In a similar spirit to last year’s Christmas posts, and with a view to writing something more one day on what strikes me as one the most important passages in Lefebvre.
‘Alienation’ – I know it is there whenever I sing a love song or recite a poem, whenever I handle a banknote or enter a shop, whenever I glance at a poster or read a newspaper. At the very moment the human is defined as ‘having possessions’ I know it is there, dispossessing the human. I thus grasp how alienation substitutes a false greatness for the real weakness of man, a false weakness for his true greatness. Bombastic language, abstractions, deductions, every devillish device to vaporize man’s will and man’s thoughts – all vouchsafe me a glimpse of alienation in action.
This is not to say that I am able to separate what is human from the inhuman simply by thinking about it. The task is much more difficult, the division within the self and the waste of self are too deep-seated. If I have learned to think or to love, it is in and through the words, gestures, expressions and songs of thirty centuries of human alienation. How can I come to grips with my self or how can we retrieve our selves once more? If I stay on my guard and strip myself of everything suspect, I am left naked, dry as dust, reduced to ‘existing’ like someone who refuses to be hoodwinked by anything; and what will become of me and my wariness? Nothing. Alienation is an ordeal that era must undergo, there is no means of escaping it. Only later will future human beings, freed from alienation, know and see clearly what was dehumanized and what was worthwhile about the times we live in.
Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life Volume 1, pp. 183-4.