Michèle Bernstein

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Michèle Bernstein

Michèle Bernstein is a French writer and a critic, best known as a founding member of the Situationist International. Throughout her career, spanning the Lettrist International to the S.I., Bernstein served as a crucial contributor to the groups’ publications, such as Potlatch and Internationale situationniste. In conjunction, Bernstein worked in a variety of different capacities, from advertisement to writing horses’ horoscopes for racing magazines. Bernstein also published two détourned novels in a Situationist manner, Tous les chevaux du roi (1960) and La Nuit (1961), spoofing different literary genres while narrating her relationship to Guy Debord. The success and proceeds of the books were used to support the Situationists, including the publication of Debord’s La société du spectacle.

 

Born in Paris, France in 1932, Bernstein had been attending the Sorbonne when she met Guy Debord, Gil J. Wolman, Patrick Straram, among others, who had recently broken off from Isidore Isou’s Lettrisme around 1952 and were establishing the Lettrist International. After joining the movement, Bernstein subsequently wrote in the bulletin Potlatch, discussing concepts of the derive in “Derive by the mile” (1954), for instance. In 1954, Bernstein wed Debord.

 

In 1957, as the Lettrist International had slowly become disintegrated, Bernstein and Debord established the Situationist International alongside the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus and the London Psycogeographical Committee. For the next decade, Bernstein wrote numerous essays in the Internationale situationniste, such as “In Praise of Pinot Gallizio” (1958) and “The Long Voyage” (1960). In 1964, Bernstein wrote an article on the S.I. to the Times Literary Supplement.

 

Around this time, Bernstein and Debord split—the subject of the series of poems that Debord wrote to Bernstein in the Beinecke’s collection. In 1967, Bernstein left the S.I. as the longest standing member of the group, stating that she was “becoming allergic to the constant inversion of the genitive.” Thereafter, she rekindled her connection with a former member of the S.I. Ralph Rumney, and moved to England. In 1972, Bernstein and Debord officially divorced. From 1982, Bernstein worked as a literary critic for the French journal Libération.

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 Michèle Bernstein is a French writer and critic who is best known for her deep and crucial involvement with the Situationist International. As a founding member of the SI, Bernstein served on the editorial committee of the Internationale situationniste until her resignation in 1967. She was married to Guy Debord from 1954-1972. 

Michèle Bernstein Papers

The Michèle Bernstein Papers contains a rich collection of personal correspondences, deeply intimate poems, and photographs largely from the 1950s and 1960s, detailing Bernstein's relationship with Guy Debord and her involvement in the Internationale Situationniste. A key highlight is the series of 22 autograph manuscript poems by Debord addressed to Bernstein, recently made public in 2022. In addition, there are correspondences that reveal the interpersonal dynamics of the S.I., as well as Debord's thoughts on essays pre-publication in the Internationale situationniste. Complementing them are writings, maquettes, proofs, and manuscript edits for issues no. 1-9 of the Internationale situationniste, 3 monographs of the Skandinavisk institut  for sammenlignende vandalisme's Bibliothèque d'Alexandrie seriesand situationist tracts such as "Notes on the Situationist International." 
 

Collection Highlights

  • Personal Correspondences

Spanning from 1956-1968, the autograph letters from Debord to Bernstein discuss essays in advance of the publication in the Internationale situationniste, as well as Debord's La société du spectacle and the personal relationships among Asger Jorn and Raoul Vaneigem, among others. The correspondences reveal Bernstein's crucial role as an interlocutor and an advisor for Debord and the S.I.

  • ​Poems

Written in 1965, when Debord and Bernstein were separated, the poems--in the form of small booklets or scraps of paper--yield an unrivaled insight into Debord and Bernstein's relationship and internal dynamics. 

 


 

  • Photographs

Informal portraits of various members of the S.I. and other acquaintances, such as Gruppe SPUR, Jean Michel Mension, Jean Claude Guilbert, and more. There are also photos of Bernstein and Debord around 1960s. 

  • Maquettes

Maquettes and proofs of no. 1-9 issues of the International situationniste, with handwritten manuscript edits.

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Finding Aid:
To view a detailed listing of contents for the Michèle Bernstein Papers and to request materials for consultation in the Beinecke Reading Room, visit the Online Finding Aid

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