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The Revolution of Everyday Life:
The Reversal of Perspective

by Raoul Vaneigem


Chapter 22 "The Space-Time Of Lived Experience"

The dialectic of decay and supersession is the dialectic of dissociated and unitary space-time (l). The new proletariat carries within itself the realisation of childhood, which is its space-time (2). The history of separations is slowly resolved at the end of "historic" history (3). Cyclical time and linear time. - Lived space-time is space-time in transformation, and the role's space-time is that of adaptation. - The function of the past and of its projection into the future is to outlaw the present. Historical ideology is the screen that comes between the will to individual self-realisation and the will to construct history; it prevents them joining up and merging (4). The present is the space-time to be constructed; it entails the correction of the past.

1

As specialists organise the survival of the species and leave learned diagrams to programme history, the will to change life by changing the world grows among people everywhere. So much so that every single individual is confronted, like humanity as a whole, by universal despair beyond which lies oblivion or supersession. This is the age when the entire evolution of history and the particular history of the individual are tending to merge, since they are heading towards a corn destiny. the condition of a thing and its rejection. We could say that the history of the species and of myriad individual lives are gathering together to die, or together start EVERYTHING afresh. The past surges back on us with its germs of death and its seeds of life. Our childhood is also at the meeting place, and threatened with Lot's fate.

The danger overhanging childhood gives rise, I would like to believe, to the outburst of revolt against the ghastly aging to which the forced consumption of ideologies and gadgets condemns us. I want to emphasise the analogy clearly revealed between dreams and desires, and the feudal will and the subjective will of childhood. By realising childhood, won't we, adults of the technological era, rich in what children lack and strong where the greatest conquerors were weak, realise the project of the masters of old?

Can't we identify history and individual destiny more successfully than Tamerlalne or Elogabalus dared Imagine in their wildest dreams?

The primacy of life over survival Is the historical movement which will unmake history. Construct daily life and realise history. these two watchwords are now one. In decay and supersession, the essential contradiction of our era, the transition to a stage superior to prehistory is prepared. What will constitute the joint construction of life and the new society, in other words, the revolution of everyday life? Rooting out decay by superseding it. All that Is not superseded rots, all that rots incites supersession.

However far back into history, all attempts at supersession are part of the poetry of the present reversal of perspective. They are with us now, bursting the barriers of space and time and breaking them down. It's certain that the end of separations begins by ending the separation between space and time. What follows in the reconstitution of primordial unity must be critical analyses of the space-time of children, of unitary societies and of fragmentary societies as bearers of decay and the supersession now possible.

2

If he doesn't watch out, survival sickness soon turns a young man into a haggard old Faust, burdened with regrets, passing through the youth he longs for without realizing it. The 'teenager' bears the first wrinkles of the consumer.

Little separates him from the sixty-year-old; consuming faster and faster, he wins precocious old age to the rhythm of his compromises with inauthenticity. If he doesn't take hold of himself quickly, the past will close up behind him; he won't be able to return to what he's done, not even to remake it. So much separates him from the children he played with only yesterday. He has become part of the market's triviality, willing to exchange the poetry, freedom and subjective wealth of childhood for representation in the society of the spectacle. Yet nonetheless, if he seized hold of himself and awoke from the nightmare, what an enemy would . You will see him fight for the confront the forces of order' rights of his childhood with the most fearsome weapons devised by senile technocracy. We know what prodigious feats distinguished the young Simbas of the Lumumbaist revolution, in spite of their derisory equipment; so how much more can we expect from a generation that's equally pissed off but much more effectively armed, and at large in a theatre of operations that covers every aspect of daily life?

Every aspect of daily life is lived to Some extent in embryonic form during childhood. The rich hoard of events lived in a few days or a few hours prevents time passing. Two months holiday is an eternity. Two months for an old man is just a few minutes. The child's days escape adult time; their time is swollen by subjectivity, passion, dreams haunted by reality. Outside, the educators look on, waiting, watch in hand, till the child joins and fits the cycle of the hours. It's they who have time. At first, the child feels strongly the imposition of adult time as a foreign intrusion; he ends up succumbing, and agrees to grow old. Not knowing conditioning's subtle ways, he allows himself to be snared, like a young animal. When finally he possesses the weapons of criticism and wants to aim them at time, the years have carried him far from the target. In his heart his childhood lies an open wound.

So here we are all haunted by childhood, and meanwhile social organisation is scientifically destroying it. Psycho-, sociologists are on the look-out, and already the market researchers are exclaiming: "Just look at all those sweet little dollars." (Quoted by Vance Packard.) A new decimal system.

Children are playing in the street. Suddenly one of them leaves the group and comes up to me, bringing the most beautiful dreams I can remember. He shows me - for my ignorance on this point was the sole reason for my fall - what destroys the concept of age: the possibility of living many events; not just seeing them pass by, but of living them and recreating them endlessly. And now at this point where everything slips away from me and everything becomes clear to me, how could a kind of wild untamed instinct for totality not surge up in me from under so many false desires, my childishness turned dangerous through the lessons of history and class struggles? There cannot be a new proletariat unless it possesses in its purest form the realisation of childhood in an adult world.

We are the discoverers of a world new and yet known, which lacks the unity of space and time; a world still shot through with separations, still fragmented. The semi-barbarity of our bodies, our needs and our spontaneity (which is childhood enriched by awareness) opens to us secret passages that centuries of aristocracy never discovered, and which the bourgeoisie never even suspected. They allow us to penetrate the maze of uncompleted civilisations and all the embryonic supersessions conceived by a hidden history. Our rediscovered childhood desires rediscover the childhood of our desires. And from the savage depths of the past, always so close and as yet unfulfilled, emerges a new geography of the passions.

3

Mobile within immobility, the time of unitary societies is cyclical. People and things follow their course, moving along a circumference whose centre is God. This pivot-God, unchangeable although nowhere and everywhere, measures the duration of an eternal power. He is His own standard, and the standard of everything which, gravitating at an equal distance from Him, develops and returns without ever really flowing away or even coming unwound. "The thirteenth returns, and Is the first again."

The space of unitary societies is organised as a function of time. Both time and space belong entirely to God. Space stretches from the centre to the circumference, from heaven to earth, from the One to the multiple. At first sight, time seems irrelevant, since it neither brings God closer nor pushes Him further away. Space, on the other hand, is the path towards God: the ascending path of spiritual elevation and hierarchical promotion. Time really belongs to God alone, but the space granted men keeps a specifically human and irreducible nature. In fact, man can climb or descend, rise in society or fall, assure his salvation or. risk damnation. Space is the presence of man, the sphere of his relative freedom, while time imprisons him within its circumference. And what is the Last Judgement if not God bringing time back to Himself, the centre sucking in the circumference and gathering in its immaterial point the totality of the space imparted to His creatures? The annihilation of human matter (its occupation of space), is the project of the master who cannot totally possess his slave and therefore cannot escape being partially possessed by him.

Duration keeps a tight hand on space; it drags us towards death, eating away the space of our life. The distinction, however, doesn't appear so clearly in the course of history. Feudal societies are societies of separation just as much as bourgeois societies, since separation is caused by privative appropriation; but feudal societies have the advantage over bourgeois societies of an extraordinary strength of dissimulation.

The power of myth reunites separated elements making live unitarily though under false pretences. But the world of coherent myth is a world where the inauthentic is One, and accepted unanimously by a coherent community, be it tribe, clan or kingdom. God is the image, the symbol of the supersession of dissociated space and time, and everyone who "lives" in God takes part in this supersession. The majority can only take part in a mediated way, meaning that in the space of their daily lives, they, simple mortals, obey God, priests and leaders, the organisers of duly hierarchised space. In reward for submission, they are offered eternal duration, the promise of duration without space, the assurance of a pure temporality in God.

Others reckon this exchange to be a lousy deal. They have dreamt of attaining the eternal present which absolute mastery over the world confers. One is constantly struck by the analogy between the synchronised space-time of children and the will to unity of the great mystics. Thus Gregory of Palamas (1341) can describe Illumination as a sort of immaterial consciousness of unity: "The Light exists beyond space and time (...) He who shares in divine energy becomes Light himself in a sense; he is united with the Light and, with Light, he sees with perfect consciousness all that remains hidden to those who have not received this grace." This confused hope, which could only be Indistinct and even indescribable, was popularised and made more specific by the transient bourgeois era. It concretised it by killing off the aristocracy with its spirituality, and gave it a chance by taking its own decomposition to its logical conclusion. The history of separations is slowly resolved in the end of separations. The feudal unitary illusion is gradually embodied in the libertarian unity of the life to be constructed, which lies beyond materially guaranteed survival.

4

Einstein's speculations on space and time remind us how dead God is. When myth could no longer contain the dissociation of space and time, the malaise to which consciousness was then subject made Romanticism's heyday (viz. The attraction of far-off lands, anguish at time's slipping away...)

How does the bourgeois mind conceive of time? No longer as God's time, but rather as the time of power, fragmented power. Time in shreds has a common measurement in the moment, which attempts to recall cyclical time. The circumference no longer exists; instead we have a finite and infinite straight line. In place of everyone's synchronous regulation according to hours fixed by God, there are succeeding states in which everyone is chasing after himself but never catching up, as if the curse of Becoming damned us to getting only a glimpse of the back while the human face remains unknown and inaccessible, forever turned towards the future. If there is no longer a circular space under the all-seeing central eye of the Almighty, there is a series of little points which appear autonomous but are in reality being integrated in a ripple of succession along the line they trace as each one joins on to the next.

Time flowed through the Mediaeval hourglass, but it was the same sand which flowed back and forth from one globe to the other. On the circular clock-face, time sheds its seeds and never returns. An irony of forms: the new spirit took its form from a dead reality, while the bourgeoisie is wearing the death of time, specifically the death of its time, in its wrist-watches as in the cheap finery of its humanist woolgathering, both of which appear cyclical.

But nothing's made of it, so here we are in the age of watchmakers. The economic imperative has converted man into a living chronometer, distinguishing feature on his wrist. This is the time of work, progress and output, production, consumption and programming; it's time for the spectacle, for a kiss, or a photo, time for anything (time is money). The time-commodity. Survival time.

Space is a point on the line of time, in the machine transforming the future into the past. Time controls lived space, but controls it externally, making it pass through, in transit. But the space of individual life isn't pure space, nor is the time it sweeps along pure temporality. This is worth examining in greater depth.

Each point terminating the line of time is unique and particular, but as soon as the next point is added it is drowned in the uniform line, swallowed up by a past with other pasts in its stomach. It is impossible to distinguish them. Thus each point adds to the line that makes it disappear.

Power ensures its duration on the model of destruction and replacement, but at the same time those who are encouraged to consume power destroy and renew it by enduring. If power destroys everything, it destroys itself; and if it doesn't destroy anything, it is destroyed. Only between the two poles of this contradiction is there duration, and the dictatorship of the consumable brings them closer every day. And its duration is subordinated to the simple duration of men, or, in other words, to the permanence of their survival. This is why the problem of dissociated space-time is posed today in revolutionary terms.

Lived space may well be a universe of dreams and desires and prodigious creatlvlty, but in the order of duration it is only one point succeeding another; it flows on a precise duration - towards its destruction. It appears, grows and disappears in the anonymous line of the past where its corpse offers food for historians and sudden jolts of memory.

The advantage of the lived point of space is that it partly escapes the generalised system of conditioning; its disadvantag is that it is nothing in itself. The space of daily life diverts a little time to its own ends, it imprisons it and makes it its own. On the other hand, time that flows away soaks into lived space and interiorises the sense of transitoriness, of destructIon and death. Let me explain.

The punctual space of daily life steals a part of "exterior" time, thanks to which it creates a restricted unitary space-time: it is the space-time of moments, of creativity, pleasure and orgasm. The area of this alchemy is minute, but its lived intensity is such that it exercises an unequaled fascination on most people. In the eyes of power, which observe from outside, the passionate moment is a quite insignificant point, an instant drained from the future into the past. The line of objective time knows nothing and wishes to know nothing of the present as immediate subjective presence. And, in its turn, subjective life concentrated in the space of a point - my joy, my pleasure, my daydreams - isn't interested in time that flows away, in linear time, the time of things. On the contrary, it wants to learn everything about its present - for, after all, it is only a present.

Thus, lived space extracts, from the time sweeping it away, a part with which it creates its present, or rather attempts to for the present has always to be constructed.

It is the unitary space-time of love and poetry, of pleasure and communication... It is lived experience without dead time. On the other hand, linear time, objective time, time that flows away, infuses in its turn the space imparted to everyday life. It is introduced as negative time, as dead time, a reflection of the time of destruction. It is the time of the role, the time within life itself which encourages it to lose its character and renounce authentically lived space, to hold back and prefer appearances and the spectacular function. The space-time created by this hybrid marriage is merely the space-time of survival.

What Is private life? It is, in any instant, on any point drawn towards its destruction along the line of survival, the amalgam of a real space-time (the moment) and a fake (the role). Obviously, the structure of private life doesn't strictly conform to such a dichotomy. There is permanent interaction. Thus the restrictions that beset lived experience on every side, and compress it into far too small a space, incite it to change itself into a role, to enter the time that flows away as a commodity, become purely repetitious, and create, as accelerated time, the fictitious space of appearances. While at the same time the malaise born of inauthenticity, space falsely lived, sends one back to search for real time, subjectivity's time, which is the present. So private life is dialectically a real lived time + a fictitious spectacular time + a fictitious spectacular space + a real lived space.

The more fictitious time compounds with the fictitious space it creates, the further one is heading towards the state of being a thing and towards pure exchange value. The more the space of authentic lived experience compounds with really lived time, the stronger the mastery of man becomes.

Unitarily lived space-time is the guerilla's first base, the qualitative spark in the night that's still concealing the revolution of daily life.

Thus, not only does objective time furiously try to destroy punctual space by hurling it into the past, but moreover it gnaws away at it from inside by introducing this accelerated rhythm which creates the substance of the role.

(The role's fictitious space in effect results from the rapid repetition of an attitude, just as the repetition of a film image makes it seem to live.) The role installs the time that flows away, aging and death within subjective consciousness. This is the "rut into which consciousness has been forced" which Antonin Artaud talks about. Dominated from outside by linear time and from inside by the role's time, subjectivity has nothing else to do than become a thing, a valuable commodity. What's more, the process speeds up through history. In fact, the role is henceforward a consumption of time in a society where the time of consumption is the only one acknowledged. And once again the unity of oppression creates the unity of opposition. What is death today? Absence of subjectivity and absence of the present.

The will to live always reacts unitarily. Most individuals really divert time to the advantage of lived space. If their efforts to intensify lived experience and increase the space-time of authenticity don't get lost in confusion or break up in isolation, then perhaps objective time, the time of death, can be smashed. Isn't the revolutionary moment an eternal youth?

*

The project of enriching the space-time of lived experience must analyse what impoverishes it. Linear time only has a hold over men to the extent that it forbids them to transform the world, and forces them to adapt to it. Freely radiating creativity is power's public enemy number one.

And the strength of creativity lies in the unitary. 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. I examined this in the section devoted to the role (Chapter XV). Also, by recourse to a particular means of identification: the joint attraction of the past and future, which annihilates the present. And, finally, by trying to recuperate within an Ideology of history the will to construct the unitary space-time of lived experience (in other words, the will to create situations worth living). I will examine these two last points further.

*

From the viewpoint of power, there are no lived moments (lived experience has no name), only instants succeeding one another and all equal in the line of the past. A whole system of conditioning broadcasts this attitude, hidden persuasion introjects it. And here's the result. Just where is this present that people go on about? In what forgotten corner of everyday life does it skulk?

If we're not looking on, we're looking forward or looking back. The shade of my next meeting joins up with the shade of my last one. Both haunt me. Every passing second drags me from the moment that was to the moment that will be. Every second spirits me away from myself; now never exists. A meaningless commotion makes sure that everyone is "just passing through", or as we say so prettily, "just passing the tlme", and even ensures that time passes into man, through and through. When Schopenhauer writes: "Before Kant, we were in time ; since Kant, time is in us", he well expresses how aging and decrepitude permeate men's consciousness. But it never occurs to Schopenhauer that man's being torn to pieces on the rack of time reduced to the apparent difference between future and past is exactly what's pushing him, as a philosopher, to build up his mystique of despair.

Imagine the despair and giddiness of someone torn between two instants which he is pursuing in zigzags, never catching them up nor laying hold of himself. Or the despair of passionate expectation: you are caught in the spell of some past moment, love, for Instance, the woman you love is about to appear, you're sure of it, you already feel her kisses... Passionate expectation is no more than the shadow of the situation to be constructed. But one must admit that most of the time the whirligig of memory and anticipation gets in the way of expectation and the feeling of the present, and instead starts up a mad run of dead and empty time.

Through power's telescope, the future is just the past rehashed. A dollop of known inauthenticity is pushed forward by so-called hopeful imagination into the time it is already filling up with utter vacuity. One's only memories are of roles once played, and one's only future an eternal remake. According to power, men's memory should only operate within its time-scale, as a constant reminder of its presence. A nihil novi sub sole, popularly expressed as "someone must always be in charge".

The future advertised as "other time" is a worthy response to the other space where I'm supposed to let myself relax. Change time, change skin, change the hour. change the role; only alienation doesn't change. Every time that I is another, I 'm hovering somewhere between past and future. Roles never have a present. How could one wish a role good morning? If I bungle my present - here being always elsewhere - could I expect to find myself with a pleasant past and future?

*

The crowning achievement of the identification with the past-future is historical ideology, which causes individual and collective will to develop on its head.

Time is one form of mental perception, clearly not one of man's inventions but a dialectical relationship with outside reality; it is therefore a tributary connection stemming from alienation and man's struggle against it. Animals submit absolutely to adaptation and are unaware of time. Man rejects adaptation and attempts to transform the world. Every time he slips up in his desire to be demiurge, he suffers the agony of having to adapt, the wrenching pain when he feels reduced to the animal's passivity. Awareness of necessary adaptation is awareness of time slipping away, which is why time is so intimately tied up with human suffering. The more his need to adapt to circumstances overrides the desire and possibility of changing them, the more awareness of time grabs him by the throat. What else is survival sickness except the acute awareness of that other time and space slipping away, the awareness of alienation? Rejecting the awareness of aging and the objective conditions of aging awareness entails a much greater urgency on the part of the will to remake history, with more consequence and according to the wishes of everyone's subjectivity.

The sole reason for an historical ideology is to prevent men making history themselves. How better to distract men away from their present than by attracting them to where time flows away? This is the historian's role. He organises the past, by breaking it up according to the official line of time, then classifies events according to ad hoc categories. These easy-to-use classifications place the event in quarantine. Unshakable parentheses isolate and contain it, stop it coming to life, being reborn and breaking out again in the streets of our daily 1ife. The event is frozen. One is forbidden to rejoin it, remake it, perfect it, lead it on towards its supersession. It is just there, for all eternity suspended for the appreciation of aesthetes. Slightly alter its signification, and, hey presto! it can be transposed straight into the future, which is just the historians repeating themselves. The future they foretell is a collage of their memories. Vulgarised by Stalinist thinkers, the famous concept of the Sense of History has ended up leaving the future as drained of humanity as the past.

Encouraged to identify himself with some other time and some other person, today's individual has managed to have his present stolen from him under the illusion of gaining a historical perspective. In a spectacular space-time ("You are entering history, comrades.") he loses the taste of authentic life. Yet, those who refuse the heroism of historical action are warped by the complementary mystification that the psychological sector bestows on them. These two categories rub shoulders, and fuse in the extreme poverty of recuperation. You choose: either history or a nice quiet life.

All roles are decaying, whether historical or not. The crisis of history and the crisis of daily life coincide. The mixture will be explosive. From now on we must divert history to subjective ends; and with everyone's help. Marx really wished for nothing less.

 

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