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The Revolution of Everyday Life:
The Reversal of Perspective

by Raoul Vaneigem


Chapter 23 "The Unitary Triad: Self-Realisation, Communication And Participation"

The repressive unity of power is threefold: coercion, seduction and mediation. This is no more than the inversion and perversion of an equally threefold unitary project. 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 (1). Attempts to realise oneself can only be based on creativity (2). Attempts to communicate can only be based on love (4). Attempts to participate can only be based on play (6). Separated from one another these three projects merely strengthen the repressive unity of power. Radical subjectivity is the presence - which can be seen in almost everyone - of the same desire to create a truly passionate life (3). The erotic is the spontaneous coherence fusing attempts to enrich lived experience (5).

1. - The construction of everyday life fuses reason and passion. The plain confusion to which life has always been subject comes from the mystification covering up the utter triviality of merely continuing to exist. Will to live entails practical organisation. Individual desire for a rich multidimensional life cannot be totally divorced from a collective project. The oppression exercised by human government is essentially threefold: coercion, alienating mediation and magical seduction. The will to live also draws its vitality and its coherence from the unity of a threefold project: self-realisation, communication and participation.

If human history was neither reduced to, nor dissociated from, the history of human survival, the dialectic of this threefold project (in conjunction with the dialectic of the productive forces) would prove sufficient explanation for most things men have done to themselves and to one another. Every riot, every revolution, reveals a passionate quest for exuberant life, for total honesty between people, for a collective form of transformation of the world. Today, one can see, throughout the whole of history, three fundamental passions related to life in the same way that the need to eat and find shelter are related to survival. The desire to create, the desire to love and the desire to play interact with the need to eat and find shelter, just as the will to live never ceases to play havoc with the necessity of surviving. Obviously, the importance of the part played by each element changes from one time to another, but today their whole importance lies in the extent to which they can be unified.

Today, with the Welfare State, the question of survival has become only a part of the whole problem of life. As we hope to have shown. Life-economy has gradually absorbed survival-economy, and in this context the dissociation of the three projects, and of the passions underlying them, appears more and more clearly as a consequence of a fundamentally erroneous distinction between life and survival. However, since the whole of existence is torn between two perspectives - that of separation, of power; and that of revolution, of unity - and is therefore essentially ambiguous, I am forced to discuss each project at once separately and together.

*

The project of self-realisation is born of the passion of creativity, in the moment when subjectivity wells up and wants to reign universally. The project of communication is born of the passion of love, whenever people discover in one another the selfsame will to conquest. The project of participation is born of the passion of playing, whenever group activity facilitates the self-realisation of each individual.

Isolated, the three passions become perverted. Dissociated, the three projects become falsified. 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.

Isolated, each passion is integrated in a metaphysical vision which makes it absolute and, as such, leaves it completely out of touch. Intellectuals can be funny when they try: they pull the plug out and then announce that the electricity doesn't work. Not in the least abashed they proceed to inform us that we're really in the dark, and that's just all there is to it. Wherever everything is separated from everything else, everything really is impossible. Cartesian analysis can only produce the jerry-built. The armies of Order can recruit only the crippled.

2. - The project of self-realisation

Assurance of security leaves unused a large supply of energy formerly expended in the struggle for survival. The will to power tries to recuperate, for the reinforcement of hierarchical slavery, this free-floating energy which could be used for the blossoming of individual life (l). Universal oppression forces almost everyone to withdraw strategically towards what they feel to be their only uncontaminated possession: their subjectivity. The revolution of everyday life must create practical forms for the countless attacks on the outside world launched daily by subjectivity (2).

1

The historic phase of privative appropriation stopped man being the demiurge he was forced to create in an ideal form and thus to confirm his own real failure. At heart everyone wants to be God. To date we have merely prevented ourselves being so. I have shown how hierarchical social organisation builds up the world by breaking men down; how the perfection of its structure and machinery makes it function like a giant computer whose programmers are also programmed; how, lastly, the cybernetic state is the coldest of all cold monsters.

In these conditions, the struggle for enough to eat, for comfort, for stable employment and for security are, on the social front, so many aggressive raids which slowly but surely are becoming rearguard actions, despite their very real importance. The struggle for survival took up and still takes up an amount of energy and creativity which revolutionary society will inherit like a pack of ravening wolves. Despite false conflicts and illusory activities, a constantly stimulated creative energy is no longer being absorbed fast enough by consumer society. What will happen to this vitality suddenly at a loose end, to this surplus virility which neither coercion nor lies can really continue to handle? No longer recuperated by artistic and cultural consumption - by the ideological spectacle - creativity will turn spontaneously against the very safeguards of survival itself.

Rebels have only their survival to lose. And there are only two ways in which they can lose it: either by living or by dying. And since survival is no more than dying very slowly, there is a temptation containing a very great deal of genuine feeling, to speed the whole thing up and to die a damn sight faster. To 'live' negatively the negation of survival. Or, on the other hand, to try to survive as an anti-survivor, focusing all one's energy on breaking through to real life. To make survival no more than the basis of a systematic quest for happiness.

Self-realisation is impossible in this world. Half demented rebellion remains, for all its ferocity, a prisoner of the authoritarian dilemma: survival or death. This half-rebellion, this savage creativity so easily broken in by the order of things, is the will to power.

*

The will to power is the project of self-realization falsified - divorced from any attempt to communicate with, or to participate in, the life of others. It is the passion of creating and of creating oneself caught in the hierarchical system, condemned to turn the treadmill of repression and appearances. Accepting being put down because you can put others down in your turn. The hero is he who sacrifices himself to the power of his role and his rifle. And when, finally, he's burnt out, he follows Voltaire's advice and cultivates his garden. Meantime his mediocrity has become a model for the common rule of mortals.

The hero, the ruler, the superstar, the millionaire, the expert... How many times have they sold out all they held most dear? How many sacrifices have they made to force a few people, or a few million people, people they quite rightly regard as complete idiots, to have their photograph on the wall, to have their name remembered, to be stared at in the street?

Yet, for all its bullshit, the will to power does contain traces of an authentic will to live. Think of the virtú of the condottiere, of the Titans of the Renaissance. But the condottiere are dead and buried. All that's left is industrial magnates, gangsters and hired guns, dealers in art and artillery. The adventurer and the explorer are comic-strip characters (Tin-tin and Schweitzer). And it's with these people that Zarathustra dreamt of peopling the heights of Sils-Maria; it's in these abortions he thought he could see the lineaments of a future race. Nietzsche is, in fact, the last master, crucified by his own illusions. His death was a replay, with more brio, and in slightly better taste, of the black comedy of Golgotha. It explains the disappearance of the feudal lords just as the death of Christ explained the disappearance of God. Nietzsche may have had a refined sensibility but the stench of Christianity didn't stop him breathing it in by the lungful. And he pretends not to understand that Christianity, however much contempt it may have poured on the will to power, is in fact its best means of protection, its most faithful bodyguard, since it stands in the way of the appearance of masters who no longer need slaves to be masters. Nietzsche blessed a world in which the will to live is condemned never to be more than the will to power. His last letters were signed 'Dionysus the Crucified'. He too was looking for someone to assume responsibility for his broken zest. You don't mess with the witch-doctor of Bethlehem.

Nazism is Nietzschean logic called to order by history. The question was: what can become of those who wish to live like a lord in a society from which all true rulers have disappeared? And the answer: a super-slave. Nietzsche's concept of the superman, however threadbare it may have been, is worlds apart from what we know of the domestics who ran the Third Reich. Fascism knows only one superman: the State.

The State superman is the strength of the weak. This is why the desires of an isolated individual can always fit I 'n with a role played impeccably in the official spectacle. The will to power is an exhibitionistic will. 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'.

The manager, the leader, the tough guy, the mobster know little joy. Ability to endure is their main qualification. Their morale is that of pioneers, of spies, of scouts, of the shock-troops of conformity. "NO animal would have done what I have done..." What is the gangster-trip? A will to appear since one cannot be; a way of escaping the emptiness of one's own existence by running greater and greater risks. But only servants are proud of their sacrifices. Here the part rules the whole: sometimes the artificial being of the role, sometimes the directness of the animal. And the animal does what the man cannot do. The heroes who march past, colours flying, the Red Army, the S.S., the U.S. marines, these are the same people who burnt and cut living flesh at Budapest, at Warsaw, at Algiers. Army discipline is based on the uptightness of the rank and file. Cops know when to snarl and when to fawn.

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. Through the Cause and the sacrifice it entails they stagger along, backwards, trying to find their own will to live.

Sometimes desire for freedom and for play breaks out among law and order's conscripts. I am thinking of Salvatore Giuliano, before he was recuperated by the landowners, of Billy the Kid, of various gangsters momentarily close to the anarchist terrorists. Legionnaires and mercenaries have defected to the side of Algerian or Congolese rebels, thus choosing the party of open insurrection and taking their desire to play to its logical conclusion: blowing their whole scene sky-high, and jumping into the dark.

I also have teenage gangs in mind. The very childishness of their will to power has often kept their will to live almost uncontaminated. Obviously the delinquent is threatened with recuperation. Firstly, as a consumer, because he wants things he cannot afford to buy; then, as he gets older, as a producer. But, within the gang, playing remains of such great importance that truly revolutionary consciousness can never be far away. If the violence inherent in teenage gangs stopped squandering itself in exhibitionistic and generally half-baked brawls and rave-ups and only saw how much real poetry was to be found in a riot, then their gameplaying, as it became increasingly riotous, would almost certainly set off a chain reaction: a qualitative flash. Almost everyone is fed up with their life. Almost everyone is sick of being pushed around. Almost everyone is sick of the lies they come out with all day long. All that is needed is a spark - plus tactics. Should delinquents arrive at revolutionary consciousness simply through understanding what they already are, and by wanting to be more so, then it's quite possible that they could prove the key-factor in a general social retake on reality. This could be vitally important. Actually, all that's really necessary is the federation of their gangs.

2

So far the heart of life has been sought anywhere but in the heart of man. Creativity has always been pushed to one side. It has been suburban; and, in fact, urbanism reflects very accurately the misadventures of the axis around which life has been organised for thousands of years. The first cities grew up around a stronghold or sacred spot, a temple or a church, a point where heaven and earth converged. Industrial towns, with their mean, dark streets surround a factory or industrial plant; administrative centres preside over empty rectilinear avenues. Finally, the most recent examples of town-planning simply have no centre at all. It's becoming increasingly obvious: the reference point they propose is always somewhere else. These are labyrinths in which you are allowed only to lose yourself. No games, No meetings. No living. A desert of plate-glass. A grid of roads. High-rise apartment blocks.

Oppression is no longer centralised because oppression is everywhere. The positive aspects of this: everyone begins to see, in conditions of almost total isolation, that first and foremost it is themselves that they have to save, themselves that they have to choose as the centre, their own subjectivity out of which they have to build a world that everyone else will recognise as their native land.

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. And he who thinks for you judges you, he reduces you to his own norm and, whatever his intentions may be, he will end by making you stupid - for stupidity doesn't come from a lack of intelligence, as stupid people imagine it does, it comes from renouncing, from abandoning one's own true self. So if anyone asks you what you are doing, asks you to explain yourself, treat him as a judge - that is to say, as an enemy.

"I want someone to succeed me; I want children; I want disciples; I want a father; I don't want myself". A few words from those high on Christianity, whether the Roman or the Peking brand. Only unhappiness and neurosis can follow. My subjectivity is too important for me to take my lack of inhibition to the point of either asking other people for their help or of refusing it when it is offered. The point is neither to lose oneself in oneself nor to lose oneself in other people. Anyone who realises that his problems are ultimately social in nature must first of all find himself. Otherwise he will find nothing in other people apart from his own absence.

Nothing is more difficult, or more painful, to approach than the question of one's own self-regeneration. In the heart of each human being there is a hidden room, a camera obscura, to which only the mind and dreams can find the door. A magic circle in which the world and the self are reconciled where every childish wish comes true. The passions flower there, brilliant, poisonous blossoms clinging to and thriving on air, thin air. I create a universe for myself and, like some fantastic tyrannical God, people it with beings who will never live for anyone else. One of my favourite James Thurber stories is the one where Walter Mitty dreams that he is a swashbuckling captain, then an eminent surgeon, then a coldblooded killer and finally a war hero. All this as he drove his old Buick downtown to buy some dog biscuits.

The real importance of subjectivity can easily be measured by the general embarassment with which it is approached. Everyone wants to pass it off as their mind 'wandering', as 'introversion', as 'being stoned'. Everyone censors their own daydreams. But isn't it the phantoms and visions of the mind that have dealt the most deadly blows at morality, authority, language and our collective hypnotic sleep? Isn't a fertile imagination the source of all creativity, the alembic distilling the quick of life: the bridgehead driven into the old world and across which the coming invasions will pour?

Anyone who can be open-minded about their interior life will begin to see a different world outside themselves values change, things lose their glamour and become plain instruments. In the magic of the imaginary, things exist only to be picked up and toyed with, caressed, broken apart and put together again in any way one sees fit. Once the prime importance of subjectivity is accepted the spell cast upon things is broken. Starting from other people, one's self-pursuit is fruitless, one repeats the same futile gestures time after time. Starting from oneself, on the contrary, gestures are not repeated but taken back into oneself, corrected and realised in a more highly evolved form.

Daydreaming could become the most powerful dynamo in the world. Modern technological expertise, just as it makes everything considered 'Utopian' in the past a purely practical undertaking today, also does away with the purely fairytale nature of dreams. All my wishes can come true from the moment that modern technology is put to their service.

And even deprived of these techniques, can subjectivity ever stray far from the truth? it is possible for me to objectify all that I have dreamt of being. Everyone, at least once in his life has pulled off the same sort of thing as Lassailly or Nechaev; Lassailly, passing himself off as the author of an unwritten book, ends up by becoming a real writer, author of the Roueries de Trialph; Nechaev, touching Bakunin for money in the name of a nonexistent terrorist organisation, finally does get a real group of nihilists going. One day I must be as I have wanted to seem; the particular spectacular role I have so long wanted to be will become genuine. Thus subjectivity subverts roles and spectacular lies to its own ends: it reinvests appearances in reality.

Subjective imagination is not purely spiritual: it is always seeking its practical realisation. There can be no doubt that the artistic spectacle - above all, in its narrative forms - plays on subjectivity's quest for its own self-realisation, but solely by captivating it, by making it function in terms of passive identification. Debord's agitational film Critique de la séparation stresses the point: "Normally, the things that happen to us, things which really do involve us and demand our attention, leave us no more than bored and distant spectators. However, almost any situation, once it has been transposed artistically, awakens our attention: we want to take part in it, to change it. This paradox must be turned upside down - put back on its feet." The forces of the artistic spectacle must be dissolved and their equipment pass into the arsenal of individual dreams. Once armed in this way, there will no longer be any question of treating them as phantasies. This is the only way in which the problem of making art real can be seen.

 

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