Raoul Vaneigem

"The desire to live is a political decision."

from

The Revolution of Everday Life

"Down with a world in which the guarantee that we will not die of starvation has been purchased with the guarantee that we will die of boredom."

from

The Revolution of Everday Life

Cover of the first edition of The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967)

Raoul Vaneigem (born 1934) is a Belgian writer, cultural philosopher and radical political activist. A core member of the Situationist International between 1961 and  1970, he is a significant theoretician of the movement, and perhaps best known for his treatise The Revolution of Everyday Life published in 1967.

 

Holdings at the Beinecke

The Raoul Vaneigem Papers is comprised of material created and compiled by the Belgian political activist and cultural philosopher Raoul Vaneigem. Spanning the period from the early 1950s to ca. 2015, the archive documents not only Vaneigem’s individual trajectory as a leftist revolutionary, but also bears witness to the radicalization of the social and political climate in Western Europe of the post-WWII era, which was to culminate in the massive civil unrest and general strike in France in May 1968.

 

The collection consists of writings by Vaneigem and others, including Guy Debord; correspondence with other members of the Situationist International, including Debord, as well as editors, other intellectuals and authors, French and Belgian institutions, readers and other political activists; a prototype of Debord’s Game of War, including a proposal of rules; press reviews and interviews with Vaneigem; press clippings and “détourned” Situationist photographs; private papers such as school reports and other administrative documents; private photographs of the author and his family.

Writings by Vaneigem comprise (oftentimes multiple) manuscript drafts of published and unpublished articles, pamphlets and books, including his master’s thesis and the unfinished doctoral dissertation; diaries; reading notes for published articles, pamphlets and books; notes related to unrealized book, article and film projects; film scripts, film concepts and treatments; proofs and typescripts of translations.

 

The collection provides comprehensive documentation of Vaneigem’s intellectual development leading to an almost decade-long participation in the Situationist International, his significant involvement in this group’s revolutionary activities, as well as his subsequent career as an author of radical political and scholarly texts. Apart from retracing the genesis of all of Vaneigem's works, the archive gives insight into the inner organization and evolution of one of the main movements of European counter-culture, the Situationist International. It sheds light on the SI’s exchanges and differences with other artistic and political groups in postwar Western Europe, and furthermore situates the figure of Vaneigem within the history of European counter-culture, as it came to emerge in the second half of the 20th century.  

This archive has not yet been catalogued; the accession number is 2016.genm.0125. A comprehensive Finding Aid is still in process.

 

Other holdings

Déclaration sur les procès contre l'Internationale situationniste en Allemagne fédérale (1962)

Nicht hinauslehnen (1962)

Theses on the Commune (1962)

Aux poubelles de l'histoire (1963)

Traite de savoir-vivre a l'usage des jeunes generations (1967)

Banalités de base (1968)

Some advice concerning generalised self-management (1969)

To create at long last a situation which goes beyond the point of no return : 4 situationist texts (1971)

Terrorisme ou révolution (1972): preface to Pour la révolution by Ernest Cœurderoy

Brindisi alla salute dei lavoratori rivoluzionari (1972)

Viva la Comune (1973)

Acratas : sull'autonomia : documento interno del Collettivo autonomo di Verbania (1975)

Histoire désinvolte du surréalisme (1977)

Dallo sciopero selvaggio alla autogestione generalizzata  (1978)

Le livre des plaisirs (1979)

Related collections

Jacqueline de Jong

Asger Jorn

Situationist International

Guy Debord

Attila Kotanyi

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Raoul Vaneigem: The Trajectory of a Revolutionary

Raoul Vaneigem was born on March 21, 1934 in Lessines, Belgium. He studied Roman philology (French and Latin) at the Free University of Brussels, graduating in 1956 with a thesis on Lautréamont.

 

In 1960, while working as a teacher at the École Normale (i.e. a public college specializing in the training of teachers) in the town of Nivelles, he started corresponding with the influential French philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre.

Impressed by Lefebvre’s oeuvre Critique de la vie quotidienne, Vaneigem sent him the manuscript of an essay intitled Fragments pour une poétique (suivis de quatre poèmes à parfaire). This essay earned Vaneigem his letters of nobility, allowing him to transition to the politically engaged phase of his life. 

It was upon Henri Lefebvre’s commendation that Guy Debord, leader of the Situationist International, read Vaneigem’s essay draft, and agreed to meet with him in early 1961. Vaneigem joined the SI (Situationist International) shortly afterwards.

He immediately became one of the main editors of the journal Internationale Situationniste, and continued serving on the editorial board until the publication of the very last issue in 1969.

Vaneigem played a major role in the final rupture of the SI with the more artistically and aesthetically oriented legacies of the Lettrist International. His admission to the SI ushered in the definite shift towards the movement's political phase. 

Vaneigem co-authored some of the most crucial statements of the SI, such as Déclaration sur les procès contre l'Internationale situationniste en Allemagne fédérale (1962), Sur la commune (1962) and Aux poubelles de l’histoire (1963). In collaboration with Attila Kotanyi, he wrote the Basic Program of the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism (1961). An "idea" rather than a "project," unitary urbanism was concerned with the critical deciphering of the (existing) urban landscape in an effort to rebuild its bases. Breaking with the logic of utility,  unitary urbanism was conceived as a "living critique," that is: as an experimentation of the individual, designed to adapt the urban milieu to the needs of its inhabitants.

 

In 1967, Vaneigem published The Revolution of Everyday Life (Traité de savoir-vivre à l’usage des jeunes générations). This text – like Debord’s Society of the Spectacle dating back to the same year – was soon to be identified as the theoretical cornerstone of the SI. Today, Vaneigem’s Traité is considered to have played a major role in fomenting the outbreak of the student and workers’ protests in France in May '68

The text repertories the different forms of economic and ideological alienation, which have come  to contaminate everyday life, and vowed the human being to a state of mere "survival." Anchored in the belief that radical self-realization leads to general prosperity, the Traité then calls for individual creativity as a form of resistance. Self-creation and self-realization are introduced as the critical means for examining and subverting (détourner) the unconsciously assimilated mechanisms of domination governing the modern "society of the spectacle."

Vaneigem resigned from the SI in November 1970. As he declared in his resignation statement, both the revolutionary project of the SI and his involvement in it had turned out to be a failure.

In a series of conversations with Gérard Berréby published in 2014, Vaneigem came to specify that, in his view, the events of May 68 had given the decisive impetus to the SI’s demise. For instead of dissolving in the direct aftermath of the general strike, and proving by this very gesture to be absolutely true to its practice of theory, the SI had persisted in its revolutionary quest and, yet, soon fallen prey to an increasing institutionalization – vowing the movement to the paralysis that every becoming-ideology is supposed to imply.

Since quitting the SI, Vaneigem has been dividing his time between publications echoing the spirit of the revolutionary political activism of the Situationist years, and scholarly publications on medieval Christian mysticism and heresy.

Noteworthy publications in the first category are De la grève sauvage à l'autogestion généralisée, a user’s guide to revolution (1974), and Le livre des plaisirs (1979). Among Vaneigem’s publications as a medievalist are to be mentioned Le Mouvement du libre-esprit (1985) and La Résistance au christianisme. Les hérésies des origines au XVIIIe siècle (1993). In these texts, Vaneigem intends to demonstrate that the striving for freedom and the belief in the vital force of pleasure were already present in medieval thought and culture.

Raoul Vaneigem currently lives close to Tonnerre, a town in the Province of Yonne, France.

"The eruption of lived pleasure is such that in losing myself I find myself; forgetting that I exist, I realize myself."

 from

The Revolution  of Everyday Life

Correspondence with Guy Debord

"The situationist project is not about what happens once consumer society is rejected and a genuinely human society has emerged. Rather, it illuminates now how lifestyle can supersede survival, predatory behavior, power, trade and the death-reflex."

Interview with RV, 2009

The Revolution of Everyday Life, diagram

Unpublished Diagram for The Revolution of Everyday Life (click to enlarge)

Documents from the Situationist Years (1961-1970)

"My own radicality absolves me from any label."

Interview with RV, 2009

"Like life and love, learning is a continuous flow that enjoys the privilege of irrigating and fertilizing our sentient intelligence. Nothing is more contagious than creation."

Interview with RV, 2009

Resources

"Raoul Vaneigem: The Other Situationist" (essay by Jason McQuinn, 2012)

 

"In Conversation with Raoul Vaneigem" (interview by Hans Ulrich Obrist, 2009)

 

"What's Free is the Absolute Weapon" (interview published in Sine Mensuel, 2011)

"La gratuite est l'arme absolue" (original version of the interview published in Sine Mensuel)

"Eloge de la paresse affine" (extract from the book La Paresse (1996) republished on May 1, 2016)

"Notice to the Civilized Concerning Generalized Self-Management" (originally written in 1969)