Lefebvre on the Situationists: an interview

An at times playful conversation with Henri Lefebvre conducted by Kristin Ross. Lefebvre, then in his eighties, discussed his memories of Guy Debord and the Situationist International as well as his attempts to provoke mischievous students around Nanterre University in 1968, where the May uprisings began. Originally published in October 79 (1997).

Submitted by Jacques Roux on February 11, 2015

H.L.: Are you going to ask me questions about the Situationists? Because I have something I'd like to talk about.

K.R.: Fine, go ahead.

H.L.: The Situationists . . . it's a delicate subject, one I care deeply about. It touches me in some ways very intimately because I knew them very well. I was close friends with them. The friendship lasted from 1957 to 1961 or '62, which is to say about five years. And then we had a quarrel that got worse and worse in conditions I don't understand too well myself, but which I could describe to you. In the end, it was a love story that ended badly, very badly. There are love stories that begin well and end badly. And this was one of them.

I remember a whole night spent talking at Guy Debord's place where he was living with Michele Bernstein in a kind of studio near the place I was living on the rue Saint Martin, in a dark room, no lights at all, a veritable. . . a miserable place, but at the same time a place where there was a great deal of strength and radiance in the thinking and the research.

K.R.: They had no money?

H.L.: No.

K.R.: How did they live?

H.L.: No one could figure out how they got by. One day one of my friends (someone to whom I had introduced Debord) asked him, "What do you live on?" And Guy Debord answered very proudly, "I live off my wits." [Laughter.] Actually, he must have had some money; I think that his family wasn't poor. His parents lived on the Cote d'Azur. I don't really think I really know the answer. And also Michele Bernstein had come up with a clever way to make money, or at least a bit of money. Or at least this is what she told me. She said she did horoscopes for horses, which were published in racing magazines. It was extremely funny. She determined the date of birth of the horses and did their horoscopes in order to predict the outcome of the race. And I think there were racing magazines that published them and paid her.

K.R.: So the Situationist slogan "Never work" didn't apply to women?

H.L.: Yes, it did, because this wasn't work. They didn't work; they managed to live without working to quite a large extent -- of course, they had to do something. To do horoscopes for race horses, I suppose, wasn't really work; in any case, I think it was fun to do it, and they didn't really work.

See attached PDF for full interview.