henri lefebvre

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SAIGON’S (DIS)ORDER

Awesome video by Rob Whitworth, which is a beautiful timelapse capturing the ordered chaos in Ho Chi Minh City.

Watching this video brings Henri Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis to mind:

“In order to understand the city, and its ceaseless contrapuntal rhythms, one must situate oneself simultaneously inside and outside of it.”

This is what Lefebvre wrote, sitting on his balcony in Paris and observing the urban rhythm:

“Towards the right, below, a traffic light. On red, cars at a standstill, the pedestrians cross, feeble murmurings, footsteps, confused voices. One does not chatter while crossing a dangerous junction under the threat of wild cats and elephants ready to charge forward, taxis, buses, lorries, various cars. Hence the relative silence in this crowd. A kind of soft murmuring, sometimes a cry, a call.
  Therefore people produce completely different noises when the cars stop: feet and words. From right to left and back again. And on the pavement along the perpendicular street. At the green lights, steps and words stop. A second of silence and then it’s the rush, the starting up of tens of cars, the rhythms of the old bangers speeding up as quickly as possible. At some risk: passersby to the left, buses cutting across, other vehiccles. Whereby a slowing down and restart (state one: starting up - stage two: slowing down for the turn - stage three: brutal restart, foot down, top speed, excluding traffic jams…). The harmony between what one sees and what one hears (from the window) is remarkable.”

In: Restless Cities (2010) edited by Matthew Beaumont and Gregory Dart.

…to abolish the capitalist state, space must be reappropriated on the planetary scale; historical time will be indeed rediscovered, but “in and through [reappropriated] space.” And this is because everything (all the "concrete abstractions") that revolutionaries seek to abolish –ideology, the state, the commodity, money, value, and class struggle – do not and cannot exist independently of space
— 

Henri Lefebvre (1991)


The call for a ‘Revolution of Space’

If it is true that culture can no longer be conceived outside the everyday, this is also true of philosophy and art, which constitute the center of the cultural and define its axes. For many Marxists, it seems that art is only a distraction, a form of entertainment, at best a superstructural form or a simple means of political efficacy. It is necessary to remind these people that great works of art deeply touch, even disturb, the roots of human existence. The highest mission of art is not simply to express, even less to reflect, the real, nor to substitute fictions for it. These functions are reductive: while they may be part of the function of art, they do not define its highest level. The highest mission of art is to metamorphose the real. Practical actions, including techniques, modify the everyday; the artwork transfigures it.
—  Henri Lefebvre, ‘Towards a Leftist Cultural Politics: Remarks Occasioned by the Centenary of Marx’s Death’ 

READING ROOM:

Henri Lefebvre, The Missing Pieces (Semiotext(e), 2014).

From Semiotext(e):

The Missing Pieces is an incantatory text, a catalog of what has been lost over time and what in some cases never existed. Through a lengthy chain of brief, laconic citations, Henri Lefebvre evokes the history of what is no more and what never was: the artworks, films, screenplays, negatives, poems, symphonies, buildings, letters, concepts, and lives that cannot be seen, heard, read, inhabited, or known about. It is a literary vanitas of sorts, but one that confers an almost mythical quality on the enigmatic creations it recounts—rather than reminding us of the death that inhabits everything humans create.

Lefebvre’s list includes Marcel Duchamp’s (accdidentally destroyed) film of Man Ray shaving off the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s pubic hair; the page written by Balzac on his deathbed (lost);Spinoza’s Treatise on the Rainbow (thrown into a fire); the final seven meters of Kerouac’s original typescript for On the Road (eaten by a dog); the chalk drawings of Francis Picabia (erased before an audience); and the one moment in André Malraux’s life in which he exclaimed “I believe, for a minute, I was thinking nothing.” The Missing Pieces offers a treasure trove of cultural and artistic detail and will entertain even those readers not enamored of the void.

Courtesy Semiotext(e).

In my opinion, then, Marxism is an instrument of research and discovery; it is valid only if one makes use of it. […] We must use it to discover what is new in the world. It is not a system or a dogma but a reference. Marxism is a method that, on the one hand, depends on a certain number of determined concepts, but, on the other hand, is analytic and critical of a certain historical process of becoming. […] Moreover, there is a strategic objective: to change the world. It is this imperative that leads us to introduce notions and ideas not found in Marx’s thinking.
—  Henri Lefebvre, ‘Towards a Leftist Cultural Politics: Remarks Occasioned by the Centenary of Marx’s Death' 

Example of racial diversity: Liberty’s Kids

This show was an example of racial diversity through two of the main characters, Henri (a native French speaker of ambiguous ethnic background), and Moses, a former slave who works for Benjamin Franklin in his print shop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the Revolutionary War. This show went through the course of the Revolutionary War from the Americans’ perspective, but often gave British points of view through Sarah, a native of England, or British historical figures, and treated them both as valid options.  It also often spoke very frankly about the sexism and racism inherent during that time, and frequently focused on the female or people of color heroes of the war that are often neglected in history lessons. 

The everyday is not only a mode of production but also a modality of administering society. In both instances it refers to the predominance of the repetitive, of repetition in time. And this predominance of the repetitive is a way of life. It is a base of exploitation and domination. But it is also a relation with the world and with human beings. The predominance of the repetitive masks and suppresses the fear of death, which is one of the profound reasons that the instituting of the everyday in the modern world succeeded: it dissimulates the tragic. This tragic period hides from itself the tragedy it lives. This is why the great fear of the future–the destruction of the planet–remains abstract for the overwhelming majority of people.
—  Henri Lefebvre, ‘Towards a Leftist Cultural Politics: Remarks Occasioned by the Centenary of Marx’s Death’ 
In the developments of May ‘68, the student avant-garde rejected the dogmatic arrogance of structuralist tendencies, which, with the force of 'scientific’ arguments, refuted the spontaneity of the insurgents… Afterwards, structuralist dogma retained its gravity, a cold allure baptized 'serious’ and 'rigorous,’ the allure of neo-scientism. It wasn’t only that this scientism (which purports to be pure under the epistemological break) neglects 'real’ problems and processes; it also withdraws into a Fortress of Knowledge it never exits. During the same period, the bureaucratic state 'structured’ efficiently the whole world.
—  Henri Lefebvre’s ferocious attack on Althusser and Foucault, from L'ideologie structuraliste, 1971, as translated by Andrew Merrifield in his Henri Lefebvre: A Critical Introduction. Lefebvre’s writing can wander, but when he brings things to a point it’s sharp as hell.