Jean-Louis Moinet to Champ Libre
6 January 1978

Enclosed find the clarifications concerning Denevert[1] and, more generally, all the uneducated hotheads of this kind who, under the cover of perfecting the SI’s project, scorn the historical thought that it had developed. Relegating this thought to the dead and buried past, in a single movement they calumny current revolutionaries by identifying their works with inconsequential literature.

To achieve some importance, these hotheads without means are obliged to belittle, even totally ignore, the grandeur of historical individuals who are dead or still alive on the pretext of not conforming to the cult of heroes. In their vanity, however, they forget that pretending to think ex nihilo by themselves is as absurd and detestable as the scholarly attitude that consists in placing Marx and Nietzsche in the Pantheon of Inoffensive History and Culture, though their discourses on the establishment of teaching have, nevertheless, not stopped worrying, ridiculing and annihilating the modern sub-university lack of education. Regarding the active respect due historical individuals, on which I insisted in Genese[2] – if my memories are exact, in the same text, on the subject of Denevert, I alluded in a note (which we agreed to delete due to the weak caliber of the person in question, who nevertheless reveals a quite widespread state of mind) to his stupid scorn for the eminent historical role played by Debord, who he reproaches me for adoring like an idol!

As for me, I know the vital importance that the critical thinking of the past can have; the irreducible core of this thinking must be re-employed against current alienation. When I discovered in a book – and especially if it belonged to past history, like Hypérion – the ideas that clarified and confirmed mine, this helped me live in my solitude, and I desired to share them with others in the field. Affected by the monumental work of Kierkegaard, I took from it what I could understand in all humility, and the amateurs of brevity-on-principle, although a book does not judge its own depths, will, all the same, be able to glimpse, notwithstanding its historical errors (Kierkegaard did not hide his admiration for Christian VIII and sometimes denounced the social revolution that he associated with vulgar communism, and championed a purified aristocracy capable of stabilizing society, but, to understand such inconsequential things, one has to examine the proper social conditions in Denmark at the time), the dimensions of such an individual before confusing brevity with trenchant critique. The meaning of evaluation and historical relief are what is missing from any work that is based on the convenient principle of brief judgments – without appeal, one believes – to make up for an ignorance of many points. But an idea, to become strong, must also be developed, as such, from diverse angles that possibly match up in part, and this poses the problem of the pure and simple repetition that was to be avoided.

My text,[3] it is certain, has a formal weakness (without speaking here of basic questions) due to a certain disorder of the theses, recognized in the preface, which, you tell me, does not correct that weakness, but I do not believe that it is so inextricable that the reader will be completely lost (because, in general, each point is relatively independent), and I do not think that this weakness condemns the whole book. I’m ready to delete the excessive crosschecking of expressions, the stylistic faults (although in my opinion the style on the whole is superior to that of Genese), and I would be grateful if you indicated them to me.

To lighten the text properly speaking, it would be good to relegate to an appendix – under the title “Against the New Fanatics of the Apocalypse,” for example – all that concerns Denevert, Henry and Léger in the sometimes very long notes, which effectively break up the unity of the work.

I agree with you that the subject treated is a part of alienated reality. But it is a capital part, for me and, I believe, for several others who have had enough of hearing advice about and of seeing the imposition on revolutions of sexual and other nonsense about orgone therapy and free love by these same people, who, not so long ago simply repressed amorous relations and who still cover it over by reducing it to hygienic sexual relations that are vaguely qualitative (for the amateurs of tenderness) and, more often, ultra-spectacular in the manner of the posters for porno movies; in an epoch in which the dominant relations between women and men have never been so empty: in this it fully confirms the inspired critiques formulated by Rilke, Lawrence or Grombrowicz on the coldness of so-called free love, henceforth satisfied like a nutritional need, like one congratulates someone like Pompidou in his Gordian knot. Even if this facility to satisfy functional sexual needs is so obvious – it remains to be proved – it doesn’t console us for having to eat falsified foods.

Despite the admiration I have for the Treatise on Living,[4] I think it’s time to rectify the errors that are sometimes made in it concerning the valorization of love-in-itself, presented as the last privileged adventure, the orgasm as the model for perfect communication, etc.

All remarks that – unknown to the essential intention of the author – reinforce the illusion according to which one can experience qualitative love, baptized “revolutionary,” without previously insisting on the central critical idea that must animate it; if not, love, even if presented as poetic, exceptional, very impassioned or subversive, is nothing and, in general, its emptiness soon reveals itself.

I have discovered Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. It is with joy that I’ve read, “It is good to be alone because solitude is difficult. That a thing is difficult must be, for us, more reason to apply ourselves to it. It is also good to love, because love is difficult. The love of one human being for another is perhaps the most difficult test for each one of us; it is our best expression of ourselves.” And I can’t resist the desire to inscribe in the chapter against feminism a passage from these letters on the liberation of woman, to which nothing can be added. It is enough that it returns in the light of contemporary critique to explode all of its force against the feminists and all the ignorant theatrical revolutionists.

The many quotations slightly weigh the text down, but I believe that they reinforce it as compensation: our business [here] is not so much to express something original as to re-locate and take up in their almost-definite coherence the essential truths that are scattered throughout [the works of] my predecessors in social critique. And those who reduce the quotation of truths to a common compilation do not suspect the danger that their appropriation contains. They are the ones who carry in their heads banalities and stupidities come from a distant heritage: in fact, wasn’t it the quality of life, if not the ultra-worn-out remake of mechanical gaiety and simple-minded optimism, with which the singers of the Thirties and their audiences tried to conceal the approach of the following decade, on the whole a very sad memory? And the apathetic ones, blasé about existence, who, when you speak to them of the real, fundamental misery of total solitude – of which critical experience and recognition must be the sine qua non condition for any human relation imbued with real joy – call you boring, [and] incapable of living [in] the moment by seizing the good side of life, who are they if not those who, almost 50 years ago, appreciated the little songs that make you cry from laughing, like “Mon beau legionnaire,” even if they pretend to make fun of them today in passing? In a society that sells the qualitative daily and ceaselessly parodies its negation, the fundamental critical reality can only at first be solitude, boredom, [and] death. (On Christmas Eve, I heard on the radio a weak theatrical piece that was about a man unlucky in love, condemned to isolation and driven to swallow a vial of barbiturates. On New Year’s Eve, two attempted suicides took place here.) Kierkegaard, Holderlin, Rilke, Nietzsche and so many others, Beethoven and Van Gogh . . . have had the great courage and merit to insist on it, irrefutably. Nevertheless, Nietzsche, for example, was not able to avoid the development, in a non-historical manner, of a certain neo-aristocratic health that, without its knowing, came to shore up fascist ideology, and Nietzsche could also caution current qualitativists [qualitativeurs], to the extent they would take the risk of quoting him, that is to say, reading him. Likewise, this conception of the qualitative, sometimes separated, can be found in several formulations of the SI. And this is what must be rectified: the cohabitation with the negative is, at first, for the separated and isolated individual, the most complete experience of nothingness, and only this experience, if it is recognized in its principle by its fellows, can make the individual appreciate the beginning of intense joy. You said to me one day that we are the vanquishers of time. Certainly, but critique, in its growing strength, even if it is formulated in a coherent manner unknown until then, still remains the majority of the time walled up in interiority and nameless distress.

What I would say to you in addition is only that “La Critique du sexism et du feminisme” has decisive importance (perhaps!) for my life (almost always somber, joyless). I do not see myself settling into the cold nightmare that has been mine for a long time. I can no longer, I no longer want to be reduced to calling out to phantoms, to make soliloquys by always marching beside myself with the more and more haunting awareness of time passing, irremediably lost. And, finally, I hope to know a young woman who divines the vital interest of the critique of this dreadful, horrible world supported by the majority of those who, like the feminists, claim to fight it. A young woman for whom sadness or apparent good humor (often I converse with a detached air with a featherbrain who doesn’t suspect for an instant, despite the serious subject of the conversation, the disarray hidden within) are not the dominant criteria for her attention.

Waiting to see you next week – because time is pressing for me and I really want this text, which I take to heart even more than the preceding one, to which it brings not unimportant clarifications, not only in the annexed material, to appear as soon as possible – I salute you.

Jean-Louis Moinet

[1] Daniel Denevert. See letter from Guy Debord dated 26 February 1972.

[2] Genese et Unification du Spectacle (Champ Libre, 1976).

[3] Contre le sexism et le feminisme.

[4] Written by Raoul Vaneigem in 1967 and translated into English as The Revolution of Everyday Life.

Champ Libre to Jean-Louis Moinet
31 March 1978
Dear Moinet:

I informed you at the beginning of January of my decision to not publish “Contre le sexism et le feminisme.” I explained to you the reasons over the course of a telephone conversation, specifying to you that I would confirm them in a letter, the sending of which I would announce to you. You wrote to me on 6 January, then telephoned again, in sum conceding to me that I was right about everything, but that, all the same, you wanted to meet with me to give me for the nth time a corrected version of your manuscript. I responded that I did not want it, not seeing how a new conversation could tell me something I didn’t [already] know.

You write to me: “My text, it is certain, has a formal weakness (…) and I do not think that this fault condemns the work”: I think the opposite.

In your introduction, you give an account of your “relative disorder in the progression of the theses,” which reflects “the life and thought of the author,” and you add, very justly, in your letter of 6 January: “which, I tell you, cannot be corrected.”

I would suggest you abandon the presentation of your work in the form of theses so as to avoid the stumbling block of this method of exposition. The form of presentation in which you shelter yourself is, for you, a form of dodging the difficulties of editing by claiming to make a theoretical work.

I’ve read and discussed with you [the] successive versions of your manuscript, each modifying and often improving the preceding one, to the degree that these modifications no longer go in the same direction, but, on the contrary, they make new faults visible. From then on, nothing good could happen: the fault in the form and the disorder of the theses were in fact only a fault and disorder in the thinking. The latest additions, made following my criticisms, aren’t as good as what you had written, and, it seems to me, to obtain a publication contract you would write anything. I will provide two examples.

In a note concerning publishing, you associate Champ Libre “with several publishers who are more or less conscious of (their) fundamental interest (who) publish modern social critique.” To correct your half-heartedness where I am concerned, you now recognize having appreciated my “advice” and “remarks,” and you congratulate yourself that I kept your manuscript for six months without publishing it (what would you have said if it was ten years?)

In your note dedicated to Denevert, you only attack him on several details, probably because you feel personally involved or because you aren’t sufficiently in disagreement with him on the entirety of his theses. One might not speak of Denevert because he isn’t worth the effort, but if one decides to do so, one must reply to him thoroughly and completely: about what he’s written and about who he is, and not through insults that don’t demonstrate anything.

I was shocked by your discrete praises for Debord and by the manner in which you don’t speak of him. In Genese et Unification du Spectacle, you’d already revealed “the weakness that he has shown, despite his formidable reputation in matters of exclusion,” and later on you write, “one can say that Debord could have adopted a more expeditious attitude by distancing himself from the game. . . .” It is true that you have said a little more on the subject, and good things, too, but what I disapprove of – more than these stupid critiques – is your powerlessness to speak adequately. You agree with me on this, and this is why in your final note, suddenly, as if to rid yourself of him, you make Debord a “historical hero.” You, who present yourself as a fierce partisan of the SI and Debord, do not know how to speak of them.

In an article published in Le Nouvel Observateur on 18 July 1977, Claude Roy, who knows all about recuperation, wrote: “The all-around champion of the victims of shameful demarcation and the ‘steam-powered’ usage of ‘rob-disappear’ operations is, assuredly, Guy Debord. Nothing is more comic than the care, on display everywhere, to use him without naming him, to reduce him by sweetening him, and when one can no longer feign ignorance of his existence, one gets rid of him by genuflecting hurriedly.” Roy does not know how right he is, but, when I examine certain works that I have published, I do not find this to be comical at all. Their authors, so prompt and keen to denounce recuperators like Attali[1] and his consorts – one can expect nothing from them – utilize (for other, better informed and more clever motivations) the same methods of those who hasten to unmask them with great rigor.

There is much more to say about this.

Thus Debord is a nightmare for these people, too. They have read him with envy, quote him with caution and watch out with dread for anything coming from him.

But after all, why treat so badly the authors that I’ve found sufficiently good to publish? My participation is involved;[2] no doubt I’m improving, because today I would refuse [to publish] a good number of the books that figure in the Champ Libre catalogue. I am not thinking of Genese et Unification du Spectacle when I say this.

To convince me of the importance that you attach to the publication of your text, you believe it useful to inform me of the fortunate changes that you await in the solitude of your [personal] life.

In what concerns me, you will understand that I cannot keep such things in mind.

Gérard Lebovici[3]

[1] Jacques Attali. See our review of one of his books.

[2] Especially since October 1974.

[3] Jean-Louis Moinet wrote two letters to Lebovici in response, one quite long and dated 11 April 1978, the other shorter, intended as a postscript to the first one, and dated 15 April 1978. Lebovici responded to neither one. Though they have been reproduced in the volume being translated here, we have chosen not to include them.

(Published in Editions Champ Libre, Correspondance, Vol. 1, Editions Champ Libre, Paris, 1978. Translated from the French and footnoted by NOT BORED! June 2012.)

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