Correspondence: The Foundation of the Situationist International (June 1957 – August 1960)

Hal Foster writes:

Inspired provocateurs during May 1968 in Paris, the Situationists are now the stuff of legend: one of those rare avant-gardes whose art and politics were not only radical but also forged together in radical fashion. Yet, as these early letters of the young Guy Debord, the leader of the group, make clear, they were the stuff of legend from the start. In late July 1957, in a little town in the Ligurian Alps called Cosio d’Arroscia, Debord met with a motley crew of seven other alienated souls - including two artists, the Dane Asger Jorn and the Italian Giuseppe Gallizio (aka Pinot), the core of a momentary movement called the Imaginist Bauhaus - in order to found the Situationist International (SI), a grand name for such a small gathering in such a remote place. Even the vote to start it up was not overwhelming: a surviving scrap of paper shows a tally of five in favour - Debord, Michèle Bernstein (his first wife), Jorn, Ralph Rumney (an English ‘psychogeographer’ who soon goes missing) and Walter Olmo (an experimental composer whose name is followed by a question mark) - with one opposed and two abstaining (including Pinot). Yet, schooled in the history of avant-gardes, Debord seized on this occasion as the requisite origin-myth: ‘We should present the “Cosio conference” as a point of departure,’ he writes to Jorn a month later, ‘and, from now on, move quickly (a new legend must be created immediately around us).’

(LRB 12 March 2009)

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