“I hope . . . to hold myself to the rule that I fixed at the beginning of my remarks. I have tried to annul the injustice of this bad reputation and the ignorance of public opinion.” – Gorgias of Leontini
mercredi 23 février 2011
“This bad reputation”
Publié sous le titre: "Cette Mauvaise Réputation" Guy Debord Éditions Gallimard 1993
Last May, on the occasion of the reprinting of a book from 1985 in which I was led to deny my dubious culpability in an assassination, I estimated that it would be fitting to evoke the modernization of the critique that the times would like me to contradict (it is true that I have had all sorts of adventures, and I admit that none has been able to ameliorate the others. I have not sought to be pleasing.) Thus, I cite a better-completed critique: “Henceforth, to make a bad reputation for myself, I must accumulate preemptory denunciations on every subject. Specialists approved by unknown authorities, or simple auxiliaries, the experts reveal and comment on all of my stupid errors, detestable talents, great infamies and bad intentions in a loud voice.” I will now provide ample proof.
I will limit myself to the most stunning series of examples of remarks made by mediatics in my own country between 1988 and 1992; and I will publish these documents in chronological order, which is more impartial. Dante says that it is with a knife that one must respond to such beastly arguments. That was another time. Sometimes I will make moderate observations, but without ever thinking to pass myself off as better than I am.
In January 1988, the very vulgar illustrated magazine called Globe placed me among the “Great Silent People,” who keep themselves apart from mediatic vulgarities. This placed me in strange company, notably in the company of General Francois Mermet, then head of the French secret services, and Jacques Focart, for so long a “man of the shadows” for capitalist schemes in Africa. Globe revealed that this Debord fellow, “the only rival to the ruling Marxism, launched the generation of ‘68 upon the assault against the Old World and was almost successful.” It doesn’t say how I did this, nor if it was a good idea or not.
To me, it seems shocking to say that I was almost successful. Social success, in any form whatsoever, hasn’t figured among my projects. On the other hand, I think that it was impossible, as it were, for me to fail, since, not being able to do anything else, I certainly did what I had to. Thinking the contrary, on almost all points, of what almost everyone else thinks, I have succeeded in saying it quite publicly, and the predicted catastrophe of an entire society has since demonstrated the fact that I haven’t lacked spirit. Even though I do not believe I have, moreover, been subject to the obligation of succeeding so as to convince people who are profoundly attached to contrary perspectives (or are at least paid to pretend to believe in them) of my good reasons. I have really tried, but not beyond my talents or outside of historic moments. A character trait has, I believe, profoundly distinguished me from almost all of my contemporaries, I will not dissimulate this: I have never believed that anything in the world had been done with the precise intention of pleasing me. To tell the truth, idiots [les caves] have always reasoned the opposite way. I also do not think that we were there [in May 1968] to make a success; I quite strongly doubt their agreement on this score. I have not been anyone’s rival.
In May 1988, under the heading “Dictionary of our era,” the journal Le Debat defined me thus: “the most secret[ive] man amidst one of the most significant public sensations [des sillages publics] of the last twenty-years . . . . Debord and his situationist companions furnished to the age of mass culture the complete example of the resources of an active minority, crowned by its mystery and transforming its very absence into a principle of its influence.” Here one would like to pretend to place oneself higher, at the stage of historical thought, but, in reality, one can no longer be up there, [there’s] nothing better than the top of the basket of some neo-university that co-opts itself with the help of the media. How could one transform one’s very absence into a principle of influence? Idiotic. Could one imagine what by puerile conspiratorial rituals a guy would crown a mystery properly? Those who have believed everything think that everything is believable. Very pertinently, they know, but must not say, that mass culture lies or deceives itself about everything that could begin to be of interest. And this isn’t due to a regrettable accident: it is precisely its function as mass culture. It was only in such a context that the historian Pascal Dumontier, who wrote The situationists and May 1968 in 1990, was led to say: “Indeed, one must recall that only the publications issued by the S[ituationist] I[nternational] or those who were close to them allow us to speak of them at all.” The astonishing absence in contemporary information of any other independent source concerning the SI cannot be attributed to the success of the situationist conspiracy, but rather the changing of the state of the world. Back in 1960, in Western Europe, “the mediatic thought police” could already deal with journals and books that had been published legally, and that were very well read.
Le Debat has also managed to understand that I have added several personal faults to the displeasing adventure: “What is fascinating about Debord is his style. Its impact: the electric result of an apology for the derangement of all the senses poured into the cold firmness of a classical prose that is part Retz, part Saint-Just and part Marx the pamphleteer.” One is easily guilty of having [a] style when it has become as rare to encounter style as personality itself. Was it not to avow his lack of consideration for the democratic-spectacular spirit? I have assuredly been allergic to the methods of deranging the senses that have been fabricated by the industries of today, but I am not surprised that I have been reputed to encourage the deranging of all the senses, along with the hooligan Rimbaud, in the eyes of modest functionaries who always and everywhere believe themselves obligated to respect even the least rule of the fashions of the moment. The indignant evocation of my clarity of language seems charged with recalling the offensive aristocracy, and thus odious times that were less scholarly, that is to say, less rich in diplomas. Each of the three classical authors who were cited – and they weren’t chosen innocently – have been dangerous people: they had blood on their hands due to participation in civil wars. At different moments, they have all figured as enemies of Consensus. The preparations having been made, Le Debat could then produce with assurance the definitive explanation of a person who, above all, appears worthy of such distrust: “Here one sees the radical aspiration to purity put itself into play on the inside, against the revolutionary enterprise, and there unmake its concrete possibility in the very name of the sublimity of its ends.” This is saying a lot. And it was written in 1988. This author must still think that “the concrete revolutionary enterprise” well and truly exists among the bureaucrats governing Russia and several other satellite states. That imposture would end up crumbling into dust only 18 months later.
In May 1988, there appeared a dense 35-page-long pamphlet entitled Situationist Failures. The authors, Laura Romild and Jacques Vincent, seem to have sought to forget nothing that might be able to establish the pertinence of the pamphlet’s title. One doesn’t know who they are, what they’ve done, or what causes their current and lively passion. They proceed so gaily that it quickly becomes difficult to understand how their work is necessary after such a long period of time, given the unfortunate subject. Is this a world in which such failures cannot be forgotten, allowing such tenacious jealousies? Romild and Vincent seem to want it believed that their principal motivation [for writing] is pity, which they display when they measure the ravages caused among so many poor people by this “ideology,” which they claim to destroy so easily: “It was determinant in the lives of thousands of people, who founded on these theories implacable critiques of unlimited hope, and who because of them threw themselves into aberrant enterprises!”
And why? “Instead of real struggle, the situationists preferred the affectation of a solitary and desperate combat against the ‘spectacle,’ which was erected by their sub-Orwellian efforts, while this stitched-together ‘totalitarianism’ is a pure effect of self-suggestion.” For them, Orwell is also suspect: one sees where he was coming from (“The anarchists effectively still have the upper hand in Catalonia and the revolution still fought all through it”). Thus, Orwell merely usurped his retrospective glory by publishing his description of an imaginary totalitarianism. And what even more trivial ruse for me? “The philosophical and psychological presuppositions of Debord, advanced in the first ‘thesis’ of his book, ‘all that was directly lived has moved away into a representation,’ is false. It amalgamates in the same term, representation, things that are different and incompatible. It mixes together political representation, the delegation of power, along with the homonyms that are spectacle-representation . . .” One will speak to me of even more incompatibilities, but this will be wasted effort.
“Fierce in his effort to build a retrospective glory for himself, Debord was the worst party-leader of the century. Over the course of 30 years of uncontested authority, he has only completely discredited his cause and his person.” Where did I lead such obedient crowds of people? Thus, one quite cynically pretends that I have sought or exercised an authority. In fact, as one knows well, I have made sure that the famous “prestige of the SI” wasn’t exercised too much or too long. Once in my entire life, on 14 May 1968, I signed a circular that was distributed in Paris and called “To the members of the SI, to comrades who have declared themselves to be in accord with our theses.” It said what needed to be done at that moment. I [still] think that it was right, and also the right moment. But one would like to believe, based upon the excesses of horror expressed twenty years after the fact, that I unleashed nuclear war instead.
“Debord thinks of the world as a chessboard, and those who govern do not think otherwise. (…) He has demonstrated his lack of humanity, particularly on every occasion that he has shamefully denigrated those who were excluded from situationism, believing he can show through force that he had accepted them previously, just as they were. . . .” One must think, therefore, that, only considering those who had the occasion to participate in the voluntarily restrained SI, I had been too seductive! (But, “just as they were,” did they know how to remain so?) “The language of seduction, when it serves to communicate a theory, is the language of sales, that is to say, prostitution.” One recognizes the “bourgeois,” and even “people of independent means,” in such goals.
“The slogan of this bluff is ‘Never work.’ ” Is a bluff so easy to maintain? Contradictorily, the authors of this enlightened pamphlet pretend they can teach me to swindle better. I could have made better use of all the money that was taken or, rather, so scandalously taxed from Lebovici, they say, as if they knew nearly everything that characterized the operation. (I do not make policy.) “While politicians of all tendencies pass their lives diverting funds of all provenances to the profit of their propaganda, the terrible situationists – who haven’t even had to dirty their hands to get as much as they have wanted – have only known how to make shapes out of paper!” One must say that these two appear to be the last in France to foolishly believe that money diverted by politicians is really intended – it is in fact civilly necessary – to finance the political parties, “without personal enrichment,” as those who seek amnesty always say. Based on this false example, Romild and Vincent invent for me (so as to reproach me with) the imbecilic project (based on who-knows-what unbelievable scruple) of seeking nothing other than the publication of books.
I know my times very well. To never work requires great talents. It is fortunate that I have had them. I have manifestly had no need of them, and I have certainly have not made use of them, to accumulate surpluses, [that is] if I had originally been rich or if I had at least wanted to employ myself in one of the several arts in which I am perhaps more capable than other people, which would mean consenting to bear in mind the current tastes of the public. My personal vision of the world only excuses certain practices concerning money that guard my complete independence, and thus without engaging myself in any exchanges. The era in which everything dissolves has greatly facilitated my game in this regard. My refusal of “work” has been misunderstood and reprimanded. I have certainly not claimed to embellish this attitude with some kind of ethical justification. I would simply like to do what I love the best. In fact, I have sought to know a good number of poetic situations in my life, and also to have the satisfaction of several of my vices, an annexed concern but still important. Power doesn’t figure into it. I love freedom, but surely not money. As the other one says, “money is not one of childhood’s desires.”
I think that one can only believe, where this is concerned, that I have always been too seductive in current society, since I have never dissimulated the scorn that is merited by those who, in so many instances, have tranquilly groveled before the established illusions.
Romild and Vincent maladroitly add the sole realistic explanation for the necessity of their lampoon: “Debord and the situationists are our last photo-souvenirs of May 68; today, all the other protagonists in the affair are well-behaved or sold-out, or have forgotten.” This is why, so late in the game, I merit having Laura Romild and Jacques Vincent weave special laurels for me.
Translated from the French by NOT BORED! 24 May 2010. All footnotes by the translator.