Situationist News - June 1960

A black and white photo of the Dutch church designed by Alberts and Oudejans at Volendam, which led to their expulsion from the SI

The usual updates, including the exclusion of architects Alberts and Oudejans of the Dutch section for participating in the construction of a church. From Internationale Situationniste #4 (June 1960).

Submitted by Fozzie on January 16, 2023

The fourth conference of the Situationist International will be convened in London at the end of September 1960.

Lorenzo Guasco's studyof the SI's experimental activities in Italy, published in Turin in January 1960, is a load of rubbish. For example, Guasco discovered nothing of real interest in Pinot-Gallizio's work, and anything that he did find interesting was completely unrelated. Steadfastly manipulating this hodgepodge with a misguided zeal, no doubt to the taste of some art dealer or other, Guasco reveals his stupidity with each paragraph, and ends up interpreting the notion of collective art as a great day for metaphysics. This proves once again that despite the best of intentions, fragmentary critics of bourgeois aesthetics (described by the 1958 Address by the Situationist International to their assembly in Brussels as "fragments of art critics, critics of fragments of art..."), can't possibly understand the total unity of a movement like the SI.

The meaningof a text on unitary urbanism, written by Debord and published by a gallery in Essen on 9 January 1960, turned out to be greatly altered by several editorial cuts. Is it really necessary to remind everyone that when we declare ourselves uninterested in any notion of private property when it comes to ideas or phrases, it means that we will let absolutely anyone publish part or all of such and such a situationist writing without any reference or even attribution, as long as our signatures are not included? It is completely unacceptable for our publications to be reworked — unless it is done by the SI as a whole — and still be presented as the responsibility of their authors. Our signatures should be removed after the smallest modification.

Jorgen Nash's experimental book Stavrim, Sonetter (Copenhagen: March 1960) is the latest in the series of publications begun by the SI in Scandinavia with Permild and Rosengreen.

The Architects Alberts and Oudejans placed themselves immediately and beyond any possible discussion outside the SI when they agreed to build a church in Volendam1 .

Our Dutch section made suitable arrangements to make their opinion of this indivisible event known.

Despite the seemingly endless array of positions on the Chessman affair,2 not one has yet taken its real nature into consideration. This can lead only to a redoubling of the same old arguments about the death penalty.

Chessman's death occurred at the most developed stage of capitalist society, and thus participates in the overall problem of the spectacle. Asserting itself with increasing power and persistence, the relatively new matter of the industrialized spectacle has in this case lent its support to the old matter of capital punishment, which, like most other legal penalties, had until recently been moving in the other direction, toward its inevitable disappearance. This alliance produced a televised gladiator contest whose chief weapon was not the sword, but petty juridical sophistry.

Each of Chessman's reprieves was granted by a different juridical authority; and the only reason that the serial was finally brought to an end was that its spectators were growing bored (which, after twelve long years and just as many best-sellers, has to be expected). With Chessman's antipathy toward the conventional American way of life, the public and the organizers of public emotions finally gave him the thumbs down (Chessman's final reprieve alone came from outside the spectacle: it was brought about by local diplomatic considerations, and was therefore no longer any fun). Outside the United States, the general indignation at the time was ambiguous, as it involved both access to this spectacle — exploited to the full by every mode of information — and a lack of familiarity with the rules of the game: not only with regard to the opinion inclined to favor a particular combatant, but, in the name of old moral standards, it was the spectacle itself that was often called into question.

This reaction principally expressed the delay with which these countries are moving toward the same goal: the modernization of capitalism and the human relations prevail within it. For example, to the degree that in its economy and its politics, this is still a partially old-fashioned country, no-one in France has yet witnessed a man being put to death in the full light of day after twelve years in prison (he would be more likely simply disappear after a more or less secret period of torture). Chessman is interesting not so much as a victim in general, but because of his participation in the world of Brigitte Bardot and the Shah of Iran, as an element of misfortune and a victim of this world: the world of the representation of life for the passive masses excluded from life.

The society that will reach the pinnacle of human behavior will not have do it in the name of such and such a humanist mystification or outdated metaphysics; realizing each and every condition of the free creation of its own history, it sends all the forms of the spectacle — be they sublime or inferior — back from whence they came: to the museum of antiquities, to the side of the State.

Since 1958, Belgium has been the theater of the following incidents:

  1. Hornu, 27 December 1958: two wounded.
  2. Quaregnon, December 1958: one dead (Hacène Kitouni, FLN supporter)
  3. Jemappes, 1959: one wounded (Nor Tayeb, FLN supporter)
  4. Elonges, 12 May 1959: one dead (Houat Ghaouti)
  5. Quiévrain: one dead (Lounas Sebki, FLN supporter)
  6. Charleroi: falied assassination attempt on Chérif Attar (FLN supporter)
  7. Mons: one dead (Saïd Moktar, MNA leader allied with the FLN)
  8. Bléharies: Berthommier (arrested with a bomb)
  9. Brussels, 9 March 1960: assassination of Akli Aïssiou
  10. Liège, 25 March 1960: assassination of G. Laperches; and a failed attempt on P. Legrève in Ixelles.

These attacks, committed at regular intervals in Belgian territory, targeting Algerians, workers and political refugees, can only mean one thing: the establishment of an atmosphere of terror against Algerian immigration. Indeed, subversive activities by Algerian FLN members settling in Belgium are non-existent. With the tacit approval of the Belgian government, arms and explosives deals are frequently negotiated by such intermediaries as Puchers. Furthermore, the Algerians assassinated did not have the least importance within the Front. The obvious goal is to panic the Algerians and therefore to provoke a violent response; this would allow the Belgian police to deport those residing in Belgium, and to no longer accept refugees from France. The police use the pretext of attacks already committed, the responsibility for which is nevertheless clear, to deport Algerians on a daily basis (twenty deportations since Akli's assassination), and thus play the game of the French system.

The exhibition "Antagonisms," organized in February at the Museum of Decorative Arts by the "Congress for Cultural Liberty Arts Committee," was the expression pure and simple of French chauvinism's last great effort to assert itself in the arena where it still thinks has the means: in art history, with a resurrected and cobbled together "School of Paris" whose circumference extends no further than the center of Paris itself. This inanity revives everything — primarily the hope of creating a Malrauxian Paris within the new Washington empire, a sort of Greece always ready to play host to its more timid conquerors and collectors. You only have to see Julien Alvard3 pouring out his heart in the imposing catalogue to have a fair idea of the prevailing cultural decomposition, which is more and more often presented in intellectual terms that are themselves already rotten.

After pointing out that "this is no simple laughing matter," he declares that "Luther is very much a precursor to the painters identified by gesture and splatter." He then quotes the priest Georges Mathieu,4 before gleefully casting him into heresy. Besides Luther, he also expropriates Ruskin, Nietzsche and, of course, Stéphane Lupasco.5 In fact, a hundred more modern thinkers find themselves mentioned, all incorrectly.

In this orgy of references, it's not hard to see the curious manner with which expressionism is at once acknowledged and conjured away, transplanted in its entirety to Paris, and at the same time accidentally displaced (pages 15-16). With this resolve to skim over the German and Northern European character of expressionism, and the discomfort that it causes for a charlatan as clumsy as Alvard, Nolde's6 importance is reduced to the inclusion of a solitary woodcut among all the paintings reproduced in their blurry catalogue. And even this is attributed to Kirchner,7 as, we suspect, the guard dogs at the museums of the "Congress for Cultural Liberty" never shy from taking cultural liberties, especially when their work is embarrassing. In the same way, the omission of two major figures — Hegel and Kierkegaard — from Alvard's extensive philosophical jumble is astonishing to say the least; evidently due not to the author's lack of journalistic information, but rather to the pusillanimity of all involved, saying as much about modern art as it does about this abhorrent Congress and its raison d'être.

In sum, the massive bankruptcy of the "Antagonisms" exhibition is that of the committee in question — and those like it — when faced with present-day questions of culture. The evidence is provided by what was clearly predictable: the danger of unconditional partisans of confusion — those who are directly linked to this confusion in culture and social life — coming up with a general statement made in the name of confusion and the style of Alvard.

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From:

  • 1The Mariakerk, which opened 1962 and is still in operation. See photo accompanying this article.
  • 2Caryl Chessman, the alleged "Red Light Bandit," executed on 2 May 1960. Chessman continually maintianed his innocence, and during his twelve years on death row wrote four bestselling books, one of which, Cell 2455, Death Row, was later filmed.
  • 3Julien Alvard, prominent postwar French art critic and journalist.
  • 4Georges Mathieu, eccentric French tachist painter.
  • 5Stéphane Lupasco, Rumanian born philosopher and dialectical logician whose "energetist" work concerning "the principle of antagonism" influenced a number of French painters and critics, including his close friends Mathieu and Alvard.
  • 6Emil Nolde, German expressionist printmaker and painter.
  • 7Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, German expressionist painter and leader of the Die Brücke group.