“Information is increasing while direct contacts are in decline. Relations are becoming more numerous while their intensity and authenticity are diminishing,” wrote Henri Lefebvre in 1961, and by 1981 he understood that this would entail “a solitude all the more profound for being overwhelmed by messages.” Am I wrong to be amazed that this man, born with the 20th century in 1901, could foresee what he did not live to witness, having died 90 years later? Namely a new kind of everyday life conditioned by the World Wide Web (1991) and then the rise of social media (e.g., Facebook: 2004), which he did not live to see — not to mention reality TV: “Radio and television do not penetrate the everyday solely in terms of the viewer. They go looking for it at its source: personalized (but superficial) anecdotes, trivial incidents, familiar little family events. They set out from an implicit principle; ‘Everything, in other words, anything at all, can become interesting, even enthralling, provided that it is presented, i.e., present.’” This uncanny ability of Lefebvre’s, to discern cultural tendencies that were only in their infancy as he was writing but have become blatantly evident since then, explains why I’m glad that, despite my disappointment with the first part of Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday Life, I decided to soldier on and keep reading through the second and third books, “Foundations for a Sociology of the Everyday” (1961) and “From Modernity to Modernism (Towards a Metaphilosophy of Everyday Life” (1981). Not that this still isn’t a very imperfect, sometimes maddening work. Long stretches of it focus on methodological questions that in retrospect seem completely barren — for instance the endless consideration given to the notion of “levels” of sociological analysis. Given that the subject is the everyday, it is amazing how little of the lived experience of everyday life is reflected in Lefebvre’s writing. And then, too, he is so often stuck in what I call the Polonius Syndrome — how strange to find this renowned radical thinker, an inspiration for the uprising of May ’68, so often cautioning that, conceptually, “We must know how not to go too far,” always counseling that one’s concepts should be neither too this nor too that: the “man of action” is one who “waits for the situation to be ripe, but not rotten. He takes his time, and avoids hasty judgements and interventions, but by no means does he drag his feet.” Easy to say, but the prescription can only be filled by hindsight, and otherwise it’s platitudinous. Writing about a hypothetical sociologist who would proceed by way of interviewing the people he intends to study, Lefebvre points out the game of resistances and evasions involved in any such transaction, and explains that in negotiating this, the sociologist needs to maintain his “scientific” detachment and at the same time “purge himself […] of his ideological and theoretical prejudices […] but also of his value judgements” so that “via a return to his own everyday reality he will reach the everyday reality of the people he is interviewing.” This plunge into everyday reality is precisely what Lefebvre himself seems incapable of. Strange: I set out wanting, on second thought, to praise this author, and yet I seem to hear myself burying him. That’s not what I want to do; and now that I’ve succeeded in getting my complaints off my chest, maybe next week I’ll succeed in going on in the vein I started this week, before I was diverted by reservations that couldn’t be passed over in silence, but that are also not my last word.
Works by Giambattista Tiepolo and his son Domenico offer hints of whatever subterranean Oedipal struggles played out between them.
The latest episodes of the PBS documentary series explore the intersection between play and artistry, as well as the world of small objects and the artists who make them.
The Japan Society will screen six iconic films that explore the years 1912–1926, “a new modern era” marked by progressive reforms and a blossoming of the arts.
by Elaine Velie
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The American Museum of Natural History in New York closed its main entrance as protesters rallied outside the institution, which was barricaded by police.
by Elaine Velie
Outside of the blue-chip art world, some galleries and nonprofits are speaking out freely and publicly against Israel’s attacks.
This affordable interdisciplinary program with well-equipped facilities and private studios is accepting applications for Fall 2024.
The anonymous street artist made the work in 2017, a year after Brexit, to criticize Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
by Rhea Nayyar