Henri Lefebvre – “The Spontaneous”

The category of the ‘lived’ permits us to rehabilitate the category of spontaneity, which has long been disparaged, thanks to the attitude both of rationalist and of transcendentalist philosophy. Neither culturalism nor structuralism can admit the spontaneous and the unformed.

However, the rehabilitation of the ‘spontaneous’ does not rob critique of its rights. Quite the opposite. Are we about to make an apology for the spontaneous which would fetishize it? [fn11 – This is implied in the work on the ‘non-directive’ by the American psycho-sociologist Rogers and his school in France, for example.] Certainly not. Spontaneity has no privileges in any domain, be it everyday life or politics. When it is lacking, ‘something’ fundamental is missing; there is a gap, like a sterile little vacuum in the tissue of life. However, spontaneity is not always creative every time, with every risk it takes. It makes mistakes, and it fails more frequently than rational prognostication and calculation. Neither the idea of it nor its reality offers a criterion for existence or for value. Authentic per se (but how can we know this?), it eludes control and integration. And yet it imitates and mimics itself. In the spontaneous, it is difficult to make out what are dramas, dramatizations, de-dramatizations or super-dramatizations (which procedures of social control and integration encourage, and then repress). In periods of intense ideological control, the spontaneous and the non-spontaneous become merged, as do the natural and the artificial. This means  the members of a particular group discover ideologically saturated values, norms and symbols ‘spontaneously’.

To put it another way, whether it be in our consciousness or in the outside world, we never attain pure nature or an unconditional ‘being’. The spontaneous is already part of the social, although it is not the social per se. Everyday life gives it a place and a consistency and is the level on which it expresses itself. The spontaneous is nothing more than an element of the social, on a certain level. As such, it exists. It is active, it grows, it withers away, and as such it dies, in everyday life.

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from Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Vol II: Foundations for a Sociology of the Everyday, trans. John Moore (London & NY: Verso, 2002), pp 218-19.


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