from Guy Debord

To Jacques Legrand
7 October 1956

Your letter constantly refers to a notion of art, [in which art is] positioned as immutable and without direct dependence upon the evolution of the rest of the world. The work of art being what counts, you think that we could, after examination, recognize in it a certain degree of talent, not to say genius, or could deduce the absence of art according to intangible criteria. This, which is essential, set apart, you allow the artist his moral liberty in his secondary options: the individual dependencies that please him or that he will inevitably submit to.

For us, on the contrary, art only has value, a person of talent who deals with communal or slightly communal themes, as a function of his comprehension of the objective problems of his era and the responses he makes to them. Thus, it seems to us that we live in a society at civil war and that all the aspects of the general crisis of contemporary art can be explained by the necessity of a choice between more or less open collaboration with the old order of things and its complete revolutionary supersession.

In such conditions, you will admit that the problem of the purchase of color TVs or the possession of Rolls Royce doesn’t hypnotize us. The debate is wider. But there’s no excuse for certain despicable acts that are too insolently favorable to the oppressive forces.[1] For example, no one will make us believe that the least trace of a truly contemporary genius – and, the confusion of the moment having passed, history holds few places for belated genius – can appear in the decoration of a church. We are too fanatical for that.

The inconvenience of the tract that we signed[2] was that it gave free reign to the ambiguity that we might be interested in safeguarding the dignity of the artist, which is a bourgeois mystification, whereas we only emphasized the ridiculous state that the dominant class has reached today by wanting to plagiarize the behaviors of dominant classes of the past that found themselves in slightly better situations.

In brief, we were no doubt wrong to have occasioned a dialogue on a terrain where we do not situate ourselves.

Sir, please believe in the assurance of our best wishes.

For the Lettrist International[3]
G.-E. Debord

[1] Translator: the act in question was an exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, sponsored by Royal Dutch-Shell, of paintings about the oil industry.

[2] Translator: Toute ces dames au salon! which was signed by both the Lettrist International and Les Levres nues.

[3] Following by the stamp of the Potlatch Lettrist International [sic].

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol "0": Septembre 1951 - Juillet 1957: Complete des "lettres retrouvees" et d l'index general des noms cites by Librairie Artheme Fayard, October 2010. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! March 2011. Footnotes by the publisher, except where noted.)

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