nothingness.org

Printable Version | More in this collection | More in this category | Search:

| << Previous Part | << Chapter 21 | Chapter 23 >>

The Revolution of Everyday Life:
The Reversal of Perspective

by Raoul Vaneigem


Chapter 22 "The Space-Time Of Lived Experience"

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.

5

For nearly a century, significant pictural movements have been playing about - even joking - with space. Nothing could express so well the restless and passionate search for a new space to inhabit as artistic creativity. And humour is surely the best way to express the feeling that art could no longer provide a valid solution. I'm thinking of the beginnings of Impressionism, Pointillism, Fauvism, Cubism, the Dada collages, and the first abstracts.

As art has decomposed, the number of people affected by the malaise which was first of all felt by the artist has grown. Today, the desire to construct an art of living has reached the level of a popular demand. The researches of a whole artistic past, which really have been so carelessly abandoned, must be incorporated in a passionately lived space-time.

What I'm thinking of here are memories of mortal wounds. If you're not busy being born you're busy rotting. The past is now irretrievable, and the final twist of irony is that those who discuss it as if it were definite fact are actually grinding it away, falsifying and arranging it as fashion dictates. It's very reminiscent of poor Wilson in Orwell's 1984 rewriting old official news items which had been contradicted by a subsequent turn of events.

There's only one allowable way to forget, which is to wipe out the past by realising it. Avert decomposition by supersession. However time-honoured, facts never have the last word. A radical change in the present is enough to make them topple off their pedestals and fall at our feet. I know no more touching example of the correction of the past than the one given by Victor Serge in Ville Conquise; and I've no need to know a better one.

At the end of a lecture on the Paris Commune, given during the height of the Bolshevik revolution, a soldier at the back of the room lumbered up out of his armchair. "You could easily hear his commanding rumble: 'Tell the story of Dr Millière's execution.'
Standing up, a giant of a man, with his head bowed so that all you could see of his face were his large hairy jowls, sullen mouth and buckled wrinkled brows - he looked like one of those busts of Beethoven - he listened to the story:
Dr Millière, in a dark blue overcoat and top hat, driven in the rain through the Paris streets, - forced to kneel on the steps of the Panthéon, - shouting 'Long live humanity!' - the words of the Versailles sentry leaning on the railings a few yards away:
'We'll fuck you with your humanity!'
In the black night of the unlit street the peasant came up to the lecturer (...) His taciturn manner was gone. He had a secret he wanted to share.
'I was also in Perm's government, last year when the Kulaks revolted (...) On the way I'd read Arnould's pamphlet Les Morts de la Commune.. It's a fine pamphlet. I was thinking about Millière. I've avenged him, citizen! It was one of the best days of my life, and I haven't had many of them. Point for point I've avenged him. Like that on the steps of the church, I shot the biggest landowner in the district; I've forgotten his name and I couldn't care less...'
After a short silence, he added - 'But it was me who shouted 'Long live humanity!'"

Past revolts take on a new dimension in my present, that of an immanent reality to be constructed immediately. The walks of the Luxembourg palace and the square of the Tour Saint-jacques still echo the shots and the cries of the suppressed Commune. But there will be more shots fired and more heaps of corpses. One day the revolutionaries of all the ages will join together with the revolutionaries of all countries to wash the wall of the Fédérés with the blood of firing squads.

To construct the present is to correct the past, change the psycho-geography of the landscape, free dreams and unsatisfied desires from their matrix, and bring all the separate passions together in harmony. From the insurgents of 1525 to the Mulétist rebels, Spartacus to Pancho Villa, Lucretius to Lautréamont, there's only the time of my will to live.

Hope for tomorrow overshadows our festivities. The future is worse than the Ocean - it contains nothing. Blue-print, program, long-term view... count your chickens before you've even seen eggs. But if you construct the present well the future will be more than abundant.

Only the quick of the present, its multiplicity, interests me. Despite all that might prevent me, I want to surround myself with today as with a great light; and bring that other time and the space of other people to the immediacy of everyday experience. I wish to embody Schwester Katrei's formulation: "Everything that is in me is also outside me and everywhere, around me; everything belongs to me, and everywhere I can see only what lies within me." That's no more than subjectivity's rightful triumph, as far as history allows it today; however firmly we go about tearing down the bastilles of the future and however thorough our restructuring of the past, if only we could live each second as if caught in the spell of eternal recurrence, it would exactly and endlessly repeat itself.

Only the present can be total. A point of incredible density. We must learn to slow down time and live the permanent passion of immediate experience. A tennis champion tells the story how once during a very tense match a ball was played that was very difficult to take. Suddenly, he saw it approach slowed down, so slowly that he had time to judge the situation, make a reasonable decision and return it with masterful brilliance. In the space of creation, time dilates. In inauthenticity, it speeds up. Whoever possesses the poetry of the present will experience the same adventure as the little Chinese boy who loved the Queen of the sea. He went to look for her at the bottom of the ocean. When he returned to the land he met an old man cutting roses who said to him: "My grandfather told me of a young boy who disappeared in the sea, and who had exactly the same name as you."

"Punctuality garners time" runs the esoteric tradition. Passed through the developing tray of history, the phrase of the Pistis Sophia - "One day of light is a million years in the world" ~ is exactly Lenin's remark that some revolutionary days are worth centuries.

It is always a matter of resolving the contradictions of the present, not stopping half way and getting 'distracted', but going straight for supersession. Collective work, the work of passion, the work of poetry and the work of the game (Eternity is the world of the game, said Boehme). However poor it may be, the present always contains true wealth, the wealth of possible creation. But now you know well enough - you live well enough - all the things that tear out of my grasp this uninterrupted poem that is my joy.

Yield to the vortex of dead time, to age and decay till body and mind are empty? Rather disappear in defiance of duration. In his Précis de l'histoire universelle which appeared in Paris in year VII of the Republic, citizen Anquetil tells of a Persian prince who, wounded by the vanity of the world, withdrew to a chateau with forty of the most beautiful and intelligent courtisans of the kingdom. He died within a month, worn out by too much pleasure. But what is death compared with this eternity? If I have to die, at least let it be as I have loved.

 

Page generated by the dadaPHP system.

0.0125 sec.