Situationist News – December 1960

The first issue of the magazine Spur (the trail), organ of the German section of the S.I., was published in Munich in August 1960, opening with a translation of the Situationist manifesto of the 17th of May [1960]. The second issue, published in November, is mostly devoted to rendering an account of the Conference in London.

Pinot-Gallizio and G. Melanotte were excluded from the S.I. in June [1960]. Through naivety or opportunism [arrivisme], they made contacts, then developed collaborations, in Italy, with unacceptable ideological milieus. An initial criticism (cf. Situationist News in our 4th issue in regards to the critique of Guasco, notoriously tied to the Jesuit Tapié) had not corrected their politics. The decision to exclude them has thus been taken without hearing more [from] them.

Constant, however, who had rightly denounced their conduct, was not happy with this break. He deplored, moreover, that we had to resort to the same measure some months before against the architects of the Dutch section, who had had no fear of undertaking the construction of a church. More profoundly, Constant found himself in opposition to the S.I. because he has been primarily concerned, almost exclusively, with structural questions of certain assemblies [architectural models] of unitary urbanism, so that other situationists had to recall that at the present stage of the project it was necessary to put the accent on its content (play, free creation of everyday life). Thus Constant’s theses promoted the technicians of architectural forms over any search for a global culture. And the simple equality of treatment, regarding the minimum required behaviour toward each other, appeared to him already disproportionate and severe. Thus Constant declared, in the same month of June, that because he disagreed with the discipline of the S.I., he wanted to regain his freedom in this regard, for a period that the course of the events would determine.

We replied, without any idea of hostility or demerit, that for a long time we have assured that breaks recorded by the S.I. have the meaning of a practical weapon, [and] allowed only the immediate choice between a definitive resignation or the renunciation of this form of pressure. Constant chose to quit the S.I.

In June, the first issue of the journal Cahier pour un paysage à inventer[1] was published in Montréal. This first issue brings together around ten articles reproduced from the Internationale situationniste with texts by Patrick Straram, who is the editor, and some of his Canadian comrades. This is the first publication which openly manifests the extension of situationist propaganda onto the American continent.

Christian Christensen, to whom Jorn dedicated his Critique of Political Economy, died on the 10th of June 1960, in Denmark.

On the 20th of July a document drawn up by P. Canjuers[2] and Debord on capitalism and culture was published, in France: Preliminaries Toward Defining a Unitary Revolutionary Program. It is a platform for discussion in the S.I.; and for linking with the revolutionary militants of the workers’ movement.

The museum of Silkeborg in Jutland [in Demark], which has found itself already to be the principal museum of modern art in all the Scandinavian countries, has just founded a Situationist Library. This library is itself subdivided into a pre-situationist section, bringing together all the supporting materials on the avant-garde movements since 1945, which held some role in the preparation of the situationist movement; a situationist section—properly so called—composing all the publications of the S.I.; a historical section destined to receive works on the S.I. and which, in fact, for now, accommodates only anti-situationist propaganda which has started to appear here and there.  Finally—and this is probably its most interesting initiative—this library opened a section of imitations where will be kept all works imitating the achievements of any of our friends whose strange role in contemporary art is clearly not readily acknowledged, precisely because of membership in the S.I. The available diagrams indicate with scientific certainty the release dates of the [original] model and of its after-effects, which have often been almost immediate.  Thus very far from the miserable discussions between “avant-gardists”, in which the situationists have never wanted to participate, the library of Silkeborg will objectively supply a yardstick of the cultural avant-garde. We do not doubt that, in the coming years, many specialist historians from Europe and America, and ultimately from Asia and Africa, will make the journey to Silkeborg with the sole end of completing and checking their research at this “Pavilion of Breteuil” of a new genre.

And we hope that the intelligent plan, elaborated by the museum of Silkeborg, to complete this library with a cinematographic annex, in which copies of any relevant film will be deposited, soon finds all the material means for its realisation.

At the beginning of September [1960], the S.I. received the request from the German group Radama to collectively join us by sending one or more representatives to the Conference in London, which was to meet on the 24th of this month. After hearing a report on this question, asked for from the German section, the S.I. concluded that it was not acceptable to recognise in Germany a second situationist formation independent from its first section, with a program more or less different and unknown; and this group unilaterally decided that these differences were small enough in order to join the S.I., but great enough to remain organised as a distinct group on the national level. This group was thus told that it would not be invited to the conference; and that its members could eventually join the S.I. only by means of individual membership to our German section. With the exception of one of them, who in no way may be considered because of his previous personal positions.[3]

Informed of the arrest of Alexander Trocchi in New York—considered a gangster simply because the police found him carrying three kinds of narcotics—the London Conference immediately adopted on the 27th September [1960] a resolution in his favour, which was read the following day before a public meeting at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

In execution of the mandate given to them by the Conference, three situationists signed a tract distributed on the 7th October: Hands of Alexander Trocchi.[4] This text, moderate enough to be signed by those people capable of defending the freedom of artists—in the absence of more—is indeed deliberately placed on merely artistic grounds, in order to serve in this specific legal case. And it notes that this artistic status cannot be denied Alexander Trocchi “for the sole reason that he represents a new type of artist,” like all the Situationists. Besides them, this appeal has already brought together 81 names of artists, writers or critics of many countries (Great Britain, Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Israel, Denmark, Canada and the Unites States). So far only two individuals have dared to say they judge him as too compromised. Many people, who have still not communicated their response, will certainly have the opportunity of making it known before too long. We will publish here shortly the results of this affair, as well as all the details and useful commentaries on the positions taken by all sorts.

Interrogated on the 21st of November, in Paris, by the judicial police, for his participation in the “Declaration of the 121”, Debord responded that he immediately signed [as soon as] it had been given to him, which it turns out was not before the 29th of September, therefore on the day following the publication of the ordnances by which the Gaullist government, excessively increasing the legal sanctions incurred, challenged those who condemned it to dare to speak. Because no one had furnished him with the opportunity, he had not participated in the publication or distribution of this text. However, as the current statement seemed to be trying to isolate a small number of signatories more responsible than the others, he was obliged to add to his testimony that, due to the sole fact of having signed the aforementioned Declaration, he assumed complete responsibility for its publication and distribution, “equal to that of any one of its signatories, regardless of the personal responsibility that he wants to acknowledge”.[5]

The Central Council of the S.I., whose form and composition was decided by the London Conference, held its first session in Belgium, near Brussels, between the 4th and 6th of November.[6] The Council deliberated on the undertaking of a campaign in favour of Alexander Trocchi; the conditions of the activity of Situationists in Germany (the beginning of a repression in favour of moral order which had already succeeded in condemning the student Döhl for blasphemous writing) and France; our relations with revolutionary political tendencies; the preparations for our intervention against U.N.E.S.C.O. (the publication of a questionnaire to serve in the recruitment of new members); and the publication in 1961 of a Situationist journal in English: The Situationist Times.

The Council made several important decisions concerning the organization, legal and practical, of our projected construction in urbanism. It also studied some forms of control, by the Situationists, of the atmosphere and events in isolated micro-societies.

Finally, the Council has decided to take advantage, without delay, of progress made by the S.I. and the support that it has begun to gain, to make an example of the most representative tendencies of the pseudo-leftist and conformist intelligentsia who have painstakingly organised so far the silence around us; and whose resignation in all fields begins to appear before the eyes of informed people: [i.e.,] the French journal Arguments. The Council has decided that all people who collaborate with the journal Arguments starting from January 1st, 1961, cannot be admitted under any circumstances, now or in the future, among the Situationists. The announcement of this boycott draws its force from the importance that we know the S.I. secures at least in the culture of the years ahead. Interested parties can bet, on the contrary, on the dubious company it will attract.

Specifically, this Edgar Morin, director of Arguments, begins to perceive that he is the butt of public contempt (which the Situationists come to officially affirm has been expressed spontaneously by many people solicited to participate in the current issue of Arguments; but discretely, which risks harming the soundness of the boycott which we imposed). After trying to meet with several Situationists—who refused without comment, or responded that he was much too late—[Morin] works to spread a smoke screen over his case. While he is obviously completely condemned for the pitiful evolution of the ex-revolutionary journal which he directs; for his complicity with the Royalist and anti-Semite Georges Mathieu (see the stupid issue no. 19 on “Art in question”); and for his crude sabotage of the movement of signatures which concerns the “Declaration of the 121” fought at this time with the great resources of the Gaullist power (cf. his article in the Observateur on the 29th September); the Morin in question spreads the rumour—always by word of mouth—that Situationists everywhere have accused him of having plagiarised an experimental film made by one of them in 1959, and only shown in France, in another film which he worked on this year.[7] This rumour is absolutely false; and all the more so as anyone in the S.I., where one is habituated enough to being copied on a number of available details, has never found [it] useful to make declarations about it, even on the most striking of occasions. A Situationist (Asger Jorn) simply formulated one time the suspicion of imitation in this instance, speaking to a third person who had inaccurately warned him of the cinematographic occupations of the shady Morin. The hypothesis of Jorn’s is amply explained by what he knows of the bad faith and the impoverished hostility of this character. Besides, if Morin had to make a film, given his artistic imbecility, it would have been necessary that he copied someone, consciously or not. But this year, no problem: it was Jean Rouch who made the film.[8] And Morin, obviously a specialist of distraction, has only spoken of this [in order] to use the only talent that everyone is forced to recognize in him.


TRANSLATOR’S FOOTNOTES

[1] Notebook for a Journey to be Invented.

[2] Pierre Canjuers was the pseudonym of Daniel Blanchard, member of the Socialisme ou Barbarie group.

[3] It is clear that the person referred to here, the ‘one of them, who in no way may be considered because of his previous personal positions’, is Erwin Eisch. Erwin Eisch, along with Gretel Stadler and Max Strack set up the Radama group in Germany in 1960. Eisch had been a founding member of the SPUR group in 1957. According to Raspaud’s and Voyer’s  1972 book, l’internationale situationniste: chronologie, bibliographie, protagonistes (avec un index des noms insultés), Eisch was excluded from the SI in February 1962 along with other members of SPUR. However this is false. In a letter to Heimred Prem of the SPUR group, Guy Debord wrote: ‘I understand that [Erwin] Eisch is no longer with the Spur group. At this moment, you are the only representatives of the SI in Germany and, if Eisch has been separated from you, he can no longer be counted as a situationist; and the SI is no longer interested in him.’ (Letter from Guy Debord to Heimrad Prem, 26 July 1960). Just over two weeks later, in a letter to the SPUR group, Guy Debord wrote further on Eisch: ‘It is good that [Erwin] Eisch is no longer with you because, if he is now a slightly modernist version of old monuments to dead heroes, he doesn’t deal a blow to cultural conformism: conformism deals a blow to the avant-garde that takes Eisch into its camp. The dominant conformism of today no longer believes in the Hitlerian style of art. It annexes Eisch, who immediately sells off the subversive reputation that he has obtained by participating in our scandals’ (Letter from Guy Debord to Hans-Peter Zimmer and the Spur Group, 8 August 1960). Debord’s criticism of Eisch was elaborated further in an article against so-called ‘neo’ avant-gardists in the August 1961 issue of the SI’s journal. The article, Once Again, on Decomposition, briefly described a stunt carried out by the Radama group without mentioning either the group’s name or its central figure (i.e. Eisch): ‘In Munich, in January [1961], a group of painters inspired by Max Strack arranged simultaneously for the biography, as sentimental as could be wished, and the exhibition of the complete oeuvre of Bolus Krim, a young Abstract Expressionist painter prematurely deceased — and just as imaginary. Television and the press, including almost all the German weeklies, expressed their enthusiasm for so representative a genius, until the hoax was proclaimed, leading some to call for legal proceedings against the tricksters.’ Clearly Eisch is beyond the pale. However the article is far more interesting for its elaboration of the theory of ‘cultural decomposition.’ The Radama group’s stunt is used to illustrate the SI’s criticism of the pseudo nature of the so-called ‘neo’ Dadaists and avant-gardists of the 1950s and 60s: ‘The truth is that even when they exhibit a certain sense of humour, all these inventors get quite excited, with an air of discovering the destruction of art, the reduction of a whole culture to onomatopoeia and silence like an unknown phenomenon, a new idea, and which was only waiting for them to come along. They all dig up corpses to kill them again, in a cultural no-man’s-land beyond which they can imagine nothing. Yet they are precisely the artists of today, though without seeing how. They truly express our time of obsolete ideas solemnly proclaimed to be new, the time of planned incoherence, isolation and deafness assured by the means of mass communication, higher forms of illiteracy taught in the university, scientifically guaranteed lies, and overwhelming technical power at the disposal of ruling mental incompetence.’

[4] This title is in English in the original.

[5] For more on the SI’s relations with the “Declaration of the 121,” see also the article The Minute of Truth in the same issue.

[6] For more on the new Central Council see the SI’s The Fourth SI Conference in London in the same issue.

[7] The reference to the film made by a Situationist in 1959 is Debord’s Sur le passage de quelques personnes à travers une assez courte unité de temps, first shown on the 31st of December, 1959.

[8] The film is Chronique d’un été (Chronicle of a summer), filmed by Morin, Rouch and others in the summer of 1960, first shown in October 1961.

First published in Internationale Situationniste no. 5,  December 1960, pp. 10-13. Translated from the French by Anthony Hayes, with help from NOT BORED!, October 2012.  A section of this Situationist News, specifically the section on the exclusion of Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio and Giors Melanotte and the resignation of Constant Nieuwenhuis, was previously translated by Tom McDonough and published in the situationists and the city, Verso 2009, pp. 137-38.

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3 Responses to Situationist News – December 1960

  1. Pingback: WELL SAID, SI! (IS #8) | Internationale Situationniste in English

  2. Pingback: “Socialism or Planète” | notes from the sinister quarter

  3. Pingback: Toward the realisation of philosophy | notes from the sinister quarter

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