unSituationist Dinner in Paris: Debord Rolls Over in his Grave

Debord (second from left) at different dinner, long ago.

Debord (third from left) at different dinner, long ago.

Via lib.com, the translation of news article published in 14 June 2009 edition of “Le Monde”: in order to pay off Ms Alice Debord, the Bibliotheque nationale Francaise must come up with approximately $500,000 (if not more) to prevent the sale of the complete archives of Guy Debord to someone else (Yale University, perhaps).

Guy Debord: National Treasure?

The countdown has begun. And time is passing quickly. Ever since 29 January [2009], when the Minister of Culture, Christine Albanel, classified the archives of Guy Debord (1931-1994), leader of the situationist movement, as a “national treasure,” the State has had 30 months to raise the money necessary to acquire [for the Bibliotheque nationale de France] the assets inventoried by the Parisian bookseller Benoit Forgeot.

In addition to the handwritten manuscript of The Society of the Spectacle (published in 1967 and available as a “Folio” edition), these assets include a collection of reader’s notes; two notebooks in which Guy Debord recorded his dreams; everything that concerns the Game of War,[1] along with one of the five copies of the work that were pulped;[2] the manuscript of his last projected book; all of his notes on the cinema; large dossiers concerning publishing; and the entirety of his correspondence.[3]

After the two-and-a-half-year period is over, these assets — the integrity of which has been preserved by Alice Debord,[4] widow of the writer and holder of the copyrights — could migrate across the Atlantic Ocean and be acquired by an American university, one very fond [friandes] of these types of documents, such as Yale, which is already first in line.[5]

The value of these archives is difficult to evaluate, but it surpasses several hundred thousand euros. In an attempt to raise part of the sum [to be paid to Ms. Debord], Bruno Racine, President of the Bibliotheque nationale de France (BNF), has decided to appeal to [potential] patrons by gathering them together for a prestigious dinner. This gala dinner will take place Monday, 15 June [2009], at the Francois-Mitterrand site, in the prestigious Hall of the Globes. This manner of raising funds is directly inspired by the methods of American foundations and museums, which solicit contributions from super-rich donors.

“Once a year, we bring together all of our big patrons in a prestigious setting,” the President of the BNF explains. In 2008, the money raised (around 200,000 euros [$260,000]) allowed the library to acquire a unique piece by the German artist Anselm Kieffer, an homage to the poet Paul Celan, and a collection of letters by Marcel Proust.

This year, the crisis promises to make itself felt, but nearly two hundred seats-for-sale have already been reserved (over the course of the last year) for the dinner, organized by Mr. Racine and the banker Jean-Claude Meyer, President of the BNF Society. Glassware, porcelain, classic Bordeaux [wines] and subtle dishes will be on the menu.

The cost is fixed at 500 euros per plate, but [additional] gifts are left to the discretion of the companies or people in attendance. “There is a floor, but no ceiling,” Mr. Racine points out. Certain companies and foundations, such as Total, Veolia and Roederer (which will provide the champagne) have reserved one or several tables, each seating a dozen people.

Among the dinner guests who have soiled the elegant napkins[6] are Sotheby’s, the Ropac galleries, Templon, the Boissonnat family, and the Clarence Foundation. For the for-profit enterprises, this operation is interesting, because their gifts are 90% deductible, while those from individuals are only 60% deductible.

The administrative board of the BNF Society also includes general donors, the most regular of whom is Nahed Ojjeh, the widow of the super-rich arms dealer Akram Ojjeh; the co-founder of the [Yves] Saint Laurent fashion label, Pierre Berge, as well as the head of the Rivaud Group, Edouard de Ribes; the collector Pierre Leroy, co-manager of the Lagardere Group[7] — all go to the annual dinners. This year, the Society has also created a BNF prize, endowed with 10,000 euros, to support contemporary research; it will be awarded the same evening [as the Debord dinner].

Among those invited are the Minister of Culture, Christine Albanel, who can authorize national-heritage funds to contribute to the purchase, but also the widow of the writer herself, who has agreed that the manuscript of The Society of the Spectacle be displayed to potential donors during the dinner. Other national-heritage works recently acquired will also be presented, including Jean d’Arras’ L’Histoire de la belle Melusine, from 1479, and the manuscript of Boris Vian’s L’Ecume des jours.

Will the general donors go for the bait? The response will come the evening of 15 June. But this dinner already has a delicious foretaste. It is an understatement to say that there is a cultural pit between the patrons and the anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist thought of Guy Debord. Bruno Racine must seek money where he can find it. And he insists, “the BNF will not uniquely acquire the assets of authors who defend the established order.”

(Written by Alain Beuve-Mery and published in the 14 June 2009 issue of Le Monde. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! 15 June 2009. All notes are by the translator.)

[1] Also known as kriegspiel, this is the cabinet game that Guy Debord invented (circa 1977).

[2] The work in question is the book Le “Jeu de guerre”: releve des positions successives de toutes les forces au cours d’une partie, which was written in collaboration with Alice Becker-Ho and originally published by Editions Gerard Lebovici (Paris, 1987). In 1991, Debord started a lawsuit against the inheritors of Editions Gerard Lebovici and eventually won a judgment that required this publishing house to pulp all the copies of all the books it had published by both Debord and Becker-Ho.

[3] Note well that, thanks to “Alice Debord,” the seven-volume-long series of works entitled Guy Debord Correspondance (published by the Librairie Artheme Fayard between 1999 and 2008) is not presented in its “entirety.”

[4] Alice Ho was born in Shanghai in 1941 to Chinese/French parents. She was raised in France. In 1963, she encountered the Situationist International, and was a member of the Occupations Committee in May 1968. In 1972, she married Guy Debord, and stayed with him through his suicide in 1994.

[5] It was in fact Yale’s interest in purchasing these “assets” [ce fonds], which had been thoroughly catalogued and appraised on behalf of “Alice Debord,” that caused the Minister of Culture to intercede and stop the transaction from going any further.

[6] Parmi les convives qui ont aussi pris leur rond de serviette.

[7] The ultimate owner of the Librairie Artheme de Fayard.

“Two hundred people dine together to keep the works of Debord in France”
Le Monde, 14 June 2009

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  1. NOT BORED! says:

    Patrons lacking for Debord’s manuscripts
    Le Monde, 17 June 2009

    Bruno Racine, the president of the Bibliotheque nationale de France
    (BNF) hosted 200 potential patrons on Monday, 15 June, at a dinner
    gala in the Hall of Globes. The dinner guests were encouraged to give
    as much money as possible to help the BNF acquire the archives of Guy
    Debord, the leader of situationism. According to Mr. Racine, these
    archives constitute “a unique collection for the literary

    But the patrons didn’t jostle for position to make their donations.
    Nearly 180,000 euros [$234,000] were raised, less than one-tenth of
    the sum that France must pay in the next two and a half years.[1] “Its
    a good start,” estimates Mr. Racine, who looks forward to a more
    favorable situation in 2010. The Minister of Culture, Christine
    Albanel (who was present at the dinner), can tap into the French kitty
    through the Funds for the National Heritage. But American
    universities, Yale, in particular, are waiting in ambush. . . .

    To tempt the dinner guests, three spiral-bound notebooks — two on
    small-squared graph paper, one on large-squared paper, each with
    rose-colored strokes marking the margins — were exhibited during the
    dinner. Classified a “national treasure,” they form the [handwritten]
    manuscript of Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle. The text is
    full of annotations in blue and black ink that follow the meticulously
    enumerated paragraphs, which indicate the pages of the book to

    Among the dinner guests was Philippe Sollers, who won the BNF’s first
    prize, worth 10,000 euros and matched by a research fellowship of
    10,000 euros that will be awarded to a student who will write a work
    about his oeuvre. Sollers took the occasion to render homage to Guy
    Debord, an “exceptional reader.”

    (Written by Alain Beuve-Mery and published in the 17 June 2009 issue
    of Le Monde. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! 17 June 2009.)

    [1] Translator’s note: this means that Yale University offered Alice
    Debord, Guy’s widow, at least $2,340,000 for his archives.

    [2] Translator’s note: it seems the author has confused the
    manuscript’s numbered theses (221 in total) with its pages.


    Guy Debord Fundraiser
    Liberation, 17 June 2009

    Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle under glass. Three spiral
    notebooks, exhibited not far from Boris Vian’s L’Ecume des jours and
    The Life of Saint Catherine, an Illuminated Manuscript (from the 15th
    century). In the Hall of Globes of the Bibliotheque nationale de
    France (BNF), more than two hundred people milled around, glasses of
    Roederer champagne in hand. This past Monday evening, they came to a
    dinner intended to finance the acquisition of Guy Debord’s
    archives.[1] France has refused to see them leave the country and has
    classified them as a national treasure (see Liberation, 16 February).

    Debord . . . a treasure. His widow[2] has jealously guarded the
    integrity of these assets [du fonds] since his suicide in 1994. The
    founder of situationism, meticulous in his attention to his posthumous
    destiny, took care to sort through and organize the totality of his
    manuscripts, notes and letters before his death. For the last two
    years, Yale, the American university, has coveted them for its
    research center on the avant-garde. Debord booed the State. The State
    embalms him. “This evening depends upon the spectacular society,”
    Jean-Claude Meyer, the president of the BNF Society, admitted in his
    speech. “Its ironic and, at the same time, a great homage.”

    Tartar sauce. Eighteen tables (baptized “Baudelaire,”
    “Toulouse-Lautrec,” “Debussy,” “Chateaubriand” . . .) are spread
    throughout the entire hall. Each table costs 6,000 euros; 500 per
    plate. It is the second dinner that Bruno Racine, the president of the
    BNF, has — along with the library’s Society — organized in the
    American patronage tradition. The preceding dinner gala in 2008
    allowed the BNF to purchase a unique piece by the artist Anselm
    Kiefer. The State has 30 months from the announcement published on 29
    January [2009] in the Official Journal to raise the sum proposed[3] by

    Before the beginning of the meal — wild sea bass and scallop tartar,
    a crisp vegetable and herb salad, oven-roasted veal fillet, sauteed
    chanterelles and asparagus in a thyme-lemon dressing, voluptuous wild
    strawberries, barley water, rhubarb compote, all washed down with,
    among other wines, Chateau Dassault 2001 — Bruno Racine returned to
    his theme: his “priority is to acquire Guy Debord’s archives.” “If a
    certificate of conformism is necessary to gain entrance into the BNF’s
    collections, then his radiance would be diminished.” Sade was also
    recuperated to create the basis of the restricted section of the
    BNF.[4] Then why not Debord, yielded up in a bloc for the purposes of

    Hedonism. The first winner of the BNF prize, dedicated to a living,
    French-speaking author, for the totality of his work, is announced: it
    is Philippe Sollers. The irony of the moment[5] doesn’t escape the
    author of A Real Novel,[6] who speaks of a “historical short-circuit.”
    He speaks. About reading (“to be on the secret transmission line of
    reading”), about libraries (“of souls”), about hedonism (“To know how
    to read, one must know how to live”),[7] about pleasure (he left the
    studious halls of the rue de Richelieu, “not to burn cars, but to do
    things that weren’t quite seen at the time, and that still aren’t”),
    and about Lautremont (“who still reads poetry?” he seemed to say).

    The exegete of the situationist recalled him: “I have great admiration
    for Debord, even if he critiqued me.” When will there be a Philippe
    Sollers archive? “Negotiations have started,” he says, leaving the
    terrace that opens upon the BNF’s gardens. It is midnight. Between the
    tables and the [additional] gifts, the dinner will have raised around
    200,000 euros. Alice Debord, true to her principles, didn’t speak. All
    she would say is, “It wouldn’t come.”

    (Written by Frederique Roussel and published in the 17 June 2009 issue
    of Liberation. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! 17 June 2009.
    All footnotes by the translator.)

    [1] From Alice Becker-Ho, also known as Alice Debord.

    [2] Alice Becker-Ho.

    [3] To Alice Becker-Ho.

    [4] Sade aussi a ete recupere pour paver l’Enfer de la BNF.

    [5] Guy Debord detested Philippe Sollers, refused to meet him in
    person, and denounced him by name in “Cette Mauvaise Reputation”
    (published in 1993).

    [6] Philippe Sollers himself.

    [7] A remark plagiarized from Guy Debord.

  2. What an unfortunate parody of his existence: all those ‘dignitaries.’ The Culture Industry, in its depths of self-dissimulation, would Blackface their faces with shit if itwere both the fashion and the corresponding opportunity to swipe a maggot or two of profit from the coprolitic aura of its most indignant enemies. No amount of ignobility is too low for those who today still participate in the travails of its corpse in order to raise forth a ‘career.’

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