Letters 1951 to 1957, etc.

In October 2010, Librairie Artheme Fayard published the final volume in its eight-volume series entitled Guy Debord Correspondance. This last volume includes three assortments of letters: those written by Debord between September 1951 and July 1957 (the first volume covers the letters written between June 1957 to August 1960); those written between June 1957 and November 1994, but previously not in possession of the publisher, thus not included in any of the previous seven volumes and in the final volume are called “recovered letters”; and those written to various American and English situationists between November and December 1967. (This third group was inserted “at the very last minute” and isn’t listed on the book’s cover or its title page.) The book also includes a general index of the people addressed or discussed in what must now be several thousand letters. (The Preface by “Alice Debord” – a name that Guy’s widow, Alice Becker-Ho, only uses in such instances – does not hazard a guess as to how many of Guy’s letters she’s published through Fayard since the beginning of this project ten years ago.) In sum, it is a fragmented but rich volume.

Visitors to the page on the NOT BORED! website that is devoted to Debord will find that we have continued the practice we adopted when it came to translating the contents of the previous seven volumes. We have translated all of the interesting letters, and have not translated any of the letters that we have found uninteresting; our decision in each and every case has been determined by the letter’s usefulness to historians (and not whether it shows its author in a flattering or unflattering light); and we have, in each case, translated the entirety of the letter in question and not excerpts. We have, once again, reproduced the “original” footnotes in translation, and have added our own whenever we thought they would aid comprehension and contextualization by the reader. (Sometimes, because of the structural defect in the entire Correspondance series, it has been impossible for us to help to establish the context for certain “obscure” references.) As always, we encourage readers who have found mistakes to write us via email and we will make all appropriate corrections. As for copy-and-paste jobs, we only ask that you include all of what you find: not just the translation and the footnotes, but also the information concerning who translated it and when.

The following cannot go without mention.

1) The letters written between September 1951 and July 1957 reveal, among other things, why Debord felt Gil J Wolman needed to be excluded from the Lettrist International (LI); the close relationship between the LI and Marcel Marien’s Les Nevres nues group, which could have joined the Situationist International (SI) if it had wanted to; Debord’s personal dislike for Asger Jorn, with whom he could only deal through the personal mediation of Michele Bernstein; the longstanding distance between Debord and Alexander Trocchi (they might have been friends but never seem to have shared the same vision); and the central importance of Piero Simondo in the founding of the SI.

2) The “recovered” letters written between August 1957 and November 1994 include blocks of relatively long letters sent to Raoul Vaneigem in the 1960s (one of which includes Debord's critique of Wilhelm Reich) and to Jaime Semprun in the 1970s, plus several letters to the American situationists between 1968 and 1970. There are also letters that shed light on the exclusion of the "Garnautins."

3) The letters sent from Paris to New York and London during the “crisis” of November-December 1967 are quite interesting. Thanks to their inclusion, one can now fully understand the situations that led to the exclusion of the English section of the SI in 1967 (the so-called Morea affair, in which Murray Bookchin also figured) and the formation of the American section in 1969.

4) Alice Debord’s Preface is odd. She speaks of these letters’ “proper addressees or those having the rights to them.” Yes, the people to whom Guy Debord wrote these letters legally own them, and they must – at least under French law – sign off on their publication in such a collection. (Though Alice Debord has not acknowledged this fact in any of her Prefaces to these volumes, at least one person didn’t sign off, thus forcing his name to be replaced by “X” whenever it appears. According to the book’s index, “X” appears a total of 25 times and in four of the eight volumes!) But these people’s “ownership” of the letters addressed to them is merely formal. Precisely because their letters to Debord – after all, that is why Debord is writing to them: either they had written to him or had written something about him – never appear in these pages (a very brief extract is the best one gets, and one gets it very rarely), these people have been robbed of the content of their own letters and their “side” of the conversation, that is to say, their share of the ideas that, because of the robbery, seem to come from Debord alone. Thus there is a constant dissonance between the large and constantly changing numbers of people with whom Debord corresponded [hic] and their silence in these volumes.

Of course, Alice Debord is happy to thank such people. There are quite of few of them, it would appear: John McHale (whose name is misspelled “Mac Hale” throughout), Ken Knabb, the Pinot Gallizio Archives, the estate of Patrick Straram, Enrico Ghezzi, M. Hummelink, the estate of Uwe Lausen, the Goteberg Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Raoul Vaneigem, Luc Mercier, the Bibliotheque de documentation international contemporaine (Daniel Guérin collection), Serge Le Bret (the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam), David Bieda, Louis Lefrancois, Anne Krief, Jaime Semprun, Max Blechman, and the Tamiment Library at New York University. These generous folks have helped increase (“complete” would be Alice’s word) the monetary value (“holdings”) of the now infamous “Guy Debord Archives,” which she herself recently sold en bloc to the Bibliotheque nationale de France (“the French State,” as she calls it) for a cool $2.5 million. (If Guy didn’t make and keep a carbon copy of a letter at the time he wrote it, it wouldn’t otherwise have figured in these archives, which he himself created and organized.)

Maybe some of these people turned “their” letters over for free; maybe some of them held out for a little money. Evidently so: “others,” Alice Debord says, “haven’t followed up on reiterated requests, even in a reasonably valuable form.” Who are those “others”? Debord’s widow and sole legatee – her Preface is followed by a handwritten note, dated 31 January 1973, in which Guy declares that, “The undersigned, Guy Louis Debord, born on 28 December 1931 in Paris (XXd arrondissement), leaves through the present testament to Alice Becker, my wife, all my belongings, literary, cinematographical, etc. rights, which belong to me or will belong to me, as well as all my manuscripts – she is tasked with destroying those that I have designated to her – and appoint her as my universal legatee” – doesn’t name any of the hold-outs. But the identities of two of them are obvious: Michele Bernstein (Debord’s first wife), and Alice Becker-Ho (his second wife). The absence of letters to Ms Bernstein is, perhaps, understandable: it would appear that Guy divorced her (not the other way around) and that he twice rebuffed her attempts at reconciliation by icily refusing to appear in court and discuss matters. Unlike Ms Becker-Ho, Ms Bernstein was not a member of the Council for Maintaining the Occupations during May 1968; she’d resigned from the SI in 1967. Perhaps Guy had “excluded” her from his personal life after that, and she’s been bitter about it ever since. Perhaps she resents Alice. In any event, Ms Bernstein has refused to permit any of Guy’s letters to her to be published, even though or precisely because he’s gone. But there’s no reason – it’s virtually impossible to imagine a reason – for Guy’s letters to Alice not to be included. Their complete and total absence is odd.

Compared to $2.5 million – and that doesn’t include any money made from the sale of her husband’s films and books on the open market – what’s a “reasonable” offer? Five cents per word? Fifty dollars per letter? It doesn’t seem to occur to Alice Debord (or, rather, she certainly isn’t going to admit it in one of her Prefaces) that the holdouts (whoever they are) haven’t been “reasonable” – they have rebuffed all offers – because they object to the manner in which the entire series has been constructed and/or to the personal conduct of this Alice Debord, who – despite the subversive pretensions of the work she publishes under the name Alice Becker-Ho – has hobnobbed with people who are in fact objectionable (forget about what her husband would or would not have thought of them): governments ministers, mainstream authors, ad nausea.

5) As predicted, Semiotext(e) has not come out with a translation of Volume Two of the Correspondence series. As a result, its translation of Volume One (published in 2009) has receded into total insignificance.

6) There are still, perhaps, texts in Guy Debord: Ouevres (Gallimard, 2006) that are worthy of being translated into English. If so, they will appear here, but without a Preface or note such as this one.

April 2011

To Contact NOT BORED!