The Revolution of Everyday Life
The Reversal of Perspective
Published in The Revolution of Everyday Life 1967
Chapter 19 "The Reversal of Perspective"
The light of power is waning. The eyes of individual subjectivity cannot adapt to mere holes in a mask, which are the eyes of those fog-bound in shared illusion. The individual's point of view must prevail over false collective participation. In total self-possession, reach society with the tentacles of subjectivity and remake everything startingwith yourself. The reversal of perspsctive is what is positive in negativity, the fruit which will burst out of the old world's bud (1-2).
One day Monsieur Keuner was asked just what was meant by "reversal of perspective"; and he told the following story. Two brothers deeply attached to one another had a strange habit. They marked the nature of the day's events with pebbles a white one for each happy moment and a black one for each moment of misfortune or displeasure. But when, at the end of the day, they compared the contents of the jars one found only white pebbles and the other only black.
Fascinated by the persistence with which they lived the same experience differently, they both agreed to ask the advice of an old man famed for his wisdom. "You don't talk to one another enough" said the wise man, "Both of you must give the reasons for your choice, and discover its causes". From then on they did so, and soon discovered that while the first remained faithful to his white pebbles and the second to his black ones, in neither jar were there as many pebbles as before. Where there had been about thirty there were hardly more than seven or eight. After a short while they went to see the wise man again. Both looked extremely miserable. "Not so long ago," said one, "my jar was filled with pebbles the colour of the night. My despair was unbroken; I continued to live, I admit, only through the force of habit. Now I hardly ever collect more than eight pebbles, but what these eight signs of misery represent has become so intolerable that I cannot go on like this." And the other said: "Every day I piled up white pebbles.. Today there are only seven or eight, but these obsess me to the point that I cannot recall these moments of happiness without immediately wanting to relive them more intensely and, in a word, eternally. This desire torments me". The wise man smiled as he listened to them. "Excellent. Things are shaping up well. Keep at it. And one thing: whenever you can, ask yourselves why the game with the jar and the pebbles arouses so much passion in you." When the two brothers next saw the wise man it was to say "We asked ourselves the question but we could not find the answer. So we asked the whole village. You can see how much it has disturbed them. In the evening. squatting in front of their houses, whole families discuss the black and white pebbles. Only the elders and chieftains refuse to take part. They say a pebble is a pebble, and all are of equal value." The old man didn't conceal his pleasure. "Everything is developing as I foresaw. Don't worry. Soon the question will no longer be asked: it has lost its importance, and perhaps one day you will no longer believe you ever asked it." Shortly afterwards the old man's predictions were confirmed in the following way: a great joy overcame the members of the village; at the dawn of a troubled night, the rays of the sun fell upon the heads of the elders and chieftains, impaled upon the sharp-pointed stakes of the palisade.
The world has always had a geometry. The angle and perspective within which men could see, speak to, and represent each other was at first decided solely by the gods of the unitary epochs. Then men, the men of the bourgeoisie, played a fast one on them: they placed them in perspective, arraying them in an historical becoming in which they were born, developed and killed off. History was the twilight of the gods.
Seen historically, God is confused with the dialectlc of his material aspect, masters and slaves, the history of class struggle and hierarchical social power. Thus in a sense the bourgeoisie began the reversal of perspective, only immediately to limit it to appearance. God may be abolished, but the pillars which held him up still rise towards the empty sky. And, as if the explosion in the cathedral of sacred values spread in very slow shock waves, the crumbling of mythic rubble is only complete today in the disintegration of the spectacle, nearly two centuries after the attack. The bourgeoisie is only a stage in the dynamiting of God who is now about to disappear once and for all and with him all trace of his material origin: man's domination of man.
Economic mechanisms, whose control and strength the bourgeoisie partially possessed, revealed the materiality of power, releasing it from the divine phantom. But at what price? God offered a sort of refuge in his vast negation of the human in which the faithful paradoxically had licence to affirm themselves against temporal authority by opposing the absolute power of God to the 'usurped' power of priests and rulers, as the mystics so often did. Today it is power which sidles up to men and solicits them to consume it. It weighs more and more heavily, reducing the space of life to mere survival, compressing time to the density of a "role". To use a facile image, one could compare power to an angle. Acute at first, its summit lost in the depths of the sky, then gradually growing wider as its summit sinks, becomes visible and subsides to the point of becoming flat, extending its sides in a straight line, which cannot be distinguished from a succession of points, equivalent and without strength.
Beyond this line, which is that of nihilism, a new perspective opens, which is neither the reflection of the previous one nor its involution. On the contrary, it is a body of individual perspectives in harmony, never entering into conflict, but constructing the world according to the principles of coherence and collectivity. All these angles, all different, nevertheless open in the same direction, individual will henceforward being indistinguishable from collective will.
The function of conditioning is to place and displace everyone along the length of the hierarchical ladder. The reversal of perspective entails a sort of anti-conditioning, not conditioning of a new type, but playful tactics:diversion.
The reversal of perspective replaces knowledge by praxis, hope by freedom and mediation by the will of the here and now. It consecrates the triumph of a body of human relationships founded on three inseparable poles: participation, communication and realization.
To reverse perspective is to stop seeing with the eyes of the community, ideology. family or other people. It is to grasp oneself firmly, to choose oneself as starting point and centre. To base everything on subjectivity and to follow one's subjective will to be everything. In the sights of my insatiable desire to live, the whole of power is only one particular target within a wider horizon. It's show of strength doesn't obstruct my vision, but I locate it, estimate its dangers, and study its movement. My creativity, however poor it may be, is a more certain guide than all the knowledge I have been forced to acquire. In the night of power, its glow holds the hostile forces at bay: cultural conditioning, every type of specialisation and Weltanschauungen are inevitably totalitarian. Everyone has the absolute weapon. However, it must be used with circumspection, like certain charms. If one approaches it from the standpoint of lies and oppression - back to front - then it is no more than bad clowning: an artistic consecration. The acts which destroy power are the same as the acts which construct free individual will but their range is different just as in strategy preparation for defense is obviously different from preparation for attack.
We haven't chosen the reversal of perspective through any kind of voluntarism. It has chosen us. Caught as we are in the historical phase of NOTHING, the next step can only be a change of EVERYTHING. Consciousness of total revolution, of its necessity, is our final way of being historical, our last chance, under certain conditions, of unmaking history. The game we are about to play is the game of our creativity. Its rules are radically opposed to the rules and laws controlling our society. It is a game of loser wins: what you are is more important than what is said, what is lived is more important than what is represented on the level of appearances. This game must be played right through to its conclusion. To cede an inch in one's will to live without reserve is to surrender all along the line. Those who give up their violence and their radical demands are doomed. Murdered truths become venomous, said Nietzsche. If we do not reverse perspective, then the perspective of power will succeed in turning us against ourselves once and for all. German Fascism was born in the blood of Spartacus. In each daily renunciation, reaction is preparing nothing less than the death of everyone.
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