Everyday Life 2: Le quotidien dure

As James Brown would say, “I’m back!” Yesterday’s “live” blog was pretty ridiculous, but at the end of the day it helped me accomplish the reading and that’s what matters. Thus, I bring you part two of my everyday life theory blog. Today’s challenge? Henri Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday Life, Volume I. I’m feeling a little more confident heading into this one as I’ve recently read significant chunks of both the first and second volumes, including the second of the two chapters I’ll be looking at today. No introduction or conclusion distractions this time around; I didn’t bother to photocopy them, opting instead to adhere to Pam’s Comps Commandment: To thine own comps list be true, i.e. NO MORE OVER-READING! Enjoy.

Chapter 4: “The Development of Marxist Thought”

10:15 – You’ve gotta love a chapter that begins, “…one may say, Marxism already offers a complete critical knowledge of everyday life! No.” No. Bam.

10:20 – “aufgehoben,” or “to abolish something (as it was) and to raise it to a higher level” “at the same time” // Bolter’s “remediation” (or any of the new media theories that “resolve” the many binaries (that essentially amount to “good” v. “bad”) by opting for the “both” explanation, or the incorporation, extension and supersession argument)

10:35 – I just lost a fair amount of time looking up “supercession” and “supersession” on dictionary.com and the OED online.

10:41 – I love (or strongly dislike?) how much use I get out of individual summaries of Marxist theory (like the one Lefebvre provides at the beginning of this chapter). One of my greatest concerns as a “scholar” (yeah, I still feel the need to scare-quote that term…also to turn “scare quote” into a verb) is my discomfort and nascent knowledge/understanding of Marxism. Do some people emerge from the womb with a copy of Capital in their hands? Is this taught as the go-to theory everywhere but where I did my undergraduate studies?

10:46 – “The human has been formed through dehumanization – dialectically.” (180)

10:52 – For someone who slammed the insufficiency of Marxism in the chapter’s opening sentence, he sure has come around. Marxism, as it turns out, is still the answer, but a specific kind of Marxism, i.e. Lefebvre’s.

10:53 – I am taking notes and marking up my photocopied reading with a purple pen.

10:58 – DO!

11:00 – *moment of silence*

11:22 – Or a few moments…

11:26 – “Literature does not deserve to be held in excessively high esteem, but nor [?] does it deserve the fate of being degraded by resentful, disappointed people….Literature cannot bring us salvation, because it needs to be saved itself” (186). I think this is the first time in all of my “cultural studies” comps reading I have come across this sentiment. To be honest, I expected to encounter it a whole lot more.

11:28 – Lefebvre’s refrain: “Action and action alone…”

11:31 – The “new man” is/should be – apparently – capable of finding “the appropriate level for talking precisely about things” (186). Way to sell it and not vague it up at all.

1:10 – Yep, this is my life. URGENT phone calls, URGENT emails, URGENT distractions leading to other distractions…and I have to leave to teach in less than an hour. Won’t be getting much reading done this afternoon…

1:18 – “The immediate – the given human raw material of everyday life – at one and the same time reveals and disguises the deepest of realities, both implying them and concealing them.” (189-90)

1:21 – “Here is a major problem which Marxists know well: to find a link between the immediate and the solutions Marxism proposes, so giving the immediate a positive function as practical and historical intermediary between theory and reality.” (190) This seems potentially problematic to me, for several reasons. 1) ‘Finding’ a link easily slides into “forcing” a link, where Marxism emerges only as the “right” answer/strategy because someone (or many people) has/have already decided that this is the case. In other words, the theory begets the reality, as opposed to the other way around (I do not deny the possibility of this, but question its desirability as a critical practice). 2) The idea of ‘giving the immediate a positive function’ implies that it lacked such a “positive” valence on its own, and/or that functionalizing it (the “immediate” or “human raw material”) is necessarily “good.”

1:39 – Some of this is a little cheesy, a little obvious, a little beside the point…

1:43 – For a limited time only, get your Dialectical Materialism/Marxism for the low, low price of forgoing all other theories (because there is only one). Act now! No, seriously, act now. For real, guys. Just do it.

1:45 – “…nowadays, we do not know how we live. And at the end of our lives, we scarcely know how we have lived them.” (195) – Henri Lefebvre, on The Oprah Winfrey Show

1:52 – When Lefebvre gets down to business describing his “How we live” project (196), all nuance of thought seems to go right out the window. All of a sudden “the Frenchman has long been one of the most exploited members of the capitalist universe” (197) and is “rushing headlong into slavery” (198), and we can dare to know “what is true and what is false” (197). I’m not down.

1:56 – Done! Just in time to run for the bus…Will continue with next chapter later this evening.

Chapter 6: “What is Possible”

7:22 – I read this a few months ago for a course on the archive and everyday life. I’m curious to see if my thoughts/opinions have changed.

7:23 – I only have about 40 minutes to read before I have to leave to go see Jackass 3 (no, not a typo…an IOU for a friend). Hopefully I will be awake enough to finish the reading upon my return later tonight.

7:25 – “…the optimistic idea of ‘Progress’ lacks flexibility and dialectical understanding.” (229)

7:30 – “life is lagging behind what is possible” (230) – I think I initially read this a few months ago in far less Marxist terms. It’s funny, though, reading it now with a better understanding of its context, I’m kind of let down. “What is possible” but not realized ends up as no more than the gap between the haves and the have nots: a valid, but ultimately unimpressive statment.

7:43 – Oh, right. Initially published in 1947. I need to bear this in mind when I read about the U.S. as “a country where the general crisis of capitalism has scarcely begun” (235). Hehe. Old writing is old.

7:49 – Argh, it’s nearly impossible to do reading well (yeah, that’s a legitimate phrase) when you know you have to leave in mere minutes. I so wanted to be at least halfway through before taking off but I don’t know if that’s going to happen…

7:53 – Trying to decide if the terms of Lefebvre’s “false individuality” or “façade of individuality” (237) are equivalent to the terms of Adorno/Horkheimer’s “pseudo-individuality.” Obviously they are similar, but I don’t think they are equivalent- not that discerning slight variations between the two is really of any use…

[Note: It took me three tries to get that “ç.” It appears my memory of Alt codes, painfully garnered in my undergraduate years while working towards a Minor in French, has grown somewhat fuzzy. Le sigh.]

7:58 – And with that I think, unfortunately, I must call it quits. For now. Time for a ridiculous movie and possibly some popcorn. Back with more later tonight.

[Note: While this may look like a neat transition of an hour or so – and I wish it was – this transition was in fact brought to you by…the past few days. Whoops.]

9:06 – And so we begin again in order to conclude…

9:12 – The everyday is just like Auschwitz? No. (I know this isn’t straight up what he’s saying, and I know treating the Holocaust as an event apart, an exception, could be as dangerous as not recognizing it at all, but c’mon. Are [the feelings of those in the camps with regards to the simultaneity of the absurd and the rational] not precisely the most constant of all the feelings underlying everyday life…? Not precisely. Um, no.) That having been said, I’m imagining what it would have been like to attempt to critically address the concentration camps in 1947…and it’s kind of blowing my mind.

9:18 – “…the everyday life of the ‘modern’ man in modern towns and on industrial housing estates…is tragically controlled by unresolved contradictions and by the most painful contradiction of all: that between absurdity and Reason, both equally inhuman, both indivisibly united.” (244)

9:21 – The crux of the comparison: “if Fascism represents the most extreme form of capitalism, the concentration camp is the most extreme and paroxysmal form of a modern housing estate, or of an industrial town…[T]he link is clear.” (245-6)

9:23 – The habitual, the everyday, the quotidian is revealed in the exceptional…

9:25 – “The possible,” as Lefebvre uses it here, is not just the positive, the potential, but also the negative, the regressive (i.e. “the possibilities of man and Reason can be transformed into the most monstrous of realities” [246]).

9:27 – “…should we…wish to ‘look into the future’…there is one childish error we must avoid: to base the man of the future on what we are now…[W]e should acquire…another attitude of the human being towards himself.” (246)

9:30 – “no one individual can really grasp what the overall meaning and consequences of his labour might be.” (247)

9:32 – “The modern individual is ‘deprived’ not only of social reality and truth, but of power over himself.” (248)

9:37 – “With its speculative (metaphysical) vocabulary, philosophy is itself part of human alienation. But man has developed only through alienation: the history of truth cannot be separated from the history of errors.” (249)

9:44 – “Dialectical method applies its criticism to its own efforts as well. The ‘vision’ of the world it strives for, a vision it first glimpses at certain ‘moments’ of thought – the total conception of the world, the possibility of the total man – will only make sense once it stops being a ‘vision’ and a ‘conception’: once it penetrates life and transforms it. This ‘philosophy’ wants to be serious without taking itself seriously.” (251)

9:49 – Oh, Lefebvre. You had me until “genuine humanism:” “Going beyond the emotional attempts by philanthropists and sentimental (petty-bourgeois) humanists to ‘magnify’ humble gestures, and beyond that allegedly superior irony which has systemically devalued life, seeing it merely as back-stage activity or comic relief in a tragedy, the critique of everyday life – critical and positive – must clear the way for a genuine humanism, for a humanism which believes in the human because it knows it.” (252)

9:50 – FIN. In the end, does Lefebvre really say anything more here than ‘shit is real’? I don’t know. I think the second volume of Critique had a lot more useful stuff. Or maybe I’m crazy…

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~ by pamelaingleton on 13 November 2010.

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