Socialist Wordmills (Henri Lefebvre)

Henri_Lefebvre_1971

This from French Marxist Henri Lefebvre, a philosopher and theorist of social space from the 1970s, caught my eye, thinking about Democratic Socialism in America and left-progressive politics, bunched up as they are along the coasts in special enclaves, and about the European and Israeli left today isolated in their own little pocket corners. Of note in Lefebvre’s remark is the appearance in the postwar period of radical politics as an elite phenomenon, politics in relation to the imagination and abstract patterns of thinking distant from “everyday experience.”

Why,” asked Lefebvre about the manipulation of society by authority, “is protest left to ‘enlightened,’ and hence elite, groups who are in any case largely exempt from these manipulations? Such elite circles, at the margins of political life, are highly vocal, but being more wordmills, they have little to show for it?…Has bureaucracy already achieved such power that no political force can successfully resist it? There must be many reasons for such a startling strong –and worldwide– trend…Perhaps it would be true to say that the place of social space as a whole has been usurped by a part of that space endowed with an illusory special status –namely, the part which is concerned with writing and imagery, underpinned by the written text…a part, in short, that amounts to abstraction wielding awesome reductionistic force vis-a-vis ‘lived’ experience” (Henry Lefebvre, The Production of Space, pp.51-52).

I’d be remiss, however, not to note that, in the end, at the end of the chapter on Contradictory Space, Lefebvre’s critique of capitalism, which includes a critique of Marx and orthodox (Soviet) Marxians, which he says does not escape the process of wearing out,  which are themselves too beholden to the abstraction of abstract space, especially now that the problems of capitalism and development are planetary in scope, he insists that the Marxian project evolves and is vital as a critical, paideic project, although towards what is not entirely clear (pp.321-5, cf. pp.342-3).

 

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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