from Guy Debord

To the Encyclopedie des Nuances[1]
Monday, 16 September 1985
Dear friends:

We have received, in a burst, the books -- for the young and older readers --, the texts, the photos, the apples, the preserves, etc. etc. So many beautiful presents I see here assembled . . . O splendid new world that counts identical owners of country estates![2]

The note on Machiavelli's detractor[3] is good, except for the seventh line, which is obscure. But on the most general plane, I believe that the comrade Encyclopedists must hold a work meeting on the theme, "Must one take care to limit a little, in quantity, the recourse to the ironic tone?" You handle irony willingly because you use it with talent and pleasure. And because there is truly enough of it, certainly! But here are the arguments against it, not in the absolute sense, of course.

1) Irony throughout a text generally tends to involve longer phrases, carrying more comparisons and allusions. All things being equal, irony requires more culture on the part of the reader.

2) It makes a more powerful effect by fits and starts than by a continuous flow (one must say the same thing about direct insults, which are the contrary of irony).

3) Our epoch, through stupidity and lack of culture, and even more profoundly by its mechanical manner of only conceiving of a positive adhesion to all that exists, can hardly understand irony; and tendentially is the process of losing the dimension, the concept.

4) Irony is a slightly surpassed, objectively, by the unilateral crudeness of the march of the world towards its ruin.

5) Finally, and here we again find the meaningful question of the "embittered," your irony -- given the nuances of which you speak -- will inevitably be bitter, it must be so, and in this sense it risks not causing the enemy discomfort, as had been the case a hundred, even twenty years ago. The enemy no longer has any terrain in common with us, even on the plane of formal logic. He would say: while the malcontents ironize bitterly, we pollute the world more each day, we fucking modernize it and we make up to 25,000 N.F.[4] per month, without counting six-month-long symposia in Tokyo and Los Angeles. Now that's something!

To the profit of what other tone would it be necessary to decrease the place of irony? This is simple. The tone that must be quickly and scandalously expanded in the Encyclopedia must inevitably be critique with a hatchet (Nietzsche spoke of [critique with] "hammer blows"), the menacing denunciation, invective prophecy ad hominem. Finally, it is necessary to boast of having unmasked our enemies and, by this, already putting them in danger. The syllogism is simple: no one anywhere says what we say. Thus, it is necessary that there is a vital interest in hiding such importance evidence. Therefore we have succeeded in enunciating such evidence to their misfortune.

Rewriting Abat-faim[5] would be very easy.[6] One would only need to turn into a harmonious discursive exposition what has been made with telegraphic notes and parentheticals (nothing prohibits the use of a single parenthesis in the text or changing its ordering).

I would love to receive the "provisional calendar" of future concepts to be treated, which evokes the fourth installment of the EdN.

We will leave here for Arles at the beginning of next week. Around the 15th or 20th of October, we will be in Paris. If you are there and if, as is probable, we travel by car, we can swerve by your fiefdom.

Best wishes,

P.S. Madame Shanghai[7] has concluded that she must have the wrong telephone number for Besanceuil. Send us the right one.

Abat-faim (Hunger Abatement)

One knows that this term designated an "entree that one at first served to appease, to abate the first hunger of the dinner guests" (Larousse). In their dictionary, Hatzfield and Darmesteter qualified it an "antiquated." But history is the infallible master of dictionaries. With the recent progress of technique, the totality of nourishment that modern society consumes has come to uniquely constitute hunger abatement.

Extreme degradation of nourishment. At first, its taste. The product of the chemistry that has massively imposed itself in agriculture and [animal] breeding; secondarily, certain probable uses of the new practices of preservation (freezing and rapid de-freezing), or simply the possibility of stockpiling in any kind of conditions (beer). The logic of the commodity: quantitative pursuit of any economy of time and of the costs of labor and materials (factors that diminish profits so much). The qualitative does not count, here as elsewhere. One substitutes for it diverse ideological advertisements, the governmental laws imposed in the name of so-called hygiene or simply guaranteed appearance ([color-]calibrated fruits), so as to obviously favor the concentration of production, which best communicates the normative weight of the new vile product. At the end of the process, the monopoly over the market aims at only leaving a choice between the hunger-abater and hunger itself.

The essential utility of the modern commodity is that it can be sold (by one of the miracles of which it has the secret, and by the mediation of capital, it can "create jobs"). And henceforth it can no longer be consumed, digested. The flavor, the smell, the very touch are abolished to the profit of the lures that permanently mislead seeing and hearing. From whence comes the general retreat of sensuality, which goes hand-in-hand with the extravagant retreat of intellectual lucidity (which at the root begins with the loss of reading and the greatest part of vocabulary). For the voter who drives his car and watches his television, no kind of taste has any kind of importance: this is why one can eat Findus, vote for Fabius and read Bernard-Henri Levy.[8]

This phenomenon, which is global and at first affected all of the economically advanced countries, and which soon after affected the countries subjected to the retardation of the same process, can be dated with precision. Although announced by gradual modifications, the turning point showed itself very brusquely over the course of two or three years. It took place in France, for example, around 1970 (about ten years earlier in Northern Europe and ten years later in Southern Europe).

The bourgeoisie has long said: "There was history, but no longer" (Marx). It now says: "There was taste, but no longer." Such is the last look[9] of the society of the spectacle, and any individual look, so plugged in that it wants itself, can only be plugged in to itself, because it is this society that holds all of the networks.

Who has wanted things to come to this? Formerly, no one. Since the Physiocrats,[10] the bourgeois project was to explicitly improve, quantitatively and qualitatively, the products of the land (which one knew to be relatively more immutable than the products of industry). This project was actually realized during the 19th century and beyond. The critiques of capitalism have sometimes been more preoccupied with greater quality. In particular, [Charles] Fourier, who was very favorable to pleasures and passions, and was a great prospective buyer of pears, expected from the harmony soon to come a progress in the gustative varieties of this fruit. On this point, he was deceived.

The Nuisances [nuisances] of the hunger-abater are not limited to all that it suppresses, but extends to all that it carries with it by the very fact that it exists (this schema can be applied to each new product of the old world). In any case, food that has lost its taste presents itself as perfectly hygienic, dietetic and healthy in comparison to the adventures risked in the pre-scientific forms of nourishment. But it lies cynically. It contains an improbable dose of poisons (the celebrated Union Carbide factory[11] produced its powerful products for agriculture), but it favors all sorts of deficiencies in excess (through the suppression of oligo-elements, etc.) of which one measures the results in the public's health after the fact. The lawful in the treatment of food, although frightening, is accompanied, as a bonus, with a tolerated share of the unlawful and the frankly unlawful that nevertheless exists (doses of excess hormones in veal, etc.). One knows that the principal widespread cancer in the United States is not the one that produces its delights in the lungs of the smokers of polluted tobacco or the inhabitants of the even-more polluted towns, but the one that nibbles away at the bowels of President Reagan and the [other] diners of his species.

The widespread practice of hunger-abatement is equally responsible for the famines among the peripheral peoples who are more absolutely subjected, if one dare say so, to the worldwide capitalist system. The technique is simple: the food-producing cultures are eliminated by the worldwide market, and the peasants in the so-called underdeveloped countries are magically transformed into unemployed workers in the shantytowns that are experiencing galloping expansion in Africa and Latin America. One is not unaware that the fish that were collected and eaten in great quantities by the Peruvians are now monopolized by the owners of the advanced economies, to nourish the fowl that they put on the market there (to efface the fishy taste, obviously without restoring some other taste of any kind, one needs acroleine, a very dangerous chemical product that the inhabitants of Lyon -- in whose midst this chemical is made -- do not know, as much as consumers as neighbors of the manufacturer, but which they will not fail to know, one of these days, in a catastrophic light). The specialists in world hunger (there are many of them and they work hand-in-hand with other specialists who are hired to make it believed that the abundant delights of what one calls "great grub" reign, which is an idea wolfed down by middle-level executive and all those who want to believe in their own "promotional" happiness) communicate to us the results of their calculations: the planet will produce even more cereals and so no one will suffer from hunger, but what troubles this idyll is the fact that the "rich countries" excessively consume half of these cereals in the feeding of their livestock. But when knows the disastrous taste of the butcher's shop meat that has been quickly fattened on cereals, can one really speak of the "rich countries"?

Surely not. It is not to make us in sybaritism[12] that a part of the planet must die from famine; it is to make us live in mud; but the voter loves what flatters him, by reminding him that he has a slightly hard heart to live so well while remote countries fatten themselves with their children, stricto sensu. What is nevertheless pleasant to the voter in this discourse is the fact that one tells him that he lives richly. He loves to believe it.

Not only medicine, but nourishment, like so many other things, have become state secrets. One recalls that one of the strongest objections against democracy, at the time when the proprietary classes were still formulating them -- because, not without reason, they still feared what actual democracy meant for them --, was the evocation of the ignorance of the majority of the people, which was an actually unacceptable obstacle for them to know and conduct their affairs on their own. Today, the owners believe themselves quite reassured by the recently discovered vaccines against democracy or, rather, the residual, small dosage of it that one claims to guarantee us: because the people are as ignorant of what is on their plates as they are of the mysteries of the economy, the discounted performances of strategic weapons, the subtle "societal choices" proposed so that one makes the same ones and starts again, and the secret uses of the special services, that is, the special uses of the secret services.

When the secret thickens on one's plate, it is not necessary to believe that everyone is ignorant of everything. But the experts must not spread dangerous truths in the spectacle. They keep quiet. All find their interest in doing so. And the real, isolated individual who does not have confidence in his own tastes nor in his own experiences, can only have confidence in the socially organized deception. Could a union say this? It could not say what would be irresponsible and revolutionary. Unions defend in principle the interests of salaried workers in the framework of the salariat.[13] For example, it defends "their bacon."[14] But it is abstract bacon (today "their work," which the unions defend or, rather, do not defend, is even more abstract). When real bacon has already disappeared, these specialists do not see that it has disappeared, at least not officially. Because bacon still exists clandestinely, made from livestock raised without chemicals, and sold at obviously elevated prices; but to reveal its simple existence would strongly shake the columns of the temple of "contractual politics."

The abstract consumption of abstract commodities obviously has its laws in the regulations of that which calls itself the "Common Market," though these laws do not function too well. Such abstract consumption is even the principal actual reality of this institution. All historical traditions must disappear and abstraction must rule in the general absence of quality (see the article entitled Abstraction[15]). All the countries obviously do not have the same characteristics (geographical and cultural) in their foodstuffs. To limit oneself to Europe: France had the worst beer (except in Alsace), very bad coffee, etc. But Germany drank good beer, Spain drank good chocolate and good wine, Italy good coffee and good wine. France had good bread, good wine, many fowl and beef. In the framework of the Common Market, everything must be reduced to an equality of polluted merchandise. Tourism plays a certain role here; on the spot, the tourist gets used to the poverty of the commodities that are polluted precisely for him. (The tourist is the one who is treated everywhere as badly as he is at home: he is the displaced voter.)

In the period that immediately preceded the 1789 Revolution, one recalls how many working-class riots broke out following then-moderate attempts to falsify bread and how many audacious experimenters were immediately hanged before they could explain their reasons for doing so, which were surely very good. Different times, different morals; or, said better, the benefits that class society draws from its heavy spectacular equipment -- technical apparatuses and personnel -- pay off the inevitable costs fully. Thus, nearly ten years ago, when one saw bread disappear from France, to be replaced almost everywhere with pseudo-bread (flour unsuitable for making bread, chemical yeasts, electric ovens), not only did this traumatic event not lead to some kind of protest and defense movement -- as recently happened in support of the so-called free school -- but, literally speaking, no one said anything about it.

There are epochs in which lying is nearly without danger [for the liar] because the truth no longer has friends (this remains a simple hypothesis, apparently hardly serious, that one cannot or does not want to verify). Almost no one co-habits with the truth. (And what about pleasure? In any case, modern architecture has suppressed it in its vast sphere of action.) If pleasure was produced by spectacular possessions [jouissances], one could say that consumers are happy to the extent that they can find images to graze upon. The dangerous dialectic returns elsewhere. Because one sees that all the dominations of this world decompose. While critique spares all of their administrators, the results of these dominations are fatal. This is the syndrome of the fatal sickness of the end of the 20th century: the society of classes and specializations, through a constant and omnipresent effort, acquires an immunization against all the pleasures. This society will die from AIDS.

[1] Translator's note: The Encyclopedia of Nuisances. Founded by Christian Sebastiani and Jaime Semprun in 1984.

[2] Translator's note: detournement of William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene 1, lines 182-184.

[3] Jacques Heers, professor of Medieval History at the University of Paris IV, declared that "the author of The Prince was in fact only an obscure bureaucrat, an arriviste and opportunist."

[4] Translator's note: New Francs.

[5] See below.

[6] Translator's note: the published version, which we have translated and posted here, is slightly different from this one.

[7] Alice [Becker-Ho].

[8] Translator's note: Laurent Fabius was a French politician (Socialist Party); Findus a manufacturer of food products that contain genetically modified organisms; and Bernard-Henri Levy a "New Philosopher."

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

[10] Translator's note: The Physiocrats were a group of French Enlightenment thinkers of the 1760s who surrounded the French court physician, Francois Quesnay. They proposed to advance the interests of agriculture by adopting a system of economic freedom.

[11] Translator's note: On 2 December 1984, an explosion due to the leakage of 40 tons of methyl isocyanide from a large chemical factory operated by the multinational Union Carbide in Bhopal (India) killed more than 7,000 people.

[12] Translator's note: in an ancient Greek city in Italy, the Sybarites indulged in sensuous luxury.

[13] Translator's note: the word Debord uses, salariat, is a neologism that designates the proletariat of salaried workers.

[14] Translator's note: The word Debord uses here is bifteck, which means "beefsteak." But we followed the popular expression "bringing home the bacon" instead.

[15] Translator's note: also written by Guy Debord, published without attribution in the Encyclopedia of Nuisances in June 1987 and translated from the French by NOT BORED!

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 6: Janvier 1979-Decembre 1987 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2006. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! May 2007. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted.)

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