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Philosophy Henri Lefebvre

Philosopher, sociologist and urban theorist, Henri Lefebvre is one of the great social theorists of the twentieth century. This accessible and innovative introduction to the work of Lefebvre combines biography and theory in a critical assessment of the dynamics of Lefebvre's character, thought, and times. Exploring key Lefebvrian concepts, Andy Merrifield demonstrates the evolution of Lefebvre's philosophy, while stressing the way his long and adventurous life of ideas and political engagement live on as an enduring and inspiring interrelated whole.

philosophy Henri Lefebvre

French*Marxistphilosopher and sociologist. Lefebvre published 70 books in his lifetime on an incredibly wide array of topics, and is generally regarded as one of the great theoreticians of the 20th century. Because of his interests in space and everyday life (indeed his name is virtually synonymous with these concepts), he tends to be read more in geography departments than philosophy departments. Unfortunately for Anglophone readers, the English translations of his work reflect this bias.

Lefebvre was born in the rural town of Hegetmau just outside the Pyrenees, France. And though he moved to Paris at an early age to study at the Sorbonne, he retained a strong link with the countryside throughout his life. In the 1920s Lefebvre taught philosophy in Paris and was part of the small group of anti-*Bergson, Marxist thinkers known as the Philosophies group. He joined the Communist Party (PCF) in 1928. In this period he took a keen interest in the work of the Surrealists, and was a familiar of Tristan Tzara and André Breton, but it was a short-lived passion. He soon came to think of Surrealism as an inauthentic mode of critique and broke with it quite acrimoniously.

Sometimes, on the contrary, information and analytical knowledgecoming from different sciences are oriented towards a synthetic finality.For all that, one should not conceive an urban life having at its disposal information provided by the sciences of society. These twoaspects are confounded in the conception of centres of decision-making,a global vision, planning already unitary in its own way, linked toa philosophy, to a conception of society, a political strategy, that is, aglobal and total system.

For philosophical meditation aiming at a totality through speculativesystematization, that is, classical philosophy from Plato to Hegel, the citywas much more than a secondary theme, an object among others. Thelinks between philosophical thought and urban life appear clearly uponreflection, although they need to be made explicit. The city and the townwere not for philosophers and philosophy a simple objective condition, asociological context, an exterior element. Philosophers have thought thecity: they have brought to language and concept urban life.

The logos of the Greek city cannot be separated from the philosophicallogos. The oeuvre of the city continues and is focused in the workof philosophers, who gather opinions and viewpoints, various oeuvres,and think them simultaneously and collect differences into a totality:urban places in the cosmos, times and rhythms of the city and that ofthe world (and inversely). It is therefore only for a superficial historicitythat philosophy brings to language and concept urban life, that of thecity. In truth, the city as emergence, language, meditation comes totheoretical light by means of the philosopher and philosophy.

For Hegel, at the height of speculative, systematic and contemplativephilosophy, the unity between the perfect Thing, chat is, the Greekcity, and the Idea, which animates society and the State, this admirablewhole, has been irremediably broken by historic becoming. In modernsociety, the State subordinates these elements and materials, includingthe city. The latter, however remains as a sort of subsystem in the totalphilosophico-political system, with the system of needs, that of rightsand obligations, and that of the family and estates (crafts and guilds),that of art and aesthetics, etc.

During the course of the nineteenth century, the sciences of socialreality are constituted against philosophy which strives to grasp theglobal (by enclosing a real totality into a rational systematization).These sciences fragment reality in order to analyse it, each having theirmethod or methods, their sector or domain. After a century, it is stillunder discussion whether these sciences bring distinct enlightenmentto a unitary reality, or whether the analytical fragmemation chat theyuse corresponds to objective differences, articulations, levels anddimensions.

Philosophy of the city (or if one wanes, urban ideology), was born asa superstructure of society into which structures entered a certain typeof city. This philosophy, precious heritage of the past, extends itselfinto speculations which often are travesties of science just because theyintegrate a few bits of real knowledge.

A philosophy of the city answered questions raised by social practicein precapiralisr societies (or if one prefers this terminology, in pre-industrialsocieties). Planning as technique and ideology responds todemands arising from this vast crisis of the city already referred to,which starts with the rise of competitive and industrial capitalism andwhich has never stopped getting deeper. This world crisis gives rise tonew aspects of urban reality. It sheds light on what was little or poorlyunderstood; it unveils what had been badly perceived. It forces thereconsideration of not only the history of the city and knowledge of thecity, but also of the history of philosophy and that of an. Until recently,theoretical thinking conceived the city as an entity, as an organism and awhole among others, and this in the best of cases when it was not beingreduced to a partial phenomenon, to a secondary, elementary or accidentalaspect, of evolution and history. One would elms see in it a simpleresult, a local effect reflecting purely and simply general history. Theserepresentations, which are classified and are given well-known terms(organicism, evolutionism, continuism), have been previously criticized.They did not contain theoretical knowledge of the city and did not leadto this knowledge; moreover, they blocked at a quite basic level theenquiry; they were ideologies rather than concepts and theories.

During each critical period, when the spontaneous growth of the citystagnates and when urban development oriented and characterized byhitherto dominant social relations ends, then appears a planningthought. This is more a symptom of change than of a continuouslymounting rationality or of an internal harmony (although illusions onthese points regularly reproduce themselves), as this thinking mergesthe philosophy of the city in search of a with the divisive schemes forurban space. To confuse this anxiety with rationality and organizationit is the ideology previously denounced. Concepts and theories makea difficult path through this ideology.

It is the same for reflective thought which has extremely diversecontents: objects, situations, activities. From this diversity emergemore or less fictional or real domains: science, philosophy, art, etc.These many objects, these domains somewhat small in number, relateto a logical formulation. Reflection is codified by a form common toall contents, which is born out of their differences.

As necessary as science, but not sufficient, art brings to the realizationof urban society its long meditation on life as drama andpleasure. In addition and especially, art resticutes the meaning of theoeuvre, giving it multiple facets of appropriated time and space;neither endured nor accepted by a passive resignation, metamorphosedas oeuvre. Music shows the appropriation of time, paintingand sculpture that of space. If the sciences discover partial determinisms,art and philosophy show how a totality grows out of partialdeterminisms. It is incumbent on the social force capable of creatingurban society to make efficient and effective the unity of art, techniqueand knowledge. As much the science of the city, art and the history ofart are part of a meditation on the urban which wants to makeefficient the images which proclaim it. By overcoming this opposition,chis meditation striving for action would thus be both utopian andrealistic. One could even assert that the maximum of utopianism couldunite with the optimum of realism.

Since its beginnings, classical philosophy, which has had as social baseand theoretical foundation the city, thought the city, and endeavoursto determine the image of the ideal city. The Critias of Plato sees in thecity an image of the world, or rather of the cosmos, a microcosm.Urban time and space reproduce on earth the configuration of theuniverse as the philosopher discovers it.

Previously, by refuting partial disciplines and their interdisciplinaryattempts, one was also asserting that synthesis belongs to the political(that is, that all synthesis of analytical faces about urban realityconceals under philosophy or an ideology a strategy). Statesmen,experts and specialists should certainly not be given control of decision-making. The term political is not here used so narrowly. Such aproposition must be understood in the opposite way to what has beenexpressed here. The capacity of synthesis belongs to political forceswhich are in fact social forces (classes and fractions of classes, groupingsor class alliances). They exist or not, they manifest and expressthemselves or not. They speak or do not speak. It is up to them toindicate social needs, to influence existing institutions, to open thehorizon and lay claims to a future which will be their oeuvre. If theinhabitants of various categories and strata allow themselves to bemanoeuvred and manipulated, displaced anywhere under the pretextof social mobility, if they accept the conditions of an exploitationmore refined and extensive than before, too bad for them. If theworking class is silent, if it does not act, either spontaneously or by themediation of its institutional representatives and mandatories, segregationwill continue resulting again in a vicious circle. Segregation isinclined to prohibit protest, contest, action, by dispersing those whoprotest, contest, and act. In this perspective political life will eitherchallenge or reaffirm the centre of political decision-making. Forparties and men, this option is the criterion of democracy. 041b061a72


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