June 26th, 2005

Thoughts Occasioned By An Imminent Trip To Costco

I suppose this is a variation on Pascal's much-quoted dictum that a person who goes through the motions of praying without believing will, if this ritual is repeated often enough, turn into a believer. We act out desire for others and end up incorporating it into our sense of what and why we are. Even if we start with no sense of what we want, we eventually learn to want precisely what our performance dictates we should want. In the process, we retroactively found an identity that works through the logic of infinite regress.
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"Sous les pavés, la plage."

From Henri Lefebvre, The Explosion: Marxism and the French Upheaval (1968):
The revolutionary process begins by shaking up the condition of everyday life and ends by restoring it. What is it that shatters and submerges this condition? It is the active subversion of the conditions that maintain it by divorcing it from "extraordinary" possibilities. The subversion undermines previously mentioned dissociations (private life, work, leisure, social and political life, "officialese" documents, and speech reduced to triviality and rhetoric). Social practice liberates itself spontaneously from whatever institutes separations, from the sum total of institutions. This is the meaning of the institutional crisis, which must not be reduced to a crisis of authority. Contestation does not arise against authority so much as against the entire society maintained by authority. Workers do not cease working because their employer acts like a father. They reject paternalism because it embodies and symbolizes a social order; their real target is the established social order.

Humiliation and boredom -- the reverse side of authority, i.e. the power to make decisions -- are as important as authority itself.

On what does this authority weigh? It weighs on everyday existence -- which it both institutes and constitutes as a condition. Under circumstances of tension and disorder, "uninterrupted speech," initiated and literally discovered in the event, challenged not only paternalist authority and the authority of the employers, but also the aim and finality of these authorities -- the condition of everyday existence. It also challenged the repressive implications of this condition -- a repressiveness which, through the use of common sense and trivial speech, sanctions triviality.

What is the purpose of so many reduced and therefore reductive activities? What is the objective which these activities make evident yet also dissimulate? To maintain a condition of everyday existence reduced to passive obedience. When the process of dis-alienation through unfettered speech, street activities, and spontaneous disorder -- when this dis-alienation process ebbed, the order of everyday existence reorganized itself in its down-to-earth solidity. The disruptions of the social order come to be viewed as disruptions of everyday existence; the restoration of everyday existence supports the restoration of the social order.