Critique of everyday life vol. 1 by Henri Lefebvre****

Reading dates: 25 October 2014 – 22 January 2015

Critique of everyday life was Ian’s choice for DiaMat. Having read and discussed David Harvey, one of our heroes, it was time to read one of his big influences. As Ian read during our discussion, Harvey writes:

Marx’s account of how capitalism arose out of feudalism in fact embodies such a “co-revolutionary theory.” Social change arises, he argues, through the dialectical unfolding of relations between seven moments within the social body politic:

a) technological and organizational forms of production, exchange and consumption
b) relations to nature
c) social relations between people
d) mental conceptions of the world, embracing knowledges and cultural understandings and beliefs
e) labor processes and production of specific goods, geographies, services or affects
f ) institutional, legal and governmental arrangements
g) the conduct of daily life and the activities of social reproduction.

And so Lefebvre deals with the last point. His work is a curious book, curiously written. Each of the six chapters is a world of its own in terms of focus and style. The first one, which very nearly put me off, is a rant against surrealism, literature and Baudelaire. It makes contextual sense once the other five chapters are read, but I felt there was very little critical distance in this writing. There is a lot in this book but I also found a lot of it difficult to grasp. While I understood the purpose and benefits of Dialectical Materialism as a method, I was not very clear on how one thinks dialectically; while I got very excited about the everyday and its critique, I am not sure I fully understood what it was. The centrality of alienation was clear, poetically explained, passionate: when ‘duality is exacerbated until even insanity is seen as acceptable’ (131), and we discussed how it begins with language (after John Zerzan).

The book does not remain in the theoretical, however, it is a call to action: ‘action and action alone can guide critical thinking, because it detects deception—and because it is deception which deflects from action’ (201). It is a good argument to Marxism and Marxist dialectical method where there is a ‘unity of theory and practice’ the tenet that sums up Marxism (198). But, again, the revolution is not quite clear to me. Lefebvre writes: ‘But in the last resort the revolutionary solution to economic and social contradictions will only become possible when the human masses are no longer willing to live as before’ (197). This, we argued, will be more of a process than an event, one that perhaps goes through other phases. We talked about space capitalism, green austerity, fully automated luxury communism. We considered the market and its forces, and sighed at Adam Smith’s nice conception of the market only being good for baubles and trinkets. Sadly, the market runs everything today. Including art. There is a lot in this book for the artist and the artivist, beautiful slogans, quotable passages. If this does not make you creative, nothing will:

When the eternal appears in the circumstantial — the marvellous in the familiar – the result is a beautiful work of art (122).