Thinking the Totality: Henri Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday Life
“People in general … do not know their own lives very well,” Henri Lefebvre insisted in the first volume of his Critique of Everyday Life. Lefebvre’s book, in which he maintained that “the simplest event—a woman buying a pound of sugar—must be analyzed,” was among the first major works to draw its ideas from Marx’s early writings, situating the concepts of alienation and mystification at the center of the Marxist critique, focusing not just on the ways that capitalism separates us from what we produce, but how it severs our relationships with one another and with ourselves. Lefebvre was well positioned to imagine such a critique—in addition to his career as a philosopher, he had fought in the Resistance and worked as a factory hand, radio broadcaster, and cab driver. Above all, the Critique of Everyday Life reflected Lefebvre’s lifelong effort to “think the totality,” to bridge the concrete and the abstract, the mundane and the grand, from our blithest gestures to the mighty structures that govern our lives. When is the trivial not so trivial?
In this class, we will read the first volume of the Critique of Everyday Life as well as selections from its key precursor, Marx’s 1844 writings on the concept of alienation, and some of the texts Lefebvre inspired, including On the Poverty of Student Life and The Revolution of Everyday Life, both produced by the Situationist International as they helped shape the revolutionary movement that culminated in May 1968. We will ask: In what ways do our smallest gestures—buying a pound of sugar—embody a dizzying chain of connections that will reveal to us “the sum total of capitalist society”? Is the common in fact “strange”? Can focusing on the mundane, the automatic—the everyday—transcend the grubby monotony of routine, illuminate our true relationships to ourselves and to the world, and perhaps even serve as a basis for the transformation of those relationships? In other words, does the everyday remain, as Lefebvre insisted, a place “defined by contradictions” but also teeming with hope—“an inevitable starting point for the realization of the possible”?
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
March 09 — March 30, 2022
- New York/General
- New Jersey
- Brooklyn Institute for Social Research
68 Jay Street, #308
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Visit by appointment only