from Guy Debord

To Malcolm Imrie
28 June 1990
Dear Malcolm Imrie:

It is a pleasure to discover a translator as attentive as you are. I will respond to your questions point by point.

1) Sun-Tzu. The translation that I have used was the first to appear in Europe, in the 18th century. Made by a French Jesuit[1] who seems to have been a classical Latinist, this translation has the effect of strongly emphasizing the relationship with the dialectical thought of Machiavelli and even that of Clausewitz, who was still to come. On the contrary, when one reads the Samuel B. Griffith version (which currently dominates the French market, re-translated from the English by F. Wang), one believes instead that one is reading the strategic thought of Captain Liddell Hart, whose interest derives from a very different interpretation. I also suppose that the Chinese material selected to establish the text itself is frequently not the same. Thus, translate from the French.[2] I cannot provide you with any further references because -- the inverse situation[3] -- I am now sojourning in the country, where I keep my classics, but the majority of my books on strategy are in Paris, alas.

2) As you please.[4]

3) I do not understand "con connoisseurs." The French word cave is a very harsh and scornful word in the argot of the dangerous classes that means a) someone who has a lawful job; b) thus someone who does not know the finer things of life; c) in short, someone who will always be duped. One tells me that the English equivalent might be gull. As you have noted, I am also playing on the proper meaning of the cellar [cave] in which one stores wine. But the important thing is the scorn that this cant[5] carries, especially when utilized in a "well written" text.

4) Quotation of an Arab proverb[6] that perfectly summarizes the historic thought that this civilization would then develop around our fourteenth century. The French historian Marc Bloch has cited it at least twice (notably in his Feudal Society).

5) This must be exact. I am especially thinking of a project that studied the construction of two "tunnels" in the under-the-English-Channel style, but crossing underneath the city of Paris, so as to activate the slightly too slow automobile traffic in it. These tunnels would have had many surface entrances.

6) Your translation seems suitable. The word[7] and also the history of this innovation, which was quite scandalous, can be found in the Memoirs of Cardinal de Retz (page 467 in the Peiade edition). The debate took place in Parliament in December 1649.

7) Good.[8]

8) At the Poitiers hospital in 1984 and no doubt before then, [several] doctors -- due to professional rivalries -- killed patients during the surgical procedures of their colleagues so as to spite them. The technique they used was to reverse the oxygen and nitrogen tubes during resuscitation (which briefly brought celebrity to the serious trade of the "anesthesiologist-resuscitator"). Archambeau, clearly innocent, was acquitted. The obscure question of who was guilty was never revived.

9) Yes, it is from Marx.[9]

10) The battle is Waterloo. But especially the "Grouchy or Bluecher" dilemma (expressing a surprising disappointment) comes from a long poem by [Victor] Hugo called "The Expiation," which was long famous and which one generally laughs at, I believe. Much further in the same poem, and as Napoleon sees that the affair will turn out badly: "Let's go, send in the Guard, he cried." We have already spoken of the meaning of the verb [faire donner].

11) That's right.[10]

12) You have done well.[11]

13) The pseudo-GAL pretended to be los "Grupos antiterroristas de liberacion."

14) As I said in the text, I know nothing of the usage to which one wanted to put the Belgians.[12] One can summarize the brute facts thus: four or five unknown people, with military weapons, attacked supermarkets, firing upon the clients who where there, each time killing six or eight people and stealing around one hundred dollars. They did exactly the same thing five or six times for a year or two. At the trial, which was very dubious, of several supposedly unimportant people, there was vague allusion to certain relations of I-do-not-know-whom with the "royal gendarmerie," but it seems to me that the whole matter has disappeared into the fog.

15) Yes, I was paraphrasing the epitaph of Stevenson ("Hunter . . . sailor,"[13] I believe), thinking of his unconventional tomb. Make it feel this way as much as possible. My allusions are personalized: "The thief who no longer needs to steal," this for example is Francois Besse, ex-accomplice of Jacques Mesrine, whom one claims has completely disappeared, alive . . .

16) Many cafes in Paris were called "Chope" (la chope being the receptacle you call a beer mug[14]). Today, the telephone book still gives the address as the Cafe Chope du Croissant, 146 rue Montmartre. But phrase it so as to not create a supplemental mystery.

17) "Rule of Law" [Etat de droit] is at present a mediatic[15] neologism. The translation must carry the emptiness, the apparent uselessness, as if academics were to declare "Our university is civilized." Perhaps there is an equivalent in English or American. If you still live a bit more under the Rule of Law than we do, perhaps there is some urgency in saying so. As for "operation," as objective as [the word] process, my word instead carries the sense of "frame up" [coup monte], of an action that pursues precise goals. One sees the word more nobly used in the phrase military operations.[16]

18) Good.[17]

19) Cease your research.[18]

20) The difficulty isn't finding the precise vocabulary employed by the luminaries of sociological observation.[19] In French, the word is surely an Americanism, but the term that the Americans use is not important. The simple meaning (and the image) is clearly an element that animates [tire] the others, which in themselves are inert.

21) Very good. With respect to Censier-Daubenton, perhaps it will be necessary to make it clear that the French are habituated to the artificial and to the drollery implicit in the kinds of "marriages" that several metro stations have made between historical people who had no connections between them (Richelieu-Drouot, Michel-Ange-Molitor).

22) A particular problem, and this is what you must explain in your note. The real coarse pleasantry that I evoked, very well-known in the language of Parisian malefactors, is: "Hello, men! So much the worse if I am wrong" (id est: I am wrong if some of you aren't [really] men). As you might think, if the pleasantry is not said among friends or accomplices, it risks being received badly. I have simply replaced "men" with "artists."

23) The quotation is, modestly, from me (in my film In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni).

24) The quotation from Don Quijote in the original [Spanish] is Debajo de mala capa, suele haber buen bebedor.[20] This proverb is cited in the conversation between Sancho and the Duchess. It takes place at the beginning of Book Seven, if I trust the translation that I have here.

My incompetence doesn't allow me to praise your translation in detail, which it surely merits due to its fidelity. But for several reasons I can say that it is good.[21] I will only add three observations.

A) On page 14, I speak of lignes d'operations [lines of operation], which you have translated as "modes of operation." Without being a mistranslation, this is not exactly the idea. I have adopted here the image of an invasion: something foreign advances, at first through certain zones, from which it passes to others. The lignes d'operation are the routes traced by the marching of the armies from their bases. Thus, in the Battle of Waterloo, which has already served us so well, Wellington's line of operation was the route from Antwerp and Bluecher's was the land that connected Liege and Cologne.

B) On page 47, I do not know if you have completely rendered the malevolence of my clumsy pleasantry concerning the "firm democrat." Who has chosen such dangerously unintelligent masters? The democrat thinks that it was he himself, [and] freely![22]

C) On page 50, I have used a suite of three terms. We are in agreement concerning the illusionists. I suppose that you have already translated aboyeurs (who cry out to attract passers-by).[23] But there is also the baron, who is quite important in the current social spectacle: baron is the technical, professional term to designate the accomplice, apparently skeptical, who is infiltrated into the public. The baron makes stupid objections, which are victoriously refuted by the manipulator, and thus the baron works to keep the public in the desirable state of credulity.

I will remain here today, hoping that something of these notes will be useful to you, and also that you will signal me if you pass through Paris during one of the next seasons.


P.S. I did not understand the page[24] in the manuscript of your translation. Then, since the page came from England, I came to think that it was an eloquent quotation of Tristram Shandy.

[1] Father Amiot, a missionary in Peking. The first edition (Didot the Elder) was dated 1782.

[2] Translator's note: This was Imrie's rendering: "However desperate the situation and circumstances, do not despair. When there is everything to fear, be unafraid. When surrounded by dangers, fear none of them. When without resources, depend on resourcefulness. When surprised, take the enemy itself by surprise." A better translation would be: "However critical the situation and circumstances in which you find yourself, despair of nothing; it is on the occasions in which everything is to be feared that it is necessary to fear nothing; it is when one is surrounded by all the dangers that it is not necessary to dread any; it is when one is without resources that it is necessary to count on all of them; it is when one is surprised that it is necessary to surprise the enemy himself."

[3] Translator's note: See letter to Imrie dated 23 February 1990.

[4] Response to "Is it necessary to mention your book about G[erard] L[ebovici]?"

[5] Argot.

[6] "Men resemble their times more than their fathers."

[7] "Paper witnesses" [temoins a brevet].

[8] Translation of the verse from Andromache.

[9] The economy as "the total denial of man."

[10] The Saint-Trophime Church "of Arles."

[11] Societes-ecrans [front firms] rendered as "fronts."

[12] In the affair of the "mad killers of Brabant."

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

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

[15] Translator's note: There is no adequate equivalent in English for mediatique, which not only refers to the "media" but the spectacular, as well.

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

[17] Note on the "Three Cultures."

[18] With respect to Mithridates (see letter dated 13 April 1990).

[19] For the word "locomotives."

[20] "Under a bad cloak one often finds a good drinker."

[21] Translator's note: No, it was terrible and had to be re-done from scratch.

[22] Translator's note: Imrie's rendering was "Would not even the staunchest democrat have preferred to have been given more intelligent masters?" (emphasis added).

[23] Translator's note: "barkers."

[24] A black page, as in Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne.

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 7: Janvier 1988-Novembre 1994 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2008. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! January 2009. Footnotes by the publisher, except where noted.)

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