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potlatch #5

information bulletin of the french section of the lettrist international

20 July 1954

Translated by Gerardo Denís, Greil Marcus and Reuben Keehan

The Cathars Were Right!
Skyscraper by the Roots - Lettrist International
Best News of the Week
An Exemplary Autocritique
Response to an Enquiry from the Belgian Surrealist Group - Lettrist International

The Cathars were Right!

Washington, 9 July — The entire American press today published photos of the physicist Marcel Schein, a professor at the University of Chicago, his blackboard and his "anti-proton," a mysterious particle of cosmic matter which was detected last winter with the help of a balloon suspended 30 kilometers above Texas. In doing so, he has made one of the greatest discoveries of modern science. The anti-proton, sought for years by physicists all over the world, is the opposite of the proton. The proton is the nucleus of the hydrogen atom, and, in consequence, constitutes the basic element of all terrestrial matter. A collision between a proton and an anti-proton will result in mutual destruction. Thus the anti-proton will be capable of destroying all matter composed of protons. In essence, this will be "anti-matter." Nevertheless, it appears impossible for them to combine with enough force to destroy the planet. (Combat - 10 July)


- The new government of Guatemala will disallow the voting rights of illiterates. (Le Figaro - 9/7)

- General Carlos Castillo Armas, head of the rebels who have gained victory in Guatemala, has been name president by the military junta. (Paris-Presse - 10/7)

- Castillo Armas defines his politics: "The justice of the firing squad. (L'Humanitié - 14/7)

Skyscraper by the Roots

In these days where everything, every aspect of life, is becoming more and more repressive, there is one man who is particularly repulsive, one who is clearly more on the side of law and order than most. He builds individual living cells, he builds capital cities for the Nepalese, he builds vertical ghettoes, he builds morgues for an era that well knows what to do with them, he builds churches.

This modular Protestant, Le Corbusier-Sing-Sing, this dauber of neo-cubist shells, sets in motion "machines for living in" to the greater glory of God, who created carrion and Corbusier in his own image and likeness.

It is understandable that while modern urban planning has not yet made itself worthy of the name art, let alone that of a cadre de vie, it has, on the other hand, always found inspiration in police detectives; after all, Haussmann only gave us these boulevards to make it easier to roll cannons through them.

But today, the prison is becoming the preferred housing type, and while Christian morality advances unopposed, Le Corbusier is trying to do away with streets. He even brags about it. His program? To divide life into closed, isolated units, into societies under perpetual surveillance; no more opportunities for uprisings or meaningful encounters; to enforce an automatic resignation. (We should mention in passing that the existence of the automobile benefits everyone, except, of course, for a few "economically disadvantaged" individuals. The recently deceased Chief of Police, the unforgettable Baylot, likewise remarked after the last end-of-term student parade that street demonstrations were no longer compatible with traffic requirements. And the point is brought home to us every 14th of July.)

With Le Corbusier, the interplay and insight that we have a right to expect from truly impressive architecture — disorientation on a daily basis — have been sacrificed in favor of the rubbish chute that will never be used to dispose of the required Bible, already ubiquitous in American hotels.

Only a fool could see this as modern architecture. It is nothing more than a regression en mass to the old, not properly interred world of Christianity. At the turn of the century, the mystic from Lyon Pierre-Simon Ballanche, in his "City of Atonement" had already framed this ideal of existence — with descriptions that prefigure the "cités radieuses."

The City of Atonement must be a living image of the sad, monotonous law of human vicissitudes, of the unbending law of social necessity: even the most innocent customs must be attached at the root, everything must be a constant reminder that nothing is stable and that man's life is a journey through a land of exile.

For us, however, the earthly voyage is neither sad nor monotonous; social laws are not fixed; questioned habits must give way to an incessant renewal of the marvelous. The first comfort we seek is the elimination of all such ideas as these, along with the flies that spread them.

What does Mr. Le Corbusier know about human needs?

Cathedrals are no longer white. And we are glad of the fact. "Brightness" and a place in the sun: we know how that tune goes, played on organs and MRP drums, and the fields of heaven where defunct architects are put out to pasture. "Enlevez le boeuf, c'est de la vache."

Lettrist International

Best News of the Week

Tokyo, July 14 — The employees of a silk merchant are currently engaged in a strike that has almost turned into a "war" between the employers and the population of the town of Fujinomiya, sixty-four kilometers from Tokyo.

The young employees of the "Omni Silk Spinning Company" factory, who live in dormitories under a strict set of rules and regulations, are protesting that the company does everything in its power to prevent them from marrying or having a normal love life, "because of the possibility of a decrease in production."

They complain that they are required to obtain permission from seven different officials in order to leave the factory or its environs, that they are forbidden to use lipstick or face powder, and that they must be in their beds by nine o'clock every night.

Mr Kakuji Natsukawa, the director of the firm, is a Buddhist, and the young women protest that every morning they are forced to march in file on the grounds of the factory while singing Buddhist hymns.

The hymns are followed by other songs, such as "Today I Will Not Make Inconsiderate Requests," and "Today I Will Not Complain." (Combat, July 15)

An Exemplary Autocritique

". . . The complicity of a common climate does not prevent them from excluding one of their own, as soon as he shows the least sign of vulgarity, as soon as he is content with what he has done."

(Written in October 1953 by a member of the Lettrist International who was excluded in June 1954.)

Response to an inquiry from the Belgian Surrealist Group

"What does the word poetry mean to you?"

Poetry has exhausted the last of its formal prestiges. Beyond simple aesthetics, poetry consists entirely of human potential. It is written on the faces of adventures and in the form of cities. Nothing is more urgent than the creation of new faces and construction through upheaval. The new beauty will be SITUATIONAL, that is to say fugitive and lived. The latest artistic variations interest us only for the potential influence that might be found within them. To us, poetry means the elaboration of absolutely new conducts, and the means of making them passionate.

Lettrist International
Published in a special issue of La Carte d'après Nature. Brussels, January 1954.

Editor in Chief: André-Frank Conord, 15 rue Duguay-Trouin, Paris 6e.