(Paris, with a side trip to Vichy. Six weeks.)
September 10-11. Up early. San Francisco flight at 8:00 a.m., Philadelphia change, arrived at Paris at 8:00 next morning. Taxi to Christian’s. Out for coffee with him, then back to his place for a shower and more chatting. Checked email while he and a friend played guitar duets. Lunch. Nap. Jacques home — guitar practice. Matou and Marie-Pierre over at 6:30. They took me to the apartment Matou is letting me stay at on Rue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth.* It’s fine, more spacious than I’d expected; lacks hot water but has everything else. Chatted awhile, then they left. Unpacked and to bed early.
*I had met Matou (Alain Montesse) in Paris in 1979 and had reconnected with him during my 2005 trip. He and his wife Marie-Pierre alternated between living in Caen (where they worked at the university) and in another apartment in Paris, but Matou had retained this little secondary apartment, which he let me have during my entire trip.
September 12. Shopped across the street for cereal, yogurt, etc. Strolled down Rue du Temple to the Latin Quarter. Browsed briefly at Gibert bookstore, then to Christian’s. Email at his computer. Lunch with Christian and Marta, more strolling, browsing at Parallèles, then home. Arranged a little corner in the apartment to do daily morning zazen.
September 13. Found a nearby Internet café for 4 euros/hour. Then a Turkish sandwich, then back home, then to Aposto’s.* He talked mainly about his and Donné’s Debord biographical project. Then to Christian’s. With him, Marta, and Jacques, met a Colombian couple, Francisco and Rosalba, and had a lavish dinner for Marta’s birthday while Francisco talked re Colombian politics. Back to Christian’s, then home at 11:30.
*Jean-Marie Apostolidès, whom I had met in California. He has authored several books and articles about Guy Debord and Ivan Chtcheglov (some of them co-authored with Boris Donné). While those works are interesting in many ways, I disagreed with his rather speculative psychological interpretations of Debord.
September 14. Swept the apartment and arranged a better zazen setup. Internet at same place. To Christopher Yggdre’s.* We went through all of In girum, which has been well subtitled using my translation. Discussed a few iffy points. I changed one word, but otherwise convinced him that my existing translation was best as is. We also briefly discussed an eventual contract — he agreed with the idea of a fixed minimum plus a royalty percentage and will look into the modalities. We also discussed some ludicrous mistranslations in the upcoming MIT Press edition of Michèle Bernstein’s novel. Long walk home.
*I had met Christopher briefly during my previous Paris trip. He was now working with Alice Debord on various aspects of the subtitling and distribution of Guy Debord’s films.
September 15. To Christian’s for lunch. Napped there, then train to Meudon for dinner with François Lonchampt and Eunkyong. Pleasant evening — a lot of talking plus Korean photos. He drove me home. Finished Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories (already mostly read on the plane).
September 16. Lunch at Christian’s. We looked at photos from their last California trip and I showed him some online Babar* performances. He’s going to Portugal for two days. Home at 4:00. Matou came by and I took him to dinner. Talk re Prague, etc.
*Babar Jug Band (San Francisco): One of the amateur old-time folk music groups that I sometimes play in. (Christian has also played with us during several of his Bay Area visits.) Here we are in Golden Gate Park singing Gid Tanners Dont You Hear Jerusalem Moan. Nothing fancy, but we have a lot of fun.
September 17. Met Max Blechman for a beer at a café by a canal. Talk re our various projects, notably re Rexroth. At Internet café sent notice of Karine’s concert to several dozen Parisian friends.
September 18. Web. To Hélène’s for lunch. Talk re the Van book (went over her questions plus her and my lists of possible notes).* Walked to Boul’Mich [Boulevard Saint-Michel], browsed at Gibert (got a couple Zen books for gifts), then to Daligands’ for dinner. Talk re French and American politics, and the possibility of their visiting San Francisco (they’re both now retired). Home at midnight.
*I had begun working with Hélène Fleury and others on a translation of Ngo Van’s autobiography. This was published two years later under the title In the Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary (AK Press, 2010).
September 19. Web. To Christian’s — several hours of music together (two guitars and guitar + flute).*
*Christian had been an amateur jazz trumpeter since the 1970s, but more recently he had also been learning guitar and flute and starting to sing. He eventually became very adept in several different genres, to the point that during the last few years he has ended up organizing and heading several different groups (jazz, Cuban, salsa, bossa nova, tango, French and American popular songs) that play two or three times a week at various Parisian clubs, bars, and restaurants. You can find info on his upcoming appearances as well as video clips from many of his past performances here.
September 20. Web. Made several calls, including to Michèle Bernstein in Normandy (who was in the process of taking a bath while we talked). To Publico bookstore to suggest that they order Secrets Publics and Éloge de Kenneth Rexroth. Home, then to Chartier for late lunch. Still good, but more expensive than last time — it no longer seems to be such a bargain. Some strolling, then another nearby and cheaper Internet café. Home. Finished Matou article summing up his book on the Art of Memory.
September 21. Internet café. Lunch at home. Called Christiane Passevant and talked awhile re the radio interview. To Arts et Métiers museum for an hour or so. Then to a café in the 12th Arrondissement for a Fado concert by Karine Bucher with guitar and trumpet accompaniment. 50+ people in a very small space, including several friends I’d invited — Jean Pérès (with Andrea and Clémentine), the Daligands, Alain Tizon, Matou and Marie-Pierre, Lola Miesseroff — plus Hélène, Géraldine, Linda Z, and several other friends of Karine’s. Afterwards to a not very good Chinese restaurant with Karine, Alain, Hélène, Lola, and Linda.
September 22. Web. To Christian’s, originally with the idea of tennis with Jacques, but that fell through. Christian and I played a lot more duets. Home. Dinner with Trillauds and Matou and Marie-Pierre at a Kurdish restaurant near Ménilmontant. Talk with André re the advantages of getting his texts online; and later re the Deneverts, Debord, the situ scene, etc. Much of the rest of the conversation was among them and I didn’t understand a lot of it (Matou’s gravelly accent is sometimes a bit hard to follow). A quite pleasant evening — in the resto from 8:00 till midnight, then Matou and Marie-Pierre drove me home.
September 23. Web. Strolled through 4th Arrondissement to Shakespeare & Co., then got a couple situ books at Gibert Jeune. Finally reached Christiane Passevant, who invited me for lunch at her place tomorrow. To Christian’s. Duets. Hadley* over. Christian and I played a few tunes for her (not very well), then I sang a few folksongs. Then we talked with her re her Paris studies etc., then re Don Quixote, Defoe, etc. Marta and Jacques returned and we all went to an Italian restaurant. Then back to Christian’s, then I walked with Hadley to the metro. Home at 11:00.
*Stepdaughter of my Bay Area friend Jim Brook.
September 24. Web. Rexroth bio Chapter 11 from Rachelle.* Quickly read first half — almost nothing to object to. To Radio France building in a suburb to meet Christiane Passevant. Lunch in the cafeteria there, then back to her office. Nearly four hours of conversation — she explaining how the program works plus a few details re her life that resonated with my autobiography, me going into some details re Zen, the various key texts (Double-Reflection, the Religion pamphlet, etc.). Walked all the way back home, mostly along the Seine — two full hours. Finished Rachelle’s Rexroth chapter (nothing more to comment on).
*Rachelle Lerner (Canada) had been sending me drafts of her biography of Kenneth Rexroth for my comments and critiques. The biography is still in progress but will hopefully be published soon.
September 25. Called Lonchampt — he agreed to appear on the radio program. Web. Turkish lunch. Then to Picasso museum, but it’s closed for the next month. Bought train ticket at Gare de Lyon. To Alésia to meet Jean-Baptiste Para, editor of the journal Europe, re a possible Rexroth special issue. Max Blechman joined us a bit later. The three of us went over a lot of different possibilities re size and contents and procedures for such an issue. Then Max took me to dinner at a sort of Bohemian resto near my place. More talk re Rexroth and Rimbaud, etc. Home at 9:00. Called José at AK Press in Oakland — they’ve decided to accept the Van book.
September 26. Started notes for a somewhat critical opening statement on the radio program. Web. Guido Baldoni, who’s been slowly translating The Joy of Revolution into Italian, is coming to Paris this weekend, but I’ll miss him since I’ll be in Vichy. Home for lunch. To Gare de Lyon — train to Vichy 2:00-5:00 p.m. Joël met me at the station. We walked around the town a bit, then to the bookstore where we saw Nadine and Gabrielle,* and also a store worker who was into Brassens (showed him my online article on the latter). At their home upstairs talked with Joël re the possible Europe Rexroth issue. Dinner there. Talk re American politics, their change of towns and stores, etc. Slept in their office.
*I had known Joël Cornuault and Nadine Bloch in Paris in the 1970s and then visited them in Bergerac during many later trips. They had recently sold their Bergerac bookstore and moved to Vichy (in central France), where they started up another bookstore. Gabrielle was their teenage daughter.
September 27. In their store, checked email and Web, then started considering possible selections for “L’autre Amérique de Kenneth Rexroth”* Long walk with Joël — we discussed Rexroth while he showed me around the town — park, river, different types of architecture. Lunch at their place. More Web while they worked, then watched the store appearance of an editor of children’s books talking to kids and parents (very good). After work, couscous dinner (Gabrielle drawing). Home, miscellaneous talk re current literature, Boswell, etc., over cakes, grapes, and port.
*Provisional title for the envisioned special Rexroth issue of Europe magazine. This project unfortunately never materialized.
September 28. Web in the bookstore office while Nadine did some book ordering. Then (while Gabrielle went to movies with friends) Joël and Nadine and I took a day trip through the mountainous region that surrounds the city. Saw a castle, a Romanesque church, and a charming town. Picnic lunch there by a fountain, coffee at a café, then into the mountains for a couple hours of hiking among old volcanic formations. Back around 7:00. Dinner. Much talk re the functioning of their bookstore, the various problems of running it, the possibilities of vacations (I invited them to Berkeley) and eventually of semi-retirement.
September 29. Breakfast, quick email check, final conversation with Joël and Nadine, who walked me to the train station. Paris at noon. Lunch at home. Met Lonchampt at a Japanese restaurant near the Louvre. Discussed his various objections to The Joy of Revolution, mainly Chapter 4. I think I adequately answered them all (mostly a matter of noting my flexibility, e.g. I don’t insist on strict antihierarchy or claim that abundance automatically leads to good). Walked home at 10:00.
September 30. Matou over to fix the answering machine. Lunch at home. Called Passevant and Hélène re radio program. Briefly to Gibert, then to Christian’s. We played quite a few duets, then I checked email while Jacques practiced guitar. Light dinner. They talked with a friend in Chile via MSN Messenger and videocams. Talk with Christian re the economic crisis, and he gave me some suggestions for the radio program.
October 1. Web. Finalized and sent French radio announcement to virtually all my 100+ “Main-French” contacts plus a few others. This took quite a while because I have to send the message to each individual separately. Lunch at home, then the rest of the afternoon finishing the mailing. Matou took me to a good couscous place. Talk re The Joy of Revolution (which he’d just read in French) and his articles re the Art of Memory and cyberspace.
October 2. Web, including reading Lonchampt’s notes critiquing Joy of Revolution Chapter 4. Lunch at home. Met Isabelle Dubois (Editions Sulliver* representative who lives in Paris) at Saint-Michel fountain. Over coffee we discussed the radio program, a possible edition of the French Joy of Revolution (depending on Insomniaque), and, more vaguely, possible Rexroth publications (gave her Les Classiques Revisités and Le San Francisco de Kenneth Rexroth). She described her history and her present work getting Sulliver books stocked, reviewed, etc. Then to Hervé’s. We drove to the Insomniaque office in Montreuil. He gave me all their books that I wanted. Philippe Mortimer and two others arrived and they had a meeting. I left a French Joy of Revolution copy with them, but though their economic situation seems somewhat improved they did not rush to say they wanted to publish it. (Instead, they said they could distribute copies of the Quebec edition.)** Hervé drove me back to the Métro. Home at 7:30. Reread Depétris article (which is about to appear in Gavroche) which Isabelle gave me a copy of, along with some miscellaneous reviews of Sulliver books (she seems to be very active, hunting up blogs, starting a Sulliver Facebook page, etc.).
*Éditions Sulliver had just published Secrets Publics, a large collection of French translations of most of my writings (except Éloge de Kenneth Rexroth and La Joie de la Révolution, which had already been published separately).
**An anarchist publisher in Quebec had published a few hundred copies of La Joie de la Révolution (French translation of my The Joy of Revolution), but had not done much to distribute it elsewhere. I was hoping that Insomniaque or some other publisher would publish an edition in France, but this ultimately never happened.
October 3. Called Françou Labrugère to tell him about the radio show (he still lacks email) and chatted a bit about latest news. Hélène returned my call re possibly proposing Cloche Fêlée* to Sulliver. Called Joël Camous re radio program and chatted a bit. Finished writing out some notes for the program and sent them to Christiane, Hélène, François, and Isabelle. To Christian’s. Duets with him, then dinner, then home at 10:00.
*Au pays de la Cloche Fêlée, the original French version of Ngo Van’s autobiography, which had gone out of print.
October 4. Web. Walked to the Radio Libertaire station, where I met Hélène and François. Light lunch at a corner café. Isabelle Dubois arrived just as we were finishing. Then back to the station. For the program we all sat around a table with Christiane Passevant, a microphone in front of each of us. Christiane started with a few quotes from me. These quotes were fine, but tended to be generic things that would fit in with a traditional anarchist perspective — my atheism, my critiques of capitalism and hierarchy, etc. Then she mentioned my three books in French and started the interview by asking me about my learning French to read the situs. I answered briefly. Then she asked me to describe the Snyder disruption.* I did this fairly well, I think, but it went on a bit long. François made two or three comments — re the Snyder disruption striking him as sad (he still doesn’t get the whole point of it), re my supposedly excessive optimism in The Joy of Revolution, and also some complimentary remarks. After a musical interlude we shifted to questions from the listeners. A phone-in listener raised the religion question, but after I made a brief response I squelched Christiane from continuing with what would have been a futile and time-consuming discussion of “religion.”** At two points I segued into a slight challenge to the listeners, saying that rather than mulling over their impression of me (Is he clever? Articulate? Does he seem like a nice guy?), they would do better to ask themselves if there was something in what I said (or wrote) that could be useful to them, that might inspire them to some analogous self-questionings and experiments. I also made some remarks re looking at oneself, at the process, at the banal here-and-now, as points of departure. Then I gave a brief resumé of The Joy of Revolution and a quick plug for the Rexroth books available in French. Isabelle mentioned the forthcoming Gavroche article.*** Christiane, in mentioning my three books, said The Joy of Revolution was not yet available in France but soon would be — that it was simply a question of which publisher would be chosen for that honor (with a sort of wink to Isabelle). In view of all this, I will be surprised if Sulliver doesn’t publish it. All in all I think the program went pretty well — I got a chance to say quite a bit and to get into a pretty good rhythm — but we were all struck by how fast the two hours went. There were lots of points I didn’t get a chance to make. We then adjourned to the same café, joined briefly by another guy from the radio station who kept Pavlovianly coming back to the religion issue. [An example of why I had not wanted the radio broadcast to get sidetracked onto this issue.] We were there for several hours. A lot of talk re Van, re the 2005 Paris suburb riots (Hélène and François argued about the significance of the latter), and re the 2006 anti-CEP revolt (Hélène thought I was overly optimistic about the latter).**** Isabelle and Christiane left after a couple hours, but Hélène and François and I stayed there for dinner and continued the conversation. At 10:30 François drove me home.
*My 1970 disruption of a Gary Snyder poetry reading. The rationale and the result of this seemingly strange action are described here (in the second half of the chapter “How I Became a Situationist”).
**I did not want to spend the limited radio time with radical French listeners reiterating all the obvious stupid and despicable aspects of religion (which I was well aware of and in no way disputed). I felt that the more subtle critiques of the situ scene that I had raised in my Religion pamphlet did not lend themselves to quick sound bites, and I wanted to leave time for other topics.
***Jean-Pierre Depétris’s article, “Ken Knabb, the Situationist International, and the American Counterculture,” was just about to appear in the quarterly French journal Gavroche: Revue d’histoire populaire. You can read the English version here, and you can view the original illustrated French version here:
****In my text Reflections on the Uprising in France.
October 5. Started drafting a general letter to friends back home. Called several people, leaving messages or making rendezvous. Web: The Radio Libertaire program recording has now been shifted to their online archive and augmented with some of Christiane Passevant’s quotes from me. Late lunch at home. To Christian’s: lots of duets, dinner, and more duets, along with some talk re pros and cons of the radio show.
October 6. Web. Typed draft of USA letter. Quick lunch at home, then to Chasse’s.* He talked re his current book projects (three fictions and three essays), I re the potential usefulness of the Web for him (he had emailed me asking about this a year or two ago). His wife Évelyne showed up. They’re both dubious about the Web, especially she. After he left for a doctor’s appointment, chatted with her a bit re American politics, Paris, changing times, etc. Then strolled through the nearby Buttes Chaumont,** then had a cheap and pretty good dinner of rabbit and steamed potatoes and mustard. Walked back home at 8:00.
*Robert Chasse, one of the members of the American Section of the SI in the late sixties.
**The Parc des Buttes Chaumont, an artificially constructed idyllic landscape, one of the few places in Paris where you can be tranquilly insulated from the bustle of the city. The early surrealist Louis Aragon talked about it in detail in his book Paris Peasant.
October 7. Christian and I canceled our planned outing due to possible rain. Home for lunch. Web. Finalized my “Greetings from Paris” letter* and sent it to a preliminary batch of friends. Met Christian, Marta, and Jacques at a nearby theater — treated them to Molière’s Le Malade Imaginaire, with Michel Bouquet. Very good, though the delivery was so rapid I couldn’t follow much of it. Rain afterwards as we went home.
*A general email I sent to 100+ American friends. See Appendix below.
October 8. Web. Sent lots more “Greetings” to friends. To Christian’s at 1:00. Lunch, then walked with him and Jacques to the Jardin de Luxembourg, where I played tennis with Jacques for half an hour. Lots of duets with Christian, more emailing, then home, then a pretty good ground horsemeat dinner on Blvd. Saint-Martin.
October 9. Web — sent more “Greetings.” Walked to merry-go-round near Saint-Paul to meet Anna Trespeuch, who is doing her doctoral thesis on the influence of the SI, including in the US.* She had already checked out some of my writings at the Amsterdam Institute and at my website. Lots of questions re who wrote what and who were in which groups, as well as more general ones re my and others’ moods and outlooks at various times. I talked almost nonstop for 3½ hours re details of my history and other situ groups and said I’d be happy to answer further questions via email. Then walked to Vincent and Valérie’s for dinner. They now have a two-year-old daughter, Juliette. Talk re today’s interview with Anna and the radio program (which they had missed), US politics, astronomy (Vincent’s field of study), and Valérie’s health (she’s had several different cancers over the last few years).** Home at 11:00. Message from Alice making a date next week.
*She later developed her thesis into a book: L’Internationale Situationniste, de l’histoire au mythe (2015).
**Sadly, Valérie died of cancer a year later. She was still only in her thirties.
October 10. Met Christian at Gare Montparnasse at 9:00. Train to Gazeran-Rambouillet region. Three-hour walk in the country while I asked him about his youth, May 68, visits to USA, studies, trumpet playing, etc. Then I described the Anna interview, etc. We ended up with late lunch at a nice outdoor café, then checked out the park of the castle, then train back late afternoon. Métro to Ménilmontant. Internet café, then to Tommy Mittelstädt’s. Talked with him, then dinner with his kids Tonia and Jonas, then played songs for them. Sarah arrived later. Chatted with her re her work, etc. Home after midnight.
October 11. Web — sent more “Greetings.” To Parc Georges-Brassens for part of a Brassens Festival — chorales singing his songs, then a two-hour contest among ten singers, each singing one Brassens song + one song of their own composition. Very varied and generally very good. More Web mailing, then to dinner at Francisco and Rosalba’s with Christian and family. Pleasant evening — varied conversations with kir and champagne and an excellent meal and ouzo. Christian had brought a portable guitar and I did a number of songs, explaining some of the different genres of American folk music. Home after midnight.
October 12. To Alain Tizon’s home at 10:00. We drove to the country to see Madélaine Bossière, a 92-year-old anarchist who was in the circle of Ngo Van, Maximilien Rubel, etc. Unfortunately Lonchampt had a flu and couldn’t join us, so it was just the three of us. The driving took 2½ hours each way. Alain did most of the talking there and back, except for a few questions re my life in America — lots of stuff re his own life, radical history, etc. Once at Madélaine’s, she did most of the talking, showing me old books and documents and photos and recounting her experiences from the 1930s on.* I was a bit tired, but she was delightful, the talk was interesting, the lunch was excellent, and on the way back I could relax in the car while Alain was driving and talking. Home at 8:00. Web: a dozen or so responses to my Paris “Greeting.”
*Madélaine died four years later, age 96.
October 13. Made several phone calls to set final rendezvous. Web. To Christian’s for lunch. Francisco dropped by — talk re the economy. To the Louvre — brief look at Delacroix etc., then special exhibit of Mantegna. Stroll to Boul’Mich. Got Jane Goodall book for Marta and Jacques. Passable dinner on Rue La Harpe. While dropping by Shakespeare & Co., I noticed that Leonard Pitt* was giving a reading. Caught the last few minutes of it and said hi.
*Leonard is a Berkeley friend of mine who has lived many years in Paris and written several very interesting books about Paris history and architecture. For more info, see his website.
October 14. Web. To Boul’Mich. Browsed at Gibert. Dropped by Village Voice bookstore and chatted with Vincent (Michael Neal not there). To Christian’s. Had a coffee and recorded “Ashokan Farewell” with Christian. Then to Café Danton to meet Évelyne Bloch-Dano. Leonard Pitt happened to be at the same café, and he joined us for a bit, each of them talking a bit about their books. He left and we chatted a bit more, then walked to a Japanese store where she bought a couple notebooks, then we said goodbye and I went to dinner at Éric Rommeluère’s. Talk re US and French politics, his experiences with Deshimaru, etc. He recently quit his part-time job, hoping to scrape by somehow as a Zen teacher with a small group. Home, returned call from Charles Puskas. We won’t try to meet here since I’ll see him when he comes to the Bay Area in November. Earlier, called Isabelle Dubois and reiterated the reasons Sulliver would be wise to publish The Joy of Revolution. Finished reading Le Malade Imaginaire.
October 15. Called Sulliver and talked quite a while with Line Bonmort, urging their publication of La Joie de la Révolution (pointing out how it would add publicity for Secrets Publics, and not to worry about the Web versions). Web. Lunch at home. Talked to Max re Rexroth project. Called Sulliver again to talk with André Bonmort, more or less repeating what I’d said to Line. He had just received Joie (and the Rexroth books) from Isabelle. Said it was unlikely that they could publish Joie before 2010, but he had not had time to read it. Met Alice Debord and Christopher Yggdre at a café on Rue de Turenne. I briefly described my current Paris projects, then they described the New York City In girum showing. Apparently it was quite successful. The full retrospective is scheduled for early February. Christopher thinks they’ll do it with electronic subtitling that would run under the film (there was some technical problem with the titles’ visibility at the In girum showing). Afterwards, the same retrospective would play in other cities, especially universities (Harvard, etc.). The English-language DVD set (probably both subtitled and dubbed) would happen afterwards, when successful showings would hopefully have generated good offers from American distributors.* A Vietnamese woman, Bien, showed up who said she’d met me at a bookfair and at a Debord film showing in the Bay Area. Then they left for another rendezvous. Home, then walked to Belleville and had a tagine at a North African restaurant.
*Despite the seemingly promising showings in the United States, the Debord films were not taken up by any major American film distributor (who would in the process have ensured professional-quality subtitling and/or dubbing as well as more widespread publicity and distribution). Presumably such distributors felt that there was little money to be made from theater showings, and that DVD sales would be undercut by the already widespread copying and bootlegging of the films on the Web. However that may be, at present there are still no definitive English versions of Debord’s films. Instead, there has been an assortment of unofficial versions. The French originals and various translated versions can be found at Ubu.com, at Situationistfilm, and on YouTube, along with many would-be “adaptations” and “updates” (mostly ridiculous), and there have also been some bootleg DVDs. I particularly recommend the dubbed versions of the two main films produced by Konrad Steiner and read by Dore Bowen using my translations, which can be viewed or downloaded at The Society of the Spectacle and In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni. Also absolutely essential, even if I do say so myself, is my edition of Debord’s Complete Cinematic Works, which includes not only scripts and illustrations for all six films, but detailed annotations explaining the images, persons, events, and other allusions. Some of the textual material is included on my website here, but to clearly see the relation of images to spoken text, you need to consult the book.
October 16. Called Lonchampt. Web. To Hélène’s for lunch. Talked re our Van project — her Intro, how to organize our work on the book (she’s going to NYC in November, where she will discuss some of these issues with Naomi Sager [one of the other translators]). Gave her the Chicago Review Rexroth issue and the French edition of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. On the Web played her “Ashokan Farewell” and the Babar Jug Band version of “Jerusalem Moan.” Walked to the Seine, through Jardin des Plantes, to Boul’Mich. Bookstore browsing, then Web, then walked back home.
October 17. Met Max at a café near Bastille. We talked a bit re the Rexroth project, then I talked to him re zazen etc., as his personal life seems to be in some turmoil. He plans to visit the Bay Area in December. I said he could stay at my place if we don’t find anyplace else for him. Web, then home for lunch. To Grand Palais for “Picasso and the Masters” exhibit, but it was impossible to get in, so I bought an advance ticket for Monday. Walked to Christian’s via the west 7th Arrondissement. Chatted a bit with him, then bussed to Porte Maillot to meet Esther.* She arrived at 8:45 p.m. We took the Métro to the Louvre, then walked along the Seine, then had a light late dinner at a Latin American place on Rue Tiquetonne, then home. She talked about her Rexroth translating experiences, and I about my online dating encounters.** To bed at 12:30. (I slept in a sleeping bag in the other room, giving her the bed.)
*Esther Quintana, whom I had met in Berkeley and then visited in Madrid during my 2001 trip, had flown from Madrid to Paris spend the weekend with me.
**I had recently begun my online dating adventures, some of which I later recounted here.
October 18. Breakfast, then to Clignancourt flea market. Not much of interest except that Esther liked some of the expensive lamps in the Marché Biron. Métro to Les Halles. We walked around there, then to Boul’Mich, Shakespeare & Co., Notre-Dame, Gibert, coffee near Place Saint-Michel — talk re Rexroth projects in Spain and Rachelle’s bio. Walked more in the 5th Arrondissement. Lunch at “La Méthode” on Rue Descartes, then down Rue Mouffetard. Met Christian and Marta at Café Danton. The three of them talked mostly in Spanish and seemed to enjoy each other. Then with Esther through Saint-Germain to the Louvre pyramid (where a nice Bach quartet was playing), then to Place Vendôme, Place de l’Opéra, and back home. We bought some fruit for a late night supper. Much further chatting till nearly midnight, including about her relation with Raúl [her husband] and my relations with various women over the years.
October 19. Up at 4:30 a.m. We went to the busy corner to get a taxi. Numerous ones went by, but all full. Finally I called and got one to come by, just in time to get her to Porte Maillot on time for her plane back to Spain. Back to bed, but didn’t sleep much. To Daligands’. We were going to drive to Jean Pérès’s (in Colombes), but their car battery was off, so we took Métro and train there. Leisurely lunch all afternoon with Jean, his wife Andrea, and two daughters, Marguérite (12) and Clémentine (3). Mussels, roast beef, cheese, ice cream. They talked more than I, though I answered a few questions re the radio program and US politics. I sang several American songs with guitar and tried, unsuccessfully, to do a duo with Andrea on flute. Back to Paris and to Christian’s at 7:00, arriving at 8:00. Long tranquil chat with Christian re changes that come (or not) with age, different kinds of encounters here (which can be more fatiguing with age), how I see him as different from most other Parisians (always relaxed, without notable biases or fetishes), the appeal and influence of different foreign cultures, here and in the US, etc. Home at 11:00.
October 20. Web. To Éditions Allia, where I chatted with Berréby a bit (he gave me the Walter Korun book, and I gave him the French Joy of Revolution), then we met Michèle Bernstein at an Italian restaurant where he treated us to a lavish lunch. Much of the talk was between them, mostly Michèle’s often amusing reminiscences about Debord, Rumney, Alice, etc. Then to another café where he left us. Chatted a bit more with Michèle (including re Germaine Montero), then walked her to her bus. Then to the Grand Palais for the “Picasso and the Masters” exhibit [works by Picasso were paired with works by classic artists who had influenced him]. Then to Rue de Bagnolet (just across from Trillaud’s studio) where I checked the Web for an hour. Then to the Trillauds’. With them and Matou to nearby restaurant L’Abribus (I treated everyone in thanks for their hospitality). Much talk re American politics and elections. Quite pleasant evening. Matou drove me home at 11:30.*
*This was the last time I saw my good friend and generous host André Trillaud. He died in 2021.
October 21. Web. Home for lunch. Initial packing — and figuring out which books to leave here and with whom. Walked to the 5th and 6th Arrondissements, taking miscellaneous photos of fairly typical Paris scenes [see at the bottom of this webpage], browsing at Gibert etc., and finally meeting Lonchampt at a Métro stop in southeast Paris. I had also arranged for Anna Trespeuch to come there so I could give her Public Secrets and the SI Anthology and my Debord translations. She left and I went with François and Eunkyong to a Korean restaurant for dinner. Long and pleasant talk re US politics, Vincent, Madélaine Bossière, etc. Home at 11:30.
October 22. Christian called from North Africa to say goodbye. Final brief call to Christopher cautioning against moving electric subtitles. Matou picked me up at 10:00 and drove me to the airport. Once safely there (so I didn’t need to pay for anything else), I gave him all my remaining euros. On the plane sat next to a friendly, slightly older woman who turned out to have lived part of her youth in my original home town in Missouri and who currently lives in Berkeley. Read Trillaud’s recent booklet Retour de la Chine and half of the new book on Debord by Zagdanski. Through customs in Philadelphia. Arrived at San Francisco airport at 9:00. Shuttle home at 11:00. Unpacked, quick email check, and to bed at midnight.
(Email to 100+ friends)
[Early October 2008]
I’ve been in Paris for four weeks now, with two more to go. As always, I’ve benefited from the truly remarkable hospitality of friends here: one of them has loaned me an apartment for the duration of my visit, conveniently located right in the center of Paris (3rd Arrondissement).
Before going on, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the friends who have hosted me during all my trips abroad. This is my tenth visit to Paris (the first one was in 1971). Most of these visits have lasted for two or three months. During all that time I have not had to spend a single night in a hotel or pay a single day’s rent — I’ve always been warmly welcomed and provided with a place to stay by my Parisian friends. With few exceptions (notably a four-day trip to Venice in 1997), it’s been the same during my side trips to other European cities. The honor role of my Parisian hosts:
1971 — Roger Grégoire and Linda Lanphear
1973 — Roger Grégoire and Linda Lanphear
1976 — Daniel and Françoise Denevert
1979 — Nadine Bloch and Joël Cornuault
1984 — Christian Camus
1991 — Christian Camus
1997 — Christian Camus
2001 — Christian and Marta Camus; André Trillaud; Shakespeare & Co.
2005 — André Trillaud
2008 — Alain Montesse
. . . in addition to those (too many to name here) who have graciously hosted me during shorter side trips to other French cities and to England, Greece, Germany, Poland, Netherlands, and Spain, and during a three-month trip to Japan and Hong Kong (1977). I’m still in contact with most of them, and they will be among those receiving this email. In a few cases I’ve been able to partially reciprocate when they’ve visited me in Berkeley, but nothing comparable to the generous help they’ve given me. Immense thanks to you all!
* * *
To get back to my current trip, I’ve been dealing with several publishing and/or translating projects:
1) The folks in charge of the Guy Debord films are finally getting around to producing definitive authorized English versions of the films themselves (as opposed to the various pirate DVDs and VCRs that have circulated over the last few years). They are subtitling them using the translations I made five years ago. When I first arrived, I went over their version of Debord’s last film, In girum imus nocte..., checking the accuracy of the subtitling and dealing with a few other details. That film premiered last Friday (Oct 4) at the New York Film Festival. We’ll be doing the same with the other five films, in preparation for a complete Debord retrospective tentatively scheduled for sometime early next year in New York and Berkeley.
2) I’m currently helping translate into English In the Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary, the autobiography of my late friend Ngo Van, who died three years ago at the age of 92. Van fought against the French colonial regime in the 1930s and 1940s, then escaped to France when Ho Chi Minh’s Communist Party began murdering or imprisoning all the non-Stalinist radical tendencies. This superb little book will be published next year by AK Press (Oakland).
3) I’ve been meeting with several people regarding possible Kenneth Rexroth projects. A special Rexroth issue of the journal Europe is being planned for next year, and I’m hoping to interest publishers here in publishing French editions of some more of his writings. (Meanwhile, via email, I’m continuing to read and comment on drafts of Rachelle Lerner’s forthcoming Rexroth biography, which will be far better than the lamentable hatchet job by Linda Hamalian.)
4) A French translation of The Joy of Revolution was recently published in Quebec, but I’m looking for someone to do an edition in France. There’s a good chance that it will be Editions Sulliver, which last year published Secrets Publics, a large collection comprising most of my other writings.
* * *
A few days ago I did something I’ve never done before — appeared on the radio. I’ve usually refused requests to be interviewed or to do booksignings etc., feeling that such things are generally superficial and misleading (dumb questions by people who haven’t even bothered to read the texts they’re asking about, with time only for soundbite-size responses), but in this case a woman from Radio Libertaire in Paris offered me a more serious format — a full two-hour program where I could discuss my“skirmishes,” written and otherwise, with her and two friends of my choice. (I picked François Lonchampt and Hélène Fleury, both of whom have worked closely with me on the French translations of my writings.) My impression is that the program went pretty well, although all of us were amazed at how fast the time went — there were lots of things I had hoped to discuss that never even got mentioned.
Much of the interest that people here have in my writings stems from the fact that my personal trajectory is rather different from theirs. Having come from a Mid-America background and having passed through the sixties counterculture before discovering the situationists, I am somewhat of an anomaly, straddling two rather different scenes, trying to compare, contrast, and connect them in various ways, helping to introduce situationist tactics and ideas to Americans while at the same time introducing e.g. Rexroth to Europeans. In each case meeting both interest and resistance — Americans puzzling over the unfamiliarly scathing situationist critical-dialectical style, while Europeans find it bizarre that someone like Rexroth can be a hard-boiled radical while at the same time writing mystical poems, or that I can translate Debord while also engaging in Zen practice (something almost incomprehensible in a secular culture like France, where practically half the population is atheistic and where, for quite understandable historical reasons, even conservatives, to say nothing of radicals, often have the most intense detestation of anything to do with religion). The next issue of the quarterly journal Gavroche will feature an article entitled “Ken Knabb, l’Internationale Situationniste, et la contre-culture nord-américaine”(“Ken Knabb, the Situationist International, and the American Counterculture”) that discusses me in precisely this context — as someone reflecting and assimilating two different traditions of revolt.
You can see a few photos and other material from the radio program at https://chroniques-rebelles.info/spip.php?article301.
A recording of the program is temporarily available at http://media.radio-libertaire.org/php/download.mp3.php?rec_id=66 but I believe it will be there only until next Saturday.
* * *
Apart from these projects, as always I’ve been spending most of my time here seeing old friends and making new ones. Many of them date from the situationist scenes of the 1970s and 1980s (whether or not they are still actively engaged in such things). In between encounters I stroll around Paris, browse bookstores and flea markets, check out an occasional concert or museum (there’s an upcoming Picasso-Manet exhibit at the Orsay, and tonight I’m seeing a renowned actor’s performance of Molière’s Le Malade Imaginaire), or drop by Christian’s place to chill out and play some musical duets (me on guitar, he on guitar or flute). The unfavorable dollar-euro exchange rate has meant that everything is nearly 50 percent more expensive than usual, so I’m not buying much of anything except for a few essential books and I’ve limited my restaurant going mostly to cheap Middle-Eastern and North African joints. This trip, a little shorter than my usual, I’ve stayed exclusively in Paris except for a couple of day-long excursions to the nearly countryside and a three-day visit with Joël and Nadine, who recently moved from Bergerac to Vichy in the mountainous region of central France. (They are responsible for the four volumes of Rexroth writings that have so far been published in France.)
Yet to come: several more encounters, including a Spanish friend who’s flying up from Madrid for my last weekend here. Back to Berkeley October 22, just in time for the election. I don’t have much expectations from the likely victory of Obama and the Democrats, but it will at least be a big relief to finally be rid of Bush and Co. To put things in perspective: By mainstream European standards, Obama would be considered a fairly typical conservative thoroughly in the pocket of the ruling establishment, while Bush and McCain would be considered part of the semi-fascistic lunatic fringe (except that even politicians in the European lunatic fringe at least know how to speak in complete sentences and do not take pride in being folksy ignoramuses).
Miscellaneous photos of Paris:
Account of Ken Knabb’s 2008 Paris trip.