Conversation with Raoul Vaneigem

VaneigemCartoonAlerted to this by Mak Thwaite’s excellent ReadySteady blog, here are the opening paras of Hans Ulrich Obrist’s recent interview with Raoul Vaneigem. You can read the full text on the Interactvist site here.

Conversation with Raoul Vaneigem
Hans Ulrich Obrist

Hans Ulrich Obrist: I just visited Edouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau, who have written an appeal to Barack Obama. What would your appeal and/or advice be to Obama?

Raoul Vaneigem: I refuse to cultivate any relationship whatsoever with people of power. I agree with the Zapatistas from Chiapas who want nothing to do with either the state or its masters, the multinational mafias. I call for civil disobedience so that local communities can form, coordinate, and begin self-producing natural power, a more natural form of farming, and public services that are finally liberated from the scams of government by the Left or the Right. On the other hand, I welcome the appeal by Chamoiseau, Glissant, and their friends for the creation of an existence in which the poetry of a life rediscovered will put an end to the deadly stranglehold of the commodity.

HUO: Could we talk about your beginnings? How did your participation in situationism begin, and what was your fundamental contribution? At the outset of your relationship with the SI, there was the figure of Henri Lefebvre. What did he mean to you at the time? Why did you decide to send him poetic essays?

RV: I would first like to clarify that situationism is an ideology that the situationists were unanimous in rejecting. The term “situationist” was ever only a token of identification. Its particularity kept us from being mistaken for the throngs of ideologues. I have nothing in common with the spectacular recuperation of a project that, in my case, has remained revolutionary throughout. My participation in a group that has now disappeared was an important moment in my personal evolution, an evolution I have personally pressed on with in the spirit of the situationist project at its most revolutionary. My own radicality absolves me from any label. I grew up in an environment in which our fighting spirit was fueled by working class consciousness and a rather festive conception of existence. I found Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday Life captivating. When La Somme et le reste [The Sum and the Remainder] was published, I sent him an essay of sorts on “poetry and revolution” that was an attempt to unify radical concepts, Lettrist language, music, and film imagery by crediting them all with the common virtue of making the people’s blood boil. Lefebvre kindly responded by putting me in touch with Guy Debord who immediately invited me to Paris. The two of us had very different temperaments, but we would agree over a period of nearly ten years on the need to bring consumer society to an end and to found a new society on the principle of self-management, where life supersedes survival and the existential angst that it generates.

HUO: Which situationist projects remain unrealized?

RV: Psychogeography, the construction of situations, the superseding of predatory behavior. The radicality, which, notwithstanding some lapses, never ceased to motivate us, remains a source of inspiration to this day. Its effects are just beginning to manifest themselves in the autonomous groups that are now coming to grips with the collapse of financial capitalism.

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4 Responses

  1. I.A.J. Karass 651 says:

    The only real civil disobedience would be the disruption of civic services. To concern oneself constantly with the masses as an evolutionary socio-economic force is tantamount to confusing dynamite with opium. There is no class- consciousness. As Raoul Vaneigem asserts, his membership of the inchoate situationist movement was a personal evolution. The problem situationism faced, at its very beginning, was it’s own recuperation. Psychogeography is the intellectual noodling of the new (ha!) leftist media, as it relies not a wit (sic) on the morphic properties of any historical event, nor takes account of its recuperation and the metaphysical effects of its mediated translation. This means that signifiers do not reflect the reality, and that the signs which may lead one to suppose that any location might be of psychogeographical interest are likely removed from context, therefore recuperated. Any idea that the superseding of predatory behaviour can be overcome without a period of predatory behaviour are misguided and pie-in-the-sky. In true revolutionary form, Vaneigem rejects the very thing he is blamed for starting. The best way to make people’s blood boil? Forget art. Spend your every moment amongst the masses, stopping them when they drop litter, reporting them for any misdemeanour, report every council failure and failing in writing, grass on work colleagues who waste time, steal from the boss, and lie to get time off, phone the police – from a call box – every time a vehicle obstructs a public right-of-way, employ only immigrants where possible and always pay them the correct pay, copy everything you own and give it away for free, run for office and then blatantly abuse your position, et al, ad infinitum. The only way to destroy consumer capitalism is to completely overburden the state and its organs to the point of internal collapse. When the state has been completely negated, the proper power structure can kick in, and we can see how to deal with the predatory phase, without the mediated conscience-easing phase. The only thing predators respect is more dangerous predators. Eat them, round them up and corral them, who cares? You won’t expose them with art, erudite argument or tears. You won’t stop them with reflection on May 1968, which is of course recuperated. nor publicity, nor rationale. You won’t beat them with anything but more than they’ve got, of what they’ve got. This can only be achieved by remote viewing, communal immediatism and non-verbal communication. The theories of 70 years ago have their implementation – and evolutionary strength – outside the dialectic. Time to start thinking outside the box if you want your children to be free to think of new and unthought-of wonders. Your time, my friend, is up. While the left eschews the reality of superstition as the governing factor in the subjugation of the mass of people, it cannot hope to combat it (not that anyone is waiting for the left, one hopes). Financial capitalism is not collapsing: it is merely undergoing a shift that could be predicted by reading any situationist work properly. This shift is completely in line with the morphology inherent in any mathematical system, once it reaches a catastrophe (empirical zenith). This catastrophe is not predictable in strict terms – just like the weather – but to suppose that head honcho capitalists have all forgotten that their umbrellas even exist is naive in the extreme. They may not be able to predict exactly how or when the shift in economic modes would occur, but you can bet your behind, they’ve had models running for decades. To return to the premise of the first sentence of this comment (yes, it’s overlong), the disruption and destruction of social structures IS first. Be prepared for lots of predatory behaviour. You don’t make an omelette without cracking eggs, and you’d still be better off with a steamroller to crack these ones – who cares if the omelette’s ruined in the process? Intellectualism? (humbug). The steady mind, and the immediacy of the true idea realised without effort, are the conjoined paths to freedom – be it at the lowest common denominator, and at the heaviest of losses – freedom. Remember Durruti, and stop at nothing until the work is done. The artist is the destroyer of the creative principal in all hir spectators.

  2. sonia says:

    I like very much the illustration, may I have the name of the draftsman and the reference of the comic strip?
    Thank you for sharing!

  1. February 20, 2013

    […] will know, I have kept up with Vaneigem’s writings over the years — here & here & here — and so it is a pleasure to report on a retranslation of the Traité by Donald Nicholson-Smith. […]

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