Excerpts from Lefebvre for the Day
My most significant reading project at the moment is the first volume of Henri Lefebvre’s elephantine Critique of Everyday Life, which he published over decades of work. It attempts to lay the analytical foundations for a Marxist criticism of life as lived. I’m mostly familiar with Lefebvre from fragments of his Production of Space, which I read to better understand some of David Harvey’s innovations in political geography. In any case, I wanted to share some choice excerpts from Critique of Everyday Life to stimulate the collective blog-reading mind.
On the Consumption Habits of the Lower Classes
“Agreed, it is not unusual to find peasants owning electric cookers, but the houses they live in are still dilapidated; they manage to buy gadgets, but cannot afford to repair their houses, and even less to modernize their farms. In other words, the latter are given up for the sake of the former. In the same way quite a large number of working-class couples have a washing machine, a television set, or a car, but they have generally sacrificed something else for these gadgets (having a baby, for example). In this way problems of choosing what to buy – or problems associated with hire-purchase, etc. – are posed within working-class families, and these problems modify everyday life.18 That relatively poor peasants, or workers, should buy television sets proves the existence of a new social need. The fact is remarkable. But it does not tell us the size or the extent of this need, nor the extent to which it is satisfied. Nor does it prove that this need has not been satisfied to the detriment of another.”
The Wolf of Wall Street Luxury in Film and Its Allure
“The display of luxury to be seen in so many films, most of them mediocre, takes on an almost fascinating character, and the spectator is uprooted from his everyday world by an everyday world other than his own. Escape into this illusory but present everyday world, the fascination of ordinary objects which scream wealth, the seductive powers of the apparently profound lives led by the men and women who move among these objects, all this explains the momentary success these films enjoy.”
Lefebvre is not only highly readable for the most part, but also perceptive and eager to give examples and summarize what he has already put forward, making him a pleasure to study.