from Guy Debord

To Jean-Marc Loiseau
2 October 1971

I’ve received your letter of 30 September [1971]. If I haven’t written to you until now it is because I do not at all believe that the unfortunate end of a certain kind of relationship with Eve has to involve you in a complete break and mistrust on all levels. Thus I’m writing to you now what I would have said to you at the first opportunity. As you have remained moderate in your anger, and you have said very just things with respect to the uselessness and the all-too-simple reasons for many of the insults directed at me, which have come from people who are themselves already collapsed, I can also suppose that you cannot be counted among those who believe in the sad legend that that it is my custom – in an irresponsible manner and by supporting myself on I-don’t-know-what authority – to drag through the mud and place at the absolute degree of ignominy all those who have disappointed me or displeased me somehow. I have not made calumnious accusations against you, as I will show you, and you can be sure that I will never tell any comrade anything of what I will lay out in this letter. I am completely persuaded that there is nothing in common between the Riesel couple[1] and the couple composed of you and Eve (this is in fact why I have critiqued your longstanding patience with them several times). Thus I believe that what sets us apart must not end in a simple escalation of arbitrary or crudely exaggerated reproaches, thereafter maintained with inflexibility, in short, as you say, in the grotesque. I will make the effort to clearly explain myself, because I think that you no doubt merit it – and Eve, too, of course. You yourselves, obviously, will draw the conclusions that appear the most just to you, but one will not be able to say that you do not know my position precisely.

First of all, there’s the question of “calumnious accusations.” Eve – who was very angry and for the second time – did not understand me at all in that she believed that I reproached you for specific lies (as one could say of political maneuvers, rip-offs or even false declarations in the case of pseudo-lovers), when I’d only critiqued instances of false consciousness. All the words that Eve reported to you, and that you quoted to me, were said, no doubt, except perhaps the description “liar,” but there was a complete contradiction between what you said and what she said (i.e., should you be alone or not?) concerning your meeting with Alice [Becker-Ho] – a meeting at which I did not see “suspect advances” that, as such, had been “rejected” – and thus someone must be lying. But all this, and it is, nevertheless, a fundamental point, was said in the last five minutes that concluded two discussions that had, taken together, lasted five or six hours and that ended in a justified exasperation because Eve, confessing to us this time that, from the outset, she’d lied the preceding time, started to lie again, this time differently but with even less plausibility. I was quite surprised that Eve only quoted these words to you, isolated from their context, and I was even more surprised that you did not at all remember, in the letter that you addressed to me, the even more general context that you can certainly not be ignorant of. Thus, if you had been indignant about several fragments of badly reported phrases, which had appeared arbitrary and malevolent to you, this letter will be useful to you because it will show the reality of the problem, that is, all that I think about it and all that I’ve said about it. If, on the contrary, to avoid this reality, you prefer to grasp quickly the first pretext that, on my part, had a superficial and capricious air, my current letter will displease you even more. In any case, by writing to me you have given the question a public dimension that obliges me to respond, and I will no longer respond to you with scornful insults or facile irony.

Besides, even when Eve admitted formulating one or several precise lies, I believed that they had no bearing with respect to the true problem that is the false consciousness in question, which several particular and benign lies only wanted to hide and only ended up revealing.

The only thing about which I am absolutely sure (as sure as you are), and that I affirm, is that the brief amorous relations between Eve and us have involved a certain number of complications that came from the real rapport that exists in your couple – a couple that I believe has nothing ridiculous about it – and these complications, which I did not suspect at first, have been concealed from us for a long time by Eve. These complications are obviously not “theoretical,” nor do they involve jealousy or monogamy; they are concrete and are not at all dishonorable or excessively backwards, nor even insurmountable, but, when they are concealed, they cannot be surmounted. Faced with the evidence that there were several obstacles that one had hidden from us, and that one hid from us with such clumsiness that it became objectively insulting – because it is extravagant that Eve could believe us to be idiotic enough to swallow such inept reassurances – I advanced probable hypotheses concerning the strangest and most significant facts of the last week, and these hypotheses appeared to me as very probable indeed. Nevertheless, since you affirm that all these deductions are false, it is indeed certain that you do not have to prove the gratuitousness of their content. I can immediately pledge that I do not doubt the honesty of your affirmation. I withdraw all the specific hypotheses that you mention and that I’d only formulated in a single instant of the discussion with Eve, and withdraw them simply because you have denied them. And you can see that, if you have nothing in common with Riesel, I no longer do.[2] I do not practice calumny and I have never maintained a simple, probable but unproven claim against anyone. If these hypotheses offended you, I am very sorry, and I think that you should to keep in mind the tiresome atmosphere of the moment and the fact that I was speaking to Eve, who lied at length: a lack of frankness that you agree is unfortunate, since you “strongly disapproved,” although you certainly didn’t recognize of all its real content. Your current position on this last question is a little artificial: Eve has again completely become your companion and collaborator, which testifies that the guys who were not involved in the writing of Perspectives prolétariennes have more or less spoken ill of its estimable author[3] and this in his absence! Certainly. But at that moment, she was also with us, or, more exactly, she’d unilaterally chose on that particular day to be there, at least that time, and, to the extent that she also was hardly with us, it wasn’t at all by chance that you were absent sometimes, and Eve had seen to it that there were, between her and us, communal problems that were our problems, and thus we had the right as well as the obligation to evaluate your position (this was almost the only time that we’d spoken of you). Because, in this type of problem, everyone doesn’t have our frankness or our nature, nor do they want to make the effort to acquire these characteristics, we know quite well! But there was nothing very dramatic there, since, as you have seen, this type of relationship, when it doesn’t manage to establish a true basis, doesn’t last.

All this being the case, openly specified and declared, with the good faith that you want to recognize in me, I maintain that I am not deceived when I state that there is a general fault as a result of the contradiction between the ideology of your couple of revolutionaries and the concrete fashion in which you [two] live with respects to others.

As hypotheses are no longer in season after the conclusion of dialogue, and as I pass over all that I could be sure about concerning other details that you haven’t seen for yourself, and which thus do not now have for you the same conclusive value, I will content myself with citing two quite sufficient proofs of what I’ve advanced. One day, that is to say, the preceding time that she’d spent the night with us, Eve confessed to us that she didn’t alert you before coming to see us and that you’d thus been naturally worried about a possible accident, in the street, for example. I reprimanded this blunder, offensive to you and to us. The second-to-last time I saw Eve, I myself interrupted at 1:30 am a discussion that had become boring (Alice and I had already concluded, with regret, that we were not as capable as we had believed of truly seeing ourselves with her), and I reminded Eve that she was supposed to get up early the next morning; and yet, during her last impromptu visit, she claimed to us, at the time of the prior evening, that she had a rendezvous with you at 8 pm and that she’d simply not wanted to tell us! This was done to make us unwilling accomplices in a bad proceeding, which you did not merit – which no one would merit – and in which we did not merit being mixed up in, even without our knowing about it. As you know, we have never tried to influence or win over Eve, even for a half-hour. As all the pro-situs say but hardly do, only liberty can be the basis of passionate relations between individuals, whether these relations last three nights or ten years. These stories of [mere] hours obviously testify to a bad manner of making us live, for everyone concerned. I suppose that you would not have accepted it for a very long time, and I, in any case, from the moment that this appeared, refused the least concession, and I wouldn’t dream of taking into account details that would become simply sordid (Eve is quite pretty), nor kind, sentimental considerations that, at the moment that the essential [aspects] of possible dialogue are altered, would only become a miserable sentimentality.

Even if, as Eve constantly affirmed, all the sad phantoms that arose between us were only obstacles “in her head,” and if you hadn’t intervened a single time to indicate one of them (which seems to me to almost prove an excessive benevolence, because I would have confessed to you that, for my part, I would take quite badly the comportment of a companion who makes me wait an entire night instead of warning me that she’s going to bed elsewhere), you are not any less co-responsible for everything that doesn’t go well in a couple, that is to say, at least in that couple’s relations with other people, when it comes to everything that trips up the feet on the carpet of concrete life, and yet wants to disguise itself in a pseudo-radicalism, really transparent here, of badly handled, abstract, general ideas. It is exactly because you really are a couple, and a much better one than the majority of couples, that you cannot be beyond all this. You began (and so much the better if you can pursue and make good on) a personal contribution to the necessary critique of an intrusive, current revolutionary ideology that can be summarized by the term “pro-situ,” which is the ideology supported by the totality of everyday life presented as abstract and perfect pseudo-liberation, acquired without difficulty but also without reality, without “the work of the negative,” without concrete analysis or the risk of [making] intelligent effective choices at all levels of practical life, history and one’s own history. Thus you must be able to understand this piece of advice, which isn’t spiteful: the best declarations of intention, the most beautiful general formulations, are nothing without their practical verification and, [even] if they sometimes stand up on their own, they are quite the contrary of the guarantee that they give themselves the appearance of being, [and] they become obstacles to practical verification. The voluntarist pretention to be immediately perfect prevents many people from being very good. It isn’t shameful to confess problems and obstacles, but it is bad to “honestly” deny them, because, following an ideology (which is the meaning of the current phrase “But of course we basically agree”), it is the real fact that must be wrong. And thus certain people – I am not saying “you” – can even, without speaking of their omissions, lie a little about a detail, which they do honestly because ideology appears sure and because the lie only concerns a detail, which in itself would effectively be of little importance, if it wasn’t unfortunately in fact quite important as the occasion for a lie.

You say that you’ve made several errors. Just like me, just like everyone else (I would say that you have certainly made fewer errors than I have, because at your age, you’ve had less time and fewer occasions). But you are also sure that you have always benefited from your errors. I hope you have, but this is precisely the question. First of all,[4] it isn’t so much a question of knowing if one has made “errors,” but which errors, of what caliber and of what kind. Moreover, one can make errors all one’s life, never making the same ones that one has previously made, because one only understands their results, not their method. In particular, any position that neglects the precise explication of what really took place, in class struggle as in a dialogue between two people, to the profit of a false [sense of] security in the duty to be always more-bravely reaffirmed [as right], prepares itself for many setbacks in circumstances that are more complex, more urgent and more serious than, for example, the evaluation of the charms and the lifestyle of Mrs. Riesel. If someone[5] could spend 10 months in reflection so as to judge his lover – a slight problem that only provides a measure of his own speed and depth – there are, on the other hand, days of historic conflicts in which one must judge factors a thousand times more complex in an hour. There is no cumulative progress guaranteed to the consciousness, knowledge and works of a revolutionary (one could also say: of a man or a woman). There are junctions in life at which one must immediately choose a course, qualitative leaps, missed opportunities and repercussions. One must not fear errors – they are inevitably unavoidable, one day or another – but one should fear misrecognizing them. Some errors are only a loss of time: the time of their duration. Others shut you out, for a long time or definitively, from theoretical and practical possibilities that were graspable for [only] a moment. At the same time, one didn’t recognize, for example, the existence of a revolutionary moment or a revolutionary person, a potential direction near its realization on its own. And, quite often, it cannot be recaptured and this is a harsh reality, and so much the worse if that moment would have offended the taste for intellectual comfort of the bearers of revolutionary ideology. And what paralyzes them is the impoverished illusion of having already arrived. In a revolutionary organization, the individuals involved can and must not be in agreement about everything at every moment. In the SI these last few years, many people have pretended to be so, but you know what this means. Likewise, in a couple, it is paralyzing and already sadly symptomatic to pretend to share every taste in common and to exhibit conclusions, from one end to the other and on all shared points, about the disagreements that the others can plainly see in their reality.

I must make clear, with respect to Quillet,[6] what I think about your declarations about student supervisors [le métier de pion]. It isn’t quite true that, on that evening, you only spoke in your own name and of a predilection that is yours alone (it is also mine and certainly one of Quillet’s). You have clearly said, two or three times, that there are jobs that “one must not do.” When a revolutionary speaks of work, he cannot speak in his name alone. I told you soon afterwards that your formulations tended to divide the proletariat in the name of moralizing criteria (because, where jobs are concerned, the masons of the HLM,[7] the metalworkers at auto plants or military-airplane factories, the cameramen and typographers who compose the newspapers, etc. etc. [all] serve the spectacle and reproduce the system). You quickly agreed. I believe, I confess, that you’d been moved to speak with a certain bad humor towards Alice, who had for a moment been a student supervisor so as to be able to leave her family, 10 years ago. I do not believe that, where you are concerned, this lack of intelligence on a fundamental point can exist without an external emotional motivation. Since you have rejected this interpretation, I believe you, and this fact thus testifies only to a certain distance, rather than an extremist way of thinking that abstractly, ideologically, settles the question at a level that is even more hazy than real generalities can, for the moment, express concerning enormous concrete problems. This distance from the concrete, if it appears in thinking about work, can also appear in the ideology of love and personal liberty. I never believed that you were alluding to Quillet, but, on the contrary, I have remarked that you didn’t think about it at all, not that [particular] evening, nor two days later, when Quillet mentioned in passing the circumstances – in this case, truly unbearable – of his taking the job that, for the moment, he is forced to take (you know why). As I have no desire to set you at odds with Quillet, but, on the contrary, desire that you develop your own dialogue and a possible collaboration [with him] to the best you can, I would have to be demented to reproach you in his presence for a manifestation of intellectual inconsequence that I am persuaded did not aim to be so. Reciprocally, I find that you proved yourself to be serious by not taking up with Quillet your hour-long diatribe against work in general (just, but very abstract) or against that kind of work in particular (unjust, or a manifestation of a kind of slightly premature personal dandyism). No doubt you remember that I would like it if you and Quillet had, aside from our shared meeting, at least another one, directly between the two of you. Because I have many times remarked that when I meet with Quillet – which is quite infrequently – we have many things to talk about and we risk monopolizing the conversation. Which has happened. But you will surely have the occasion to see him again soon.

I will give you a striking example of something that collapses, loses its truth and thus also its charm when – instead of taking off from the real, concrete relations that individuals live, upon which there’s time to formulate concepts (as well as prognostications concerning their duration) – someone, so as to hide one aspect of these relations, immediately sets off to salvage a reified concept of it and to even change that concept every 10 minutes to try to keep the edifice in place. After Eve told us during the two or three weeks that she loved us – and I would dare say, desiring that you do not see a trivial connotation to it – after she behaved at diverse moments as a consequence (she came along), and this because we had raised, at length and with insistence, the question of what, in our eyes, was no longer going very well, by asking her what it was to her, and not [to answer] by risking hypotheses, [after all that] she declared to us, not that important truth that, at the moment, you had been waiting for, for three or four hours, but the hybrid abstraction “that she wants to love us and that she will love us, but that she has a fear of loving” (because of several disappointments concerning preceding individuals, but you are obviously not implicated here). The concept of time, the time that is the basis of all dialectical thought, is obvious here. The recourse to ideological reasoning, to the rapid handling of the accessible protocols that, for a short moment, present themselves as total and definitive, can thus neglect the most unquestionable realities of the process that is life. After having said “I love you” for two weeks, certainly no one is constrained to continue to do so! But then one can only say, truthfully, these two things: “I no longer love you” or “I’ve deceived myself or I have deceived you: I do not love you.” But life is not a Game of the Goose in which one returns to zero, or five, or seven, to begin again at the front, by playing differently, by once again taking the steps that no longer stay in the positions at which you find yourself placed at such a moment. When one has drunk two bottles, one must be crazy to seriously propose drinking a third glass!

I have spoken of your couple. I judge a story that momentarily concerns me. But do not believe that I judge it haughtily from the outside, displaying a superiority of principle. I only recall what has in fact happened. I truly do not claim that, on the part of Alice and myself, nothing ever existed that would cause problems for you or cause you to legitimately want explanations or modifications. But I will say that I absolutely do not know what those things could be. If something of this kind existed, you would no doubt have spoken of it (I once posed this question to Eve, but, here as well [as elsewhere], she responded that there was no problem).

Another thing to be made clear: I had to respond to your letter, to this misunderstanding, and to this real alienation of what probably was our good intentions where you are concerned. One might have believed, because of certain details that I have been obliged to mention, that I have a negative view of Eve, or that I believe that she’s “a liar” or an idiot. Nothing of the kind. I find her to be really charming. I am sure that she is very intelligent. I would say, and I want to believe that you will not see any irony that would be truly very out of place, that she is capable of being more spontaneous and sincere than any of the young women I’ve known in many years. The only thing is that she is intelligent and spontaneous concerning everything that she still doesn’t know and can discover directly [for herself] (fortunately, that means many things, because she is at the beginning of her life), but when it is a matter of several questions that have already been envisioned and falsely understood in terms of a solidified and warmed-over ideology, which is tasked with embellishing some aspect of everyday routine, [but] without authentic thinking, then, literally speaking, her tone changes – and one hears it right away. If we perceived it so quickly, this is precisely because we have also seen Eve – when it comes to subjects about which she is still not “informed” in a reified manner – speak with a thoughtfulness that is spontaneously suppler and more concrete than yours in your current stage. But on two or three points, the drop off in the logical and theoretical qualities of what she says, her very truthfulness, is as immediate and brutal as the descent of water from a dam. And it is into this category that there enters, precisely, the spectacular ideology of the free and admirable couple that you must, by definition, compose, and for which real faults are only ever fugitive appearances that do not damage the inaccessible essence of perfection. This is certainly not permanently in play, but in those instances in which an almost advertizing-like solidarity expresses itself. And yet a real couple proves itself to be so in the fact that it can freely move through life, in all circumstances, by reinforcing itself as an effective agreement that doesn’t mutilate the possibilities of either person, and, on the contrary, not by reinforcing the image of the couple as a response to all concrete failures. It is the case, for example, that I clearly condemned you for allowing that pip squeak Riesel and his grotesque wife to insult your companion by your continuing to associate with them for several months. It is obvious that, in real life, Eve hasn’t at all appreciated that conduct on your part and, at a bend in the conversation, she spontaneously and frankly shows it. Nevertheless, the first time I saw her be unintelligent and dishonest [dissimulatrice], I asked, in your presence, what the Riesels could reproach Eve for, to publicly treat her with such contempt. I believe that you didn’t respond. Eve then had to speak up and said that you had acted stupidly when you first presented yourselves at the Riesel’s place as forming “a group,” when you were not. Leaving aside the byzantine matter of this group, and the mysterious place occupied by the collaboration of women among the pro-situs – a laughable sub-formalism obviously derived from a situ mode that only formed in the last few years because so many comrades were satisfied with living with real cunts – I recall that I soon after posed this question: “If it really was an error that you committed by presenting yourself as a group, how is it possible to deduce from this shared error as a couple that the responsibility or the idiocy was Eve’s alone?" (I am indeed quite capable of logic, even simple formal logic). To this there was no response, even though I asked Eve this question again on another day. And indeed this scandalous anecdote only testifies to this: you have not always been so quick to complain to me about “calumnies” and grotesque imputations. The people who treat you haughtily, with phony prestige and a truly clumsy superficiality offend you less than those who treat you correctly but critically. With the result that the image of your guaranteed perpetual progress is not an historical law that you have already demonstrated to everyone! There is another contradiction between what Eve said one day about “the friendship that tends to become love” and the inverse, real and bad experience of the degradation of the love that is quickly hindered by ideological commonplaces that immediately hinder simple friendship and that, by following the [downward] slope of the weight of things, falsifies revolutionary camaraderie. To declare oneself the enemy of ideology isn’t at all sufficient to leave it behind. To do so, one must envision every theory and every practice concretely. Dialectical thinking sees in the most excellent formula its necessary passage to its contrary and its precise connection to such a moment in the practical process. Thus, one day you declare yourself, with good reason, to be the firm enemy of habit. And yet I had a certain difficulty in making you admit the obvious fact that in the best practice of the formation of mankind by way of history, there also exists a portion of habit whose function is indispensible and favorable (because it liberates other possibilities for innovation). Where this is concerned, one can see that, when the constructed habits of a couple encounter a novelty, one is quicker to recognize the value of these habits than [that] of new possibilities.

I will add that, if ideology itself is schizoid (proceeding through isolated and reified moments that are without temporal relations to the surroundings and the next day [l’entourage et le lendemain]), it seems to me that Eve is more sensible than others, because she is quite obviously carried to adhere completely to such moments, but then displays – when they have ended – a certain dejection when faced with the necessity of returning in an hour or so to the style of another part of her life. She is currently quite unhappy because she still isn’t truly alienated: she struggles against alienation but with too much recourse to the magical thinking of children, and thus is already in an atmosphere of defeat.

I know you too little to foresee if you will take this letter in the right spirit or, on the contrary, as a direct insult to you, because, in your radical but ambiguous position, you have very good reasons for responding either way. But it hardly matters to me. This is your affair and we all know that by judging, one is constrained to judge oneself.

I hope that you will at least not reproach me for writing such a long letter – if it had to be written, it had to be complete – as the conclusion to a short encounter that, for me, isn’t negligible and, for you, isn’t negligible any longer. I know well that you have no need of me! And the reciprocal is also true. Eve no longer needs me or Alice. Quite simply, a part of what she can and wants to be will only be realized later and otherwise, or perhaps not at all. Time doesn’t wait. “Beautiful children, you have lost the prettiest roses on your hats,” etc.[8]

As I do not know what you mean by evoking other “consequences” that you fearlessly envision, I can assure you that there will be none and that I will not harm your relations with anyone. Even forgetting what could have been better, but which wasn’t developed, in this encounter, it remains that you have rendered me a very great service by opportunely revealing to me the impotent excesses of pathetic Riesel, who would certainly have continued to hide from me, to me, behind the pseudo-respectful attitude of a yes-man for three or four more months. And during that time, he would have published diverse things[9] that could have assured his position in the world of impotent opportunists for some time, and would have assisted their bluffs in the revolutionary milieu. Thus, all things considered, you have indeed pleased me. If I have foreseen some disruption with respect to Eve, believe that this [whole] story didn’t take place, and not only so that you are not annoyed, but also and especially because, in that eventuality, Eve herself was much less interested in me [than in Alice].

See you,

[1] René Riesel and his wife, Joelle.

[2] See letter dated 7 September 1971.

[3] Jean-Marc Loiseau.

[4] Note the similarity between the sentences that follow and these, which are from Thesis 29 of "Theses on the SI and Its Time," signed by Debord and Sanguinetti just a few months later: "With regard to this crucial imaginary guarantee, he shrugs off a thousand circumstantial errors or comic deficiencies. At best, he only recognizes them as the result that, to his detriment, has been brought about. He consoles and excuses himself by affirming that he will never make such mistakes again and that, on principal, he will never cease to improve himself. But he is left powerless when confronted with his ensuing mistakes -- in other words, with the practical necessity of understanding what he is doing when he is doing it: evaluating conditions, knowing what one wants and chooses, what will be the possible consequences of this and how best to master them. The pro-situ will say that he wants everything, because in reality he despairs of ever attaining the least real goal, and he wants nothing more than to publicize the fact that he wants everything, hoping that someone will immediately admire his assurance and his good will. He needs a totality that, like him, is devoid of all content. He ignores dialectics because in refusing to see his own life he refuses to understand time. Time scares him because it is made up of qualitative leaps, irreversible choices, and opportunities that will never return."

[5] René Riesel.

[6] Juvénal Quillet.

[7] Huge housing blocks.

[8] A line from a poem by Francois Villon.

[9] In the thirteenth issue of Internationale Situationniste.

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol "4": Janvier 1969 - december 1972 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2004. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! April 2012. All footnotes by the translator.)

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