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Preface to Potlatch (1954-1957)

Guy Debord

November 1985

Translated by Reuben Keehan

The bulletin Potlatch appeared twenty-seven times between 22 June 1954 and 5 November 1957. It was numbered 1 to 29, the bulletin of 17 August 1954 having been a triple issue. Weekly until this point, Potlatch went monthly from issue twelve.

Potlatch was edited successively by André-Frank Conord (numbers 1 to 8), Mohamed Dahou (numbers 9 to 18), Gil J Wolman (number 19), Mohamed Dahou again (numbers 20 to 22), and Jacques Fillon (numbers 23 to 24). The last issues no longer mentioned a principle editor. From number 26, it "ceased being published monthly."

Potlatch was presented as the "information bulletin of the French section of the Lettrist International" (numbers 1 to 21); then as the "information bulletin of the Lettrist International." [Finally, as the "information bulletin of the Situationist International," number 30 (15 July 1959) was the first and last issue of a new series (published in Amsterdam and France), replaced by a single "central bulletin edited by the sections of the Situationist International" which appeared as a journal between 1958 and 1969 — Editorial note in original.] The Lettrist International was the organization of the "lettrist left," who in 1952 imposed the split in the "lettrist" artistic avant-garde; breaking with it from that point on.

Potlatch was sent free of charge to addresses chosen by its editors, and to a few people who had requested it. It was never sold. For its first issue, Potlatch ran to 50 copies. Towards the end of its publication, its circulation had reached more than 400, or perhaps even 500 copies. A precursor to what came to be known around 1970 as "l'édition sauvage," but more honest and rigorous in its rejection of market value, Potlatch, true to its title, was only ever given away for the entire time it was published.

The strategic intention for Potlatch was to establish a number of contacts in order to constitute a new movement, which had to be a reunification of avant-garde cultural creation and the revolutionary critique of society. In 1957, the Situationist International was effectively formed on this basis. The situationist themes already present here can be easily recognized in the lapidary formulation expressed by this rather special means of communication.

The passage of more than thirty years, largely because the texts have not been refuted by subsequent events, introduces some difficulty for today's reader. It may now be hard to conceive of the forms in which the banalities almost universally accepted at the time presented themselves, and consequently to recognize the then scandalous ideas that finally brought about their ruin. The difficulty is still greater given the fact that these are spectacular forms which have apparently changed, every few months — almost every day — while for several centuries the content of dispossession and falsification did not present itself as completely unalterable as it does today.

On the other hand, the passage of time makes another aspect of the question easier for the reader. In the context of the thought of 1954, Potlatch's judgment on the end of modern art seemed somewhat excessive. In light of experience, it is now known — and although people have often tried to put this fact into doubt, no other explanation for it has been forthcoming — that since 1954, no artist in whom any real interest can be recognized has appeared anywhere. It is also known that outside the Situationist International, no-one has ever bothered to formulate a central critique of this society, which is nevertheless collapsing around us; pouring down in an avalanche of disastrous failures, and always harder pressed to accumulate others.