Money, Sex and Power: On a Sham Biography of Guy Debord
By Gianfranco Sanguinetti
Translated from French by Donald Nicholson-Smith
Our age is the first in world history to claim as its sole enemies those that it manufactures itself, on its own terms and for its own spectacular purposes. Projecting all its characteristic infamy and brutality onto these simulated foes, it claims to oppose them resolutely; for as long as it needs to convince the electorate, it even pretends to take up arms against such fake enemies, which it portrays as evil and to which it lends the features of an Osama bin Laden or an Islamic State.
If it is to combat only artificial, stage-managed enemies, our world must work diligently to conceal and permanently destroy so much as the memory of its real confirmed enemies of old and to preserve the new century from any risk of undesirable contagion from them. This makes a permanent state of emergency de rigueur. Declared in fact against society at large, this state of emergency purports to be directed at the new enemy, obscure and indeterminate, that the spectacle has fashioned for itself, namely an artificial terrorism, created and performed to persuade us that states are fighting evil for our good and that those who fight absolute evil necessarily embody absolute good. The ministry of Truth “corrects” history on a daily basis, be it that of the Bataclan or of other episodes, updating it weekly without fear of contradiction: new corrections can always be made later.
To do away with any remnants of real opposition the powers in place are obliged to make examples – to burn witches, to execute (if only in effigy) every enemy that is not an official one, as designated day by day. Nor is it only authentic opponents that must be destroyed, but also all those who may have existed earlier, whose memory and model have to be erased, demolished or besmirched. every tendency to revolt and desire for change among younger generations must be thwarted and struck down, and all precedents for them and the very memory of those precedents smothered. any conceivable emulation has to be forestalled. All Walter Benjamins driven to suicide. Lists of subversives drawn up. genuine rebellions, along with genuine rebels, crushed once and for all, eliminated, denounced, smeared and pilloried in view of the absolute need to highlight only deliberately fabricated and fetishized adversaries.
This is the unavoidable and urgent requirement that the most recent book by Jean-Marie Apostolidès is meant to help meet. It is a volume of over five hundred pages, plus ninety pages of notes, published by Flammarion and retailing at 28 euros.The title is debord le naufrageur (debord the Wrecker) and the book is part of a series self-dubbed “great biographies.”
Let me say straight away that this work, as i shall show, apart from being a crashing bore, is in no way a biography. i spent a mere three hours with it, for after all there is no need to drink five hundred litres of wine to tell whether it is good or bad – or indeed to know that it is not wine at all (as, mutatis mutandis, is the case here).
The task that the author frankly tells us he set him- self was “to generate a different, ‘negative’ image of debord,” an assertion to which he adds boastfully that this was “no simple undertaking.”1
Simple undertaking or not, let me say that there was never any such thing as a true biography expressly intended to offer a “negative” (or for that matter a “positive”) image of the life of its subject: such purposes are those of propaganda. nor does “negative” for Apostolidès have any of its noble dialectical connotations: for him the word has only the vulgar sense of ignominious or morally disreputable – its most banal meaning, no more than that...
Donald Nicholson-Smith is a longtime resident of New York City. A sometime Situationist (1965-67), he has translated Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle (Zone) and Henri Lefebvre's The Production of Space (Blackwell), as well as works by Guillaume Apollinaire, Antonin Artaud, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Thierry Jonquet, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, etc. His film work includes the English-language version of René Viénet's anti-Maoist classic Peking Duck Soup (1977). He most recently translated The Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneigem.