The Critique of Everyday Life: The One-Volume Edition
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Lefebvre's classic analysis of daily life under capitalism in one complete volume
The three-volume text by Henri Lefebvre is perhaps the richest, most prescient work about modern capitalism to emerge from one of the twentieth century's greatest philosophers and is now available for the first time in one complete volume. Written at the birth of post-war consumerism, Critique was an inspiration for the 1968 student revolution in France. It is a founding text of cultural studies and a major influence on the fields of contemporary philosophy, geography, sociology, architecture, political theory and urbanism. Lefebvre takes as his starting point and guide the 'trivial' details of quotidian experience: an experience colonized by the commodity, shadowed by inauthenticity, yet remaining the only source of resistance and change. This is an enduringly radical text, untimely today only in its intransigence and optimism.
Archer put the paper down and looked around at his fellow passengers. They do not look American, he thought; perhaps I shall report them to the proper authorities. 46… Archer walked down Fifth Avenue, past the shops with their windows full of dresses, coats and furs, and the women rushing in and out of the doors, their faces lit with the light of purchase. It is the new profession of the female sex, he thought – buying. If you wanted to set up an exhibition to show modern American women in their natural habitat, engaged in their most characteristic function, he thought, like the tableaux in the Museum of Natural History in which stuffed bears are shown against a background of caves, opening up honeycombs, you would have a set of stuffed women, slender, high-heeled, rouged, waved, hot-eyed, buying a cocktail dress in a department store.
To be creative in art one must seek a certain pathway, committing oneself to it and pointing the way towards it. The philosopher still has a part to play, by pointing out the risks, the dangers; and how a straight line – a linear orientation, without deviations, without meanders – is generally a practical impossibility. This is the place, or the moment, to mention one of the most gifted up-and-coming French authors: Roger Vailland. 40 This is not only because he has defended classicism against Brecht,41 but also and above all because Vailland the novelist has his own problem: that of confronting everyday life with a ‘vision’, or with images, from somewhere else.
How has the speaker seen or heard about the things he narrates? How has he been able to foretell or sense what will happen next? Who has detected the characters’ motives (hidden even to themselves)? And as he is drawn on by the great movement called ‘reading’, with whom does the reader identify, in whose consciousness does he participate? Roger Vailland’s solution, the novel as first-person evidence, is not without its drawbacks. It corresponds too closely to the general tendency to bring the novel nearer to journalism and autobiography.
A former bureaucrat, a poor old man with rheumatism and funny little habits who dies like everyone else, and whose corpse smells bad. Hélène is the magic, mysterious woman, the pure feminine myth sought by Raphael, who finds her through a chance encounter, only to lose her again in the disappointment of her realness. Raphaël lives in a hermetic and mysterious world, an incomplete being, alone and powerless. Lost in the society he has rejected, he seeks refuge in a magical world where conflict has been eliminated, where everything is reassuring, and resolves his problems by denying that they exist.
They were part of the real lives of human beings – thoroughly authentic, affective and passionate forces. Then, with the appearance and development of rationality, they were doubly modified, along with their relationship to everyday life. (a) Demotion – Gradually ritual becomes gestural. The diabolical becomes shameful, ugly. Myth becomes legend, tale, story, fable, anecdote, etc. Finally, the marvellous and the supernatural fall inevitably to the level of the weird and the bizarre. (b) Internal transformation and displacement – Everything that once represented an affective, immediate and primitive relationship between man and the world – everything that was serious, deep, cosmic – is displaced and sooner or later gradually enters the domain of play, or art, or just simply becoms amusing or ironic verbalization.