Those bastards, they’ve resurrected Guy Debord!

In the aftermath of my Easter holiday, which was hardly religious, I am still not sure I want to believe in the possibility of a resurrection and especially not mine. And I would like it if we didn’t authorize ourselves to resurrect someone who refused such treatment, who chose to stay dead with all his strength.

It is Guy Debord whom one has resurrected for us, here, today. He wanted “to flaunt, like Li Po, this noble satisfaction: ‘for thirty years, I hid my renown in the taverns’” – so, he has been taken out of his tavern, and by force, in a skin of words, to be exhibited at the French Bibliothèque nationale. As if the ironic and painful Panegyrique[1] that he himself wrote wasn’t enough, and as if its conclusion, a beautiful epitaph that I would want for mine, wasn’t peremptory enough to discourage the epigones: “Here the author stops his true story: forgive him his faults.”

It is certain that the strength of institutions that aren’t armies or police forces lies in their ability to recuperate what negates them: the ideological apparatuses of the State nourish themselves with their opponents because they must read what their enemies say to fight them. But if our masters read those who execrate them, those masters beg us to dissolve our references in an absolute equivalence between them, making all of them into nothing. This gigantic butchering of everyone who can think and create, which allows someone like Bernard-Henri Lévy[2] to take himself for Guy Debord, and someone like John Armleder[3] to take himself for Marcel Duchamp, certainly allows us to hear from afar – garbled by the market and snobbery – some great howling voice or to see several great, fierce features that, in other times, would have been taken as nonexistent. But, in the final analysis, everything being equally accessible, everything is worth the same thing and nothing is worth much of anything.

Several serviceable rebels, a few spectacular hotheads, take a few laps in the media circus, but these laps are more and more rapid, on shorter and shorter tracks, in spectacles that soon are as small as their ideas, and performed for a public that only expects it. We then find them holding down their roles as compliant opponents and prudent iconoclasts, ratiocinating a fervent adhesion to some old ideological moon, cultivating the corner of the garden that the powers that be have granted them in thanks for the service rendered by their past revolts. This is the spectacle of refusal and the staging of negation. But Debord spoke about the negation of the staging and the refusal of spectacle.

That lover of life who was “first of all and almost uniquely employed at living as suited (him) the best” until he allowed himself to die; that conspirator without any other conspiracy than a “Situationist International” that only included several dozen members and never more than ten at a time; that inventor of a strange kind of aristocratic anarchism that mixed together references to Retz and Villon, Clausewitz and Lacenaire; – he now finds himself displayed, honored and resurrected by the Bibliothèque nationale. This is not the tribute that vice pays to virtue, but, on the contrary, something like the State exhibiting its conviction that it is able to assimilate and incorporate everything.

To us, Debord remains an inextinguishable anger. But not an impulsive outburst that burns out without ever having any other consequence than the fatigue of its maker: Debord’s anger is an anger that has a style, a consistency, a structure. The man who, at the beginning of the 1950s, traced out the slogan “Never work” on the walls never ceased to work to undermine the order of the world, and nothing is more exhausting when, like him, you don’t want to trade this work for, or cheapen it into, an engagement as a solider-monk, a monk without a God, a soldier without an army. “I have never believed in the values recognized by my contemporaries, and today no one knows anything about them,” Debord wrote in his Panégyrique, in 1993.[4] The next year, at the age of 63,[5] he killed himself.

In 1967,[6] the Situationist International proclaimed, “We want ideas to become dangerous again.” Almost a half-century later, are we not at a state of things in which any idea has become dangerous, due to the sole fact that it is an idea in a world that has none?

[1] Guy Debord, Panégyrique (Gallimard, 1993). [Translator: this book was first published by Editions Gérard Lebovici in 1989. It has been translated into English by James Brook as Panegyric (Verso, 1991).]

[2] Translator: a “new” philosopher who rose to prominence in the 1970s in the backlash against the radicalism of the 1960s.

[3] Translator: a Swiss installation artist whose works contain no political or social critique.

[4] Translator: as indicated in footnote #1, this book was in fact published in 1989.

[5] Translator: in point of fact, at the time of his death, Debord was one month shy of his 63rd birthday.

[6] Translator: in point of fact, it was in 1966, in the publication On the Poverty of Student Life, that the SI made this statement.

(Written by Pascal Holenweg, who is identified as a “more or less Socialist municipal counselor in the Town of Geneva,” and published on 2 April 2013 by Le Courrier. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! on 5 April 2013. Footnotes as indicated.)

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