Guy Debord's Comments on the Society of the Spectacle

Translator's Introduction

In his "Translator's Note" to his truly terrible translation of Guy Debord's Comments on the Society of the Spectacle into English (Verso 1990, reprinted 1998), Malcolm Imrie states:

The French edition of Comments has no footnotes, and it would have been inappropriate to add any to this translation. However, with the author's approval, I have included these brief notes on certain references and allusions that might otherwise remain unnecessarily obscure to English readers.

In August 2004, we found ourselves in strong disagreement with this assessment: footnotes would definitely have helped many readers to better understand Comments, in part because some of the historical events to which Debord refers or alludes aren't very well known (have been suppressed, obscured or completely forgotten) in English-speaking countries; and in part because Debord himself "take[s] care not to instruct just anybody." In the absence of such explanations, Debord seemed paranoid (which he wasn't) and his references seemed figural (when they are in fact historical). And so we added 40 brand-new footnotes, while at the same time preserving those written by Imrie. On some occasions, when we found Imrie's notes to be incomplete, we added more information.

Unfortunately, we have had to intervene once again, but this time in the main body of the text. When we compared Imrie's translation to the French original (Gallimard, 1988), we discovered a wide variety of problems with the former: it was verbose and awkward, while the original was pointed and elegant; it was loaded with words that made the developments described therein seem certain, unequivocal and irreversible, while the original descriptions were marked by hesitancy, equivocality and reversibility; it refused to render into English certain key terms that the original used consistently and with an obvious sense of purpose (mediatic, spectaculaire and disparition, among them); and, worst of all, it was full of bad, questionable or even flat-out wrong renderings of Debord's carefully chosen words.

Supposedly Debord approved Imrie's translation. But he should have known better: neither a political activist nor a professional translator, Imrie was a senior editor at Verso, the very press that published his translation. Today, Imrie's is a hustler: a partner in the London-based literary agency Imrie & Dervis.

Our translation is Debord's Comments on the Society of the Spectacle is not copyrighted, and can be reproduced by anyone, provided that we are credited for the work we have done.

-- NOT BORED! 17 August 2005
Abridged 6 August 2007

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