Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Drifting with Guy in Gay Paree

debord“Guy Debord? La Societé du Spectacle? Superbe!” enthused the young man at the till (who bore a remarkable resemblance to D H Lawrence) as I handed over a wadge of euros for my copy of Guy Debord. Un Art de la Guerre, the catalogue of the Debord exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. La nostalgie continue, then. But twentieth century radicalism has long since passed into an antiquarian realm, and the purchase by wealthy benefactors of Debord’s archive as a “national treasure” does rather seem like the definitive act of recuperation.

The book is (inevitably) dense, though full of interesting snippets. I was curious to see if there would be anything new relating to the remarkable Ralph Rumney, son of a Halifax vicar and pioneer English psychogeographer. Rumney was a founder member of the Situationist International in 1957, but was promptly expelled for not completing a dérive (drift) in Venice, under the headline “Venice has beaten Ralph Rumney!” There is not much. He does not appear in the photographs taken at the founding conference, it seems, because he was the man behind the lens.

Rumney's disappearance, from 'Internationale Situationniste' 1, 1958

Rumney’s disappearance, from ‘Internationale Situationniste’ 1, 1958

One coincidental snippet was that from 1987-91 Debord rented a flat in the same Left Bank street where we were staying for the week. The bar a few doors down looked pretty much unaltered since the late ‘eighties, so I may well have occupied the very stool used by the intractable old rebel as he drank and drifted his way towards suicide.

But the character of French activism has certainly altered over the last forty five years. That evening, the side streets near our hotel were barred by police, as isolated “pro family” demonstrators wandered by. All appeared to be white, middle class, neat and anxious, and all carried the affectedly dainty flags in pink or blue of the Manif pour Tous, bearing a cute nuclear family (Dad, Mum, boy, girl) in silhouette – a logo so archly contrived that anyone not in the know might take it for a parody. This is the kind of thing that gives Christianity a bad name.

One is gobsmacked at their sense of priority. These days, beggars with babies are bedded down on the boulevards, and television news reports worry about the “desertification” of the provinces as unsustainable filling stations evaporate from the map. France is drifting towards financial breakdown.

After the main rally had dispersed, the entryists on the fringe took over, and as darkness fell the sounds of sirens and chanting filtered through our hotel window as les fascistes threw things at les flics. The following day, the first same sex marriage was safely celebrated in Montpellier, but the single men punctuating the hedgerows in a particular corner of the Tuileries were looking more than usually apprehensive. Gay Paree? Not quite yet, it seems.


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