Guy Debord, Ausgewaehlte Briefe 1957-1994

What do you do, when the author you want to translate and publish (Guy Debord) wrote thousands of letters between 1957 and 1994, and you only have a single 300-page book to work with?

This was the problem that confronted a team of German translators (Bernadette Grubner, Roman Kuhn, Birgit Lulay and Christoph Plutte) in 2010 when they were putting together Guy Debord: Ausgewaehlte Briefe, 1957-1994 for Edition Tiamat. The solution the team reached was to translate at least one letter from every year, with the exception of 1977, when, for some reason, Debord wrote fewer letters (and fewer letters of general interest) than usual. But beyond that, how did the team agree on which letters should be translated and published? In "Notice from the Translators," they state:

The letters herein were drawn from the seven-volume collection of Guy Debord's "Correspondence." Selections were made according to the following criteria: first of all, we have included the letters from the late 1950s and the 1960s that shed light on the development of the Situationist International as a group and Debord's position in it. From the letters written after the dissolution of the SI in 1972, we chose the ones that are interesting to us, reflections on contemporary political events (political crises in Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc) or documentation of Debord's reading materials, friendships and activities at the time. Finally, we have also given priority to letters that include published essays, not previously translated into German (articles for the Encyclop├ędie des Nuisances, Notes on the Immigrant Question, etc). Several amusing letters were also translated. [My translation from the German.]

Though one might lament the exclusion of this or that particular letter, the reader will be very happy with the letters that were included. Appropriately, only a third of the book is devoted to the situationist years; the rest is devoted to Debord's life between 1972 and 1994. In addition to translating the footnotes provided by the original French publisher (Fayard), the translators have also added footnotes of their own. And, though there is no table of contents, there is an index of proper names. In short, an excellent volume. Too bad a volume like this hasn't been and probably won't be published in English: Semtiotexte(e) saw to that three years ago, when it published a translation of the entirety of the first volume of Debord's letters, rather than only those letters in it that were truly interesting.

Bill Not Bored
18 January 2012

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