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Debord and Jorn's Mémoires and the spectacle today


Guy Debord and Asger Jorn’s strange 1959 book Mémoires was recently translated into English for the first time, courtesy of some anonymous translators, who have made the book freely available online, guerilla-style. At Bookforum, Howard Hampton parses the book—made up primarily of unattributed quotes and striking collage illustrations—and asks where its revolutionary desire to overturn the spectacle has ended up today. Here’s a snippet:

In Mémoires, Debord played gnomic theorist-poet-compiler, the genie who broke out of the bottle; Jorn was the Fissure King who surrounded amputated words and illustrations with moats of paint splatter, stringing spidery brush-strokes and blotto ink splotches like shaky rigging between phrases. The result: Half unbreakably coded treasure map, half perverse Ab-Ex crime scene in which ransomed language is centerfold-splayed across painted enclosures like loose thought-balloons. Inside Mémoires’s sandpaper cover—helpfully meant to deface the books next it on the shelf, or any varnished coffee table it was placed on—frames of reference dissolve in a whirligig montage.

In Mémoires, a subterranean plot (what else?) is hatched pitting poetry and self-assured sedition against the entire tendentious social/religious/aesthetic order of 1950s Europe: Peeling off the Band-Aids of chauvinism, consumerism, and middle-class propriety that were stuck over festering war wounds. As in the movie trailers, So it begins… “This book is entirely composed of prefabricated elements”—just like the world it evokes, toys with, and disputes. “Lights, shadows, shapes”; “full of discord and dismay”; “it concerns a topic thoroughly soaked in alcohol.”

Images: Pages from the English translation of Mémoires, courtesy of Bookforum.