Revolutionary Attitudes - 1

‘If people approach you and wish to discuss things with you, spit in their faces.’  So reads one sentence in Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life. This occurs at the end of one chapter in an almost uncharacteristic frenzy, as if Vaneigem had suddenly become possessed by Jacques Vache, that phantom spirit forever hanging over the surrealists.

Georges Bataille mentions in a note found in his On Nietzsche that he is appalled at the idea of having to explain himself. This master of a philosophy of ‘headlessness’ far surpassed simply calling the bluff of ideas like ‘progress’ and ‘project,’ but was willing to squander (another favorite Bataille word) any expressive affinity with those ideas. It was in this sense that freedom was, for him, not simply a sensation (as it may well amount to being in the case of many other thinkers concerned with the idea of freedom), but a new project unlike any imposed from the outside—one that has less to do with the freeing of immediate pleasures than it does with acquainting oneself with great anguish in order to achieve one’s true desires.

In the case of Vaneigem’s work, we encounter a more immediate, theoretical continuation of what was taking place within surrealism. Breton’s gang was content to keep their ideals semi-hidden—While they might have explained themselves (Breton’s manifestos) now and again, the explanation itself was an act within the movement, almost pushing away all definitive answers in protest of organization in favor of absolute freedom; ‘psychic autonomy,’ in other words. What Vaneigem has in common with surrealism, from the vantage point of his respective collective of choice, The Situationist International, is an unabashed concern for freedom. While the surrealists spent more time at least affecting revolutionary gestures if not committing themselves to revolutionary gestures of the every day, Vaneigem is concerned with a politicization of that freedom, so that the proletariat might have access to its features, thus making The State dissolve in favor of something in which a society of creators might spring up. In Vaneigem’s work, though it is hinted at, suggested, talked around and talked up, there’s no real clear idea or suggestion as to how this might happen, and yet, perhaps he didn’t feel he needed to spell it out. After all, no one can write a guidebook for revolution, but only some strong statements of encouragement to the revolutionary spirit. That’s precisely what The Revolution of Everyday Life is—a work of encouragement.

Carlo Michelstaedter, had he access to Revolution of Everyday Life, might not have been so quick to refer to it as a work of persuasion, in keeping with his idea of persuasion as he saw it in his book, Persuasion and Rhetoric. The reason you might guess this is that, while Vageinem intuitionally approaches a seductive subject, he works his way toward it from a rhetorical place that pretends to be the starting point.

Michelstaedter’s sole work, while quite different in temperament than Vageinem’s work, often comes to and repeats a similar conclusion—that we are slaves to a life in which death is constantly weighing upon our shoulders and that the solution is to live ones life without shackles. Here comes the often used solution and summit of most existentially concerned philosophies—They both offered, as solution, that you should live every moment as though it is your last.

What does this mean realistically then, after the person who suggests this now over-used anecdotal platitude rolls his eyes when you suggest to him that if you did, in fact, know you only had one day to live, you would spend the day saying goodbye to loved ones and cutting your losses, rather than trying to cross a few items off of some ludicrous bucket list?

Comedian Doug Stanhope riffed on this popular suggestion by saying that he does, in fact, live every day as though it’s his last, which means that he spends everyday watching television and drinking.

It seems that, often, what is implied is a sense of one’s place in the realm of being. Living ‘every moment as though it is your last’ has something to do with one responding to one’s ‘thrownness’ into the realm of being, as Heidegger would put it.

Perhaps it is time that we develop new existential solutions for living a proper life rather than committing ourselves to self-imposed death threats.