Figuring Out What to Do With All the King’s Horses

by Alex Kitnick

Among the various drawings and postcards taped on my refrigerator is a picture of Guy Debord, Michèle Bernstein, and Asger Jorn sitting at a café, their slouched bodies and cocked eyes suggesting that they’ve had more than just a few. The image comes from Debord’s 1959 film, On the Passage of a Few People Through a Rather Brief Moment in Time, and below my photocopied still there is a fragment of text borrowed from the film’s narration: “At every moment,” it reads, “groups and individuals find themselves faced with outcomes they had not expected.” Though one imagines that such a situation would not have been too surprising for the three protagonists pictured—they all spent ample time at cafés doing just this sort of thing—the question “How did we get here?” haunts the frame nonetheless.

In addition to being a filmmaker, Debord was also the chief theorist and ringleader of the Situationist International (SI), a group of activists and artists who understood the world to be increasingly structured by spectacular social relations, the result of a steady accumulation of capital. A number of strategies were enlisted to ward off this stultification. By taking epic walks (dérives) through the neglected areas of urban centers, the group sought to both reorganize the city and rekindle subjectivity. Jorn reworked thrift-store paintings according to the principle of détournement, transforming staid landscapes into uncanny scenes, and Bernstein generated a vertiginous range of texts, from book reviews to horoscopes to novels, one of which, Tous les chevaux du rois (All the King’s Horses, 1960), has just been translated into English in its entirety for the first time. Like Jorn’s paintings and Debord’s films, Bernstein’s novel similarly seizes upon found objects—in her case, popular teen novels—infiltrating their forms in hopes of brushing thought against the grain.

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Alex Kitnick has participated in the Whitney Independent Study Program, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the department of art and archaeology at Princeton University.

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