Considerations on the Assassination of Gérard Lebovici
by Guy Debord
ISBN: 0-9662346-2-6 $15
Translated from the French & with Introduction by Robert Greene
"These journalists-each one slavishly readapting every startling discovery of whomever else, with however a certain undeniable collective verve-have called me (without ever tying their description to any corresponding fact): Mastermind, nihilist, pseudo-philosopher, Pope, loner, mentor, hypnotizer, bloodstained stooge, fanatic of himself, devil, éminence grise, damned soul, Professor of Radicalism, guru, secondhand revolutionary, agent of subversion and destablization in the pay of Soviet imperialism, third-rate Mephistopheles, noxious, eccentric, hazy, enigmatic, angel of darkness, ideologue, mystery man, mad sadist, complete cynic, the dregs of non-thought, bewitcher, fearsome destabilizer, enragé, theoretician."
Guy Debord (1931-1994) was the leading light in the Situationist International. He and the group were the first to criticize and comment on the role of the consumer in Western society. If Dada was an artistic movement that somehow pushed its artistic values into the political arena, then the Situationists were political and urban theorists who transformed politics into an art form. Debord's masterpiece "Society of the Spectacle" is a stunning and witty critique on contemporary society where the workweek and consumerism alienate the individual.
Considerations on the Assassination of Gérard Lebovici is a book length rant and a confrontational stance against the French media with regards to the murder of his good friend and financial supporter Gérard Lebovici. What is known about this murder is in 1984 Lebovici was called away from another appointment and three days later the Police found his body behind the steering wheel of his Renault with four bullet wounds to the back of his
head in a vacant parking lot in Paris.
Lebovici was an inventive businessman, movie producer, publisher (of great taste), and a major financial supporter of Situationist activity - including ownership of a movie theater that screened only the films by Debord and other Situationists. It's suspected that gangsters killed Lebovici, although as of this date the Murderer(s) have never been found. That didn't stop certain groupings of the media in connecting Lebovici's death with the Situationists. In this passionate book length rebuttal, Debord lashes out with great humor and intensity towards the media and defends his good friend Gérard Lebovici.
This book should not be seen as an isolated case in an almost forgotten murder case, but as a general call-to-arms with respect to how the media controls and rewrites its 'facts.' Here are what others have to day about Debord's 'Considerations on the Assassination of Gérard Lebovici.'
"It cannot be said too often and it's never said enough that the mass news-media have low-to-no standards of accuracy, whether in relatively minor or peripheral areas of their reporting where their interests may not be obviously at stake (except in that it's in their interest not to go to the expense of bothering to check facts, and to conceal this) or in the larger matters where their prejudices are more apparent. And, as the media leaders know, since almost all news becomes "old" the moment it's broadcast, most victims of their misrepresentations are at a disadvantage not only because of a power mismatch, but because a protester looks like a fool to be challenging yesterday's papers. But the consequences of the media's irresponsibility and maliciousness are real to their victims. Guy Debord finally had to react. A rare and nice touch is where he mentions that he actually has no higher opinion of the consumers of the media than he does of the disseminators of it. Heh heh.
The tract is full of these sudden sharp insights into Debord. It's great as well for its evocation of the whole intense time and place (Paris art/life radicalism, 1957-84)."
"A fascinating document. This is a passionate Debord, sometimes self-aggrandizing, sometimes reflective, and always illuminating."
"The English translation of this short book (a shrunken version of the entire text has actually been squeezed onto the cover) should go some way in lifting this veil of "opacity" that has blanketed his work; far from opaque, Debord was, if anything, one of the few true classicists of the 20th century. Opening with an almost schoolboy exposition, Debord delivers his engaging and scathing critique in his characteristically elegant and memorable prose. Gone is the haunting (and as odd as it may sound, revolutionary) melancholy of his early filmscripts; Debord here develops the chillingly dour tone that would characterize his late writings.
Marc Lowenthal, Rain Taxi Vol. 7 No. 1 Spring 2002 (excerpt)
The very name Guy Debord conjures with it a multitude of images, from Situationist radical to drunken intellectual, capitalist critic to avant-garde filmmaker. This multitude of images, which are themselves caught up in a mechanism of fantasy--for the one who speaks the name "Guy Debord" in turn conjures the very fabrication of that person-is the very subject of his Considerations on the Assassination of Gérard Lebovici. A recent and thoroughly welcomed translation and publication by TamTam Books (an independent publisher in Los Angeles whose growing catalogue is sure to entice and thrill the eager readers of idiosyncratic French literature) of this later writing of Debord's is a testament to both the ongoing "image" of Debord as cultural critic, as well as a strangely touching portrait of a man on the absolute fringe of the culture he in so many ways enables us to see.
The book is essentially an analysis of the surrounding media coverage on the mysterious death in 1984 of one of France's biggest film producers, Gérard Lebovici of whom Debord was close friends. The mysterious death--or assassination--of Lebovici subsequently is depicted in numerous French magazines and newspapers as being inextricably linked to the producers "association" with the "notorious" Debord. Equating the death with Debord was brought to such a high-pitched fervor as to render Debord a specter of death itself, as if any contact with such a fringe element would leave an indelible mark on one's being. As Le Journal du Dimanche announces: "Behind the most hidden face of Gérard Lebovici, there is always Guy Debord." There, Debord lurks, as a force of extreme criminality, a kind of black magic through which death could be administered without a trace.
In his Considerations Debord essentially sets the stage for a conversation between the media's rampant output of untruths about his person and himself, as holder of truth, for who would know himself better? Dissecting each article, highlighting and deconstructing paragraphs and sentences by a plethora of journalists, what Debord ultimately enacts is a further analysis of the Society of The Spectacle--by showing the machinery of media as a player in the output of the spectacle itself, which for Debord has no grounding in finding truth, or in representing facts, but rather functions as an implicit wielder of the spectacle itself. As Robert Greene eloquently points out
in his introduction to the book, Debord's determination to actually remain aloof--a non-celebrity to a culture that desires and creates celebrities for its own amusement, as a perpetuation of the
spectacular--ultimately marks Debord as "sinister", a culprit of uncertain powers. For obviously someone so aloof must have something to hide. Psychologizing Debord, the media in effect treat him as an object for its own play, replacing the actual death of an individual and the process of investigation with the heightened reportage of tabloid gossip. In this way, the media finds Debord everywhere, a lingering and ghostly figure looming over not only Lebovici but an entire network of
terrorist organizations, mobs and secret societies--Debord as The Devil himself. Yet Debord counters: "The simple truth, however, perhaps more painful for the amateurs or the barons of the present social spectacle, is that in all my life I have never appeared anywhere." It's this
"having never appeared" which Debord reluctantly overcomes in writing Considerations--to once again show that reality is a political arena in which language signifies more than itself. As one paper quoted from Debord's past writings: "In reality one never contests the existence of an organization without contesting all of the forms of language that belong to this organization."
Brandon LaBelle, Contemporary Summer 2002
Robert Greene's new translation of Guy Debord's Considerations on the Assassination of Gérard Lebovici, published by Tam Tam Books, is an important new addition to the writings of Debord published in English. One might assume from the title that one is about to embark upon an account of the skullduggery that lead to the execution-style murder in a Paris parking garage of Debord's friend and patron Gérard Lebovici. Instead, one embarks upon an account and analysis of the skullduggery of the French press in their character assassination of Lebovici in posthumous fashion and of Debord in vivo.
Considering the vicious fabrications of the press both against himself and against his friend, Lebovici, Debord might be considered as having been rather restrained in this written text, but Debord's intensity is evident in any analysis he makes. In any case, this is not his metaphorical day in court; as he mentions in this book, he had already won a legal judgment against his libelers in a French court. So, this is not so much a settling of scores-indeed how could he settle scores with men so clearly his inferiors-as it is a dispassionate if discursive account of the mechanisms of the spectacle as they were directed against him during what must have been a difficult period for him personally. I say "must have been" since Debord never speaks of the loss of his friend in order to evoke sympathy for himself. I read this difficulty in the measured defense and honest praise of his friend in his text.
While this translation could not be considered flawless, for the most part it cleaves admirably closely to Debord's French. Sometimes too closely for accuracy on an idiomatic level. For example, "la nuit americaine du spectacle" is rendered as "the American night of the spectacle." Since this retains the ironic political allusion, I am assuming this is a deliberate choice, rather than a mistake. The problem is that this means precisely nothing in English, let alone in American. And unfortunately, the basic meaning of "day for night," and its depreciative allusion, for example, to Truffaut's film known by that name in English and to the creation of cinematic illusion, is lost. Though it might be argued that the phrase which follows, "in which all cows appear gray" aids in the decryption, a footnote could have cleared up this odd locution more expeditiously. I see no satisfactory resolution to the problem, since "the day for night of the spectacle" is arguably opaque in a different way. While Debord is allusive, he is never opaque. Debord here detourns the metaphor of "la nuit americaine," part of the register of the spectacle, to critique the spectacle. Debord deploys a comparable strategy once or twice more in the text with similarly problematic renderings on the part of Mr. Greene.
In fairness to the translator it should be said that once one has embarked on a strategy of fidelity to Debord's ludic syntax, certain phrases are difficult to alter, without greatly tampering with the style. In translating Debord myself, I have judged it better from time to time to abandon the more literal pursuit of syntactic fidelity in favor of an attempt to bring across the primary meaning of the text into English.
Translation is not merely the transfer of words but of meanings from one context to another. In this regard, Mr. Greene has served his readers well by profiling in brief endnotes the various newspapers, magazines and news stories to which Debord alludes. These are the products of French "journalism" and are virtually unknown outside francophone circles. Debord himself doesn't do footnotes, but then, he is writing about France from inside it. Greene does well here in crafting his pointed and distilled characterizations for an anglophone audience in such a way as to give the reader enough to go on without intruding into the space of the reader's mental judgments.
If this seems to devote an unnecessarily large space to only a few words, it is because this is a classic problem in all Debord translations: fidelity to style and syntax vs. fidelity of meaning. With the exception of an illiterate individual, who tried to translate Debord's film scripts into English without a firm basic grasp of French by simply cribbing what he could from previous translations of Debord's work and inventing the rest, most of those who have worked on bringing Debord's French into English have acquitted themselves well. Mr. Greene's translation is an admirable addition to the group of Debord's works available in English.
Considerations on the Assassination of Gérard Lebovici is a rare extended case study by Debord on the mechanisms of the spectacle. It is of obvious interest to anyone who knows Debord's other theoretical work; for those aware of Debord's post-theoretical synthetic praxis in film and video, it is a critical document in the evolution of his thought comparable only to his Notes on the Society of the Spectacle and Introduction to the fourth Italian Edition of Society of the Spectacle.
Considerations marks a critical juncture in his writing: a transition from the more general theoretical work of Society of the Spectacle to his later, more autobiographical work, such as Panegyric. But any disjunction of the personal and the theoretical is a false one in the case of Debord. His collaborative video with Brigitte Cornand gives ample evidence of this. Though called Guy Debord: son art et son temps, the video is far from a bio-pic. Rather, it combines a blankly ironic exploration of the spectacle of French television with some personal notes on Debord's life and his friends. It charts obliquely their collision course with the time in which they lived. It will not be mistaken for the anecdotal accounts of excess of the recently published The Tribe, brilliantly translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. While The Tribe adds many interesting pieces to the puzzle picture of the milieu from which Debord and other situationists came, it has nothing to do with Debord's own style. Its value lies in precisely that difference. Considerations is pure Debord.
Keith Sanborn, Thing.Net May 2002
Robert Greene, the translator, is the author of '48 Laws of Power' and 'The Art of Seduction.'
TOP OF PAGE