Champ Libre (literally “free field,” but intended to suggest a field that’s “open” or “clear”) was a publishing house created by Gérard Lebovici in 1969. Born on 25 August 1932, in Neuilly, France, to Jewish Italian parents, both of whom died before he turned 21, Gérard made a name (and a fortune) for himself in the early 1960s as a manager of film stars, directors and screenwriters. Radicalized by the May 1968 uprising in France, and accompanied by his wife, Floriana Chiampo, Gérard went into publishing – in particular, the publishing of revolutionary books.
Between October 1970, when it brought out its first title (Khrushchev’s Secret Report on Stalin), through March 1984, when Gérard was murdered and Floriana renamed the firm “Editions Gérard Lebovici” in his honor, and until February 1990, when Floriana herself passed away, Champ Libre published a total of 230 books. In each case, and regardless of content, these books – mostly softcover, a few hardcover, no paperbacks, ever – were carefully and beautifully produced, and featured lead-letterpress typography, fine drawing-paper, linen-stitched bindings, high-quality illustrations, and folded flaps on each cover.
According to Gérard Guégan, who served as Champ Libre’s first literary director, Champ Libre’s early history can be broken into two periods: 1968 to 1971, and 1972 to 1974. For Guégan, the turning point was the “arrival” of the situationists.
Prior to their “arrival,” Champ Libre had published an incongruous mixture of authors: Marxist writers from the 19th and early 20th centuries (Karl Korsch, Raya Dunayevskaya, Joseph Dejacques, and Wilhelm Reich); contemporary revolutionaries (the Red Army Faction, the Groupe d’information sur les prisons, and the Front Homosexuel d’action révolutionnaire); contemporary film critics (André Bazin and Georges Sadoul, writing about Jean Renoir and Dziga Vertov); contemporary music critics (Phillipe Carles and Phillippe Dauphouy writing about free jazz and pop music); Groucho Marx (his correspondence); and Gérard Guégan himself, but under the pseudonyms Stéphane Vincentanne and Yoann Cloarec.
First came René Viénet, whom Lebovici hired to direct Champ Libre’s new imprint, “Bibliotheque asiatique.” (Perhaps this was among the “personal reasons” that caused Viénet to resign from the SI in February 1971). Viénet’s first choice for the imprint was a good one: a critique of the Chinese “Cultural Revolution” called Les Habits neufs du Président Mao and attributed to Simons Leys (the pseudonym of Pierre Ryckmans).
Then, a bit later in 1971, came Guy Debord, or, rather, Lebovici asked Viénet if his new employee could put him in contact with Debord, who was still a member of the Situationist International at the time. Lebovici had heard about the on-going difficulties Debord had been having with Editions Buchet-Chastel. The original publishers of La Société du Spectacle, Buchet-Chastel not only cheated Debord on his royalties, but had also added the title “The Situationist Theory” to its 1971 edition of the book. Lebovici had read and admired La Société du Spectacle, and wanted to help out its author.
By mid-May 1971, Lebovici and Debord must already have met and worked things out, because Debord was able to conclude his last letter to Guy Buchet, written on 13 May 1971, with these words: “It is clear that you believe that you can, in the most petty financial details as in the enormity of a change of title, mock me with impunity. You will be enlightened.”
Not only did Champ Libre reprint La Société du Spectacle, but it also “stuck to its guns,” as we Americans say, when Editions Buchet-Chastel sued both Debord and Champ Libre for breach of contract and copyright infringement, respectively. On 31 December 1972, Debord reported the results to the ex-situationist Gianfranco Sanguinetti.
The lawsuit that Buchet brought against us has finally been adjudicated. And it is he who finds himself completely condemned, in severe terms! Retroactive to 1 June 1971, the contract that tied me to them is canceled; the contract with Champ Libre is recognized as valid, so that the recent pirate edition can immediately be distributed to all bookstores as a legal edition. Buchet will certainly appeal, but this judgment is already immediately executed, and it appears very improbable that it will be reversed on appeal.
Quite right, Debord was, but, as the reader of this very volume will see, more than five years later, the controversy between the two parties was still going on.
To return to 1971: Lebovici was interested in doing more than just reprinting Debord’s La Société du Spectacle as if it were a “modern classic”: he wanted to help Debord make history by helping him turn La Société du Spectacle into a film, something that had rarely been done with a book of critical theory and had never done by the critical theorist himself. In a letter to Sanguinetti dated 16 September 1971, Debord reported that, “As far as the cinema,” that is, as far as making La Société du Spectacle into a film, “I believe that you already know that he [Gérard Lebovici ] found a distributor in America who will pay, in exchange for the American distribution rights, as much as the film costs to make (around 50 million lira).” The film version of the book was completed in October 1973 and first screened in May 1974.
In the year following the reprinted edition of La Société du Spectacle, Champ Libre went on to publish four more situationist-related books: Jean-Pierre Voyer’s Reich, mode d’emploi (November 1971); Voyer and Jean-Jacques Raspaud’s L’Internationale Situationniste: Chronologie, bibliographie, protagonistes (avec un index des noms insultés) (January 1972); Debord and Sanguinetti’s La Véritable Scission dans l’Internationale Situationniste: circulaire publique de l’Internationale Situationniste (April 1972); and a reprint of De la misere en milieu étudiant (December 1972).
Sometime in early 1973, Viénet was fired for incompetence: his reprint of De la misere en milieu étudiant was incomplete and typo-strewn, and Luo Mengce’s Le Paradoxal destin politique de Confucius, which he chose to bring out as a "Bibliotheque asiatique" title (it was actually published in Chinese and in Hong Kong), was denounced by Debord as being among “the two worst titles [ever published by Champ Libre], truly without competition in ridiculousness.” (The other one, in case you are interested, was Manz’ie’s Une nuit sans Dormir, published in June 1973.)
Though Champ Libre continued to publish its usual mishmash (including Guégan’s La rage au Coeur, published under his real name), its second period saw it begin to publish books by pre-Marxists (Hegel and Cieszkowski), anarchists (Bakunin’s complete works), Dadaists (as collected by Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes), poets (Balthar Gracian), and military strategists (Clausewitz, Napoleon, and Jean-Paul Charnay). Some, but not all, of these titles were suggested by Debord (see his letter to Lebovici dated 16 April 1972).
Ironically, perhaps, Debord had nothing to do with the events that took place at Champ Libre between September and November 1974, unless, that is, you posit that the little uprising against Lebovici’s rule staged by Gérard Guégan and his three cohorts during this period was a reaction against Debord’s growing “influence” over Lebovici. Either way – as the reader can see for him or herself from the contents of this volume – it was Lebovici, not Debord, who fired the lot of them and continued Champ Libre with a new team that included Hortensia Biscaeretti di Ruffia, Catherine Nicole, and Anita Blanc, among others.
It was also Lebovici himself, and not Debord, who in 1974 created a new Champ Libre imprint, “Chute Libre” (“free fall”), which was dedicated to publishing French translations of novels by such excellent contemporary American Sci-Fi authors as Norman Spinrad, Philip K. Dick and Samuel R. Delany. Apparently both the phrase Chute Libre and the idea for the imprint came from Jean-Patrick Manchette, someone whom Debord hated.
And yet, influenced by Debord or not, Champ Libre began to conduct itself in a manner that can only be described as “anti-spectacular,” and thus, by default, “situationist.” After the Guégan affair (cf. his references to Floriana being overwhelmed by her job as press relations person), Champ Libre stopped sending out complimentary copies of its publications to newspaper and magazine reviewers; refused to accept literary prizes for its own work or for the works of its authors; and refused to contract out for any more books from Champ Libre authors who, as individuals, failed to obey these simple rules.
In 1975 and 1976, Champ Libre published six more titles related to the Situationist International: a reprint of the entire run of the journal Internationale Situationniste (originally collected by Van Gennep in 1971); Jaime Semprun’s La Guerre sociale au Portugal, as well as his Précis de Récuperation, illustré de nombreux exemples tires de l’histoire récente; Jean-Pierre Voyer’s Introduction a la science de la Publicité, as well as his Enquete sur la nature et les causes de la misere des gens; and a proper reprint of De la misere en milieu étudiant. As the reader will see, this last title stirred up some controversy: Mustapha Khayati, the text's original author, objected.
The reader will also see that Jaime Semprun – after having one of his manuscripts rejected by Lebovici – wrote to Guy Debord to see if he had had anything to do with the rejection of his book, and that Debord responded to him, and at great length, concerning his alleged influence or even control over Champ Libre.
Editions Champ Libre: Correspondence, Vol. 1 was first published by Champ Libre itself in 1978, and Correspondence, Vol. 2 followed in 1981. As Debord hints in his unsigned text that appears on one the cover’s inner flaps, it’s rare that a company publishes books, not to mention writes letters, that are (in fact) interesting enough to be published and read. Usually the correspondence between prospective writers and a publishing house is a dreary, predictable, and ultimately administrative affair: beseeching entreaties that come in and either letters of rejection or acceptance that go out, but, either way, “neutral,” with all the politics carefully hidden away. Here, the politics are made to see the light of day, and – provided you understand exactly what the context is, and what is being discussed – they make for very good reading, indeed.
A few remarks before you see for yourself. We have provided footnotes and have added words or phrases in brackets [thus] to help the reader understand. Because some passages were too boring to read, not to mention translate into English, we have made the following deletions: (1) in the exchange with Valentin Pelosse, we have deleted the concluding paragraphs of the official document that was presented to Champ Libre (they concerned minute and inconsequential changes to Articles 592 and 593 of the Code of Civil Procedure); and we have deleted all of the letters that (2) Jean-Louis Moinet and (3) Jean-Pierre Voyer continued to send Champ Libre after their respective and unrelated manuscripts were rejected. It is certain that these “superfluous” letters were included, not for their content, but for their simple existence: as irrefutable proof that these poor fools just didn’t know when to stop.NOT BORED!