Regrettable Misunderstanding

Attila Kotányi and the Situationist International



Attila Kotányi was a member of the Situationist International between 1960 and 63; he formed the program, and was the head of the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism, a member of the editorial committee of the French IS bulletin, was involved in the discussions about the conceptual direction of the SI, as well as a signatory to important manifestoes of the movement, most significantly the great text written on the Paris Commune. Despite all the engagement and activity, his name rarely appears in the vast post-Situationist literature and his contribution to the Situationist heritage has virtually never been analyzed. At most, he has been remembered for his harsh exclusion from the SI, which he called at the time the result of a “regrettable misunderstanding”. The speculations below are an attempt to explore the depths and range of this “misunderstanding”.

I regularly visited Kotányi for two years at the end of the 1990s, in his flat in Ág Street in Budapest. At these “Sabbath conversations”, as he liked to call them, a small group of people, mostly young artists and writers, would gather every Saturday to engage in meandering, prolonged dialogues proposed (and often dominated) by Attila. His personality, his predilection for the “living word” and for paradoxes, his poetic use of language (many of his sentences still resonate in me), and also his passionate outbreaks of temper made him a unique point of orientation for many of us in the sterile soul-searching of the Hungarian cultural scene of the time.

The primary focus of the conversations was a special mixture of gnosticism, existential mysticism and radical idealism inspired by his philosophical master Lajos Szabó, but Kotányi’s insight into critical art and philosophy as well as the workings of capitalism (naively considered by opinion makers a panacea for the maladies of post-socialist Hungarian society) was also formative. I learned of and became intrigued by the Situationist Internationale through his acquaintance. This interest led me to dig into whatever I could lay my hands on by and about the SI, then later to translate, among shorter situationist texts, La société du spectacle into Hungarian and probably also to incorporate the findings of my reading of the situationist experience into my work as an artist. Regrettably, although he repeatedly offered to share memories of that period of his life, he passed away before I got to the level of formulating essential questions.

The story begins in 1960 when Kotányi, then living in Bruxelles, Belgium, got into contact with Guy Debord. He had just left behind a deeply depressing period caused by the shock of emigration (Raoul Vaneigem remembers (1) that Attila, a life-long nonconformist, wore a tie all the time that they were forced to spend in the emigrants’ camp in Yugoslavia, choosing this pathetic bourgeois symbol to keep up the appearance of humanity in inhuman conditions), the violent split with his philosophical master Lajos Szabó and the serious existential troubles that surrounded him and his family of four. As an authoritative figure with a thorough philosophical education as well as experience of a real revolution – the 56 revolution in Hungary – behind him, he gained Debord’s trust and was welcome and appreciated among the younger situationists. (2)

He started publishing in the French SI bulletin, became a member of the editorial committee and worked in that position for four successive issues. In the summer of 1963, apparently out of the blue, he submitted a proposal to his comrades with the outline of a radical reorientation for the movement. The text and his persona was “unanimously” accused of mysticism by the situationists and as a consequence, he got expelled from the SI in September of the same year in what was, compared to the few prior and countless successive exclusions, the most orchestrated effort of the SI to provide a bloody exemplum to the outside world of the ideological firmness, purity and cruelty of the movement.

Kotányi does not reconcile himself to these events for the rest of his life. In Amor Fati, a biographical documentary made by his younger daughter Sophie Kotányi at the turn of the millennium, he calls Debord an “infantile, idiotic corpse, a fascist, an Eichmann”. Guy Debord on the other hand seems to be more forgiving: he placed (a somewhat scared looking) portrait of Attila in his 1978 film In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni, accompanied by implicitly self-critical, elegiac sentences mourning for lost fights and lost companions.

At the time Attila joined the IS, the group was at the beginning of the process of self-bureaucratization, and a lot was still proceeding on an informal basis. Attila throughout his life had a “good nose” to smell where important things were happening. Intrigued by some texts he had happened to read, he went straight to Paris and knocked on Debord’s door. A strange friendship would develop whose psychology susceptibly had an important role in how things for Attila would evolve.

I see this friendship as a mutually inspiring, passionate meeting that developed in creative electric discharges and unavoidably gravitated towards a split. Both were endowed with a “great sense of power” (Vaneigem), had strong positions and authoritarian tendencies, sharing a lack of the sense of irony and humour, and had a drive to radical avant-garde elitism with all that it involved: hatred of worldly power, representational democracy and capitalist manipulation, as well as contempt for the petit bourgeois, the democratic “mass-subject”.

At the same time, Debord was a leader, Kotányi, by character and education, was not. Debord had a machiavellian tendency of instrumentalising theories and people for the goal of the revolution. Kotányi’s critique was, on the one hand, less goal-oriented, on the other more philosophical. To shed light on this, a short summary of his formation seems necessary.

After the communist take-over, roughly from 1946 until his emigration in 1957, Kotányi was part of a close circle of dissident intellectuals, called in some places the “Budapest Dialogical School”, lead by Lajos Szabó and Béla Tábor. Mostly due to the total political-cultural isolation characteristic of the times, this group, consecrated to dialogical philosophising, operated exclusively on a theoretical level without the slightest hope of outreach towards society. Starting out of the Marxist, counsel-communist and the (much less relevant) anarchist fermentation in Budapest of the 1910s and 20s (Lukács and his circle), they reached radical idealism by the 30s.

This radical idealism, among other things, embraced the dialogical thinking of Ferdinand Ebner, Martin Buber and Stefan Rosenzweig, essentialist sciences as mathematics or physics, and the study of gnosis and Kabala. Szabó and Tábor advocated total abstinence from public activity; against the “watery claims of unity of theory and praxis” they stood for the uncompromising primacy of theory, meaningfully criticising all the currently available, “cutting-edge” spiritual tendencies from Marxism to sociology, Positivism, psychoanalysis and the existentialist thinkers alike (see their co-authored pamphlet Vádirat a Szellem ellen – “Indictment Against the Spirit” – of 1936).

In this sense, they were way more radical in their overall critique already in the 30s than the situationists who tried to safeguard the revolutionary fervor of young Marx and advocated the obscure conception of “theory in praxis”. At the same time, the radicality of Szabó, uncompromised in its self-inflicted withdrawal from the “spectacle”, confined to the dialogue of a limited number of people, also saved him and his circle from “speaking the language of the spectacle” – a compulsion that critical intention imposes on us, as mentioned by Debord in the Society of the Spectacle. (3)

The differences between Kotányi and Debord are also conspicuous in their relationship to language – language is anyway a field most susceptible to create misunderstandings. Kotányi preferred to call himself a poet; for him, poetry was based on the deep trust in language, in the definitional power of the “living Word”, the imperative of verbalizing everything in the most direct – dialogical – way. (4)

Just like his master, Lajos Szabó, he was more of a speaker than a writer; he could never get close to that level of fluidity and explosiveness in writing that was his own when he was conversing (not even in his native Hungarian). Debord, by contrast, was a natural born, passionate writer, somewhere in the line of the young Marx. In his writings, the sarcasm, the “détourned” quotes from a host of sources, create an irresistible, if often overcomplicated and redundant, flow. But this virtuoso, quasi-analytical prose always instrumentalizes language, which is the diametrical opposite of Kotányi’s inner tendencies (in one of his later texts, for example, he compares dialectics to the “Dance of Shiva” that “is in no-one’s service”). (5)

Let us now try to draw some consclusions from the traces Kotányi left on the pages of the Internationale situationniste, the central mouthpiece of the movement. His debut is an autonomous text (6) called Gangland and Philosophy (7) that appeared in the 4th issue of the SI in June 1960. The text is an example of what has been said above concerning Attila’s limitations as a writer: the analysis is elliptic, the conclusions obscure, its reasoning is fragmented, the references superficial. Nevertheless, its lucky substitution of social space with gangland would become an important reference among the situationists, according to Vaneigem.

The text strings several situationist themes on the thread of social manipulation and conditioning. It exposes the basis of capitalism in the programming of individual thinking which happens through “informational bombardment” and territorial domination, that is, urbanism (“city planning”). I quote one of the conclusions: “We should develop a glossary of détourned words. I propose that ‘neighborhood’ should often be read Gangland. Similarly, social organization = protection. Society = racket. Culture = conditioning. Leisure activity = protected crime. Education = premeditation.” While talking about urbanism, he politely quotes Debord: “’Integral art, which has been talked about so much, can be realized only at the level of urbanism’ (Debord)” but he adds: “…if … we expect the largeness of scale in itself to generate favorable results, we will have committed the most serious error”, thus smuggling in a certain criticism.

In the 5th issue of the SI (December 1960) his name is already listed in the editorial committee. An important text in this issue is the protocol of the 4th S. I. Conference in London. (8) The Conference was opened by Kotanyi with a report. He spoke about the foundation of situationist bases (“mansions” – something that resonates with the idea of a “hacienda” in Ivan Chtcheglov’s famous text), their material equipment and the establishment of the conditions of their communication as the most important task of the “pre-situationist” period (that is, the one preceding the construction of situations). All other activities (propaganda, publications etc.) should be subordinated to this task. The proposal can tentatively be read as the outlines of an imaginary heterachy of semi-independent centres in permanent communication, operating locally.

But things went in another direction. The London Conference brought about the strengthening of Guy Debord and the French-Belgian section, with Kotanyi among them. A Central Council was formed whose members were elected by the conference and whose decisions made with simple majority would be binding for the whole membership of the Internationale in the time between two Conferences. With these changes, the federation that had provided bigger autonomy to the national sections was left behind. The Central Council ended up practically corresponding to the editorial board of the SI bulletin. Kotanyi was elected into the Central Council, and, taking Constant’s seat, he would become the new leader of the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism that moved from Amsterdam to Bruxelles.

The Elementary Program of the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism, signed by Kotanyi and Vaneigem (the latter only made corrections in the phrasing; the text was in essence written by Kotányi), (9) was published in the SI n.6. The Program summarizes the guidelines consensually accepted by the London Conference in 10 clauses. The main body of the text is the critique of various aspects of capitalist urbanism. The fundamental point is that “All space is already occupied by the enemy, which has even reshaped its elementary laws, its geometry, to its own purposes.” In line of what he had said at the London Conference, he proposes that the viable situationist solution is “the setting up of bases for an experimental life, the coming together of those creating their own lives on terrains equipped to their ends.” With this concrete work the point can be reached where “present city planning (that geology of lies) will be replaced by a technique for defending the permanently threatened conditions of freedom, and individuals – who do yet not exist as such – will begin freely constructing their own history.” All this, just like everything else, directly depends upon the revolution of everyday life.

Urbanism was the central problem for the S. I. from the beginning. One of the first texts in the SI #1, in 1958, Document for a New Urbanism, a visionary flow, was written by Ivan Chtcheglov back in the lettrist times, in 1953. In the text virtually all the keywords of the S. I. – dérive, détournement, psychogeography – appear, and cities are primarily criticised for their lack of poetry, their unliveable greyness: “We are bored in the city”. It is here that unitary urbanism starts getting shaped as the favoured terrain of the Situationists whereby the Aufhebung (“supersession”) of art will be delivered. Such focus got remarkably strengthened with the arrival of Kotányi who in Bruxelles had studied city planning, adding it to his first diploma in architecture.

The 7th number of the SI (April 1962) was an important turning point in the Internationale’s history. The avant-garde paradox penetrating the whole movement, the die-hard dialectics of critique and creativity (analysis or poetry), engagement and autonomy, seems to have become the central issue. Kotányi’s name appears in the protocol of the 5th Gothenburg Conference of the Internationale. The events of the Conference, the unfolding animosity, foreshadowed the “big scission” by which the German and the Scandinavian sections would soon be excluded from the Internationale.

The discussion on the schedule of the Conference transformed into an endless, self-inducing process of self-definition. It was partly about an attempt to establish a shared platform facing new groups approaching the S. I. (where the German and the Scandinavian sections were stressing national autonomy while the French and the Belgian called such control “incommensurate” in the name of internationalism and unity).

Another group of questions concerned the “labeling” of the artistic activity of the Situationists, especially considering the situationist doctrine that there is no such thing as situationist art. The debate is introduced by Vaneigem: “It is a question not of elaborating the spectacle of refusal, but rather of refusing the spectacle. (…) There is no such thing as situationism or a situationist work of art or a spectacular situationist. Once and for all. (…) Our position is that of combatants between two worlds – one that we don’t acknowledge, the other that does not yet exist.” (10)

Kotányi’s follow-up deserves to be quoted in its entirety: “Since the beginning of the movement there has been a problem as to what to call artistic works by the members of the SI. It was understood that none of them was a situationist production, but what to call them? I propose a very simple rule: to call them ‘antisituationist’. We are against the dominant conditions of artistic inauthenticity. I don’t mean that that (i.e. art production by Situationists – ME) has no value. I don’t mean that we could continue to exist without doing that. But at the same time we know that all that will be recuperated by the society and used against us. Our force is in the elaboration of certain truths which have an explosive power whenever people are ready to struggle for them. At the present stage the movement is only in its infancy regarding the elaboration of these essential points. The level of purity characterizing the modern explosives is not yet one of the whole movement.”

Kotányi’s neologism – antisituationist – is generally approved, with the only exception of Jörgen Nash. It is worth noting how permissive Kotanyi’s approach is compared to Vaneigem’s and, arguably, Debord’s. He literally says artmaking is a sine qua non, which, at the same time, does not exclude the understanding of this art as food for recuperation. He professes a painful duality which can only have a “magical” solution in the paradoxical poetry of the neologism. The second part of his comment though generates a debate. The German Heimrad Prem finds in it “abstract consciousness, a monologue on purity” – not without reason. He reproaches the French section for their maniac purity that causes the SI to miss real chances of intervention offered by culture. Kotányi seems to have managed to create here an “explosive”: the debate heats up; in a clash of emotions they start calling each-other names. Two fronts are formed – “ludic” situationists on one side (Germans, Scandinavians), “theorists” (French, Belgian, Dutch) on the other. In the end, mostly due to Debord rhetorical skills, the Germans “exercise self-criticism”.

The Conference comes to a resolution that they would unify the situationist publications, to avoid the deviation. Kotányi and Jacqueline De Jong would be ordered to the German situationist journal Spur with the unlucky task of “supervising the theoretical development” of the German comrades. This ambiguous solution is clearly insufficient. Shortly after the Conference Spur would be published “illegally”, that is, avoiding censorship, therefore the whole section was excluded. In parallel, Jorgen Nash would fail at a “coup d’état” and, with the excommunicated Scandinavian section found the Situationist Bauhaus in the colony of Drakabygget in Southern-Sweden (which, besides, remains the only realised “situationist base”).

In post-situationist analyzes the 1961 turning point is either criticized for the elimination of playful creativity from the agenda or hailed as the advent of a new era of political radicalization but both sides agree that the SI as a phenomenon cannot be understood without considering this dichotomy. The great project of the Situationists as essentially a militant avant-garde movement was to culminate in the historical avant-garde program of eliminating the separation of life and art, at the cost of superseding the latter. On the way, the contemplation of art’s – the avant-garde’s included – complicity and its, if indirect, support to the dominant ideology, the disappointments with artist members of the Internationale (among else Pinot-Gallizio and Constant) as well as the frustrated or failed attempts at “supersession” by the SI as a group (11) brought about an animosity towards art in general, primarily on the part of Debord, which ripened by 1961.

We know from Vaneigem, that Kotányi had a hard time dealing with such a turn of the events. (12) His view of art, too, was iconoclast – he endorsed the critique of the image as representation, as information and manipulation – but for him there was no question that after the destruction of the spectacular image something would remain: the icon (eikon) itself. He was a reductionist himself but with the inculcated philosophical hope that the things reaching the dialogue of yes and no, the Zen, dance and calligraphy, the directness of “small children, indigenous peoples, new proletariats: a third of mankind”, (13) get prepared for transcendence.

Transcendence is the theme of another individual text by Kotányi, in the same issue, called The Next Stage (L’étage suivant), (14) which has also a revised version in German, in the first issue of Deutsche Gedanke, a journal replacing the Spur. Both versions are strangely intricate and inconsistent even by Kotányi’s standards, but one can detect that the author is nourishing a certain optimism as to the future of the SI – even if it also has the smell of wishful thinking. The texts can be read as direct reference to the discussions at the Conference, but Kotanyi seems to realize here that finally the moment arrived when it is possible to really face the inherent contradictions in the situationist programme, to start the journey towards transcendence, towards real critique. In retrospect it can be stated that this tentative hope led Kotanyi to submit his famous “program-proposal” which resulted in his exclusion.

The French article makes a reference to certain Theses of Hamburg. With these theses, Debord, Kotányi and Vaneigem would outline the conclusions of the great “dérive” they made on their way back from the Gothenburg Conference. Nevertheless, the Theses were never published. Debord writes in 1989: “(…) these rich and complex conclusions can have the most fortunate summary in this formula: ‘The SI now has to realize philosophy’. But not even this formula was ever written down. (…) The Theses of Hamburg were important at least in two regards. First, because they marked the most important turn in the S.I’s history. But they are just as important as experimental practice: as striking innovation in the line of the artistic avant-garde groups that up to then wanted first of all to make themselves heard. (…) the Theses of Hamburg marked the end of the first era of the SI – the research on the field of truly new art; and at the same, they marked the starting point of the operation which would lead to the 1968 movement and its consequences.” (15)

What this boils down to is that in Debord’s opinion the time had finally come to remorselessly throw away art which had increasingly been a burden for the group. It seems, Kotányi and Debord interpreted differently their most intimate collaboration. (At the same time, in private conversations even Kotanyi admitted that this might have been the moment when Debord did feel the real chance, the one of 1968 which escaped Kotanyi.)

Another derivate of these virtual Theses of Hamburg is a text signed by Debord, Kotányi and Vaneigem called the Theses on the Paris Commune, (16) published as a pamphlet in 1963. These call for a return to the playful, instinctive “revolutionary urbanism” of the Commune, interpreting it as one of the few real successes of the working class and the direct precursor of the Situationist International. To my taste this is one of the most consistent situationist texts, which is a further sign that the Hamburg days were spent in creative euphoria.

In the issue of January 1963 Kotányi’s name only appears among the editors. In the 9th number (August 1964) a laconic communiqué informs us: “In 27th October 1963 the SI excluded Attila Kotányi from its ranks. The aforementioned had submitted to the Situationists a text proposing a basic theoretical turn. The turn in question is extremely retrograde up to mysticism. The text and its author was unanimously rejected. A. Kotányi later tried to arouse the rumor that all this is a regrettable misunderstanding and that he would soon get back to contact with the SI. We also regret to say no: his text spoke clearly. So did we.” (17)

Debord and his remaining comrades published a separate communiqué (Vaneigem accounts that it was written by Debord himself) that offers some indirect information about Kotányi’s proposal (up to this date, the proposal has not been found). According to this, his text was an almost caricaturistic critique of works and thoughts of reference for the theoretical and practical orientation of the SI, completed by Gnostic and transcendental claims. What they resented most, it seems, was caricature which adds up interestingly to the characterization of a group whose main weapon against their enemies was ruthless caricature. Attila later explained that he had been urged by the realization that the critique of the spectacle would blow up the self-consciousness of the same and it would be easy to recuperate – which later was acknowledged by Debord himself, in his Commentary on the Society of the Spectacle. In his critical expectations Kotányi was more radical: medium-criticism that itself produces “dead word” while fighting the same could not satisfy him. (18)

Debord writes apropos of the exclusion to Vaneigem: “Attila has already deified. That’s why he logically claimed godly power for himself: the one of transcendence – not only of revelation but also of obscurity. The right to permanently contradict to himself by always being right.” (19) Or, in the official communiqué on the exclusion: “Our idea of a minimum-success cannot be without the deep subversion of every single condition that is given to us, while for Attila Kotányi (maybe influenced by the memory of the role the intelligentsia played in Eastern-Europe) success could easily be reduced to the recognition of our activity by certain privileged sectors of dominant culture.”

“This point of view of his, the most minoritarian possible, secretly and against all theoretical and practical convictions of the SI, lead Kotányi to build on the idea of authority in his desires. Although the chances for Kotányi to become an authority among us were as low as to turn the Egyptian pyramids into telephone switchboards, still, his efforts in this direction rushed him in two complementary activities where he himself lost his way: on the theoretical level he escaped into low occultism, and on the level of practice into low-standard political maneuvers (themselves contaminated with occultism as they were executed in an awkward and crazy manner).” (20)

Or, in a later quote from Vaneigem: “We have seen one (Kotányi) keep the results of his analyses to himself, communicating them drop by drop with the niggardly superiority of a water clock over time (…)” (21)

Ugly things, disinformation, “character assassination” as you would call it in today’s political discourse, behind which is not difficult to see some inferiority complex and grievance lurking. It all seems to be ill-proportioned deployment of force, even if it is easy to picture Attila, who despised the situationists’ naive Marxism, as short-tempered and arrogant. His treatment is unique even within the SI’s rich history of exclusions and excommunications. Not counting Debord’s paranoid obsession with expulsions that characterized the post 68 years of the SI, only here did it happen that a situationist from Debord’s immediate circle was gotten rid of in such a rude way; Pinot-Gallizio had been sent off with his merits acknowledged, for Constant, Asger Jorn and later Vaneigem a chance had been offered to resign. The other excluded members did something unacceptable in the outside world – building churches, launching counter-journals, having contacts with personae non gratae etc. – while Kotányi only proposed something within.

From the correspondences of the time it is clear that the expulsion was not unexpected; the program proposal only offered a lucky chance to launch the process. We know from Vaneigem that Attila, in the last period, took a critical stance towards the new policies and contacts (notably with the Asturian miners and the Zengakuren) with revolutionary (or terrorist) cells. The other point was his insistence on studying gnostic literature, that is, the famous mysticism he was accused of: “…he kept bugging us with the idea that the study of Kabala is a [necessary] preliminary for the conception of the revolutionary project.” (22) As I mentioned above, Kotányi’s formation predisposed him to an existentialist approach that focused on a dialogue both between individuals and between “I and Thou” (Ebner), which might shed a light on sentences like: “we have begun to better understand the peculiarity of our ‘being-in-the-world.’” (23)

He expected the self-reflexive exploration of this “peculiarity”, the mystical side of humans, from the “next stage” of the SI. Vaneigem in Caricatures… admits that such critique could have been instrumental in avoiding the pragmatic “stalinisation” of the movement that in his opinion started post-63. (24) As the program text has not been found, to draw more conclusions from it would be irresponsible. Nevertheless, I deem it meaningful that it was not published at the time – if it was really so outrageous, wouldn’t it have destroyed Kotányi’s reputation more effectively than all kinds of communiqué?

Personal conflicts, irritation and mysticism aside, a more plausible explanation of the split might be that the SI really nourished the hope of becoming a revolutionary cell, in the classic military-guerilla sense of the word, conspiring with other wanna-be or real revolutionary groups worldwide in which situation Kotányi’s ideas worked as a virus. Attila might have failed at collaborating with a primarily political organization which would pose the question as to what extent he was a “revolutionary” – but this shall be the issue of further research. After his exclusion a new era started in which the SI introduced more substantial monitoring for the new members before their acceptance, to avoid such regrettable disappointments.

In 1960, Attila, escaping the hell of emigration, the isolation, the hopelessness of everyday life, the disintegration of his family, might have made the right choice at joining this group of “brilliantly creative” (his verbal account – ME) young intellectuals who wanted to revolutionize the everyday life with their “drink mixed of thirst” (25) and with their Marxist critique reloaded. It might have seemed to be a community that could substitute the close intellectual circle that he had left behind in Budapest and which had constituted his primary philosophical element. But regrettably, the dynamic of the situationist group, increasingly dominated by Debord, went in the direction of a paranoid bureaucratization (or “stalinization”), with all the ugly power games, the dictatorship of the “we” over the “I”, in which Kotányi could not have found his place any longer.

It is all the more sad as I see Kotányi’s situationist period as his “adulthood”, squeezed between a long apprenticeship and his equally long period as a master, (26) if we understand by adulthood that period of life when one lets him/herself become embroiled in the outside world trying to activate his/her knowledge, to collaborate and confront his/herself with others in productive situations, and therefore to step outside of the self, to make use of it. The Situationist Internationale was a short stage in Attila Kotányi’s life but one that at least left its traces. Not always reliable traces as the Situationists, and Debord in particular, were inclined to write their own history in heroic terms, but traces which deserve more attention.


(1) (1) Raoul Vaneigem, Self-Portraits and Caricatures of the Situationist Internationale, 2015 (the text is a radically shortened and revised translation of Gérard Berréby’s interview book with Vaneigem, –Rien n’est fini, tout commence (“Nothing has ended, everything begins”), Editions Allia, Paris: 2014), as pdf on-line at, p 49

(2) “If there was a father-figure among the situationists, for me that was Attila”, writes Vaneigem in a private mail addressed to M.E. and Balázs Beöthy.

(3) see Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, I/11.

(4) In his above quoted mail, Vaneigem describes Kotányi’s French as very basic but the way he used it strangely made it all the more suggestive. According to Vaneigem, this was part not only of Attila’s charm but also of his intellectual strength therefore they virtually refused to correct his mistakes and conform his speeches and texts to normative literary prose in fear of “blunting the point” of them.

(5) EIKON – exhibition catalogue, p. 29.

(6) There are only two such pieces of writing in the SI After his exclusion he would get some painful, and considering his other important contributions, unjust kicks from Debord about the scarcity of his production, see Guy Debord’s letter to Asger Jorn on the 13th January 1964: „…I admitted two years ago that Kotányi in reality is incapable of creative work.” (

(7) My quotes come from Ken Knabb’s translation at

(8) Excerpts of the document can be read in English at

(9) Private mail by Vaneigem (see footnote 2).

(10) All quotes in the paragraph come from the excerpts of the memorandum, in Ken Knabb translation at

(11) By blaming the political situation, the organisers etc., the situationists famously turned down their big debut in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 1960. In the end, they would produce only one, rather makeshift exhibition in the Galeri Exi Odense in Denmark, in 1963 (Destruktion af RSG-6) where, next to slogans painted on the reverse side of canvasses by Debord, the main attraction was that the audience could shoot at black and white photos of discredited political figures with an airgun.

(12) Raoul Vaneigem suggests that one of the hidden factors behind Attila’s expulsion was that he did not agree with this radicalism; as Vaneigem says, “deep inside he remained an artist”. (source as in footnote 2)

(13) A. Kotányi, Az írott ikon: emlékeztető eredeti természetünkre – Szabó Lajos zen-projekciói (“The Written Icon: A Reminder of Our Primordial Nature – Zen-Projections by Lajos Szabó”) in: EIKON, exhibition catalogue, Műcsarnok-Kunsthalle Budapest, 1997. p. 25.

(14) A. Kotányi, L’étage suivant, in SI 7. 1962, p 47. English on-line at (translated by Reuben Keehan)

(15) Debord’s letter to Thomas Levin in 1989 November, at

(16) In English at

(17) Les mois les plus longs (février 63 – juillet 64), in: SI 9, 1964, p 31-32

(18) cf. A. Kotányi, Is There Any Media Criticism That’s Not Suicidal? Speech presented at MetaForum III. Under Construction, Budapest Content Conference, Oct. 1996, on-line at

(19) Guy Debord to Raoul Vaneigem, 18.10.1963. on-line:

(20) Sur l’exclusion d’Attila Kotányi, December 1963, on-line faximile:

(21) Raoul Vaneigem, Avoir pour but la vérité pratique, in: SI n. 11 1967. p. 37., English at

(22) Vaneigem: Caricatures… at, p 55

(23) A. Kotányi, L’étage suivant, English at

(24) „We threw the baby out with the bathwater”, Vaneigem: Caricatures… at, p 52

(25) A. Kotányi, L’étage suivant, the quoted term comes (un-annotated) from Lajos Szabó

(26) Shortly after his split with the Situationists and some small jobs as an architect, he was reconciled with Lajos Szabó and started teaching at the Düsseldorf Art Academy.