Guy DeBord suicide

Steve Wright sj at
Mon Apr 3 02:17:39 MDT 1995

Take two...

Sorry about the mangled layout, Bill, but I'm having to do some pretty
weird cutting and pasting since my direct email program went

If you think it's interesting, maybe you could post it back to the
marxism list.

All the best, Steve Wright



 Last Curtain Call for Guy Debord

 We don't know how he died and still less why. We only know that Guy
Debord, around evening time on Wednesday 30th November, took his life;
the life that in the last few years he himself - perhaps the last of the
Situationists still partly faithful to his own image of the resolute enemy
of the society of the spectacle - helped to make more mysterious, more
evanescent more elsewhere.  Paradoxically one could say that in reality
death has brought him back to life, in the sense t hat it has
re-established the human reality (death being our common destiny) of a
character whose notoriety and uncompromising stance of refusal would make
of e xistence a long theatrical piece, in which he would improvise up
until the end. But who was Guy Debord? There are several answers, but at
the same time such ans wers would preclude the understanding of his
identity as indefinable.  Writer? Film director? Situationalist? 'Doctor
in nothing...' as he liked to define himsel f in one of his latest books?
Of course all those things, but simply because they are 'things' - which
comes down to things he did - they certainly do not reveal the whole man.
It isn't for nothing that the numerous French dailie s which reported the
news of his suicide, not only didn't say how or why he died, neither did
they say anything about him, limiting themselves to an inventory o f the
things he did, the things he said, how he did them, how he said them but
forgetting to say who, Guy Debord, was. In reality it was the self-imposed
mystery which created the impenetrable and adventurist aura, barely
availabl e to the media and prone to violent argument; Guy Debord liked to
hide his true self behind a blanket of gossip, speculation and even spite
in his dealings with others, and to never let it see daylight. For the
rest, for someone who wrote a book: The Society of the Spectacle, where
the world is seen as a spectacle - wh ich is to say a false image which
the economic system produces of itself in order to dominate society -
visibility was to be totally denied. Thus the rare photo s which he
consciously planned so that they should be published in his lifetime -
were the most hazy in the world and to a fair degree made him look younger
than his real age. Certainly, invisibility was imperative!

 It was not by chance that his first public work was a film Hurlement en
faveur de Sade (1952), in which there is no picture and the spectator -
truly stupefied by this purely surrealist provocation - watched an
alternated sequence of white and then black screens, whilst listening to a
mixture of atonal dialogues involving numerous people leading up to a
silent, black screen for 24 minutes.  This was the first gauntlet against
the spectacle thrown down by Guy Debord who fought this battle throughout
his life; a death sentence for the cinema, at the time considered as the
essence of the artistic product of bourgeois society and for th at reason
the extreme synthesis of its values in full decomposition, since it
expressed not the construction of a situation which aimed to shed light on
everyda y life but rather a system of falsification of reality in order to
suppress it and supplant it by means of a series of images aimed at
cutting the individual off from his daily existence and making of him an
illusory participan t in the spectacle of consumer society in his role as
good/product of the spectacle.

The setting up in 1957 of the Situationist International was partly the
logical consequence of these artistic presuppositions. Coming out of the
European cultural milieu as the convergence of several artistic
experiences (COBRA, the Lettrist International, the Movement for Bauhaus
Cinema, the London Psychogeographical Society) the SI from day one aimed
to represent - above all via Debord who was the editor of its statement of
principles - a critique of art brought into being by the necessity of
superseding it by creating liberated situations in which life can
effectively experience its own possibilities and not become enclosed in
the repetitive role models that the society of the spectacle constructs in
order to dominate and exploit. But already in those early years the
different heads of the SI quarrelled amongst themselves and Debord - who
alone amongst them represented the most coherent position with his
objective of achievi ng a total critique of art and a whole culture
skewered towards the production of values separated from everyday life
(and for that reason incapable of achievin g its own radical
transformation) - came out better from confrontations with those who
presupposed the replacement of art as simply a repeat of the architectur
al and urban argument which aimed to make works of art no longer on canvas
but in the physical space of a city.

But the first years of the 60s saw a U turn in the politics of the SI, and
coincided with Debord's political phase, which saw an achievement of sorts
in making of the organisation - now nearly purged of any artistic content
- the r allying point between the experience of the European cultural
avant guard and the experience of politico- revolutionary groupings, in
France represented by some journals (Arguments and Socialisme et Barbarie)
of a revisionary Marxist leaning. These were the years when Debord
participated in the seminars of Lefebvre at Nanterre and during which he
developed his critique of daily life which ha d already been expounded by
this philosopher and sociologist from Nanterre in the late 50s. The
critique of everyday life - the baby sister of theories of alien
ation/separation produced by the spectacular society, became the
theoretical underpinnings of the SI and the theme of his most famous book,
already mentioned, i n which the theoretical and organisational experience
of the workers council ... represented the political and revolutionary
dnouement of the situationist theo ry. The Strasbourg scandal and Paris 68
showed not so much that Debord and the SI were gaining influence (as has
always been claimed by the historical hagiograp her of the movement), but
rather the fortuitous meeting - and in many ways prospicious - between the
combative and revolutionary practice of the movement of 68 and the
necessity to find an outlet for situationist theory. If there had been no
May 68 in France, would the SI have become what it seemed to be after the
event (that is the high point of modern revolution)? And would the work of
Deb ord have come to seem clairvoyant and prophetic, as was claimed by
numerous commentators who proclaim his books on the social spectacle to be
the only texts abl e to give a sense - sorry: a vision - to what happened
in the East as well as the West? All these considerations lead back to the
unanswered question of who Guy Debord was; a man who, at the age of 62,
decided to put an end to his life and to foreclose his real life story
asking forgiveness for his own mistakes. But the truth of his story will
still have to be reconstructed by reference to his work which he has left
to posterity with the intention of becoming the first invisible
personality of the society of the spectacle. Will we ever know the truth?

GIANFRANCO MARELLI FAI Milan Translated from Le Monde Libertaire 21 Dec. 94

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