from Guy Debord

To Gianfranco Sanguinetti
15 January 1976
My dear Gianfranco:

At one time or another, excellent men have deceived themselves about their lovers or have been more or less conspicuously and more or less constantly deceived by their stewards, their tailors, their publishers. It is often only a quite small matter and sometimes one even has a real interest in closing one's eyes on this aspect of things, if one considers that the effective services that one receives are greater than the nuisances of diverse and small loses. But if a smiling scepticism, a philosophical indifference or a noble disdain are still permitted in these matters, there is only a single attitude that absolutely and universally discredits you, which makes you quite assuredly play -- in a brilliant way and without possible return -- the role of the most ridiculous imbecile in the world: it is by recounting everywhere the unbelievable and unsupportable improbabilities with which the deceivers have rewarded you, by affirming that that these people appeared to be quite just and very true, although disconcerting in appearance, for the principal reason that they certainly would not have dared to mock a man of such great merit and lucidity. When Mr Nicia rejoiced at the devotion of his wife and the simplicity of Callimaco when it was a question of parrying the perilous secondary effects of the Mandragone,[1] or, for example, when you attempted one day to convince me that Slavia[2] was Russian, intelligent, issued from an elegant social milieu and a libertine, or when your announced to me in your stupid letter of 7 January so many inept impertinences concerning the Italian edition of Censor -- you, too, were a comic personage.

There are, nevertheless, two obvious differences, which are due to aggravated circumstances, between the Florentine example that I evoked and your case: in the former, it was a question of an historical moment in which it was "prohibited to show talent in other work," and, in the latter, you were precisely successful in doing so and this was the precise result that you falsified at that moment. Moreover, it was not a question of your imbecility but your neurosis, and while tranquil imbecility can be shaken by some strong manifestation of reality, neurotic disquiet always tends to reconstruct its own conditions, sometimes by employing a rich subtlety (this was not the case in your letter of the 7th).

Although I am profoundly persuaded that, having arrived at this point of my letter, you have perfectly understood all that I have said, I must make precise one last time our divergences in the debate about the edition.

1) As you yourself have responded to the judge of Catanzaro, I need not furnish materials or juridical proofs (which I do not have and that, in this affair, no one can have). I will simply say that my thesis is already historically demonstrated because any other is manifestly unsupportable.

2) I cannot formulate a precise hypothesis on the real print run of a best-seller[3] -- of this nature and with this sale price -- in Italy. I can definitively say that it cannot be 13,000 copies. Since this number is false, one knows ipso facto that it replaces a real number that is much larger, without being able to say if it is instead around 30,000 or 60,000: the audacious mediocrity of the tally being exactly chosen so as to prevent any slightly serious evaluation. For example, in France during the same year, a book on a burning subject, although less directly interesting to the public of the country (Semprun on Portugal[4]), a book of which no one had spoken and that had no publicity,[5] and this can be considered as the very type of a flagrant and surprising failure (explainable by an anti-revolutionary boycott that Censor certainly did not experience), sold between 5,000 and 6,000 copies. How can this lead one to believe that a book about which all the Italian press had spoken in a period of three months and whose publicity was very well-made -- and not without great expense by the good Mursia[6] -- and which strongly interested the dominant class and even a few Leftists, as you yourself have seen the book on sale at the newsstands, etc., only had twice the number of readers? Or, to consider this strange matter in another way, two or three times fewer readers than On the Poverty of Student Life,[7] over the course of an equally long period, a pamphlet that only had a single Parisian point of sale?[8] (It is true that "Censor" is more expensive, but for a book to which such a scandal draws attention, the price is hardly a factor -- a fact that has hardly existed even once in the last ten years.)

3) The insupportable character of your thesis would be confirmed, if there was need to do so, by the extreme poverty of all the arguments that you have advanced. I do not know who gave you the false idea of procuring for yourself the laughable document produced by the S.I.A.E.,[9] but you seem to have not seen that it is not even a matter of an eminently falsifiable "proof," but literally a non-proof. What does this unfortunate document say? That over the course of the 1st, 3rd and 17th of October [1975], some 13,000 were marked as counted. And afterwards? The only proof that this document provides is that Mursia was one of the book's publishers. The stamps on my passport prove that I visited Italy in 1956, 1957 and 1958. And nothing thereafter. Nevertheless, you saw me there several times after that. What would you think of me if I took exception to your testimony by taxing it with a hallucinatory delirium and by basing myself on this single proof that the circumscribed authority of these stamps constitutes?

4) In no century of the Western world has a serious person has ever believed or even feigned to believe that authors are actually protected against the uncontrollable liberty of publishers in the matter of actual print-runs by some kind of organism (on the contrary, there is such protection in the East, where print-runs are fixed by bureaucrats who do not bear the public [demand] in mind). Authors are only truly protected by their very lack of success, by the books that they do not sell. Meanwhile, the importance of the hidden part greatly varies according to the success of the work and the publishers -- those who have their own distributors who operate "a bischero sciolto"[10] -- and also (in small part) according to what these publishers think of the authors. I am surprised to find out that in Italy, the land of swindling par excellence, the country that invented the lotto, casinos, the Papacy, the mafia and the Medicean system of government characterized by the amalgamation of public funds and private fortunes, there is someone who believes in a joke such as the S.I.A.E., and that this someone is, precisely, you!

5) You cite the fact that few publishers adhere to this mystification as proof of their rigor, which thereby discourages the others. On the contrary: this company can only be at the service of the publishers, the authors being nothing economically. If all the publishers adhered to it, this company would hold the balance equally among them and would tend to reduce all of them to a median rate of falsification. But since the S.I.A.E. only accounts for a few publishers, it is in the service of these publishers that it works. It cannot have Mursia lose money and thus tallies exactly as Mursia demands. For example, a publisher one day sends 15,000 copies to be tallied, by saying to the irresponsible employees: "As is customary, you will read 2,500 on the machine's counter." Are you unaware of the work done by bookkeepers [comptables] in every commercial enterprise? If there existed an "Italian Society of Sheep and Wolves," and a few wolves belonged to it, the two or three stronger wolves would eat more sheep than the others.

6) The reasoning of the Doge that you have related to me is, for once, completely false. Thus I believe that he said it to console you, and that he probably thinks as I do. The number of copies of a book that are sold has strictly no relationship with the number of people who can truly appreciate it -- even when it is a matter of classics and even more so when it is a matter of a book that causes a momentary scandal. In France, we have, over eight years, sold about 50,000 copies of The Society of the Spectacle -- remember: with no publicity, nor visible interest on the part of the newspapers -- and I do not know if there are 500 people who can truly appreciate it, but there certainly are not 5,000 of them. That Censor has not "pleased," I can believe, but this has no relation to the number of readers. You only know that a book has not pleased you when you have read it and thus [already] paid. Moreover, two hundred thousand can want to read a book, precisely because everyone says that it is a revolting ignominy.

In France, in the best case, the translation will reach five times less people than in Italy (in fact, I think it will be ten times less, but I want to allow that the French read twice as much), quite simply because it is a matter of a foreign country and a country about which people are considerably less informed than about others (such as the USA, England, Germany, China, Russia, Portugal and, today, Spain). Therefore, in Italy, the best case has unquestionably been realized. Thus you can know -- only if the best possible case has been realized -- the dimensions of the Italian edition by simple multiplication.

8) One need not know anything of publishing to imagine that Mursia, after claiming such a failure of sales in October-November, would have manifested for your beautiful eyes such an active eagerness about Saint Anselm[11] in December.

9) And, furthermore, in such a world from the beyond of the mirror, did you really believe that there existed a publisher who rushed to secure the rights to a limited edition that had already caused a scandal and that he hoped to make a best-seller,[12] and who completed his print-run in two days and immediately launched a costly publicity campaign in all the newspapers and only printed 5,250 copies? (Only to make another small print-run three days later, when what is the most costly is starting up the machines?)

10) You are completely wrong to believe that Mursia, when deceived you about the numbers, committed a dangerous extravagance, incompatible with your intelligence. Because:

a) he perhaps did it with everyone, more or less clumsily;

b) he is intelligent, because he might think you are stupid, at least concerning certain subjects and in certain cases (your letter of the 7th demonstrated this to me);

c) he saw that Scotti[13] is an idiot and saw how Scotti treated you, and thus Scotti unfortunately involved your reputation;

d) he launched into the conversation several trial-balloons concerning the print runs of which one speaks and concerning their much more modest "reality," and he saw that -- like Scotti before him -- you did not react. Thus he thought that you believed them or that, not believing them, you did not dare to object; and

e) in the current juridical situation, you would have no recourse where he is concerned, and you can only sign the contract that he proposes to you (if not, reasoning like [Alfred] Jarry, he would not pat Scotti, because your contract with him is null and void, nor with you, since you have no contract with him, whereas he has a fake contract with Scotti!). In any case, this is of little importance; the nuances of the percentage of the author's rights being futile when it concerns the percentage of the actual print run that has been so greatly reduced. The only interesting asset that remains to be saved is this: guard all the rights for all foreign countries, including those concerning Saint Anselm, and not only with respect to the French edition. Since you did not sell the foreign rights for Censor to Scotti, do not sell them this time either (you will receive a contract from Champ Libre: send it back signed, and you alone will be able to draw upon the totality of author's rights in France).

Finally, I return to the most important things. The problem hardly had any importance, but the manner in which you responded was full of problems. Located thanks to the Doge, Scotti was the indispensable element that allowed you to realize a magnificent operation. But your pretentious stupidity, and the way it made you small, ended up not only stealing from you, but also directly insulting you, and especially hurt the follow-ups to the [Censor] operation. But by chance Scotti found Mursia (who immediately knew that he had found a treasure[14]). Mursia surely saved the follow-up, and helped you disentangle yourself from Scotti. He was polite to you, another advantage. No doubt, he robbed you: because, seeing you spring up in Scotti's place, he did not think it was necessary for him to change the fruitful manner in which he had already decided to present the accounting (the accounting from the S.I.A.E. was destined for Scotti, not you). Was this not an honest compromise? I find that the success of the operation -- which encountered great obstacles from the beginning -- was quite worth the inconveniences concerning the author's rights.

No doubt, when one presented to you several sophisms that would have been better to repel with laughter, one could think that a certain air of ingenuity had converged to aggravate the more or less unavoidable restrictions on the author's rights to a best-seller whose editorial ownership knew such adventures from the cradle. But this was not the most serious thing, far from it. What was truly serious was the fact that, instead of admitting the truth with an elegance that would have been easy for you at that conjuncture (because your satisfaction with the whole would have been justified), you took pride in denying that truth. So as not to admit that you were manifestly deceived about a single detail, you proudly made yourself the champion of this deception and thus you displayed -- by compromising the seriousness that you brought to the writing of The Veritable Report -- all the infantile unreality that you had to admit that you engaged in during the process of publication and in affairs in general, that is to say, all of the ineptitudes that you took as your own responsibility, you who had exactly no interest in doing so at the time! ("After a stupidity, men ordinarily engaged in a hundred other ones so as to hide the first . . .")[15] You prefer to believe, and make it believed, that, finally, the entire operation had run aground (because it is certain that, if the book had only reached ten thousand readers, it would only have the most minimal political importance). You said this to the Doge, to me, to everyone, I suppose. Do you thus believe you can make yourself to be esteemed a serious interlocutor in no matter what affair?

You resemble a voyager going to London who, having barely left Lucques,[16] is robbed of all his money, except for a hundred Lira, by pleasant thieves who have told him that, by letting him have the Lira, he has enough to go as far as London. And our man, so as not to confess that he was robbed while in transit, as has happened to so many other travelers, recounts to everyone that a hundred Lira were sufficient for his trip to London, which reveals an extraordinary ignorance of the world and thus exposes him thereafter to all forms of scorn and danger.

You have never said, to whomever you have discussed this affair: "It was a great success, as everyone sees; as far as the print-run is concerned, I never believed a word of what the publishers said, especially those that belong to the S.I.A.E., with the result that I have no precise idea about the actual print-run; no matter, I did not do this to cash in on the author's royalties."

But I have the sad impression of wasting my time by giving you advice. The people at Epoca who associate you with the series of anonymous people who have obtained "a similar success" will laugh heartily when they learn that you have had the naivete to believe that this means ten thousand readers for you and twenty thousand for the others.

I will only suggest to you, to the extent that this might concern me, that you do not at this time press me for contacts involved in cinematographic production,[17] because the certainty of you being manipulated by everyone involved accumulates due to all your motivations. It can happen that, in several weeks, the consequences of the success via Saint Anselm[18] will impose themselves in a quite flagrant fashion so that your blunders are actually surpassed. But as I see you are still resolved to commit other blunders, in the same style and for the same reasons, you must realize that for every occasion -- for any operation in which I might be implicated -- it will henceforth be necessary to discuss it with me and I will be difficult to convince.[19]

An Italian distributor of my preceding film[20] can be found because we have nothing to lose by doing so. And I would even say that, in these conditions -- returning to Mursia's excellent idea concerning the possible and useful coincidence between the releases in Italy of the book and the film -- it is only hypothetically that I want to be published by Mursia and at a moment in which an Italian distributor can be found for the film (thus I show that one can only deceive me on one point by finding for myself compensations in another). But it is fitting to be much more prudent in any future cinematographic project. As it is dangerous in A Midsummer's Night's Dream to disguise oneself as a lion, because one risks being treated like a real lion, it is dangerous in all affairs to disguise oneself as "anima sciocca."[21] In any case, take care not to sell the cinematographic rights for Censor to Mursia or anyone else.

With fatigue,

[1] These names come from the comedy by Machiavelli.

[2] An adventuress who ran aground in Florence, surnamed Slava, then Slavia.

[3] Translator's note: English in original.

[4] The Social War in Portugal by Jaime Semprun.

[5] Translator's note: see letter dated 24 June 1975.

[6] Ugo Mursia, the Italian publisher of "Censor."

[7] Published in 1966.

[8] The Cluny newsstand, boulevard Saint-Michel.

[9] The Italian Society of Authors and Publishers.

[10] Translator's note: with a lack of reflection and casualness.

[11] Proofs of the Inexistence of Censor by his Author, which revealed the identity of the author.

[12] Translator's note: English in original.

[13] Censor's first publisher.

[14] Allusion to a Florentine saying: "When you find a dupe, you have found a treasure."

[15] Translator's note: this is a quote from "Censor."

[16] A town mocked by the Florentines.

[17] Translator's note: see letter dated 10 August 1974.

[18] Translator's note: Proofs of the Inexistence of Censor by his Author.

[19] Translator's note: though it would take two years for it to come, this was the beginning of the end of Debord's close relationship with Sanguinetti.

[20] Translator's note: Refutation of All Judgments, Either Full of Praise of Hostile, That Have Been Made to Date About the Film "The Society of the Spectacle" (1975).

[21] "simple soul," an allusion to Pier Soderini, who was mocked by Machiavelli.

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 5: Janvier 1973-Decembre 1978 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2005. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! April 2007. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted.)

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