened to be a certain Roujitch, sixth member of the Yugoslavian Communist Party, twenty years before Tito. He had been during the war a covered agent for the Third International, and was given top-secret missions concerning the clandestine leaders of the French Communist Party. He had been the eye of Moscow, and was keeping secrets that forced him to live in hiding from the Party and the Soviet services for many years after the war. And he was very careful still. His silence on some episodes of the party's "resistance" was the guarantee of his tranquility. He had lost all illusions and enjoyed reading the columns of Raymond Aron in Le Figaro. In May 1968, he witnessed what he called with a laugh "the first proletarian revolution done by bourgeois' sons." And I don't mention some other elements surrounding my relations with Debord, for I would have to bring in the personality of another character of high colour, a boaster, mythomaniac and smuggler -- the sculptor Carloti, of whom I learned much later, by the real owner, that Carloti's was an usurped identity! Not to mention a classical light comedy's situation, and some other less important characters.
In the beginning of 1966, a conference of the SI was held in Paris, in a cafe on Quincampoix street (I.S. # 10). The nature of our relationship was such that I had been formally invited. That didn't mean becoming a member, but to be part of it. Vienet had come to announce the conference and Alice also came in a rush to remind me that "we would meet tonight"; she said it in a way that made me think she wanted to make sure that Vienet had done his job. I inferred that the invitation had been discussed, that Vienet had opposed to it, but that the decision was approved collectively. But I had already refused the invitation to Vienet. In fact, I think that if Alice had come first, or Debord, I'd have accepted it. I never had regrets about this decision, but I've kept on wondering about the consequences of a different answer. The decision probably implied -- but only a situationist could confirm it -- that Debord had convinced the rest to get more involved in the bookshop. That would have fulfilled my wishes. But Vienet passed it to me like you tell an applicant that he has failed to the pass the test, but will be accepted thanks to the indulgence of the examining board.
I had declared to Debord some time before that even ideally realised -- and I was far from that -- my scheme wasn't to run a "revolutionary bookshop," and even less a "situationist bookshop." I made him notice -- turning over the decisions the SI applied to the artistic productions of its members (I.S. #7, page 27) -- that, even in case I could manage to do what I wanted with it, the bookshop (my artistic production, which was already the main distribution point for the publications of the SI) should be declared "anti-situationist." But a few situationists were puzzled by this, and Debord had to explain the "Hegelian" meaning of the remark: the materialisation of the idea was also its alienation. It aspired to be overcome. It would have been somehow a good way of explaining to the public the nature of our anti-situationism! And it would have put the SI's foes in a rather amusing linguistical confusion.
As for me, I needed help, understanding. I wouldn't admit that people didn't understand it, nor the ethics that require you to be strong and winning. But I got out of my problems by myself. Moreover, I saw in their adhesion to "revolution" an ethic or even an aesthetic demand, rather than a necessity. And it didn't lead to a real organic connection with the working class. But my own ideas at the time were probably not free from some kind of "working-class" metaphysics.
My relations with the situationists and Debord went on for a few months after the Quincampoix street conference. The bookshop continued to circulate situationist publications. I couldn't be blamed for having declined the situationists' invitation, as it proved at least my autonomy. But I got the impression of being kept under a suspicious observation, waiting to see how I would manage with what they knew of my problems. It was then that the necessary train of hazards took place and the situation cleared up, in an apparently absurd way, but in a way that always seemed as if it was the manifestation of a necessity.
At the end of May or the beginning of June 1966, Vienet came to the bookstore to take back, without any comment from me or him, the stock of situationist publications; he did not ask me the balance due. This stock was then put at the Librairie du Savoir -- located at 5, Malebranche street, Paris 5e -- at a bookseller who looked more like a middleman and was practising a "discounted" way of selling, and was located less than fifty meters from La Vieille Taupe. Which was, of course, a way of scoffing at me. Today this bookshop still exists. It became the Romanian bookshop in Paris, after having been, long before the fall of Ceaucescu, the Romanian dissidents' bookshop. By which virtue it was a depository for a rich experience of struggles against censorship and totalitarianism.
After that, I always rejected all hostile attacks against the SI, as many as there were, because I never met one that was grounded. And I went on telling all the good I thought of the Situationist International and its publications, and I still think -- notwithstanding the break in the relations between the SI and La Vieille Taupe, and notwithstanding the more general critiques of the understanding of this historical stage, which would mean for me self-criticism.
In the 11th issue of the I.S., published in October 1967, there was the following annoucement --
Misere de la librairie
We had to take back our publications from La Vieille Taupe bookshop. Its owner had too many revolutionary claims to be considered a neutral bookseller toward the writings he displayed, and not enough rigour in his activity to be considered a revolutionary bookseller (allowing the lasting presence and conversations of idiots, and even pro-Chinese).
-- which I immediately postered on the door and inside the bookshop.
I notice that if you "had to" do something, it means that you are not completely sure you have done the right thing; and that the next announcement begins with this sentiment: "More seriously." I also notice that this announcement contains absolutely nothing that I didn't myself tell Debord one day or another. I'll just add that no bookseller, in any circumstances, even without the troubles assaulting me and the psychological weariness they induced, could have avoided the episodic presence of idiots. As for the so-called pro-Chinese who was there: once when Vienet was passing by, Americo was in the store: he had just turned up from Mozambique and was discovering the bookshop. He had not only ceased to be pro-Chinese, but had became a friend, before he became an academic to make a living -- which shows again that, as Trotsky used to say, revolution is a great consumer of men and personalities. I notice, finally, that the list of people, organizations or institutions insulted by the SI -- published later by Raspaud [author's note: who, at the time, was an electoral agent of the French Communist Party] at Editions Champ Libre -- mentions neither La Vieille Taupe nor Pierre Guillaume. To my knowledge, there are no texts in which Debord or any other situationist has criticized La Vieille Taupe before, during, or after May 68. As for the circumstances that provoked the ending of my relations whith Debord, I never heard that Debord himself or any situationist ever talked about it publicly. So I won't say more than what I've said. The Situationist International is no more. I think I'm one of the rare people who have been formally asked to be part of it and refused the invitation.
To be absolutely complete, in 1970 or 1971, Gerard Lebovici came to La Vieille Taupe bookshop (1, Fosses Jacques street) accompanied by Gerard Guegan. The latter wanted to convince Lebovici to create, that is, to finance a publishing house on a new editorial line. I don't know what Guegan had said to him. But Lebovici wanted to meet me, check out the extent to which such a thing was realistic and the existence of a market for the kind of publications they were thinking of. He spent almost an hour at the bookshop, and, it seems, our conversation convinced him to go ahead with the establishment of Champ Libre Editions. Some time later, I decided to close La Vieille Taupe (1972) and thought of publishing at Champ Libre Editions a book on the bookshop's history and the group that operated there. Then a rumour informed me that Debord had some kind of relationship with Champ Libre. Under those circumstances, I wrote him a short letter suggesting we meet, which remained unanswered.
When I decided to raise funds among La Vieille Taupe's friends for the publication of the present review, I -- quoting the date of the editor's postscript in Memoire en defense contre ceux qui m'accusent de falsifier l'histoire [Memoir in defense against those who accuse me of falsifying history], October 27, 1980 -- wrote in my circular, "Twenty years to the day after my meeting with Guy Debord." This mention had only come to my mind because, for the first time in nearly thirty years, I precisely thought of bringing the wolf out of the woods, as it were, by writing a critique of Cette Mauvaise reputation in the first issue of La Vieille Taupe. Three days later, I learned that he commited suicide. I didn't read anything of what the media reported, except an article cut from Le Figaro sent to me by a friend: the testimony of his friend Ricardo Paseyro, which looked true and well-disposed. It confirmed what I had been thinking:
Arranged since long, his suicide doesn't hide any secret: Debord refused to sickness the right to ravish his independence. He wasn't a "mysterious" man: he was a rare person, impossible to tame, constrain or manoeuvre. He wouldn't alienate his freedom to anything -- neither to life, which he loved, nor to death, which he mastered.
I never thought it could be a desperate suicide. But a stoical suicide, since his health was getting ruined, seemed to me in the logic of the life he wanted to live.
I remembered our meetings at the Contrescarpe place. And the matchless and, maybe, typical way he had to leave the table, when the conversation's interest declined, or, rather, threatened to decline. He suddenly greeted everyone. He usually paid for all the drinks, and abruptly disappeared. And all the guests felt dismissed. Unlucky guests at life's banquet!
Marxism knows neither "immortals" nor corpses. With those that are called so by the common oratorical art, life converses.
The violence of passions raised by Debord, and the hatred of the empty writings that attacked him, has always stunned me. As for me, in all the controversies I witnessed, and in all those whose echo reached me, I can't think of an instance in which Debord wasn't totally right! I then tend to believe him in all those cases in which I personally don't have adequate information, before, of course, further verification has been made.
The silence of Debord and the SI on the subjects of me and La Vieille Taupe as well has confirmed to me that the SI wouldn't attack someone without reason or just to hide from itself its own problems, and that the SI had no reason to attack me. Moreover, I never feared reproaches from Debord or the SI. If justified, I would have considered them. If unjustified, they would have revealed Debord's dead angle, his blind spot. The end of his performance. That would have contributed to a surpassing, by oneself or others.
I wasn't unaware of the risk, clearly major and humanly probable, that a justified attack on me could be considered by me to be unjustified. And that my reaction would lead me in fact to join the crowd of my predecessors on the inexorable path into history's trashcan. But the question has become academic. The Situationist International is dissolved. Debord is dead. I don't see from whence an authorised voice could come. And there is no public critique of La Vieille Taupe by Debord!
Until 1979, this silence could be understood by La Vieille Taupe's enemies as being the consequence of mercy shown to an insignificant thing, regarding the estimation of our respective forces since September 1967. Or even as a manifestation of indifference, if not contempt. It's fairly possible. It's true that La Vieille Taupe didn't put anybody in the shade. But the silence of Debord since 1979 (and the public outbreak of the Faurisson affair), that is, during the last sixteen years is much less easy to understand. Besides, I couldn't understand it. And I couldn't find the explanation anywhere.
For the improbable silence of Debord doesn't concern only La Vieille Taupe, but also the entire affair whose negative presence dominated the media and all of society at the end of this century. It concerns again the event that is said to dominate this century's history, to the point of being the founding event of the "post-modern" society in which we live: Auschwitz and the gas chambers. The explanation of this silence cannot come from an impossible ignorance. More precisely, Debord had among his close friends a few more or less consistent [historical] revisionists.
Moreover, when the Faurisson affair broke out in the media (independently of La Vieille Taupe), I reminded Lebovici of our meeting preceding the creation of Champ Libre editions and went to meet him at his huge office on Marboeuf Street to propose the reissue of Le Mensonge d'Ulysse, written by Paul Rassiner, a deportee and member of the antifascist Resistance. Lebovici knew the book and thought it was obsolete; but he hadn't read it, and believed some of the slanders that had been cast on Rassinier. Yet he was sensitive to my explanantions. I hoped at that time, through the publication of this book by Champ Libre, to introduce a bit of reflection and wisdom into a debate that had become ineluctable. During our conversation, a man with white hair was sitting beside his luxurious bureau, a man whom I identified much later, after seeing his photo in one media or another. It was Jorge Semprun, who didn't say a word in the conversation. I left with Lebovici a copy of Le Mensonge d'Ulysse and some documents that he read.
I learned later that the great Spanish Stalinist bourgeois [Semprun] had used all the means in his power, and lies to begin with, to dissuade Lebovici from publishing this edition, which he had actually considered. Three years later, Grasset published What a Nice Sunday by Jorge Semprun, in which the great Stalinist bourgeois revealed to the general public, ad usum Delphini, minimizing and forging the interpretation, what Rassinier had revealed of the internal life of the camps and the Stalinists' role, which couldn't for long stay totally ignored. This book was the occasion for La Vieille Taupe to write a letter to some literary magazine edited by Maurice Nadeau, who had reviewed the book. This letter, buried in the archives of La Vieille Taupe, will be found, rest assured, by the old mole in the end, when the time has come. In the meantime, Lebovici had let me know that it wasn't possible for him to publish Le Mensonge d'Ulysse at Champ Libre editions. I then reissued it by myself, creating again La Vieille Taupe, this time as a publishing house, in far worse conditions than those of the creation of the first bookshop. Published under such conditions, Le Mensonge d'Ulysse had no chance of reaching the general public, but its substitute was launched, and the career of the ex-Stalinist as spectacular deportee had started.
Until 1985, I couldn't exclude the idea that Debord was biding his time. Among all the people life has separated me from, Debord is absolutely the only one whose advice I sometimes missed, even and mostly when I feared it would be hostile. This is so. I never doubted he was correctly informed, nor supposed that he could have become incapable of dialectically deciphering the media's "news" about this affair. And so I refrained from any initiative aimed at sending him the real facts, or requesting an intervention.
When Gerard Lebovici Editions published the Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, I didn't doubt for a second that the time had come, and that Debord had the facts of the situation, including the need to hide temporarily his thought, which, moreover, he revealed at the beginning of the text. So, I naturally published some carefully chosen extracts from this book in the 5th issue of the Annals of Historical Revisionism, an issue that was especially dense and explicitly implicit. I didn't doubt for a moment that those Comments should be followed, in the spirit of Debord, by a gradual elucidation, without which the text would remain deprived of any meaning. The publication of those extracts in this issue of the Annals seemed to me like a contribution to the elucidation for those who were capable of understanding it, and I didn't doubt that Debord himself would before long provide the keys to the kingdom. In my understanding, this publication in any case called for either an approval that could be reasonably gradual and could for some time put up with an accompanying silence, or an abrupt denial that never came!
There was no comment at all.
But anyway, the very content of the extracts published by me doesn't seem to be explainable without the hypothesis of an implicit reference to the [Faurrison] affair. More. The totalitarian world that is described in those extracts -- without reference to the lineaments of the affair, lived from the revisionists' side -- would only be a paranoid exaggeration. On the contrary. There are none of Debord's more extreme proposals that couldn't actually be illustrated by the case of the revisionists, and only by the revisionists, from the lot that has been cast on them. And none of those proposals -- without reference to the lot really cast on revisionism -- wouldn't appear exaggerated or overly-systematic.
Still, I never got from Debord any corroboration of this hypothesis, but a silence that became deafening as time passed. A silence uninterrupted by the passage of the Anti-revisionist Supplement to the Press Law, known as the Fabius-Gayssot Law, which was published in the Journal Officiel on 14 July 1990 and promulgated by Rocard.
On the contrary, instead of getting the expected sign confirming my hypothesis, I much later got -- through revisionists hanging around Debord's immediate circle -- echos of an undeniable hostility toward me, without any reason mentioned, except the categorical expression of this hostility.
(Under these circumstances, I can't help but get lost in conjectures on the interpretation to be given of the passages in Comments on the Society of Spectacle that I published in the famous 5th issue of Annales d'histoire revisionniste (the "little red book"), and that I publish again here to let the reader make up his mind. These passages were printed under the heading "Chronicle of Present Times," with the subtitle "Selected excerpts." We invite the reader, in order to understand the context, to refer to the "little red book" itself, in which nothing was left to chance.)
Guy Debord (selected excerpts from Comments on the Society of the Spectacle
The simple fact of being unanswerable has given what is false an entirely new quality. At a stroke it is truth that has almost everywhere ceased to exist or, at best, has been reduced to the status of pure hypothesis. Unanswerable lies have succeeded in eliminating public opinion, which first lost the ability to make itself heard and then very quickly dissolved altogether. This evidently has significant consequences for politics, the applied sciences, the legal system and the arts. . . .
Spectacular domination's first priority was to eradicate historical knowledge in general; beginning with just about all rational information and commentary on the most recent past. The evidence for this is so glaring it hardly needs further explanation. With consummate skill the spectacle organises ignorance of what is about to happen and, immediately afterwards, the forgetting of whatever has nonetheless been understood. The more important a thing is, the more hidden. . . .
How drastically any absolute power will suppress history depends on the extent of its imperious interests or obligations, and especially on its practical capacity to execute its aims. Ts'in Che Hoang Ti had books burned, but he never managed to get rid of all of them. In our own century Stalin went further, yet despite the various accomplices he managed to find outside his empire's borders, there remained a vast area of the world beyond the reach of his police, where his schemes were ridiculed. With its new techniques now adopted globally, the integrated spectacle has done much better. Ineptitude compels universal respect; it is no longer permitted to laugh at it. In any case, it has become impossible to show that one is laughing.
History's domain was the memorable, the totality of events whose consequences would be lastingly apparent. And thus, inseparably, history was knowledge that should endure and aid in understanding, at least in part, what was to come: "an everlasting possession," according to Thucydides. In this way history was the measure of genuine novelty. It is the interest of those who sell novelty at any price to eradicate the means of measuring it. When social significance is attributed only to what is immediate, and to what will be immediate immediately afterwards, always replacing another, identical, immediacy, it can be seen that the uses of the media guarantee a kind of eternity of noisy insignificance.
The precious advantage which the spectacle has acquired through the outlawing of history, from having driven the recent past into hiding, and from having made everyone forget the spirit of history within society, is above all the ability to cover its own tracks -- to conceal the very progress of its recent world conquest. Its power already seems familiar, as if it had always been there. All usurpers have shared this aim: to make us forget that they have only just arrived.
With the destruction of history, contemporary events themselves retreat into a remote and fabulous realm of unverifiable stories, uncheckable statistics, unlikely explanations and untenable reasoning. For every imbecility presented by the spectacle, there are only the media's professionals to give an answer, with a few respectful rectifications or remonstrations. And they are hardly extravagant, even with these, for besides their extreme ignorance, their personal and professional solidarity with the spectacle's overall authority and the society it expresses makes it their duty, and their pleasure, never to diverge from that authority whose majesty must not be threatened. It must not be forgotten that every media professional is bound by wages and other rewards and recompenses to a master, and sometimes to several; and that every one of them knows he is dispensable.
All experts serve the state and the media, and only in that way do they achieve their status. Every expert follows his master, for all former possibilities for independence have been gradually reduced to nil by present society's mode of organisation. The most useful expert, of course, is the one who can lie. With their different motives, those who need experts are falsifiers and fools. Whenever individuals lose the capacity to see things for themselves, the expert is there to offer an absolute reassurance. Once there were experts in Etruscan art, and competent ones, for Etruscan art was not for sale. But a period which, for example, finds it profitable to fake by chemical means various famous wines, can only sell them if it has created wine experts able to con connoisseurs into admiring their new, more distinctive flavours. . . .
One aspect of the disappearance of all objective historical knowledge can be seen in the way that individual reputations have become malleable and alterable at will by those who control all information: information that is gathered and also -- an entirely different matter -- information which is broadcast. The ability to falsify is thus unlimited. Historical evidence that the spectacle does not need to know ceases to be evidence. When the only fame is that bestowed by the grace and favour of a spectacular Court, disgrace may swiftly follow. An anti-spectacular notoriety has become something extremely rare. I myself am one of the last people to retain one, having never had any other. But it has also become extraordinarily suspect. Society has officially declared itself to be spectacular. To be known outside spectacular relations is already to be known as an enemy of society.
A person's past can be entirely rewritten, radically altered, recreated in the manner of the Moscow trials -- and without even having to bother with anything as clumsy as a trial. Killing comes cheaper these days. Those who run the spectacle, or their friends, surely have no lack of false witnesses, though they may be unskilled -- and how could the spectators who witness the exploits of these false witnesses ever recognise their blunders? -- or false documents, which are always highly affective. Thus it is no longer possible to believe anything about anyone that you have not learned for yourself, directly. But in fact false accusations are rarely necessary. Once one controls the mechanism which operates the only form of social verification to be fully and universally recognised, one can say what one likes. The spectacle proves its arguments simply by going round in circles: by coming back to the start, by repetition, by constant reaffirmation in the only space left where anything can be publicly affirmed, and believed, precisely because that is the only thing to which everyone is witness. Spectacular power can similarly deny whatever it likes, once, or three times over, and change the subject; knowing full well that there is no danger of any riposte, in its own space or any other.
For the agora, the general community, has gone, along with communities restricted to intermediary bodies or to independent institutions, to salons or cafes, or to workers in a single company. There is no such place left where people can discuss the realities which concern them, because they can never lastingly free themselves from the crushing presence of media discourse and of the various forces organised to relay it. Nothing remains of the relatively independent judgement of those who once made up the world of learning; of those, for example, who used to base their self-respect on their ability to verify, to come close to an impartial history of facts, or at least to believe that such a history deserved to be known. There is no longer even any incontestable bibliographical truth, and the computerised catalogues of national libraries are well-equipped to remove any residual traces. It is disorienting to consider what it meant to be a judge, a doctor or a historian not so long ago, and to recall the obligations and imperatives they often accepted, within the limits of their competence: men resemble their times more than their fathers.
When the spectacle stops talking about something for three days, it is as if it did not exist. For it has then gone on to talk about something else, and it is that which henceforth, in short, exists. The practical consequences, as we see, are enormous.
We believe we know that in Greece history and democracy entered the world at the same time. We can prove that their disappearances have also been simultaneous. . . .
Once it attains the stage of the integrated spectacle, self-proclaimed democratic society seems to be generally accepted as the realisation of a fragile perfection. So that it must no longer be exposed to attacks, being fragile; and indeed is no longer open to attack, being perfect as no other society before it. . . .
Wherever the spectacle has its dominion, the only organised forces are those which want the spectacle. Thus no one can be the enemy of what exists, nor transgress the omerte which applies to everything. We have dispensed with that disturbing conception, which was dominant for over two hundred years, in which a society was open to criticism or transformation, reform or revolution. Not thanks to any new arguments, but quite simply because all argument has become useless. From this result we can estimate not universal happiness, but the redoubtable strength of tyranny's tentacles.
Never before has censorship been so perfect. Never before have those who are still led to believe, in a few countries, that they remain free citizens, been less entitled to make their opinions heard, wherever it is a matter of choices affecting their real lives. Never before has it been possible to lie to them so brazenly. The spectator is simply supposed to know nothing, and deserve nothing. Those who are always watching to see what happens next will never act: such must be the spectator's condition. . . .
The primary cause of the decadence of contemporary thought evidently lies in the fact that spectacular discourse leaves no room for any reply; while logic was only socially constructed through dialogue. Furthermore, when respect for those who speak through the spectacle is so widespread, when they are held to be rich, important, prestigious, to be authority itself, the spectators tend to want to be just as illogical as the spectacle, thereby proudly displaying an individual reflection of this authority. And finally, logic is not easy, and no one has tried to teach it. Drug addicts do not study logic; they no longer need it, nor are they capable of it. The spectator's laziness is shared by all intellectual functionaries and overnight specialists, all of whom do their best to conceal the narrow limits of their knowledge by the dogmatic repetition of arguments with illogical authority. . . .
In January 1988 the Colombian drug Mafia issued a communique aimed at correcting public opinion about its supposed existence. Now the first requirement of any Mafia, wherever it may be, is naturally to prove that it does not exist, or that it has been the victim of unscientific calumnies; and that is the first thing it has in common with capitalism.
The publication of these extracts in Annales d'histoire revisionniste was followed by no comment from Debord!
The last extract, from page 72 of the original, is especially interesting. A financial newspaper was and still is called Le Capital. Capitalism has never denied its own existence. On the contrary, as soon as it becomes conscious of itself, through the works of Smith and Ricardo, far from denying its existence, Capital proclaims itself natural and eternal. Debord and I discussed this precise point, and Ricardo's work. But this sentence by Debord would take on its full meaning if you replaced the word "capitalism" by words referring to the ideology and the mono-ethnic organisational structures that pretend to be representatives of the Jewish "community," but who seem to have tied their fate to the development of capitalism, and are nowadays widely involved in its moral rearmament, thanks to a victim ideology of their own.
Should I specify? Some Jews have been the victims of persecution. Nothing was more legitimate than to take it into account and to account for it. Nothing was more legitimate than compassion and, as far as possible, reparation of the victims. I call "victim ideology" the one-sided representation system, apologetic and mythological, through which organisations that pretend to represent the Jewish victims, use, for their own profit and to the benefit of their political plans, the real victims, who become twice victimized!
To repeat: the substitution mentioned above, and this substitution alone, gives meaning to Debord's sentences.
Mister Jean-Marie Le Pen, who does not claim to be a rebel, has been and apparently is still being sued in front of the Republic's law court by members of a B'nai B'rith (Sons of the Alliance) section for having carelessly mentioned the existence of a "Jewish international"! B'nai B'rith is, as it claims, a powerful international freemasonry, exclusively intended for Jews.
These Comments are sure to be welcomed by fifty or sixty people; a large number given the times in which we live and the gravity of the matters under discussion. But then, of course, in some circles I am considered to be an authority. It must also be borne in mind that a good half of this interested elite will consist of people who devote themselves to maintaining the spectacular system of domination, and the other half of people who persist in doing quite the opposite. Having, then, to take account of readers who are both attentive and diversely influential, I obviously cannot speak with complete freedom. Above all, I must take care not to give too much information to just anybody.
Our unfortunate times thus compel me, once again, to write in a new way. Some elements will be intentionally ommitted; and the plan will have to remain rather unclear. Readers will encounter certain decoys, like the very hallmark of the era. As long as certain pages are interpolated here and there, the overall meaning may appear: just as secret clauses have very often been added to whatever treaties may openly stipulate; just as some chemical agents only reveal their hidden properties when they are combined with others. However, in this brief work there will be only too many things which are, alas, easy to understand.
Debord will remain one out of this century's writers whose writings have not been totally in vain. The public will remember this writer for the work of art he made out of his life. And not an ordinary art, but the art of subverting society. It will no doubt be his greatness, even if this inversion keeps him apart from the proletariat's way of being subversive. It will be his limit as well. But nowadays, only stupidity and flabbiness know no boundaries. It would be pure nonsense to reproach Debord for his limits, as long as he doesn't try to impose his own limits upon anyone, and particularly not on the social movement, and it doesn't seem that he ever did. It would be even more nonsensical to blame him for the boundaries of his time. For this reason, I have always refrained from any criticisms of him or of the Situationist International. The only critique it calls for, is to do better and not to say better.
Apart from the personal and direct relations I had with him from October 1960 to May or June 1966, and the indirect relations since then -- about which I believe I have revealed the essential of what should be remembered -- I had with Debord the relations of a reader to a writer. As anybody does. He will continue to last in the twelve issues of Internationale Situationniste, a collective work in which his share was great, indissociable from the group's activity; the book Society of the Spectacle and the Comments on the Society of the Spectacle. Those writings are indissolubly related to a perspective and an attempt at the revolutionary transformation of society, heir to the revolutionary movement of the nineteenth century and the work of Marx, which will remain its symbol, despite the "Marxists." Debord's writings will remain unappreciated and incomprehensible outside of this tradition. I have no specific authority nor any wish to comment on those texts. Nothing that can't be understood by those who can understand. And those who don't understand have an interest in not understanding. No explanation can ever change the nature of their interests, and therefore improve their understanding. One can hardly wish to provide them with explanations, as the interests they serve are not ours. We should take care not to improve their understanding.
I didn't read Debord's Panegyrique. It's a good reason not to talk about it. I'm sure I'll enjoy reading this book, one day.
About Considerations sur l'assassinat de Gerard Lebovici, there isn't much to say, aside from the fact that it tells a lot about Guy Debord, but absolutely nothing about Gerard Lebovici, except for Debord's reaffirmation of the reality of their friendship. As far as I'm concerned, it was a kind of a surprise. I mentioned my meetings with Lebovici. I found absolutely nothing wrong with him. I don't know anything about him, other than what I learned during those encounters. This was not enough for me to find in him the reality of a subversive or revolutionary passion. The use he made of his means doesn't tell us anything about the reality of his passion. He indeed backed the excellent Editions Champ Libre and he backed Guy Debord. But, considering his means, his passion didn't go beyond maintaining a mistress as if he were a more classical bourgeois. I would have better understood if Debord had told us, though I don't share this point-of-view, that the needed money was to be taken wherever it might come from. If such was not the case, let's take note of it. All in all, I prefer the reality of this friendship to the weird relations the contrary would mean, i.e., where the alleged subversive end seems to be used to excuse profitable compromises. But those who never sinned may throw the first stone at Debord. Unlike him, I never proclaimed nor thought that it would be possible to live without compromises. I even don't know what it means.
Without any further explanation or elucidation, the relations between the very rich producer of spectacle, on the one hand, and the subverter of the society of spectacle and theorist of the proletarian revolution, on the other, will remain rather mysterious, and doesn't remove the suspicion of a disturbing ambiguity that justifies legitimate questions.
If you don't learn anything about Lebovici and very little about Debord, the Comments on the Society of the Spectacle provide the opportunity for an amusing review of contemporary journalistic abjection and its unlimited inventive capacities. The descriptions and illustrations given by Debord are worth remembering. As a matter of fact, Debord could force a kind of restraint on those loathsome outbursts by bringing an action against the filthiest, and getting reparation in front of the court. Then he had the opportunity to answer them, through the publication, not confidential, of the Comments.
At the same time, Faurisson and the revisionists were the objects of attacks far more dangerous, and the same sordid media displayed toward them a unanimous and not less dangerous vindication. But the revisionists were denied by the courts even the right to reply, because their answers, even those dealing with verifiable facts, would affect the public order, and also the moral order (Tribunal de Lyon). And the revisionists soon were left without any means by which to answer in the media. And even their confidential answers were made at the risk of a fine and jail.
In this context, Debord's evocation of his own miseries looked slightly out of proportion, and I remember closing his excellent book, from which I learned the town he now lived in, thinking, "He plays Arles Faurisson." [Translator's note: this is a pun on "Faurisson/saucisson d'Arles," that is, Arles sausage]. Everybody knows that Arles gave its name to the famous mass-producted sausage, which, though offered to a large public at a discount, was a satisfying product, cheaper than the "pure pork" products from the small-scale pork butcher tradition.
Then came the opuscule Cette mauvaise reputation. Alas! It was the first time a book by Debord fell from my hands. Not that Debord wasn't again totally right in his remarks against many of his critics. But crossing swords with too many petty adversaries can make you waste your talent and lose its mastery. And even when you have killed all the adversaries that dared to talk about the Situationist International and Guy Debord . . . what a glory! But, for the first time, I felt that Debord wasn't completely right on the subject he treated. The critics of whom he disapproves are not all at the same level and their mixture is not relevant. As for the only critic among those he summons of whom I had a direct knowledge, the extracts Debord gives are not judicious and the image he gives is not comprehensive. Thus his refutation is illusory.
But, in the meantime, Debord had found a new publisher. The Society of the Spectacle, the Comments, and the Considerations on the Assassination of Gerard Lebovici had been republished by Gallimard -- even though, at the end of a text entitled "Correspondence with a publisher," published in the 12th and last issue of I.S. in answer to a rather well-packaged letter from Claude Gallimard, the S.I. concluded, "We told you, you won't get any more situationist books. That's it. Screw you. Forget us."
It was just enough for a crowd of neo-situationist larks to believe that they had proof of Debord's treason. Still, for the last twelve years, there had been no more S.I. and no more situationists. Even if the choice of his new publisher was an explicit denial of the position collectively taken up in 1969, I think that Debord was right to no longer maintain a radical pose that had lost all justification and base, and that, even at the time, was already artificial. It would have been more useful to think about the reasons that allowed a famous publisher to have an open mind about the S.I. In general, a truly subversive writer doesn't have to insult a potential publisher to meet with a refusal. Gallimard agreed to publish those texts without censorship and became by this simple fact a far better publisher than any other, given its reputation. Full stop. Gallimard didn't protest against the censorship law published by the Journal Officiel on 14 July 1990, but no publisher did.
Back to Cette Mauvaise Reputation, which fell from my hands. In the same way that Marx's descriptions of capitalist society and the movement of value, separated from the perspective of the inversion of this society, doesn't bother anybody, Debord's description of the society of spectacle could only be mere lucidity. A lucidity that we won't deny to Guy Debord and that is rare enough to bring him fame, but not sufficient to transform the world. He knew that. And he could, in his time -- this may be the S.I.'s main lesson -- be pitiless towards those who didn't know how to put into acts a would-be opposition to society, which was very fashionable in those days. But by making a show of the way he had been persecuted and of the media's vindictiveness towards him -- and, at the same time, by occulting the infinitely more serious, constant and systematic persecution of the revisionists -- he collaborated with the totalitarian coherence of the spectacle.
This bad reputation he claimed he had in his last text was nothing but a pose. It was artificially maintained. Debord didn't see in time that as a matter of fact, he no longer had a bad reputation. Others had a "bad reputation" and were anathematized by the media, but they needed no artificial effort to become one its victims. The society of spectacle is not looking for lucidity about itself, but it can identify its enemies.
Debord no longer had a "bad reputation."
Society has been thankful to him because he had the wisdom not to see, or not to mention, the central role of Auschwitz in the spectacle. There is no other explanation. Let's think for a moment of what his situation and what his condition would have been if he had taken it upon himself, not to publicly assert a revisionist opinion, but simply to apply to the commemoration of the Holocaust and to the Shoah business the principles of his critique of the spectacle.
There is no text by Debord or by any other historical situationist that attacks or criticizes La Vieille Taupe!
There is no text by Debord or any other historical situationist that attacks or criticizes Faurisson!
There is no text by Debord or any other historical situationist that attacks or criticizes "revisionism"!
But neither is there the slighest criticism or public protest against the persecutions of La Vieille Taupe, Faurisson, and the revisionists. Neither can we find the slighest trace of a deference to the Holocaust or a commemoration of genocide in any of his writings!
To date, two historical situationists have personally and discretely shown me sympathy.
At the end of this century, Debord was able to leave behind him a work whose lucidity is praiseworthy, but which nevertheless missed the "Holocaust" and its negation! In this he realised an uncommon prowess, of which the equivalent might have been in the XIIth, XIIIth or XIVth centuries to describe the social heart of power, but to refuse to see the role of the Catholic Church! He has been the deepest critic of the society of spectacle, and yet without seeing Auschwitz's role in the reign of the Cathodic Church.
An anti-spectacular notoriety has become something extremely rare. I myself am one of the last people to retain one, having never had any other. But it has also become extraordinarily suspect. Society has officially declared itself to be spectacular. To be known outside spectacular relations is already to be known as an enemy of society. Comments on the Society of the Spectacle.
These sentences could be signed today by those revisionists who have some notoriety, and the only notoriety a revisionist has ever had has been negative and anti-spectacular.
Written in FrenchFebruary 1995 by Pierre Guillaume
Published in La Vieille Taupe No. 1, Spring 1995
Translated 17 October 1997 by D.A.
Translation re-published at AAARGH website
Translation edited and commented upon by NOT BORED!