from Guy Debord

To Jaime Semprun
13 February 1986
Dear Jaime:

I have just recently received volume 6 [of the Encyclopedia of Nuisances] and, as each time before, it is a pleasure to read it on the spot. I note that what the Encyclopedists succeed in producing in three months, the post office succeeds in directly to Arles in only four days, which is no small thing towards the century of this century.

I am happy to see seven articles in it. The more they multiple, the more this will reinforce the crushing impression that you can, with as much justness as ease, condemn finally all aspects of the present. For the first time, perhaps, the tone of the publication lacks a little unity. "Abdelkader"[1] is too long (and perhaps too "Algerian-centric"?). "Abdication" is a little short (it would have been excellent in Potlatch,[2] and it is surprising in the Encyclopedia due to its abrupt rapidity). There is something "unbalanced," I believe in the writing of "Abderahman,"[3] which is an article that pleases me nevertheless. As I have several times advised a slightly briefer discourse, you can laugh at the infinite and contradictory demands of the public. Excellent notations abound. One actually discovers, alas, the perfect reversals of the 1924 program of automatic writing in the polymorphous and precipitous operations of all of today's robots and their fragile valets ("to lie so well, it is necessary to be Serres"[4]). You can measure the unfortunate march of time by the article "The Bitter Victory of Surrealism," which began the first issue of Internationale Situationniste.

I was charmed by seeing that you have implicitly compared me to Swift and Marx. There is something lacking in Serres who, unlike Eco,[5] certainly has never read me, just as he has not read the other two [Swift and Marx]. The insults that you scatter upon the scoundrels give an extreme value to your praises. Who is this likeable Samuel Butler?[6] When did he write?

It seems to me that it is necessary to write "like the French" at the end of the introduction to "Abatardissment."[7] For my part, I try to use "beyond" [au dela], reserving "the beyond" [au-dela] for the mathematical, theological, etc. concept. But perhaps it is stubborn to defend a position that has been submerged by the advance of the enemy? The typographers who still exist have all yielded on this point. The contents of "Abecedaire"[8] is very just. Alphabetization is only, only wants to be this. And yet, the article does not evoke all of the question, because the era already introduces a clear surplus of poverty: a return to the old illiteracy [analphabetisme], transformed by industry, and which one ones to hide under the less cruel (?) neologism "unlettered" [illettrisme] (in the last few years, 20% of the men aged 19 [are illiterate], according to the statistics collected by the French army, which has never been too demanding in matters of culture). Illiteracy is also very precisely exposed by a concomitant definition by U.N.E.S.C.O. I believe I have recounted to you the pleasant story of the young cops in Paris who no longer know how to read the street maps, for the simple lack of knowing the very arbitrary but practical convention that one calls alphabetical order. In sum, it will be necessary to return to this question in the first article that loans itself to this, as with nearly all the subjects in the Encyclopedia.

What I have observed with respect to this volume brings me to reiterate the opinion that several other reasons have already imposed upon me. It will be necessary for you to openly take upon yourself the direction of the Encyclopedia.[9] The discussions with all those who can participate in it will never be too long, too varied, nor too rich in propositions and examples. But it is necessary that you clearly have the responsibility for the editing, the editorial unification that is required by the very form of the EdN, as experience -- and singularly that of the most recent volume -- has shown. A vacillation in the coherence of the exposition will cause the greatest difficulty for the entire enterprise, which is so difficult and so necessary. In a certain way, you must be in a position of strength, so as to cut short certain inept discussions, such as that concerning Miguel [Amoros]. Those who seek to maintain such discussions cannot bring to an end [discussions of] more serious subjects.

If you can, as you have said to me, list the chateau of Bescaneuil as the address and base of the adventure. This would be very good to snub all the sourpusses who so foolishly project their resentment on what they would like to imagine to be "the dramatic, bitter, squandered life" of the people "of refusal," as others say. It is, of course, their illusory life that is greatly squandered and experienced very bitterly. It is necessary to detourn towards them what the two Spartans said in response to the Persian governor on the subject of freedom[10] (Herodotus, VII, 135): that they speak in full ignorance of a side of the question; if they knew how it is pleasant to have an authentic culture and tastes that one can truly experience, ideas that one can recognize and formulate on their own and not in an "Attalian"[11] manner, and time that is as freely employed as possible, then they would defend it not only with the baton but also with the knife and would no longer find any charm in the subsidies from the School of Social Sciences.

Recently, Chirac has begun to treat all of the government's personnel as "belated sixty-eighters."[12] The insult is certainly unmerited. It avows nevertheless that one considers the most advanced ranters to be the worst.

You can claim this striking paradox: the world has never been so contemptible; it has never been less critiqued. This quite proves that any critical distance finds itself eliminated by the current spectacle. If the Encyclopedists were not here, one would no longer know anything truthful about the world!

Best wishes,

[1] Translator's note: the Emir of Macara, a military and religious leader who founded the Algerian state and led the Algerians against the French in the 1840s.

[2] Translator's note: the "information bulletin" of the Lettrist International between 1954 and 1957.

[3] Translator's note: Adberahman Moustaqim, a Moroccan who lived in and was deported from Belgium in 1980.

[4] Michel Serres, The Five Senses.

[5] Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose.

[6] Samuel Butler (1835-1902), author of Erehwon (1872).

[7] Translator's note: French for "debasement, deterioration or degeneration," left untranslated to preserve alphabetical order.

[8] Translator's note: French for "speller," left untranslated to preserve alphabetical order.

[9] Translator's note: on 1 April 1986, Semprun would circulate a document that explained his reasons for taking on the responsibility for directing the Encyclopedia.

[10] "The advice you give us does not spring from a full knowledge of the situation. You know one half of what is involved, but not the other half. You understand well enough what slavery is, but freedom you have never experienced, so you do not know if it tastes sweet or bitter. If you ever did come to experience it, you would advise us to fight for it not with spears only, but with axes, too." [Translator's note: for this passage, instead of translating Debord's French, we have quoted from Aubrey De Selincourt's 1954 translation of Herodotus' The Histories.]

[11] Allusion to the writer Jacques Attali.

[12] Translator's note: people who participated in the May 1968 riots and occupations in France.

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 6: Janvier 1979-Decembre 1987 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2006. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! June 2007. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted.)

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