Recuperation and Its Discontents

“Guy Debord: An Art of War” (Recuperation)

A poet, artist, revolutionary thinker, editor and filmmaker, Guy Debord (1931-1994) has produced – through his archives – not only the history of a life’s work, but also a history of the collective adventures of which he was often the strategist. This exposition[1] will recount the theory, the practices and the combats of an uninterrupted struggle against the society of the spectacle.

In addition to the manuscripts, tracts, posters, film scripts, photographs and works by Guy Debord and his fellow travelers, this exposition will present the entirety of his unpublished reader’s notes, which are the permanent center of his works and a mirror to his life. They are documents that allow one to better understand the itinerary of an author whose theses continue to put our contemporary societies to the sword.

“The BNF is delighted to present today the essential parts of Guy Debord’s archives, which is an exceptional ensemble that is classed as a National Treasure and was acquired in 2011. This exposition will revive an avant-garde whose role has been crucial [capital], which one can see every day,” declared Bruno Racine, the President of the BNF.

In Paris, in 1953, at the bottom of the rue de Seine, a young man used large letters to write on a wall: NEVER WORK!

Guy Debord never worked. He walked a lot along the streets of Paris, drinking – and reading – more than others, and, in his works (written or filmed), forged the theoretical weapons of a critique of modern society that made no concessions. The avant-garde movements that he initiated – the Lettrist International (1952-1957) and then the Situationist International (1957-1972) – were the points at which this organized struggle against all that hindered veritably lived life were applied.

Guy Debord was, above all, the strategist of a war against the false pretenses of our society, whose grotesque [pervers] mechanisms he demonstrated early on and very precisely in his book The Society of the Spectacle (1967). Fed by power, the media, culture and the masses of representations that they generate, the spectacle governs our existences, puts a screen between us and all the others, and shows itself to be formidable with respect to any contestation, which it recuperates and models in its image. Diffuse and magical [illusionniste] alienation, it is a culture in the wide sense of the term that governs the logic of the commodity, relayed every day by its products. Thus, combating it involves conceiving and wielding a veritable art of war.

It is from the point of view of strategy that the works and itinerary of Guy Debord and his comrades-in-arms will be approached in the exposition that the BNF will dedicate to him in the Spring of 2013. Conceived in 1956, Guy Debord’s Game of War constitutes both the strategic synthesis of his works and the principal structuring principal of the exposition. All the periods of time and his works will be presented in the perspective of a war to be conducted to ceaselessly keep oneself beyond the field in which our lives are controlled by the organized system of ceaselessly renewed commodity-consumption.

The layout [parcours] of the exposition will revolve around a center that is constituted by the unpublished collection of Guy Debord’s index cards. On hundreds of them, the indefatigable reader wrote down the passages to be retained, occasionally commented on them, and thus prepared future détournements or honed his weapons and concepts in contact with other authors.

“To know how to write, one must know how to read. And to know how to read, one must know how to live.”[2] Thus, from this center, from which everything comes and to which everything returns, the works, the gaze and the practice of Guy Debord – as well as the collective adventure of those who united their efforts to conceive a society that was, in their eyes, less absurd than the system of a capitalist-market economy, which was then booming – will be presented for each and every period.

In Paris, in 2013, on the shores of the Seine, Guy Debord, classified as a National Treasure, will finally become part of the spectacle, of which he was the most intransigent of its critics. But with him, to continue to fight it, [will go] his art of war.

Exposition realized with the support of the Louis Roederer Foundation, Great Sponsor of Culture.

[1] Translator: Guy Debord, “Un art de la guerre” (An Art of War”), BnF François-Mitterrand, quai François-Mauriac, 75013. From 27 March to 13 July 2013.

[2] Translator: cf. Thesis 29, "Theses and the SI and Its Time," The Real Split in the International, 1972: "[...] in this particular field [that of the pro-situs], in order to write, you have to have read, and in order to read, you have to know how to live."

(Press release from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, dated 14 November 2012. Translated by NOT BORED! 19 January 2013.)

“Debord at the top of the card” (Discontent)

Another hero demiurge is Guy Debord, whose manuscripts, tracts, posters, film scripts and photographs – plus the buried and kernel-like treasures of the entirety of his unpublished readers’ notes, in which he marked passages he wished to retain and made several comments, “thus preparing for future détournements or honing his weapons and concepts in contact with other authors,” to quote the BNF’s press release – will be displayed at the BNF François-Mitterrand at the end of March.[1]

One knows the influence that the guru of the Lettrist International (1952-1957) and then the Situationist International (1957-1972) used to have on the generations of young paranoids who found in his catatonic homilies an explanation of the world that was totally closed, because any attempt to escape from the domination of the Spectacle is spectacular. In this way, the Debordian branch of Marxism has long obscured the similar analyses of more useful philosophers of culture, such as Adorno and Gramsci, who reached different conclusions.

Except that Debord was the only poet among those radical critics. History having rendered positive this negative figure, the exposition [at the BNF] will continuously make available the films of this anti-aesthetical filmmaker and promises to be structured around the Game of War, from 1965, imagined to be an antidote to the ogre of fetishism. This reminds us that the game was the favorite weapon of the crazy inventor of a “critique of urban geography,” who, with his buddies, redesigned maps so that they were upside down.

(Written by Eric Loret and published in the 7 January 2013 issue of Libération. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! 14 January 2013.)

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