The Big Sleep[1] and Its Clients

The other painters, whatever they think, instinctively keep themselves at a distance from discussions of present-day commerce. -- Last letter of Vincent Van Gogh.

It is time to bear in mind that we are also capable of inventing feelings, and perhaps fundamental feelings comparable in power to love or hate. -- Paul Nouge, Conference of Charleroi [1929].

The miserable disputes centered around painting or music that would like to be experimental, the burlesque respect for all of the exported orientalisms, the exhumation of "traditional" numeralist theories -- [all] are the results of a complete abdication of the avant-garde of bourgeois intelligence that, until ten years ago, had worked concretely at the ruin of the ideological superstructures of the society that frames it and at their supercession.

The synthesis of the claims allowed to be made by the modern era remains to be made, and it will only situate itself at the level of the complete mode of life. In a capitalist society, the construction of the frame and styles of life are enterprises restricted to isolated intellectuals. Which explains the long life of the dream.

The artists who have drawn their celebrity from scorn for and destruction of art are not contradicted by this very fact, because this scorn was determined by progress. But the phase of the destruction of art is still an historically necessary social stage of artistic production that responds to given ends and disappears with them. Once this destruction has been accomplished, its promoters naturally find themselves incapable of realizing the least of their ambitions beyond the aesthetic disciplines. The scorn that these out-of-date discoverers then profess for the specific values that they live -- that is to say, for the contemporary productions that are detrimental to their art -- becomes a quite adulterated attitude, suffering the indefinite prolongation of an aesthetic agony that only creates repetitions of forms and that no longer rallies the retarded fractions of university youths. Moreover, in a manner that is contradictory but explicable by the economic solidarity of class, their scorn implies the passionate defense of these same aesthetic values against the meanness of, for example, socialist-realist painting or [politically] engaged poetry. Freud's generation and the Dadaist movement contributed to the collapse of a psychology and a morality that the contradictions of the moment condemned. They left nothing in their wake, not even the modes that certain people would have liked to believe were definitive. To tell the truth, all the worthwhile works of this generation and the precursors that it recognizes lead one to think that the next upheaval in sensibility will not conceive itself on the plane of novel expressions of known facts, but on the plane of the conscious construction of real new states.

One knows that, starting with its discovery, an order of superior desires devalorizes the slightest accomplishments and necessarily moves towards its own realization.

It is in opposition to such a requirement that the attachment to forms of creation that are permitted by and frozen in the economic milieu of the moment finds itself to be uncomfortably justifiable. The voluntary blindness concerning the prohibited truths that enclose them removes the strange defenses of the "revolutionaries of the spirit": the accusation of Bolshevism is the most ordinary of their appeals to legitimate suspicion that each time obtains the placing of the opponent to somewhere beyond-the-law, in the judgment of the civilized elites. It is well-known that a conception so purely Atlantic in nature doesn't proceed without infantilisms: one comments on the alchemists, turns tables, [and] attends to forebodings.

In memory of Surrealism, nineteen imbeciles published a collective text[2] that attacks us, who are designated by its title to be "Familiars of the Great Trick."[3] For these people, The Great Trick is obviously Marxism, the Moscow [show] trials, money, the [People's] Republic of China, the Two Hundred Families, a dead Stalin and, in the final analysis, almost everything that isn't automatic writing or Gnosticism. These people, the Oblivious of the Great Trick, survive in what is harmless, in the beautiful spirits of the amusements that became banal around 1930. They have a good opinion of their tenacity and perhaps even their morality.

Opinions do not interest us, but systems do. Certain general systems always attract thunderbolts from individuals who are equipped with fragmentary theories, whether they are psychoanalytic or simply literary. These same Olympians nevertheless align their entire existence with other systems, the reign and perishable nature of which it is harder with each passing day to be ignorant.

From [Pierre] Gaxotte to [Andre] Breton, the people who make us laugh content themselves with denouncing us, as if this were a sufficient argument, for breaking with their own views of the world that, in the final analysis, strongly resemble each other.

So as to howl at death, the guard dogs have come together.[4]

G.-E. Debord

[1] In Tom McDonough's translation of this text, which appears in Guy Debord and the Situationist International (October Books, 2002), the title is rendered as "The Great Sleep and Its Clients," as if Guy Debord had not seen or heard of the 1946 classic by Howard Hawkes, The Big Sleep.

[2] Dated 29 November 1954. See Familiars of the Great Trick, Potlatch, #14, 30 November 1954.

[3] A reference to Rimbaud's poem "Chant de guerre parisien." In Tom McDonough's translation of this text, the title is "Good Friends of the Great What's-His-Name."

[4] In Tom McDonough's translation of this text, this line is rendered as "The watchdogs have gathered to bay at the moon."

(Published in Potlatch #16, 26 January 1955. Translated by NOT BORED! March 2006.)

To Contact NOT BORED!
ISSN 1084-7340.
Snail mail: POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998