The American Section of the Situationist International,
Now in French

The French publishing house Collectif des Métiers De l’Édition (CMDE) has just published, under the rubric “Les reveilleurs de la nuit” (the Night Awakeners), Fabrice de San Mateo’s translations of three documents originally published in the late 1960s by the American section of the Situationist International: Post Mortem Ante Facto; the first (and only) issue of the section’s journal, entitled Situationist International; and the wall-poster entitled “Address to the High School Students of New York.” (Ironically, each of these texts has been out of print in the USA for almost 20 years.) None of these texts has ever been translated into French before, and so the publication of this collection – entitled Ecrits and available for purchase for 13 euros through the publisher’s website – is an important event in France.

The translator’s preface, “Les situationnistes aux Etats-Unis,” offers a succinct history of the American section, which included Robert Chasse, Bruce Elwell, Tony Verlaan and Jon Horelick. Based upon information and documents provided to the translator by Chasse and Elwell, this preface (once translated into English) will be quite helpful to historians of radical movements in America in the 1960s.

We have only one objection, and it concerns A Field Study in the Dwindling Force of Cognition Where it is Least Expected: A Critique of the Situationist International as a Revolutionary Organization, which Chasse and Elwell wrote and published in February-March 1970. Never translated into French, this text was, no doubt, not included in Ecrits because, technically speaking, it is not a publication of the American SI and was, in fact, written after its authors were excluded and/or had resigned from the SI as a whole. Though the SI never responded to it – indeed, the SI never even acknowledged its existence – it is an important text, a fact testified to by the translator’s use of it as a source of reliable information. (It is cited a total of four times in his “Preface.”)

It is for these reasons that the translator’s statement about it – “Whomever wants to get a more detailed idea about the crisis in the American section will, notably, refer to the following publications, which sets out the contradictory points of view of the diverse protagonists: A Field Study in the Dwindling Force of Cognition Where it is Least Expected: A Critique of the Situationist International as a Revolutionary Organization, R. Chasse and B. Elwell, and ‘The Practice of Truth: The Crisis of the Situationist International,’ Jon Horelick (Diversion #1, June 1973)” – is simply insufficient.

First and foremost, as is indicated by the text’s subtitle, A Field Study is not primarily about “the crisis in the American section”: it is a critique of the SI itself. Second, unlike Horelick’s The Practice of Truth , A Field Study is a good critique of the SI as a whole: it is concrete, specific, detailed, and thoughtful. Third, it has never been translated into French (though it has long been available on-line), and so it isn’t clear how someone who is French and doesn’t read English would be able to “refer to it.” Fourth and finally, it does not set “out the contradictory points of view of the diverse protagonists”: it is an internally consistent text and “contradicts” nothing other than the SI’s hermetic view of itself and its final years, especially as this view is presented in Guy Debord and Gianfranco Sanguinetti’s The Real Split in the International, which was published in 1972.

We sincerely hope that the CMDE will someday remedy this deplorable situation by publishing a French translation of this long-neglected text.

13 March 2012

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