Jaime Semprun to Guy Debord
Paris, 14 January 1977

I am grateful that you responded to me so precisely: I assuredly think that I merit it, but you would have been right to decide otherwise, after [receiving] such a badly timed protest. To not remain your debtor in matters of good behavior, that is to say, in clearness, I will now try to restore to its just proportions what is for me an editorial business, which I had thoughtlessly inflated due to erroneous calculations, not of course, to try to make you change your mind (about the book, me or anything else), but to formulate my own judgment, this time clearly.

Thus I recognize, above all, without balking or quibbling, that I allowed myself, on the basis of a real and proven fact – Lebovici’s rejection, of which you couldn’t be ignorant – to extrapolate unfounded suppositions. But nevertheless I do not seek to back away from the public status [la publicité] that you could, as you alluded, judge it good to give this affair; I must then, as is normal, accept the consequences of this mistake, only keeping for my own use the small satisfaction of having known how to confess it. (Since subjective psychological explanations have very little interest, I believe that, if one must seek out the origin of this aberration, it will rather be found in my quite disconcerted dissatisfaction with your distance – which, because I do not understand it, I return to – and not in the spitefulness of an author who has been wounded in his literary vanity, and who sees the machinations of outside powers in his “setbacks,” as you say, without considering the possible weaknesses of his work for a second. I believe I can “consider with a disabused eye” my writings, with their limits and usefulness; it is even for this reason that I am not in agreement with Lebovici and his criteria for excellence: there is no “uncriticizable” book, as he said to me, and this is fortunate, because otherwise one would have to think that France had suddenly returned to sacred times or become a totalitarian police state.

To proceed (this time) methodically, I will distinguish the fact itself, on the one hand, and your response to the excessive interpretation that I believed I had to give it. I will begin there. Your detailed explanation of your relations with Champ Libre was, perhaps, superfluous on a number of points, but I admit having quite merited you recalling to me what I knew pertinently, since I gave the impression of having forgotten or even having never known. Above all, I will tell you that I do not associate in any fashion with the lamentable milieu of handicapped people in which rumors and fantasies about Champ Libre and your role in it are feasted upon. In a truly fortuitous and extra-political manner (a barman friend), I briefly knew Pierre Lotrous – and saw Christian Sebastiani in his company – and I had to very quickly break with him precisely over the subject of Khayati’s miserable reaction to the reprinting of On the Poverty,[1] which he refused to consider in its very simple truth. This is the only direct echo I have heard of the envious bad temper aroused in the milieu by Champ Libre’s activity, and I have indeed been able to verify on this occasion that this fact identifies Champ Libre to a quite large extent with the party of truth, [and] its enemies with that of the lie. (But when this publishing house, with the reprinting of Rizzi,[2] brings out a text that speaks directly of “our party,” does not that house identify itself [with something] beyond this party of truth?)

Thus, I am already opposed – and I will be so every time that it is necessary – to all those who want to pretend or insinuate that you have, to some extent, taken control of Champ Libre so as to exercise a hidden political-literary power over it, or perhaps to simply pocket substantial profits from it. I have truly not tried to bring glory to myself, but this shows an even more unreasonable side to my reaction when I find myself personally concerned. Since it is true that I let myself go to a kind of metaphysical shift in the examination of the “ambiguous” status of this publishing house, this time I will take up your exposition of what is point by point to indicate each time what my position is with respect to these facts.

Not only do I not take offense at the hardly contestable market reality of Champ Libre, but I want this reality to function better so that a larger audience can be given the books that it merits. (I have likewise always found it highly humorous, and significant of our era, that funds coming from the histrionic activity of Belmondo and Jorge Semprun[3] are put to such use.) The very active hostility that this publishing house encounters from falsifiers, [a hostility] to which I contributed (I flatter myself) by placing Champ Libre beyond them with the Précis,[4] no doubt honors it, but according to me, at the same time, this honor created for it certain duties that [when performed] truly merit such honor, duties that are as different from the typical customs of publishing as the general critical function that Champ Libre begins to have is out of proportion with the normally limited importance of a publishing house! (And, furthermore, on this subject I had nothing at all to complain about when Lebovici found it necessary to concern himself with denouncing the masperized[5] Portuguese version of La Guerre sociale.[6]) These duties certainly do not involve supporting “contemporary revolutionaries” en bloc and everywhere they are found, as if Champ Libre were a more or less situationist species of Comintern, but, with respect to the revolutionaries who are readers, it cannot publish anything and everything (without speaking of the errors of youth, one could perhaps say that the selections of absurd Lewinter or hollow Migeot border on the indiscriminate), and, with respect to the revolutionaries who are authors, it cannot deny them a text in any way (in my case, this was worse than contemporary publishing, where encouragement to improve a text implicitly corresponds with a commitment to publish the definitive version). Of course, this is only because I see things in such a way that I’ve been able to discuss matters with Lebovici, who I have never confused with a “normal” publisher.

When I spoke of your “historic merits,” I did not mean that they belong to the past, as you want to believe. Likewise, I did not reproach Lebovici for being “influenceable” where you are concerned. If I have something to say on the subject, it is that he had the good taste to choose your influence and opinions, rather than those of Guégan or Ratgeb[7] (I was much more reluctant to complain because I benefited when he published La Guerre sociale so quickly.) And I furthermore think, as for myself, that I have had the good sense to make good use of your association. I pass over your sarcastic comments concerning that which “demoralizes the proletarians of Barcelona” or harms the Spanish revolution.

Lebovici exists; I had rarely met him before the last two times, and did so to speak of precise matters, with respect to which he was intelligent and well informed. He always showed me that he was very satisfied with our collaboration and me, as well. I refused to give him other texts that he proposed to me (research and scholarly works) by explaining that I didn’t have the time for erudition and hoped to never have it, and that, if I were to give him some completely free advice (concerning texts about the old Spanish workers’ movement), I would not want to add my theoretical grain of salt in the form of a preface or “critical apparatus.” (On the other hand, I agreed, along with Anne, to translate a book by Lehning,[8] which is a bit of salaried work that only engages my intellectual capabilities due to a quite common knowledge of English.) All this means that I did not charge him with mental alienation when he rejected my most recent book: we are not in agreement, that’s all. In a similar way, he finds Migeot’s book to be excellent, and I do not. (I limit myself to a detail, one that concerns me greatly: I find it too much to see a stupid Trotskyist and a sad ultra-Leftist cited at the same time as La Guerre sociale.) If I spoke of caprice, it is because this rejection seems to me hardly judicious according to the proper terms – not only of the “editorial strategy” that Champ Libre must have – but also of the strategy that Lebovici seems to adopt (psychological explanation of scolded eclecticism making amends by advanced rigor that goes in the same direction), and also because it had been signified through a procedure that was displeasing, though certainly not intentionally so. I was quite precise in the course of our discussion, which for me couldn’t concern entirely re-doing this work, but only developing several points hardly obvious to French readers, who are particularly subjected to falsifications on the subject and, consequently, ignorant, which Lebovici’s own questions and doubts showed me quite well. And, in any case, he should know that, as the Spanish proverb says, “no se puede pedir peras al olmo” (you can’t get pears from an elm tree), and that, if he truly and uniquely wanted a work of the scientific-exhaustive type, it was hardly within my abilities or tastes, either way. When I said that Champ Libre, that is to say, Lebovici – choosing to publish certain uncommon “authors” – couldn’t have with them the relationship that one commonly has in publishing (where one shouldn’t be surprised to see a book rejected because it is hardly profitable, without any other explanation), this meant that the expression “bad for Champ Libre,” employed by Lebovici, doesn’t have the simple and customary meaning, but has content that one must call political, that is to say, tied to a conception of the political function of Champ Libre. Nothing about it clarifies for me what is “bad” about my text for a publisher who says he’s very interested in the Spanish revolution, who has for the moment only published a politically and historically dubious History of the POUM (entirely written from the point of view of the Maurinist-Catalanist right wing), and who now sees himself offered the opportunity to publish a text that, in its analysis of the process leading from one Spanish revolution to another, is certainly the best on the subject at the moment. To convince [him] of my seriousness, must I make a more ample display of my knowledge and information? I do not believe so. And no doubt Lebovici doesn’t believe so himself, his reasoning in this sense, effectively quite hazy, probably being due, since he had no a priori principle, to his difficulty in expressing precisely why the book didn’t please him or, rather, why it didn’t please him as much as he thought it should have pleased him. But nevertheless it is not up to me to furnish him with more solid arguments. Furthermore, apart from the fact that I had no desire to make a sales pitch, it is truly difficult to discuss things with someone who opposes to an existing text the desire – certainly quite praiseworthy – to have one that is completely excellent.

Since you have expressed your personal opinion on the subject, I will briefly tell you mine. You should know that I’ve no maniacal taste for writing and that, if I wrote that book, it wasn’t that I wanted, at any price, to annually deliver to the public my reflections on the problems of the day. Let us say that I believe that I am particularly qualified to deal with this question of the utmost importance, and in this I am expressly mandated by the circumstances, because, in the revolutionary movement that is taking form in Spain, it truly isn’t theory that is the least lacking (no Spanish revolutionary would contradict me). Certainly this doesn’t immediately give the work a sufficient strength. And you are no doubt right, comparing it to La Guerre sociale, to say that it doesn’t have the same type of merit (that is to say, the very offensive functioning of a text that develops a central and original, though obvious, thesis with coherence or, rather, in these times of lying doubts that are spread everywhere as entertainment, [it is] original because it is obvious). But this [second] time, I did not seek that type of merit. It was, instead, a question for me of uniting and putting into their [proper] relations – for the very first time – elements of an analysis already formulated in a partial manner (for example, the social reality of Francoism [as analyzed] by Acion Comunista), other elements present in modern critical theory, but practically not used with respect to Spain, and the acts of contemporary subversion by the Spanish proletariat, which are almost totally hidden by the spectacle and even more so [than elsewhere] in France. Crudely distinguished, each of these elements found their truth in their [respective] relations with the others. Briefly, I thought – and I continue to think – that the situation calls for a book of this type, written quickly, but furnishing – by utilizing them to provide the truth about the current “democratization” – theoretical bases that have seriously been lacking until now in Spain and on Spain (the form of theses, which I did not choose due to some typographical aesthetic, corresponds for me to the relative modesty of the remarks). It is obvious that such a project only takes on its full meaning in a Spanish edition (it will soon be published, I believe), but I think that all this could not fail to have some interest to French readers, who are not saturated with truth on the question. Lebovici judges things differently. In any case, if he wants the books of his authors to be “in progress,” one must admit that the operation was successful: the author has disappeared.

Thus, this is what I wanted to do with the book, and subsequent events will reveal the extent to which I succeeded or failed. Moreover, I completely agree with you on the fact that I must continue to defend the theses of La Guerre social by saying how the counter-revolution is arming itself for the next stage.

Concerning our personal relations, I obviously have no reason to be opposed to you or to contest you about anything; I only wish to explain to you my perplexity at the moment and afterwards (in fact, up to your most recent letter). I understand that, at the beginning among those young people, my opinion, which I must have expressed very maladroitly for you to get this impression, was unfortunately able to evoke the disembodied extremism of the little men who decide willy-nilly upon the radicalism of those they meet. You say that this curt judgment didn’t appear to you to merit the least effort to make me return to it; nevertheless, what you did judge worthy of effort was our relations themselves: your choice to not criticize my haste in pronouncing myself against those people is, without any doubt, at the origin of this heavy dialectic that has turned our dialogues towards the dismal. Once more, I do not want to pose a principle here, but only to explain that – as this wouldn’t have been my method in a similar case (moreover, I do not have many people to see, and have no taste for any kind of solitude) – I didn’t even imagine that this could have been yours; and, having felt the “certain boredom” of which you speak, but having felt it as a certain withdrawal, I haven’t known what to attribute it to. At that moment and especially afterwards, in Paris, I thought that it could simply be other occupations or preoccupations that could very well give you the desire to be alone or at least not with us (but, in that case, you would no doubt have told me), and I can only be reproached for not returning to Paris earlier. Later, when I saw that this withdrawal was definitive, I still had no idea what the cause could be. Anne was more perspicacious, but I persisted in believing that, if this “quite harmless incident” had displeased you, you would soon say so. This explains, but doesn’t at all justify, why I had to comb the countryside in search of some mysterious reason for hostility.

A final remark on the subject of the facile pleasantries that you do not think of making but that you mention, nevertheless: it is true, and I have never hidden it from you, that I have for too long associated with a certain number of sub-intellectual cretins, and you have seen the most recent and sad example in that ninny [zozo] Ambrozizi. Nevertheless, you must not conclude that I will always – as I might have appeared on that evening – lack kindness towards those who uncontestably merit it more. “People like them,” who will be, as you say, “the basis of a revolution,” in Spain as elsewhere, have awaited, for quite a long time, the essential aspect of my associations so that they can be truly instructed by the comparison, which alone allows one to judge, that I think I wasn’t completely crazy when I found those young people to be of little interest. My error, with respect to you, who appreciated them, was to construct from this some kind of pseudo-theoretical analysis, revealing, if I remember well, what appeared to me as some stereotypes of the marginal role.

Jaime Semprun

P.S. It is only a minor detail, but I have the quasi-certitude (to keep some scientific precaution) that the guy named Jean-Pierre George is only a functionary in a provincial cultural center, as his brother is only the author of an ass-kissing book on Sartre, and that your suppositions about Manchette,[9] like mine about Franklin, are erroneous.

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

[1] See letter from Mustapha Khayati to Champ Libre dated 12 October 1976.

[2] See letter from Guy Debord to Gerard Lebovici dated 29 September 1976.

[3] Jean-Paul Belmondo was a French actor represented by Lebovici’s firm Artmedia; Jorge Semprun was Jaime Semprun’s father.

[4] Jaime Semprun, Précis de recuperation, published by Editions Champ Libre in 1976.

[5] Derived from Editions Maspero, which, according to the situationists, was infamous for publishing expurgated and thus falsified versions of texts.

[6] Jaime Semprun, La Guerra sociale, published by Editions Champ Libre in 1975.

[7] Formerly the literary director of Champ Libre, Gérard Guégan was fired by Gérard Lebovici in November 1974. “Ratgeb” was one of the aliases of Raoul Vaneigem.

[8] Arthur Lehning worked at the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam.

[9] Debord believed – and continued to believe (cf. letter dated 26 June 1990) – that Jean-Pierre George and Jean-Patrick Manchette were one and the same person.

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