I have had no need to travel very far
In Guy Debord’s autobiography, Panegyric, he describes having spent the greater part of his life in Paris, specifically within the triangle defined by the intersections of rue Saint-Jacques and rue Royer-Collard; rue Saint-Martin and rue Greneta; and rue du Bac and rue de Commailles.
However, for the last 20 years of his life, Debord spent increasing amounts of time in an isolated house at Champot Haut, situated in Bellevue-la-Montagne, a commune (population c. 500) in the Haute-Loire département of the Auvergne. From 1975 onwards, Debord spent most summers and a few winters there with his second wife Alice Becker-Ho.
The idea of Debord as a Landscape writer is not one that would immediately spring to mind, yet over a few pages in Panegyric, Debord paints a lyrical elegy to the natural world and landscape of Champot.
Inaccessible • isolated • surrounded by woods
I have even stayed in an inaccessible house surrounded by woods, far from any village, in an extremely barren, exhausted mountainous region, deep in a deserted Auvergne. I spent several winters there.
snow • drifts • logs • fire
Snow would fall for days on end. The wind piled it up in drifts. Barriers kept it off the road. Despite the surrounding walls, snow accumulated in the courtyard. Logs were piled high on the fire.
at night • an opening to the Milky Way • stars so close
The house seemed to open directly onto the Milky Way. At night, the stars, so close, would shine brilliantly one moment, and the next be extinguished by the passing mist…
a land of storms • horizon flashes • under siege
It was a land of storms. They would approach silently at first, announced by the brief passage of a wind that slithered through the grass or by a series of sudden flashes on the horizon; then thunder and lighting would be unleashed, and we would be bombarded for a long while from every direction, as if in a fortress under siege.
a lightning strike • an illuminated landscape • an irrevocable brilliance
Just once, at night, I saw lightning strike near me outside: you could not even see where it had struck; the whole landscape was equally illuminated for one startling instant. Nothing in art has ever given me this impression of an irrevocable brilliance, except for the prose that Lautréamont employed in the programmatic exposition that he called Poésies…
high winds • shaken trees • relentless assault
High winds which at any moment could rise from one of three directions, shook the trees. The more dispersed trees on the heath to the north dipped and shook like ships surprised at anchor in an unprotected harbour. The compactly grouped trees that guarded the hillock in front of the house supported one another in their resistance, the first rank breaking the west wind’s relentless assault…
clouds traverse the sky • winds retreat • relaunch
Masses of clouds traversed the sky at a run. A sudden change of wind could also quickly send them into retreat, with other clouds launched in their pursuit.
all the birds • chill of air • shades of green • tremulous light
On calm mornings, there were all the birds of the dawn and the perfect chill of air, and that dazzling shade of tender green that came over the trees, in the tremulous light of the sun rising before them…
the arrival of autumn • a sweetness in the air • ‘the first breath of spring’
The weeks went by imperceptibly. One day the morning air would announce the arrival of autumn. Another time, a great sweetness in the air, a sweetness you could taste, would declare itself, like a quick promise always kept, ‘the first breath of spring.’
in the square • extraordinary encounters • the owl of Minerva
In the midwinter nights of 1988, in the Square des Missions Étrangères, an owl would obstinately repeat his calls, fooled perhaps by the unseasonal weather. And this extraordinary series of encounters with the bird of Minerva, its atmosphere of surprise and indignation, did not in the least seem to constitute an allusion to the imprudent conduct or the various aberrations of my life. I have ever understood where my life could have been different or how it ought to be justified.
a pleasing and impressive solitude
It was a pleasing and impressive solitude. But to tell the truth, I was not alone: I was with Alice.
At Champot, on 30th November 1994, Guy Debord shot himself through the heart with a single bullet.
Now playing: Jean-Claude Eloy – Chants pour l’autre moitié du ciel / Songs for the other half of the sky.
Guy Debord, Panegyric Volumes 1 & 2, translated by James Brook and John McHale (London: Verso, 2004).
Andy Merrifield, Guy Debord (London: Reaktion Books, 2005).