Saturday, December 2, 2023

The Revolution of Everyday Life, Chapter 1

Summary of Chapter 1: The Insignificant Signified.

The title is a play on semiotic terminology. Vaneigem provides his own brief summary of each chapter, and here is this one's:

Because of its increasing triviality, daily life has gradually become our central preoccupation (1). No illusion, sacred or deconsecrated (2), collec­tive or individual, can hide the poverty of our daily actions any longer (3). The enrichment of life calls inexorably for the analysis of the new forms taken by poverty, and the perfection of the old weapons of refusal (4).

Similarly (not surprisingly) to the premise of the Society of the Spectacle, the opening falls into the Death-of-God, disenchantment-of-the-world tradition. V writes that we are like cartoon characters who have rushed off a cliff and have yet to notice. “Lucidity” is an awareness that the spectacle/etc. is not satisfying, that there is something wrong; that we are off the cliff and falling. [The potential felicitous connection with “lucid dreaming” does not appear to be invoked.] “Everyday life” appears as both an illusion and an unnoticed or underappreciated source of potential understanding or inspiration: “There are more truths in twenty-four hours of a man’s life than in all the philosophies” (21). Philosophers see everything upside down (a very Marxian reversal-style criticism, favored also by Debord).

The analyst tries to escape the gradual sclerosis of existence by reaching some essential profun­dity; and the more he alienates himself by expressing himself according to the dominant imagery of his time (the feudal image in which God, monarchy and the world are indivisibly united), the more his lucidity photographs the hidden face of life, the more it 'invents' the everyday. (22)

The Enlightenment accelerated the “descent towards the concrete.” [It would be great if this was a continuation of the falling metaphor; that does not seem to be the case.] Science exposes the fallacy of mysticism, pops its bubble:

I have little inclination to choose between the doubtful pleasure of being mystified and the tedium of contemplating a reality which does not concern me. A reality which I have no grasp of, isn't this the old lie reconditioned, the highest stage of mystification?

This is to be asked to choose between “the false reality of gods or ... the false reality of technocrats.” [i.e., the technocrats support their order by exposing the previous order of mysticism, but they simply ask us to have faith in a new order [which furthermore is beyond our senses, dependent on technology to grasp?]]

Docility is no longer ensured by means of priestly magic, it results from a mass of minor hypnoses: news, culture, city planning, advertising, mecha­nisms of conditioning and suggestion ready to serve any order, established or to come. (23)

There is a reference to the “living reality of non-adaptation to the world:” [with an almost hauntological language of a double or shadow?]:

Art, ethics, philosophy bear witness: under the crust of words and concepts, the living reality of non-adaptation to the world is always crouched ready to spring. Since neither gods nor words can manage to cover it up decently any longer, this commonplace creature roams naked in railway stations and vacant lots; it confronts you at each self-evasion, it grasps your shoulder, catches your eye, and the dialogue begins. Win or lose, it goes with you.

“Non-adaptation” seems to be used usually (e.g. by Leroi-Gourhan, Steven Jay Gould) as a synonym for cultural adaptation, or reliance on technology. V might mean that, or (more interestingly) he might mean a sense of discomfort, of inability to adapt or conform to the mediated world of the spectacle. [It is probably the former, given how often V will speak of "adaptation" throughout the rest of the text.]

Individualism and collectivism are “two apparently contrary rationalities" which "cloak an identical gangsterism, an identical oppression of the isolated man.” -Isms are falsehoods:

The three crushing defeats suffered by the Com­mune, the Spartakist movement and Kronstadt-the-Red showed once and for all what bloodbaths are the outcome of three ideologies of freedom: liberalism, socialism and Bolshevism. (24)

The great collective illusions, anaemic from shedding the blood of so many, have since given way to the thousands of pre-packed ideologies sold by consumer society like so many portable brain-scrambling machines. Will it need as much blood­shed to show that a hundred pinpricks kill as surely as a couple of blows with a club?

Modern consumerism is less bloody than the great ideologies of the past, but it is also weaker, less enthralling, more dependent on constant change and novelty, and this means its illusion grows threadbare:

... to consume without respite is to change illusions at an accelerating pace which gradually dissolves the spaces behind the waterfall of gadgets, family cars and paperback books.

... people are not really tired of comfort, culture and leisure, but of the use to which they are put, which is precisely what stops us enjoying them. (25)

The affluent society is a society of voyeurs.

[In his many references to the technologically-enabled illusions of modern consumerism, it is easy to find imagery applicable to smartphones, e.g.,:]

To each his own kaleidoscope: a tiny movement of the fingers and the picture changes.

But the kaleidoscope of consumerism is just a new kind of monotony:

The monotony of the ideological spectacle makes us aware of the passivity of life, of survival.

Class struggle grew as a response to this, a refusal; contra mainstream Marxism, V argues that not just workers should be considered as revolutionary, but also artists; he lists various romantic poets and asks, “wasn't this also poverty and its radical refusal?” it was a mistake for revolutionary Marxism to “turn its back on artists,” especially now:

What is certain is that it is sheer madness a century later, when the economy of consumption is absorbing the economy of production and the exploitation of labour power is submerged by the exploitation of everyday creativity. The same energy is torn from the worker in his hours of work and in his hours of leisure, and it drives the turbines of power which the custodians of the old theory lubricate sanctimoniously with their purely formal opposition. (26)

The importance of the revolutionary potential of art and poetry, etc., have to do with the importance of the everyday as a potential subversive realm:

People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints – such people have a corpse in their mouth.

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