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In Conversation With Raoul Vaneigem by Hans Ulrich Obrist

In Conversation With Raoul Vaneigem by Hans Ulrich Obrist

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Essay included in e-flux Journal #6; May 2009. Editors: Anton Vidokle, Brian Kuan Wood, & Julieta Aranda
Essay included in e-flux Journal #6; May 2009. Editors: Anton Vidokle, Brian Kuan Wood, & Julieta Aranda

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Austin Briggs Alexander on Apr 01, 2011
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Hans Ulrich Obrist
In Conversa-tion with RaoulVaneigem
Hans Ulrich Obrist
I just visited EdouardGlissant and Patrick Chamoiseau, whohave written an appeal to Barack Obama.What would your appeal and/or advice beto Obama?
Raoul Vaneigem
I refuse to cultivate anyrelationship whatsoever with people of power.I agree with the Zapatistas from Chiapas whowant nothing to do with either the state or itsmasters, the multinational mafias. I call forcivil disobedience so that local communitiescan form, coordinate, and begin self-producingnatural power, a more natural form of farming,and public services that are finally liberated fromthe scams of government by the Left or the Right.On the other hand, I welcome the appeal byChamoiseau, Glissant, and their friends for thecreation of an existence in which the poetry ofa life rediscovered will put an end to the deadlystranglehold of the commodity.
HUO
Could we talk about your begin-nings? How did your participation insituationism begin, and what was yourfundamental contribution? At the outset ofyour relationship with the SI, there was thefigure of Henri Lefebvre. What did he meanto you at the time? Why did you decide tosend him poetic essays?
RV
I would first like to clarify that situation-ism is an ideology that the situationists wereunanimous in rejecting. The term “situationist”was ever only a token of identification. Itsparticularity kept us from being mistaken for thethrongs of ideologues. I have nothing in commonwith the spectacular recuperation of a projectthat, in my case, has remained revolutionarythroughout. My participation in a group that hasnow disappeared was an important momentin my personal evolution, an evolution I havepersonally pressed on with in the spirit of thesituationist project at its most revolutionary. Myown radicality absolves me from any label. I grewup in an environment in which our fighting spiritwas fueled by working class consciousness anda rather festive conception of existence. I foundLefebvre’s
Critique of Everyday Life
captivating.When
La Somme et le reste
[The Sum and theRemainder] was published, I sent him an essayof sorts on “poetry and revolution” that wasan attempt to unify radical concepts, Lettristlanguage, music, and film imagery by creditingthem all with the common virtue of making thepeople’s blood boil. Lefebvre kindly respondedby putting me in touch with Guy Debord whoimmediately invited me to Paris. The two of ushad very different temperaments, but we wouldagree over a period of nearly ten years on theneed to bring consumer society to an end andto found a new society on the principle of self-
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 journal #6  may 2009 Hans Ulrich Obrist 
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management, where life supersedes survival andthe existential angst that it generates.
HUO
Which situationist projects remainunrealized?
RV
Psychogeography, the construction of situ-ations, the superseding of predatory behavior.The radicality, which, notwithstanding somelapses, never ceased to motivate us, remains asource of inspiration to this day. Its effects arejust beginning to manifest themselves in theautonomous groups that are now coming to gripswith the collapse of financial capitalism.
HUO
The Situationist Internationaldefined the situationist as someone whocommits her- or himself to the construc-tion of situations. What were those situa-tions for you, concretely? How would youdefine the situationist project in 2009?
RV
By its very style of living and thinking, ourgroup was already sketching out a situation,like a beachhead active within enemy territory.The military metaphor is questionable, but itdoes convey our will to liberate daily life fromthe control and stranglehold of an economybased on the profitable exploitation of man. Weformed a “group-at-risk” that was conscious ofthe hostility of the dominant world, of the needfor radical rupture, and of the danger of giving into the paranoia typical of minds under siege. Byshowing its limits and its weaknesses, the situ-ationist experience can also be seen as a criticalmeditation on the new type of society sketchedout by the Paris Commune, by the Makhnovistmovement and the Republic of Councils wipedout by Lenin and Trotsky, by the libertariancommunities in Spain later smashed by the Com-munist Party. The situationist project is not aboutwhat happens once consumer society is rejectedand a genuinely human society has emerged.Rather, it illuminates now how lifestyle cansupersede survival, predatory behavior, power,trade and the death-reflex.
HUO
You and Guy Debord are the mainprotagonists of the situationist movement.How do you see Debord’s role and your role?
RV
Not as roles. That is precisely what situ-ationism in its most ridiculous version aims at:reducing us to cardboard cut-outs that it canthen set up against one another according to thespectacle’s standard operating procedure. I amsimply the spokesman, among others, of a radi-cal consciousness. I just do what I can to see thatresistance to market exploitation is transformedinto an offensive of life, and that an art of livingsweeps away the ruins of oppression.
HUO
What were your reasons for resign-ing from the group?
RV
Following the occupation movements ofMay 1968, we knew that some recuperation wasafoot. We were familiar with the mechanismsof alienation that would falsify our ideas and fitthem neatly into the cultural puzzle. It becameclear to us, during the last conference in Venice,that we had failed to shatter those mechanisms,that in fact they were shattering us from theinside. The group was crumbling, the Veniceconference was demonstrating its increasinguselessness, and the only answers put forwardwere commensurate with the self-parody we hadfallen into. Dissension intensified to the point ofparanoid denunciation: of betrayals of radicality,of breaches of revolutionary spirit, of derelictionof conscience. Those times of catharsis andanathema are now long past, and it might be use-ful to examine how it is that we sowed the seedsof failure for which the group ended up payingsuch a heavy price. The shipwreck, however, didnot indiscriminately sweep away to the shores ofoblivion all of us who participated in the adven-ture. The group vanished in such a way as toallow the individuals to either consolidate theirradicality, disown it, or lapse into the impostureof radicalism. I have attempted to analyze ourexperimental adventure in
Entre le deuil dumonde et la joie de vivre
[Between Mourning theWorld and Exuberant Life].
HUO
You have written a lot on life, notsurvival. What is the difference?
RV
Survival is budgeted life. The system ofexploitation of nature and man, starting in theMiddle Neolithic with intensive farming, causedan involution in which creativity—a qualityspecific to humans—was supplanted by work, bythe production of a covetous power. Creative life,
Situationist International, November 1962 (from left to right: an unknownwoman, J.V. Martin, Raoul Vaneigem and Guy Debord)
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as had begun to unfold during the Paleolithic,declined and gave way to a brutish struggle forsubsistence. From then on, predation, whichdefines animal behavior, became the generatorof all economic mechanisms.
HUO
Today, more than forty years afterMay ‘68, how do you feel life and societyhave evolved?
RV
We are witnessing the collapse of financialcapitalism. This was easily predictable. Evenamong economists, where one finds even moreidiots than in the political sphere, a number hadbeen sounding the alarm for a decade or so. Oursituation is paradoxical: never in Europe have theforces of repression been so weakened, yet neverhave the exploited masses been so passive. Still,insurrectional consciousness always sleeps withone eye open. The arrogance, incompetence,and powerlessness of the governing classes willeventually rouse it from its slumber, as will theprogression in hearts and minds of what wasmost radical about May 1968.
HUO
Your new book takes us on a trip“between mourning the world and exuber-ant life.” You revisit May ‘68. What is left ofMay ‘68? Has it all been appropriated?
RV
Even if we are today seeing recycledideologies and old religious infirmities beingpatched up in a hurry and tossed out to feed ageneral despair, which our ruling wheelers anddealers cash in on, they cannot conceal for longthe shift in civilization revealed by May 1968.The break with patriarchal values is final. Weare moving toward the end of the exploitationof nature, of work, of trade, of predation, ofseparation from the self, of sacrifice, of guilt,of the forsaking of happiness, of the fetishizingof money, of power, of hierarchy, of contemptfor and fear of women, of the misleading ofchildren, of intellectual dominion, of military andpolice despotism, of religions, of ideologies, ofrepression and the deadly resolutions of psychictensions. This is not a fact I am describing, butan ongoing process that simply requires from usincreased vigilance, awareness, and solidaritywith life. We have to reground ourselves in orderto rebuild—on human foundations—a world thathas been ruined by the inhumanity of the cult ofthe commodity.
HUO
What do you think of the currentmoment, in 2009? Jean-Pierre Page hasjust published
Penser l’après crise
[Think-ing the After-Crisis]. For him, everythingmust be reinvented. He says that a newworld is emerging now in which the attemptto establish a US-led globalization hasbeen aborted.
RV
The agrarian economy of the AncienRégime was a fossilized form that was shatteredby the emerging free-trade economy, from the1789 revolution on. Similarly, the stock-dabblingspeculative capitalism whose debacle we nowwitness is about to give way to a capitalismreenergized by the production of non-pollutingnatural power, the return to use value, organicfarming, a hastily patched-up public sector,and a hypocritical moralization of trade. Thefuture belongs to self-managed communitiesthat produce indispensable goods and servicesfor all (natural power, biodiversity, education,health centers, transport, metal and textileproduction . . .). The idea is to produce for us, forour own use—that is to say, no longer in order tosell them—goods that we are currently forcedto buy at market prices even though they wereconceived and manufactured by workers. It istime to break with the laws of a political rack-eteering that is designing, together with its ownbankruptcy, that of our existence.
HUO
Is this a war of a new kind, as Pageclaims? An economic Third World War?
RV
We are at war, yes, but this is not an eco-nomic war. It is a world war against the economy.Against the economy that for thousands of yearshas been based on the exploitation of nature andman. And against a patched-up capitalism thatwill try to save its skin by investing in naturalpower and making us pay the high price for thatwhich—once the new means of production arecreated—will be free as the wind, the sun, andthe energy of plants and soil. If we do not exiteconomic reality and create a human reality in itsplace, we will once again allow market barbarismto live on.
HUO
In his book
Making Globaliza-tion Work
, Joseph Stiglitz argues for areorganization of globalization along thelines of greater justice, in order to shrinkglobal imbalances. What do you think ofglobalization? How does one get rid ofprofit as motive and pursue well-beinginstead? How does one escape from thegrowth imperative?
RV
The moralization of profit is an illusionand a fraud. There must be a decisive breakwith an economic system that has consistentlyspread ruin and destruction while pretending,amidst constant destitution, to deliver a mosthypothetical well-being. Human relations mustsupersede and cancel out commercial rela-tions. Civil disobedience means disregardingthe decisions of a government that embezzlesfrom its citizens to support the embezzlementsof financial capitalism. Why pay taxes to thebankster-state, taxes vainly used to try to plug
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 journal #6  may 2009 Hans Ulrich Obrist 
In Conversa-tion with Raoul Vaneigem

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