Guy Debord for Dummies

On 9 March 1984, early in the morning, I was awoken by a journalist for Le Monde. He told me of the assassination of Gérard Lebovici and asked me to write a story right away. Still in shock, I whipped something up that appeared in the newspaper on the 10th, under the titled “Children of Chaos.” Along with other texts, it would be reprinted in Tout sur le personnage.[1] My article began this way:

“The history of the Champ Libre,[2] even if the journalists do not know this, was the work of several of us with Gérard Lebovici. First Gérard Guégan, then Alain le Saux, Jean-Yves Guiomar and myself. I last saw Lebovici on Monday, 4 November 1974. Wearing a Keatonesque masque[3] and a [Humphrey] Bogart-style raincoat, he met us at La Coupole. He immediately asked Guégan to resign. He refused. Each of us took his side. A half-hour later, we left Lebovici, leaving him with Champ Libre, a collection [of books], projects, an image and a legend.”

And [Guy] Debord, long waiting in ambush, more Tartuffe than Machiavelli,[4] the pains [in his ass] set aside, found an steadfast patron[5] who, thanks to him, took himself for another, [and] ended up believing himself to be irremediably transformed.

Behind the legend

Divided between irritation and laughter, I desire to bring to the fore the “true” history of this publishing house since an exhibition at the Bibliothèque nationale de France [BNF], accompanied by a catalogue co-published by Gallimard, is perpetuating a crude lie that accompanies several twistings of the truth. So far, the exhibition, Guy Debord – An Art of War, has not been contested.[6] It was been welcomed by well-worn banalities, served up each time that one has again spoken of the Situationist International and the unique hero of that paper tiger, Debord. The two people in charge at the BNF, Emmanuel Guy and Laurence Le Bras, have acted as if one must rely [solely] upon the history that was tailor-made for the glory of the “figurehead” of situationism. And they have (innocently?) done so, without neglecting a single detail.[7] This doesn’t lack interest because here one celebrates an expert in the denunciation of fakers (“masperizers”).[8] An example: in the “selective” bibliography that indicates the books published on the subject, “one” has omitted two books that tell the history of Champ Libre with great care, both published by Grasset: Cité Champagne, Esc.i, appt.289, 95-Argenteuil and Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, côté cour. It is true that they were written by Gérard Guégan, the true and only founder of Champ Libre with Lebovici, and that they carefully describe the circumstances of his departure and ours. In the [exhibition] catalogue, a chapter increases – at least for me – the suspicions of a complete rewriting (to order?) of one of the glorious moments in the career of the astute strategist [Guy Debord]. In his way, Emmanuel Guy summarizes the appearance of Champ Libre and, without returning to the method of effacement and revisions of an already-known adventure (see the biographies of Debord and Lebovici), I quite simply want to point out the degree to which his work is maladroit and harmful.

National treasure

The moment has come to return to the circumstances that have permitted the BNF and its director, Bruno Racine, to put on such a farce. First of all, there was a mix-up between three booksellers.[9] The library at Yale University, which already had a situ archive, was disposed to buy the archives of Guy Debord, even “selections.” It had to kiss them goodbye on 29 January 2009, when the Minister of Culture, Frédéric Mitterrand, classified them as a “national treasure.” With the aid of several zealots, such as Philippe Sollers, the BNF had to struggle to raise the tidy sum required. The cheers that greeted this operation did not prevent the snickers of several evil spirits. Useless to ask the opinion of an expert, René Riesel, one of the Enragés in Nanterre in ’68, rejected by Debord one day under a calumnious pretext.[10] He expressed it in advance on 4 February 2001, in Libération, in response to Alain Léauthier: “I’ll leave to the sophisticated and university-based Debordists their endless glosses of Debord (…) Debord enclosed himself in an obsessive and sterile conspiracy theory for at least half of the Comments and, obviously, this manner of reducing everything to the lure fascinated the professionals of the lie. The people in the media and power recognized themselves in it and found in it their unsurpassable horizon.”[11]


Sollers stands out from the confirmed Debordists. In a thrown-together report that aired on Télérama on 23 March (“Guy Debord occupies the BNF”), he recited the following couplet: “He has been thought of as a sociologist or a political ideologue, but he is a great metaphysical writer, that’s the great misunderstanding . . . Debord has been accused of being a conspiracist, of being paranoid. But of course there is a conspiracy: the commodity against intelligence.” What was Debord’s opinion of this sanctimonious person? He gave it in This Bad Reputation (Gallimard, 1993): “In the 5 November 1992 issue of Humanité, a disgusting newspaper that is as covered with blood and lies as the files of Dr Garetta, there were several praises of me. But they are insignificant, since they were signed [by] Philippe Sollers.” Very touchy about what was written about him, Debord took badly a novel by Bertrand Delcour, Blocus solus, published by Série Noire (Issue 2430). In it, the author depicted “Guy Bordeux, charismatic leader of the Simulationist International, cult author of The Society of the Spectral.” Debord took this as a pretext to go further. Even light ridicule was intolerable. One understands why Lebovici, after reading Guégan’s second novel, Les irréguliers (which I, working at Flammarion in 1999, reprinted with Les Irrégulières), believed that he was obligated to take action. The author had included a scene in which a character resembled Debord and spoke like [Raoul] Vaneigem! This was the pretext for his elimination. This, and our voluntary departure, was greeted by cries of joy (see the correspondence published by Fayard).[12]

[1] “Everything about the person.” This book has not yet been translated into English.

[2] The publishing house that Lebovici (a very successful impresario in French cinema) founded with his own money in 1969 with Gérard Guégan.

[3] A facial expression like that of Buster Keaton.

[4] More of an impostor than a strategist.

[5] In point of fact, Lebovici’s “patronage” had begun three years earlier, in 1971, when Champ Libre reprinted Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle.

[6] In point of fact, it had been “contested” several times before the publication of this piece: on 23 March 2013 by Antonio Casilli; on 31 March 2013 by Olivier Beuvelet; on 4 April 2013 by Pascal Holenweg, et. al.

[7] Contrast this assertion with what Guy and Le Bras themselves said in this interview with Laurent Wolf.

[8] Derived from Edition Maspero, which, according to the situationists, specialized in publications that had been falsified by deletions and abridgments.

[9] I do not know what the author is referring to here: Il y eut d’abord une embrouille entre trois libraires. Three booksellers?!

[10] Cf. the letter from Debord to Riesel dated 7 September 1971. Though Debord’s letter doesn’t allude to this fact, Riesel had spent almost two years trying (and failing) to put together issue #13 of Internationale Situationniste.

[11] As the reader will see from consulting the interview itself, these comments were made in response to the following, rather specific question: “In 1988, in his Comments on The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord wrote: ‘There is no longer any opposition.’ For many this signified the annihilation of the idea of radical revolution. Do you share this finding?” Only someone like Raphaël Sorin could pretend these comments have some relevance to an exhibition of Guy Debord’s works at the BNF more than 10 years later.

[12] “I can finally transmit to you definite news: all of the little fakers – Guégan, Sorin, Guiomar, Le Saux – were emptied into a single trashcan at the first meeting that followed the complete demonstration of all that they are (that is to say, around the time of my departure to Italy). The sky of their fuckery having fallen on their heads, they have not even tried to resist. This aspect of the problem is thus settled for the best” (letter to Juvenal Quillet and Bernard Schumacher dated 9 December 1974). “[Lebovici] demanded the immediate resignation of the four bureaucratic directors of Champ Libre, as I had urgently advised him. At the first meeting, the four declared that ‘it would not be a question’ of them giving their resignations. Lebovici soon thereafter responded, ‘Well then, you are fired!’ Thus, forgetting all of their requirements and glorious demands, they ‘crossed him out’ as their patron and boss. Since the death of Alexander, one has not seen such a sudden collapse of an empire! Thus, they are now unemployed workers. All of the Parisian intelligentsia is talking about it. As you might think, it is to me that one generally attributes this kind of ‘coup de Sinigaglia,’ to which ‘their naivety’ led them” (letter to Gianfranco Sanguinetti dated 10 December 1974. And Debord never mentioned any of them again.

(Written by Raphaël Sorin and published 16 April 2013 on his blog. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! on 4 May 2013. All footnotes by the translator.)

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