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‘They were jokes’: The Situationist fiction of Michèle Bernstein

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In 1960, Paris-based Situationist Michèle Bernstein published the first instalment in a pair of novels that playfully ‘knocked-off’ the popular literary genres of the post-war era and which the author has subsequently dismissed as jokes. Principally concerned with Bernstein’s first book released through Buchet/Chastel in 1960, Tous les chevaux du roi (2004)/All the King’s Horses (2008), this article explores how this fake romance novel heavily laden with irony provides a front for a deeper level cultural critique. While previous responses to Bernstein’s novel treat it as either an eye-witness account of the everyday life of the Situationist International (1957–1972), or as propagandizing for a libertine revolution of the passions, a focus on the insincerity and ‘joking’ of the author highlights the novel’s more pressing concern for performing a Situationist critique of reification. At the same time, Bernstein’s ambivalent treatment of the popular genre of the teen romance novel raises complex questions about some of the gendered aspects of the Situationist critique. For this reason, this article also explores how the performative rehearsal of boredom, banality and cliché in All the King’s Horses (2008) calls into question the radical potential attributed to desire in the avant-garde’s project to enact a revolution of everyday life under commodity capitalism.
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Keywords: Michèle Bernstein; Situationist International; avant-garde; détournement; novel; reification

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of New South Wales

Publication date: October 1, 2015

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  • The Journal of European Popular Culture investigates the creative cultures of Europe, present and past. Exploring European popular imagery, media, new media, film, music, art and design, architecture, drama and dance, fine art, literature and the writing arts, and more, the journal is also of interest to those considering the influence of European creativity and European creative artefacts worldwide.
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