Open Creation and Its Enemies
Internationale Situationniste #5 (December 1960)
Translated by Fabian Tompsett
Some people would never be considered, were it not that some excellent adversaries had mentioned them. There is no greater vengeance than oblivion, as it buries such people in the dust of their nothingness.
Baltazar Gracian, L'homme de cour
I HAVE NEVER considered the Situationist International as one of those intellectual errors that only needs to be left to crumble to dust, scattering its corpses. I have always had a horror of those exploiters of other people's discoveries, whose only justification is the synthesis they achieve. I have reason to consider the situationists as sub-Marxists from the twentieth zone, full of troglodyte anti-cultural formulations. There is an ex-painter of the Cobra-movement, who has principles which have come to nothing [It's me, Asger Jorn, that he's talking about]. He only produces abstract lyricism of the fourth zone or the fifth order. It was only in 1948, after Bjerke Petersen inspired the formation of Cobra with the support of Richard Mortensen, Ejler Bille and Egill Jacobsen following the war, that he showed himself in a coherent fashion. Even his support in his own country remains without real importance (there are some artists who, if they aren't noticed at the international level, go off and knock out some forged creations in the national framework). I advise him to stick to painting, not because I value his pictures, but because I have read his 'philosophical' works. Abstract art, above all that of a manufacturer prefaced by Jacques Prévert, the Paul Géraldy of surrealism, must be sold well and impassion all the dressmakers. My cultural conception and my creation make me rigorous in my writings. I already have enough difficulties from being solely responsible for my own writings, whence there are no false phrases or judgments to be retracted.
For all the reasons which he so exposes, I understand perfectly why the lettrist Lemaître has left it to a scribe to take the trouble to fill 136 pages of his review Poésie Nouvelle #13 with closely set little characters in a study on the Situationist International.
The enormous extent of the work is its only exceptional character, which is easily explained. As I think I have shown in my study on value, an endeavor of invention and understanding cannot be paid by the hour, and in consequence cannot be objectively measured with money. The habits of industrial production have clearly penetrated certain strata across the frontier of intellectual life, and for example, journalism is routinely paid by the line. But it is obvious that the interest of these types of workers is to increase the speed and the quantity of production to the detriment of the quality. Above all this can be seen in the poverty of reportage, as this must be assembled off the clock. And such a way of carrying out work implies an easily overstretched inferior intelligence of the financial backers, who are satisfied with such standards. Lemaître has been forced to commit such rashness thanks to his stated 'strategic reasons' which nevertheless remain obscure. If he says he 'avoided the idea of expounding in the SI' himself, he had better squarely let the matter drop or give the work over to a man of culture. Because Lemaître, as an entrepreneur, is completely responsible for the work of his pieceworkers.
In Internationale Situationniste #4 [Originality and Magnitude (on Isou's System)], I unveiled the system, the ideological grammar of Lemaître, by clarifying that it was a subjective outlook of positions established in relation to Lemaître himself, rather than an objective system. Lemaître admits his ignorance and his lack of scientific creativity (p. 74). How could he then take my statement as an insult? It is indisputable that my critique of the Marxist concept of value is strictly scientific, and it is, moreover, the first complete critique which has been made of it. Lemaître calls it 'sub-sub-sub-marxism'. And why not? It is nevertheless necessary to note that Lemaître has recognized and evaluated the scientific characteristics in the experimental work of the SI, as he has been able to deal with this subject for 136 pages without mentioning a single name of any of the participants of this experiment. This is pure objectivity. Lemaître has played on the law of large numbers. He attributes many quotes without distinction to someone he calls 'the situationist.' These were taken from the writings of ten of our comrades (the collective declarations of the SI are not an issue here: this figure applies only to those texts which are found to be signed individually by their authors).
Lemaître has fallen into the trap between the absolute and the measurement system of classical Euclidean geometry, as Marxism has done. He pushes it only as far as unintentional jokes, such as wanting to distinguish the graduations of eternity. He pretends (p. 56) to be capable of ensuring a 'more eternal' victory than anyone else.
Elsewhere, it is very funny to read Lemaître. The post-Marxist character inspired by the organization of the workers struggling to improve their economic situation is clearly visible as the basis of the erotological practice that Lemaître has pointed out in many large books. The effort so presented to organize a union of gigolos, systematizing their struggle for an increase in their wages and markedly improving their technique in satisfying even the most dramatic passions of their clients, is an honest reformist enterprise, the day to day defense of actual employees within the existing economic framework. Lemaître has recently admitted that this education would be impotent at the situationist stage of miracle-working, but doesn't know what to conclude from this intuition. If he made the effort, man could be naturally seen as the producer, and woman as the consumer in the erotic process as long as their relationship had no consequences. And if the number of boys born dropped considerably in relation to the number of girls, this could open perspectives which would merit economic considerations. But it is impossible to consider youth as being more a producer than a consumer, and completely against the interest of youth to diminish their consumption at the cultural level, by means of the reduction of school leaving age proposed by Lemaître, by which they would be thrown into production more quickly, even if this would be in the interest of the industry. Marx's struggle in this realm will always have a passionate value, and our goal is to confirm the right, not merely for youth, but for every individual, to realize themselves according to their free desires in autonomous creation and consumption. The focus of such a development could right away be UNESCO, from the moment when the SI takes command of it; new types of popular university, broken away from the passive consumption of the old culture; lastly, utopian educational centers which through the relation of leisure to certain arrangements of social spaces, they must come to be more completely free of the dominant daily life, and at the same time functioning as bridgeheads for an invasion of this daily life, instead of pretending to be separated from it.
An excellent book could be made out of Lemaître's economic theory seen as a literary work like a Rabelaisian farce, with the revolt of youth taken as a caricature of the revolutionary and socialist thought of the nineteenth century. But from the moment when Lemaître shows that he takes it seriously, he is a demagogue. One of the classic gimmicks of demagogues is to mobilize the people against dangers which have become inoffensive. It has been the fashion to shout wrongly about fascism since the war, when new socio-cultural conditions are being prepared, and when the new ideological dangers appear inoffensive: and leading to moral rearmament by all the variants of neo-religious fanaticism. Far from 'misrecognizing the power of his method', as Lemaître says, I have recognized them, I denounce them, and I declare war on them.
I prefer a contrary method. And the sole consideration I can give to Lemaître, to his scribbler, to those who could adhere to their system of thought, or just as likely to take it up and use it without them, it is to quote the phrases to which I am absolutely opposed. In Poésie Nouvelle #13:
My level of merit based on the works or actions which improve the human condition place in their lower ranks the current provisional practices. I believe that at the daily level the 'non-being' formulated by certain existentialist philosophers is true: we are only a mass of waste material having some possibility of acquired and limited choices. But what distinguishes my system is that, for me, the only liberty, which is minimal, resides in the minuscule invention or discovery of that rare being which is known as the 'innovator', in the wake of whose revelations that the other human beings can only follow, as they have until then followed the 'lesser good', the inferior. (p.116).
Rightly or wrongly, I have always believed afresh in the power to sometimes use the energies of my fellows better then they themselves. (p. 44).
They must trust and follow me, instead of always staying behind. (p. 29).
The religious Jews can pretend that no-one has gone further than them, as the Messiah has not arrived. The Christians have reason to state that they have not been outclassed as their fellows have not been saved from their misery, and as they have been helped to the resurrection of the dead... At this level, I give reason to these groups, who defend certain essential values and that I hope to honestly supersede by offering them what they want: the messiah, human safety, the resurrection of the dead, gnosis. (p. 28).
The situationists, like the sub-troglodytes that they are, no longer want to conserve anything... they not only reject the future of cultural disciplines, but also the past and the present, in the name of a pseudo-utopian, outdated, spineless, infantile bluff... Finally our ignorant reactionaries will be rejected and punished by the research of disciplines of knowledge, just as they have rejected and punished others in the past. (p. 63).
I believe that these extracts from Lemaître's Mein Kampf suffice to show his main tendency towards 'degenerate art.' As for the threats, those that go so far as to make use of them are not always equipped with the capacity of the most extensive sanctions. And we are not in any way frightened by constructing the 'provisional' life, because Lemaître has let us know (p. 123) that he has "a great horror of his living person". Well, that's his problem! He also said that he preferred Malraux to the situationists (but will this complement be paid back?) Anyway, I would let him get on with Malraux. For nothing.