from Guy Debord

To Asger Jorn
Thursday, 17 June [19]71
Dear Asger:

Here is the text that I proposed to you.[1] Modify it or add other things as you see fit. If you need me to correct the French, send me the new text.

To consider the question well, and especially to see the origin and destination of Pour la forme [On Form], there's no doubt that the principal problem to treat in this note is that of the relations between this book and the SI.

Thus, I believe that it is good that, against the enthusiastic sectarianism that has developed around the SI, this note expounds the most recent positions that the SI has affirmed (in the next issue of its journal).

So On Form has had a strange destiny: it appeared just before the SI and it is re-published at the moment when this form of organization -- which had been very necessary -- begins to supercede itself in a more vast movement, because, fortunately, conditions have changed. The editions of this book open and close this organizational parenthesis!

It seems quite good to me, right from the start, to put one's foot in one's mouth by recalling that this book has had few readers since 1958. These readers were a quite dissimulated elite. Thus, new readers will find in it enough that is surprisng and instructive that it can pass from total obscurity to a pocket book [English in original]!

You can see from the attached clipping that Conil-Lacoste[2] now says "Jorn and Appel," despite the facts that Appel has the seniority of his columns and alphabetical order in his favor.

Concerning the typographical mistakes in On Form, it is necessary to note that the M.I.B.I.[3] wasn't founded in 1933 but [19]53. There are surely several other mistakes. I will gladly re-read the proofs.

Cordially yours.
We embrace Nanna,

Note for the edition of 1971

At the moment that this book is being re-published in a widely accessible edition, it is fitting to provide several specifications concerning the date and the conditions of its first edition, which appeared completely unnoticed. Very few people, several hundred at most, read it back then; and its possible influence remained purely subterranean.

On Form was published in Paris in July 1958 by the Situationist International, which then had existed for a year and of which the author is to be honored for being one of the founders. Nevertheless, with the exception of an article on automation, simultaneously published in the first issue of Internationale Situationniste, the texts that compose this book belong to the preceding period, starting from the dissolution of the Cobra movement. Nothing has been modified in the current edition, except several typographic mistakes.

Precisely because the experiment that developed since the end of the 1950s involved a considerable transformation of ideas, today the public follows with difficulty the ideas of the improverished people who dominate the cultural and social conceptions of this era and the youth have great difficulty imagining them. One will comprehend the meaning of this book by considering what it combats: functionalism, and the aesthetic and moral conventions that correspond to the general market of a society that tends to the reduction of all creative autonomy. Since then [1958], one has seen this process in its results. And in its contestation.

In the last few years, an opinion has often been stated, according to which the Situationist International has forsaken the field of its first preoccupations so as to become a political revolutionaary movement. This seems inexact if one considers, on the one hand, that the bases and the problematic on which the SI was formed (and this book can testify to several of these aspects) were immediately social and expressed the necessity of a profound upheaval; on the other hand, that what one previously called revolutionary politics is no longer the same thing that it once was, that is, after the situationists passed through it. If the SI has normally been obliged to struggle on the most central terrain, against the conditions of censorship and incomprehension that obviously do not allow it another possibility of affirmation other than revolution, one must estimate that it has not abandoned the general radicalism that was at its origin and that provides an explanation for its success. For the rest, one hasn't remarked enough until now the effacicty of the SI's language. It is certainly the situationists' reflection on form and language in the most general sense of the word -- and quite far from the reductive reflections that have been in fashion for twenty years among the professionals of exhausted expression -- that have culminated in the SI's use of language with a new force, from which it has drawn its capacity to attain the practical consequences.

Although the author hasn't been a member of the organized situationist movement since 1962, he remains in permanent sympathy for all that the SI has done. Without doubt, situationist ideas will go well beyond this delimited organization, however indispensible its role has been, and precisely because it always spoke for the autonomy of all. These ideas are already mixed up in and will not cease to develop themselves in the new game that now insists upon the total detournement of existing conditions.


[1] The text anticipated for a new edition of On Form by Asger Jorn (Paris, 1958), which didn't come out. A pirate facsimile edition appeared in 1979 with no indication of its publisher, before being reprised in 1985 in Documents relative to the foundation of the Situationist International, 1948-1957, Editions Allia. [Translator: Debord wrote this preface for Jorn because the latter's French wasn't good enough.]

[2] Michel Conil-Lacoste, chronicler of contemporary art for World of the Arts from 1953 to 1975.

[3] International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, founded in 1953 (in reaction to the new Ulm Bauhaus, founded by the architect Max Bill).

(Published in Guy Debord, Correspondance, Volume 4, 1969-1972. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! July 2005.)

To Contact NOT BORED!
ISSN 1084-7340.
Snail mail: POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998