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Raoul Vaneigem (b. 1934) is a native of Lessines (Hainaut), Belgium, a small town whose traditional claim to fame was the production of paving stones but which in the twentieth century also produced the Surrealist painter René Magritte and the Surrealist poet Louis Scutenaire. Vaneigem grew up in the wake of World War II in a working-class, socialist, and anticlerical milieu. He studied Romance philology at the Free University of Brussels and embarked on a teaching career that he later abandoned in favor of writing.
In late 1960 Vaneigem was introduced to Guy Debord by Henri Lefebvre. Soon after, he joined the Situationist International, which Debord and his comrades-in-arms had founded not long before, and he remained in the group throughout the decade of the 1960s. There is a grain of truth in the stereotypical view that Debord and Vaneigem, as two leading lights of the SI, stood for two opposite poles of the movement: the objective Debord versus the subjective Vaneigem: Marxism versus anarchism: icy cerebrality versus sensualism: and, of course, The Society of the Spectacle versus The Revolution of Everyday Life—the two major programmatic books of the SI, written by the two men without consultation, both published in 1967, each serving in its own way to kindle and color the May 1968 uprisings in France.
Other works by Raoul Vaneigem already published in English include The Totality for Kids (London: Christoper Gray/Situationist International, 1963-64 ["Banalités de base," 1962-63]); Contributions to the Revolutionary Struggle (London: Bratach Dubh, 1981 [De la grève sauvage à l'autogestion généralisée, 1974]); The Book of Pleasures (London: Pending Press, 1983 ); The Movement of the Free Spirit (New York: Zone, 1994 ); and A Cavalier History of Surrealism (San Francisco: AK Press, 1999 ).
About the Translator:
Born in Manchester, England, Donald Nicholson-Smith is a longtime resident of New York City. As a young man he was a member of the Situationist International (1965-67), and among many his translations are Raoul Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life (revised ed., PM Press, 2012), Vaneigem's A Letter to My Children (2nd ed., PM Press, 2019), Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle (Zone), Guy Debord by Anselm Jappe (PM Press, 2018), and Henri Lefebvre's The Production of Space (Blackwell), as well as works by Jean-Patrick Manchette, Thierry Jonquet, and Paco Ignacio Taibo II.
A Letter to My Children and the Children of the World to Come
Author: Raoul Vaneigem • Afterword: John Holloway • Translator: Donald Nicholson-Smith
Publisher: PM Press
Page count: 128
Readers of Vaneigem’s now-classic work The Revolution of Everyday Life, which as one of the main contributions of the Situationist International was a herald of the May 1968 uprisings in France, will find much to challenge them in these pages written in the highest idiom of subversive utopianism.
Written some thirty-five years after the May “events,” this short book poses the question of what kind of world we are going to leave to our children. “How could I address my daughters, my sons, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” wonders Vaneigem, “without including all the others who, once precipitated into the sordid universe of money and power, are in danger, even tomorrow, of being deprived of the promise of a life that is undeniably offered at birth as a gift with nothing expected in return?”
Letters to My Children provides a clear-eyed survey of the critical predicament into which the capitalist system has now plunged the world, but at the same time, in true dialectical fashion, and “far from the media whose job it is to ignore them,” Vaneigem discerns all the signs of “a new burgeoning of life forces among the younger generations, a new drive to reinstate true human values, to proceed with the clandestine construction of a living society beneath the barbarity of the present and the ruins of the Old World.”
“In this fine book, the Situationist author, whose writings fueled the fires of May 1968, sets out to pass down the foundational ideals of his struggle against the seemingly all-powerful fetishism of the commodity and in favor of the force of human desire and the sovereignty of life.”
—Jean Birnbaum, Le Monde
“A startling and invigorating restatement for the present ghastly era of humanity’s choice: socialism or barbarism.”
—Dave Barbu, Le Nouveau Père Duchesne
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A Declaration of the Rights of Human Beings: On the Sovereignty of Life as Surpassing the Rights of Man, Second Edition
Author: Raoul Vaneigem
Publisher: PM Press
Page count: 144
Subjects: Political Theory/Human Rights
“A declaration of rights is indispensable in order to halt the ravages of despotism.” So wrote the revolutionary Antoine Barnave in support of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789). Over two centuries after the Great French Revolution, Raoul Vaneigem writes that today, “in a situation comparable to the condition of France on the eve of its Revolution,” we cannot limit ourselves to demanding liberties—the so-called bourgeois freedoms—that came into being with free trade, for now the free exchange of capital is the totalitarian form of a system which reduces human beings and the earth itself to merchandise. The time has come to give priority to the real individual rather than to Man in the abstract, the citizen answerable to the State and to the sole dictates of God’s successor, the economy.
Sometimes playful or poetic, always provocative, Vaneigem reviews the history of bills of rights before offering his own call, with commentary, for fifty-eight rights yet to be won in a world where the “freedoms accorded to Man” are no longer merely “the freedoms accorded by man to the economy.”
Every human being has the right, for example: to become human and to be treated as such; to dispose freely of their time; to comfort and luxury; to free modes of transport set up by and for the collectivity; to permanent control over scientific experimentation; to association by affinity; to bend toward life what was turned toward death; to the flux of passions and the freedoms of love; to a natural life and a natural death; to hold nothing sacred; to excess and to moderation; to desire what seems beyond the realm of the possible.
Readers of Vaneigem’s now-classic work The Revolution of Everyday Life will find much to engage with in this unique work of subversive utopianism.
“All opponents of globalization should carry it in their luggage.”
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The Revolution of Every Day Life
By Raoul Vaneigem
Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith
Published April 2010
Page Count: 304 Pages
Size: 9 by 6
Subjects: Politics, Philospohy
Originally published just months before the May 1968 upheavals in France, Raoul Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life offered a lyrical and aphoristic critique of the "society of the spectacle" from the point of view of individual experience. Whereas Debord's masterful analysis of the new historical conditions that triggered the uprisings of the 1960s armed the revolutionaries of the time with theory, Vaneigem's book described their feelings of desperation directly, and armed them with "formulations capable of firing point-blank on our enemies."
"I realise," writes Vaneigem in his introduction, "that I have given subjective will an easy time in this book, but let no one reproach me for this without first considering the extent to which the objective conditions of the contemporary world advance the cause of subjectivity day after day."
Vaneigem names and defines the alienating features of everyday life in consumer society: survival rather than life, the call to sacrifice, the cultivation of false needs, the dictatorship of the commodity, subjection to social roles, and above all the replacement of God by the Economy. And in the second part of his book, "Reversal of Perspective," he explores the countervailing impulses that, in true dialectical fashion, persist within the deepest alienation: creativity, spontaneity, poetry, and the path from isolation to communication and participation.
For "To desire a different life is already that life in the making." And "fulfillment is expressed in the singular but conjugated in the plural."
The present English translation was first published by Rebel Press of London in 1983. This new edition of The Revolution of Everyday Life has been reviewed and corrected by the translator and contains a new preface addressed to English-language readers by Raoul Vaneigem. The book is the first of several translations of works by Raoul Vaneigem that PM Press plans to publish, including The Knight, the Lady, the Devil, and Death (2003) and The Inhumanity of Religion (2000).
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Boredom is always Counter-Revolutionary: Donald Nicholson-Smith and Iain Boal @ CIIS
by Steven Gray
Mar 5, 2013
Iain Boal was a smooth moderator, choosing his words carefully. At the same time he would throw in quick and quiet asides that could be devastating. During a discussion of The Long Now - a 10,000 year perspective (according to Stewart Brand) – he noted it was similar to the Department of Defense estimates for the storage of atomic waste. At another point he threw off a phrase about the “valium-soaked suburbs.” He teaches sometimes at U.C. Berkeley, and the next time he is there I want to sit in on a class.Read more
Nicholson-Smith mentioned the necessity of “historical memory.” Having such a perspective is downright subversive when the authorities want us to slip into amnesia with the aid of pharmaceuticals. We should never forget what has happened, what we have witnessed, including the crimes of the Cheney/Bush administration. When someone in a conservative think-tank (Fukuyama) postulates “the end of history,” there is probably another prison being built.
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