The Night


By Brendan Byrne.


“Language is the poisoned air we live in. In spite of all our jokers, words don’t play; and in spite of Breton, they don’t make love except in dreams. Words work, to the profit of the dominant organisation of life.”

The above quote is from the polemic ‘All the King’s Men’ which appeared in Internationale Situationniste #8 in 1963, three years after Michèle Bernstein’s novel All the King’s Horses. The titles are not taken from the same source. The editors of Internationale Situationniste (of whom Bernstein was one) explicitly reference Humpty-Dumpty, whereas her novel takes its title from a traditional French ballad. In ‘Aux Marches du Palais’, the coupling of a royal and a commoner is imagined, creating what Greil Marcus called “as deep and singular an image of revolution as there was ever been”. This different ethic of love fuels the shared plot (such as it is) of All the Kings Horses and its successor The Night (1961): a married couple’s seduction and abandonment of two young lovers. All the King’s Horses tells the story in an irony on the style of Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse. The Night mimics Alain Robbe-Grillet’s nouveau roman, fracturing the more or less undisturbed chronology of its predecessor.

The reality of the street


The revolutionary act of urban walking.

There was a whole band of urban ramblers exploring the insalubrious and unheralded districts of London during the interwar years. In books such as Gordon S Maxwell’s The Fringe of London, Thomas Burke’s The Outer Circle and James Bone’s The London Perambulator, the previously overlooked suburban hinterland of the city was treated with the same reverence as more conventional heritage sites. The workaday city was celebrated as a land rich in legend and wonder. In the same period, George Orwell was undertaking his politicised tramps around London and into the Kent countryside to experience the hardships endured by the homeless and destitute; then he walked his way from Coventry to Wigan Pier, chronicling the “distressed areas” of the north.

Yet it was a bunch of Parisian gadabouts who turned this damp-tweed form of subversive schlepping into a codified art. For members of the Situationist International (SI), such drifts were fact-finding missions for the transformation of urban living and society in general. The walks were recast as dérives and the findings formed the new pseudo-social science of psychogeography. The intent was overtly revolutionary. Radicalism was not cloaked in the guise of a walking guide; the SI’s ambulatory studies of the Paris suburbs were “reconnaissance missions” for the revolution that was to come – and it very nearly did in May 1968.


Margins of the city


‘Baudelaire, Benjamin and the Birth of the Flâneur’ by Bobby Seal.

It is, therefore, clear that Baudelaire established a tradition that moved through the early modernists, to the Surrealists and on to the Situationists. As part of the latter movement, Guy Debord developed the notions of the dérive and the ‘spectacle’. A dérive (in English ‘drift’) is the means by which ‘psycho-geographies’ are achieved. A drift is an unplanned walk, usually through a city or marginal area, and a psycho-geography involves the walker creating a mental map of the city which, “depends on the walker ‘seeing’ and being drawn into events, situations and images by an abandonment to wholly unanticipated attraction.” (Chris Jenks (ed), ‘Visual Culture’)