Debord, Guy and Jorn, Asger. Mémoires: Structures Portantes d’Asger Jorn. Copenhagen: Internationale Situationniste, 1959 [but really Dec. 1959]. n.p. [64 p.]; ill.; 28 x 21 cm. Sandpaper wrappers (“papier verré 3M”).
Mémoires is the product of a collaboration between Guy Debord and Asger Jorn in the early years of the Situationist International. Printed in vivid colors – the work of Danish masterprinters Permild & Rosengreen – it is viewed by some as the most important art book of the twentieth century. Debord and Jorn had “worked” together two years earlier – after stealing a large stock of magazines and newspapers, they spent a drunken afternoon collaging elements together. After transferring these collages to lithographic plates, Jorn poured ink over them and the resulting plates were etched and printed. Thus, Fin de Copenhague was born (1957), printed in 200 copies. Mémoires constitutes a continuation of this unique collaboration.
This copy of Mémoires comes with an outstanding dedication from Guy Debord to Ghislain de Marbaix: “”Exemplaire factice pour le véritable comte de Marbaix en attendant mieux. Guy”. But why “exemplaire factice” (in English: imperfect, worn. or dummy copy)? An obvious interpretation is that the copy is of poor quality, with water damage affecting the sandpaper cover and the lower edge of the first and last pages. But there’s more than meets this eye here: as we’ll explain below, this copy is unique in two respects and likely predates the “final” version that was printed in 500 copies.
First, Mémoires is perhaps best known for its unique cover: a single sheet of Viks no.2 grade sandpaper. In this copy, the sandpaper is a papier verré 3M (“abrasif 3M, Made in France by Minesota de France, 9036 6-36”), Because this is an early version of the book, it is likely Debord and Jorn were still experimenting with different types of sandpaper covers. The 3M sandpaper (made in France) is heavier and more abrasive, but also more damage-prone than the Viks no.2 (made in Denmark). One may speculate that the artists ultimately settled on the latter to balance coarseness with durability. Or perhaps, certain copies were taken from Copenhagen to Paris, where a separate sandpaper wrapper was added.
Second, in this copy, the sandpaper is glued to the card wrappers, which has caused the inner cover to detach from those wrappers. Debord & Jorn likely realized their mistake, as in the latter version of book, the sandpaper cover is wrapped around the book’s inner cover but otherwise unattached to the white card wrappers.
In sharing this “exemplaire factice” with de Marbaix, Debord does not shortchange his old friend – quite the opposite, in fact. What may seem like a ragged copy at first glance is instead a unique artifact that hints to the iterative artistic process Debord & Jorn went through in creating this revolutionary artist book.
About Ghislain de Marbaix. An early member of the Lettrist movement, De Marbaix was one of the participants in the “Scandal of Notre Dame”. On Easter Sunday, 1950, De Marbaix was among a small group of young people that burst into the the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during High Mass. One of them, Michel Mourre, seized the microphone and proclaimed a blasphemous homily proclaiming “the death of Christ-God, so that Man may live at last” in front of cameras. Ten years later, De Marbaix was a pimp and bar owner: he co-owned the bar “L’Homme de Main”, a favorite of the Situationist crew, from 1960 to 1962. In 1968, along with Randal Lemoine, he penned Monsieur Gontran, giving a glimpse into a life of ill repute . De Marbaix also served as an Assistant Director on Debord’s experimental film Sur le passage de quelques personnes à travers une assez courte unité de temps, released in 1959 (see Guy Debord’s letter to Chantal Delattre dated 4 August 1959 in Correspondance Volume 1). All in all, De Marbaix stood was a man who lived on the fringes of society, the kind of radical figures who fascinated Debord.
About Memoires. For more information, see the following resources:
- Donne, Boris. Pour Memoires. Paris: Allia, 2004. Perhaps the most ambitious and complete attempt at deciphering Memoires.
- Edwards, Richard. Uneasy Arrangements: Looking at Guy Debord’s Memoires. http://remixhumanities.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/uneasy-arrangements-looking-at-guy-debords-memoires/
- Nolle, Christian. Books of Warfare: The Collaboration between Guy Debord & Asger Jorn from 1957-1959. http://virose.pt/vector/b_13/nolle.html
- “Memoires”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%A9moires