critique of everyday life by henri lefebvre (1)

peter osborne inspired me to tackle this again, which i was supposed to do forever ago.

i think this is a very clever connection: the turn of the twentieth century, in which 'writers and artists began to find life more beautiful, more 'free,'' coincides with 'the era of finance capitalism . . . characterized by the extreme abundance of unfixed capital on the move, seeking investments - or avoiding them in a series of exoduses' (124).

from here, lefebvre turns to the theme of nineteenth century literature, 'the marvellous,' through which 'nineteenth-century literature mounted a sustained attack on everyday life which has continued unabated up to the present day' (125). the signal figure is baudelaire (lol: 'a little buffoon, a second empire bourgeois ham' (142)), who 'abandons the metaphysical and moral plane to immerse himself in the everday, which . . . he will deprecate, corrode and attack, but on its own level and as if from within' (126).

this is lefebvre's reading of the painter of modern life, baudelaire's essay in which he demands the artist 'perceive the eternal in the transitory' and so 'confront the everyday' and 'tear through it,' a gift granted only to the genius: 'the power of seeing the mystery traced like a watermark beneath the transparent surface of the familiar world is only granted to the visionary' (127). (maybe just my fixation but i hear a lot of rancière here.) lefebvre traces this hostility to everyday life through most of the major artistic movements of the 20th c.

lefebvre reads this as a symptom of a modern neurosis, an 'ambivalent infantilism' which refuses to adapt to/conceptualize an unbearable reality (140), 'a 'spiritual' inability to live' (143). this ironic stance--i think we could call it depersonalization--leads to 'a perpetual expectation of something extraordinary' which is in fact 'a dissatisfaction which seeps into the humblest details of day-to-day existence' (141). so artists 'try to reanimate the old category of mystery, but on the level to which it had declined, on the level of the perceptible and the everyday' (142). the great irony is that, rather than rejecting the world, this stance accepts it, 'since it is transposed, instead of being transformed' (143).

the venom of lefebvre is perhaps due to the elitism he perceives here: 'average life is repudiated; human life is relegated to the rank of the 'enormous and stupid' masses' (145). because 'life must be 'made nothingness'', 'poets now only like beings for the forms in which they can be expressed' (145). against this almost ascetic view, lefebvre wants to 'reaffirm the certainties of human community' (146).

so, what to do about the 'great conspiracy against man's everyday life' (147)? 'the true critique of everyday life will have as its prime objective the separation between the human (real and possible) and bourgeois decadence, and will imply a rehabilitation of everyday life. . . . to rehabilitate the masses - the masses of instants that philosophers condemn to 'triviality' as well as the peoples that poets relegate to the shadows - are related tasks' (147).

uh, and that's the first chapter. i'm gonna have to condense these notes a bit more i think.

lefebvre continues the idea of valorizing the everyday through 'a scientific theory of social labour,' 'this totality of labour' which 'has modified and transformed the face of the world' (154). in this there is nothing hidden but that which does often go unperceived. and further, there is no need to look for an internal reality: 'since words and gestures produce direct results, they must be harnessed not to pure 'internal consciousness' but to consciousness in movement, active, directed toward specific goals' (155). he coins the clunky 'thought-action' for this, but i think the basic concept here anticipates the use of 'performative' in austin, derrida, butler, etc. he (abruptly) extends this to a critique of the great men theory of history, advocating for a synthesis of everyday life with history.

alright that's all i'm gonna read for now.