The Pleasurable Revolution from the Wobbly Review of Books by Mike Ballard THE BOOK OF PLEASURES, by Raoul Vaneigem ISBN 0 904665 03 8 Published by Pending Press, London, 1983
Warning: this book will squeeze your adrenal glands. It is the very personal statement of a French revolutionary, who's organizational history and political profile can be found in the Situationist movement of the 1960's, a movement which carved its niche in history with the paving stones dug from Parisian streets during the heady days of May, 1968. It is a psychological snapshot of one, Raoul Vaneigem, circa 1979.
LE LIVRE DES PLAISIRS was translated into English, as the BOOK OF PLEASURES, by John Fullerton in 1983. Its latest incarnation can by purchased from Left Bank Books, at 4142 Brooklyn Ave. N.E., Seattle, Washington 98105. It's a fairly expensive 105 pages--$12 in paperback-- but considering its lack of availability in most libraries, being able to read it is usually going to be limited to being able to buy or steal it; an irony, I'm sure, M. Vaneigem would appreciate.
"All pleasure is creative", he writes, "if it avoids exchange. Loving what pleases me, I have to build a space in life as little exposed as possible to pollution by business, or I will not find the strength to bring the old world down, and the fungus among us will rot my dreams. While the state is in disarray, strike hard at business and its friends."
Raoul Vaneigem sees the social relations and the consciousness which springs from them under the rule of capital, as turning the real world upside down. Human desires, traits, labor, creativity, indeed human beings themselves, come increasingly to be viewed as attainable in exchange for money: sexiness through soap commodities, joy through the purchase of brand named alcoholic commodities, self-esteem by buying a certain car or truck. This upside down (reified, if you will) world permeates human communication and therefore, consciousness in modern industrial societies. It stifles human self-awareness and blocks the road to social revolution, the road toward what M. Vaneigem describes as "universal self-management". It is culminating today in the almost total commodification of human relations.
"There will be no proletarian emancipation unless we strike the shackles off pleasure.", Vaneigem writes. In order to crack one's way out of this multifaceted shell, he proposes that the individual worker focus first on her/ his need for pleasure and then to use it as the engine of psychological emancipation. Duty, guilt, and sacrifice-- the traditional left, liberal, and religious motivators-- tend to produce less than liberating results and in fact, according to Vaneigem, are counterproductive or worse, reactionary in nature. "Doing exactly what you feel like is pleasure's greatest weapon, connecting individual acts with collective practice; we all do it. If rejecting survival made the 1968 movement taking hold of life will open the era of universal self- management."
Agree? Disagree? Curious?
Pick up the BOOK OF PLEASURES. Follow M. Vaneigem's id though the psychological thicket of our collective super-egos. You may see yourself and your co-workers inside, suspended within this sphere of self induced repressions, reinforced by the admonitions of all the official authorities of modern ideology: religion, the State, the Economy, media pundits... Choose your poison. Raoul Vaneigem would have you choose pleasure.
Admittedly, this can be a dangerous path and Vaneigem deals with many of your objections as he argues, appeals, and taunts. Sometimes a Freudian/Reichian map would seem helpful; but in all commonsense and a tuned-in critical faculty is all you really need.
It is true that M. Vaneigem can sound pompous at times. His aphoristic phrasing can put one off too. His pronouncements pooh-poohing organization in favor of spontaneous autonomy left me cold after awhile. While this notion may be appealing, it will never satisfy the desire of those who wish for more than a psychic liberation from the rule of capital. Generalized self-management can only be realized on a societal level as a set of social relations based on democratic practice. Individuals can only go so far by themselves. A cooperative commonwealth requires democratic mediation of individual differences and individual desires. This is sometimes hard work which is not always immediately pleasurable. C'est la vie, non M. Vaneigem?
I don't mean to throw cold water on the BOOK OF PLEASURES though. The insights which pack this book are extremely useful. They continually stimulate and challenge the reader. I think Vaneigem's observations can help us as, "we are forming the structures of the new society within the shell of the old."
This review is reprinted from the April, 1993 edition of the "Industrial Worker", the newspaper of the Wobblies.