Open Creation and Its Enemies
Internationale Situationniste #5 (December 1960)
Translated by Fabian Tompsett
I am sad, but in spite of all my efforts, M. Mesens doesn't want to publish PIN. Even when I said to him that we didn't want any money, he laughed and said that if he wanted to publish it, we would have to give him money, but that he had no intentions of doing so. He had read it attentively but he didn't like it. He said that it would have been more topical twenty five years ago, but that now we would not be greeted with comprehension...
There is another thing: there are some imitators, for example, the lettrists in Paris who copy the Ursonate that Hausmann and I did, and we weren't even mentioned, we who had done it twenty five years before them, and with better reasons.
Kurt Schwitters, Letter of 29-3-47 quoted in Courrier Dada.
WHAT WEAPONS DOES Lemaître want to use? Here, he falls for the psychiatric theory of a little Swiss man called Karl Jaspers, who from his perspective attains a 'stature' equal to that of Moses and of Plato (p. 66 & p. 80). From Lemaître's perspective, this Jaspers has become enormous, because he is closer to him in time and ideas. The enormity of Jaspers, who has the merit of being considered as one of the most famous imbeciles of our century, is to have postulated with all the authority of a non-scientific psychiatrist, that all individuals who are not an imbecile like him are mentally ill, and by this fact a public danger that society should be able to allow to be locked up and nursed. Lemaître has amplified this idea to a world dimension; and according to him the therapy would be (quote: "...only to have proposed an integral therapy capable of curing the permanent illness of youth and world history." p. 55).
What is this permanent illness of the history of the world? During the phase of youth, each individual or group possesses a fantastic will, in relation to minimum capacities and non-existent consciousness. The adult age possesses a real power stronger than their will, which is subject to the routine of actions. The fatigue of old age is compensated for by experience, the consciousness which dominates power and will. By proposing Gnosis for the salvation of youth, Lemaître only proposes a process of rapid aging, he even proposes that the youth should engage their wills as quickly as possible in social power, prisoner of existing establishment.
Lemaître precisely reproaches the situationists for not following the rules of his game: "So many mythic and mystifying formulas, which confound their classification and their integration into the domain of knowledge, also hinder the establishment of necessary historic relations between superseded-superseding and the superseding-superseded." In effect, unswervingly convinced of his linear succession, of his little hierarchy etc., blind to everything else, Lemaître cries that the situationists have not superseded him, and are to be placed much lower down than him. Well then? My friend the Danish poet Jens August Schade told me one day: "You can fall so low that the fall becomes uplifting." There is nothing mystifying in our behavior. I have never had any desire to supersede you, Lemaître and company. We are coming across each other: that's all. And we are not going to continue with the same trajectory that we approached by, without this encounter having had the slightest importance.
The Leninist example of the troglodytes was equally badly chosen. The conflict between Lenin and the Russian futurists is only one example in a general crisis and a subversion of the revolution to which Lenin had contributed with his very compact and superficial attack against leftism considered as 'an infantile disease' rather than as an illness of infancy, of hope. Anyhow, I am old enough to remember the epoch when Lenin himself was considered as a troglodyte by the whole world. One day, I shall probably be used, when I am dead as an anti-troglodyte against someone.
Lemaître is infatuated with the idea that time could abolish unfashionable cultural references which he has found, or had his specialist scribe pick up in the public libraries. But as anyone knows, like living reality, culture is what is left when all that has been understood has been forgotten. Nothing is worse than stupidity combined with a never failing memory. This is without wanting to discuss the weak quality, the holes and the bluffs in the digest of encyclopedism of Lemaître's brain trust.
Lemaître seems to disdain the experimental value that we have recognized in the lettrist movement around 1950, in two or three sectors of culture. He says that the experimental aspect of lettrism had been real but negligible in comparison to its essential value: a system of creation. Thus he impudently spits on his only asset, because we consider, as history will consider with us, that all that he calls his 'creation' is absolutely empty and has no future. Because Lemaître believes that it is his solipsistic dream of creation, which must be recognized as the sole historic value, he is astonished that, for example we don't recognize the importance of lettrist poetry. This poetry has no importance as an artistic creation, even as a function of the 'creative', arbitrary and untransferable systematization of Lemaître. As much as the whole of the lettrist movement has for a time played a role in the real avant-garde of a given epoch, onomatopoeic poetry, which was its first manifestation, came twenty five years after Schwitters, and clearly was in no way experimental.
In other respects there was nothing unique about the lettrists except in Paris. However, Lemaître is so geographically bound that, without smiling, he measures the comparative influences of the SI and groupuscules which appeared for six months on the Left Bank, and which are still only known about by him; he judges them according to articles whose dedication has generally been solicited by the groups themselves or "posters plastered all round Paris in their name" (p. 41). This Lemaître allows concessions to everyone for making known the discoveries which, as has been seen, all the mystifiers, Christian or not, have on sale. He pretends that he had plenty of time to understand, and does not ask about the reason for this total incomprehension, for this refusal of the whole world in relation to his wonderful creations. It is fifteen years since lettrism arose, it has chosen no enemies, but wants to convert the whole world. And without slackening, it has presented the (sub-Cartesian) demonstration of its dogmas throughout twenty books. However it has remained very poorly known about. And, to take his examples, Lemaître doesn't want it recognized that fifteen years after their appearance, surrealism or symbolism had already been largely imposed on culture. In epochs much less greedy than our own, these movements appeared, a novelty in all domains, and then the cultural ideologies, much less decomposed than those of today, fought them in the name of the conservation of the order of the past. Hence Max Bense, the German equivalent of this anecdote of systematic, paradialectic, and deadly boring 'lettrist thought'. They are equally typical of this epoch. What do you want? They are of great use as classifiers of values. But of values without actuality. In terms of Americanized culture, these are the gadgets of the Ideal Home exhibition of the spirit.