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potlatch #23

information bulletin of the lettrist international

13 October 1955

Translated by Reuben Keehan and Gerardo Denís

Lettrist Intervention
The Role of the Written Word
Project for Rational Improvements to the City of Paris
The Latest Opinion Poll

Lettrist Intervention

Letter to the Editor of the Times

Dear sir,

The Times has just announced the projected demolition of the Chinese quarter in London.

We protest against such moral ideas in town-planning, ideas which must obviously make England more boring that it has in recent years already become.

The only pageants left are a coronation from time to time, an occasional royal marriage which seldom bears fruit; nothing else. The disappearance of pretty girls, of good family especially, will become rarer and rarer after the razing of Limehouse. Do you honestly believe that a gentleman can amuse himself in Soho?

We hold that the so-called modern town-planning which you recommend is fatuously idealistic and reactionary. The sole end of architecture is to serve the passions of men.

Anyway, it is inconvenient that this Chinese quarter of London should be destroyed before we have the opportunity to visit and carry out certain psychogeographical experiments we are at present undertaking.

Finally, if modernization appears to you, as it does to us, to be historically necessary, we would counsel you to carry your enthusiasm into areas more urgently in need of it, that is to say, to you political and moral institutions.

Yours faithfully,

for l'Internationale lettriste:

Long Live Modern China

A few days after posting the above protest, we had news from Spain that town planning under the Franco regime, following the same moralising line, is in the process of demolishing Barcelona's Chinatown, where horrendous swathes have already been opened. Unlike London's Chinatown, Barcelona's 'Barrio Chino' was given the name for purely psychogeographical motives and no Chinese have ever lived there.

Across Europe

Jacques Fillon has taken over the editorship of Potlatch from Mohamed Dahou, who is preparing to leave Paris for an indeterminate period of time in a south south-easterly direction.

A Haunted House

At a Lettrist meeting held on September 20, it was decided to draw up plans and build models of a prototype 'haunted house.' The subject of this exercise makes it quite clear that it is not a question of producing just any ordinary visual harmony. It should be noted, however, that if this building is willingly studied on the basis of a simple feeling, its conception must take into account the emotional nuances appropriate to the numerous situations that could call for frightful surroundings.

In a Flash

Alezander Trocchi, former editor-in-chief of the Anglo-American avant-garde review Merlin, has resigned from this post in order to confirm his adherence to the program of the Lettrist International. Having immediately given all his friends notice that they too would have to make a choice, he has proceeded firmly with the numerous ruptures imposed on him.

The Inevitable Map

The collective drafting of a psychogeographical map of Paris and its surrounding areas has been actively pursued over the past month, on the basis of various observations and reconnaissance missions (Butte-aux-Cailles, Continent Contrescape, Morgue, Aubervilliers, the desert de Retz).

Extracts from a Letter to a Belgian Comrade, 14 September 1955

. . . In the same, decidedly literary week, we were sent a journal called Phantomas – which is idiotic – and the latest issue of Temps Mêlés also fell into our hands. That journal is worse that I could ever have imagined. André Blavier too, at the same time. It's almost unthinkable that people could write such things in the middle of the twentieth century. . .

While Blavier wreaks his havoc in Phantomas, a certain Michel Laclos, already rampant in Temps Mêlés, is none other than the editor-in-chief of the widely circulated Bizarre, probably intended for our sub-prefectures in the South West. There must be some kind of International of gloomy rubbish, whose leaders are beginning to come out of the woodwork. Furthermore, anyone who claims to be a disciple of Queneau should be first up against the wall. The exploitation of Jarry by some pataphysician or other is as degrading as the attempts by the Catholics to claim him for themselves. In this display of insulting insignificance, of moral abjection, of moth-eaten thought, it should be said that Blavier is a real standout: he is easily the biggest prick of them all. Naturally, he will no longer receive Potlatch. Otherwise, people might think that we are giving some credit to the intelligence of a man capable of publishing such servility. I'm quite glad we didn't meet him until his last trip to Paris: he was unmasked within ten minutes of coversation. And it is always regrettable to be obliged to resort to slander, like anyone else, as these people are all the same . . .


Telegram Sent to Mr Francis Ponge, 27 September 1955

Aaah, Ponge, you write for Preuves. We despise you, you bastard.



Letter to Mr André Chêneboit, editor of Le Monde

Dear Sir,

We have come across your reflections on the arrest of Robert Barrat in Le Monde of 28 September. The adventurous, indeed 'whodunnit' approach that you seem to have toward journalism leads us to think that you accept among 'the risks that constitute the greatness of this profession' that of a punishment that fits the crime, and which is 'no doubt temporary,' as you say.

Yours with all the disgust you have inspired in us today,


The Role of the Written Word

The Lettrists have held an initial information session for the purpose of deciding on phrases that, written in chalk or by any other means on walls in certain streets, add to the intrinsic significance of those streets — when they have one to start with.

These inscriptions are meant to make a whole range of impressions, from psychogeographical insinuation to plain and simple subversion. The following examples were the original choices.

For rue Sauvage (13th): "If we don't die here, will we go any further?" — for rue d'Aubervilliers (18th/19th): "Revolution by night" — for rue Benoit (6th): "The supposedly delightful auto-bazaar doesn't make it this far" — for rue Lhomond (5th): "Benefit from doubt" — for rue Séverin (5th): "Girls for the Kabyles."

It was also agreed that the following line from L. Scutenaire be written near Renault factories, in various suburbs and at several places in the 19th and 20th Arrondissements: "You are sleeping for the boss."

Project for Rational Improvements to the City of Paris

The Lettrists attending the September 26 meeting jointly put forward the following proposals for solutions to the town planning problems that happened to come up during debate. It is worth noting that no constructive action was decided, since all those present agreed that the most urgent task is to lay the groundwork.

The subways should be opened at night, after the trains have stopped running. The passageways and platforms should be poorly lit with dim, blinking lights.

The rooftops of Paris should be opened to pedestrian traffic by means of modifications to fire escape ladders and construction of catwalks where necessary.

Public gardens should remain open at night, unlit (in some cases, dim lighting might be justified on psychogeographical grounds).

All street-lamps should be equipped with switches; lighting should be for public use.

With regard to churches, four different proposals were put forward and all were judged tenable until the appropriate experiments demonstrate which of them is the best.

G.-E. Debord argued for the complete demolition of religious buildings of all denominations. (No trace should remain of them and their sites should be used for other purposes.)

Gil J. Wolman proposed that churches should be left standing but stripped of all religious content. They should be treated as ordinary buildings. Children should be allowed to play in them.

Michèle Bernstein suggested that churches should be partially demolished, so that the remaining ruins give no hint of their original function (tour Jacques, on Boulevard de Sebastopol, being an unintentional example). The ideal solution would be to raze churches to the ground and build ruins in their place. The first alternative was formulated exclusively for reasons of economy.

Lastly, Jacques Fillon is in favor of transforming churches into haunted houses (maintaining their current ambience and accentuating their unsettling effects).

All agreed that aesthetic objections should be over-ruled, that admirers of the great door of Chartes should be silenced. Beauty, when it does not hold the promise of happiness, must be destroyed. And what could better represent unhappiness than this sort of monument to everything in the world that remains to be overcome, to the immense inhuman side of life?

Train stations should be kept as they are. Their rather moving ugliness adds much to the feeling of transience that makes these buildings mildly attractive. Gil J. Wolman called for removal or scrambling of all information regarding departures (destinations, times, etc.). This would promote the dérive. After a lively debate, those opposing the motion retracted their argument and it was approved without reservation. The aural environment of stations should be enhanced by broadcasting recorded announcements from a large number of different stations – and certain ports.

Cemeteries should be eliminated. All corpses and memories of that sort should be totally destroyed: no ashes and no remains. (It is necessary to note the reactionary propaganda constituted by these hideous remnants of a past filled with alienation by the most automatic of associations. Is it possible to see a cemetery and not be reminded of Mauriac, Gide or Edgar Faure?)

Museums should be abolished and their masterpieces distributed to bars (Philippe de Champaigne's works in the Arab cafes of rue Xavier-Privas; David's Sacre in the Tonneau in Montagne-Geneviève).

Everyone should have free access to prisons. They should be available as tourist destinations, with no distinction between visitors and inmates (to make life more amusing, visitors would be eligible, in draws held twelve times a year, to win a real prison sentence. This would be especially aimed at cretins who cannot live without running interesting risks: today's speleologists, for example, and all those whose craving for games is satisfied by such pale imitations).

All monuments, the ugliness of which cannot be put to any use (such as the Petit or Grand Palais), should make way for other constructions.

All remaining statues whose significance has become outmoded – where any possible aesthetic renovations are condemned by history to failure beforehand – should be removed. Their usefulness could be extended during their final years by changing the inscriptions on their plinths, either in a political sense (The Tiger Called Clemenceau on the Champs Élysées) or in a puzzling sense (Dialectical Homage to Fever and Quinine at the intersection of boulevard Michel and rue Comte, or The Deep in the cathedral square on Île de la Cité).

The dulling influence of current street names on people's intelligence must be stopped. Names of town councilors, heroes of the Resistance, all Emiles and Edouards (55 Paris streets), all Bugeauds and Gallifets, and in general, all obscene names (rue de l'Evangile) should be removed.

In this regard, the appeal launched in Potlatch #9 for ignoring the word saint in place names is even more valid.

The Latest Opinion Poll

What would you do if extreme right wing military elements attempted a coup d'État, in which the increasing difficulties of French colonialism would create less than favorable conditions?

Editor in Chief: J. Fillon, 32 rue de la Montagne-Geneviève, Paris 5e.