Vaneigem's “Revolution of Everyday Life” (1965)
Having read Debord's “Society of the Spectacle” last year, i've gone on to read Raoul Vaneigem's “Revolution of Everyday Life” (1963-1965)[a]. As with my collection of quotes from the former[b], the following quotes are simply those that stood out to me, for whatever reason.
Part I: The Perspective of Power
Chapter 1: The Insignificant Signified3
Everywhere the law is verified: “There is no weapon of your individual will which, once appropriated by others, does not turn against you.”
The three crushing defeats suffered by the Commune, the Spartakist movement and the Kronstadt sailors showed once and for all what bloodbaths are the outcome of three ideologies of freedom: liberalism, socialism, and Bolshevism.
What am I supposed to do in a group of militants who expect me to leave in the cloakroom, I won’t say a few ideas — for my ideas would have led me to join the group — but the dreams and desires which never leave me, the wish to live authentically and without restraint? What’s the use of exchanging one isolation, one monotony, one lie for another?
[W]e see the First International turning its back on artists by making workers’ demands the sole basis of a project which Marx had shown to concern all those who sought, in the refusal to be slaves, a full life and a total humanity.
[Section “Impossible Participation or Power As the Sum of Constraints”]
Chapter 2: Humiliation1
Who can fail to notice the alarming persistence with which ‘socialist’ countries continue to organize life along bourgeois lines? Everywhere it’s hats off to family, marriage, sacrifice, work, inauthenticity, while simplified and rationalized homeostatic mechanisms reduce human relationships to ‘fair’ exchanges of deference and humiliation.
Hierarchical social organization is like a gigantic racket whose secret, precisely exposed by anarchist terrorism, is to place itself out of reach of the violence it gives rise to, by consuming everybody’s energy in a multitude of irrelevant struggles.
The biologist Hans Selye states that “as specific causes of disease (microbes, undernourishment) disappear, a growing proportion of people die of what are called stress diseases, or diseases of degeneration caused by stress, that is, by the wear and tear resulting from conflicts, shocks, nervous tension, irritations, debilitating rhythms...”
The new policemen are ready to take over. The social psychologists will govern without truncheons: no more tough cops, only con cops. Oppressive violence is about to be transformed into a host of reasonably distributed pin-pricks. The same people who denounce police violence from the heights of their lofty ideals are urging us on toward a state based on polite violence.
What about the jealous fury in which the rankling of never being ourselves drives us to imagine that other people are happy? What about this feeling of never really being inside your own skin?
That which produces the common good is always terrible.
From 1945 to 1960, colonialism was a fairy godmother to the left. With a new enemy on the scale of Fascism, the left never had to define itself positively, starting from itself (there was nothing there); it was ale to affirm itself by negating something else.
Before he tried to get himself made President of Martinique, Aimé Césaire made a famous remark: “The bourgeoisie has found itself unable to solve the major problems which its own existence has produced: the colonial problem and the problem of the proletariat.” He forgot to add: “For they are one and the same problem, a problem which anyone who separates them will fail to understand.”
Chapter 4: Suffering
[F]rom Notting Hill to Oxford Street the basic chord is the same everywhere: it’s sinister resonance has sunk so deeply into everyone’s mind that it no longer surprises them. “That’s life”, “These things are sent to try us”, “You have to take the rough with the smooth”, “That’s the way it goes”... this lament whose weft unites the most diverse conversations has so perverted our sensibility that it passes for the commonest of human dispositions.
Christian mythology, which devoted all its genius to perfecting this morbid and depraved precept: protect yourself against mutilation by mutilating yourself!
[P]ower’s problem has always been, not to abolish itself, but to give itself reasons so as not to oppress ‘uselessly’.
From prince to manager, from priest to expert, from father confessor to social worker, it is always the principle of useful suffering and willing sacrifice which forms the most solid base for hierarchical power. Whatever reasons it invokes — a better world, the next world, building communism or fighting communism — suffering accepted is always Christian, _always_. Today the clerical vermin have given way to the missionaries of a Christ dyed red. Everywhere official pronouncements bear in their watermark the disgusting image of the crucified man, everywhere comrades are urged to sport the stupid halo of the militant martyr. And with their blood, the kitchen-hands of the good Cause are mixing up the sausage-meat of the future: less cannon-fodder, more doctrine-fodder!
[A]n inhuman social organization attributes the responsibility for its cruelties to its victims themselves
Hierarchical social organization is like a system of hoppers lined with sharp blades. While it flays us alive power cleverly persuades us that we are flaying each other.
A community which is not built on the demands of individuals and their dialectic can only reinforce the oppressive violence of power.
Revolutionary equality will be indivisibly individual and collective.
To work on the side of delight and authentic festivity can hardly be distinguished from preparing for a general insurrection.
Chapter 5: The Decline and Fall of Work
The duty to produce alienates the passion for creation.
In an industrial society which confuses work and productivity, the necessity of producing has always been an enemy of the desire to create. What spark of humanity, of a possible creativity, can remain alive in a being dragged out of sleep at six every morning, jolted about in suburban trains, deafened by the racket of machinery, bleached and steamed by meaningless sounds and gestures, spun dry by statistical controls, and tossed out at the end of the day into the entrance halls of railway stations, those cathedrals of departure for the hell of weekdays and the nugatory paradise of weekends, where the crowd communes in weariness and boredom? From adolescence to retirement each 24-hour cycle repeats the same shattering bombardment, like bullets hitting a window: mechanical repetition, time-which-is-money, submission to bosses, boredom, exhaustion.
Labor means ‘suffering’. We are unwise to forget the origin of the words ‘travail’ and ‘labour’.
The bourgeoisie does not dominate, it exploits. It does not need to be master, it prefers to _use_.
[I]t seems that the carrot of happier tomorrows has smoothly replaced the carrot of salvation in the next world. In both cases the present is always under the heel of oppression.
The world is being transformed in the direction prescribed by the existence of forced labour; which is why it is being transformed so badly.
[F]orced labour is revealed as belonging purely to the barbaric practices needed to maintain order. Thus power manufactures the dose of fatigue necessary for the passive assimilation of its televised diktats.
Chapter 6: Decompression and the Third Force
When power’s boiler is in danger of exploding, it uses its safety-valve to lower the pressure. It seems to change; in fact it only adapts itself and resolves its difficulties.
The hierarchical principle remains common to the fanatics of both sides: opposite the capitalism of Lloyd George and Krupp appears the anticapitalism of Lenin and Trotsky.
To identify the enemy with Evil and crown one’s own side with the halo of Good has the strategic advantage of ensuring unity of action by canalising the energy of the combatants. But this manoeuvre demands the annihilation of the enemy. Moderates hesitate before such a prospect; for the radical destruction of the enemy would include the destruction of what their own side has in common with the enemy.
As soon as the leader of the game turns into a Leader. the principle of hierarchy is saved, and the Revolution sits down to preside over the execution of the revolutionaries. We must never forget that the revolutionary project belongs to the masses alone; leaders help it, Leaders betray it.
The ideological spectacle keeps up with the times by bringing out harmless plastic antagonisms; are you for or against Brigitte Bardot, the Beatles, mini-cars, hippies, nationalization, spaghetti, old people, the TUC, mini-skirts, pop art, thermonuclear war, hitch-hiking? There is no one who is not accosted at every moment of the day by posters, news flashes, stereotypes, summoned to take sides over each of the prefabricated trifles that conscientiously stop up all the sources of everyday creativity.
[The third force] is what Brecht was referring to in one of his Keuner stories: “When a proletarian was brought to court and asked if he wished to take the oath in the ecclesiastical or the lay form, he replied ‘I’m out of work’”. The third force does not hope for the withering away of constraints, but aims to supersede them.
[Section “Impossible Communication or Power As Universal Mediation”]
Chapter 7: The Age of Happiness
Purchasing power is licence to purchase power
The Communards went down, fighting to the last, so that you too could own a Philips hi-fi stereo system.
[T]hese are pernicious theories which the holy churches of Christ and Stalin never miss a chance to condemn. More money, more fridges, more holy sacraments and more GNP, that’s what is needed to satisfy our revolutionary appetites.
In the kingdom of consumption the citizen is king. A democratic monarchy: equality before consumption, fraternity in consumption, and freedom through consumption. The dictatorship of consumer goods has finally destroyed the barriers of blood, lineage and race; this would be good cause for celebration were it not that consumption, by its logic of things, forbids all qualitative difference and recognizes only differences of quantity between values and between men.
Work to survive, survive by consuming, survive to consume, the hellish cycle is complete.
The old proletariat sold its labour power in order to subsist; what little leisure time it had was passed pleasantly enough in conversations, arguments, drinking, making love, wandering, celebrating and rioting. The new proletarian sells his labour power in order to consume. When he’s not flogging himself to death to get promoted in the labour hierarchy, he’s being persuaded to buy himself objects to distinguish himself in the social hierarchy.
Chapter 8: Exchange and Gifts
The bourgeoisie, the class of exchange, is the lever which enables the feudal project to be overthrown and superseded in the long revolution.
History is the continuous transformation of natural alienation into social alienation, and the continuous strengthening of a contradictory movement of opposition which will overcome all alienation and end history. The historical struggle against natural alienation transforms natural alienation into social alienation, but the movement of historical disalienation eventually attacks social alienation itself and reveals that it is based on magic. This magic has to do with privative appropriation. It is expressed through sacrifice. Sacrifice is the archaic form of exchange. The extreme quantification of exchange reduces man to an object. From this rock bottom a new type of human relationship, involving neither exchange nor sacrifice, can be born.
Social organization — hierarchical, since it is based on private appropriation — gradually destroys the magical bond between man and nature, but it preserves the magic for its own use: it creates between itself and mankind a mythical unity modelled on the original participation in the mystery of nature.
Effectively, the bourgeoisie’s accession to power represents man’s victory over natural forces. But as soon as this happens, hierarchical social organization, which was born out of the struggle against hunger, sickness, discomfort... loses its justification, and can no longer escape taking full responsibility for the malaise of industrial civilizations. Today men no longer blame their sufferings on the hostility of nature, but on the tyranny of a perfectly inadequate and perfectly anachronistic form of society. When it destroyed the magical power of the feudal lords, the bourgeoisie pronounced the death sentence on the magic of hierarchical power itself. The proletariat will carry out this sentence.
The hierarchical principle is the magic spell that has blocked the path of men in their historical struggles for freedom. From now on, no revolution will be worthy of the name if it does not involve, at the very least, the radical elimination of all hierarchy.
The excluded class really sacrifice an important part of their life to the landowner: they accept his authority and work for him. The master mythically sacrifices his authority and his power as landowner to the dominated class: he is ready to pay for the safety of his people. God is the underwriter of the transaction and the defender of the myth. He punishes those who break the contract, while those who keep it he rewards with power: mythical power for those who sacrifice themselves in reality, real power for those who sacrifice themselves in myth.
Chapter 9: Technology and Its Mediated Use
To rediscover nature means to reinvent it as a worthwhile adversary by constructing new social relationships.
For all its flexibility, the cybernetic synthesis will never be able to conceal the fact that it is only the superseding synthesis of the different forms of government that have ruled over men, and their final stage.
[I]n the realm of consumption: it’s not the goods that are inherently alienating, but the conditioning that leads their buyers to choose them and the ideology in which they are wrapped.
Our task is not to rediscover nature but to make a new one, to reconstruct it.
The search for the real nature, for a natural life that has nothing to do with the lie of social ideology, is one of the most touching naïvetés of a good part of the revolutionary proletariat, not to mention the anarchists and such notable figures as the young Wilhelm Reich.
What we have to do now is to create a new nature that will be a worthwhile adversary: that is, to resocialise it by liberating the technical apparatus from the sphere of alienation, by snatching it from the hands of rulers and specialists. Only at the end of a process of social disalienation will nature become a worthwhile opponent: in a society in which man’s creativity will not come up against man himself as the first obstacle to its expansion
Chapter 10: Down Quantity Street1
The less importance a piece of news has, the more it is repeated, and the more it distracts people from their real problems. Goebbels said that the bigger the lie, the more easily it is swallowed.
Quantification implies linearity. the qualitative is plurivalent, the quantitative univocal. Life quantified becomes a measured route-march towards death.
Chapter 11: Mediated Abstraction and Abstract Mediation1
I think that people are surprisingly insensitive to the way in which the world, in certain periods, takes on the forms of the dominant metaphysic. No matter how daft it may seem to us to believe in God and the Devil, this phantom pair become a living reality the moment that a collectivity considers them sufficiently present to inspire the text of their laws. In the same way, the stupid distinction between cause and effect has been able to govern societies in which human behaviour and phenomenae in general were analysed in terms of cause and effect. And in our own time, nobody should underestimate the power of the misbegotten dichotomy between thought and action, theory and practice, real and imaginary... these ideas are forces of organisation.
Not that I am opposing abstract mediation in the name of some sort of wild, ‘instinctive’ spontaneity; that would merely be to reproduce on a higher level the idiotic choice between pure speculation and mindless activism, the disjunction between theory and practice.
[M]y knowledge of the world has no value except when I act to transform it
Common sense is a compendium of slanders like “We’ll always need bosses”, “Without authority mankind would sink into barbarism and chaos” and so on. Custom has mutilated man so thoroughly that when he mutilates himself he thinks he is following a law of nature.
In mankind’s struggle for survival, hierarchical social organisation was undeniably a decisive step forward. At one point in history, the cohesion of a collectivity around its leader gave it the best, perhaps the only chance of self-preservation. But the survival was guaranteed at the price of a new alienation: the safeguard was a prison, preserving life but preventing growth.
The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, finds in survival the raw material of its economic interests. The need to eat and subsist materially is bound to be good for trade. Indeed it is not excessive to see in the primacy of the economy, that dogma of bourgeois thought, the very source of its celebrated humanism. If the bourgeoisie prefers man to God, it is because only man produces and consumes, supplies and demands.
Any analysis of revolutions past or present that does not involve a determination to resume the struggle more coherently and more effectively plays fatally into the hands of the enemy: it is incorporated into the dominant culture.
When theory escapes from the makers of a revolution it turns against them. It no longer gets hold of them, it dominates and conditions them. The theory developed by the strength of the armed people now develops the strength of those who disarm the people. leninism explains revolutions too — it certainly taught Makhno’s partisans and the Kronstadt sailors a thing or two.
Whenever the powers-that-be get their hands on theory, it turns into ideology
Ideological conditioning is quite the opposite: the technical management of the inhuman, the weight of things. It turns men into objects which have no meaning apart from the Order in which they have their place. It assembles them in order to isolate them, making the crowd into a multiplicity of solitudes.
Words serve power better than they do men; they serve it more faithfully than most men do, and more scrupulously than the other mediations (space, time, technology...) Hypostatised transcendence always depends on language and is developed in a system of signs and symbols, such as words, dance, ritual, music, sculpture and building. When a half-completed action, suddenly obstructed, tries to continue in a form which it hopes will eventually allow it to finish and realise itself — like a generator transforming mechanical energy into electrical energy which will be reconverted into mechanical energy by a motor miles away — at this moment language swoops down on living experience, ties it hand and foot, robs it of its substance, abstracts it. it always has categories ready to condemn to incomprehensibility and nonsense anything which they can’t contain, or summon into existence-for-power that which slumbers in nothingness because it has no place as yet in the system of Order. The repetition of familiar signs is the basis of ideology.
[Section “Impossible Realisation or Power As the Sum of Seductions”]
Chapter 12: Sacrifice1
They enter the service of a Cause — the ‘best’ of all Causes. The time they have for creative activity they squander handing out leaflets, putting up posters, demonstrating or heckling local politicians. They become militants, fetishizing action because others are doing their thinking for them.
The moment revolution calls for self-sacrifice it ceases to exist.
When the rebel begins to believe that he is fighting for a higher good, the authoritarian principle gets a fillip. Humanity has never been short of justifications for giving up what is human.
[E]very time slaves try to make their slavery more bearable they are striking a blow for their masters
But there is an ambiguity in the very idea of “making a work of art,” for it embraces both the lived experience of the artist and the sacrifice of this experience to the abstraction of a creative substance, i.e., to the aesthetic form. The artist relinquishes the lived intensity of the creative moment in exchange for the durability of what he creates, so that his name may live on in the funereal glory of the museum. And his desire to produce a durable work is the very thing that prevents him from living imperishable instants of real life.
Actually, if we except academicism, artists never succumb completely to aesthetic assimilation. Though he may abdicate his immediate experience for the sake of appearances, any artist — and anyone who tries to live is an artist — must also follow his desire to increase his share of dreams in the objective world of others. ln this sense he entrusts the thing he creates with the mission of completing his personal self-realization within the collectivity. And in this sense creativity is revolutionary in its essence.
The dictatorship of consumption ensures that every aesthetic collapses before it can produce any masterpieces.
Chapter 14: The Organization of Appearances2
Aside from the machinery of war, all machines of ancient times originated in the needs of the theatre. The crane, the pulley and other hydraulic devices started out as theatrical paraphernalia; it was only much later that they revolutionized production relations. It is a striking fact that no matter how far we go back in time the domination of the earth and of men seems to depend on techniques which serve the purposes not only of work but also of illusion.
The birth of tragedy was already a narrowing of the arena in which primitive men and gods had held their cosmic dialogue. It meant a distancing, a putting in parentheses, of magical participation. This was now organized in accordance with a refraction of the principles of initiation, and no longer involved the rites themselves. What emerged was a spectaculum, a thing seen, while the gradual relegation of the gods to the role of mere props presaged their eventual eviction from the social scene as a whole. Once mythic relationships have been dissolved by secularizing tendencies, tragedy is superseded by drama. Comedy is a good indicator of this transition: with all the vigour of a completely new force, its corrosive humour devastates tragedy in its dotage.
The roles we play in everyday life, on the other hand, soak into the individual, preventing him from being what he really is and what he really wants to be. They are nuclei of alienation embedded in the flesh of direct experience. The function of such stereotypes is to dictate to each person on an individual, even ‘intimate’, level the same things which ideology imposes collectively.
Just as the passivity of the consumer is an active passivity, so the passivity of the spectator lies in his ability to assimilate roles and play them according to official norms. The repetition of images and stereotypes offers a set of models from which everyone is supposed to choose a role. The spectacle is a museum of images, a showroom of stick figures.
An old lady is killed by a kid on the Boulevard St Germain. What are we told by the press? We are given a pre-established scenario designed to arouse pity, indignation, disgust, whatever. The event is broken down into abstract components which are really just cliches: youth, delinquency, crime in the streets, law and order, etc. Image, photo, style — all are fabricated and co-ordinated according to the permutations dispensed by an automatic vending machine of readymade explanations and predetermined emotions.
The surrealists were quite mistaken when, in 1930, they hailed the act of the exhibitionist as subversive. They failed to see that in the sphere of morality the spectacle needs spicy items of this kind to keep on going. The surrealists’ enthusiasm here was really no different from that of the gutter press. The media need scandal just as they need black humour and cynicism. Real scandal consists in the rejection and sabotage of the spectacle — something which Power can postpone only by giving the structures of appearance a drastic facelift. Perhaps this will turn out to have been the function of structuralism. But poverty, fortunately, cannot be mitigated by its extension to new fields.
Roles are eroded by the resistance put up by lived experience
Chapter 15: Roles
Stereotypes are the dominant images of a period, the images of the dominant spectacle. The stereotype is the model of the role; the role is a model form of behaviour. The repetition of an attitude creates a role; the repetition of a role creates a stereotype. The stereotype is an objective form into which people are integrated by means of the role. Skill in playing and handling roles determines rank in the spectacular hierarchy.
Access to the role occurs by means of identification. The need to identify is more important to Power’s stability than the models identified with. Identification is a pathological state, but only accidental identifications are officially classed as “mental illness.” Roles are the bloodsuckers of the will to live. They express lived experience, yet at the same time they reify it.
Power’s strength lies in its facility in enforcing both actual separation and false union.
Eventually, identification with anything at all, like the need to consume anything at all, becomes more important than brand loyalty to a particular type of car, idol, or politician. The essential thing, after all, is to alienate people from their desires and pen them in the spectacle, in the occupied zone. It matters little whether people are good or bad, honest or criminal, left-wing or right-wing: the form is irrelevant, just so long as they lose themselves in it.
There is no such thing as mental illness. It is merely a convenient label for grouping and isolating cases where identification has not occurred properly. Those whom Power can neither govern nor kill, it taxes with madness. The category includes extremists and megalomaniacs of the role, as well as those who deride roles or refuse them.
Inauthentic life feeds on authentically felt desires. And identification through roles is doubly successful in this respect. In the first place it co-opts the pleasure to be derived from metamorphoses, from putting on masks and going about in different disguises. Secondly, it appropriates mankind’s ancient love of mazes, the love of getting lost solely in order to find one’s way again: the pleasure of the derive. In this way roles also lay under contribution the reflex of identity, the desire to find the richest and truest part of ourselves in other people. The game ceases to involve play: it petrifies because the players can no longer make up the rules. The quest for identity degenerates into identification.
A psychiatrist tells us that “Recognition by society leads the individual to expend his sexual drives on cultural goals, and this is the best way for him to defend himself against these drives.” Read: the aim of roles is to absorb vital energies, to reduce erotic energy by ensuring it permanent sublimation. The less erotic reality there is, the more the sexualized forms appearing in the spectacle. Roles Reich would say ‘armouring’ guarantee orgastic impotence. Conversely, true pleasure, joie de vivre and orgastic potency shatter body armour and roles.
[I]f you accost me armed to the teeth, understanding agreement only in terms of a victory for you, then you will get nothing out of me but an evasive pose, and a formal silence intended to indicate that the discussion is closed.
[T]he obscure antagonism between the would-be progressives and the reactionaries boils down to this: should people be smashed by punishments or by rewards.
“Wars (or the poor, or slaves) will always be with us.” Thus the bourgeoisie in power can tolerates change only if it is empty, abstract, cut off from the whole: partial change, changes of parts. Now although the habit of change is intrinsically subversive, it is also the main prerequisite to the functioning of consumer society. People have to change cars, fashions, ideas, etc., all the time.
[T]he lie of renewal cannot be sustained within the poverty of the spectacle. The constant need for fresh roles forces a resort to remakes, to transparent mummery. The proliferation of trivial changes titillates the desire for real change but never satisfies it.
Most of us are well acquainted with the malaise that accompanies any attempt to join a group and make contact with others. This feeling amounts to stage fright, the fear of not playing one’s part properly. Only with the crumbling of officially controllable attitudes and poses will the true source of this anxiety become clear to us. For it arises not from our clumsiness in handling roles but from the loss of self in the spectacle, in the order of things.
Chapter 16: The Fascination of Time
[Section “Survival and False Opposition to It”]
The consumer cannot and must not ever attain satisfaction: the logic of the consumable object demands the creation of fresh needs, yet the accumulation of such false needs exacerbates the malaise of people confined with increasing difficulty solely to the status of consumers.
1: The Question of Transcendence
Henceforward the construction of a harmonious collectivity will require a revolutionary theory founded not on communitarianism but rather upon subjectivity a theory founded, in other words, on individual cases, on the lived experience of individuals.
2: The Renunciation of Poverty and the Poverty of Renunciation
[P]sychoanalysis, a technique of liberation which confines itself for the most part to “liberating” us from the need to attack social organization.
4: The Nihilist
Until its abolition, the spectacle can never be anything except the spectacle of nihilism
The individual’s absolute rejection of society as a response to society’s absolute rejection of the individual.
The active nihilist does not simply watch things fall apart. He criticizes the causes of disintegration by speeding up the process. Sabotage is a natural response to the chaos ruling the world. Active nihilism is pre-revolutionary; passive nihilism is counter revolutionary.
Consumer society’s frantic need to manufacture new needs adroitly cashes in on the way-out, the bizarre and the shocking. Black humour and real agony turn up on Madison Avenue. Flirtation with non-conformism is an integral part of prevailing values. Awareness of the decay of values has its role to play in sales strategy. More and more pure rubbish is marketed. The figurine salt-shaker of Kennedy, complete with “bullet-holes” through which to pour salt, for sale in the supermarket, should be enough to convince anybody, if there is anybody who still needs convincing, how easily a joke which once would have delighted Ravachol or Peter the Painter now merely helps to keep the market going.
Certain features of Romanticism had already proved, without awakening the slightest interest on the part of either Marx or Engels, that art the pulse of culture and society is the first index of the decay and disintegration of values. A century later, while Lenin thought that the whole issue was beside the point, the Dadaist could see the artistic abscess as a symptom of a cancer whose poison was spread throughout society. Unpleasant art only reflects the repression of pleasure instituted by Power. It is this the Dadaists of 1916 proved so cogently.
[T]he present reign of survival, in which all the talk about progress expresses nothing so much as the fear that progress may be impossible, is the outcome of a series of past revolutionary defeats.
Part II: The Reversal of Perspective
Chapter 20: Creativity, Spontaneity, and Poetry
Poetry is an act which engenders new realities; it is the fulfilment of radical theory, the revolutionary act par excellence.
In this fractured world, whose common denominator throughout history has been hierarchical social power, only one freedom has ever been tolerated: the freedom to change the numerator, the freedom to prefer one master to another.
The bourgeois democracies have clearly shown that individual freedoms can be tolerated only insofar as they entrench upon and destroy one another
The only forms of creativity that authority can deal with, or wished to deal with, are those which the spectacle can recuperate.
People usually associate creativity with works of art, but what are works of art alongside the creative energy displayed by everyone a thousand times a day: seething unsatisfied desires, daydreams in search of a foothold in reality, feelings at once confused and luminously clear, ideas and gestures presaging nameless upheavals. All this energy, of course, is relegated to anonymity and deprived of adequate means of expression, imprisoned by survival and obliged to find outlets by sacrificing its qualitative richness and conforming to the spectacle’s categories.
Every individual is constantly building an ideal world within themselves, even as their external motions bend to the requirements of soulless routine.
Whatever the capitalist system and its avatars (their antagonisms notwithstanding) lose on the production front they try to make up for in the sphere of consumption. The idea is that, as they gradually free themselves from the imperatives of production, people should be trapped by the newer obligations of the consumer.
The traveller who is always thinking about the length of the road before them tires more easily than his or her companion who lets their imagination wander as they go along. Similarly, anxious attention paid to lived experience can only impede it, abstract it, and make it into nothing more than a series of memories-to-be.
The concepts and abstractions which rule us have to be returned to their source, to lived experience, not in order to validate them, but on the contrary to correct them, to turn them on their heads, to restore them to that sphere whence they derive and which they should never have left.
[P]oetry is the act which brings new realities into being, the act which reverses the perspective. The materia prima is within everyone’s reach. Poets are those who know how to use it to best effect.
“What is poetry?”, ask the aesthetes. And we may as well give them the obvious answer right away: poetry rarely involves poems these days. Most art works betray poetry. How could it be otherwise, when poetry and power are irreconcilable? At best, the artist’s creativity is imprisoned, cloistered, within an unfinished oeuvre, awaiting the day when it will have the last word.
[T]he artistic approach seeks in its finest moments to stamp the world with the impress of a tentacular subjective activity constantly seeking to create, and to create itself. Whereas radical theory sticks close to poetic reality, to reality in process and to the world as it is being changed, art takes an identical tack but at much greater risk of being lost and corrupted. Only an art armed against itself, against its own weaker side — its most aesthetic side — has any hope of evading co-optation.
The work of art of the future will be the construction of a passionate life.
The object created is less important than the process which gives rise to it, the act of creating. What makes an artist is their state of creativity, not art galleries.
Chapter 21: Masters Without Slaves
[T]hree principles have successively held sway: the domination principle (feudal power), the exploitation principle (bourgeois power) and the organisation principle (cybernetic power)
The refusal to be a slave is really what changes the world.
According to the principle of domination, the master refuses slaves an existence which would limit his own. With the principle of exploitation, the boss allows the workers an existence which fattens and develops his own. The principle of organisation classifies individual existences like fractions, according to their managerial or executive faculties.
Domination is a right, exploitation a contract, organisation an order of things. The tyrant dominates according to his will to power, the capitalist exploits according to the laws of profit, the organiser plans and is planned. The first wants to be arbitrary, the second just, the third rational and objective.
In a world where everything is alive, including trees and rocks, nothing is just passively contemplated. Everything speaks of joy. Subjectivity’s triumph gives everything life
Chapter 22: The Space-Time of Lived Experience and the Rectification of the Past4
How does power try to break the unity of lived space-time? By transforming lived experience into a commodity and throwing it on the market of the spectacle at the mercy of the supply and demand of roles and stereotypes.
If you’re not busy being born you’re busy rotting.
In the space of creation, time dilates. In inauthenticity, it speeds up.
Chapter 23: The Unitary Triad: Self-Realisation, Communication and Participation
The new society, as it develops underground, chaotically, is moving towards a total honesty — a transparency — between individuals: an honesty promoting the participation of each individual in the self-realisation of everyone else. Creativity, love and play stand in the same relation to true life as the need to eat and the need to find shelter stand in relation to survival
Radical subjectivity is the presence — which can be seen in almost everyone — of the same desire to create a truly passionate life
The will to self-realisation is turned into the will to power; sacrificed to status and role-playing, it reigns in a world of restrictions and illusions. The will to communication becomes objective dishonesty; based on relationships between objects, it provides the field of operations for semiology, the science of fucked-up communications. The will to participation organises the loneliness of everyone in the lonely crowd; it creates the tyranny of the illusory community.
2: The Project of Self-Realisation
The isolated individual detests other people, feels contempt for the masses of which he is a perfect specimen himself. He is, in fact, the most contemptible man of all. Showing off, amidst the crassest sort of illusory community, is his ‘dynamism’; the rat-race, his ‘love of danger.
[O]nly servants are proud of their sacrifices
The will to power is a compensation for slavery. At the same time it is a hatred of slavery. The most striking ‘personalities’ of the past never identified themselves with a Cause. They just used Causes to further their own personal hunger for power. But as great Causes began to break up and disappear, so did the ambitious individuals concerned. However, the game goes on. People rely on Causes because they haven’t been able to make their own life a Cause sufficient unto itself.
One can only rediscover other people by consciously rediscovering oneself. For as long as individual creativity is not at the centre of social life, man’s only freedom will be freedom to destroy and be destroyed. If you do other people’s thinking for them, they will do your thinking for you.
3: Radical Subjectivity
You can’t make it on your own. You can’t live your own life to the full in isolation. But can any individual — any individual who has got anything at all straight about himself and the world — fail to see a will identical to his own among everyone he knows: the same journey leaving from the same place?
[T]he worst crises within a coherent revolutionary group are caused by those closest by their knowledge and furthest away by their lived experience and by the importance they place upon it.
Nothing authorises me to speak in the name of other people. I am only my own delegate. Yet at the same time I can’t help thinking that my life isn’t solely my own concern but that I serve the interests of thousands of other people by living the way I live, and by struggling to live more intensely and more freely.
5: The Erotic of the Dialectic of Pleasure
[P]leasure itself doesn’t recognise any frontiers. If it isn’t growing, it is beginning to disappear. Repetition kills it; it can’t adapt itself to the fragmentary.
Freedom knows no propaganda more effective than people calmly enjoying themselves. Which is why pleasure, for the most part, is forced to be clandestine, love locked away in a bedroom, creativity confined to the back-stairs of culture, and alcohol and drugs cower under the shadow of the outstretched arm of the law...
[F]lirtatiousness is playing with desire as it is born; desire, playing with passion as it is born. And playing with passion finds its coherence in poetry, whose essentially revolutionary nature can never be over-emphasised.
6: The Project of Participation1
Economic necessity and play don’t mix. Financial transactions are deadly serious: you don’t fool around with money. The elements of play contained within feudal economy were gradually squeezed out by the rationality of money exchanges. Playing with exchange means to barter products without worrying too much about strictly standardised equivalents. But from the moment that capitalism forced its commercial relationships on the world, fantasy was forbidden; and the dictatorship of commodities today shows clearly that it intends to enforce these relationships everywhere, at every level of life.
It is impossible to foresee the details of such, a society — a society in which play is completely unrestricted — but one could expect to see the following characteristics:
• rejection of all leaders and all hierarchies;
• rejection of self-sacrifice;
• rejection of roles;
• freedom of genuine self-realisation;
• utter honesty.
Chapter 25: You're Fucking Around with Us? — Not for Long!
[M]en can’t hope to control the laws governing their general history if they can’t simultaneously control their own individual histories. If you go for revolution and neglect your own self, then you’re going about it backwards, like all the militants.