Monday, April 22, 2024

The Revolution of Everyday Life, Chapter 3

Summary of Chapter 3: Isolation

The chapter is bookended by two quotes in Spanish, the first from the poem Reportaje by Jose Hierro, and the last from Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry.

Vaneigem’s chapter summary:

All we have in common is the illusion of being together. And the only resistance to the illusions of the permitted painkillers come from the collective desire to destroy isolation (1). Impersonal relationships are the no-man’s-land of isolation. By producing isolation, contemporary social organisation signs its own death sentence (2). (38)

He presents the [spectacle] through the parable of a cage with an open door, but which no one leaves:

For inside this cage, in which they had been born and in which they would die, the only tolerable framework of experience was the Real, which was simply an irresistible instinct to act so that things should have importance. Only if things had some importance could one breathe, and suffer.

[It would be interesting to explore Vanegeim’s usage of “the Real” here, with that of Baudrillard, Lacan, Zizek, etc.; however, he never returns to it.]

Public transportation in the [carceral archipelago]:

On public transport, which throws them against one another with statistical indifference, people assume an unbearable expression of mixed disillusion, pride and contempt – an expression much like the natural effect of death on a toothless mouth. The atmosphere of false communica­tion makes everyone the policeman of his own encounters. The instincts of flight and aggression trail the knights of wage-labour, who must now rely on subways and suburban trains for their pitiful wanderings. (39)

We have nothing in common except the illusion of being together. Certainly the seeds of an authentic collective life are lying dormant within the illusion itself - there is no illusion without a real basis - but real community remains to be created.

Everywhere neon signs are flashing out the dictum of Plotinus: All beings are together though each remains separate. But we only need to hold out our hands and touch one another, to raise our eyes and meet one another, and everything suddenly becomes near and far, as if by magic. (40)

[Plotinus, of course, meant something completely different, that beings all can be grasped distinctly, but are derived from the One. Nevertheless, the shared appeal to a deeper, more-real, yet hidden reality, is, imho, among situationalism’s chief limitations.]

Much as with the previous chapter on humiliation (and with which this forms part of a series of four chapters), V celebrates everyday, petty forms of resistance, as well as more desperate and destructive measures, as signs of potential of a deeper, more authentic revolutionary urge. For instance, he gives the example of a drunk smashing a bottle in a bar; no one responds to the spirit of insurrection underlying this:

People will be together only in a common wretchedness as long as each isolated being refuses to understand that a gesture of liberation, however weak and clumsy it may be, always bears an authentic communication, an adequate personal message.

On love, similarly:

Some of us have fallen in love with the pleasure of loving without reserve – passionately enough to offer our love the magnificent bed of a revolution. (41)

He quotes approvingly a sixteen-year-old murderer who gave boredom as his motive:

Anyone who has felt the drive to self-destruction welling up inside him knows with what weary negligence he might one day happen to kill the organisers of his boredom. (42-3)

After all, if an individual refuses both to adapt to the violence of world and to embrace the violence of the unadapted, what can he do? If he doesn't raise his desire to achieve unity with the world and with himself to level of coherent theory and practice, the vast silence of society’s open spaces will erect the palace of solipsist madness around him.


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