Translator's introduction to

Words and Bullets: The Condemned of the Lebovici Affair

At 6:30 pm on 5 March 1984, Gerard Lebovici -- a prominent Parisian film producer and publisher -- left his office and went to meet someone who claimed in a telelphone call received earlier in the day to be acting on behalf of Sabrina Mesrine. Lebovici was very close to Sabrina, who was the daughter of the infamous bank-robber Jacques Mesrine, who'd been killed in a police ambush in 1979. Not only had Lebovici officially adopted Sabrina as his daughter, but he'd also reprinted her father's book, L'instinct de mort, which had been suppressed by the Ministry of Justice several years earlier.

Two days later, on 7 March 1984, Lebovici's body was found, sitting at the wheel of his car, which was parked in an underground parking lot on Avenue Foch. He'd been shot in the back of the head. None of his money had been taken; he'd only been robbed of his identity papers. The crime clearly looked to be a murder, an ambush, an assassination. But who did it, and why? The police claimed that Lebovici had in one of his pockets a note bearing the word "Francois," but this "clue" was either too general or too specific. Francois is a very common name in France; but it is also the first name of one of Jacques Mesrine's associates, Francois Besse.

Significantly, when it picked up the story, which was the same day the crime was announced by the police, the French press didn't mention the obvious: namely, the distinct possibility that police officers had killed Gerard Lebovici because of his relationship with the Mesrine family. Fueled by leaked police files and a golden opportunity to satisfy old grudges dating back to May 1968, the French press dwelled on Lebovici's long-standing interest in the Situationist International, especially its central figure, Guy Debord.

Lebovici met Debord in 1971; the pair became close friends soon after. In a typically generous fashion, Lebovici "supported" Debord: Champs Libre reprinted Debord's book La Societe du Spectacle in 1971; Lebovici created Simar Films so that Debord could produce his cinematic version of La Societe du Spectacle in 1973; and Lebovici bought a small theatre in Paris ("Studio Cujos") so that Spectacle and Debord's other films could be screened in a friendly environment.

On 10 March 1984, Debord himself was questioned for a few hours by the Parisian police at Floroana Lebovici's apartment. The French press implicated Debord and the Situationists in "l'affaire de Lebovici." During March 1984 alone, 19 different newspapers and magazines printed a total of 33 reports that sensationalised Lebovici's relationship with Debord, and speculated upon the nature of their respective personalities and "motives." The harange became so hateful (several reports implied that the ex-Situationist had ordered Lebovici's execution), Debord was forced to sue several papers for libel. His suit was successful, and four papers -- L'Humanite, published by the French Communist Party, Minute, a right-wing daily, Le Journal du Dimanche, a national newspaper published on Sundays, and Paris-Match -- were forced to pay damages to Debord and to run the judgment for libel in their respective pages.

In January 1985, with the murder still unsolved, Debord wrote Considerations sur l'Assassinat de Gerard Lebovici, which was published later in the year by Editions Gerard Lebovici (founded by Gerard's wife, Floriana). Three years later, Debord wrote Commentaires sur la societe du spectacle, which was a bitter and somehat obscure restatement of La Societe du Spectacle in the light of the events of the intervening 20 years, especially the Lebovici affair. But while Commentaires was quickly translated into English (Verso, 1991), Considerations wasn't translated until 2001.

As a result of the lag in time, relatively few people in English-speaking, post-situationist milieus know very about Gerard Lebovici, his (still unsolved!) murder, or what role it plays in the mood, style and subject matter of Debord's later works: Commentaires, Panegyrique (1989, an autobiography, published in translation by Verso in 1993), and Cette mauvaise reputation (1993, still not translated).

The Tam Tam version of Debord's Considerations on the Assassination of Gerard Lebovici is worth reading. Robert Greene's translation is pretty good; and his introduction and footnotes are very helpful. Though somewhat expensive ($15) for a small paperback, the book itself is very well-produced: a good cover, nicely designed pages, a good reproduction of Guy's photograph, very few typos, and a nice, durable binding.

But before you read Debord's Considerations you should read "Les Mots et Les Balles: Les Condamnes de l'Affaire Lebovici," which also waited a very long time before it was finally translated into English. It was published as an anonymous pamphlet in Paris in August 1984. In a very brief letter dated 19 June 1985 and addressed to Jean-Francois Martos, who later reprinted it in Correspondence avec Guy Debord (published 1998, but withdrawn after Debord's wife, Alice-Becker Ho, sued for copyright infringement), Guy Himself referred to "Les Mots" as "a new way of responding to me, by responding to another, but after a delay of nine months -- what a beautiful baby!" Debord appears to be congratulating Martos (the "father" of "Les Mots") because, exactly nine months after his "baby" was published as a pamphlet, it had been reprinted in a well-known journal. . . .

In any event, chronologically speaking, "Words and Bullets" came before Considerations, and it's clear that Debord read the pamphlet before he started writing his own statement. The two texts cover similar ground and quote many of the same press reports. It's likely that, when Debord writes in Considerations that "I've been told that [Regis Debray] stated on television that . . . one 'out of two intellectuals on the left' had read my writings," he's referring to the account originally published in "Words and Bullets."

-- NOT BORED! 29 August 2003
Minor corrections (thanks to John McHale) 6 August 2007

(To read Herve-Claude Lapidaire's hostile review of "Words and Bullets," published on May 1985 by a newspaper that claimed to be "libertarian," click here.)

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