– Autumn/Winter 2011

Unrepresentable Enemies

Tom McDonough

Claire Fontaine, La Société du Spectacle brickbat, 2006, brick, Epson Durabrite print on archive paper, 100 × 50 × 33mm. Courtesy the artist and Reena Spaulings Fine Art, New York

Claire Fontaine, La Société du Spectacle brickbat, 2006, brick, Epson Durabrite print on archive paper, 100 × 50 × 33mm. Courtesy the artist and Reena Spaulings Fine Art, New York

On 1 November 1996, a short missive appeared in the letters section of the French newspaper of record, Le Monde. Signed by Alice Becker-Ho, Guy Debord’s widow, and Patrick Mosconi, who had been charged with establishing his literary estate, it took up the question of the legacy of the founder of the Situationist International and read, in part:

Debord’s legacy poses no problem. Only Debord himself poses a problem. […] There’s nothing to build on, or rehabilitate, or embellish, or falsify. There is, finally, only Debord, his art and his time as he has revealed them, and that is obviously much more than all these people can support. […] There are no heirs. Debord must inherit Debord.1

This statement of Debord’s absolute singularity was, on the one hand, a central element of the estate’s conflict with his publisher since the early 1990s, the venerable house of Gallimard. The ‘legacy’ in question concerned, quite specifically, the rights to his work, and only two months later Becker-Ho and Mosconi would announce their break with the publishers over offense taken at the fictional representation of Debord in a mystery novel they released.2 On the other hand, however, the issue was broader than this particular dispute. The vision of legacy detailed here was profoundly curtailed: Debord, having devoted himself by the late 1980s to the aestheticisation of his life — to conceiving of his life as an artwork — would have no inheritors, just as he had refused all inheritances, whether familial or cultural. This was the myth of Debord that became dominant in the years following his suicide in late 1994, at least among a group of

  1. 'Au courier du "Monde": Autour de l'héritage de Guy Debord', Le Monde, 1 November 1996, p.8. Translation of this and the other French quotations the author's.

  2. See, for example, ‘Les ayants droit de Guy Debord rompent avec Gallimard’, Le Monde, 9 January 1997, p.9. The novel in question was Bertrand Delcourt’s Locus Blocus (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1996), which featured the murder of the author of The Society of the Spectacle, here called Guy Bordeux.

  3. See Philippe Sollers and Emmanuel Descombes, ‘Guy Debord, une étrange guerre’ (2000), which was made for the France 3 series Un siècle d’écrivains; and Vincent Kaufmann, Guy Debord: Revolution in the Service of Poetry (trans. Robert Bononno), Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.

  4. V. Kaufmann, ‘L’Irréfutable’, Le Monde, 15 October 1999, ‘Le Monde des livres’, p.viii.

  5. Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (trans. Malcolm Imrie), London and New York: Verso, 1990, p.9.

  6. Roger-Pol Droit, ‘Guy Debord, le dernier des Mohicans’, Le Monde, 22 July 1988, p.11.

  7. G. Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, op. cit., pp.21, 27. Emphasis Debord’s.

  8. Ibid., p.55.

  9. R.-P. Droit, ‘Guy Debord, le dernier des Mohicans’, op. cit., p.11.

  10. Laurent Jenny, ‘The Unrepresentable Enemy’ (trans. Stephen Sartarelli), Art & Text, no.35, Summer 1990, p.111. Translation modified.

  11. Ibid., p.112. Translation modified.

  12. Paul Piccone in Russell Berman, David Pan and P. Piccone, ‘The Society of the Spectacle 20 Years Later:A Discussion’, Telos, no.86, Winter 1990—91, pp.85—86.

  13. Anselm Jappe, Guy Debord (trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith), Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999, p.121. Jappe notes that ‘there is no denying, however, that the years since the book’s publication have confirmed its claims in myriad ways’.

  14. The exhibition travelled to the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (1989) and Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (1990). The years 1989 and 1990 were key in the contemporary reception of the SI for other reasons as well: they mark the publication of Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989) and Roberto Ohrt’s Phantom Avantgarde (Hamburg: Nautilus, 1990).

  15. See Christophe Bourseiller, Vie et mort de Guy Debord, Paris: Plon, 1999, pp.395—96.

  16. Paul-Hervé Parsy, who oversaw the Paris iteration of the show, quoted in Edward Ball, ‘Welcome Brigands’, Village Voice, 2 May 1989, p.106.

  17. One of the best accounts of Baudrillard’s reception in the US, and in artistic milieus in particular, is found in François Cusset, French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States (trans. Jeff Fort), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

  18. Elisabeth Sussman, ‘Introduction’, in E. Sussman (ed.), on the Passage of a few people through a rather brief moment in time: The Situationist International, 1957—1972, Boston and Cambridge, MA: Institute of Contemporary Art and The MIT Press, 1989, p.13.

  19. Giorgio Maragliano, ‘The Invisible Insurrection’ (trans. Henry Martin), Flash Art, no.147, Summer 1989, p.89.

  20. G. Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, op. cit., p.4. Emphasis the author’s. See also his remarks regarding the ‘return of history’, p.73.

  21. Giorgio Agamben, ‘Marginal Notes on Commentaries [sic] on the Society of the Spectacle’, Means without End (trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino), Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, p.82.

  22. Ibid., pp.82—83.

  23. Ibid., p.87. Emphasis Agamben's.

  24. Tiqqun, ‘How Is It to Be Done?’, Introduction to Civil War (trans. Alexander R. Galloway and Jason E.Smith), Los Angeles: Semiotext[e], 2010, p.204.

  25. Tiqqun, Théorie du Bloom, Paris: Éditions la Fabrique, 2000, p.93.

  26. See Eric Pelletier and Anne Vidalie, ‘Julien Coupat, l’homme invisible’, L’Express, 29 January 2009, p.29.

  27. Tiqqun, Premiers matériaux pour une théorie de la Jeune-Fille, Paris: Éditions mille et une nuits, 2001, p.103.

  28. Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism (trans. Gregory Elliott), London and New York: Verso, 2006, pp.40 and 52—53 n.81; see also p.478 n.82 for a summary of Debord’s spectacle-thesis that provides a good sense of the passages in The Society of the Spectacle that most influenced Coupat.

  29. See Jean-Michel Decugis, Christophe Labbé and Armel Mehani, ‘Ultragauche — Le rapport des RG qui désigne Julien Coupat’, Le Point, 11 December 2008, p.43.

  30. Ibid., p.89.

  31. Tiqqun, ‘Introduction to Civil War’, Introduction to Civil War, op. cit., p.110.

  32. The phrase is from G. Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, op. cit., p.73.

  33. Already in the last issue of Tiqqun there was talk of the Invisible Committee: ‘It refers to a specific faction of the Imaginary Party, its revolutionary-experimental wing.’ Tiqqun, ‘Introduction to Civil War’, op. cit., p.193. On the disputed authorship of The Coming Insurrection, see A.L., ‘Un Coupat peut en cacher un autre’, Nouvel Observateur, 22 September 2009, p.15.

  34. Tiqqun, ‘How Is It to Be Done?’, op. cit., p.207.

  35. The best overview of this case may be found in Alberto Toscano, ‘The War Against Preterrorism: The “Tarnac Nine” and The Coming Insurrection’, Radical Philosophy, no.154, March—April 2009, pp.8—17.

  36. Claire Fontaine, ‘Ready-made Artist and Human Strike’, p.4. Italics the author’s. Available at http://www.clairefontaine.ws/pdf/readymade_eng.pdf (last accessed on 11 July 2011).

  37. Ibid., pp.7—8. Emphasis Claire Fontaine's.

  38.  G. Maragliano, ‘The Invisible Insurrection’, op. cit., p.90.

  39. Claire Fontaine, quoted in Chen Tamir, ‘Political Action Figures: The Role of the Artist Can Also Be a Readymade’, C Magazine, no.101, Spring 2009, p.29.

  40. See Karl Marx, Capital: Volume 1 (trans. Ben Fowkes), London: Penguin Books, 1990, pp.928—29.

  41. G. Debord and Gil Wolman, ‘A User’s Guide to Détournement’, in Ken Knabb (ed. and trans.), Situationist International Anthology, Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2007, p.16.