(text read at La Plaque Tournante, Berlin, june 2015, for the Broutin's retrospective)
(manifestants, Nantes, avril 2016)
Lettrist movement remains as the most controversial and the most underated avant-garde of the twentieth century. Even if some of his early members have known a brilliant literary career as Guy Debord, many of them are still considered as minor figures of modern art ; Guy Debord finally gave up the project of a daily life and poetical revolution, and he’s now a classic of the critical literature, his later writings offer an amazing and misanthropic dismissal of the modern world, from a moral and aestetic point of view ; this negative beauty is now totally recognised by he cultural institutions ; counter-culture engages with the mainstream culture ; that mortal and ultimate accolade of the opponent came in 2013 when the French National Library decided to buy his complete archives. It seems obvious that the post-modern context neutralises the most subversive aspects of the latest avant-gardes coming in the post World War II period and offers a patrimonial consecration which is more or less a way to express the ending story ; the anti-art, the non-art, are now considered as classics of the mainstream culture.
As it happens for the studies of the French political collaboration during World War II and the Vichy government with the historian Paxton, some incredible light went from the United-States with the publication of the now classical Lipstick Traces of Greil Marcuse in 1989; this book reveals the outsiders of official History ; Greil Marcuse has a truly strange point of view, he sees radical minorities as the manifestation of a theological and mystical spirit, from time to time some heroes start again the secular struggle against the mainstream culture ; below the official institutions History is made by thoses underground figures who leave for a moment their native underground to change society ; it was at this time quite new to give such attention to the lettrist group because in France lettrism was seen as a preamble of the International Situationnist, the situationnists were viewed as the ultimate avant-garde who remained the major key to understand the events of May 68 and the conflictual relationships between art and politics from Dada to the sixties, Lettrism seemed to be too interested in art, and not enough in politics in a marxist way ; in the french academic context Lettism group was voluntary ignored because lettrist artists defend aestetical and political point of view breaking with the surrealist and dadaist heritage in a time where the marxist was as said Sartre the « unsurpassable horizon » ; there was no alternative to the marxist hegemony in the leftist cultural area. The dadaïst position of the Proletarian kunst manifesto (the german dadaist action with Hausmann and Hulsenbeck) was mainly a call to overcome and refuse the «serious culture » considered as an element of the class domination. In a way Fluxus and the International Situationnist resumed and developped in the sixties the dadaïst anti-art position which was first marginalised by the triumph of the surrealism and his more academic topics (paintings and poetry) during the thirties. The most radical artists in the post world war period were more interested in destroying the artistic justification of the class domination instead of taking part in it, by bringing some new works and creating with a new modernism the newest illusion of the never ending art history. In Potlach number 22 Guy Debord and Gil Wolman revisited their participation to the lettrist movement and the split that ended the case « chaplin » in 1952 :
« The tendency still in the majority saw the creation of new forms as the highest value of all human activity. This belief in formal evolution without cause or end, other than in-itself, is the basis of bourgeois idealism in the arts. (The imbecilic belief in immutable conceptual categories lead some ex-members of the group to an Americanized mysticism.) Drawing conclusions that an idiot such as Malraux didn't dare or know how to draw from essentially similar premises, the Lettrists' rigorous application of the benefits of experience brought about the definitive collapse of this formalist demeanor by taking it to its limit, the giddy acceleration of evolution around emptiness, in a clear break from all human needs. »
The artistic activity was condemned because instead of overcoming the aestetic and social domination of a class, it increases the power of this class and its values against the working class and a universal emancipation : the artistic act is often viewed as a superior use of time meanwhile the rest of society is submitted to the obligation of production, the creative act is considered by artists as orginal and unique against the products of the advanced capitalism that contributes to the misery of daily life… both Situationism and post dada Fluxus artists tried to escape from the trap of recuperation refusing to produce works that could take place in the museum and the decorum of the an unchanged society. The promotion of traditional culture by Henry Flint, the utopia of an artistic situation outside the world and the language of the modern art wanted to realize a kind of cultural communism by rejecting the heroic and epic figure of the modern artist, who criticizes by his controversial works the social order but takes advantage and benefits of this trangressive position which is the most valorised position in the later capitalism and his fetitchism of the new (« always new » as a law and tradition following Rosenberg) and the subversion.
The main interest of the lettrism in the mid of the twentieth century was that he claimed to break with this marxist heritage and defend the autonomy of the cutlure and artist area againt the marxist reduction ; When Isou arrived in Paris in 1945 , he wanted to be published by the famous editor Gallimard, literature and arts remain as important as they obey to the principle of creation, he pretended to open a new historical age, he had a clear understanding of general depletion of the occidental and cultural system ; in his programmatic autobiography Agregation of a name and a messiah, he developped largely his view about the ethic of creation and defined for the new generation an ideal of existence and the utopia or fa new society emancipated form the old world and his misery : abundance and joy. The creative act enables a chance to escape from the dailylife misery, it increases the quantum of satisfaction for the artist but also for the whole society, in the isou’s conception the solitatry and creative act must become by subversion or tactical inflitration a social and collective recognised value. That’s why breaking with the marxist heritage, isou’system never considered art as an illusion, alienation or mystification but as a way to join partly a possible paradisiac experience, he insisted often in his polemic texts against the situationnists on the anthropological necessity of aestectic experience. The superiority of the new against the old, a traditional « marker » of modernity, takes with Isou a more theological dimension, the culture shaft needs all its branches, from philosphy, theology until art, sciences and techniques, and each branche has its avant-guarde that goes beyond the limits and broadens the scope of knowledge and practices.
Accordingly as an ultimate and total avant-garde lettrism via his visionnary theoritician pretends to revolutionize each cultural branch ; politically Isou didn’t wait to constitute the lettrist movement to have a political and formative experience ; the sources of his massive Uprising of the youth (three volumes, first published in 1949, second and third 1972 without considering the three supplements and the numerous tracts) come from a critical reading of marxism and liberalism, their historical failure to end social antagonisms but also from his own experience in Romania as member of a sionist left group first, and after as member of a youth communist organisation. Isou as jew saw in the world War Two II the triumph of fascist organizations, many of them attracted an important part of the youth. His political and economical views bring out the presence of a non-class of individuals, without any status inside the economic circuit. In the early fifties this analysis was a real anticipation of the demographic transformation during the sixties and the seventies of the occidental society with the development of a new class of age : Youth as radical outsider. Isou confirms the presence of an antagonism but deeper and larger than the class warfare from Marx : the outsiders, without rent, political reconnaissance or juridical status, want to be integrated and accepted in the mainstream fields, they aspire to a better place and fight for the right to existence with the insiders who want to keep their place safe ; the insiders want to keep rights, rents, symbolic or material advantages, create barriers to avoid the negative effect of this concurence ; the progressist left saw the extension of mass scholarship (Loi Langevin-Vallon) as a consecration of a right to education meanwhile Isou criticised this obligation as an alienation : instead of creating and producing as free economic actors, the youth lose their best time in new jails called schools, high-schools and universities. The insiders by this way keep them far away from the better places. Isou assures that a good education reform could give to the students the best of each cultural branch in a short time, to help them to create the best conditions for their social intergration. In his Uprising of the youth isou, - another real anticipation on the sixties -, shows the symbolic violence of an institution that keeps bodies and minds forced to adapt and to wait for a place whereas the youth explore, aspire to new values and a new way of life ; the violence in social conflicts shows above all the violent answer from the outsiders and the way to transform the economic circuit and the social organisation to gain at least a place which was denied to them. The description of social organisation as a field within which conflicts and oppositions construct individual position if now a classical scheme of sociology, especially developped by Pierre Bourdieu to descibe the litterary institution ; it was peviously used as a seminal concept to understand the structure and the nature of employment or in the social sciences (Outsiders by Howar beckman) but in the French post war context dominated by holist and classist analysis, the isou’s formulation (externs versus interns) was too individualist for the left and too interventionalist for the right ; isou was more reformist than revolutionary, he regarded the marxist and fachist revolutions as a social and economical regression for the nations and their populations, but he offered a new explanation ; he wanted to prevent social disorder by giving the best diagnostic and the exact therapy to avoid violence in history ; as long as society admits its externality, violent uprising, revolution, disorder and delinquency will represent the negative way of affirmation for the outsiders ; Isou doesn’t limit the concept of outsider to describe the social structures of society, he quantifies economicallly the losses and the gains of all those social dysfunctions : the outsiders bring both negativity and creativity following the opportunites given or refused by the insiders ; the counter-culture of the sixites and the seventies represent a good illustration of isou’s theories : the youth of the proletarian class find in punk culture a way of life, a culture that responds to their aspiration, they organised themselves, created their own marginal economy (label, records, concerts, fanzines) and ended totally integrated into the mainstream business that first rejected all of them. Their success contributes to transform the culture more effectively than the communist programme and his proletarian struggle. Isou thought against radical romantism (situationnist and surrealist), he argued that the success of the outsiders was a gain for the whole society ; in today’s policitical rhetoric the lettrist programme promoted some inclusive reforms that included to reduce the time of studies, to give to the youth the right to vote at 18 (21 at that time), a capital to start economic activities… Isou was right when he sublined the conservatism of both left and right regarding to the youth ascending, he tried to value the dynamic brought by the youth meanwhile the insiders are more submitted to routine and accomodation with their situation ; those who have nothing have nothing to lose ! in the fifties such point of view could only be received as a joke ! The lettrist group tries to promote their programme and ideas through two newspapers The uprising of the youth (1952/1954 founded by Marc O and Yolande de Luart) and the Youth Front (founded by Maurice Lemaitre) but Communist party was in France the first political party and the emancipation of the youth wasn’t at all their priority ; the french tradition of the left refers above all to collective concepts as republican values or class revendications opposite to the individual self affirmation suspected of introducing liberal evil in their collectivist catechism. At last, Isou refused the division between left and right, this cleavage has strongly structured the French political life since the revolution of 1789 ; Isou showed how the outsiders without any attachment, outside the classes, far away from the social center and its norms could follow any movement that enables them to escape from non existence and gives them a future : in the Front de la jeunesse (1950) was published an article that asked the liberation of militiamen who collaborate in France with nazi troops against the resistance ; the collaboration or the resistance has represented two ways for the externs and the youth to exist as historical subjects and gain a social integration that was materialised by superior level of existence ; each party pretended to represent the only way to satisfy the aspiration of this turbulent and unstable mass who wants to go beyond the limits, to conquer a place left upset by the established order. Surely they fought to maintain old ideas and old people at the same place. Wether the petainist national revolution or the resistance, the youth had always been enlisted by the insiders to their exlusive benefits ; the lettrists called the youth to fight for their own interests : liberation from familial, social, and scholar slavery, and solidarity between all the youth beyond the factual situation of each other. Consequently despite their low audience, the lettrists have always hoped and resaerched to have an influence on the academic world (correspondence wih the demograph Alfred Sauvy) and the political staff (numerous letters to personnalities for exemple to the challenger of François Mitterand, Michel Rocard), they finally participed in elections as Maurice Lemaître, the most implicated in the promotion of the uprisng of the youth, who applies for legislative in 1967 with a reformist programme that clearly announced the events of may 68. The students disturbances and university strikes from students realised the worrying prophecies made by isou’s manifesto, The paradox was that students were explaining their revolt in a marxist paradigm whereas their acts truly illustrated an insurrection totally new in its forms. For those from the left who were dreaming about a permanent revolution the myth of the youth and its values (the opening to the future, the liberty, the availability due to a floating social position…) have now become ideas strongly defended by the insiders as the ideal way of life. The perpetual youth is more or less an obligation ; the true outsiders and youth see as in France their economics and social conditions deteriorate and at the same time the insiders who represent the older part of the society, and the more favorised from an economic point of view, are talking about adventure and future ! Jean Pierre Legoff confirms the Isou’s view when in his book Mai 68 the impossible heritage, he notes the importance of the demographic criteria : the sociology of the country radically changed in less than two decades and all the social institutions should have been reformed to avoid a generational clash.
Beyond the idea of youth, the concept of externity can represent an comprehension to the marginalised and dissident individuals, the diversity of ways outsiders follow to affirm their minority status, in opposition to the social norm. Michel Lancelot considered in early seventies lettrists as the father of the counter-culture : the lettrists have always been organised as an active minority, with an organisation (self-edition, non-official and alternative events and manifestations, micro-economical logistic, home-made newspapers, tracts and scandals…) ; there were absolute outsiders, there was no market for the works they proposed, no place for the lettrist poetry on National radio or museum to expose hypergraphic paintings… « condamned » to a clandestine activity looking for handovers and connections with academic area (Paulhan, Michel Tapié…). Very early Isou adopted a tatic of conquest, he would bring the political and revolutionary language in the artistic insitutions, to carry out a new form of beauty and install new artists as tomorrow’s classics. Each outsider, without any romantism, hopes to penetrate the market, his institutions, and change his life by transforming the social organisation, by the reforms or the revolution and redistribuate as a consequence places, pensions and distinctions. With the youth and the avant-garde, the future is the ultimate and decisive social legitimation, that contests the present and its figures devoted in the name of a future that comes as their absolute denial. As the « globalisation » is destroying the previous social structures, the delicate balance negociated after the World War II is now over : in the today capitalism the term of externalisation (outsourcing) is required to designate the new conditions of fragmented labour market between insiders and outsiders ; the urban condition shows similar splits between « territories » mainly gentrified and the perpipheric suburbs where people remain in every sense of the term far away for the best opportunities (work, flat, social services…). The revendication of the outsiders are necessarily more critical than the claims of the insiders, and from this point of view the left political organization has difficulties to relay the aspiration and the urgency of the outsiders because to a certain extent they claim for radical reforms while the insiders are more preoccupied with maintening their standards of living even it leads to exclusion. For exemple many books will be published probably in septembre about the tragic terrorist attack of january in Paris ; Emmanuel todd recently caused great emotion in France when he explainded in his book Who is Charly ? (four journalists of this satiric leftist newspapers were killed during the attack) because everyone wasn’t really Charly ; in fact the charly’s supporters were mainly upper middle class and probably mainly white and urban : in the poorest suburbs many students refused to respect the minute of silence, they contested the right of joking about god, some of them even considered terrorists as heros in order to provoke, immigrant youth didn’t seem concerned by national mourning. The governement adopted typical and conservative reading of the events and political solution : surveillance, restriction of freedoms, tougher juridical sanctions… the government talked about creeping threats, young misfits under bad influence in quasi psychatric terms, they didn’t consider terrorist violence at all and the empathy for it as a political affirmation, a radical opposition and critic coming from the margins against society ; it was a sheer paradox to see the Prime minister, the most neoconservative of the socialist party, getting out of the Hotel Matignon showing the satiric newspaper as a new national flag ; the satiric newspaper, child of the liberterian spirit of may 68, is now an element of the political power and its neoconservative choices : surely Todd is right when he claimed that the insiders were massively Charly’s supporters and that the outsiders were not. The Uprising of the youth is still, and in more effencient way than the hypothesis of a clash civilisation or class warfare, a good paradigm to understand the new radicalities coming from the far right (the national revival in a part of a French youth and in Europa) and the lost territories of the French republic (the transgressive ascending of islamist utopia). It represents also as isou esablished the economical cost of non-inclusive politics, a way to transform society and to constitute a new progressist party.
Broutin joined the lettrist group in 1968, it was a surprise for him to read theories that explained the actual students actions in a book published in 1949. Broutin as an artist did a remarkable series of paintings which consists in transcription in his own and typical alphabet of significative passages of homonym and hard to find last volume of the economical Treaty of Isou, Le désir paradiaque et l’externité. Broutin was a representative artist of a new generation that joined the group in the late sixites (Poyet, Gillard, Curtay), typically «externs » without any connexion with the artistic area, they all developped their own artistic identity basing their work on the lettrist concepts and surely receptive to the youth movements of that period ; New artistic horizons needed new artists, each singular style confirms the efficiency and the validity of the theory, Broutin quickly found his way (the meticisation act) ; Broutin has been involved in many actions of the group (publishing, events) he has recently given a more political orientation to his work, in opposition to the conservative reactions in France against the gay civil rights ; his conceptual work Les habitants de new york shows the connections with the contemporary art, considering people living in New-York City as a part of a « living sculpture » ; even if lettrist artists are above all connected with historical avant-gardes, it’s obious that a part important of their works have much to do (and to propose) with contemporary art.