startling banals

16 March 2008

Scrap of paper from 2001

(from Henri Lefebvre: Love & Struggle)

Vaneigem argued that even the tiniest of gestures - opening a door, holding a teacup, a facial expression - and the most private and individual actions - coming home, making tea, arguing with a lover - have always already been represented and shown to us within the spectacle.

With all meaningfulness confiscated, turned into spectacular forms, everyday life is 'devoid of its glamour representation, experience becomes almost embarrassing, something of which one feels ashamed; an event without a camera', uncool. The spectacle is the ultimate alienation, in which not only one's own handiwork has to be bought back from a store at the end of a working day (old-style alienation) but also one's identity and dreams have been commodified, turned into spectacular, generalized lifestyles and images and sold back to one. The spectacle thus is the triumph of media transformed into commodity. Sadie Plant - 'images and commodities... effectively represent their life to them, people experience reality as second-hand. Everything has been seen and done before..'

Lefebvre shares this vision but at the same time regards everyday life as the plane of immanence in which moments of enlightenment emerge and flash, like sparkles of light on a field of snow. While everyday life is colonized, and even when he adopts the terminology of banality of everydayness to describe it, Lefebvre maintains that everyday life is also the site of the authentic experience of self, of the body and of engagement with others. In effect, he presents a dialectical notion of everyday life which involves a double essentialism - everyday life is both, by definition, alienated and, in essence, also unalienated or authentic material. When this material is recognized for what it is, when it is broken free of the contradicting and mystifying veils of the spectacle and false authenticity, the everyday is suddenly synthesized as unalienated experience, brought to consciousness as the truly authentic. The taken for granted is broken down and an individual attains - even if only momentarily - that status of the 'total person'.

The project was thus -
to conceive everyday life in such a way so as to retrieve it from its modern state of colonization by the commodity form and other modes of reification. A critique of the everyday can be generated only by a kind of alienation effect, insofar as to put into contact with its own radical other, such as an eradicated past.. or an imagined future.


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