The Return of the Durutti Column – detourned comics

I was gearing up to begin to translate this famous document that was used by the Stasbourg AFGES to advertise the pamphlet ‘On the Poverty of Student Life’. Then I came across this page, part of an exhibition on Detournment.

The Return of the Durutti Column

For a direct link to a PDF of the whole document translated into English, click on the image:

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From the site:

“The Return of the Durutti Column (Le Retour de la Colonne Durutti), was a four-page comic by André Bertrand that was handed out at Strasbourg University in October 1966 during a student protest at the opening the school year. This provocative piece of détournement was published and distributed with the help of a number of students sympathetic to Situationist ideas who had joined a local chapter of the student organization AFGES (Association fédérative générale des étudiants de Strasbourg). The students illegally used 5,000 francs of the organization’s money to print numerous copies of their comic along with 10,000 copies of the pamphlet The Poverty of Student Life written by the Situationist Mustapha Khayati. This action along with their protests across campus prompted a court order to close AFGES. The judge’s ruling concluded:

One has only to read what the accused have written, that these five students, scarcely more than wadolescents, lacking all experience of real life, their minds confused by ill-digested philosophical, social, political and economic theories, and perplexed by the drab monotony of their everyday life, make the empty, arrogant, and pathetic claim to pass definitive judgments, sinking to outright abuse, on their fellow students, their teachers, God, religion, the clergy, the governments and political systems of the whole world. Rejecting all morality and restraint, these cynics do not hesitate to commend theft, the destruction of scholarship, the abolition of work, total subversion and a world-wide proletarian revolution with “unlicensed pleasure” as its goal.

“The actions taken by the university and the police to suppress the student protests in Strasbourg backfired and soon protests by students sympathetic to the ideas of the Situationists began to crop up in Jussieu (near Lyon), Nanterre, and in the massive protests that shut down Paris in May 1968. Up until this time the Situationists, led by Guy Debord, consisted of only a small loyal following of like-minded intellectuals, but the media attention from the protest in Strasbourg launched the group into international notoriety as several disconnected student protests became synonymous in the imagination of the general public as “Situationist….

“The comics conveyed the Situationist strategy of détournement, which was a means to deviate or redirect official, normative communication from its intended path. In practice détournement was a way of quoting or “plagiarizing” existing images and text so that the original material was subverted into something quite different…

“The idea of détournement had been first discussed by Debord in 1956 and altered comics had been published in Situationist journals for many years prior to the Strasbourg protests. What distinguished The Return of the Durutti Column from these earlier altered comics was its irreverent humor and ironic sophistication. The wide dissemination and imitation by other student protests in France was key to establishing The Return of the Durutti Column’s legacy as one of the seminal publications of the student protests of the 1960s.”

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