Critique of Separation (1961) - full transcript

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When one thinks how it's
natural and advantageous...

for mankind to identify his
own language and reality,

one guesses what sophistication
degree we must have reached...

to dissociate both,

and study them as
separate objects.

This is a quote from
Andre Martinet's book...

Elements of General Linguistics.

The documentary you are about to
see is called 'Critique of Separation'.

It was written and directed
by Guy Debord.

The images are
from Andr? Mrugalski,

Editing was made
by Chantal Delattre.



About a subject which cinema
never dared to approach.

This film was screened
in February 1961,

And was produced by "Dansk-Fransk
Experimentalfilm Kompagni".

We don?t know what to say.

Sequences of words are repeated;
gestures are recognized.

Outside us.

Of course some methods
are mastered,

some results are verified.

Often it?s amusing.

But so many things we wanted
have not been attained,

or only partially and
not like we imagined.

What communication have
we desired, or experienced,

or only simulated?

What real project
has been lost?



The cinematic spectacle
has its rules,

its reliable methods for producing
satisfactory products.

But the reality that must be taken as
a point of departure is dissatisfaction.

The function of the cinema,
whether dramatic or documentary,

is to present a false and
isolated coherence

as a substitute for a communication
and activity that are absent.

To demystify documentary cinema,

it is necessary to dissolve
its "subject matter."

A well-established rule is that
any statement in a film...

that is not illustrated by
images must be repeated,

or else the spectators
will miss it.

That may be true.

But this same type of
miscommunication...

constantly occurs in
everyday encounters.

Something must be specified
but there?s not enough time,

and you're not sure
you've been understood.

Before you have said or
done what was necessary,

the other person has
already gone.

Across the street.
Overseas.

Too late for any rectification.

After all the empty time,

all the lost moments,

there remain these endlessly
traversed postcard landscapes;

this distance organized
between each and everyone.

Childhood? Why,
it?s right here ?

we have never
emerged from it.

Our era accumulates powers,

and imagines itself
as rational.

But no one recognizes
these powers as their own.

Nowhere is there any
entry to adulthood.

The only thing that happens
is that this long restlessness...

sometimes eventually evolves
into a routinized sleep.

Because no one ceases to
be kept under guardianship.

The point is not to
recognize that...

some people live more or
less poorly than others,

but that we all live in ways
that are out of our control.

At the same time, it is a world that
has taught us how things change.

Nothing stays the same.

The world changes more
rapidly every day;

and I have no doubt
that those...

who day after day produce
it against themselves...

can appropriate it
for themselves.

The only adventure, we said,
is to contest the totality,

whose center is
this way of living,

where we can test our
strength but never use it.

No adventure is directly
created for us.

The adventures that
are presented to us...

form part of the mass
of legends transmitted...

by the cinema or
in other ways;

part of the whole spectacular
sham of history.

Until the environment is
collectively dominated,

there will be no
real individuals ?

only specters haunting
the objects...

anarchically presented
to them by others.

In chance situations,

we meet separated people
moving randomly.

Their divergent emotions
neutralize each other...

and reinforce their solid
environment of boredom.

As long as we are unable
to make our own history,

to freely create situations,

our striving toward unity will
give rise to other separations.

The quest for a
unified activity...

leads to the formation
of new specializations.

And only a few
encounters were...

like signals emanating
from a more intense life,

a life that has not
really been found.

What cannot be forgotten...

reappears in dreams.

At the end of this type
of dream, half asleep,

the events are still for a
brief moment taken as real.

Then the reactions they
give rise to become clearer,

more distinct,
more reasonable;

like on so many mornings...

the memory of what you
drank the night before.

Then comes the awareness
that it?s all false,

that "it was only a dream,"

that the new realities
were illusory and...

you can?t get back into them.
Nothing you can hold on to.

These dreams are flashes
from the unresolved past,

flashes that illuminate
moments...

previously lived in
confusion and doubt.

They provide a blunt...

revelation of our
unfulfilled needs.

Here we see daylight,

and perspectives that now
no longer have any meaning.

The sectors of a city are to
some extent decipherable.

But the personal meaning...

they have had for us
is incommunicable,

as is the secrecy of
private life in general,

regarding which we possess
nothing but pitiful documents.

Official news is elsewhere.

Society broadcasts to itself its
own image of its own history,

a history reduced to a superficial
and static pageant of its rulers ?

persons who embody the apparent
inevitability of whatever happens.

The world of the rulers is
the world of the spectacle.

The cinema suits them well.

Regardless of its subject matter,
the cinema presents heroes...

and exemplary conduct...

modeled on the
same old pattern...

as the rulers.

This dominant equilibrium is
brought back into question...

each time unknown people
try to live differently.

But it was always far away.

We learn of it through the
papers and newscasts.

We remain outside it,

relating to it as just
another spectacle.

We are separated from it
by our own nonintervention.

And end up being rather
disappointed in ourselves.

At what moment was
choice postponed?

When did we
miss our chance?

e haven?t found the
arms we needed.

We?ve let things slip away.

I have let time slip away.

I have lost what
I should have defended.

This general critique
of separation...

obviously contains,
and conceals,

some particular memories.

A less recognized pain,

a less explicable
feeling of shame.

Just what separation was it?

How quickly we have lived!

It is to this point in our haphazard
story that we now return.

Everything involving
the sphere of loss ?

that is, what I have lost of myself,
the time that has gone;

and disappearance, flight;

and the general
evanescence of things,

and even what in the
prevalent and therefore...

most vulgar social
sense of time...

is called wasted time ?

all this finds in that strangely
apt old military term,

lost children,

its intersection with the
sphere of discovery,

of the exploration of
unknown terrains,

and with all the forms of quest,

adventure, avant-garde.

This is the crossroads where
we have found ourselves,

and lost our way.

It must be admitted that
none of this is very clear.

It is a completely typical
drunken monologue,

with its incomprehensible
allusions...

and tiresome delivery.

With its vain phrases...

that do not
await response...

and its overbearing
explanations.

And its silences.

The poverty of means
is intended to reveal...

the scandalous poverty
of the subject matter.

Generally,

the events that occur in our individual
existence as it is now organized,

the events that really concern us
and require our participation,

generally merit nothing more
than our indifference...

as distant and
bored spectators.

In contrast,

the situations presented in
artistic works are often...

attractive, situations
that would merit...

our active participation.

This is a paradox to reverse,

to put back on its feet.

This is what must be
realized in practice.

As for this idiotic spectacle of the
filtered and fragmented past,

full of sound and fury,

it is not a question now
of transforming...

or "adapting" it into...

another neatly
ordered spectacle...

that would play the game of
neatly ordered comprehension...

and participation. No.

A coherent artistic
expression expresses...

nothing but the coherence of
the past, the passivity.

It is necessary to destroy
memory in art.

To undermine the conventions
of its communication.

To demoralize its fans.

What a task!

As in a blurry drunken vision,

the memory and language of
the film fade out simultaneously.

At the extreme,

miserable subjectivity
is reversed...

into a certain sort
of objectivity:

a documentation of the conditions
of noncommunication.

For example, I don?t
talk about her.

False face.
False relation.

A real person is separated from
the interpreter of that person,

if only by the time passed,

between the event
and its evocation,

by a distance that continually increases,
that's increasing at this very moment.

Just as a conserved expression...

remains separate from
those who hear it...

abstractly and without
any power over it.

The spectacle as a whole is
nothing other than this era,

an era in which a certain
youth has recognized itself.

It is the gap between that
image and its consequences;

the gap between
the visions, tastes,

refusals and projects that
characterized this youth...

and the way it has advanced
into ordinary life.

We have invented nothing.

We adapt ourselves,
with a few variations,

into the network of
possible itineraries.

We get used to it,
it seems.

No one returns from an
enterprise with the ardor...

they had upon setting out.

Fair companions,
adventure is dead.

Who will resist?

It is necessary to go
beyond this partial defeat.

Of course.

And how to do it?

This is a film that interrupts itself
and does not come to an end.

All conclusions
remain to be drawn;

everything has to
be recalculated.

The problem continues
to be posed ?

in continually more
complicated terms.

We have to resort
to other measures.

Just as there was no
profound reason to begin...

this formless message,

so there is none
for concluding it.

I have scarcely begun to
make you understand...

that I don?t intend
to play the game.

Subtitles by hellboytr based
on the translation by Ken Knabb