The Situationist International(SI) produced the journal Internationale Situationniste between 1958 and 1969. It functioned as the movement’s main organ, and over 12 issues its pages documented the evolution of Situationist theory, the members’ thoughts on everyday life, and the internal/external dramas of the group.
Given their Parisian base, there were obvious reasons why the journal was written in French. However the international focus of the SI led to a number of attempts to start parallel reviews in other languages (Italian, German, and English). Unfortunately each of the resulting journals was short-lived – and so the vast majority of Situationist writing was difficult to access for non-Francophones.
Thankfully, for the English-speakers amongst us, there have been a dedicated band of people who have translated the writings of the SI into our language. The UK and US-based members of the original Situationist International started the process in the mid-60s, the arrival of Ken Knabb’s Situationist International Anthology in 1981 was a huge milestone along the way, and finally with the advent of the internet a new and dedicated band of translators have taken up the task.
My Experience of Internationale Situationniste
Like many people, I suspect, my first experience of the Internationale Situationniste was through Knabb’s Anthology, in the pre-internet 80s. The texts were densely populated with original ideas, eye-opening, and fascinating. However at that point the texts were just that: text on the page, and nothing more.
Gradually I happened upon reprints of individual pages from Internationale Situationniste in other books – and was surprised at the careful design and extensive use of illustrations in the articles. Then, when I physically saw my first full set of the journal (1996 in a London bookshop – priced at £2000!) I was stunned by the range of colours on those iconic metallic-tinted covers, as well as the quality of paper and printing. Totally unlike the earlier roneo-ed Potlach – the journal of the SI’s precursor.
French readers have historically been more aware of this aspect of the journal through the availability of facsimile editions of the full 12 issue run of the Internationale Situationniste in anthology form – first produced by Van Gennep in 1970, then Champ Libre in 1975, and most recently by Fayard.
One common narrative strand of the history of the SI is that the artistic elements of the movement were displaced by the activist elements. However the physical presence of the review complicates that story – for while the content of the articles may have altered, the standard of design was remarkably consistent. Aesthetic considerations where obviously never abandoned when it came to the main organ of the SI – its journal.
I am not a Francophone, and since purchasing a copy of the Champ Libre facsimilie edition a few years ago, I have felt the desire to experience reading the issues of Internationale Situationniste in as close to the original format as possible, in my own language.
Apart from the aesthetic and contextural aspect – there is one other, more important reason that this is desirable. Approaching the texts within the original individual issues gives a historical context to them that is easy to miss in other formats. More than 11 years of theory, experience and praxis separate the texts in No. 1 (June 1958) from those in No. 12 (September 1969).
This is why I’ve embarked on this project to make each issue of Internationale Situationniste available in English translation in as close as possible to the formatting of the originals.
As far as this project is concerned I am following the spirit of the Situationist International by claiming no copyright over these documents – they may be freely distributed and used.
For those wanting to see pdf versions of the original French editions – the excellent UbuWeb has just made these available.