It seems necessary to define the post-war period in Europe as
one of a generalized failure of attempts at change, in the realm
of emotions as much as in the political realm.
At the same time that spectacular technical inventions are multiplying
the chances of future constructions as well as the dangers of
still unresolved contradictions, one witnesses a stagnation of
social struggles, and, on the mental level, a complete reaction
against the movements of discovery that culminated around 1930
in the association of the broadest demands with the practical
means of imposing them.
From the rise of fascism to the second World War, the exercise
of revolutionary means has been deceptive and the regression of
hopes linked to them has been inevitable.
Following the incomplete liberation of 1944, intellectual and
artistic reaction broke out everywhere. Abstract painting -- a
simple moment of modern pictorial evolution in which it only occupies
a very meager place -- is presented by all the publicity machines
as the basis of a new aesthetic. The alexandrine is dedicated
to a proletarian renaissance, in which the proletariat will become
outmoded as a cultural form just as the quadriga and trireme have
become outmoded as means of transport. The by-products of writing
that had caused indignation, and that had not been ready, are
getting an ephemeral but resounding affirmation: the poetry of
Prevert or Char, the prose of Gracq, the drama of the atrocious
cretin Pichette, and all the others. The cinema, in which the
various arrangements of scenarios are used as if they were harmonies,
proclaims its future lies in the plagiarism of De Sica, and finds
novelty -- and, above all, exoticism -- in various Italian films
in which poverty has imposed a style of camerawork little different
from the habits of Hollywood, but so long after S. M. Eisenstein.
Furthermore, it is known that the scholars who otherwise do not
dance in caves have given themselves up to laborious phenomenological
Confronting this dismal and profitable mess, in which each repetition
has its disciples, each regression its admirers, each remake its
fans, a single group shows universal opposition and complete contempt
in the name of the historically necessary supercession of old
values. A kind of inventive optimism has taken the place of refusal,
affirming itself beyond refusal. It is necessary to recognize
the healthy role that Dada assumed in another epoch, despite its
very different intentions. We may be told that it is not a very
intelligent project to restart Dadaism. But it is not a matter
of re-doing Dadaism. The very serious setback of revolutionary
politics, linked to the glaring weakness of the working-class
aesthetic promoted by the same retrograde phase, has lead to confusion
in every field, a confusion that will soon have raged for thirty
years. On the spiritual level, the petit-bourgeoisie are always
in power. After several serious crises, its monopoly is even more
extended than before: everything that is actually imparted to
the world -- whether it is capitalist literature, social-realist
literature, a false formalist avant-garde that lives on forms
that have fallen into the public domain, or wormy and theosophical
agonies of certain movements of recently arrived emancipators
-- entirely nurtures the petit-bourgeois spirit. Under pressure
of the realities of the epoch, it is necessary to finish with
this spirit. From this perspective, all measures are good. The
outrageous provocations that the Lettrist group has carried out
or prepared (poetry reduced to letters, metagraphical recital,
cinema without images) unleashes a fatal inflation in the arts.
We therefore joined them without hesitation.
While always exercising a praiseworthy intolerance toward the
outside world, around 1950 the Lettrist group fostered a fairly
serious confusion of ideas among its members.
Onomatopoeic poetry itself, having appeared with Futurism and
much later reaching a certain perfection with Schwitters and some
others, no longer was of interest as the absolute systemization
that was presented as the only poetry of the moment, and so condemning
all the other forms to death and giving itself a short shelf-life.
Meanwhile, the consciousness of the true role we were allotted
to play was neglected by many in favor of an infantile conception
of genius and fame.
The tendency still in the majority saw the creation of new forms
as the highest value of all human activity. This belief in formal
evolution without cause or end, other than in-itself, is the basis
of bourgeois idealism in the arts. (The imbecilic belief in immutable
conceptual categories lead some ex-members of the group to an
Americanized mysticism.) Drawing conclusions that an idiot such
as Malraux didn't dare or know how to draw from essentially similar
premises, the Lettrists' rigorous application of the benefits
of experience brought about the definitive collapse of this formalist
demeanor by taking it to its limit, the giddy acceleration of
evolution around emptiness, in a clear break from all human needs.
The usefulness of destroying formalism from within is clear: it
does not leave any doubt that the intellectual disciplines, whatever
interdependence they share with the rest of the movement of society,
are subject to the relatively autonomous crises arising from the
discoveries necessitated by their proper determination as technique.
To judge everything as a function of content, as we are being
invited to, is to return to judging acts as a function of their
intentions. If it is certain that the explanation of the normative
character and persistent charm of various aesthetic periods must
always be looked for alongside the content -- and the change in
the times, or of contemporary necessities, makes other contents
touch us, leading to a revision of the classification of the "great
epochs" -- it is no less certain that the power of a work during
its own time would not solely depend on its content. One can compare
this process with that of fashion. After half a century, for example,
all costumes belong to equally outdated fashions, from which contemporary
sensibility can rediscover all sorts of appearances. But everyone
notices the ridiculousness of the feminine bearing of 10 years
Thus the "precious" movement, despite being obscured by the scholastic
lies of the Seventeenth Century -- and just as the forms of expression
that they had invented, which are as strange as can be to us today,
are coming to be recognized as the principal current of ideas
of the "Grand Siecle" as a result of the need that we feel for
the constructive overthrow of all aspects of life -- uncovers
the way that emergent Capital contributed to this development
through behavior and decor (conversation and strolling as privileged
activities, and, in architecture, the differentiation between
living places, changes in the principles of decoration and furniture).
On the contrary, when Roger Vailland wrote "Beau Masque" in a
Stendalian tone, despite its almost estimable content, it had
only a passing chance of pleasing as a prettily-made pastiche.
That is to say, he, no doubt contrary to his intentions, addressed
himself to intellectuals with outdated tastes. And the majority
of criticism that foolishly attacked the content, praised the
We will return to this historical anecdote.
From this fundamental opposition -- which is definitely the conflict
of a sufficiently new way of living one's life against an ancient
tradition of alienating it -- there arise antagonisms of all sorts,
which are provisionally smoothed out in view of general action
that is amusing and that, despite its awkwardnesses and insufficiencies,
Certain ambiguities also arise from the humor that some people
place (and others do not place) in their chosen affirmations for
their stupefying aspect. Although completely indifferent to any
nominal survival through this or that famous literature, we write
so that our works -- which are practically nonexistent -- remain
in history, with as much certainty as those histrionic people
who would become "eternal." What's more, we declare on all occasions
that we are beautiful. The baseness of arguments that are presented
to us in the film clubs and elsewhere do not give us the opportunity
to reply seriously. Elsewhere we continue to have plenty of them.
The crisis of Lettrism, announced by the semi-open opposition
of the old farts to the experimental cinematography, which, to
their discredit, they judged to be "unstylish" violence, broke
out in 1952 when the Lettrist International (which regrouped the
extreme faction of the movement in the shadow of a magazine of
the same name) distributed injurious texts at a press conference
held by Chaplin. The aesthetic Lettrists, now in the minority,
were not in solidarity with this action -- leading to a break
that their lame excuses did not succeed in postponing or subsequently
healing -- because, according to them, the creative role carried
out by Chaplin in the cinema placed him beyond criticism. The
rest of "revolutionary" opinion reproached us once again, because
the work and person of Chaplin still appeared to them to remain
in a progressive perspective. Since then, many of these people
have revised this illusion.
To announce the senility of doctrines or the people who have given
their names to them is an urgent and easy task for those who have
retained the taste for resolving the most alluring questions posed
by our day and age. Whatever the impostures of the Lost Generation,
which showed itself between the last war and today, it is condemned
to debunk itself. Nevertheless, having recognized the bankruptcy
of the critical thought that these frauds have found before them,
Lettrism has contributed to their more rapid oblivion. It is by
no means strange that the presentation of an Ionesco, re-making
several scenic excesses of Tzara thirty years later and twenty
times more stupid, does not get a quarter of the distracted attention.
There are several years to go before we reach the exaggerated
corpse of Antonin Artaud.
The words we make up during this epoch unfortunately tend to limit
us. Without a doubt, the term "Lettrist" is a difficult description
for people who have no particular esteem for this kind of sound
effect, and, except on the soundtrack of a few films, have not
made use of it. But the term "French" seems to give us exclusive
links with this nation and its colonies. Atheism has been qualified
as "Christian," "Jewish" or "Islamic" with disconcerting ease.
And we are obviously locked within a more or less refined "bourgeois"
education, if not such ideas, then at least such vocabulary, as
Thus a good number of terms will be used guardedly, despite the
evolution of our researches and our usage (leading to refinement)
of many waves of followers: Lettrist International, metagraphy
and other neologisms that excite the fury of all sorts of people.
The first condition of our agreement is to keep such people a
long way from us.
It could be objected that we are propagating an arbitrary, stupid
and dishonest confusion among the intellectual elite. We are confronted
by people ready to ask us, "What exactly do you want?" with a
concerned and protective air that is immediately destroyed by
such a question. But, in the certainty that no literary or journalistic
hack has seriously occupied him or herself with what we have been
carrying out for a number of years, we know that any confusion
has in no way been engendered by ourselves. And, on the other
hand, it pleases us.
Insofar as this "intellectual elite" of modern Europe has at hand
today an approximation of intelligence and a modicum of culture,
the confusion of which we have spoken no longer holds sway. Those
of our companions from years gone by who try once again to draw
attention to it or simply to live by their pens have become idiotic
in order to fool the world. They sadly ruminate upon the same
attitudes that will be re-used more quickly by others. They don't
know how a method of renewal refreshes life. Ready to abandon
everything to appear in the "New New French Review" -- like clowns
kindly presenting their tricks because their quest never leads
anywhere -- they lament the fact that they never find a place
in this swamp, such as that of Etiemble (the consideration that
has even been granted to Caillos) or the appointment of Aron.
There is even cause to believe that their last ambition will be
to found a little Judeo-plastic religion. With a bit of luck they
will wind up as some sort of Father Divine, as Mormons of aesthetic
Let's pass on from these people who have amused us in the past.
The amusements that overtake a man are an exact measure of his
mediocrity. Baseball or automatic writing, what does it matter?
The idea of success, when it is not tied up with the most simplistic
desires, is inseparable from a complete overthrow at the global
level. The remnants of successful breakthroughs always strongly
resemble worse blocks. What we find more valuable in our actions
is to succeed in undoing our many habits and ingrained associations.
It could be said that it is rare enough for people to set their
life (that part of their life in which they are allowed a choice)
in harmony with their feelings and views. It is good to be fanatic
about certain things. At the beginning of the year, an orientalist-occultist
magazine spoke of us as "the most misty spirits, anemic theoreticians
of the virus of 'supercession,' otherwise purely of a verbal effect."
It is good that the effect of those who embarrass these creeps
is not merely verbal. Naturally, you do not have to dynamite the
bridges of the Ile de Louis to accentuate the insular character
of this locality or, on the opposite bank, to complicate and embellish
the brickwork of the Bernard quay. We do what is most urgent with
the limited resources we have at the moment. Thus, by contradicting
various meatheads who approach us, by putting to a quick end the
confusionist attempts at "joint action" with us, by completely
doing without indulgence, we prove to those same individuals the
necessary existence of the virus in question. But, if we are ill,
our detractors are dead. While on this subject, let us clarify
an attitude that certain people, among the most avoidable, have
reproached us for: namely the expulsion of not a few participants
in the Lettrist International and the systematic allure obtained
by this kind of penalty.
In fact, we find it appropriate to take positions rather close
to all the aspects of life that present themselves to us. Among
all the positions that we take, some of them are held dear by
us, just as some of our lines of research are held dear. All other
modes of friendship, of worldly relationships, or even of good
manners leave us indifferent or disgusted. Objective shortcomings
in this sort of agreement can only be sanctioned by a break. It
is better to change one's friends than one's ideas.
In the final analysis, judgment is made according to the life
that is led. The promiscuities that the expelled people have for
the most part accepted or accepted again, and the generally dishonest
arrangements that in extreme cases have been underwritten, give
the exact degree of gravity to our quickly resolved disagreements
and perhaps to the importance of our pact with each other as well.
Far from defending ourselves from making of these hostilities
personal matters, we declare on the contrary that the idea that
we have human relations obliges us to make these issues personal
in nature and determined by definite questions of ideas. Those
who resign from the Lettrist International condemn themselves:
we have nothing to rage about and nothing to excuse.
The Lettrists who have been cast aside begin to make quite a large
number. But there are infinitely more people who live and die
without ever having a chance to understand and take part. From
this point of view, each person is responsible for whatever talents
they have. Should we put up with pathetic individual resignations
out of sentimental considerations?
From the above, one will understand that our business is not a
literary school, a new form of expression, or a modernism. We
are concerned with a way of living that will take place through
explorations and provisional formulations, which are themselves
only exercised in a provisional way. The nature of this enterprise
forces us to work in a group and to show ourselves a little. We
wait for many people and events that will come. We also have another
great force: we no longer wait for a mass of known activities,
for individuals and institutions.
We have a lot to learn and we must experiment as much as possible
with forms of architecture as well as with rules of conduct. Nothing
agitates us less than the elaboration of a doctrine: we are sufficiently
far from explaining ourselves, let alone explaining those things
that would support a coherent system that would integrate the
novelties that appear to us worthy of giving passion.
However it is put, it will be understood that we must start with
everything. It has also been said that humanity has never posed
problems that it cannot resolve.