Media Sickness

Vague #7
June 1990 Media Sickness – Situationist International – Jamie Reid
Margi Clarke – Ralph Rumney – Stewart Home
Cheap Holidays Paris/Berlin/Prague/Budapest 1989
football fanzine supplement

On the passage of a few people through a brief period of time:
The Situationist International 1957-72

‘Definitions – Constructed Situation: A moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organisation of a unitary ambiance and a game of events. Situationist: Having to do with the theory or practical activity of constructing situations. One who engages in the construction of situations. A member of the Situationist International. Situationism: A meaningless term improperly derived from the above. There is no such thing as situationism, which would mean a doctrine of interpretation of existing facts. The notion of situationism is obviously devised by anti-situationists.

‘Psychogeography: The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals. Psychogeographical: Relating to psychogeography. That which manifests the geographical environment’s direct emotional effects. Psychogeographer: One who explores and reports on psychogeographical phenomena. Derive (Drift): A mode of experimental behaviour linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of transient passage through various ambiances. Also used to designate a specific period of continuous deriving…’ International Situationniste 1 1958

The Map is not the Territory: Ralph Rumney interview 4/5/89

July 27 1957 Ralph Rumney was the only English founding member of the Situationist International, representing his London Psychogeographical Association, at Cosio d’Arroscia in Italy. March 1958 Rumney became one of the first SI members to be excluded, after the rest of the Italian section, for failing to hand in his Venice psychogeography report on time. He went on to marry Michele Bernstein, Guy Debord’s ex and fellow SI founder who ended up in Salisbury. Vague 22 featuring the Venice photo-report and the full Ralph Rumney interview is still available from Housmans. The interview took place at the time of the Situationist International exhibition at the Pompidou Centre and the ICA.

“I was expelled from the Situationists for two reasons; one, the sort of ostensible one, which was that I’d failed to deliver that small thing about Venice, that’s in the Beaubourg show, on time. I’d written a letter saying that my son had just been born… It was only days late. Well, I had been promising it for quite some time and it had taken longer to do than I thought. The other thing was, of course, Debord was against artists anyway, though the thing had been set up as a movement of artists trying to change the world, in a rather paradoxical way, partly by art and partly by a sort of denial of art. There is that paradox. I think I was the one who said, at the founding meeting, art is dead but we’ve nevertheless got to accept that this is the way we are now living. So we might as well go on doing it until we’re clever enough to invent new forms of art and alter this fact, and I still believe that to this day.

“There were two kinds of artists anyway; because (Asger) Jorn basically attracted Expressionist, rather romantic – naïve basically – artists. And, on the other hand, I tend to think of myself as more of a hard-edged sort of artist, on the whole, and a much more polemical artist, in that I see pictures as making statements always, rather than as beautiful things in their own right. My intention at any rate is usually rather polemical about something or other. So there was that little difference between us to begin with, and then there was the problem of – Debord actually had a rather real hostility towards art and artists. You know, he felt they weren’t quite intellectually up to scratch, compared with what he wanted to do. And yet the early recruitment was all artists. And then he gradually seemed to get around to academics, you know, Vienet, Vaneigem, until he finally met his match in Italy, where he recruited Sanguinetti, who it seemed to me was more Debord than Debord but I suppose that was bound to happen.

“In I think the first issue or probably the second issue of IS Debord rather vigorously denies that he’s a Stalinist; which surprised me because I didn’t realise that my smallest words were getting back to him. I had been going around saying that I thought he was a Stalinist, and I still do. Although he was very hostile to the Surrealists in the end, I’ve got a feeling he modelled himself on Andre Breton. He just had to have absolute power… I think we’d be foolish to pretend that some ideas we had in ’56, ’57, well, even earlier, I mean the ideas were going around, we didn’t invent them. A lot of the ideas were influenced much more by Dada than Surrealism, which I always regarded as a cop-out on Dada, and the College de Pataphysique in a curious way, though Debord hated it, or professed to hate it – It was a sort of nonsensical academy, it still exists, set up in honour of Alfred Jarry. Pataphysique being the science of imaginary solutions…

“The Lettrists were precursors obviously, and I think it should not be taken away from (Isidore) Isou that he was the original brain behind the thing. My dates aren’t very good but probably about ’47, ’48, they started up. And then they started quarrelling among themselves for various reasons, and there was the Internationale Lettriste. Debord, I think, was always perhaps slightly jealous of Isou and also always anxious to have something he could run himself and be in charge of… But Isou, anyway, became progressively dotty, now to all intents and purposes, mad as a hatter. He was there (at the Pompidou Centre). He seems to suffer from galloping megalomania, so it’s easy to understand how he and Debord could not co-exist for long.

“The Lettrist movement, to some extent, still exists and consists of Isou and Le Maitre and one or two others… but they have become, I think, completely insignificant and completely dotty, from being what the Lettrists were in the late 40s and early 50s, which was a sort of counterpoise to Existentialism. In those days in Paris, there was the Taboo and the Flore and the Deux Magots and the Mabillon, and tourists used to come up to you, if you had long hair or dirty old clothes, and ask if you were an Existentialist and offer to buy you a drink. Then in the Rue du Four, which was round the corner, there was this grotty little café called Moineau, where we were Lettrists or then subsequently Situationists.”

September 1960 The 4th Situationist International conference was held in London at the British Sailors Society in Whitechapel. When asked “What is Situationism all about?” at a meeting afterwards at the ICA, Guy Debord made the proto-punk rock outburst, “We’re not here to answer cuntish questions” – in which Ralph Rumney was instrumental.

“The Situationist conference in London; in many ways, the best account of it is in Guy Atkins’ book on Asger Jorn. I can put my side of it, which is slightly different to his. I was staying with Guy (Atkins). Guy was, though not a Situationist himself, sort of looking after the Situationists because he was very close to Jorn and, I think, rather flattered to be involved with these people. So consequently he went to all their meetings at the Whitechapel Seamen’s Institute. Apparently, I’m told, everyone was told the name of the place but not the address, and they were all expected to arrive in London independently and find their way to it. Then they met for about 3 days and Guy kept coming back telling me very funny stories about what was going on. I wasn’t invited, I wasn’t a member, there was no reason for me to be there.

“Then they came up with a sort of statement at the end of it all, and Guy and I arranged for this to be read at the ICA. It was as much myself as Guy, because I had originally persuaded the ICA to show Debord’s film Hurlements en Faveur de Sade, which was a fairly amusing incident. I did a talk at the ICA about it, then we showed the film and I suppose I was being fairly stroppy with the ICA. I didn’t actually see the film, I’ve never seen it. I mean, I’ve read the script and I thought it was going to be the most ghastly boring experience. However, the ICA announced this thing and they got a full house for it, the place was packed, the Dover Street ICA. And Guy said to me the evening before, they need someone to translate it into English. I said, well you do it, Guy. He said no, I can’t do it, you do it. So I said, I can’t do it, they’d have a fit. He said no, no, Debord’s agreed.

“So I said, well alright, then I said this is an extremely obfuscated piece of literature, it doesn’t really translate into English, which is the case with many Situationist texts, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, if you translate it literally, it doesn’t read. Guy said well, use your imagination, write it in proper English. I said no, Debord’s going to have a fit. Guy said no, he won’t, he’s agreed for you to translate it and anyway Debord can’t speak English so he won’t know. So I thought what the hell and translated it. And it was quite a long job, I finished it at about 4 in the afternoon after having sat up all night at it. And I do not think that in any way it modified any essential point that they were trying to make, in fact I’m quite certain of that.

“So then we turned up at about 6 o’clock, about an hour before the meeting was due to begin. All the Situationists were there in the bar and I handed over the translation to Debord, who had a look at it. Then he handed it to Jacqueline de Jong, who also cannot or could not at that time speak English, and she read it and after about 4 sentences said it was no good, it wasn’t literal and the word order had been changed. I mean, literally the word had been, not sentence order, but of course one changes word order in translation. So then Debord said alright, it won’t do, you’ve got to go and do it again. By this time I was fairly amused by all this, so I said alright, I will, if people don’t mind waiting, it’ll take quite awhile. And I went across to the ICA office, which was on the other side of Dover Street, and I sat down with a typewriter and I literally translated the thing word for word, which meant it didn’t make any sense.

“Anyway, after about 4 hours I came back across the road – meanwhile, all this audience was waiting, believe it or not – and I turned up with this text and I said, well, it’s not English but it’s maybe what you want, and I’m not going to do it again. So Debord took one look at it and said “Ce parfait.” Whereupon he handed it to Wyckaert. Now Wyckaert is a Flemish speaker and he can’t, well I’m told he can speak English now but he certainly couldn’t in those days. And he got up on the platform – Tony del Renzio was the chairman – and he read the thing phonetically in Flemish pronunciation, so no one could understand what was going on at all. The one thing that was fairly clear in it was Wyckaert saying towards the beginning “Situationism does not exist”, that was about all one could follow.

“The other thing was everyone kept applauding very loudly at completely inappropriate moments, when everybody felt like it. There were two rows of Situationists and Guy Atkins and myself, and one or two friends. Then one row in front of us, in fact it was the person sitting in front of Debord got up and made some slightly cynical comment, saying all this was very interesting but he hadn’t understood a word of it and would someone please explain what “Situationism” was. And Debord heard this word “Situationism”, he latched on to “ism” and he got up and said if you’re only going to ask cuntish questions we’re leaving the room. Whereupon we all walked back to the pub downstairs.”

Tom Vague
(Vague Publishing, 1990)

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