Henri Lefebvre (via Wikipedia)

Encore un effort on Lefebvre. My first go was nothing but objections. Round two started out with admiration but I soon found myself airing further criticism — almost against my will, because I finished this long and, yes, sometimes tedious work with real admiration. I began, let me remind you, by thinking how prescient Lefebvre was in seeing, as early as 1961, that “Information is increasing while direct contacts are in decline. Relations are becoming more numerous while their intensity and authenticity are diminishing,” and that the media “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 could have been written today, not fifty-five years ago. Reading Lefebvre, one repeatedly comes upon chapters that are so profound in their conception, so far-reaching in their implications that the alert reader thirstily searches for more of the same — and periodically finds it, for example, in analyses of the concepts of “making” and praxis; of symbol, image, and sign; of repetition and moments. “[A]mong moments,” he writes, “we may include love, play, rest, knowledge, etc. We cannot draw up a complete list of them, because there is nothing to prevent the invention of new moments”; they are constituted by choice; have a specific duration, persist in memory, have a content and a form, and become absolute. Especially important, for me, in his systematic explication of the distinction between things, objects, products, and works, which should be of enormous use to aesthetics in a time when art has claimed a closer relation to the everyday than ever before. And then there is his brilliant perception that “three goods enjoy a special role and a happy or unhappy privilege: sex, labour, and information” as “privileged” commodities, but that it is the last of these, information, that is “most deserving of the title of supreme commodity, commodity of commodities.” If those who believed that the so-called dematerialization of art would enable it to eschew commodity status had only been as clear-eyed as Lefebvre, they might have had second thoughts. How right he was, in 1981, to understand that, “Specifically as a product, information is just starting out” — keep an eye on your metadata — and to foresee a cult of transparency long before WikiLeaks. This is a book I will be returning to, albeit only in pieces, and hoping, along with its author (despite the pessimism that overtakes him by the time of his last reflections in 1981, which seem only more timely today) in the continuing possibility that everyday life might yet witness “a metamorphosis through action and works—hence through thought, poetry, love.”

Henri Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday Life: The One Volume Edition, tr. by John Moore and Gregory Elliott (2014) is published by Verso and is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.

Barry Schwabsky is art critic for The Nation and co-editor of international reviews for Artforum. His recent books include The Perpetual Guest: Art in the Unfinished Present (Verso, 2016) and a collection...