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The Tombs of Guy Debord

In THE TOMBS OF GUY DEBORD, Jean-Marie Apostolidés explores the life of Guy Debord, French Marxist theorist, philosopher, and filmmaker, through his theory of “détournement,” originally a form of literary communism that later defined Debord’s persona as a scholar and a person.

Read an excerpt here.

In The Tombs of Guy Debord, Debord scholar and biographer Jean-Marie Apostolidès delves deeply into the life and work of the radical writer and social theorist. Debord (1931–1994), was leader of the Situationist International in 1950s Paris, and Apostolidès interrogates his relationship to truth and appropriation, situating Debord within a specific literary and culural moment that has resonances today. Debord viewed the appropriation of unacknowledged sources as an essential aspect of his literary and artistic practice, though he himself refused to be appropriated by anyone. This thought-provoking essay is excerpted from a book entitled Les fantômes de Guy Debord, which was originally published in 1999, before the Internet made plagiarism infinitely easier to commit (and to expose), Apostolidès helps us think critically about the circulation of information in the digital world. Every day our social media accounts fill up with snippets of knowledge that will be reposted, placed out of context, and sometimes distorted, as if their attribution were irrelevant. Advertising, breaking news, and memes sit side by side on our screens, creating a vertiginous collage of slogans and pictures.

Since the publication of this essay, Apostolidès’s own archival research has brought to light disturbing new allegations about Debord. Here, translated for the first time in English by Laure Katsaros and René Kooiker, is the origin of these efforts: Apostolidès’s “portrait of the artist as plagiarist” already pokes holes in the heroic legend of Guy Debord. The essay also makes it easy to understand why so many of Debord’s contemporaries, and so many readers, have fallen under his spell.

Jean-Marie Apostolidès is the William H. Bonsall Professor of French and Professor of Theater and Performance Studies, Emeritus, at Stanford University He was educated in France, where he received a doctorate in literature and the social sciences. His interests include avant-garde artistic movements such as dada, surrealism, and situationist international; as well as the theory of image, literary theory, and Francophone literature. He is also a playwright, whose work has been staged in Paris, Montreal, and New York. His literary criticism focuses on the place of artistic production in the French classical age and in modern society. Whether it be the place of court pageantry during the reign of King Louis XIV (Le Roi-Machine, 1981), or the role of theater under the ancien régime (Le Prince Sacrificié, 1985), or even the importance of mass culture in the 1950s (Les Métamorphoses de Tintin, 1984), in each case Professor Apostolidès analyzes a specific cultural product both in its original context and in the context of the contemporary world. His most recent books are Les Tombeaux de Guy Debord in 1999, L’Audience in 2001, Traces, Revers, Ecarts in 2002, Sade in The Abyss in 2003, Héroïsme et victimisation in 2003, and Hergé et le mythe du Surenfant in 2004.

Laure Katsaros teaches nineteenth-century French literature and culture at Amherst College (Massachusetts), where she is also affiliated with the program in Architectural Studies. She has published two books – Un nouveau monde amoureux: prostituées et célibataires au dix-neuvième siècle (Galaade, 2011);  and New York-Paris: Whitman, Baudelaire, and the Hybrid City (University Press of Michigan, 2012). In 2014, she received a New Directions Fellowship from the Mellon Foundation which supported a year of study in the History and Philosophy of Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.  She has recently completed a book manuscript entitled “Glass Architecture: Charles Fourier and the Utopia of Self-Surveillance.”

Having majored in French and English at Amherst College, René Kooiker is the French department’s 2018-2019 Exchange Fellow at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. He is studying francophone Caribbean literature and contemporary critical theory and hopes to continue his studies with a PhD in Comparative Literature.

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