Interview conducted and translated 1983 by Kristen Ross
Printed in October 79, Winter 1997
H.L.: Are you going to ask me questions about the Situationists? Because I have something I'd like to talk about.
K.R.: Fine, go ahead.
H.L.: The Situationists . . . it's a delicate subject, one I care deeply about. It touches me in some ways very intimately because I knew them very well. I was close friends with them. The friendship lasted from 1957 to 1961 or '62, which is to say about five years. And then we had a quarrel that got worse and worse in conditions I don't undertsnad too well myself, but which I could describe to you. In the end, it was a love story that ended badly, very badly. There are love stories that begin well and end badly. And this was one of them.
I remember a whole night spent talking at Guy Debord's place where he was living with Michele Bernstein in a kind of studio near the place I was living on the rue Saint Martin, in a dark room, no lights at all, a veritable. . . a miserable place, but at the same time a place where there was a great deal of strength and radiance in the thinking and the research.
K.R.: They had no money?
K.R.: How did they live?
H.L.: No one could figure out how they got by. One day
one of my friends (someone to whom I had introduced Debord)
asked him, "What do you live on?" And Guy Debord
answered very proudly, "I live off my wits." [Laughter.]
Actually, he must have had some money; I think that his family wasn't poor. His
parents lived on the
K.R.: So the Situationist slogan "Never work" didn't apply to women?
H.L.: Yes, it did, because this wasn't work. They didn't work; they managed to live without working to quite a large extent -- of course, they had to do something. To do horoscopes for race horses, I suppose, wasn't really work; in any case, I think it was fun to do it, and they didn't really work.
But I'd like to go farther back in time, because
everything started much earlier. It started with the COBRA group. They were the
intermediaries: the group made up of architects, with the Dutch architect
Constant in particular and the painter Asger Jorn and people from
K.R.: So there was a direct relationship between Constant
H.L.: Oh yes, he was recognized by them as their thinker, their leader, the one who wanted to transform life and the city. The relation was direct; he spurred them on.
[***] During the postwar years, the figure of Stalin
was dominant. And the Communist movement was the revolutionary movement. Then,
after '56 or '57, revolutionary movements moved outside the organized parties,
especially with Fidel Castro. In this sense, Situationism
wasn't at all isolated. Its point of origin was
[***] And then there were the rather extremist
movements like that of Isidore Isou
and the Lettrists. They also had ambitions on an
international scale. But that was all a joke. It was evident in the way that Isidore Isou would recite his
Dadaist poetry made up of meaningless syllables and fragments of words. He
would recite it in cafes. I remember very well having met him several times in
K.R.: Did the Situationist theory of constructing situations have a direct relationship with your theory of "moments"?
H.L.: Yes, that was the basis of our understanding. They more or less said to me during discussions -- discussions that lasted whole nights -- "What you call 'moments,' we call 'situations,' but we're taking it farther than you. You accept as 'moments' everything that has occurred in the course of history (love, poetry, thought). We want to create new moments."
K.R.: How did they propose to make the transition from a "moment" to a conscious construction?
H.L.: The idea of a new moment, of a new situation, was already there in Constant's text from 1953. Because the architecture of situation is a Utopian architecture that supposes a new society, Constant's idea was that society must be transformed not in order to continue a boring, uneventful life, but in order to create something absolutely new: situations.
K.R.: And how did the city figure into this?
H.L.: Well, "new situations" was never very
clear. When we talked about it, I always gave as an example -- and they would
have nothing to do with my example -- love. I said to them: in antiquity,
passionate love was known, but not individual ove,
love for an individual. The poets of antiquity write of a kind of cosmic,
physical, physiological passion. But love for an individual only appears in the
Middle Ages within a mixture of Christian and Islamic traditions, especially in
the south of
K.R.: But didn't constructing "new situations" for the Situationists involve urbanism?
H.L.: Yes. We agreed. I said to them, individual love
created new situations, there was a creation of
situations. But it didn't happen in a day, it developed. Their idea (and this
was also related to Constant's experiments) was that in the city one could
create new situations by, for example, linking up parts of the city,
neighborhoods that were separated spatially. And that was the first meaning of the derive. It was done first in
K.R.: Did the Situationists use this technique, too?
H.L.: Oh, I think so. In any case, Constant did. But
there were Situationist experiments in Unitary
Urbanism. Unitary urbanism consisted of making different parts of the city
communicate with one another. They did have their experiments; I didn't
participate. They used all kinds of means of communication -- I don't know when
exactly they were using walkie-talkies. But I know they were used in
K.R.: Did you know people in
H.L.: They were my students. But relations with them were
also very strained. When I arrived in Strasbourg in 1958 or '59, it was right
in the middle of the Algerian War, and I had only been in Strasbourg for about
three weeks, maybe, when a group of guys came up to me. They were the future Situationists of Strasbourg -- or maybe they were already a
little bit Situationist.
They said to me: "We need your support: we're going to set up a maquis in the
So I found myself getting along with them, and
afterward they became Situationists, the same group
that wanted to support the Algerians by starting up military activity in
K.R.: What was the effect of the brochure [On the Poverty of Student Life]? How many copies were given out?
H.L.: Oh, it was very successful. But in the beginning,
it was only distributed in
K.R.: Among the Parisian Situationists, too?
H.L.: No. Very little. They drank. At Guy Debord's place, we drank tequila with a little mezcal added. But never . . . mescaline, a little, but many of them took nothing at all. That wasn't the way they wanted to create new situations [***]
K.R.: Was Constant's project predicated on the end of work?
H.L.: Yes, to a certain extent. Yes, that's the beginning: complete mechanization, the complete automatization of productive work, which left people free to do other things. He was one of the ones who considered the problem.
K.R.: And the Situationists, too?
H.L.: Yes [***] And so, a complete change in revolutionary movements beginning in 1956-57, movements that leave behind classic organizations. What's beautiful is the voice of small groups having influence.
K.R.: So the very existence of microsocieties or groupuscules like the Situationists was itself a new situation?,?P>
H. L. Yes, to
a certain extent. But, then again, we mustn't exaggerate either. For how many
of them were there? You know that the Situationist
International never had more than ten members [at a time]. There were two or
three Belgians, two or three Dutch, like Constant. But they were all expelled
immediately. Guy Debord followed Andre Breton's
example. People were expelled. I was never part of the group. I could have
been, but I was careful, since I knew Guy Debord's
character and his manner, and the way he had of imitating Andre Breton, by
expelling everyone in order to get at a pure and hard little core. In the end,
the members of the Situationist International were
Guy Debord, Raoul Vaneigem, and Michele Bernstein. There were some outer groupuscules, satellite groups -- which is where I was, and
where Asger Jorn was, too. Asger Jorn had been expelled;
poor Constant was expelled as well. For what reason?
Well, Constant didn't build anything -- he was an architect who didn't build, a Utopian architect. But he was expelled because a
guy who worked with him built a church in
K.R.: How did your association with the Situationists change or inspire your thinking about the city? Did it change your thinking or not?
H.L.: It was all corollary,
parallel. My thinking about the city had completely different sources [***.]
But, at the same time that I met Guy Debord  , I met Constant. I knew that the
After all, there's the political context in
I had this idea about the Commune as a festival, and I
threw it into debate, after consulting an unpublished document about the
Commune that is at the Feltrinelli Foundation in
And then, as for how I broke with them, it happened after an extremely complicated story concerning the journal Arguments. The idea had come up to stop editing Arguments because several of the collaborators in the journal, such as my friend Kostas Axelos, thought that its role was over; they thought they had nothing more to say. In fact, I have the text by Axelos where he talks about the dissolution of the group and of the journal. They thought it was finished and that it would be better to end it [quickly] rather than let it drag along. I was kept informed of these discussions. During discussions with Guy Debord, we talked about it and Debord said to me, "Our journal, the Internationale Situationniste has to replace Arguments." And so Argument's editor, and all the people there, had to agree. Everything depended on a certain man [Herval] who was very powerful at the time in publishing: he did a literary chronicle for L'Express, he was also in with the Nouvelle revue francais and the Editions de Minuit. He was extremely powerful, and everything depended on him.
Well, at that moment I had broken up with a woman, very bitterly. She left me, and she took my address book with her. This meant I no longer had Herval's address. I telephoned Debord and told him I was perfectly willing to continue negotiations with Herval, but that I no longer had his address, his phone number, nothing. Debord began insulting me over the phone. He was furious and said, "I'm used to people like you who become traitors at the decisive moment." That's how the rupture between us began, and it continued in a curious way.
This woman, Eveline -- who, I forgot to mention, was a longtime friend of Michele Bernstein -- had left me, and Nicole took her place, and Nicole was pregnant. She wanted the child, and so did I: it's Armelle. But Guy Debord and our little Situationist friends sent a young woman to Navarrenx over Easter vacation to try to persuade Nicole to get an abortion
H.L.: Because they didn't know, or they didn't want to know, that Nicole wanted this child just as I did. Can you believe that this woman, whose name was Denise and who was particularly unbearable, had been sent to persuade Nicole to have an abortion and leave me, in order to be with them? Then I understood -- Nicole told me about it right away. She told me, "You know, this woman is on a mission from Guy Debord; they want me to leave you and get rid of the kid." So, since I already didn't much like Denise, I threw her out. Denise was the girlfriend of that Situationist who had learned Chinese -- I forget his name [Rene Vienet]. I'm telling you this because it's all very complex, everything gets mixed up; political history, ideology, women . . . but there was time when it was a real, very warm friendship.K.R.: You even wrote an article entitled "You Will All Be Situationists."
H.L.: Oh yes, I did that to help bring about the replacement of Arguments by the Internationale Situationniste. Guy Debord accused me of having done nothing to get it published. Yes, it was Herval who was supposed to publish it. Lucky for me that it didn't appear because afterwards they would have reproached me for it. But there's a point I want to go back to -- the question of plagiarism. That bothered me quite a bit. Not a lot, just a little bit. We worked together day and night at Navarrenx, we went to sleep at nine in the morning (that was how they lived, going to sleep in the morning and sleeping all day). We ate nothing. It was appalling. I suffered throughout the week, not eating, just drinking. We must have drunk a hundred bottles. In a few days. Five . . . and we were working while drinking. The text was almost a doctrinal resume of everything we were thinking, about situations, about transformations of life; it wasn't very long, just a few pages, handwritten. They took it away and typed it up, and afterwards thought they had a right to the ideas. These were ideas we tossed around on a little country walk I took them on. With a nice touch of perversity, I took them down a path that led nowhere, that got lost in the woods, fields, and so on. Michele Bernstein had a complete nervous breakdown, she didn't enjoy it at all. It's true, it wasn't urban, it was very deep in the country.
K.R.: A rural derive. Let's talk a about the derive in general. Do you think it brought anything new to spatial theory or to urban theory? In the way that it emphasized experimental games and practices, do you think it was more productive than a purely theoretical approach to the city?
H.L.: Yes. As I perceived it, the
derive was more of a practice than a theory. It revealed the growing
fragmentation of the city. In the course of its history, the city was once a
powerful organic unity; for some time, however, that unity was becoming undone,
was fragmenting, and [the situationists] were
recording examples of what we had all been talking about, like the place where
the new Bastille Opera is going to be built. The Place de la Bastille is the
end of historic
K.R.: While the derive took the form of a narrative.
H.L.: That's it; one goes along in any direction and recounts what one sees.
K.R.: But the recounting can't be done simultaneously.
H.L.: Yes, it can, if you have a walkie-talkie. The goal was to attain a certain simultaneity. That was the goal; it didn't always work.
K.R.: So, a kind of synchronic history.
H.L.: Yes, that's it, a synchronic history. That was the meaning of Unitary Urbanism: unify what has a certain unity, but a lost unity, a disappearing unity.
K.R.: And it was during the time when you knew the situationists that the idea of Unitary Urbanism began to lose its force?
H.L.: At the moment when urbanization became truly
massive, that is, after 1960, and when the city,
K.R.: And what was that transition, exactly?
H.L.: It was more than a transition, it was the abandonment of one position in order to adopt the exact opposite one. Between the idea of elaborating an urbanism and the thesis that all urbanism is an ideology is a profound modification. In fact, by saying that all urbanism was a bourgeois ideology, [the situationists] abandoned the problem of the city. They left it behind. They thought that the problem no longer interested them. While I, on the other hand, continued to be interested; I thought that the explosion of the historic city was precisely the occasion for finding a larger theory of the city, and not a pretext for abandoning the problem. But it wasn't because of this that we fell out; we fell out for much more sordid reasons. That business about sabotaging Arguments, Herval's lost address -- all that was completely ridiculous. But there were certainly deeper reasons.
The theory of situations was itself abandoned, little by little. And the journal itself became a political organ. They began to insult everyone. That was part of Debord's attitude, or it might have been part of his difficulties -- he split up with Michele Bernstein [in 1967]. I don't know, there were all kinds of circumstances that might have made him more polemical, more bitter, more violent. In the end, everything became oriented toward a kind of polemical violence. I think they ended up insulting just about everyone. And they also greatly exaggerated their role in May '68, after the fact.