Letters concerning an Italian translation of situationist texts


Excerpt from "On the Decomposition of Our Enemies," in The Veritable Split in the International: Public Circular of the Situationist International, translated and published by Chronos Publications, 3rd ed., 1990

"Stupid impudence is carried even further, because it is placed in a slightly more practical dimension, by certain publishers, oscillating and torn between the hatred that we rightly inspire in them and their longing to make a bit more money for themselves, or even to take out of hock their woeful reputations, by publishing SI materials today. At the end of 1971, the Feltrinelli Publishing House asked us for the translation rights for the review Internationale Situationniste. We answered, quite coldly, that we had no wish to be published by the Stalinist Feltrinelli. Thereupon, the head of this house, somebody named Brega, replied that this refusal marks us in need of psychiatric treatment, that it is formulated "in a stupidly arrogant tone," and that, moreover, Feltrinelli has never been a Stalinist. So many counter-truths! This Brega feigns to be astonished that after having mentioned in our review that the texts are under no copyright, we had fallen back into what he himself is not afraid to call 'the beaten tracks of publishing and bourgeois authors.' Thus the SI answered him on 14 February 1971, a little more hardshly:

You would like, you turd, to be in the very position of Stalin so as to fix, all alone, the canonical definition of words. According to you, Feltrinelli wouldn't be a Stalinist; neither Dubcek then, nor Kadar, nor Arthur London, nor Castro, nor Mao. And you yourself, Brega, on this count, you wouldn't be a slut and an imbecile. We understand well your interest in this, but stop dreaming! [...] It is your publishing house that has played, according to its custom, this bourgeois legal game, by asking us for the translation rights. And rightly we refuse them to you, because of everything you are. If our contempt is immaterial to you, slippery cunt, you should not have asked us for anything. Revolutionaries, on their part, have always been able to reproduce every SI text they have wanted to, and we were never opposed in any way to the multiple pirate editions of our texts and our books in a good number of countries. But the firm of Feltrinelli is not even worthy of pirate editions. And even you, moreover, if you proceed further than our refusal, you can be assured that we would not oppose it by any legal or bourgeois proceedings. It is you, Gian Piero Brega, since you have had the effontery to put yourself forward with this letter, that we would consider as personally responsible for any edition of our texts by the Feltrinelli House. And it is your hide that we would take it out on.

"(This exchange of letters was immediately printed and postered in Italy under the title Corrispondenza con un editore.) Some will not fail to insinuate therefore that it is the SI that, some days afterwards, assassinated Feltrinelli with dynamite. In the Corriere d'Informazione of the 18-19 March [1971], it is even claimed that the SI had imposed a fine on Feltrinelli, and of no less than a billion lire, which permits them to conclude that, 'From there to assassination, there is only one step.'"


From a registered letter from Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, Editor

[To] Signor Rene Riesel, Paris 20e, France
[From] Milan, 18 November 1971
Dear Mr Riesel,
We would be interested in seeing the book cited below, with a view to an Italian translation. Please send us a reader's copy with an option for two months enclosed.
We await your reply.
Yours sincerely,
Cin Calabi, Foreign Rights Dept.
P.S. We received the book from Van Gennep today. We have asked them to write to us for the option. I would also be interested to know if you would be interested in a possible selection of texts from this volume. Best regards.

From a registered letter:

[To] Signor Calabi, Edizioni Feltrinelli, via Andegari, 6, 20121 Milan, Italy
[From] Paris, 9th December 1971
Dear Sir,
Your letter of the 18th November, addressed to Rene Riesel, in which you asked for the option on an Italian translation of the collected edition of the SI journal published in its original French version by Van Gennep of Amsterdam, has just been passed to me.
As it happens, the Feltrinelli house has already published of their own accord, in December 1967 -- that is, at the time when the schools and universities of Turin and Milan were seeing the beginnings of a rebellion which later, happily, spread widely among the workers of Italy -- the translation of a situationist pamphlet, entitled in your edition "Della miseria nell'ambiente studentesco" [On the Poverty of Student Life]. The edition of several thousand copies was sold out in ten days and, an unusual event in the history of the publisher, there was no second edition, despite the hundreds of requests for copies from various Italian revolutionary groups, and despite the promises made by your publishing house on this point. This was the result of a censorship exerted over [the person of] Feltrinelli by his current intellectual gurus ["maitres a penser"]. Feltrinelli, Stalinist reptile, may have turned Trotskyist, but in doing so he clearly did not leave behind his role of junior policeman to the bureaucracy.
We are staggered by the impudence of your current request. Your attempts at an overdue intellectual modernization won't [win back] anybody's good opinion. We formally deny you the right to publish, in whole or in part, any SI text.
We await your expropriation. Please make your boss aware of my contempt.
For the SI.: Guy Debord

From another letter.

[To] M. Guy Debord, Internationale Situationniste, B. P. 307-03, Paris, France
[From] Milan, 31 December 1971
Dear Sir,
Your letter of the 9th December is overflowing with errors of fact and of argument -- over and above the stupidly arrogant tone in which it is written. I am amazed that the SI, having trumpeted for years the immorality of copyright, is now -- courtesy of yourself -- returning down the road trodden by "bourgeois" authors and publishers. What the hell does "tous les textes publies dans Internationale Situationniste peuvent etre librement reproduits, traduits ou adaptes, meme sans indication d'origine" ["all the texts published in Internationale Situationniste may be reproduced, translated or adapted, without indication of the origin"] mean now? Is it just put on to make you look "more revolutionary than thou"? Or, as everything leads me to believe, is it you who are claiming -- against the will of the group -- rights you don't have?
In any case, the question doesn't interest me very much. Rather, I'd like to establish a few points of fact, without for all that kidding myself that I'll be able to convince a person like you -- whose hysterical cialtrona letter shows to be constitutionally averse to finding out truth of any sort. Let me tell you then that the "several thousand copies" of "Della miseria nell'ambiente studentesco" which were printed were sold at the same rate as other publications in the same series, and were in part distributed free, just as we do with other books of the sort, which we look to not for material profit but to provide cultural and political information and updates. As is the rule, given the non-profitable nature of the series, the titles were not reprinted; the print run was only exhausted, in any case, because the copies remaining were given away to cultural and political groups.
Thus your observations about the "unusual event in the history of the publisher" are nothing but gossip.
As for the supposed censorship "exerted over Feltrinelli by his current intellectual gurus," I invite you to read the publisher's catalogue: if nothing else, you'll find out what it means to have intellectual courage and independence.
Feltrinelli, whatever you think, has never been a Stalinist, and he is a long way from being a Trotskyist. What are you?
From the text of your letter, I'd say you are ill. We are therefore not concerned, M. Debord, with your good opinion; we are content with that of our readers, who represent today the best of Italian militant culture and political action.
Good advice: get help.
Good wishes: get well soon.
[Signed] Gian Piero Brega

From the SI to G. P. Brega, with a copy to Del Bo, director of the archives of the Feltrinelli Institute:

[To] Milan, 14 February 1972
Little prick,
We have read your letter to Debord.
We are happy to note that you are irritated.
We note also how much you are [puffed up] by the limited and risible increase in power which the otherwise limited and ridiculous "exile" of your boss allows you in your publishing house.
As an agent of Feltrinelli can only be a liar, your embarrassed pseudo-corrections on the topic of "Misere en milieu etudiant" don't deserve any reply (but not a few extremists can still remember your worthy ally, Nanni Balestrini, who is now talking a blue streak about "wanting everything," but who at the start of 1968 contented himself with conducting a wretched but insistent [debt collection] for your firm, in search of the proceeds from the "underground" sales of this very pamphlet of ours).
You confirmed, moreover, the barefaced uselessness of your lies when you claimed that your boss is not and has never been a Stalinist. You turd, you'd obviously like to be in the position of Stalin himself so as to be able to lay down the canonical definition of the word. According to you, Feltrinelli would not be a Stalinist; what's more, neither Dubcek, nor Kadar, nor Arthur London [Jack London?], nor Castro, nor Mao would be. On this basis not even you, Brega, would be a baldracca or even an imbecile! We understand your interest in this way of thinking, but enough dreaming!
If you weren't so ignorant, as is required for Feltrinelli's editorial directors, you'd know that the documents which prove the Stalinism of Feltrinelli and some of his dealings with the party called "Communist" are already collected in the Feltrinelli Institute itself; you have only to ask Del Bo to show them to you. But I am sure these will not suffice to convince you, even if Feltrinelli was paying you thousands of times less minchioni to tell young revolutionaries about your artificial anti-stalinist virginity.
When do you intend to get Feltrinelli to pay you enough to justify writing that Giangiacomo is not your boss but "is a revolutionary"? Try going to explain this to the workers in his paper mills and other factories.
You're mistaken, you louse, if you're kidding yourself that it would be easier for you or for Feltrinelli to fool us than his workers! And you're mistaken if you think Feltrinelli's workers are all like you.
You speak of "illness," Brega; already you think you're practicing psychiatry in Moscow! But you are much, much more vulnerable than that. And you're certainly not out of our reach. You talk against copyright and bourgeois usages - you, you policeman! But it was your publishing house which played, as usual, that bourgeois juridical game, asking for translation rights. And, as we have said, we refuse them to you, because of everything that you are.
If our contempt means nothing to you, bella figa, there was no need to ask us for anything.
Revolutionaries, for their part, have always been able to reproduce whatever they wanted from the SI's texts; and we have never opposed, in any way, the many pirate editions, put out in ten countries, of our texts and our books.
But the Feltrinelli company does not even deserve a pirate edition. In any case, even if you ignored our refusal, you can be sure that we would not protest by any juridical and bourgeois route.
It's you, Gian Piero Brega, since you have exported your bragging with this letter, who we shall consider as personally responsible for any edition of our texts put out by the Feltrinelli company.
And it's out of your hide, this time, that we'll have the pleasure of taking our payment.
For the Italian section of the SI
Gianfranco Sanguinetti

[Translated from the Italian by Phil Edwards, 1998]

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