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How Not to Understand the SI

Internationale Situationniste #10 (March 1966)

Translated by Reuben Keehan

According to Le Monde Libertaire in December 1964: "The SI's revolutionary critique of everyday life is incontestably right on the mark. However, there is one domain, far from having lost its importance, that escapes them: work." We, on the other hand, believe that we've more or less never dealt with any problem other than that of work: its conditions, its contradictions, and its consequences. Le Monde Libertaire's error stems perhaps from the habits of undialectical thinking, which isolates an aspect of reality on conveniently recognizable terrain, where it can only ever be treated conventionally.

Reporting on an earlier special number of the Times devoted to the avant-garde, Le Figaro Littéraire of 3 September 1964 wrote: "Thus, Michèle Bernstein and Jörgen Nash confront one another from opposing pages. Both extol the virtues of 'international situationism.' Both want art not to be separate from the world, transforming society in such a way that the individual will be free to 'enjoy life.' And yet Nash was excluded by Michèle Bernstein. Here we touch on one of the avant-garde's darkest traits: its taste for the absolute." It seems that the recourse to an absolute "situationism" is completely out of the question when it comes to ridding oneself of a character like Nash. It really isn't that difficult to figure it out comparitively.

In Holland, the Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad of 5 December 1964 devoted a page to the study of "Situationist Traits in the Face of Our Era." The face presented by this title was hardly very attractive, because it threw the SI into a stew of Nashism, happenings, and even a photo of the avant-garde royalist Georges Mathieu, ever the wretched pretender. Debord is described as "the movement's great prophet," and they are shocked that he refuses the term "situationism." In this article, the only thing that appears to be undiluted is their stupidity.

We'll pass over the dozens of confusionist articles in the Scandinavian press, hardly any better than their archetypal model that appeared in Politiken on 11 October 1964, earnestly searching for the reasons behind the "Nashist deviation," which has so flattered local patriotism. We are also poorly understood (poorly translated, poorly quoted) in issue 2 of the German bulletin Anschlag, the expression of a rather timid investigation into a radical position. And worse still in the example of the elogious but unintelligent article that the Lapassardist René Lourau thought he should devote to the SI in issue 82 of the journal Tour de Feu. Nothing, however, can top the bizarre allusion of Paolo Marinotti, director of the International Center for Arts and Customs in Venice, reporting on a retrospective exhibition by Jorn at the Palazzo Grassi in one of the Center's publications. Marinotti writes of Jorn, who figured among the founders of the SI, and has since gone on to many other achievements: "Let's remember that the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus and this 'Situationist International' were both founded by Jorn from 1954 to 1962." What a confused historian! Is this supposed to mean that the SI came to an end in 1962? We can't be confined to the mausoleum of cultural history just yet. Or perhaps Marinotti means that Jorn founded his first movement in 1954 and the SI in 1962? This certainly makes us look a bit younger. But this meaning shouldn't be read from the phrase; rather, it intends that Jorn took eight years to found the two movements. And if he had to do this all by himself, the time it took to complete this Herculean effort is understandable. But a deeper question is raised, prior to Director Marinotti's lyricism: how do you remember what you don't yet know?

As for the ex- Observateur, shortly before it ceased publication (1-10-64), it was pleased to point out in a little note amusingly titled "Revolution by Geniuses" that our journal deserved "close examination" for its "revolutionary approach to the modern world on every level," and this "in spite of its excesses." On this point, we haven't a clue what they mean. Just like Pancho Villa at the end of Jack Conway's beautiful film, all we can do is ask: "What excesses?"